Bracket Prep: Saint Louis, Miami, Mississippi & Ohio StatePosted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013
The last four auto-bids were handed out on this most special of college basketball Sundays, and as we have for each of the 31 automatic qualifiers to play their way into the Dance, we take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets.
- Atlantic-10 Champion (27-6, 16-3)
- RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #22/#17/#15
- Adjusted Scoring Margin = +12.2
- Likely NCAA Seed: #3-#5
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
- In a crazy year of Atlantic-10 basketball, one complete with new faces, wild finishes and a constantly changing standings page, no team stayed the course better than the Saint Louis Billikens. They overcame the tragedy of losing Rick Majerus in November while fighting through their own early-season on-court struggles, eventually righting the ship in a major way. They enter the NCAA Tournament with a sweep of the A-10 titles, and winners of 24 of their last 27 games. A top four seed is not only possible but expected – relatively uncharted territory for the Atlantic-10.
- While the notion may be a bit clichéd at this point, it’s impossible to look at this Saint Louis team and not think of Majerus. His fingerprints are all over these Billikens. It’s evident in the stingy defense (8th in the country in defensive efficiency), apparent in the patient, mistake-free offense (36th nationally in turnover %), and undoubtedly a factor in the gritty, tough identity that his former team has taken on. Former Majerus assistant Jim Crews deserves a lot of credit (and some serious COY consideration) for keeping the ship upright and moving in the right direction, but at their core, this is still a Rick Majerus team.
- The Majerus effect, slow tempo, and balanced offense have obscured the individual Billikens from the national spotlight, but there is some talent on this roster. Kwamain Mitchell (10.0 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.4 SPG) is perhaps the most finest of that talent, and it was his return in late December that gave the Billikens a needed boost. Juniors Dwayne Evans (13.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG) and Mike McCall (10.0 PPG, 42% 3PT) have stepped forward this season as well. On this balanced, unselfish team, there is no member of the eight-man rotation that does not know their role and play it effectively. A year ago they showed well at the Big Dance, beating Memphis before giving #1 seeded Michigan State all they could handle in the third round. That Tournament experience will surely serve them well this time around, as they continue to dedicate this season to Majerus. That alone won’t carry them through this loaded field, but when you give a talented and focused team a real purpose, the sky can often become the limit. The Billikens may not be legitimate national title contenders, but anything short of that? Well within reach.
- ACC Champion (27-6, 18-3)
- RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #4/#14/#14
- Adjusted Scoring Margin = +12.3
- Likely NCAA Seed: #1-#2
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
- We don’t believe you are that good Miami, so maybe go out and validate that regular season championship with an ACC Tournament title, okay? The chorus went something like that from some parts (cough, Tobacco Road, cough) before this tournament, and the Hurricanes willingly obliged. With the puzzling loss to Georgia Tech last week very much in the rear view, the Canes played crisp, beautiful basketball in dispatching ACC blue-bloods NC State and North Carolina this weekend. It’s may be a phrase new to the college basketball lexicon, but Miami is a legitimate national title contender.
- The age and experience of the Canes has been well documented, but an extra birthday party or two doesn’t explain how good Miami has been. Jim Larranaga’s team has been equally effective scoring on offense as they have stopping on defense – top 30 nationally in efficiency on both ends – and Shane Larkin has been the leader of both those efforts. The runner-up for ACC POY took no such supporting role in Greensboro this weekend. Larkin was named Tournament MVP after a virtuoso 28 point, 7 assist performance in today’s title game, in which he never stepped off the floor. Big minutes is no new thing for the sophomore – only 23 players across the nation played more minutes than the indispensable Larkin, who has averaged 14.2 points, 4.3 assists and 2.0 steals a game this season.
- The big unknown for this team is how they will react to their first NCAA Tournament, as no Cane has ever played on the biggest stage in college basketball. Say what you want about the experience on this team, but the Big Dance is simply a different beast. The response here in the ACC Tournament should offer some partial reassurance, as will the presence of Jim Larranaga on the sidelines. Not sure if his Tournament experience at Mason or the killer pregame speeches we get on every Miami telecast should matter more – okay, probably the Tournament experience – but Larranaga appears to have a truly calming influence on his guys. There will be some risk in riding the Canes all the way to Atlanta this March, but at what point do we stop doubting? The ACC regular season-tournament sweep should have you wondering if that time is now.
- SEC Champion (26-8, 15-6)
- RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #50/#39/#35
- Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.5
- Likely NCAA Seed:#10-#12
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
- Andy Kennedy will be more than okay never knowing if his Rebels are officially bid stealers today or not, but SEC champions they unequivocally are. The only team playing today without an assurance of an NCAA Tournament bid took things into their own hands. Ole Miss will make their first NCAA appearance since 2002, a berth that should serve to cool the warm seat Kennedy has been perched on. It’s Selection Sunday, and “if it’s all the same”, Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss are very much in.
- When discussing Ole Miss, it’s hard to make it very far without getting to the controversial Henderson. Despite providing opponents a surplus of bulletin board material all season long, the junior has been Andy Kennedy’s most important player from day one. The SEC’s leading scorer at 20 points a contest, Henderson has made 36% of his three-point attempts, an admirable number considering that Henderson makes almost four a game. He’s laid an egg or two along the way (3-18 on threes in a loss at Mississippi State comes to mind) and turnovers are often an issue, but Henderson has likely been the difference between the two tournaments (NCAA and NIT) for the Rebels. He was certainly one of the differences between SEC Champions and runners-up Sunday, when his 18 second half points sparked the Ole Miss comeback.
- So now that we know Ole Miss is dancing, the focus shifts to their viability as a party crasher. On first blush, you might look past the Rebels. They were owners of a very bare resume before this week, having built a gaudy record by beating up on the lower three quarters of Divison-1. They don’t rebound the ball exceptionally well, but the defense has been solid enough not to elicit concern. Looking for a given? Ole Miss is definitely going to put some numbers up on the scoreboard. They are 13th nationally in possessions per game and 29th overall in offensive efficiency; facts that provide ample explanation for why they the 7th highest scoring team in the land. If the mercurial Henderson can stay level-headed (and efficient) and the Rebs piece together a few stops, then the prospect of a longer than expected stay is there, but keep an eye out for the “happy-to-be-here” syndrome. Recreating the sense of urgency they felt in Nashville this week would go a long ways.
- Big Ten Champion (26-7, 16-5)
- RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #11/#6/#6
- Adjusted Scoring Margin = +14.8
- Likely NCAA Seed: #2-#3
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
- Punching the final automatic ticket to the 2013 Big Dance was Ohio State, who knocked off Wisconsin in apropos 50-43 grind-fest Sunday. The Buckeyes were obviously safely in the field either way, but the impressive showing in Chicago this weekend could have the Bucks in line for a #2 seed when the bracket is unveiled.
- Ohio State’s defensive identity is well established at this point, with Aaron Craft’s leadership and elite defense at the point guard position leading the way. What has been less documented is the offensive development of this team throughout the season. The reliance on DeShaun Thomas is still there, but suddenly he has guys around him stepping up around him. Craft has shot the ball better in February and March, and guys like Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott have increased offensive production as the year has progressed.
- The Bucks will find out soon where they are headed, but they will be taken seriously no matter where they end up. They enter the Tournament on an eight game win streak in the toughest conference in America. If that doesn’t make you a realistic National Title contender, I’m not sure what does. Thomas needs continued help offensively, but the Buckeyes have the players, coach and confidence to extend that win streak to 14.