In the eighth installment of our 20ish-part series, Get to Know an Auto-Bid, we examine the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers.
The Mount clinched their fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament with a 71-61 victory over St. Francis (PA) in the NEC Conference Championship Game, Tuesday.
The Mountaineers’ run to the Big Dance was improbable as they lost 11 of their first 12 games of the season. In their defense, of those 12 games, six were against probable tournament teams and 10 of those contests were on the road.
Such is life as a mid-major where playing guarantee games to pay the bills is prioritized over building a tournament resume and winning games.
After that brutal start, Mount St. Mary’s won 11 of 12 games to right the ship. The Mountaineers were able to finish with a 19-15 record and a 14-4 mark in conference, which earned them the NEC regular season title.
In the NEC, the regular season champion earns homecourt advantage throughout the tournament and gave the Mount a tremendous advantage, especially in the championship game. The NEC title game is always played in small, on-campus gyms which produce fantastic atmospheres, and Tuesday night in Emmitsburg was no different.
The Mount’s best win came on the road against George Mason, a below average Atlantic 10 team. The Mountaineers failed to threaten any of the probable tournament teams they faced early and their best performance came in a nine-point defeat at UT-Arlington, the favorite to win the Sun Belt.
Elijah Long leads the team with 15.2 points per game, while Chris Wray is a force for Mount St. Mary’s on the boards with 5.8 rebounds per game.
The winner of the NEC is usually destined for Dayton and a spot in the First Four. The Mount’s lone tournament win came in the First Four in 2008 as MSM defeated Coppin State 69-60 before falling to North Carolina 113-74.
In addition to that game with UNC, the Mount’s other tournament matchups have been against Kentucky and Michigan State – not much chance to advance when you play those blue bloods in the first round. All four Mount St. Mary’s appearances in the tournament have resulted in a 16-seed and this year will be no different.
The Otter Room bracket projections currently slot Mount St. Mary’s as a 16-seed again this year and the Mount needs some upsets in other low-major conference tournaments to avoid another trip to Dayton for the First Four.