Bracket Prep: Valparaiso, Robert Morris & North Dakota State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 11th, 2015

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. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners.


Valparaiso is heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in five years. (

Valparaiso is heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in five years. (

  • Horizon League Champion (28-5, 13-3)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #59/#66/#73
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +6.9
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #12

Strength: The Crusaders are an excellent defensive unit equipped with one of the best interior defenders at the mid-major level in 6’10” center Vashil Fernandez; the senior led the Horizon League in blocks per game (2.9 BPG) and boasts the sixth-best block percentage in college hoops. His ability to protect the rim – along with good complementary size around him – enables Valparaiso to prevent quality looks (or often any looks) on the inside. Bryce Drew’s group held Green Bay to just 36.8 percent shooting from inside the arc and 0.75 PPP on Tuesday night, their 44 points the lowest Horizon League championship total since Butler limited Milwaukee to the same mark in 2011. Valparaiso is also a very good rebounding team, with its offensive and defensive rebounding percentages ranking among the top 50 in America.

Weakness: Valpo suffered the highest turnover rate in the Horizon League this season and can be streaky offensively. On top of that, freshman guard Tevonn Walker – the team’s third-leading scorer (10.5 PPG) – was injured in the conference semifinals and may not be healthy in time for next week’s NCAA Tournament opener. Defensively, the Crusaders are less dominant when Fernandez is not on the floor, which – considering he only plays 24. 7 minutes per game – means there are periodic stretches of vulnerability.

Key Player: Alec Peters (17 PPG, 6.8 RPG). The 6’9” sophomore is a matchup nightmare, capable of going to work inside and stretching the defense with his lights-out perimeter shooting (48% 3FG). His great size enables him to create looks against smaller defenders and his 86 percent clip from the free throw line makes fouling a poor option. Valparaiso’s eventual NCAA Tournament opponent may or may not have length and versatility to match him, but Peters will surely be the Crusaders’ go-to option either way.

Outlook: As a #14 seed in 2013, Valparaiso was easily handled by Michigan State in the round of 64. That team was the most experienced in the country, led by a cohort of seniors; by contrast, this year’s group is the youngest in the Horizon League. And yet these Crusaders might be in much better position to pull an upset. They possess good size, create second-chance opportunities and have a player capable of generating consistent buckets against high-major defenses. Whichever #5 seed they draw this time around should be more manageable than those Spartans of two years ago.

Robert Morris

Robert Morris upended top-seeded St. Francis-Brooklyn for the NEC title. (John Minchillo, Associated Press)

Robert Morris upended top-seeded St. Francis-Brooklyn for the NEC title. (John Minchillo, Associated Press)

  • Northeast Conference Champion (18-14, 12-6)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #187/#183/#196
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -0.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16

Strength: The Colonials are a good three-point shooting team (37.7% 3FG) with a well-rounded veteran and several promising young players. Senior Lucky Jones (14.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and guys like JuCo transfer Rodney Pryor (15.2 PPG) and freshman Marcquise Reed (14.9 PPG) – who have become the team’s go-to scoring options – helped Robert Morris end the year on a six-game winning streak, during which they scored 1.16 points per possession. That improved offense, coupled with an aggressive zone defense which forces 8.4 steals per game, enabled Andy Toole’s club to knock off regular season conference champion St. Francis-Brooklyn on Tuesday night.

Weakness: Robert Morris is dreadful on the defensive glass, surrendering 23 offensive boards to the Terriers on Tuesday night and ranking 335th nationally in defensive rebounding rate (35.8%). They also turn the ball over far too much, coughing it up 15 times or more in nearly half of their 14 losses. Allowing opponents second-chance opportunities and flat-out giving them extra possessions is not a great formula for success in the NCAA Tournament.

Key player: Marcquise Reed (14.9 PPG, 1.9 SPG). Reed won NEC Rookie of the Year for a reason – he’s very difficult to stop. The 6’3” freshman is athletic enough to get to the rim and capable of getting hot from most areas of the floor (50% 2FG; 43% 3FG). He has an ability to take over stretches of games and might have that opportunity if the Colonials wind up playing in Dayton.

Outlook: Robert Morris will be a #16 seed and more than likely head to the First Four, which – from a national attention standpoint – is kind of a bummer. But from a competitive standpoint, especially for a team with good young talent, it gives the Colonials a legitimate chance to win an NCAA Tournament game. Expect Jones, Pryor, Reed and company to play with great energy next Tuesday or Wednesday and give a fellow #16 seed everything it can handle.

North Dakota State

Lawrence Alexander and the Bison are going dancing once again. (

Lawrence Alexander and the Bison are going dancing once again. (

  • Summit League Champion (23-9, 12-4)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #117/#151/#153
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.6
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15

Strength: The Bison (pronounced ‘Bizon’, of course) rely somewhat heavily on the three-point shot (35.4 percent of all field goal attempts) and very heavily on Summit League Player of the Year Lawrence Alexander. They take their time offensively and have several guys who can make perimeter shots (38% 3FG as a team), including 6’6” freshman A.J. Jacobson (11.9 PPG; 41.6% 3FG). But it’s the senior who carries the bulk of the load: Alexander plays 95.6 percent of all available minutes (first in the country), attempts 30 percent of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor and is capable of single-handedly altering a game when catches fire. Against South Dakota State in the conference title game last night, the guard shot 6-of-9 from long-distance and helped widen the margin for North Dakota State in the second half. In addition to Alexander, the Bison also rarely turn the ball over and crash the defensive glass as well as any team in college hoops (23.4% DReb).

Weakness: Not only does North Dakota State lack a strong inside presence (just 45.1% 2FG) or guys capable of getting to the rim, but it’s also not very good at offensive rebounding. In fact, the Bison’s 26.5 percent offensive rebounding percentage ranks 309th in college basketball. Without alternate methods of consistent scoring or second-chance opportunities, Alexander’s team may run into trouble when they aren’t knocking down shots.

Player to watch: Lawrence Alexander (18.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG). Make no mistake: Alexander may be a volume shooter (14.4 FGA per game), but he is not a ‘volume scorer.’ The senior shoots 43 percent from behind the arc (on a whopping 218 three-point attempts), knocks down 82 percent of his free throws and boasts an offensive rating of 110.7 – which is good for a guy who uses well over a quarter of his team’s possessions. If he gets into the zone next week, the Bison can hang around for a bit.

Outlook: Can North Dakota State pull off an opening round upset in back-to-back years after taking down Oklahoma in 2014? It’s doubtful. As a #15 seed or worse, the Bison will draw a substantially better opponent this time around, one capable of exploiting each of their deficiencies. The better question is whether Alexander can get hot and keep things interesting for a while.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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