The Other 26: Bracket Analysis Part IPosted by KDoyle on March 15th, 2011
Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.
By now, we have all read, watched, and heard the breakdown of those teams fortunate enough to have earned a top seed in this year’s Tournament. We know Pittsburgh has the easiest road to Houston of the four #1 seeds—or do they? Georgetown, with Chris Wright returning to the lineup, is poised to make a run to the second weekend. Ohio State and Kansas are the favorites to advance to the Final Four according to many of the so-called experts. They can only review so many times how teams with Tournament experience traditionally perform well, and that having a formidable frontcourt is essential to reaching the Final Four. But, what about those pesky teams from the Other 26 conferences? While there are several popular teams that have the capability of playing the role of Cinderella this year that have received ample coverage—Belmont, Utah State and Oakland just to name a few—let’s dive in and investigate the fifteen O26 teams on the left-hand side of the bracket: the East and West Regions. Yes, even you, Texas-San Antonio and Long Island, are getting some love here.
I elected to break down the 15 teams by inserting each into one of the four categories: 1) Have a legitimate shot at actually advancing far into the Tournament; 2) Can win a game, but not much more; 3) If their shots are falling and their opponents are not, they have an outside shot; and, 4) We are just happy to be here
Ability to advance to the second weekend
(6, East) Xavier—Despite a setback to Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, Xavier breezed through their conference schedule with their only loss coming to Charlotte. Subsequently, they are one of the hotter teams entering the Tournament and possess one of the most dynamic and potent point guards in the country in Tu Holloway. The Musketeers’ date with Marquette in the first round is one of the most intriguing early match-ups of the tournament. Getting by the Golden Eagles would undoubtedly give them confidence against another Big East foe in Syracuse in the following round. Bare in mind, Xavier has reached the Sweet 16 in the past three NCAA Tournaments.
(2, West) San Diego State—The Aztecs are one of the best feel good stories of the entire year. They have a very likable team with guys like D.J. Gay and Kawhi Leonard being the face of the program, and Steve Fisher’s journey back to the top of the college basketball world has been great to watch. San Diego State sprinted through their entire regular season schedule with their only two blemishes coming at the hands of Jimmer Fredette and BYU. The play of Gay in the backcourt and Leonard in the frontcourt makes it hard for any opponent to cope with. SDSU will look to avenge their first round loss to Tennessee in last year’s tournament with a much deeper run this year.
(7, West) Temple—In the illustrious career of Fran Dunphy, the longtime coach has never won an NCAA Tournament game. After a strong non-conference performance that translated to a 14-2 record in the Atlantic 10, Temple seems poised to give Dunphy that first “W.” The Owls are one of the best defensive teams in the tournament, which will suite them well for Penn State’s hard-nosed and methodical offense. The match-up featuring Ramone Moore and Talor Battle will no doubt be a great one that may determine the outcome of the game.
Can win a game
(8, East) George Mason—The nation is finally witnessing the highly touted recruits that Jim Larranaga attracted to George Mason following their magical Final Four run back in 2006. The play of Ryan Pearson and Cam Long has been nothing short of exceptional during the second half of the season as GMU won 16 consecutive games. The streaking Patriots will take on the slumping Villanova Wildcats in the first round who have lost five straight games and 10 of their last 15. While the Nova backcourt is one of the best around with Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, GMU is playing with confidence and swagger that Villanova seems to have lost. I’ll take the hotter team in this one.
(12, West) Memphis—Has there been a more inconsistent team all year? Which Memphis team will show up in the Tournament? Memphis has defeated UAB—twice—won at Gonzaga, and won the Conference USA Tournament after going 10-6 in regular season; there is certainly a good team hidden in the sea of unpredictability. It is this unpredictability, however, that makes Memphis at least a threat to beat Arizona in the first round.
(13, West) Oakland—The Grizz made a name for themselves after a near upset of Michigan State and then a victory down at Tennessee. There are not many NBA players that come out of the Summit Conference, but Oakland’s Keith Benson will be the rare exception come draft night. It is not just Benson that is responsible for one of the top offenses in the nation, as he receives ample help from Reggie Hamilton and Travis Bader as well. Head coach Greg Kampe compiled a brutal non-conference schedule featuring top teams from around the country; suffice to say, Oakland will not shy away from Texas.
If things fall their way
(13, East) Princeton—The Tigers are not your stereotypical slow-footed team from the Ivy League as Kareem Maddox and Douglas Davis lead a talented Princeton squad that defeated Harvard twice this season. Princeton gets after their opponents on the defensive end and has a very precise offense with accurate shooters. Head coach Sydney Johnson was a product of the successful Tiger teams in the 90s, so expect a very disciplined bunch with a strong game plan. As gritty and tough as they are, Princeton has yet to face a team of such talent and athleticism that Kentucky possesses.
(14, East) Indiana State—When analyzing the game and players, the Sycamores do not match up very well with Syracuse. The Valley is known for upsets, and winning the always competitive conference takes a good deal of talent; defeating Wichita State and Missouri State in back-to-back games is no easy task. Indiana State will undoubtedly enter the Tournament feeling good about themselves, and this may be just enough to give Syracuse a better game than expected. Having Jordan Printy and Aaron Carter catch fire beyond the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone would, of course, certainly help too.
(14, West) Bucknell—Ah yes, remember these guys? The Bison were the darlings of the 2005 Tournament as they shocked Kansas as a 14 seed. The following year, they were a 9 seed and defeated Arkansas. Times have changed as Pat Flannery is no longer roaming the sidelines, but current coach Dave Paulsen has brought in some stellar recruits in his short time at Bucknell and the results have shown. They have only lost two games since Christmas and have one of the best pure point guards in the Tournament with Darryl Shazier (3.8:1 assists to turnover). Taking on the Big East champions will be no easy task, but if UConn looks past Bucknell, the Bison certainly have the ability to make matters interesting.
Thanks for playing, try again next year
(12, East) UAB—UAB and VCU are easily the two most lamented teams in the field. While they have two formidable players in Jamarr Sanders and Cameron Moore and were the Conference USA regular season champions, the only team they have defeated that is in the Tournament is, ironically enough, VCU. Coming fresh off a loss to a very mediocre East Carolina, I don’t see UAB seriously contending with a Clemson squad who took North Carolina to the brink in the ACC tournament.
(15, East) Long Island—It would not surprise me in the least if LIU was able to keep it close against North Carolina for a half. They are undoubtedly a confident bunch having lost just one game since early December, and are one of the better rebounding teams in the Tournament. They have four guys who are capable of connecting from distance on a regular basis; that alone can keep a team in a game for a while. Plus, the Tar Heels are a very young team with little NCAA Tournament experience, but talent and athleticism will prevail in the end.
(16, East) Texas-San Antonio—I happen to think that the Roadrunners will actually dispose easily of Alabama State in the opening round, but they will certainly run into a big roadblock in the form of the Pittsburgh Panthers. Devin Gibson carried UTSA all the way through the Southland Tournament and will open some eyes with his play.
(16, East) Alabama State—Hailing from traditionally the weakest conference in America—the SWAC—and boasting just an 11-7 record within this conference is not all too impressive. The Hornets are one of the worst shooting teams—if not the worst—in the Tournament (29 3P% from three, 44.6 2P%, 60.8 FT%).
(15, West) Northern Colorado—The Bears are one of the better shooting teams from behind the arc in the Tournament as they have four players who connect on nearly 40% of their attempts or better, but San Diego State happens to be one of the elite defensive units in the field. SDSU makes Northern Colorado’s first trip to the Big Dance an unpleasant one.
(16, West) Hampton—It would behoove Duke to not completely sleep on Hampton. The Pirates have garnered impressive wins against Boston University, George Washington, and Colorado State—the win against CSU being the one that stands out the most—and play tenacious defense. Mike Krzyzewski has been in the position countless times before and will no doubt have his team prepared.
Coming Wednesday: the other half of the bracket, the Southeast and Southwest Regions.