Bracket Prep: Western Kentucky, Davidson, James Madison, Gonzaga & Iona

Posted by BHayes on March 12th, 2013

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Championship Week continued in full blast on Monday night, as five more NCAA Tournament tickets were punched. 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.

Western Kentucky

Sun Belt Cinderellas Again -- Welcome Back To The Big Dance Hilltoppers

Sun Belt Cinderellas Again — Welcome Back To The Big Dance Hilltoppers

  • Sun Belt Champion (20-15, 14-10)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #166/#183/#184
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.5
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15-#16

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Who needs the regular season anyways? For the second consecutive campaign, Western Kentucky saw months of mediocrity give way to an unlikely week of dominance at the Sun Belt Tournament, where they depart as champions again. The sequel may never be as thrilling as the original – the 2012 Hilltoppers were just 9-18 (!) before winning their final six games to earn the auto-bid – but this Western Kentucky team is as unlikely a Big Dance participant as any.
  2. Western Kentucky isn’t elite in any one facet of the game, but they may be able to match up with their opening round opponent with regard to physicality and toughness. The Hilltoppers are third in the Sun Belt in effective height, and also rank third in the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. 6’6” sophomore George Fant is slightly undersized for the amount of time he spends in the paint, but leads the team in rebounding at 6.6 boards per game. Fant also ranks in the top 50 in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Senior Jamal Crooks (11.8 PPG, 4.1 APG) is another high-motor Hilltopper – his emotional energy and leadership is a crucial reserve for the young team around him.
  3. Expect WKU to compete on both ends, but don’t mistake intensity with skill. They do not shoot the ball well from deep, turn the ball over at an unacceptable clip (on 22.3% of possessions), and don’t play a whole lot of defense either. It all adds up to a rather unimpressive paper profile, and the 10-10 Sun Belt record before this week does little to make you feel better about things. The exact seed line will depend on what happens elsewhere, but either way, it’s hard to envision the Hilltoppers being competitive, much less capable of manufacturing an upset for the ages.

Davidson

Soak It In De'Mon -- You And The Wildcats Are Tournament Bound Yet Again

Soak It In De’Mon — You And The Wildcats Are Tournament Bound Yet Again

  • Southern Conference Champion (26-7, 20-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #69/#66/#67
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +9.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #12-#14

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. One of America’s favorite Big Dance crashers is at it again. The Davidson Wildcats will represent the Southern Conference at the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year, and per-usual with Bob McKillop’s squads, merely showing up will not be satisfactory. The Cats had legitimate at-large aspirations before the season, and their non-conference schedule reflected that hope. That strength of schedule is currently valued at 19th nationally, the challenging slate including dates with New Mexico, Gonzaga, and Duke. Davidson swung and missed in each of those opportunities, more or less limping their way to conference play, but McKillop’s squad is the definition of a battle-tested, veteran team.
  2. Two major talents highlight the Wildcat roster – senior Jake Cohen and junior De’Mon Brooks. Cohen is a 6’10” forward who does a little bit of everything for Bob McKillop, a big man capable of stretching the floor offensively (more than a three per game on 40% shooting) while still providing a defensive post presence, as his sneaky-good 6.6 block percentage goes to show. Brooks is the perfect complement for the lanky senior (or is Cohen the perfect complement to Brooks? Hmmm…), an athletic slasher who can attack off the bounce or from the post. The 2012 SoCon POY poured in a game-high 24 in Monday’s title game victory.
  3. Don’t think the Davidson offensive prowess is limited to just Cohen and Brooks. Five other Wildcats average at least seven points per game, and the team ranks in the top 50 nationally in a number of offensive efficiency categories. With a 80.1 percent team FT shooting, you are also looking at the best free throw shooting team in the country (they would be second in the NBA with that percentage). It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see Davidson winning a game in this NCAA Tournament – the Cats are an experienced group with oodles of offensive savvy and a brilliant coach behind them. They can be exposed on the defensive end, but toss ‘em’ a first round match-up with a plodding power conference team, and Bob McKillop will have a great opportunity to score his first Tournament win since the Stephen Curry era.

James Madison

Time To Party Like It's 1994 At James Madison...

Time To Party Like It’s 1994 At James Madison…

  • Colonial Champion (20-14, 14-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #188/#188/#180
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -1.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15-#16

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. James Madison capped a bizarre year of CAA basketball in a decidedly anticlimactic title game, comfortably defeating top-seeded Northeastern to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1994. Give the Dukes credit for one of their better recent seasons and a nice week of basketball in Richmond, but you can’t acknowledge their bid without taking in the surroundings. The Colonial had finished in the top-15 in conference RPI for the past 10 seasons.  This year the league dropped to #24, behind the America East and narrowly edging out the Southland. NBC has to be overjoyed to have snagged the CAA title game coverage from ESPN this year!
  2. JMU plays slow and does not score the ball well (220th nationally in offensive efficiency), but they also don’t turn the ball over often. Point guard Devon Moore is the single biggest reason for the capable ball control. The senior is as steady as they come, having averaged at least 8.8 points in each of his four seasons in Harrisonburg, while also chipping in more than four assists per contest the last three years. He posted an understated but solid 9/5/5 line in the CAA title game, and is undoubtedly the primary cog in any JMU upset considerations.
  3. Let’s be frank: This is not your typical CAA champion. Winning this league usually adds some legitimacy to even a mediocre resume, but that credibility has vanished this season. UCLA was the one NCAA Tournament team on the JMU schedule this season, and the Bruins hung triple digits on the Dukes, winning by 30. There is no element of this statistical profile to suggest the Dukes are ready to play the role of giant-killer, but if we are into that whole grasping for straws thing, creating a tempo-battle with a team that wants to get out and run may be the best bet here. More likely scenario? The Dukes’ Tournament appearance is a quick one, and we are all left wondering what happened to the league we once knew as the Colonial Athletic Association.

Gonzaga

Who Says Conference Tournament Titles Don't Mean Anything? The Zags Get The WCC Sweep

Who Says Conference Tournament Titles Don’t Mean Anything? The Zags Get The WCC Sweep

  • WCC Champion (30-2, 18-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #10/#4/#5
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +18.8
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. While earning the auto-bid may not have been necessary for Gonzaga to remain positioned for a #1 seed, it was obvious that the Zags were dead set on reclaiming the WCC Tournament title Monday night. They did just that. With that #1 seed looking like a safe bet for the top-ranked team in the country, the only question that remains is whether the program that defined the term Cinderella will enter the 2013 NCAA Tournament as the #1 overall seed. Stay tuned.
  2. Mark Few’s team has done too many things right this season to squeeze them all into this space, but let’s shift the spotlight away from the frontcourt and towards the less-publicized backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell. Pangos has played a better floor game in his second season in Spokane, content with scoring less and involving his band of talented teammates more. Scoring volume may be down but efficiency isn’t for the Canadian – he is shooting 43% from deep and 82% from the line. His backcourt mate and fellow sophomore Bell is also a threat from deep (39% 3FG), but is a true two-way player, providing toughness and defense on the wing for a team that desperately needs it. Senior Mike Hart is another gritty wing defender for the Zags, and in a detail far too ironic to omit, is currently leading the nation in offensive rating (per KenPom). The consummate glue guy, Hart has attempted just 33 shots all year, despite averaging better than 16 minutes per game.
  3. A sketchy recent March history will have prognosticators wary of Gonzaga, and it’s hard to blame them. The last time they exceeded their seed expectation was 2003, when the #9-seed Zags sprung the mildest of first round upsets before losing in round two. Of course, a #1 seed leaves little room for exceeding expectations, but can this team put together a sustained March run? Weaknesses for this team are difficult to find, but the WCC is also not the best mechanism for fleshing out flaws. No matter what happens, the Gonzaga Bulldogs will be one of the major storylines of this NCAA Tournament.

Iona

Shout It Out Momo -- Your Gaels Are Dancing

Shout It Out Momo — Your Gaels Are Dancing

  • MAAC Champion (20-13, 14-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #102/#97/#95
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +5.0
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #14-#15

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Iona was held to a season low 60 points by Manhattan in the MAAC title game on Monday night, so off go the Jaspers to the NCAA Tournament, right? You would think, yet Iona somehow found a way to win a game that rarely resembled the track meets they tend to prefer. Rest assured that Tim Cluess and the Gaels — the second highest scoring team in the land — will not be looking to recreate this one come next Thursday or Friday.
  2. Go, go, go and go some more. That’s the offensive philosophy of the Gaels, who again rank in the top-20 nationally in possessions per game. That mentality is more than okay with leading scorer Momo Jones, whose 23.3 PPG have him trailing only Erick Green in the national scoring race. The Arizona transfer is at his best as a driver; his shooting percentage splits of 50/33/88 back this up. Don’t worry though, Momo still gets his share of attempts from distance – 168 thus far this year, to be precise. Sean Armand is an efficient second scorer (16.9 PPG), while David Laury (13.2 PPG, 10.6 RPG) has filled the shoes of the departed Mike Glover far more admirably than could have been expected.
  3. This could be a pesky deal for an unlucky #2 or #3 seed. The quick tempo alone should pose problems for some of the grinding power conference teams out there – Wisconsin, Georgetown, Michigan State all immediately pop to mind, and never mind that the Gaels are actually a pretty efficient offensive unit (20th nationally) on top of that pace. It comes with the territory that there are some glaring issues as well — defense and rebounding are both team deficiencies, and an opponent with some size could wreak havoc versus Iona, for the rotation features only two players taller than 6’5”. All in all though, this is a fun, dangerous team to keep an eye on.
BHayes (181 Posts)


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