The Other 26: Cowboy-ing Up

Posted by IRenko on January 5th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

College basketball has just four undefeated teams left. You can likely recite the identity of the first three:  Duke, Michigan, and Arizona, who occupy the top three spots in the AP rankings. But you may be surprised to learn that the fourth team is the Wyoming Cowboys. Larry Shyatt’s squad sits at 13-0 after a successful non-conference season that featured solid wins over Colorado, Illinois State, and Denver.

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Last year, the Cowboys finished sixth in the MW. Then in the offseason, they graduated three of their five starters. So how have they managed to reel off 13 straight victories to start the year? Wyoming is very strong defensively, but they were just as good, if not better, last year. The biggest difference is a major improvement on offense, as their adjusted efficiency has gone from 0.99 points to 1.08 points per possession. That may not sound like a big difference, but when you realize that a single game is composed of dozens of possessions, it adds up to a substantially better offensive performance. This increased efficiency has been driven by the Cowboys’ ability to get to the free throw line and to convert on two-point opportunities. Senior forward Leonard Washington deserves the credit for leading the team in both respects. The 6’7″ tweener is shooting 63.7 percent on two-point field goals and draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes — one of the higher rates in the country.

The second significant factor in the Cowboys’ improvement is the offseason development of senior Derrious Gilmore and sophomore Larry Nance, Jr. (yes, the former NBA player’s son). Gilmore has rewarded Larry Shyatt’s decision to hand him the starting point guard spot by improving his per game averages from 3.1 points and 1.1 assists per contest to 11.8 points and 3.2 assists per game. He averages more than 32 minutes per game, second most to Washington. Nance, meanwhile, has gone from averaging 4.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest to 11.2 and 6.8, respectively.  He shoots over 60 percent on two-point attempts and 84.2 percent from the free throw line. Add in the contributions of returning starter and senior guard Luke Martinez (14.5 points, 42.2% 3FG) , and the Cowboys have a feature a surprising amount firepower.

Despite their undefeated mark, it remains an open question as to how good the Cowboys really are. Last year, they got off to 14-2 start during non-conference play but crumpled to a 6-8 record in the Mountain West. This year’s record is even more impressive to be sure and, as noted above, features some solid if unspectacular wins. But the strength of schedule is about to kick into a higher gear, as they enter conference play against a very deep and talented Mountain West. If they can maintain their offensive improvement through the rest of the year and continue to get contributions from a range of players, they may be Dancing for the first time since 2002 and just the second time in 25 years.

Let’s move on to this week’s Top 10, the performances that caught our eye this past week, and the games to watch in the week ahead.

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CIO…the Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 2nd, 2013

CIO header

Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

Conference POY Race

  1. Sherrod Wright, George Mason: If Mason is the top team in the CAA, then Wright is the league’s top player. He’s led the unbalanced Patriots in scoring in nine of the first 12 games, averaging 17.5 PPG a night. Wright has been super-efficient, too. He’s making 54.5 percent of his field goals, 45.5 percent of his threes, and his 61.9 percent effective field goal average ranks second in the league. The junior guard has scored 20-plus points in each of Mason’s last four games.
  2. Jerrelle Benimon, Towson: The Georgetown transfer is sixth in the league in scoring (16.2 PPG) and second in rebounding (11.6 RPG). Forget about the stats, though. Benimon’s toughness has transformed Towson into a competitor overnight. He’s a 6’8”, 245-pound pick-up truck that has hauled the Tigers to five wins already after a season in which they won just one game. Most impressive was his performance against Oregon State, in which Benimon played all 45 minutes of the overtime road win.
  3. Marcus Thornton, William & Mary: The Tribe’s point guard has made the sophomore leap, and is now an elite backcourt player in the CAA. While W&M’s schedule has been soft, Thornton has still led his team to wins. Until that stops, he’ll be among the front-runners for POY honors. The Upper Marlboro, Maryland, native is averaging 18.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
  4. Keith Rendleman, UNC-Wilmington: Five double-doubles through 12 games is par for the course for the senior forward who’s been doing this since his breakout sophomore year. Maybe the most gifted all-around forward in the league, Rendleman inspires hope on an otherwise inconsistent roster. His 16.2 points per game are a career best, and his 9.7 rebounds per contest aren’t far behind last year’s average of 10 RPG.
  5. Damion Lee, Drexel: Lee’s teammate, junior point guard Frantz Massenat, was the preseason pick for this award, but Lee has been the most impressive member of the Dragons’ backcourt. The sophomore is averaging 18.8 points per game, and just finished off a December in which he averaged 21.5 PPG. Lee is asked to do more this year, and his shooting percentages have dipped a bit, but that doesn’t diminish his value. The 6’6” Baltimore native is also averaging 5.4 rebounds per contest.

Reader’s Take 

Power Rankings

With the start of the conference play gearing up for (mostly) everyone this week, today’s power poll will discuss the best non-conference win for each team:

  1. George Mason: The Patriots beat Virginia to start the season, but that’s become commonplace for the CAA (which is 3-0 against UVA this year). More impressive was their 67-64 win over Richmond at the Richmond Coliseum on December 22. Mason has struggled a bit on the road this year, but that victory – capped by a Sherrod Wright buzzer-beating three-pointer – shows its ability to take care of business outside the Patriot Center.
  2. Drexel: This is a no-brainer for the Dragons, whose only other wins were against two Ivy League schools and Rice. Drexel finally notched a quality win on December 22 when it imposed its defensive will on Southern Conference favorite Davidson, and sophomore guard Damion Lee poured in 26 points en route to a 69-58 win. The Wildcats have a top-100 RPI, and have been impressive amidst a super-tough non-conference schedule. But Drexel, at home, was able to limit them.

    Damion Lee Is One Of The CAA's Top Scorers, But Drexel Struggled In Non-Conference Play.

    Damion Lee Is One Of The CAA’s Top Scorers, But Drexel Struggled In Non-Conference Play.

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The Other 26: The Mountain West Enters the Spotlight

Posted by IRenko on December 29th, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

The action was light during this past holiday week, but the Mountain West’s finest took advantage of the lull to thrust themselves into the spotlight with two exciting contests, a pair of one-point games against top 10 teams decided by last-second blocks. In the final of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, San Diego State fell just short against third-ranked Arizona, losing 68-67 when Xavier Thames’ potential winning shot was blocked by Arizona’s Nick Johnson as time expired. Two days later, New Mexico visited eighth-ranked Cincinnati and emerged with a hard-fought 55-54 victory that was sealed by a last-second block from sophomore Alex Kirk. What was most impressive about these hard-fought contests is how both teams showed that even if you take away some of their key weapons, they are deep and versatile enough to compete.

(Getty Images)

Alex Kirk Led a Tough New Mexico Performance Against Cincinnati (Getty Images)

The Lobos distinguished themselves not just with a victory, but the way they earned it. They are accustomed to racking up points at the free throw line, but reached the charity stripe at only a 20 percent rate, far below their season average and good enough for just six points. But they gritted out the win by patiently moving the ball against Cincy’s high-pressure halfcourt defense to find open shooters and cutters. Junior point guard Kendall Williams turned in a performance befitting of a team leader, stepping up to hit several big three-pointers and finishing the game with a team-high 16 points. But it was Kirk who set the tone with his lunch bucket performance, fearlessly hurling himself into battle against Cincinnati’s imposing frontline and surviving with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, and three blocks, including a game-clinching rejection of a Sean Kilpatrick three-point shot.

The Aztecs, too, can be proud of the fight they showed in Honolulu despite coming up short. Leading scorer Jamaal Franklin was held to just nine points, his lowest output of the season.  But Franklin found other ways to contribute, pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out six assists. And San Diego State found other players to carry the scoring load. Chase Tapley, who had already poured in 46 points in the first two games of the tournament, dropped 19 against Arizona to push his season scoring average to 15.8 PPG. And the Aztecs showed how strong their defense is, holding the Wildcats to 37.3 percent shooting.

This Saturday, UNLV will have a chance to intensify this week’s spotlight on the Mountain West when they travel to North Carolina. In a year when the conference seems as deep as any in the country, the only lingering doubt heading into this past week was whether they had the heavyweights to compete with the nation’s best teams. But as the final week of non-conference play comes to a close, the conference’s top teams are leaving little doubt that they can.

Top Ten Rankings

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The Other 26: The New A-10 Asserts Itself

Posted by IRenko on December 21st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

When the A-10 added Butler and VCU to its ranks this past offseason, we knew that the two teams would strengthen the now 16-team conference. The two schools, each of which has had recent improbable Final Four runs, were expected to join the ranks of Xavier, Temple, St. Louis, and Dayton, and, along with a resurgent St. Joseph’s, UMass, and LaSalle, make the A-10 the deepest and, arguably, most exciting non-BCS conference in the country. But after the past week, it’s become clear that not only are these two programs going to add depth to the A-10, they may very well conquer it in their first year.

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

By now you know that Butler took down top-ranked Indiana 88-86 in a thrilling overtime win last Saturday. What was most surprising about the win, though, was how Butler did it. It wasn’t their vaunted defense, which gave up 1.13 points per possession to Indiana’s full-throttled attack — the second most this year for the Bulldogs and well above their averages during the Brad Stevens era. Rather, it was Butler’s efficient offense, which registered 1.16 points per possession. Part of that was their three-point shooting (11-24, 48.1%) with Rotnei Clarke leading the way (5-11). We have come to expect that from Butler, which often relies on the three-point shot as a great equalizer. But the more surprising, and perhaps more significant, elements of Butler’s offense were its willingness to attack the basket and its prodigious output on the offensive glass.  Sophomore wing Roosevelt Jones led the attack, often exploiting a favorable matchup against Jordan Hulls, en route to 16 points on 6-10 shooting (no threes). And the Bulldogs rebounded nearly half of their own misses — 48.7%. To some extent, the Bulldogs took advantage of sloppy block-outs by Indiana, but this reflects a season-long strength and a marked shift from the early years of Brad Stevens’ tenure. In Stevens’ first four seasons, Butler never averaged an offensive rebounding percentage of more than 32.8 percent. But last year, the Bulldogs hauled in 35 percent of their misses, and this year, it’s up to 39.4 percent.

As impressive as Butler’s win was, VCU quietly made waves of its own this past week as they pummeled Alabama and Western Kentucky by a combined 51 points. In both games, VCU went for the kill early, jumping out to big leads on the strength of their Havoc defense. The Rams did not allow Alabama to score a field goal until 10:44 had elapsed, en route to a 33-18 halftime lead that they would convert into a 73-54 final score. Alabama finished the game with 18 turnovers — a season high, as it often is for teams facing VCU’s defensive pressure. Four days later, VCU suffered no letdown from its BCS beatdown, whipping on Western Kentucky, one of the Sun Belt’s top teams and last year’s Tournament participant. After jumping out to 15-3 lead, the Rams would head into halftime up 42-16, cruising the rest of the way to a 76-44 win.  VCU forced a whopping 32 turnovers, including one on each of Western Kentucky’s first three possessions.

The old Bulldogs may be learning new tricks while the Rams thrive on the tried-and-true, but regardless of how they’re doing it, both teams have vaulted themselves to the top of A-10 heap.  Don’t take my word for it, ask the computers. Any of them — Butler and VCU are the A-10’s two highest ranking teams in the RPI, Sagarin ratings, and Pomeroy ratings.  The A-10’s mainstays have not distinguished themselves. Temple was routed badly by Duke in its first real competitive game of the year and just lost to Canisius at home by 10 points; Xavier is trying to replace five starters; St. Louis is trying to get their feet under them after losing their coach and then their star point guard to injury; and St. Joe’s, UMass, and Dayton have struggled to find consistency. As a result, there is a good chance that the A-10 will crown a champion it has never crowned before.

On to this week’s Top 10 and more …

Top Ten Rankings

RTC -- TO26 (12.21.12)

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The Other 26: Week Five

Posted by IRenko on December 15th, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

The past week brought bad news for mid-major fans in that the 2013 edition of the Bracketbusters will be the last.  There are diverging views on the value and appeal of the Bracketbusters, which was designed to give mid-majors a higher profile in advance of the NCAA Tournament where their presence as potential spoilers is a crowd-pleasing hallmark of March Madness. Personally, I found every year’s Bracketbuster matchups to be compelling, as some of the best mid-major teams in the country were pitted against each other just as they were rounding into peak form. But individual aesthetics aside, it’s worth asking whether the Bracketbusters event served one of its more objective purposes — to help mid-major teams bolster their at-large resumes with quality wins over non-conference opponents late in the season. Recent years’ evidence suggests that Bracketbuster games have actually helped quite a bit in this regard. In each of the last three seasons, a mid-major team that snuck into the at-large field did so in part on the strength of a late season quality win over Bracketbuster weekend. And one of those teams went on to make the Final Four.

Without the Bracketbuster, This May Not Have Happened

Without the Bracketbuster, This May Not Have Happened

Last year, Iona scored its second best win of the year (in RPI terms) when it knocked off Nevada. The Gaels went on to make the NCAA Tournament as a #14 seed. In 2010, Utah State also picked up its second best win of the season — one of only two RPI top 50 wins — when it defeated Wichita State. That may have been the difference-maker that got them into the NCAA Tournament field as a #12 seed. And perhaps the most famous beneficiary of the Bracketbusters concept was 2011’s VCU. The Rams notched a critical victory over Wichita State in the middle of a rough stretch during which they had lost four of five games to close the regular season. Their at-large selection defied the odds as it was, but imagine how tough a choice they would have been for the Selection Committee without the late season quality win over the Shockers. Without Bracketbusters weekend, we may never have had the privilege of watching the Rams wreak their unique brand of “havoc” on the Southwest region en route to the Final Four. So whatever else one might say about the Bracketbusters, let it not be said that it did not make a difference.

Moving on to this week’s Top 10 and more …

Top Ten Rankings

RTC -- TO26 (12.15.12)

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The Other 26: The RIP, Rick Majerus Edition

Posted by IRenko on December 8th, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

We start this week on a somber note, adding our voices to those who have mourned the passing of Rick Majerus. Much has been said, and said well, about his place in the game, as a teacher, a tactician, and a person. But his loss is felt especially deeply by fans of mid-major basketball. That’s in part, of course, because Majerus coached exclusively at non-BCS schools. He will go down with greats like Don Haskins and John Cheney as coaches whose imprint on the game far exceeded the imprint of the conferences in which their teams played. Most coaches who excel at the mid-major level quickly ascend to the top rungs of the game, a fact to which the annual coaching carousel testifies. Majerus never made the leap, his one opportunity prematurely aborted due to his ongoing health problems. As a result, he may never be mentioned in the same breath as Wooden, Knight, Smith, Krzyzewski, Rupp, or Allen, though he was perhaps their equal, if not better, when it came to Xs and Os.  But Majerus was able to do something that those greats were not — to make a distinctive mark on the game while operating from its periphery.

The Mid-Major Community Has Lost An Icon With The Passing Of Rick Majerus (Getty Images)

Yet, there was much more to what made Majerus a mid-major icon. It wasn’t just that he was coaching at the margins of the game, it’s that he seemed to be living at the margins of life. Has there ever been a more unlikely figure to pace the sideline at a National Championship game than the bald and portly Majerus, a divorced and childless bachelor living for years in a hotel and who, 30 years earlier, had been cut from his high school basketball team? We were all familiar with Majerus’ public battle with his appetite, which had exacted a personal and professional toll long before it took his life last week. Even the heartwarming stories of Majerus’ devotion to his mother seemed a constant reminder that this was a man who had formed no lasting human attachments beyond the one he came into the world with. He was a misfit and despite his disarming and self-deprecating personality, an easy target for ridicule.  But he proved that you don’t need All-American talent, All-American looks, or an All-American family to make good on an All-American promise — that one’s starting point does not dictate their destination. It is the maxim by which mid-major basketball abides, and for the past 30 years it has had no greater exemplar than the one we lost last week. May he rest in peace.

TO26 Top Ten

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The Other 26: Week One

Posted by IRenko on December 1st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Greetings, readers, and welcome back for another year of The Other 26, RTC’s weekly foray into the mid-major world, now securely ensconced on a microsite that shares its name. College hoops seemed to start earlier this year than it ever has, producing a November that was packed with much more action than the few preseason tournaments to which old geezers like me are accustomed. That means that there is quite a bit of ground to cover, and precious little time to waste. Let’s get right to it after the jump, with our first installment of the TO26 Top 10, a look back at which teams caught our eye with strong (and not so strong) starts, and a look forward to this week’s most compelling TO26 match-ups.

Looking Back:  Strong Starts

  • The Rest of the Mountain West — Coming into the season, UNLV and San Diego State received well-deserved hype and top 20 rankings.  But it’s clear that they’re going to have quite a bit of competition in conference play. New Mexico has barely shown the effects of losing their frontcourt tandem Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman. They have notched several solid wins en route to a 7-0 record, defeating UConn, George Mason, Davidson, and Mercer — all teams with realistic NCAA Tournament hopes. Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years, and with a cast of strong returnees and transfers, Colorado State entered the season with reasonably high expectations. But their ability to adjust to new coach Larry Eustachy remained an open question. Well, question answered. The Rams are undefeated at 5-0, posting wins over strong mid-major teams Montana and Denver and pounding the Washington Huskies by 18 points on the road. But, wait! The MW’s depth does not end there. Leon Rice’s Boise State squad, which plays just one senior, is off to a 5-1 start and is coming off of a 13-point win over Creighton on the road. Meanwhile, Wyoming and Air Force are a combined 13-1 on the season.  Throw in competitive newcomers Nevada and Fresno State, and UNLV and San Diego State may not have an easy conference game all year.

Elias Harris Leads a Potent Gonzaga Frontcourt (US Presswire)

  • Gonzaga — Gonzaga came into the season with a Top 25 ranking, so they’ve not exactly snuck up on anyone. But they’ve nonetheless impressed, collecting wins over West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Davidson by an average of more than 20 points. Throw in three more lopsided victories, and the Zags are sitting pretty at 7-0 and little sweat to show for it. Kelly Olynyk has emerged from his redshirt year as a genuine frontcourt force. Along with Elias Harris and Sam Dower, he gives the Bulldogs three skilled, athletic bigs. Throw in freshman post anchor Przemek Karnowski, and the Zags have four big men averaging nine or more points. While this frontcourt foursome has managed to outshine the heralded backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell on the offensive end, what’s been most impressive about Gonzaga’s start is its defense. Mark Few’s teams have steadily improved at that end of the floor over the past few years, and it could be the key that finally unlocks their door to the Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Other 26: And Then There Were Two

Posted by IRenko on March 23rd, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Thirty-three TO26 teams entered the greatest weekend in sports, and just two — Xavier and Ohio — survived to make it to the second weekend.  This is the weakest showing for non-BCS teams since 2005, when only Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Utah made it to the Sweet Sixteen (where they were dispatched by Illinois and Kentucky, respectively). But that’s not to say that it wasn’t an exciting first weekend for the TO26. Indeed, Friday was a historic day, as not just one, but two #15 seeds notched wins. It was mad, it was March, and it was why we — especially those of us who relish the mid-major game as much as the high-major one — love college hoops.

Below, we take a look at how those 15 seed upsets confounded us and and how they didn’t, the likelihood that Xavier and Ohio will continue to carry the TO26 banner into deeper rounds, and reflect on the surprising and not so surprising first round losses suffered by some of the best TO26 teams.

The Survivors

Can the TO26 makes its mark on the regional final or — gasp — the Final Four?

Ohio — For the second time in three years, D.J. Cooper has taken the NCAA Tournament by storm, scoring 40 points in two wins.  More generally, the Bobcats are a young, athletic, and dangerous team with a surprisingly high talent level for a MAC squad.  Their #13 seed reflects a bit of trouble that they had in the middle of the season, but this team is playing better than that, almost as well as the ’06 George Mason and ’11 VCU teams did when they stormed the Final Four with a #11 seed.

Can John Groce D.J. Cooper, and the Ohio Bobcats Make History?

Still, under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t give them great odds against a North Carolina squad that tends to dominate inside.  But for those of you who just returned to civilization from a one-week absence, be advised that these are not normal circumstances.  Kendall Marshall’s likely absence (or limited ability, at the least) may leave UNC vulnerable to Ohio’s turnover-generating defense and without the ability to run its vaunted transition offense.  If the Bobcats can rattle the Tar Heels and UNC is unable to push the ball effectively, this could be a real contest.  And after that, who knows?  Kansas, with its effective interior game, would be a real challenge, but NC State would be eminently beatable.  It is not inconceivable that the Bobcats could become the first team with a seed higher than 11 to land in the Final Four.

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The Other 26: Bracket Analysis, South and West Regions

Posted by IRenko on March 14th, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen (and maybe beyond).

Joe Ragland Point Guard Play Will be Key to the Shockers' Sweet Sixteen Chances

Wichita State (#5, South) – I’m a great fan of the Shockers, who finished the season atop our TO26 top 15 rankings.  They have a balanced lineup that can do it all.  Inside scoring presence?  Garrett Stutz.  Steady point guard play?  Joe Ragland. Attacking guard?  Toure’ Murry.  Blue-collar enforcer?  Carl Hall.  Three-point marksmen?  Ragland, Ben Smith, and David Kyles.  And they back it up with a solid, steady defense.  If this team has a weakness, it’s the lack of a single go-to player, which can come in handy in crunch time in March.

The key for the Shockers’ getting to the regionals may be slowing their games into halfcourt contests.  They have a tough first-round draw against VCU and its frenetic defensive style.  It will be a challenge to maintain calm amidst the storm that the Rams will bring – Murry in particular can play undisciplined — but if I had to make a call, I’d say that the Shockers will rise to the challenge and get the ball into the lane, where VCU is vulnerable.  In the next round, Wichita State would likely face an Indiana team with a fast-paced offense, but somewhat softer defense that is susceptible to dribble penetration.  Again, if the Shockers can slow things down and turn it into more of a halfcourt game, they could be on their way to the Sweet Sixteen.

Memphis (#8, West) – No team has a more legitimate grievance about its seed than the Tigers.  They have steadily, but markedly, improved ever since a nearly two-hour closed door team meeting following a loss at Georgetown on December 22.  Few have taken notice because it came mostly against C-USA competition, but during this stretch, the Tigers have gone 19-3, with their three losses coming by a combined total of 6 points.  Oh, and freshman standout Adonis Thomas just returned to the lineup.

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The Other 26: Bracket Analysis, East and Midwest Regions

Posted by IRenko on March 13th, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

“Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively.” — Voltaire

We will undoubtedly be guilty of both this week, as we focus obsessively on college hoops… from one game to the next to the next to the next.  From the TO26 perspective, this is also the time of year when Division I’s red-headed stepchildren can become the object of the nation’s attention, if only fleetingly.  Which teams are best-positioned to stay in the limelight the longest?  Which ones are likely to head home after just the briefest of shining moments?  Today, we analyze the chances of all of the TO26 teams the East and Midwest regions, grouping them into four categories based on their chances of advancement.  Within each group, we order the teams based on their potential to make a deep run.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen (and maybe beyond).

Creighton's Potent Three-Point Attack Gives Them a Shot at a Run to the Regionals

Creighton (#8, Midwest) — Creighton’s first-round matchup against Alabama will be fun to watch.  The Bluejays will put their highly efficient offense, led by a potent three-point attack, against Alabama’s stout defense, which defends the three almost as well as anyone in the nation.  Things will be uglier at the other end; Creighton’s defense has struggled all season, its mediocrity matched only by Alabama’s offense.  The good news for the Bluejays is that they’re a bit tougher inside the arc – I noticed a tendency to collapse their defense to the ball line when it goes inside – which is by and large where Alabama operates.  At the end of the day, I like Creighton’s chances, as they have steadier guard play, a legit go-to player, solid free throw shooting, and the ability to knock down the clutch three when needed. And if they get by the Crimson Tide, I wouldn’t be stunned by an upset of UNC.  Why?  The Tarheels’ defense is particularly vulnerable to the three-point shot (which will also make them susceptible to an upset loss to Michigan should that matchup materialize in the regional semifinals).

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