INTRODUCING CINDERELLA: Meet the UNC Asheville Bulldogs

AP Photo/Ben McKeown
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Conference: Big South

Coach: Nick McDevitt

Record: 19-11 (12-6)

Ratings and Rankings:

Kenpom: 112
RPI: 149
AP/USA Today: Unranked

Seeding: 16

Names you need to know: G Dylan Smith (13.6 ppg), G Kevin Vannatta (11.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg), G Dwayne Sutton (11.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg), G Ahmad Thomas (11.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg), F Sam Hughes (10.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg)

Stats you need to know: The Bulldogs don’t have much in the way of height, as the tallest member of their rotation is 6-foot-6 forward Will Weeks (6-foot-10 forward John Cannon has played in just 16 games this season). Where that hurts them defensively is inside the arc, as opponents are shooting 51.7 percent from two. But the Bulldogs can really get after teams on the perimeter, as they force turnovers on more than 22 percent of their opponents’ possessions and limit teams to 28.8 percent shooting from three. Offensively they’ve been good at using their quickness to attack teams off the bounce, and that has led to a free throw rate that ranks 44th nationally. UNC Asheville entered Sunday shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from three.

Big wins, bad losses: The win that grabbed the most attention for the Bulldogs during non-conference play was the 79-73 victory at Georgetown December 19. But thanks to the Hoyas’ tailspin, it’s UNC Asheville’s win over ETSU four days prior that represents their lone RPI Top 100 win of the season. UNC Asheville also beat Winthrop twice this season, most recently in the Big South title game. As for “questionable” defeats, getting swept by Radford may be the biggest blemish on the Bulldogs’ résumé. Four of UNC Asheville’s six Big South losses came against teams that finished in the top four of the league standings.

How’d they get here?: As the four seed in the Big South tournament, UNC Asheville beat No. 5 Liberty 80-49, No. 1 High Point 80-69 and No. 2 Winthrop 77-68 to earn the conference’s automatic bid. The Bulldogs ended the regular season with three losses in their last five games, so they didn’t show up in Buies Creek playing their best basketball. And with Hughes being the lone senior among their top five scorers (the rest are either freshmen or sophomores), this may not be the first rodeo for this particular group.

Outlook: They’re going to be an interesting matchup for someone, especially if their opponent doesn’t have enough size to take advantage of UNC Asheville’s lack of it. Sutton was outstanding throughout the Big South tournament, capping the weekend with a 23-point, 18-rebound performance in the win over Winthrop, and this team’s offensive balance makes them a tough group to defend. Picking a 16-seed to beat a one-seed on your bracket would be a big gamble, but UNC Asheville is capable of being a team that grabs the nation’s attention late in their first round matchup.

How do I know you?: They made three NCAA tournament appearances under former head coach Eddie Biedenbach, the most recent of which came in 2012. And as mentioned above, their win over Georgetown (before we realized just how bad the Hoyas are) grabbed some attention back in December.