Ticket punched: UNC Asheville earns bid for second straight year

Unlike last season when UNC Asheville had to upset top-seeded Coastal Carolina on its home floor to make the NCAA tournament, there was nothing remotely surprising about the Bulldogs' bid-clinching victory this year.

They won 16 league games to run away with the Big South regular season title. They hosted the conference tournament on their home floor. And they won their first two Big South tournament games by an average of 26 points.

UNC Asheville achieved its season-long goal to return to the NCAA tournament on Saturday when it ended seventh-seeded VMI's unlikely run with a 80-64 victory. The Bulldogs gradually pulled away after the Keydets tied the score at 47 to become the first team to seal its place in the field of 68.

What the biggest question will be now for UNC Asheville is whether it can avoid a play-in game in Dayton this season.

The Bulldogs survived an overtime First Four win over Arkansas-Little Rock last March to earn a date with top-seeded Pittsburgh two days later. Most mock brackets have UNC Asheville bound for Dayton again this season, though that could easily change with a few conference tournament upsets this week.

[ Related: UNCA beats VMI for Big South title, NCAA berth ]

If UNC Asheville gets the chance to face one of the nation's top teams, the Bulldogs could be a bit more dangerous than the usual 16th-seeded cannon fodder. They boast NCAA tournament experience and one of the better mid-major backcourts in the nation headlined by seniors Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm.

Dickey and Primm combined for 35 points against Pittsburgh last March, but the Bulldogs went 3-for-19 from behind the arc and couldn't stay competitive in the second half. The duo would love one more shot to topple a top seed and put UNC Asheville on the March map.

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