Bracket Prep: Akron, Louisville, Northwestern State, Montana, Oregon, Pacific & New Mexico State

Posted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013

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Saturday’s flurry of bid snatching wound down out West and left us with a near-complete picture of the puzzle. Just four automatic bids remain to be earned on Selection Sunday. As we have for each of the 31 automatic qualifiers to play their way into the Dance, 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 this week.

Akron

Zeke Marshall And Akron Overcame Late-Season Drama To Reach The NCAA Tournament

Zeke Marshall And Akron Overcame Late-Season Drama To Reach The NCAA Tournament

  • MAC Champion (26-6, 16-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #49/#54/#62
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +10.7
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #12-#13

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Last year’s Tournament darlings, the Ohio Bobcats, saw their shot at a return bid die on Saturday night, but don’t be surprised if their conquerors put some of that MAC mojo to use again this year. The Akron Zips turned in one of the most impressive performances of the day, comprehensively picking apart a good Ohio team en route to the MAC Tournament title. A pair of late regular season losses had recently killed the bubble talk surrounding the Zips, but let’s not forget how they entered the conversation in the first place. Keith Dambrot’s club ripped off 19 straight wins between December 15th and March 2nd in what still measures up as the longest winning streak in all of college basketball this season.
  2. Akron is as well-rounded a mid-major as you will find, but the Zips truest strength lies in a tougher-than-nails frontcourt. Demetrius Treadwell is the team’s second leading scorer at 11.4 PPG and leading rebounder at 7.9 RPG. His crafty, below-the-rim game may not be the sexiest, but it’s a great complement to the other important Zip on the interior, 7’0” Zeke Marshall. Marshall is the team’s leading scorer (13 PPG) and one of the nation’s leaders in FG percentage at 66%, but the big senior truly excels on the defensive side of the ball. He boasts the 4th best block percentage in the country (14.1%), and is, quite literally, a huge reason why Akron is one of the 20 best teams in the country in effective field goal percentage defense.
  3. The March suspension of point guard Alex Abreu (for drug charges) momentarily shook the team, but back-to-back good wins provide Keith Dambrot with some hope that his team has moved on, however much the loss of Abreu (10.3 PPG, 6.0 APG) hurts on the floor. Freshman Carmelo Betancourt has seen his minutes rise from 10 to 26 a game since the Abreu suspension, but the youngster will certainly not be asked to replicate Abreu’s production. The Zips have won with a balanced, team approach all season long, and the “next man up” attitude should come naturally for Betancourt and others. Dont overlook that even before that 19-game surge, the Zips beat Middle Tennessee State, pounded Penn State (by 25) and took OK State to overtime. Could a MAC team crash the Big Dance for the second straight season?

Louisville

A Decisive Second Half Surge Made The Cardinals Big East Tournament Champions For The Second Straight Season

A Decisive Second Half Surge Made The Cardinals Big East Tournament Champions For The Second Straight Season

  • Big East Champion (29-5, 17-4)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #3/#2/#1
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +19.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. When the bracket is unveiled Sunday night, the Big East Champion Louisville Cardinals may well be your number one overall seed. Long gone are the worries generated by a mid-season three-game losing streak, as the Cards have only lost once in the months of February and March, and even that required 65 minutes of basketball to accomplish. Louisville should find themselves on the short list of favorites to cut down the nets in April, and judging from Peyton Siva’s post-Big East Title commentary — “no sleep until Atlanta” – Louisville will be focused and ready to make it happen.
  2. Take a proud, proud look at the team you have built Mr. Pitino. The Cards are the most efficient defensive team in the country, bar none. They force turnovers at an astounding rate (on 27.5% of possessions, good for second best in the country) but still rank in the top-20 for effective field goal defense. Both Russ Smith and Siva are among the top-50 ball-hawks in the country when it comes to steal percentage, and Gorgui Dieng (2.6 BPG) lurks on the back end to cover up for any ill-advised gambles. You couldn’t dream up a better-constructed defensive unit, and they are as good as it gets in 2013.
  3. Louisville’s potentially fatal flaw is their three-point shooting. Smith and Siva both put up a good number of attempts, but neither shoots it at better than 33%. Luke Hancock has reached double figures in five of his last six games and is coming on strong; his emergence adds a bona fide deep threat to the Cardinal arsenal, but his production alone is no cure-all for the weakness. No team is perfect however, and get this—last year’s Cardinals actually shot the ball considerably worse from deep, and their season still ended in New Orleans at the Final Four. When you play defense this well, the margin for error on the other end gets a little bigger, and this leeway is plenty big enough to subsidize yet another Louisville Final Four run.

Northwestern State

Southland Champions And Headed For The NCAA Tournament -- Congrats To The Demons Of Northwestern State!

Southland Champions And Headed For The NCAA Tournament — Congrats To The Demons Of Northwestern State!

  • Southland Champion (23-8, 17-3)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #96/#133/#138
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +3.9
  • Likely NCAA Seed:#14-#15

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Northwestern State, the second best team in the Southland during the course of the regular season, stole the conference tournament title away on Saturday night. The Demons may not be as well-credentialed for Big Dance crashing as Stephen F. Austin, the team they beat to get there, but a Top-100 RPI lends some legitimacy. They also are owners of the quickest attack in D-1 at 72.9 possessions/game, a tendency that could easily cause concern with the right matchup. The program has never in its history gone to the Tournament and walked away empty handed (two appearances, two Tournament wins) – could this group keep this unlikely streak going?
  2. Besides the lightning quick tempo, there is not a whole lot about the Northwestern State offensive profile that stands out. Aside from struggles shooting the three (277th in percentage, but only 267th in attempts), they don’t do much poorly, but this is no quick-tempo offensive juggernaut either. They average 81 PPG and have four double-figure scorers helping them get there, led by junior DeQuan Hicks (14.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG). If you are wondering how coach Mike McConathy keeps his up-tempo attack in high gear, look no further than the minutes distribution. A whopping ten Demons average at least 15 minutes per game, making this the 6th most used bench in the land.
  3. Northwestern State is not a bad offensive rebounding team, but at 332nd nationally, are truly one of the worst in the country at collecting misses from their own backboard. That issue goes hand in hand with a propensity to send opponents to the free throw stripe. The Demons have dodged the full brunt of that blow by posting a nation’s best 63.0% free throw “defense”, but don’t expect NCAA Tournament foes to be so kind. In order to give their tempo a chance to offer some disruption, Northwestern State has to manage the defensive glass and keeps their opponent off the line. Both are tall tasks, but despite the program’s Tournament track record, winning games at the Dance as the Southland champ is supposed to be just that.

Montana

Will Cherry And Kareem Jamar Were Instrumental In Getting Montana Back To The NCAA Tournament For The Third Time In Four Seasons

Will Cherry And Kareem Jamar Were Instrumental In Getting Montana Back To The NCAA Tournament For The Third Time In Four Seasons

  • Big Sky Champion (25-6, 21-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #84/#144/#133
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +3.6
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #14-#15

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. For the third time in the last four seasons and sixth occasion since the turn of the century, the Montana Grizzlies are the best of the Big Sky. They took down a good Weber State team in Missoula to get there and possess a tidy RPI of 84, but most other rating systems are more skeptical of a Grizzly team that feasted on non D-1 competition before hitting a weak Big Sky conference. Still, 21-1 is 21-1, and Coach Wayne Tinkle has a number of Tournament-tested veterans at his disposal.
  2. Will Cherry was the preseason POY in the Big Sky, but a foot injury kept him out of the first seven games of the year. Do-everything junior Kareem Jamar (14.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.1 APG) emerged in Cherry’s absence and kept the momentum going all season long, thoroughly earning his Big Sky POY award. Senior forward Mathias Ward also saw a spike in production this season. His 14.8 PPG currently leads Montana, but a foot injury ended both his season and career prematurely. The loss clearly puts more pressure on Jamar and Cherry, but Cherry in particular may be ready to carry a bigger load. The fearless senior should be especially motivated to make an impact in his third and final NCAA Tournament.
  3. The aforementioned duo will still make the Grizzlies a tricky team to guard, but Tinkle is tasked with making his team competitive on the defensive end, as well as the glass. Neither area is a team strength, and the Selection Committee will be arranging a date for Montana with a team the likes of which they haven’t yet met. This is not a bad team by any stretch, but they are a little thinner than past Montana Tournament teams. Cherry and Jamar will both needs to step up in a big way for the Grizzlies to advance, as especially with Ward out, this team just may not have the fire-power to seriously challenge in round two.

Oregon

Slumping No More: Oregon Is Dancing With A Pac-12 Title In Their Back Pocket

Slumping No More: Oregon Is Dancing With A Pac-12 Title In Their Back Pocket

  • Pac 12 Champion (26-8, 15-6)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #48/#43/#47
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.7
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #6-#9

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. After a brief late-season flirtation with the bubble, Oregon left zero doubt about their Tournament eligibility in capping an impressive Pac-12 tournament with a title game victory over UCLA. Dana Altman gets his first NCAA appearance at Oregon, and the Ducks make a return to the Dance after a five year hiatus. Like much of the Pac-12, uncertain expectations follow Oregon into Tournament play. The team that sprinted out to an 18-2 start looked capable of a sustained Tournament run, but the 5-6 stretch that brought the Ducks near the bubble again soured those prospects. The Pac-12 title will be good for seed and team confidence, but how good is Oregon? Your guess is as good as mine.
  2. In an unusual twist for both the program and coach, Oregon has made their living this season on the defensive end. Last year’s team was 14th nationally in offensive efficiency and 158th in defensive efficiency; in 2013, Oregon is only 121st on the offensive side, but 16th when it comes to defense. This dramatic shift in philosophy might help explain the impact that the injury to freshman point guard Dominic Artis had on the Ducks. When Artis went down, Oregon was 17-2. He returned after a nine game absence in which the team went just 5-4. Artis is a capable scorer, but the bulk of his significance came from his ball-hawking defense and ball-handling, especially without a natural replacement lurking behind him.
  3. After the victory Saturday over UCLA, Dana Altman admitted that he may have applied too much pressure to his team to take the regular season crown. But a week in Vegas can loosen up just about anyone, and it seemed to do the trick for the Ducks. After weeks of inconsistent play that even Altman described as “tight”, Oregon played loose and aggressive at the MGM Grand. Johnathan Loyd let some of the newly found bravado spill out in taking to the stands after the game, but only after the junior came up with the game of his season (19 points, 3 assists). Carlos Emory contributed 20 huge points, but it was his ferocious tip slam in the final seconds that defined the Ducks’ week in Vegas and provided clear proof that Altman’s bunch had found their swagger in Vegas. Bottle that, bring it to the Big Dance, and voila — suddenly the Ducks are a dangerous sleeper again.

Pacific

The Big West Champion Pacific Tigers Are Bringing Bob Thomason Back For A Final Tournament Appearance

The Big West Champion Pacific Tigers Are Bringing Bob Thomason Back For A Final Tournament Appearance

  • Big West Champion (22-12, 16-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #105/#121/#130
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +2.3
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Bob Thomason and Pacific turned out to be one of the really good, under-the-radar stories of Championship Week. The Tigers coach is retiring after 25 seasons at his alma mater, but not without one last visit to the NCAA Tournament. Pacific, runners-up to Long Beach State in the regular season, dodged a date with the 49ers this week when UC-Irvine upset them in the semifinals, then took care of business versus Irvine in Saturday night’s title game. Thomason announced his retirement back in May, and with his team picked to finish sixth in the Big West before the season, had to think that getting to his fifth and final NCAA Tournament was a long-shot. A great story, plain and simple.
  2. One of the easiest aids for springing the big first round-upset is a good day shooting the three-ball. Pacific and their 39.5% made from deep (10th in the country) is as qualified as any high seed to find that proficiency. An amazing eight Tigers have made at least twenty threes this season, and all eight shoot at least 35% from the mark. At 11.2 PPG, Lorenzo McCloud is the only player averaging double figures on the season, as balance has carried the day in Thomason’s final season. The Tigers also play slow, 274th in the country slow, so expect an effort to limit possessions – never a bad thing when playing against a superior opponent.
  3. As unexpected as this season may have been, don’t mistake this team for a Championship Week wonder. Their second place Big West finish was preceded by a brutal non-conference schedule (4th in non-conf SOS) where Pacific gained confidence by winning games against St. Mary’s, Xavier, and Nevada. Asking them to a win a game as a #15 seed is a lot to ask for, but Thomason is 2-2 in first round games over the years, and this Pacific team has tendencies that lend themselves to giant-killing. Plus, might the Tigers take on a little added edge with it being their coach’s last go-around? Hard to say, but at the very least this is an intriguing team with a great story – enjoy the final moments of a great career, Coach Thomason.

New Mexico State

Marvin Menzies And New Mexico State Are Smiling Now That They Are Big Dance Ready

Marvin Menzies And New Mexico State Are Smiling Now That They Are Big Dance Ready

  • WAC Champion (24-10, 17-4)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #57/#80/#79
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +5.6
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #13-#14

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. The WAC was ruled by Louisiana Tech and Denver all season, but when all was said and done, a familiar program emerged as Tournament champions. This will be Marvin Menzies and New Mexico State’s third Tournament journey in four seasons. After competitive efforts in each of the last two trips, Menzies will be looking to upgrade the moral victories into a real one. Luckily for him, he has a team that’s capable enough to pull it off. The Aggies have few defined weaknesses or strengths, but their athletic rotation and familiarity with the setting should leave them in good stead.
  2. Sim Bhullar is a part of the NCAA Tournament. We are all winning. The New Mexico State big man (understatement of the year) is one of the most unique talents in college basketball. Las Cruces and New Mexico State are not often leading Sportscenter, so no worries if you have missed Sim, but the 7’5” freshman hasn’t eluded NBA scouts’ radars. Bhullar averages 10.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 2.3 BPG in 24 minutes a game, while also shooting 62% from the field. The mere fact that he is capable of playing 24 minutes a game at this young age is a good sign, and he is very nimble for a man his size. His ball skills are relatively competent, his touch around the rim is soft, and in-season development is already evident. He’s quite obviously a project for the next level, but he has already turned himself into a meaningful contributor on an NCAA Tournament team – as a freshman.
  3. New Mexico State leads the nation in KenPom’s effective height metric. The starting front court goes 6’8”, 6’10”, 7’5”, so don’t expect the Aggies to be overwhelmed by any opposing frontcourt. Bandja Sy and Tyrone Watson are rugged, athletic frontcourt players that have played in multiple NCAA tournaments before –player prototypes that are usually difficult to find outside the power conferences. New Mexico State should be able to match the physicality and athleticism of most potential foes, as they did in both 2010 and 2012 in competitive losses to Michigan State and Indiana. Those two teams can offer fair warning to whoever draws the Aggies this time: Be ready to play a full 40 minutes. It may be a lot to ask for with a balanced, star-less roster, but the Aggies have lacked a take-over individual performance in big spots in the past; finding that from anyone would give real legs to the upset cause.
BHayes (192 Posts)


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