Bracket Prep: Saint Joseph’s, Louisiana-Lafayette

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2014

With Championship Week officially over and a fresh bracket ready for filling, here’s what you need to know about the most recent automatic bid winners. 

Saint Joseph’s

Saint Joseph's returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. (Associated Press)

Saint Joseph’s returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. (AP)

  • Atlantic 10 Champion (24-9, 14-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #37/#49/#56
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +6.3
  • NCAA Seed: #10

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Saint Joseph’s started the week on the bubble and ended it with an Atlantic 10 tournament championship. The Hawks now head to the Dance with lots of confidence – having just beaten VCU and its vaunted defense for the second time this season – and lots of experience: three of the team’s most prominent players are seniors. Still, this is just the second time Phil Martelli has taken his program to the NCAA Tournament since it entered as a one-seed in 2004, and the first appearance since 2008. It was an important, much needed accomplishment for the veteran head coach. And perhaps he couldn’t have done it without the help of his pint-sized assistant coach on Sunday.
  2. This is probably Martelli’s most balanced team in several years, ranking 68th and 55th overall in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. The Hawks take a lot of threes – often kick-outs or dribble-screen hand-offs – and make a high percentage of them. Especially senior shooting guard and leading scorer Langston Galloway, who knocks down 44 percent of his triples and is capable of taking games over. The team is also efficient in the paint, thanks to a versatile front court featuring 6’8’’ Ronald Roberts, Jr., a superior athlete with the ability to make game-changing (and momentum changing) plays on both ends of the court, and Halil Kanacevic, who provides a tough, workman-like interior presence on defense and a surprisingly multi-skilled offensive game. They are the team’s top two rebounders and shot-blockers, and Kanacevic actually leads the way in assists due to his Arvydas Sabonis-like passing skills. The Hawks do have a pair of glaring weaknesses on each end, however: they are awful from the free throw line, and they rarely force turnovers. At 64.4 percent, only a handful of schools are worse from the stripe, and Saint Joe’s turnover rate was dead last in the conference.
  3. As our own Joe Dzuback notes, there are a couple factors that have been (and will continue to be) crucial for Martelli’s club: Kanacevic’s emerging leadership, and freshman forward DeAndre Bembry’s ability to contribute on both ends. Both were plainly evident on Sunday. In addition to filling up the stat sheet – the senior had 11 points, 14 boards, four assists and two blocks – Kanacevic was vocal and set the tone with several bruising screens and tough defensive plays. Bembry, meanwhile, made plays all over the court, finishing with 13 points and eight assists. If both guys play at the high level they did against VCU, Saint Joseph’s will do damage next week.

Best Case Scenario: Sweet Sixteen. Over the last month or so, this team has looked really good at times (e.g. 26-point whipping of Dayton on February 25), and not so good at other times (e.g. home lost to La Salle last Sunday). For the most part, though, the Hawks have been playing some of their best basketball of the season, and I think the momentum of this weekend should carry over into next week. Galloway, Kanacevic and company have the toughness and shooting prowess to beat Connecticut and potentially Villanova – despite the fact that the Wildcats beat them by 30 in December – but their lack of consistency makes it difficult to project much beyond that.


Elfrid Payton and Ragin' Cajuns are going dancing. (Photo: AP)

Elfrid Payton and Ragin’ Cajuns are going dancing. (AP)

  • Sun Belt Champion (23-11, 14-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #98/#115/#119
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +4.0
  • NCAA Seed: #14

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. The Sun Belt title game briefly stole the spotlight away from the ACC and Atlantic 10 on Sunday thanks to some high-level players making high-level plays. Georgia State’s Ryan Harrow scored 37 points and appeared to put the game on ice late in the second half, but UL-Lafayette made a furious rally in the closing minutes and sent the game to overtime. From there, point guard Elfrid Payton took over, scoring six points in the extra period and leading the Ragin’ Cajuns to their first NCAA Tournament since 2005 (an appearance that’s since been vacated).
  2. On the surface, it might look like UL-Lafayette spoiled Georgia State’s dominant season and eliminated the Sun Belt’s only would-be threat in the NCAA Tournament. But don’t be fooled – the Cajuns have serious talent. Payton is an NBA-caliber point guard, able to beat people off the dribble with his exceptional quickness and make plays at the rack, or find open looks for teammates. Down low, power forward Shawn Long averages 19 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks a night and can drain shots from beyond the arc (40 percent on the year). And shooting guard Xavian Rimmer, who keyed the team’s comeback against the Panthers on Sunday, can be lethal when he catches fire. Together, these weapons make UL-Lafayette a frightening offensive opponent for anyone.
  3. The problem for the Cajuns, however, is defense, and it will likely be their downfall in the Big Dance (especially considering the matchup). They rank 193rd nationally in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents to shoot over 50 percent from inside the arc and surrendering a high percentage of offensive rebounds. Payton is a good defender and will harass opposing guards, but the idea that he or Long – the team’s one solid rebounder and shot-blocker – will do enough to contain a prolific offense like Creighton’s is tough to imagine.

Best Case Scenario: Close game in Round of 64. I was prepared to give this team a Round of 32 ceiling (or even Sweet Sixteen?), but after drawing Creighton, the nation’s premier offensive unit, I have a hard time envisioning Marlin’s guys advancing even one round. Payton might be the best guard on the court next Friday and Long will give the Blue Jays issues, but let’s be honest: Doug McDermott and company should have no problem scoring in bunches against UL-Lafayette’s defense. The Cajuns will put up some points and might keep it close, but an upset is doubtful.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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