Teams earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning their conference tournament. That’s not the case for the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks (21-10, 13-3) clinched the Atlantic Sun West Division and entered the conference tournament with the best overall conference record. Jacksonville upset Jacksonville State 54-51 in the semifinals, crushing their NCAA Tournament hopes. Or so they thought.
Bellarmine and Jacksonville faced off in the ASUN Final, but only Jacksonville was eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Bellarmine is in year two of a four-year transition to Division I, which means the Knights are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament and the NIT.
So, since Bellarmine won the title with a 77-72 win, the No. 1 overall seed, Jacksonville State, received the bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Although Jacksonville State’s invitation to the Big Dance is controversial, it will tip-off against No. 2 seed Auburn in the Greenville Regional on Friday.
The Gamecocks are one of the country’s best shooting teams, hitting 38.8% of their shots from beyond the arc, which ranks fifth in all of college basketball and third out of all mid-majors.
Demaree King leads the country in 3-point percentage, connecting on 46.2% of his looks from beyond the arc. The Tulsa, Okla. native ranks second in scoring for the Gamecocks with 10.7 points per contest.
The catalyst for the Jacksonville State offense, Darian Adams, tallies 15.6 points per contest, while hauling in 5.2 rebounds per contest. Adams’ performance earned him ASUN All-Conference First Team honors.
Jalen Gibbs is just one of three Gamecocks that average double figures in scoring, tying King with 10.7 points per game.
North Carolina transfer Brandon Huffman leads Jacksonville State on the boards, pulling in 5.8 rebounds per game.
Ray Hartper won the Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year award.
As the Gamecocks rank outside the KenPom in both offensive and defensive efficiency, an upset in the Palmetto State seems unlikely.
On the contrary, if the Gamecocks are able to exceed their season average from beyond the arc, they could keep the game competitive and potentially cover.
How to Watch
Date and Time: Friday, March 18 at 12:40 p.m. ET
Location: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, South Carolina
DraftKings Line: Auburn -15, O/U 139
Jacksonville State will look to join the likes of Lehigh, Norfolk State and Middle Tennessee State as 15 seeds who have upset a No. 2 seed. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, they will fall to 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament. Potential No. 1 overall pick Jabari Smith and Third Team All-American Walker Kessler will dominate the Gamecock defense. Jacksonville State can certainly stay within striking distance by hitting from beyond the arc, but Auburn is too athletic and too talented to keep up with for 40 minutes. The Tigers will advance to the Round of 32 with an 81-62 victory over the Gamecocks.