- Kenneth Cotterill
NCAA Automatic Bid Team Breakdown - Part 6
Twenty-seven auto-bid teams have been discussed, which means we are down to the final four (although this would be a very unlikely final four in the tournament. All of these teams won their respective conference championships on Saturday evening, with some being major upsets.
Big West Conference Champion - UC Santa-Barbara (22-4)
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2011
Tournament Seed: 12
UC Santa-Barbara is back in the NCAA tournament after 10 years away and they have a ton of momentum. They won five straight games to end the year and 18 of their last 19. Now, they do play in the below-average Big West conference, but that is still one hell of a run of games. When you have the 13th best offensive rating and the 24th best defensive rating you are a sound basketball team. As a twelve seed you can never rule out an upset, especially since they are taking on an up and down Creighton Blue Jays team. The only reason why I would hesitate is that Creighton makes almost three more three-pointers per game, so they will have to catch up in other ways. If they can create some turnovers you could potentially see the 12 seed advancing.
Southland Conference Champion - Abilene Christian (23-4)
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2019
Tournament Seed: 14
Winners of four straight games, the Abilene Christian Wildcats will be representing the Southland Conference this year. And talk about a team that loves to share the basketball, as they are fourth in the NCAA in assists per game. They also get a ton of steals due to their aggressive defense. With the number one defensive rating in the country, Texas will have to play well on the offensive end to avoid the upset. My major concern about taking an upset is that if Abilene Christian is leading down the stretch, they only make 67% of their free throws. Texas could easily come back if the Wildcats can't make those clutch free throws. I am not ruling this out as an upset, but I would not have them at the top of my list.
Conference USA Champion - North Texas (17-9)
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2010
Tournament Seed: 13
The sixth seed in Conference USA knocked off the number two seed Western Kentucky to take the crown. This could very well be a Cinderella team, but they could also flame out early on. They play at one of the slowest paces in the country, but luckily their opponents Purdue do as well. Despite playing slow, they shoot the ball very efficiently and defend at an elite level. If you are looking for a potential upset I would look at this North Texas team. With four players averaging double-digit points, any given player could have a solid shooting night and knock out the Boilermakers. My money would be on Javion Hamlet if it were to happen, so keep an eye out for him in this matchup.
Mountain West Conference Champion - San Diego State (23-4)
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2018
Tournament Seed: 6
Kawhi Leonard's alma mater makes an appearance as the sixth seed in this year's NCAA tournament. The Aztecs knocked off fellow tournament team Utah State in the Mountain West final. Jordan Schakel and Matt Mitchell will need to play well to take this team on a run. They will have a tough first-round game against Syracuse and Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone. What helps is that they make over eight threes per game, so if they have a solid shooting night they could cause Syracuse to adjust what they are doing. They play a slow pace as well, so they will have to get there's in the half-court offense. Defensively I really like this team, but I question whether they can score enough to win multiple games.
Southeastern Conference Champion - Alabama (24-6)
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2018
Tournament Seed: 2
The champions of the SEC are Alabama, led by head coach Nate Oats. Roll Tide took down LSU 80-79 in the final thanks to 21 points from Jaden Shackelford. This team is top ten in the country in pace, as well as three-pointers made, so they like to get up and down the floor very quickly. While this team makes a lot of threes, they also take a ton, as they are just 114th in the country in three-point shooting percentage, which is very worrisome heading into the tournament. They could very easily shoot themselves out of any game, but it helps that they are very sound defensively. They also average a troubling 14 turnovers per game as well, which is to be expected when you play that quickly. I have major concerns about how far this team can go, but they could also blow out any team any given night.
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