Bracket Prep: Texas Southern, Harvard & Wyoming

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2015

Let’s finish off the Bracket Prep series with our reviews of each of the weekend mid-major automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. Here’s a primer on each of the most recent bid winners. The entire series can be found here.

Texas Southern

Texas Southern is going dancing for the second-straight year. (

Texas Southern is going dancing for the second-straight year. (

  • SWAC Champion (22-12, 16-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #130/#207/#204
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -2.1
  • NCAA Seed: #15

Strength: You don’t often see SWAC teams with as much talent as Texas Southern, especially in the backcourt. Conference Player of the Year Madarious Gibbs (14.2 PPG, 4.3 APG), Marshall transfer Chris Thomas (12.6 PPG) and former Nebraska guard Deverell Biggs (11.5 PPG) are each capable scorers who can attack the basket and earn trips to the free throw line. Same goes for forward and JuCo transfer Malcolm Riley, who averaged more than 20.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in the SWAC Tournament. Only 11 teams in college basketball get to the stripe at a higher rate than the Tigers, which is important, since they don’t shoot the ball particularly well from the perimeter (32.2% 3FG). They feature good balance, with several different players who can create offense, and it showed in the team’s upset victories over Michigan State and Kansas State back in December.

Weakness: Texas Southern lacks size and depth on the interior. Long Beach State transplant Nick Shepard is a good shot-blocker (10.1% Blk rate), but as a unit the Tigers rank 278th nationally in effective height and opponents score 58 percent of all their points from inside the arc. Imposing teams like Gonzaga, Baylor and Florida – similar in size to Arizona, which they face this week – crushed them in the paint during non-conference play. Likewise, Mike Davis’ crew struggles to clean up misses; the Bears ripped down 22 offensive rebounds against the SWAC champs on December 1.

Player to watch: Chris Thomas (12.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG). Thomas is a former five-star recruit who has the size and athleticism to compete against top-notch competition. The junior combined for 37 points in Texas Southern’s victories over the Spartans and Wildcats, the type of high-level, efficient play (57% FG) he will need to duplicate in the NCAA Tournament.

Outlook: Texas Southern has proven its ability to hang with high-major competition, but, unfortunately as a #15 seed, Arizona is far better than the Michigan States and Kansas States of the world. The Tigers should have their moments, and Mike Davis (former Indiana head man) knows what he’s doing in March, but an upset seems unlikely. Still, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances is nothing to sneeze at.


Will Harvard pull off another NCAA Tournament upset? (Michael Perez/AP)

Will Harvard pull off another NCAA Tournament upset? (Michael Perez/AP)

  • Ivy League Champion (22-7, 11-3)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #65/#79/#87
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +5.2
  • NCAA Seed: #13

Strength: Harvard’s M.O. has been, and remains, defense. The Crimson hold opponents to just 0.95 points per possession – top-50 in college hoops – while ranking top-100 nationally in effective field goal defense, two-point defense, block rate and steal rate. It was also the second-best defensive rebounding unit in the Ivy League this season. Tommy Amaker’s frontcourt features length and athleticism not often seen in their conference, and senior guard Wesley Saunders – 2013-14 Ivy League Player of the Year – is among the better perimeter defenders in the entire country (1.9 SPG).

Weakness: The basic scouting report on Harvard is pretty straightforward: stingy on defense, suspect on offense. After boasting one of the top-50 most efficient offenses last season, the Crimson have regressed mightily in 2014-15, barely scoring over one point per possession and shooting roughly four percentage points worse from both inside (45.8% 2FG) and outside (34.1% 3FG) the arc. Point guard Siyani Chambers, forced to shoulder most of the ball-handling load this year, has struggled from the perimeter after shooting 38% from three in 2013-14. Saunders’ offensive production has actually improved – in fact, sometime it seems as if he is the team’s offense – but the presence of supporting cast members Laurent Rivard (Harvard’s all-time three-point leader), Kyle Casey (9.7 PPG) and Brandyn Curry (9.4 PPG) has been sorely missed.

Key player: Wesley Saunders (16.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG). Saunders also averages 4.3 assists per game, and frankly there isn’t much he doesn’t do on the basketball court. The senior draws fouls at a high rate, shoots well from all areas of the court (45% 2FG; 42% 3FG) and ranks 60th nationally in assist rate (31.9% Ast rate), all while taking nearly 30 percent of his team’s shots while on the floor. And his defense is excellent to boot.

Outlook: Harvard beat New Mexico as a #14-seed in 2013 and toppled Cincinnati as a #12-seed last season, so who’s to say the Ivy League champs can’t do it this week against North Carolina? The Crimson offense has actually seen improvement in recent weeks, which should bode well heading into the Big Dance. Expect Amaker’s senior-laden team to slow things down offensively, force long possessions on the other end, and zero in on a third-straight upset.


Wyoming made magic in the Mountain West Tournament. (Alan Rogers, Casper Star-Tribune via AP)

Wyoming made magic in the Mountain West Tournament. (Alan Rogers, Casper Star-Tribune via AP)

  • Mountain West Champion (25-9, 11-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #99/#102/#108
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +4.1
  • NCAA Seed: #12

Strength: #5 seed Northern Iowa is the team that will have to put up with a Wyoming style – on both ends of the floor – that demands patience — luckily for the Panthers, they’re no stranger to it themselves. The Cowboys are the third-slowest offensive team in the country (21.4 seconds per possession), their system predicated on spreading the ball around, draining clock and looking for an open perimeter jumper or easy cut to the basket. They do not concern themselves with crashing the offensive glass upon missed shots, instead conceding the rebound and getting back, en masse, to set up their half-court defense. Not only does that limit transition buckets, but Wyoming happens to defend really well in the half-court; Larry Shyatt’s senior-laden group holds opponents to 0.97 points per possession.

Weakness: The snail’s pace offense can be stagnant at times and makes climbing back from double-figure deficits very difficult. While nearly 40 percent of the Cowboys’ shots are taken from behind the arc, they aren’t a very good three-point shooting team (32.3% 3FG), and they probably rely too much on forward Larry Nance Jr. to generate offense. When he missed four games in February with mononucleosis, Wyoming struggled mightily, losing a pair of contests to Air Force and San Diego State by 49 combined points. If, for any reason, he were to go down this week – whether because of injury, illness or foul trouble – the Mountain West champs would be in deep, deep trouble.

Key Player: Larry Nance Jr. (16.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG). Again, he’s hugely important. Along with being the leader of America’s dunkiest team (or at least it seems that way), Nance uses nearly 30 percent of his team’s possessions when he’s out there, takes nearly 30 percent of its shots, draws fouls at the higher rate than anyone else and is the one player able to consistently create offense when everyone else is struggling.

Outlook: Wyoming’s run through the Mountain West Tournament felt downright magical, and the mojo seems right heading into this week. It would have been easier to picture the Cowboys’ style frustrating a different and unsuspecting #5-seed and Shyatt’s group of upperclassmen taking advantage, but Northern Iowa is new to the concept of being a favorite, so anything can happen. Whether they have the firepower for two upsets, I’m not sure, but one is definitely possible.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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