Bracket Prep: UNC-Asheville, Murray State & Belmont

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2012

The first three NCAA Tournament bids were earned on Saturday afternoon, so as each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.

UNC Asheville

UNCA Was the First Team to Dance This Year (E. Brethauer/Citizen-Times)

  • Big South Champion (24-9, 19-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #108/#123/#128
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +4.7
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16 (First Four)

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. UNC-Asheville is one of the smallest teams in America, sporting a starting lineup that goes between 6’1″ and 6’5″.  Their next three players off the bench are roughly the same size, which means that UNCA’s primary objective each night is to make the game into a full-court running affair. The Bulldogs are among the top 35 fastest tempos nationally, and you might expect them to rely heavily on the three-ball, but that’s not the case. Asheville’s offense instead seeks to drive the ball into the paint to shoot twos (52.5% 2FGs) and pick up fouls (77.4% FTs).
  2. The straws that stir the Bulldog attack are the backcourt duo of JP Primm and Matt Dickey, both all-Big South selections (Dickey was the conference POY). The pair of seniors are both capable shooters and distributors who played well in last year’s First Four win against Arkansas-Little Rock and subsequent loss to #1 seed Pittsburgh. They’ve played enough high major teams in their careers — North Carolina, NC State, Connecticut, Tennessee in just this year — so that they’re unlikely to get rattled.
  3. The best matchup for the Bulldogs would be another undersized First Four team that does not defend well, allowing the uptempo guards of Primm and Dickey to pick their spots and make things happen. Their next round game against a #1 seed is unlikely to matter in terms of a favorable matchup, but clearly bigger teams would be more difficult for Eddie Biedenbach’s team to handle. The Bulldogs were competitive with each of the power conference teams mentioned above.

Murray State

  • OVC Champion (30-1, 17-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #24/#47/#41
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +10.6
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#6

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. You’d have to be hiding under a rock all season to not know Murray State’s story. The overarching question is how good are the 30-win Racers? The OVC was not a very good league this season, and Murray’s non-conference schedule left a lot to be desired. Still, Steve Prohm’s team beat all but one of the opponents put in front of them, and that’s got to count for something. The Racers shoot the ball well from beyond the arc (41.4% 3FG), cause a lot of turnovers (16.3 per game), and have a core group of juniors and seniors who know how to play with each other.
  2. One of that core group, Isaiah Canaan, is a likely All-American and the player most likely to put the team on his back and carry them through tough spots. He can heat up to beyond scorching from three-point land, hitting 95 treys on the season and enjoying eight different games of five makes or more (including an 8-of-8 explosion). But this is no one-man team: forwards Donte Poole and Ivan Aska are also capable scorers, as proven by Poole’s seven 20+ point outings this year and Aska’s steady-as-she-goes string of double figures games prior to his midseason injury.
  3. In 2010, #13 Murray State shocked #4 Vanderbilt in the First Round prior to giving soon-to-be national finalist Butler all they wanted in a Second Round game. Many of those same players are still around. The key question is how the Racers will handle the role of favorite against another quality team, because it’s highly likely (depending on how you view St. Mary’s) that Murray’s next game will be against the best opponent it has seen since playing at Memphis in early December. The one thing to watch for is if the Racers are matched up against an undisciplined power conference team — that’s the kind of team that plays right into their hands.

Belmont

  • Atlantic Sun Champion (27-7, 19-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #60/#25/#33
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +12.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #13-#14

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. It’s funny how Belmont was viewed at the start of the season versus the end of the year. Returning a deep and talented team from a 30-5 campaign in 2010-11 that featured elite efficiency numbers, Rick Byrd’s team was everybody’s mid-major du jour coming into this year. After a one-point season-opening loss at Duke and another at Memphis, the chattering class started to lose interest. With further Ls against Middle Tennessee, Miami (OH), and Marshall in the non-conference slate, everybody completely forgot about them. Well, they’re back in the Dance again, and they are not all that different of a team from the one everyone loved four months ago. keep that in mind.
  2. The Belmont attack is predicated on spreading the floor and finding their excellent three-point shooters, Drew Hanlen (48.6% 3FG) and Ian Clark (40.2% 3FG) spotting up behind the arc. The duo have combined for 179 threes so far this year, but you’d be mistaken if you believe that’s all the Bruins can do. Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders, Belmont’s two big men, are punishing players who can both clean the glass and score within the paint. The Bruins will be able to score on just about anybody — the key question is whether they can get enough stops to win the game.
  3. One issue with Belmont, both this year and last, is that even though they’ve played power conference teams tough, they’ve yet to beat any of them. The Bruins’ offense this season is highly efficient (#10 nationally) and if they match up against a weaker defense, they could cause serious problems through its three-point shooting and effective big men inside. They do not want to face a grinder of a team like Wisconsin again — if they were matched up against a similarly situated power conference team like an Indiana or Florida, it would maximize their chances of pulling off the upset.
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