The Otter Room is proud to introduce a new installment: Get to Know an Auto-Bid. Hopefully this will give you a brief background of the team and tempt you into calling ill-advised upsets.
Jacksonville State, which is located in Jacksonville, Alabama, was the first team to punch their ticket to the Big Dance with their victory over UT-Martin in the Finals of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.
The Gamecocks stunned the No. 1 seed Belmont in the semifinals. Saturday’s win clinched the first tournament berth in program history.
Although this will be the first trip to the tournament for Jacksonville State, their coach Ray Harper reached the dance two times as the coach of Western Kentucky.
Sidenote, Belmont’s loss illustrates the daunting plight faced by the elite low to mid-majors. The Bruins were dominant all season and finished with a 22-6 record and a 15-1 mark in conference. The Bruins’ non-conference defeats were to tournament teams as well.
Belmont on the bubble in name only. Their candidacy will be discussed, but there is no way they will have their name read next Sunday. The Bruins have been one of the most consistently elite mid-major programs of the last 15 years and there is no doubt in my mind that Belmont is a better team than the middle of the road power conference teams that will get a bid.
Some people offer the suggestion that small conferences like the OVC should award the automatic bid to the regular season champion. I understand that argument, but it would rob us of having Cinderellas like Jacksonville State making an improbable run.
The Gamecocks earned the No. 4 seed in the OVC Tournament with a 20-14 overall record and a 9-7 mark in conference. Their best win came in the first game of the season as they defeated Tulsa on the road 84-73.
Malcolm Drumwright leads Jacksonville State with 12.6 points per game, while Norbertas Giga and Christian Cunningham are force on the glass as the duo both average eight rebounds per game.
Any time a team clinches a tournament berth for the first time in program history, it is a great story. As of now, The Otter Room bracket projections have the Gamecocks as a 16 seed, but could move up to a 15 depending how the dominoes fall in the other one-bid conferences.