Bracket Prep: Albany, Memphis, Southern, North Carolina A&T, Kansas & New Mexico

Posted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013


Championship Week reached a crescendo on the eve of Selection Sunday, as thirteen automatic bids were handed out. 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 this week.


How About A Court Storming On An Opponent's Home Floor? Completely Legal, Especially If A Trip To The Big Dance Is On The Line.  Congratulations Albany.

How About A Court Storming On An Opponent’s Home Floor? Completely Legal, Especially If A Trip To The Big Dance Is On The Line. Congratulations Albany.

  • America East Champion (24-10, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #143/#152/#172
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +2.0
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for Albany, but Saturday’s ticket-punching win at Vermont means the ride will roll on to the Big Dance. The America East champs put together an impressive 11-3 non-conference campaign that included a win at Washington, but conference play proved trying for Will Brown’s team, as a 9-7 finish left them as the fourth seed in the America East tournament. Albany lived the familiar March mantra “survive and advance” to the fullest this week, winning three games by a total of eight points to earn the bid.
  2. In a fashion quite typical for these Great Danes, Albany won games this week in which they scored 50, 61 and 53 points, respectively – not exactly “grab some popcorn and take in the show” territory here. The tempo is predictably slow (279th nationally), and with national ranks of 170th offensively and 144th defensively, Albany is very much middle of the road on both ends of the floor. Where the Great Danes do excel is on the glass. They are an above average offensive rebounding team and rank 40th nationally in collecting caroms on the defensive end, aided in part by a relatively big lineup, especially for the America East.
  3. The Albany offensive blueprint is not especially refined, but they rely heavily on a small senior duo of three-point shooters. 6’0” Mike Black leads the Danes in scoring at 15 a contest and towers over his backcourt mate, 5’10” Jacob Iati, who chips in 12.2 PPG. The two have combined to make 139 threes this season, and they would be well served to keep chucking come next week, because unless Albany gets slotted for the First Four in Dayton, it will take a hot shooting night and then some (and then some more, and some more…) to keep the Danes surviving and advancing.


Rulers Of Conference USA For The Final Time, Memphis Is Dancing Again

Rulers Of Conference USA For The Final Time, Memphis Is Dancing Again

  • Conference USA Champion (30-4, 19-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #15/#38/#27
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +12.0
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #7-#9

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. There is little doubt that Memphis is the class of Conference USA. Despite being pushed to double-overtime by Southern Miss in the C-USA title game today, the Tigers dominated in their final season in the conference, winning all 19 league games. But the question has never been about Memphis’ place in its fast-eroding conference. In each of the past two seasons, believers lost during disappointing non-conference campaigns have slowly migrated back during the winning of January and February, only to be let down by quick tournament exits. This season has followed a similar script so far, and Memphis fans believe again. Will there be a different ending this time, or is another March let-down on the horizon?
  2. While there may be no harder team to figure out in all the land, let’s work with some raw, hard facts we know about Josh Pastner’s crew: They are talented, athletic, and deep. Eight guys average 18 minutes a game for Memphis, and all are gifted enough to start for a Tournament team. The uber-quick backcourt of Joe Jackson (13.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 4.8 APG) and Geron Johnson (10.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.6 APG) has made the offense go and provided fits for opponents on other end. The Tigers leading thieves (1.8 SPG for both) are two reasons Memphis ranks 18th nationally in steal percentage.
  3. Turnovers are the Memphis Achilles heel. While they do force their share, they give the ball right back far too often, as evidenced by their hold on the 238th best turnover rate in the country. High profile losses to VCU and Louisville, two prodigious turnover-creating groups, saw Joe Jackson and company cough the ball up 22 and 24 time, far too many mistakes, even for a quick-tempo attack. Limiting the careless mistakes will be a point of emphasis for Pastner and staff, but don’t confuse those instructions with a desire to slow the pace down. Memphis is at its best when that stable of athletes is allowed to get out and run. Establishing that pace, without the extra turnovers, will go a long ways towards Memphis making March a success again.


Hey Southern -- It Is Time To Dance! Welcome To The Field Of 68

Hey Southern — It Is Time To Dance! Welcome To The Field Of 68

  • SWAC Champion (23-9, 17-3)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #184/#162/#209
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +2.6
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16 (First Four)

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. The SWAC’s regular season champion held serve Saturday, narrowly edging upstart Prairie View to take the conference tournament title. It will be the Jaguars first NCAA appearance since 2006, when they lost to Duke by 16. Dayton and the First Four seems a likely destination for the champions of the SWAC, a conference that managed just 12 non-conference victories this season and is easily last in the conference RPI rankings. Southern nabbed three of those 12 victories with the coup de gras coming in December — a win in College Station over the Aggies.
  2. Like Albany earlier in the day, Southern didn’t want to provide any false advertisement during its national television opportunity. They won ugly, 45-44 in a game that offered plenty of cringe-worthy moments – but a modus operandi they have put to use all season long. The Jaguars are third nationally in effective FG% against and second best in percentage defense inside the three-point arc. The Southern offense is not a strength (234th nationally in efficiency), but junior Malcolm Miller has put together an impressive individual season. His O-Rating of 125.8 puts him seventh nationally among players using at least 20% of posessions (ahead of Olynyk, Burke, and Oladipo to name a few), with the key part of his production coming from behind the arc – 87 made threes and a 47% success rate.
  3. We are discussing a team that may never see the 64-team version of this bracket, so let’s be realistic. A win in Dayton would represent a highly successful tournament stay, no matter what happens in the next round. The SWAC champ will rarely inspire fear in opponents, and these Jags are no different, but give them credit for a slate of results that includes a slew of competitive efforts against better teams from better conferences. The recipe for success for coach Roman Banks and his Jaguars? Same as it has been all season – defend for forty minutes, muck it up as much as possible, and hope that Miller and his fellow marksmen can make enough shots to win a close one.

North Carolina A&T

Adrian Powell And North Carolina A&T Got Up In A Big Way. The Aggies Are Tournament Bound For The First Time Since 1995

Adrian Powell And North Carolina A&T Got Up In A Big Way. The Aggies Are Tournament Bound For The First Time Since 1995.

  • MEAC Champion (19-16, 12-8)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #224/#228/#249
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -2.6
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16 (First Four)

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. After 18 seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance, North Carolina A&T finally made plans for a return trip to the Big Dance, taking down Morgan State in the MEAC title game Saturday. Now kids, I’m sure you have grown up quite okay without NC A&T in your brackets, but you should know there was actually a time when the Aggies were a fixture in the field. They made seven consecutive tournament appearances from 1982-88, but still seek their first Tournament victory here in 2013. The good news is that a real shot to nab that win will come with their likely First Four inclusion. Sure, go ahead, apply an asterisk to those First Four victories, but don’t doubt that they mean something to programs like this one.
  2. For those of you double-boxing the MEAC and SWAC title games late Saturday afternoon (I know you are out there somewhere), you saw two similar champions emerge. Like Southern in the SWAC, NC A&T should be First Four bound, and will haul in tow a gritty, defensive-oriented style that only a mother could love. The defense is good, relatively speaking – the Aggies rank in the top third of D-1 in overall defensive efficiency, and are in the top twenty in turnovers forced. And it needs to be good, because the offensive is atrocious. Name a category and I’ll give you a numerical ranking in the high 200’s or 300’s nationally – 2-PT%, 3-PT %, FT %, Turnover % — all in the lowest quartile of D-1. The result of the carnage is a national ranking of 317 in offensive efficiency. Not the stuff that Tournament dreams are built of.
  3. If there is an Aggie of concern to opponents on the offensive end, it’s senior Adrian Powell. The A&T leading scorer averages 12.5 PPG, and his 36% 3-PT shooting percentage, a modest clip by some measures, easily makes him the most reliable deep threat on the team. Austin Witter (6.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.9 BPG) is not much of an offensive threat, but his rebounding and shot-blocking (top 15 in the country in block percentage) are hugely important for this defensive-minded group. Witter and company will need to be as active and stingy as ever in locking down opponents when it’s their turn to dance, because getting that first Tournament win – even if it is in Dayton – will be a severe challenge for a team loaded with limitations.


Travis Releford And The Jayhawks: Your Big 12 Tournament Champions

Travis Releford And The Jayhawks: Your Big 12 Tournament Champions

  • Big 12 Champion (29-5, 17-4)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #8/#8/#5
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1-#2

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Some teams just make it look too easy. Kansas is most certainly one of them. The Jayhawks cruised to another Big-12 Tournament title, in the process making a serious push for a spot on the top seed line. Whether a #1 or a #2 seed, Kansas will be on the short list of national title contenders, but many still have lingering questions from a season with its share of puzzling Jayhawk performances. The Baylor blowout and mid-season three game losing streak both set off alarms for some, but it was the incomprehensible loss at TCU that had some wondering if a team capable of that kind of low could ever achieve college basketball’s highest high. Water under the bridge at this point, or an unavoidable past? The coming weeks will bring clarity.
  2. No player is more crucial to the Jayhawks Tournament destiny than Elijah Johnson. The senior has put together a clunker of a senior campaign, made only worse by Hawks fans watching Tyshawn Taylor make such a huge leap between his junior and senior seasons just a year earlier. But as bad as Johnson has been this season, he has been even worse in the five Jayhawk losses, where he has shot just 28% from the field. Bill Self will never ask him to carry the team, but on a Jayhawk team without many shot creators, the athletic Johnson is still a vital cog. There have been a few prolonged scoring outages in Lawrence this season, and an efficient and involved Johnson would go a long ways towards eliminating those lulls in a Tournament where off nights end seasons.
  3. Despite the occasional disappearing act, this is still a solid offensive team (25th nationally in offensive efficiency), but the Jayhawk defense is well beyond solid. They lead the country in effective FG% against and rank fifth in total defensive efficiency. Scary defensive units are hardly a rarity for a Bill Self coached team, but Jeff Withey’s presence on the back line makes this an especially stingy outfit. The senior big man has been a constant presence, as has the gritty Travis Releford. What will make or break this Jayhawk team are the unknowns: The mercurial Johnson, the young freshman star Ben McLemore, a thin bench behind them all. If it all comes together, national title aspirations are reasonable as ever in Lawrence.

New Mexico

Kendall Williams Was Content To Ride Tony Snell All The Way To a Mountain West Tournament Title On Saturday

Kendall Williams And New Mexico Were Content To Ride Tony Snell All The Way To a Mountain West Tournament Title On Saturday

  • Mountain West Champion (29-5, 16-3)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #2/#16/#23
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = 10.3
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #2-#3

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. They may not be the second best team in the country like the RPI suggests, but let’s raise our glasses and toast New Mexico for a workmanlike sweep of the regular season and conference tournament titles in the toughest conference in America. They did it with no glitz or glam on the court (save Kendall in Fort Collins) and little media fanfare off of it, but the Lobos have carved out a niche as one of the country’s most consistent, even-keeled units. Winning brings expectations however. Steve Alford has done enough of the former to have Lobo fans no longer just happy to be in the field of 68, and now actually expecting a sustained March spurt. 1974 was the last time New Mexico won more than one game at the Big Dance; this may be the team to snap that spell.
  2. Kendall Williams was named the Mountain West POY, which serves not only as a tip of the cap to a solid individual season, but also as recognition of New Mexico’s superior season as a team. Williams (13.5 PPG, 5.0 APG) is the unquestioned leader as a senior, but Tony Snell and Alex Kirk are becoming increasingly important offensive weapons for Steve Alford. Snell (12.4 PPG, 2.9 APG, 38% 3-PT)  had himself a day in the championship game today in Vegas, going for 21 on just 11 shots and simultaneously causing Reggie Miller to lose his mind. The 7’0” Kirk (12.1 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.8 BPG) is a unique talent; a big as capable of stepping out and shooting the three-ball as he is at finishing down low with his wide frame and soft touch. He will be a featured element of the New Mexico offense for years to come.
  3. So the Lobos are headed to the Dance in style, likely as a #2 or #3 seed. They have proven themselves to be the best team in the best conference in America. But are we buying New Mexico as a legitimate Final Four contender? Past tournament history, or a lack thereof, is one strike against the Lobos. ASM is often an accurate predictor for tournament success and New Mexico is deficient here too, ranking just 35th nationally. Finally, for what it’s worth, there’s KenPom’s luck rating – the Lobos are a worrisome 19th nationally here. None of those cons are deal-breakers, but they are sufficient reason to be a little skeptical. Of course, let’s not get too down here — there are a lot of good things going on in Albuquerque. Did I mention how impressive this profile is?! For now, let’s carry on with that toast to a fine season, because it truly was. Just proceed with caution…
BHayes (244 Posts)

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