Bracket Prep: Coastal Carolina, Wichita State, MercerPosted by Bennet Hayes on March 10th, 2014
As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Three more teams — one well known, the other two less so — punched their tickets on Sunday. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners.
- Big South Champion (21-12, 14-5)
- RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #228/#226/#239
- Adjusted Scoring Margin = -1.3
- Likely NCAA Seed: #16 (First Four)
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
- Seven Big South teams won 10 conference games this season, but in the end, it was Coastal Carolina who emerged from the pack to win the Big South Tournament. Former Auburn and Clemson head man Cliff Ellis is now in his seventh season at Coastal, and his first Tournament appearance with the Chanticleers has to feel long overdue. This was the fifth consecutive season that CCU had won more games than they lost in conference play, and the program posted 28 wins in both 2010 and 2011 only to be upset in the conference tournament final in each season. No Championship Week heartbreak for Ellis’ team this season, however, as the Chanticleers are dancing for the first time in over two decades.
- The Chanticleers will be one of the better defensive teams on the lower seed lines. Ellis’ bunch was the best defensive team in the Big South all season long, and they put the clamps on Winthrop Sunday, forcing the nation’s 14th-best three-point shooting outfit into an 8-of-26 effort from behind the arc. They also compete on the boards – an effort spearheaded by 6’10” senior El Hadji Ndieguene (10.1% OR, 18.5% DR). Defense and rebounding are often major weaknesses for Cinderella hopefuls, but that will not be the case with Coastal Carolina.
- Scoring enough points to keep up with major conference foes will be an immense challenge for this team. Freshman Elijah Wilson (16.2 PPG) is the Chanticleers’ leading scorer and title game hero and Warren Gillis (14.6 PPG, 22 points on Sunday) is a capable scorer, but only one other regular owns an offensive efficiency rating over 100.0. They were able to keep up with superior opponents in early season losses at Minnesota (by 10) and Mississippi (by two), but a similar result within the 68-team field would be a surprise. If the miraculous is to occur, the Chanticleers would surely have to find a way to resemble one of the 295 more efficient offensive teams that the sport has to offer.
Best Case Scenario: Round of 64. The Chanticleers would do well to earn the program’s first NCAA Tournament win if they are sent to Dayton (if we count these), but expecting anything more would be pure fantasy.
- Missouri Valley Champion (34-0, 21-0)
- RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #6/#4/#12
- Adjusted Scoring Margin = +15.6
- Likely NCAA Seed: #1
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
- Thirty-four wins later, they’re here. Wichita State concluded its MVC tour de force on Sunday afternoon, running past Indiana State to earn an auto-bid that they hardly needed. Let’s face it, there’s little to say about the Shockers that hasn’t already been said, but their win Sunday did add another milestone to a history-making season. The MVC Tournament title was not only Gregg Marshall’s first as the Wichita head man, but it was also the program’s first in 27 years – a surprising drought for what has been a perennially solid program. Another day, another win for a team that will almost certainly find itself on the #1 seed line a week from now.
- They are household names by now, but the balance within this talented group cannot be discussed enough. Cleanthony Early (16.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG) is the team’s leading scorer, but it was Fred Van Vleet (11.8 PPG, 5.3 APG) who took home Valley POY honors; Tekele Cotton (10.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG) was the Most Outstanding Player of the Valley Tournament, but it is Ron Baker (13.1 PPG, 3.2 APG) who is likely the team’s best pro prospect (with apologies to Early). Oh, and every member of that quartet earned a first-place vote for MVC POY this season. How can you beat a team if you don’t even know whom first to stop? But while there is plenty of talent on this roster – in particular within the starting five – its most valuable skill is an uncannily strong willingness to sacrifice personal gain for the sake of the group. It’s a trait that has turned a very good team into a great one.
- The Shockers now proceed into territory rarely charted. UNLV was the last team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated back in 1991, but the closest contemporary comparison for this Shockers team may be 2004 St. Joseph’s. Unlike WSU, however, the Hawks’ run at a perfect season ended in their conference tournament, but Phil Martelli’s team endured an intense scrutiny similar to that which has tailed Wichita State all season. There were plenty of doubters when St. Joe’s ended up on the #1 seed line, but the skepticism seemed to fuel a confident team that came within a John Lucas jumper of the Final Four. Gregg Marshall’s renowned motivational abilities and a mentally-tough collection of young men would seem to leave the Shockers in position to embark on a similar “us-against-the-world” March run, but the pressure that accompanies that zero in the loss column could also finally catch up with them. There are so many subtexts to this amazing story, but just one firm reality: Gregg Marshall’s team is six wins away from completing one of the greatest seasons in the history of sport.
Best Case Scenario: National Champion. It’s time to believe folks; anything is possible for these Shockers.
- Atlantic Sun Champion (26-8, 17-4)
- RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #85/#101/#92
- Adjusted Scoring Margin = +7.8
- Likely NCAA Seed: #14
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
- With all due respect to the boys down in Dunk City, the Atlantic Sun’s best and most dangerous team this season will be competing in the NCAA Tournament. Mercer is a good, good basketball team. There is nothing in its statistical profile that even vaguely resembles a weakness, and it own wins over power conference foes Mississippi and Seton Hall while also staying competitive in losses to NCAA teams like Texas and Oklahoma. Balance carries the day for the Bears (six players average at least 7.7 PPG), but Atlantic Sun POY Langston Hall (14.7 PPG, 5.7 APG, 39.4% 3FG) is the unquestioned leader of a battle-tested group. No team wants to find Mercer on the other side of their first round match-up.
- Mercer will be one of the oldest and most experienced teams in the field of 68. Five seniors fill out the starting lineup , and if we go by the numbers, they are the fifth most experienced team in the country (according to KenPom’s experience metric). Granted, no Bear has ever played a minute in the NCAA Tournament, but Bob Hoffman’s squad has picked up postseason experience in each of the last two seasons. The 2012 team won the CIT, while last year’s group beat Tennessee (in Knoxville) in the NIT before falling at BYU in the regional semifinals. There is no substitute for NCAA Tournament experience, of course, but these Bears have played a lot of college basketball, and almost all of it together.
- Can you imagine what it was like for Mercer to monitor the NCAA Tournament last season? They had to watch a team from their own conference (who they surely believed they were better than) not only advance to the Sweet Sixteen, but also become media darlings and a national sensation while they were at it. Think the Bears might want to say, “Hey, there’s another A-Sun team out there that can play a little bit!”? There will be no Comer-to-Fieler lobs in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, but in the form of a massive chip on the shoulder of this Mercer team, Dunk City may yet live this March.
Best Case Scenario: Sweet Sixteen. They have proven they are better than this year’s FGCU team, but the Bears also could be superior to last year’s Eagles. With that logic in mind — and if match-ups break correctly — the Sweet Sixteen is not out of reach for this dangerous outfit.