Bracket Prep: North Carolina Central, Western Michigan, Cal Poly, Stephen F. Austin, Weber State

Posted by Adam Stillman & Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2014

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As we move through the final stages of 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. 

North Carolina Central

North Carolina Central is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. (ETHAN HYMAN/News Observer)

North Carolina Central is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. (ETHAN HYMAN/News Observer)

  • MEAC Champion (28-5, 18-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #104/#78/#84
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.9
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #14

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Head coach LeVelle Moton began shedding tears in the waning minutes of North Carolina Central’s MEAC Championship victory over Morgan State on Saturday, and why not? The former NCCU player had just clinched his alma mater’s first NCAA Tournament birth in school history, capping off an outstanding 28-win campaign that has the chance to get even better. It was the Eagles’ 20th win in a row, a 71-62 outcome that featured many of the same components that made them so tough throughout the regular season: great defense, lots of free throws and lots of Jeremy Ingram.
  2. NCCU dominated the MEAC this season and its defense is a big reason why. The Eagles hold opponents to the fifth-lowest effective field goal percentage in the country and force a bunch of mishaps – their 24.0 defensive turnover rate trails only VCU, Louisville, Stephen F. Austin and Eastern Kentucky. They make life difficult for ball-handlers, rarely find themselves out of position and crowd the paint when opponents try dumping the ball inside. In fact, aside from some sub-par defensive rebounding numbers – due in part because of their limited size, in part because they force a lot of outside shots (and thus long rebounds) – NCCU is well above average in most other defensive categories.
  3. The Eagles start three seniors and two juniors and their top reserves are both upperclassmen, altogether making up a roster that’s the fourth-most experienced in America. The leader among them is Jeremy Ingram, a 6’3’’ guard who averages 20 points per game and just about always gets his fill, even on off-nights. He scored at least 14 points in 27 of 33 games this season, including six 30-plus point outings, and does large chunk of his damage from the free throw line. Ingram attacks the basket and draws fouls when he doesn’t finish – he shoots 76 percent from the stripe – but he’s also the best outside shooting threat on a team that doesn’t shoot many threes. Still, NCCU might be at its best when other guys step up alongside Ingram. He scored 37 in the team’s nonconference loss to Wichita State, but no other player reached double figures. In the Eagles’ upset of North Carolina State? Ingram dropped 29, but there were strong offensive contributions across the board. Undersized big men Jay Copeland and Jordan Parks are also crucial for NCCU – they each rank among the better offensive rebounders in the nation and will need to continue generating second-chances if the Eagles are going to do damage next week.

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Bracket Prep: Albany, Tulsa, Texas Southern

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2014

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As we move through the final stages of 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. 

Albany

For the second straight season, Albany surprised the America East and is going dancing. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

For the second straight season, Albany surprised the America East and is going dancing. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

  • America East Champion (18-14, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #210/#195/#199
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. For the second straight year, Albany capitalized on its home court advantage in the America East non-championship rounds before pulling off a road upset in the title game. That means the Great Danes – instead of league champion Vermont or preseason favorite Stony Brook – will represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. The Catamounts or Seawolves would probably have been more serious upset threats (especially Vermont, once projected in the 13-seed range), but Albany is among the more experienced teams in the country and did go dancing last season, which never hurts.
  2. The Danes’ identity lies on the defensive end, where they held opponents to under one point per possession in conference play. Will Brown’s club switches between man defense and a stout 2-3 zone that gave Stony Brook all kinds of issues on Saturday, including a six minute stretch where the Seawolves failed to make a single field goal early in the second half. Albany is anchored inside by 6’10’’ center John Puk, whose defense against America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney showed he’s capable of holding his own against skilled big men – the kind he’ll surely face in the NCAA Tournament. Offensively, the team is led by Australian shooting guard Peter Hooley, who averages nearly 16 points per game and shoots 40 percent from behind the arc. Fellow Aussie Sam Rowley is the team’s leading rebounder and was the go-to scorer on Saturday – he averages 11 per night – while speedy point guard DJ Evans and small forward Gary Johnson also score in double figures.
  3. With an adjusted tempo of 63.3 possessions per game and an average offensive possession length of 19.3 seconds, the Danes look to methodically execute in the half-court and control the pace. The vast majority of their shots are taken from inside the arc – besides Hooley and Evans, no player has attempted more than 50 threes on the season – and they are proficient both at drawing fouls and making their free throws; Hooley ranked second in the conference at 86 percent from the stripe. Ultimately, though, Albany wins with its defense, preventing opponents from getting easy looks and cleaning up misses at a high rate. In their upset of Vermont, the Danes allowed the Catamounts to corral just 20 percent of their misses.

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Bracket Prep: American University

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 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. There’s a brief respite in the auto-bid collection coming before the weekend, but one more automatic berth was earned on Wednesday night. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winner.

American

American Seized The Patriot League Title In Emphatic Fashion Wednesday Night. Get Your Dancing Shoes Ready, Eagles!

American Seized The Patriot League Title In Emphatic Fashion Wednesday Night. Get Your Dancing Shoes Ready, Eagles!

  • Patriot League Champion (20-12, 16-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #135/#100/#125
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +3.9
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #14-#15

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. American’s victory over Boston University in the Patriot League title game should count as a mild upset, but some might argue that the league’s best team will now be playing in the NCAA Tournament. The Terriers won the regular season title by two games and have a sterling RPI figure of 82, but American is a full 35 slots ahead of BU in Ken Pom’s efficiency ratings. Either would have been one of the better Patriot League representatives in recent years, but in holding BU to just 36 points, it was American and their shutdown defense (49th nationally in defensive efficiency) that carried the day in Boston. Read the rest of this entry »
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Bracket Prep: Mount St. Mary’s, Milwaukee, Gonzaga, North Dakota State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 12th, 2014

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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. Tournament dreams became a reality for four more teams last night. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent quartet of bid-winners.

Mount St. Mary’s

Mount St. Mary's, .500 Record In Tow, Is Dancing. They Are Your NEC Champions.

Mount St. Mary’s, .500 Record In Tow, Is Dancing. They Are Your NEC Champions.

  • NEC Champion (16-16, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #216/#207/#220
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -3.6
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16 (First Four)

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. So much for the relative tranquility of the first few days of Championship Week (shouldn’t it really be called “Championship Ten Days”?). Mount St. Mary’s capped off an improbable NEC tournament run by thrashing top seed Robert Morris on their home floor, 88-71, sending the 16-16 Mountaineers to a likely date in the First Four in Dayton. If the Colonials still don’t know what happened tonight, the Mountaineers shot 61% from the floor, made 8-18 threes, and despite being one of the worst rebounding teams in America, found a way to outboard RMU (despite nine missed MSM free throws). Upsets happen in March, but the ease with which Mount St. Mary’s overcame their favored foe last night was truly shocking.
  2. For a team that finished 9-7 in the NEC, the Mountaineers aren’t that bad, I guess? Mount St. Mary’s was second best in offensive efficiency during conference play, and a modestly impressive 123rd nationally for the season. In averaging 70.1 possessions per game (33rd in the nation), MSM also has shown they don’t mind getting out in transition, where guards Rashad Whack (17.6 PPG, 79 3PM) and Julian Norfleet (17.5 PPG, 5.5 APG) thrive. But unlike many small conference teams, the Mountaineers pair their arsenal of pint-sized guards with a true post player, seven footer Taylor Danaher (6.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.3 BPG). Danaher won’t soon be confused with Dwight Howard, but his sizable presence won’t hurt when matching up with the bigger teams likely to inhabit the top seed lines.
  3. Mount St. Mary’s defends the three-point stripe reasonably well, but opponents should be able to find plenty of success inside the arc against the Mounts. MSM regular season foes shot 54.5% on two-point field goals in the regular season, which led to a field-day or three for the power conference teams on the November-December schedule. BYU went for 109, Texas Tech 100, and Michigan State 98 against the Mountaineers – all, of course, in resounding victories. Hard to believe much will be different if MSM finds their way into the 64-team portion of the Tournament.

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Bracket Prep: Delaware, Manhattan, Wofford

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 11th, 2014

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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. None of the bids handed out Monday night were easily earned, but Delaware, Manhattan and Wofford all ended up on the right side of close margins to punch their tickets to the Big Dance.  Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners.

Delaware

Delaware Capped A Dominant Season In The Colonial With A Tournament Title. Welcome To The Field Of 68, Blue Hens.

Delaware Capped A Dominant Season In The Colonial With A Tournament Title. Welcome To The Field Of 68, Blue Hens.

  • Colonial Champion (25-9, 17-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #74/#107/#111
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +4.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #13

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Another dangerous mid-major earned a Tournament bid on Monday night when Delaware eluded William and Mary to earn the Colonial’s auto-bid. The Blue Hens profile is heavily deficient in good wins – their most notable victory is a home conquest of Towson (Ken Pom rank of 130) – but take a closer look at their nine losses. Six of them came to top-100 teams, including a four point defeat at possible #1 seed Villanova, a two-point loss at Richmond, and a 12-point loss at Ohio State. Delaware has proven they can hang with some of the nation’s best teams, but can they finally put one in the win column next week?
  2. The Blue Hens are not especially stingy defensively, but they show little mercy on the other end of the floor. Coach Monte Ross’ team loves to get out and run (8th nationally in possessions/game), but at little expense to efficiency (55th nationally in offensive efficiency). Delaware is the only team in the country with three players averaging at least 18 PPG – Devon Saddler (19.8), Davon Usher (19.7), and Jarvis Threatt (18.1) – and all five starters average double figures. Delaware opponents will struggle to target any one Blue Hen in particular, but keep a special eye on Jarvis Threatt. The junior missed eight February games after being suspended for a violation of athletic department policies, but the Blue Hens were undefeated in the CAA when their floor general – and his eye-popping stat line (18.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.6 APG, 2.6 SPG) was in the lineup.
  3. That indifferent defensive effort (196th nationally in defensive efficiency) could prove problematic as Delaware seeks the first Tournament win in program history, but a lack of depth should also be a concern for Blue Hen believers. Few coaches used their bench less frequently than Ross did (17, to be exact) this season, which is an odd trait considering the up-tempo assault that Delaware prefers to employ. The margin for error will always be slim for the higher-seeds looking to craft the next great March upset, which means a bit of Blue Hen foul trouble could easily steer a well-intentioned upset bid off course. Read the rest of this entry »
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Bracket Prep: Coastal Carolina, Wichita State, Mercer

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 10th, 2014

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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.

Coastal Carolina

Cliff Ellis And Coastal Carolina Are Your Big South Champions -- Finally. Welcome To The Big Dance Chanticleers!

Cliff Ellis And Coastal Carolina Are Your Big South Champions — Finally. Welcome To The Big Dance Chanticleers!

  • 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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. Read the rest of this entry »
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Bracket Prep: Eastern Kentucky

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 9th, 2014

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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. The second team to gain entry into the 2014 NCAA Tournament is Eastern Kentucky, the Ohio Valley Conference Champion. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winner, and if you’d like to peruse all of the previously minted conference champs, click here.

Eastern Kentucky

Get Your Dancing Shoes On Glenn Cosey And Company -- Eastern Kentucky Is NCAA Tournament Bound.

Get Your Dancing Shoes On Glenn Cosey And Company — Eastern Kentucky Is NCAA Tournament Bound.

  • OVC Champion (24-9, 14-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #113/#132/#150
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +3.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Many folks may have penciled March mainstay Belmont into the NCAA Tournament field when they saw Saturday’s OVC title match-up between the Bruins and Eastern Kentucky on the docket, but it’s their stylistic comrades that will represent the conference in the Big Dance. Much like Belmont, Eastern Kentucky boasts an efficient offense that, 24 times out of 33 games this year, was able to overcome the Colonels’ extensive defensive shortcomings. The contrast in EKU efficiency between ends of the floor is best captured by their eFG% and eFG% against – only three teams have been better nationally in the former category, but just nine D-1 teams have fared worse in the latter. Read the rest of this entry »
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Bracket Prep: Harvard

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 8th, 2014

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The first ticket to the NCAA Tournament was punched in New Haven on Friday night, and as each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytic snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.

Harvard

Tommy Amaker’s Team Is Back In The Big Dance, And The Crimson Aren’t Planning On Leaving The Party Early

  • Ivy Champion (25-4, 12-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #52/#32/#37
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #10-#12

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Well, well, well – look who we have here. The Harvard Crimson, by virtue of their victory Friday night over Yale, clinched the Ivy League title and earned the 2014 NCAA Tournament’s first official bid. Harvard and NCAA Tournament in the same sentence may have been quite a story a few years ago, but after three straight Tournament appearances, the NBA’s brief bout of Linsanity in 2012, and last year’s opening round takedown of New Mexico, the Crimson have become a familiar March entity. This year’s team may be Tommy Amaker’s best since he arrived in Cambridge, but navigating its way to another Ivy title was not the walk in the park many expected, as Yale proved a worthy challenger right up until the end. Read the rest of this entry »
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