Introducing Cinderella: The East Tennessee State Buccaneers are headed to the NCAA tournament

AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson
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Conference: Southern

Coach: Steve Forbes

Record: 27-7 (14-4 T-1)

Ratings and Rankings:

Kenpom: 66
RPI: 60
AP/USA Today: N/A

Seeding: Coming out of the Southern likely means the Buccaneers are likely headed for somewhere in the 12- or 13-seed range.

Names you need to know: There’s one here that stands above the rest: T.J. Cromer. The 6-foot-3 guard is the type of player that can engineer an upset by himself on the right March day. The senior is averaging 19.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He’s shooting 40.7 percent on 3-pointers (putting up over 230 attempts) and 51.2 percent on 2s while chucking a ton of shots. He’s also an 80.8 percent free-throw shooter. Other players to keep an eye on are Desonta Bradford, Tevin Glass, A.J. Merriweather and Hanner Mosquera-Perea (Indiana transfer), who all average at least 8 points per game.

Stats you need to know: The Bucs can shoot the heck out of the ball, ranking 13th nationally with an effective field goal percentage of 56.1, but their problem is the possessions where they don’t shoot as one of the country’s most prone to turnovers offenses. Cromer is one of the highest-volume shooters in the nation, hoisting up nearly a third of his team’s shots while he’s on the floor. On the defensive end, East Tennessee State is an extremely opportunistic defense as they swarm for steals and blocks.

Big wins, bad losses: The Bucs’ best win came in December when they knocked off Mississippi State, 67-65, in Starkville. They got swept in the regular season by Southern co-champ UNC Greensboro while also losing to Wofford on the road.

How’d they get here?: East Tennessee State avenged those two losses to the Spartans by building a 12-point second-half lead and then surviving a Greensboro comeback attempt that featured a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 5 seconds left in a game in which the Bucs shot 52.8 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3. That title game victory came after East Tennessee State dispatched Mercer and Samford without much issue in the earlier rounds.

Outlook: East Tennessee State is likely to get a tough draw, so it’s hard to see them advancing unless Cromer goes nuts. That’s certainly a possibility. Cromer has six games of 25-or-more points, and he exploded for 41 in the Southern semifinals in which he drilled nine 3s. If he gets hot, high seeds should look out.

How do I know you?: East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes is probably the most recognizable person in the program, and he’s probably best known for being on Bruce Pearl’s staff that was fired at Tennessee amid the infamous Aaron Craft cookout photo “scandal.” Forbes got hit with a one-year show-cause penalty, went to junior college purgatory where he had major success – appearing in two national title games – before resurfacing back in Division I at Wichita State under Gregg Marshall before getting his first head coaching shot in Johnson City, where’ he’s won 51 games in two years. It’s quite the comeback story, and one that could send Forbes even higher up the coaching ladder.