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2021 NCAA Tournament: Teams That Have Already Punched Their Tickets

2021 NCAA Tournament: Teams That Have Already Punched Their Tickets

2021 NCAA Tournament: Teams That Have Already Punched Their Tickets

College basketball teams are beginning to punch their tickets to the NCAA Tournament and many of them have come from conferences that I'm sure you don't spend a ton of time on. Every year one or two of them come as a huge surprise to those who fill out their brackets. Here's a snapshot of some of the teams that have already earned automatic bids and yes I'm not including Gonzaga or Loyola-Chicago because they are already Top 25 teams.

Liberty Flames (22-5)

Conference: Atlantic Sun
Leading Scorer: Darius McGhee, 15.6 ppg
Strength (according to KenPom): Offense (12th in 2PT%, 9th in 3PT%, 18th in FT%)
Weakness (according to KenPom): Only 59 percent of the Flames' offense comes from inside the arc and free throws so if the 3-point shot is off, they could struggle.
Non-Conference Resume: Beat Mississippi State and South Carolina, but lost to Purdue, TCU and Missouri, although the last two were by single digits.

Chances of pulling off an upset: High
Liberty has a good head coach in Ritchie McKay, good veteran leadership and is hungry after being denied an NCAA Tournament bid last year due to the pandemic. The Flames won't back down from a big conference opponent and play a pack-line style on defense much like defending national champion (2019) Virginia. If given the right matchup, Liberty could certainly win one or more games.

Winthrop Eagles (23-1)

Conference: Big South
Leading Scorer: Chandler Vaudrin, 12.2 ppg
Strength (according to KenPom): Getting offensive rebounds (12th in the nation at 35.7 percent) and preventing them (10th at 22.1 percent)
Weakness (according to KenPom): FT shooting (248th, 68.6 percent)
Non-Conference Resume: Played just three such games, beating UNC Greensboro, Little Rock and Furman.

Chances of pulling off an upset: High
Winthrop plays with the 12th-quickest pace in America and has top-level talent. The Eagles' only loss was by two at home against UNC Asheville, but will the lack of true non-conference competition kill them? Last year this squad hung tough with Duke and beat a good St. Mary's team. They will frustrate some teams who try to run with them.

Cleveland State Vikings (19-7)

Conference: Horizon League
Leading Scorer: Torrey Patton, 14.6 ppg
Strength (according to KenPom): 37th nationally in 3-point defense
Weakness (according to KenPom): FT shooting (295th, 66.9 percent) and allowing offensive rebounds (303rd, 31.8 percent)
Non-Conference Resume: Lost at Toledo, Ohio State and Ohio in only non-Horizon League matchups.

Chances of pulling off an upset: Medium
The Vikings in a span of one week allowed a 40-0 run to Ohio in a 101-46 loss then hung tough at Ohio State in a 67-61 defeat. If they can ugly the game up, then certainly there's a chance of an upset. Head coach Dennis Gates has done great things with this program in just two years. Ten of Cleveland State's final 12 games were decided by 10 points or fewer so close contests won't stress these Vikings out.

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (16-10)

Conference: Summit League
Leading Scorer: Max Abmas, 24.3 ppg
Strength (according to KenPom): 3-point (10th nationally at 38.8 percent) and free-throw (2nd, 82.6 percent) shooting
Weakness (according to KenPom): Defense (266th defending behind the arc and 328th at offensive rebound percentage allowed)
Non-Conference Resume: Lost to Wichita State and Oklahoma State by five points apiece. Also lost road games against Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Chances of pulling off an upset: Medium

Oral Roberts doesn't play good enough defense to surprise a potential 2- or 3-seed. The Eagles have allowed at least 80 points 13 times already this season. Still, it'll be a lot of fun watching Abmas and Kevin Obanor do work. The two of them will keep Oral Roberts in the game, but this team will have to improve its defense, and quickly, if it wants to move on.

Drexel Dragons (12-7)

Conference: CAA
Leading Scorer: Camren Wynter, 16.8 ppg
Strength (according to KenPom): Offense (50th in 2PT%, 38th in 3PT%, 19th in FT%)
Weakness (according to KenPom): 307th in defensive turnover rate, forcing TOs in only 16.4 percent of possessions
Non-Conference Resume: Lost at Pittsburgh by nine points

Chances of pulling off an upset: Medium

Drexel has Philly-tough kids and is playing solid basketball. The Dragons benefited from a CAA field that had a bunch of teams returning from COVID-related interruptions. They may put a scare into a higher-seeded opponent with their offensive efficiency.

Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers (12-10)

Conference: Northeast
Leading Scorer: Damian Chong Qui, 14.9 ppg
Strength (according to KenPom): Defense (34th in 2PT% and 25th in 3PT% allowed)
Weakness (according to KenPom): Offense (245th in turnover rate and 269th in FT%, checking in 67.8)
Non-Conference Resume: Lost at Maryland and VCU by 18 points apiece.

Chances of pulling off an upset: Low

I won't say it's zero because Mount St. Mary's could have a magical effort and UMBC won as a 16-seed, but the Mountaineers' offense just isn't good enough. They lost 79-61 at Maryland and 60-42 at VCU in the span of a week. Only four games involving this team saw 70 possessions or more and two of those went to overtime. If they somehow match up with a defensive-minded team like Virginia, the game could be very methodical and low scoring.

Morehead State Eagles (23-7)

Conference: Ohio Valley
Leading Scorer: Johni Broome, 13.9 ppg
Strength (according to KenPom): Defense (92nd in 2PT% and 34th in 3PT% allowed)
Weakness (according to KenPom): Turn it over on 22.9 percent of their offensive possessions, which ranks 332nd nationally.
Non-Conference Resume: Lost by 36 points at Kentucky, by 18 to Richmond, by 15 at Clemson, and by 33 at Ohio State.

Chances of pulling off an upset: Low

Morehead State has shown it can grind games out in the OVC, but it hasn't carried over against better competition. The Eagles figure to be a 15- or a 16-seed, so while a win in the First Four, should they end up there, could happen but an upset probably isn't in the cards.

UNC Greensboro Spartans (21-8)

Conference: Southern
Leading Scorer: Isaiah Miller, 19.3 ppg
Strength (according to KenPom): 17th in turnover rate on offense at 15.5 percent
Weakness (according to KenPom): 312th from beyond the arc, connecting on 30 percent from 3-point range
Non-Conference Resume: Lost by eight points to Winthrop on a neutral court. Also lost to Duquesne and Coppin State.

Chances of pulling off an upset: Low

Miller is certainly capable of taking over games, but I wonder if UNC Greensboro will be able to slow down its opponent defensively. The Spartans have certainly improved from that poor 1-3 start.

Appalachian State Mountaineers (17-11)

Conference: Sun Belt
Leading Scorer: Adrian Delph, 13.2 ppg
Strength (according to KenPom): Turnover rate — 99th on offense and 102nd on defense
Weakness (according to KenPom): Offense (274th in effective field-goal shooting)
Non-Conference Resume: Lost by 41 points at Tennessee and by 14 at Auburn in a game that featured 58 possessions.

Chances of pulling off an upset: Low

Appalachian State made do with six players for the most part in the Sun Belt and survived a four-games-in-four-days stretch to win the conference tournament. The Mountaineers don't do a ton well and figure to get matched up against one of the top seeds (Michigan perhaps?). Enjoy your time in the tourney Mountaineers because it could be short.

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.

(Top graphic courtesy of @marchmadness)