• Kenneth Cotterill

NCAA Automatic Bid Team Breakdown - Part 1

The NCAA tournament is just a week away, with the first 16 games happening next Friday. So while conferences such as the Big 12 and Big Ten are just getting underway, some have already been decided. But for casual college basketball fans, it can be rather frustrating trying to figure out who is that potential cinderella team to look out for. While most of the teams I will be talking about will likely head home in the first week, it is good to get to know the teams that win their respective conferences. With a total of 31 automatic bids on the line, this series will provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision on who could pull off some potential upsets during March Madness. Some teams will have played thirty games, some will have played under twenty, which makes this year so much more intriguing. So let's dive in and start with the first six featured teams.


Atlantic Sun Champion - Liberty (23-5)

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2019

Andy Katz Tournament Seed Ranking: 13 Seed


To begin our automatic bid teams we have the Liberty Flames, who have been hot lately (pun intended). They won twelve straight games to end the year, including a tight 79-75 win over North Alabama in the final. Twelve straight wins is impressive, but when none of those wins are against top 25 teams people might question whether or not this is just a superior team taking on inferior competition. Taking a look at their non-conference schedule, they have a 13 point loss to Purdue, a four-point loss to TCU and a nine-point loss to Missouri, all pretty solid teams. So if they cannot beat those teams, could they knock off a four-seed in the NCAA tournament? I am here to tell you that they definitely can for two reasons. The first reason is how lethal they are from three-point land, hitting 10.3 three's per game, which is ninth in the country. The second reason is that they are fifth in the NCAA in turnovers per game at just 9.7 per contest. When you do not turn the ball over, can get hot from downtown and have the fifth-best offensive rating in the country, you should be feared. Everyone will have to see the bracket be released before preparing to call an upset, but right now this is one team to keep an eye on.


Big South Champion - Winthrop (23-1)

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2017

Andy Katz Tournament Seed Ranking: 13 Seed


The record may stand out to you and you might be telling yourself "wow I have to take this team in the first round, they only lost one game all year." Well, this record is a bit of a sham, given that no other team in the Big South conference had single-digit losses. In fact, when you look at their overall schedule, their best win is over UNC Greensboro, the first seed in the Southern Conference. Now all the credit in the world for losing just one game and great job blowing out your competition in the Big South tournament. But the numbers also are not in their favour when it comes to looking at a potential upset. The Eagles best player, Chandler Vaudrin, averages just 12 points per game and the team is not much better. They do rebound well at 37.7 per game, which is ninth-best in the country, so if they get a poor rebounding four seed they could cause some problems. On the flip side they turn it over fifteen times per game, so they could knock themselves out on that stat alone. This is not a team I likely to upset in the first round, especially since in 11 tournament appearances the Eagles have only made it out of the first round one time.


Colonial Champion - Drexel (12-7)

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1996

Andy Katz Tournament Seed Ranking: 16 Seed


Our first likely sixteen seed is the Drexel Dragons, and congratulations to them for making it this far. This is the Dragon's first appearance this century, so that is huge for the program as a whole. They are, however, likely the dreaded sixteen seed, which as everyone knows, has only upset a one-seed once in history. This was truly a Cinderella run in the Colonial, as they knocked off the second, third and eighth seed in three straight days to take the crown. So can Drexel become the second team to knock off a one seed? No, probably not (real bold prediction there I know) but they could put up a fight. They shoot the ball an efficient 47.7% on the year and are 20th in the country in free throw percentage (77.7%) so they could have an efficient night. What will ultimately be their downfall is their defense, as they are a 102.3 rating, which is 202nd in the nation.


Horizon Champion - Cleveland State (19-7)

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2009

Andy Katz Tournament Seed Ranking: 15 Seed


This is a rare appearance for the Cleveland State Vikings, as they have only made the NCAA tournament three times in the program's history, and it is their first appearance since 2009. The Horizon was truly a two-team race for the entire year. With only five teams above .500, it made for many uneventful conference games. Cleveland State's stiffest competition, Wright State, matched them at 16-4 in conference play, however, they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Milwaukee. The Vikings ended up knocking off Oakland 80-69 in the finals, but as a likely 15 seed, what is there to worry about? The numbers will tell you nothing really. They play a very slow pace (254th in the NCAA) and they actually are not in the top 100 in all the major metrics. If you are looking for the potential rare 15 over a 2 seed, this is not the team to look at. Great year Cleveland State, but your tournament appearance will be just 40 minutes long.


Missouri Valley Champion - Loyola-Chicago (24-4)

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2019

Andy Katz Tournament Seed Ranking: 9 Seed


Everyone remembers Sister Jean and the 2018 Ramblers' run to the final four, as it was truly one of the greatest cinderella runs in the history of March Madness. And based on name recognition alone I am sure many people will be taking Loyola-Chicago at least past the first round, if not potentially knocking off a true contender. The Missouri Valley was one of the better conferences this year and Loyola kind of snuck under the radar a bit. This was due to Drake remaining undefeated so long, but the Ramblers would beat them in two of their three meetings, including in the Missouri Valley Conference final. Cameron Krutwig will be the x-factor for how far the 20th best team in the country goes. The Ramblers rattled off six straight wins to end the year, mostly due to their fifth-best field goal percentage (50.5%). My closing thought is if you end up as an eight seed, you should be praying that you do not get Loyola-Chicago in the first round cause they could very easily send you home early.


Northeast Champion - Mount St. Mary's (12-10)

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2016

Andy Katz Tournament Seed Ranking: 16 Seed


The Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers fall into the same category as Drexel. This is a team that went on a bit of a Cinderella run, beating the second seed Bryant Bulldogs in the final 73-68. The Mountaineer's non-conference schedule was tougher, as they lost to Maryland and VCU by 18 points and Navy by six, so they have played some quality competition. That being said they are going to be a sixteen seed that does not play up-tempo basketball. They are 342nd in pace in the country and make only 6.6 threes per game, which is 244th ranked. This team does not have the offensive firepower to match up against a Gonzaga, Baylor, or even an Illinois. Great run Mount St. Mary's but you will likely be blown out by the one seed.


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