Cinderella Casting 2016: Atlantic Sun, Big South, Ivy, Missouri Valley and Ohio Valley Auto Bids

March 7, 2016

The greatest time of the year is almost upon us.

I think at this point I say that before almost every article I write, but March Madness truly is the greatest four weeks of the year for me. From the second week of Championship Week through the final buzzer of the championship game, I am happy that there is great college basketball on television almost daily. And this year, I have enough vacation days to watch almost the entirety of the tournament without needing to worry about work.

For those that are just crawling out of their winter cave and realizing that the Dance is less than two weeks away, you should be in for a treat. There does not appear to be a clear favorite this season, and some would argue that there isn’t even much separating the entire Top 10 currently. If you like parody, you’re in luck.

If you are just stumbling upon the blog (which if you are, please let me know. I’m guessing not many people do that these days.), here is how the Cinderella Casting series works. I break down the automatic bids for each of the small and mid-major conferences in Division 1, predicting seeding, their chances of being a Cinderella and listing any other teams that may receive an automatic bid.

As someone who consistently picks too many upsets in the early rounds, I am a decent source of information on the underdogs of the tournament. So stay tuned leading up to Selection Sunday, as new articles will be posted almost daily.

Atlantic Sun

Automatic Bid: Florida Gulf Coast

Projected Seed: 15 or 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The school that brought the world Dunk City in 2013 is back in the Big Dance for just the second time in their nine year history as a Division 1 program. Fans expecting to see the high flying Eagles once again will be in for a surprise, however. Florida Gulf Coast’s offense is dominated by the post players, where finishing easy chances in the key to success. The Eagles shoot 47.7% from the floor, putting them near the top of the country in that category.

Only one of the players from the 2012-2013 squad that made it to the Sweet 16 returns, so this is not an experienced team when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Because the Eagles were only the fourth in the A-Sun during the regular season, this is probably a 15 seed at best, but likely a 16 seed unless some underdogs in other conference tournaments pull through.

Big South

Automatic Bid: UNC Asheville

Projected Seed: 15 or 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The Bulldogs will be one of the little guys in this year’s tournament – literally. UNC Asheville is one of the shortest teams in the country, fielding a squad with just two players over 6’6″ in height. Although the Bulldogs are small, it is interesting to note that they do not shoot the ball from behind the arc very well. In other words, they will look to work inside despite having a size advantage against almost any team they will match up against.

With five players averaging double digits in points, this team is unselfish with the basketball and will make opposing defenses work hard to stop open shots. On the defensive end, the Bulldogs are one of the stingiest in the nation averaging over 9 steals a game. If Nick McDevitt’s team wants any shot of pulling off an upset, they’ll need to keep the score low and the pace slow.


Automatic Bid: Yale

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Ivy League had been dominated by Harvard the previous four seasons, but Yale finally pulled through after losing a heartbreaker to its arch rival in a one game playoff to determine the conference’s auto bid last season. The Bulldogs are a story of perseverance, winning the Ivy League despite losing senior captain Jack Montague amid controversy in early February. Montague was a major contributor to the team in several areas, though the team still finished on a 7-1 run to end the regular season without him.

Yale is not a particularly tall squad but does a terrific job rebounding the basketball. Giving the Bulldogs second chances under the rim will be the bane of any opponent, as James Jones’s team also connects on better than 47% of its field goal attempts. The Ivy League has routinely produced tough outs in the NCAA Tournament over the past decade and Yale will be no different this year. Pay special attention to the second round matchup featuring the Bulldogs.

Missouri Valley

Automatic Bid: Northern Iowa

Projected Seed: 13 or 14

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Panthers unofficially started the madness this March in the Missouri Valley title game on Sunday. Tied at 54 with the clock winding down, Wes Washpun stepped back just below the top of the key and let the ball go with 2.5 seconds left. The ball bounced high off the rim, then came back down and sank the Evansville Purple Aces right at the buzzer. The strong finish after blowing a 17-point lead earlier in the game was almost a microcosm of Northern Iowa’s entire season.

After knocking off then top-ranked North Carolina and No. 5 Iowa State, the Panthers went through a bit of a rough stretch in the middle of the season. But the team ended the season winning 12 of 13, including victories over three of the top four seeds in the conference tournament. Ben Jacobson has plenty of tournament experience as head coach of the Panthers and is taking his team back to the Big Dance after winning a game last year. Its seeding may not be overly favorable, but this is not a team you’d like to see opposite your school’s name.

Ohio Valley

Automatic Bid: Austin Peay

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

On February 20, the Governors were 12-17 and the prospect of an NCAA Tournament berth seemed light years away. But then senior center Chris Horton put the team on his back. Horton averages a double double for the team this season (18.9 PPG, 12 RBP) and was an absolute monster during the OVC tournament, posting three of them in four games. His best performance was a 30 point, 16 rebound output that downed top seeded Belmont in overtime.

Unfortunately, other than Horton it’s difficult to see where the Governors will have a matchup advantage on the floor. This is a team that started the season on a four game losing streak and that finished fourth in a division of the Ohio Valley Conference. Horton will be a bear to deal with in a likely stop in Dayton, but Austin Peay won’t knock off a No. 1 seed if it survives its first game.

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