The Men’s NCAA Tournament is just over the horizon and as its 32 automatic bids are earned in rapid fire over the next week, it can be too much to track on your own. That’s what this space is for. One of these 32 automatic bids from a smaller conference is likely to become a Cinderella, but first gaining entry into the ball is the priority. Check out Deadspin’s 2023 NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids tracker and a brief breakdown of each auto-bid team as we close in on next weekend’s Selection Sunday.
1. Fairleigh Dickinson
Conference: Southeastern Conference
In just his first season, Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tobin Anderson led his squad back from their 4-22 campaign in 2022 to the No. 2 seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. They were the first automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament because Merrimack, the NEC regular season champs and conference championship opponent, remain ineligible for the Big Dance while completing their four-year reclassification process as they transition from Division II. This team makes absolutely no sense. Logically, they shouldn’t be here.
Their starting backcourt consists of 5-foot-8 Demetre Roberts and 5-foot-9 Grant Singleton and according to KenPom, they’re the second-shortest college basketball team since 2007, when the site began tracking size data. Their tallest rotation players are 6-foot-6 and, as a team, they rank 331st nationally in blocks per game.
2. Southeast Missouri State
Conference: Ohio Valley Conference
The Redhawks marched to the Ohio Valley Conference Title Game a fifth seed, then earned their first tourney bid since the 2000 season with an overtime win over Tennessee Tech. The OVC is so small, it recently merged its football membership with the Big South Conference.
Brad Korn’s Redhawks are one of the fastest-paced offenses in the country according to pace, as well as fastbreak metrics and 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard Phillip Russell is the tip of their spear. On the downside, they’re not all that efficient on the offensive end either.
3. North Carolina-Asheville
Conference: Big South Conference
Big South Player of the Year Drew Pember is a 6-foot-10 threat from anywhere on the floor. UNC-Asheville defeated the Fighting Camels of Campbell in a tightly contested conference title game, which is a real shame because another team named the Bulldogs is going to get lost in a field of 68 and makes it harder for amateur bracketologists to make their picks based on animal mascots.
Conference: Missouri Valley Conference
The winners of Arch Madness have a history of making noise in the tournament, but this is only Drake’s third NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years. Two of those three have occurred in the five years since head coach Darian DeVries became their sideline general. Drake got here on the back of a defense that ranks in the top 25 in defensive efficiency.
Their offensive firepower derives from 6-foot-7 forward Tucker DeVries, who bears a striking resemblance to his head coach. Tucker isn’t starting just because his pops controls everyone’s scholarships though.
The aforementioned Tucker DeVries is the MVC Player of the Year and an NBA prospect who hoops like your typical coach’s son. He doesn’t waste movements or dribbles and his jumper connects with nets softly from anywhere on the floor. Also, his last name is pronounced more like Da-Vreeze, and less like Devry (University), which is perfect because he’s a cold-blooded shooter and the leading scorer for the Bulldogs.
5. Kennesaw State
In Sunday’s Atlantic Sun final, senior guard Terrell Burden drained a free throw with 0.7 seconds left in regulation to lift the top-seeded Owls over Liberty and became the fifth team to punch their ticket for the tournament. This is special for the Kennesaw State program. Not only have the Owls never gone dancing into March Madness until now, but this is their first winning season since transitioning to Division I at the beginning of the 2009–10 campaign. The Owls aren’t led by a singular talent, but head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, 41, has a familiar name. His brother Shareef Abdur-Rahim was one of the greatest prep basketball players to ever rise out of the state of Georgia. Amir took over a Kennesaw State program in shambles, lost 28 games during his first season, and has created a new culture.