In #5 vs. #12 Games, Avoid the Chic PicksPosted by Chris Johnson on March 19th, 2014
They are extremely tempting. They are the most difficult picks on your bracket to make, and history says you should pull the trigger on at least one each year. I’m talking, of course, about #5-#12 matchups. Merely seeing the number 12 next to the name of one team, a centimeter or two below the number 5, next to the name of another team, gives you pause. This is natural. Picking #12-#5 games isn’t supposed to be easy. There’s often a gap in quality between the teams placed on the #4 and #5 lines. The latter quartet is usually decent, but a clear notch below the four teams seeded one line above them. Teams seeded on the #12 line usually fall into one of two categories: 1) the quality mid-major that piles up a lot of wins against so-so competition; 2) talented major conference team with major holes in its resumé. In some instances, the #5 will overwhelm the #12. But the #12 shocks the #5 more often than you might think — it’s happened 25 times since 1999. How many #12-#5 shockers will we see this season? That’s what I’m here to help you figure out. Below you’ll find some analysis on this year’s four compelling match-ups, with an emphasis on explaining whether each #12 seed is worth picking.
#5 Oklahoma vs. #12 North Dakota State. The Bison won’t be overwhelmed by a team from a major conference, as they won at Notre Dame earlier this season (when Jerian Grant was available, mind you). NDSU ranks in the nation’s top 20 in offensive efficiency and posted Summit League-highs in offensive and defensive efficiency during conference play. The Bison are shooting 56 percent from inside the arc, good for fourth in the country, and only have five percent of their shots blocked (first). Senior guard Taylor Braun (18.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.9 APG) is the Bison’s engine, and by the end of this game, you’ll definitely remember his name. To pull big upsets, smaller programs often need one guy to take over – to drop at least 20 points and hit a few big shots in crunch time — Braun’s that guy. NDSU also has one of the most efficient frontcourt players in the nation in Marshall Bjorklund, who is shooting 62 percent on his twos. Oklahoma can really score – it ranks 13th in offensive efficiency this seaon – but the Sooners haven’t been nearly as good on the defensive end. Whether NDSU pulls the upset, this game promises to be a fun watch. Don’t miss it.
Verdict: Neither NDSU nor Oklahoma play great defense. This sets up as a shootout, one I think the Bison will win.
#5 VCU vs. #12 Stephen F. Austin. A lot of people seem to be jumping on this one. Part of it, I think, has to do with the urge to pick a team that naturally makes you think of this guy. But don’t be fooled by the name. There are real, basketball-related reasons to like the Lumberjacks here. Start with the fact that SFA hasn’t lost since November 23. It’s worth noting that the Lumberjacks pushed Texas at Texas in a 10-point loss on November 15. SFA doesn’t have one star player you should know about, but this is a balanced, veteran club that features four double-figure scorers. The biggest reason this is such a trendy pick, though, has to do with the way SFA’s style counteracts what VCU does best. The Rams push tempo and use a frantic, pressing defense to force turnovers. The Lumberjacks are one of the slower teams in the country, ranking 303rd in possessions per game and 342nd in average possession length. They also shoot 52.3 percent from inside the arc and rebound 38.5 percent of their misses, good for 11th-best in the country. You can discount SFA’s gaudy record if you like – the Southland isn’t exactly murderer’s row – but winning 28 straight games is no small feat. This team’s good.
Verdict: I really like SFA. I don’t doubt the Lumberjacks can win this game. But I’m reluctant to go with the chic pick. Everyone’s taking SFA, it seems. Experience indicates that’s reason to stay away. Take VCU.
#5 Saint Louis vs. #12 NC State. On Tuesday night, NC State beat Xavier comfortably behind 25 points from sophomore forward T.J. Warren. It’s a shame Warren played this season for a team that barely made the NCAAs. Any impartial college hoops fan would have liked to see this guy play in a few more meaningful contests; It’s not a stretch to say Warren’s the best pure scorer in the country not named McBuckets. Here’s the good news: If Warren continues to mimic Kevin Durant, the Wolfpack should advance to the third round tomorrow. After winning 19 consecutive games between early December and late February, Saint Louis dropped four of five to close the season. Over that stretch, SLU yielded 1.03 points per possession, significantly more than the 0.93 PPP it gave up in Atlantic 10 play. If the Billikens couldn’t shut down Duquesne and St. Bonaventure, they’re going to have issues corralling Warren and the Pack. But here’s the biggest problem for SLU: It can’t manufacture enough offense to offset any defensive slippage; if the Billikens can’t slow Warren, in other words, they’re in trouble.
Verdict: The First Four has served as springboard of sorts for at-large qualifiers. VCU in 2011, South Florida in 2012 and La Salle last year. NC State will be the next team to parlay momentum from winning a play-in game into a win or two in the bracket proper.
#5 Cincinnati vs. #12 Harvard . This Harvard team is better than the #14 that upset #3 New Mexico in the second round a year ago. Why? Seniors Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey sat out last season after being implicated in an academic scandal. The Crimson were pegged by some as a Top 25 team in the preseason, but they whiffed in the two big non-league games they played: at Colorado on November 24 and at UConn on January 8. The biggest blemish on Harvard’s CV, though, is a loss at Florida Atlantic, which ranks 247th in Pomeroy’s team ratings, on January 21. Since then, Harvard has won 12 of 13 games, losing only to Yale, a team that finished second to the Crimson in the Ivy League. If you liked this team before the season – and I don’t recall talking to anyone who didn’t – you should like it to win at least one game in the NCAAs. Harvard is good enough to bang with the big boys; it easily could have beaten Colorado (with Spencer Dinwiddie) and UConn. The Crimson won’t be intimidated by a veteran, tough group like Cincinnati.
Verdict: I’ve hemmed and hawed on this one since the bracket was unveiled Sunday night. I know Harvard is good enough to beat Cincinnati, but the Bearcats are an extremely tough match-up. I could see Sean Kilpatrick scoring 28 points and Mick Cronin’s team grinding out a 61-54 win. Coin-flip game, this. Go with Cincinnati. Justin Jackson’s mean mug is going to keep Tommy Amaker up at night.