Cinderella Casting 2017: Horizon, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Auto Bids

March 7, 2017

Today was the start of the first power conference tournament, as the ACC kicked off its opening round in Brooklyn earlier this afternoon. On one hand, that brings in more of the casual college basketball fans to the Championship Week fun, which is great. But it also starts to overshadow the smaller conferences to an extent.

Around The Corn is here to stand up for the little guy, however.

Four mid-majors will crown their conference champion on Tuesday, and in all but one of those championship games the loser will be sitting at home next week while the winner gets the chance of a lifetime. It’s the “win or go home” mentality for nearly 100 percent of the teams in these smaller conferences that makes this week so exciting.

As we continue to welcome more teams to the mix, let’s take a look at a handful of teams that have already punched their ticket to the Dance.


Automatic Bid: Northern Kentucky

Projected Seed: 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Norse are now the only team in Division 1 men’s basketball that have qualified for 100 percent of the NCAA Tournaments for which they have been eligible. Making the transition from Division 2 to Division 1 just five seasons ago, John Brannen’s kids are literally living what was a dream for past Northern Kentucky teams. Never is making the Big Dance easy for a mid-major program, but the Norse were spared from facing the top four seeds in the Horizon League tournament (they were the third) and played regular season bottom dweller Milwaukee in the final.

This is a young squad, with just two seniors on the roster and only one that gets significant minutes. Plus, the bench is fairly deep. This could be a great opportunity for the team to gain experience and come back next season hungry to return. But from that phrase alone you know where this is headed – Northern Kentucky, enjoy your first trip to the Tournament, because the stay probably won’t be an extended one.


Automatic Bid: Iona

Projected Seed: 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Gaels are very well coached by Tim Cluess, who has led the program to four NCAA Tournaments in his seven years at the helm. His team managed to steal the automatic bid from the MAAC for the second straight season, leaving a Monmouth team that won the regular season to wonder what could have been. Like Cluess coached teams of the past, this Iona squad can score easily but will have a hard time keeping the other team from putting the ball into the basket as well.

This isn’t the best Gaels team that has qualified for the Big Dance over the past five seasons and they don’t have a stud guard to pave the way on offense, either. They do shoot well from behind the arc, though, so if they collectively get hot from three things could get interesting. Coach Cluess won’t let his team quit even if things are getting away from them.


Automatic Bid: Mount St. Mary’s

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The Mountaineers took on all comers in the non-conference schedule this season, and clearly it paid off. Road games against West Virginia, Iowa State, Michigan and Arkansas early in the season hardened Mount St. Mary’s for the Northeast Conference slate, where Jamion Christian’s team won the regular season title as well. But despite being battle tested, the Mountaineers have a problem. Based on averages, the team allows more points than it scores, which doesn’t bode well for a squad that will more than likely be matched up against one of the Tournament’s top seeds.

Guard Elijah Long is a do-it-all talent for the Mountaineers, leading the team in points, assists, steals and minutes this season. The Canadian should be fun to watch, but whether he gets the tremendous amount of help from his teammates required to pull off a monumental upset remains to be seen. If history is any indication, Mount St. Mary’s won’t be taking down anyone except a fellow No. 16 seed if that opportunity presents itself.

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