Checking In On Likely One-Bid Leagues

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on January 15th, 2016

When the Ivy League tipped off last Friday night, it was official: Conference play was underway everywhere, in power conferences and low majors alike. While only a handful of games in March will ultimately matter for those teams in leagues without legitimate at-large candidates, the regular season will still define the favorites to win automatic tournament bids in the smaller conferences. Some leagues have a clearly defined top dog, while others have a handful of teams battling for that status. Either way, if you like March chaos, there are low major teams out there you should absolutely be rooting for to hold serve and earn their way into the field. Here are a few of the team you should be getting familiar with now — whether because of star players, a proven core of seniors, or a collection of “red line” upsets against Power Five schools.

With the dynamic Dallas Moore at the helm, North Florida is looking pretty good for the Big Dance. (AP)

With the dynamic Dallas Moore at the helm, North Florida is in good shape. (AP)

  • America East  You probably already know about Jameel Warney, the unquestioned Stony Brook leader, but the rest of Seawolves also have a nice veteran core around Warney (30th in the nation in experience per KenPom). Stony Brook has also been close to scoring a signature victory for the league, leading much of the way at Vanderbilt in November before succumbing in overtime. Unbelievably, the Seawolves have either won the regular season title and/or been in the conference tournament final for six straight seasons, but they are still seeking the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance. Albany has been the most frequent tormentor, and the Great Danes have matched Stony Brook’s 3-0 start to league play so far this season. Looking for pole position in the America East? The two teams’ first meeting is next Friday on Long Island.
  • Atlantic Sun – You probably heard about Ben Simmons’ destruction of North Floridabut did you know the Ospreys had two players (Dallas Moore and Beau Beech) score 31 apiece that night? As a team UNF hit NINETEEN threes against LSU; on the season they’ve connected on 43.4% of their triples, good for 8th in the country. They scorched Illinois in a 12-point season opening victory and legitimately own one of the best offenses in all of college basketball. They lost in a play-in game last March, but a return trip to the Dance may include a spot in the field of 64 for the Ospreys and their dangerous offense.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 79, #16 Hampton 56

Posted by Walker Carey on March 20th, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

It Was All Smiles on the Kentucky Bench Again Tonight (USA Today Images)

It Was All Smiles on the Kentucky Bench Again Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Karl-Anthony Towns is an absolute stud. The SEC Freshman of the Year exhibited why he is considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball. Towns finished the night with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. His performance was even more impressive because of how efficient it was. He played just 25 minutes and finished 8-of-12 from the field along with a 5-of-6 showing from the free throw line. Kentucky is loaded with premier performers but none showed out better on Thursday night than Towns. His length, athleticism and ability to impact the game on both ends of the court personifies why he is such a special talent.
  2. This was a home game for Kentucky and Saturday will be too. The KFC Yum! Center is located just 76.8 miles away from Kentucky’s campus. Couple that with the fact that Big Blue Nation travels as well as any fan base in the country and has a large fan base in and around Louisville and you easily understand why Thursday night was essentially a Wildcats’ home game. The second the Cincinnati/Purdue game ended, it was Kentucky time. Fans cheered loudly throughout the night. Nevermind that it was a #1 vs. #16 matchup — they pulled for their Wildcats with the same passion they would if it had been a regional final. With Kentucky advancing to the Round of 32 on Saturday in the same building, expect the atmosphere in the arena to be more of the same as the pursuit of perfection continues.
  3. Hampton deserves a lot of credit for fighting until the end. Prior to Hampton’s victory over Manhattan at the First Four in Dayton on Tuesday, the Pirates were 16-17. They needed an unexpected run through the MEAC title to even earn the chance to go to Dayton. The difference in talent level between Kentucky and Hampton is as big as the Grand Canyon, though. This, however, did not stop Edward Joyner Jr.’s squad from fighting all game long. It forced some bad Kentucky shots in the first half and only trailed 18-14 at the 8:27 mark, and it finished the game on a 28-16 run after falling behind by 35 with 12:43 to play. Pirates guard Quinton Chievous was a warrior all night. Playing on an ankle he injured in the win over Manhattan, Chievous finished with a game-high 22 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Hampton is certainly not pleased with the loss, but it definitely deserves some credit for the way it went out.

Player of the Game. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky. The freshman turned in a performance that made you realize why he has received so many accolades and so much attention this season. In just 25 minutes of play, Towns tallied 21 points and collected 11 rebounds. Among all of Kentucky’s talented charges, Towns was the best in the win over Hampton.

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Circle of March: Vol. XVI

Posted by rtmsf on March 18th, 2015

What’s that, you say? March Madness? The first half of the First Four got under way in Dayton last night and the nightcap gave us plenty of reasons to get excited about what’s to come over the next three weeks. #11 Ole Miss, which defeated #11 BYU in a thrilling back-and-forth contest, along with Hampton, which outlasted Manhattan, will advance to the Round of 64 on Thursday. Their prizes will be #11 Xavier and #1 Kentucky, respectively. There’s more to come tonight — with two more eliminations in store — as #16 Robert Morris will take on #16 North Florida, and #11 Boise State will play a road game at #11 Dayton. Enjoy!

2015_CircleofMarch_V16

Eliminations (03.17.15)

  • Manhattan
  • BYU
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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-0, 18-0 SEC). The unbeaten Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as not only the favorites in the Midwest Region but also for the entire tournament. John Calipari’s squad has been able to reach 34-0 due to its star power combined with its ability to play tremendously well as a unit. It will be utterly shocking if Kentucky is tripped up before reaching the Final Four. The reason why the Wildcats are such a lethal team is that they possess top-flight talent at each position. Their backcourt is loaded with sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. The insanely long and athletic front line is led by junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Toss in the fact that Kentucky’s veteran players have Final Four experience from a season ago and you will understand why the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to advance to Indianapolis.

Will John Calipari Be Smiling This Time Next Week? (AP)

John Calipari and the Wildcats have had a lot to smile about this season. (AP)

Should They Falter: #3 Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 ACC). The ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Tournament fresh off playing some of their best basketball of the year. Notre Dame possesses an elite offensive attack with multiple options that makes it a very tough team to defend. That attack is led by senior star guard Jerian Grant, an All-American senior who has the ability to take over a game each night out. Grant is the alpha dog star of Mike Brey’s team, but senior Pat Connaughton and sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia all strongly contribute to the Irish’s success. It will be a stunner if Kentucky loses at any point in this region, but if it does, look for Notre Dame to take home the Midwest Region trophy and advance to the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Cincinnati (22-10, 13-5 AAC). The Bearcats enjoyed a solid season but their résumé suggests that they should have been a double-digit seed. While Cincinnati had good victories over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, it also had head-scratching losses to Nebraska, East Carolina and Tulane. The Bearcats finished the AAC season tied for third in the conference standings. Temple — the team they were tied with, and Tulsa, the team that finished one spot ahead of them — did not even earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to suggest that Cincinnati didn’t deserve inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but a #8 seed is very generous.

Grossly Underseeded: #7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 MVC). The Missouri Valley Conference does not provide many opportunities to pick up marquee victories, but Wichita State was able to pick up one on February 28 though when Gregg Marshall’s team got revenge from an early-season loss by topping Northern Iowa. The rest of the Shockers’ résumé was not very exciting, but they managed to win 28 games overall and only stumbled once in conference play prior to the MVC Tournament. Wichita State’s core is essentially the same (minus Cleanthony Early) as the one that started 34-0 last season. Gregg Marshall’s team is too talented and experienced to be a #7 seed and it would not be surprising at all to see it make a run to the second weekend.

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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday Night

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament begins tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the first two games this evening.

#16 Manhattan vs. #16 Hampton— Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 PM ET on truTV.

Manhattan and Hampton Start Us Off in Dayton Tonight (USA Today Images)

Manhattan and Hampton Start Us Off in Dayton Tonight (USA Today Images)

Battling for the right to face unbeaten #1 Kentucky in Louisville on Thursday are MAAC champion Manhattan and MEAC champion Hampton. The 19-13 Jaspers pulled off a stunner over heavy favorite Iona to take home the MAAC title, and as winners of seven of their last eight, they seem to be playing their best basketball of the season. If you recall, Manhattan was in the NCAA Tournament last year where it was a #13 seed and pushed #4 Louisville to the edge before the Cardinals grabbed the victory in the last few minutes. Gone from last year is standout guard George Beamon, but experienced forwards Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey are still around to carry the load for Steve Masiello‘s group. Hampton is the only team in this season’s field with a losing record, as the Pirates are just 16-17. While the 16-17 mark is less than ideal, it should be noted that they are a very respectable 5-1 in neutral site games, and Dayton certainly qualifies as that. Hampton’s offensive attack is led by forward Dwight Meikle and Tennessee transfer guard Quinton Chievous. The advantage in this one looks to be when Manhattan has the ball, as Hampton’s defense enters the game 224th in the country in points per game allowed. Look for Andujar and Pankey to set the tone early for the Jaspers, as they will advance to the main bracket to take on Masiello’s alma mater in what will be truly a David versus Goliath matchup.

The RTC Certified Pick: Manhattan

#11 BYU vs. #11 Mississippi – West Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – Approx. 9:10 PM ET, truTV.

Kyle Collinsworth is Worth Watching Tonight (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth is Worth Watching Tonight (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

While Ole Miss limps into the First Four as losers of five of their last eight games including an opening round loss to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament, BYU comes in playing as well as it has all year. The Cougars won eight games in a row, including a win at Gonzaga, before running out of gas in the WCC championship game. Still, with a talented backcourt highlighted by senior leading scorer Tyler Haws and junior do-everything guard Kyle Collinsworth, head coach Dave Rose has to feel confident in his group. Andy Kennedy’s Rebels, meanwhile, are an experienced team too, with upperclassmen representing all three of the team’s leading scorers. Junior Stefan Moody is one of the nation’s best shooters, while senior Jarvis Summers is a no-mistakes kind of lead guard. With both teams interested in playing a quick tempo and with both squads better with the ball than defensively, this could be a fun, high-scoring, back-and-forth game. In the Big Dance, benefit of the doubt goes to the team playing its best ball.

The RTC Certified Pick: BYU

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Bracket Prep: Albany, Hampton & UAB

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 14th, 2015

As we move through Championship Weekend, 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

Sam Rowley and Albany are going dancing for the third-straight year. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sam Rowley and the Great Danes are going dancing for the third-straight year. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

America East Champion (24-8, 15-1)

  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #108/#132/#134
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +3.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #14 or #15

Strength: Albany led the America East in both adjusted offensive efficiency (110.2 AdjO) and time taken per offensive possession; which is to say, the Great Danes are slow but effective. They are a solid shooting team from all areas of the floor (36.5% 3FG/48.4% 2FG/76% FT) and do a decent job on the offensive glass, thanks in large part to brothers Sam and Michael Rowley (combined 12.0 RPG). Fellow Australian Peter Hooley (13.8 PPG) – who hit the clutch shot on Saturday – is back to being one of the team’s top offensive weapons after missing several games during conference play to be with his sick mother.

Weakness: The Great Danes often play some zone and like to pack in their defense, which helps them clean up misses (12th-best defensive rebounding rate in college hoops) but precludes them from taking away the three-point line; opponents are shooting nearly 37 percent from three against Albany and scoring around 38 percent of their points from behind the arc. Will Brown’s group surrendered 13 triples against Holy Cross in a 17-point loss back in December and could be overwhelmed by a good outside-shooting team next week.

Key Player: Sam Rowley (14 PPG, 7.7 RPG). The Aussie big man leads Albany in scoring and rebounding, but even that doesn’t quite illustrate his importance. Rowley uses over one quarter of his team’s possessions while on the floor (which is 82 percent of the time), either going to work down low, knocking down mid-range jumpers or passing out of the post. His ability to locate open shooters might be especially important against larger opponents that prevent interior scoring.

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Conference Tournament Primer: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 10th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with yet two more conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the MAC and the MEAC get started.

Dates: March 10-15
Sites: The Scope (Norfolk, Va.)

2014 meac bracket

What to expect: It’s been two years since #15 seed Norfolk State pulled off a stunning upset of Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. While the MEAC boasts a different team this time around — North Carolina Central — it has another one that could put a scare into a top seed in the first round. That is, of course, if the Eagles can earn the league’s automatic bid this week. Hampton and Norfolk State will be their main challengers, and remember, the #1 seed has won this tournament only three times in the past 10 years. That tells some of the story as to why the MEAC is only 5-32 in NCAA Tournament games all-time

Favorite: North Carolina Central. The Eagles ran away with this league, winning it by two games over Hampton. Funny story, NCCU played Hampton once this season, but it didn’t count as a league game and I couldn’t find an explanation as to why that occurred. Nevertheless, NCCU has won 17 straight games, including 15 in a row in conference play. The Eagles ranked first in the MEAC in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

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Preseason Bracketology: 10.28.11 Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on October 28th, 2011

Zach Hayes is RTC’s official bracketologist.  He will periodically put together his latest bracket projections throughout the season.  Tell him where you agree or disagree @zhayes9 on Twitter.

  • Last Four In: Drexel, Illinois, Kansas State, Notre Dame.
  • First Four Out: Virginia Tech, Georgetown, Oregon, Minnesota.
  • Next Four Out: Northwestern, BYU, Princeton, Oklahoma State.

Click to Enlarge Bracket

Notes

  • This was the most clear-cut foursome for the top line that I can recall during any previous preseason bracket and all four deserve to be anointed Final Four teams here in October.
  • Maybe a bit of a surprise in both instances, but I’m taking Texas A&M and California to win their respective leagues. Maybe their talent level is not up to par with the likes of Kansas and UCLA, but I like their stability, coaching and players like Khris Middleton and Allen Crabbe are primed to explode.
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RTC Conference Primers: # 31 – MEAC

Posted by jstevrtc on October 3rd, 2011

For our complete list of 2011-12 conference primers working backward from #31 to #1, click here.   

Readers’ Take I

Top Storylines

  • Turmoil at Bethune-Cookman.  Bethune-Cookman is the defending regular season champion, but can they concentrate on basketball? Since least season, the school has fired Clifford Reed, its head coach for the previous nine years, because of “insubordination and failure to cooperate” during an investigation of the basketball program. His son, C. J., was last year’s conference Player of the Year and the league’s top scorer, but was named (not charged) in a now-closed sexual assault case and has left the college. The elder Reed is suing the school for wrongful termination. Forget that the Wildcats will be under new leadership and have to place replace C.J.’s scoring; will they be able to concentrate on hoops with this stuff hanging over the program all year?
  • NCCU Wild Card.  We ask the above poll question about North Carolina Central because even though they’ve been readmitted to the MEAC, the Eagles welcome three transfers from Power Six conferences (on whom more in a bit). In the few pre-season writeups we’ve seen so far, NCCU has been predicted anywhere from first to 12th. They’re by far the biggest wild card in this conference this season.
  • MEAC Parity.  From 2000 to 2009, the MEAC post-season tournament saw only two schools claim more than one title (Hampton and South Carolina State). Hampton took the conference tournament crown last year and won the honor of a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Morgan State took the two before that, and Coppin State won in 2008. Those three schools have separated themselves in recent years as the top programs in this league. Which one will rise up this year, or can another squad challenge that trio?

Predicted Order of Finish

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Weekend NCAA Diary From Charlotte

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2011

As you’re no doubt aware, we’ve had our cadre of correspondents traveling around the country to each of the eight NCAA sites over the weekend. We’ve asked the guys to produce a weekend diary of the games they witnessed including analysis, commentary and opinion concerning the sights and sounds at their venues. Our hope is that the diaries will give you insights into the games that you may not have otherwise had from watching them on television or catching the highlights package afterward. Let us know how we do…

Note: for all of the opening weekend diaries, click here.

Location: Charlotte, NC
Round: Third
Teams: Duke, Michigan, North Carolina, Washington
Date: 20 March 2011
Correspondent: Frank Barrows

Tar Heel Fans Get Into It vs. Washington Sunday (CO/D. Foster)

I spent the weekend covering the NCAA tournament games in Charlotte. When I trudged out of the arena Sunday night, my briefcase bulging with hundreds of pieces of paper — stat sheets, team brochures, transcripts of interviews, rosters, etc. — that I had acquired over four days, here’s what I was thinking about:

* A year ago, Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes were two of the country’s very top high school basketball players, Nos. 1 and 2 or Nos. 2 and 1 in the eyes of many, excepting the Jared Sullinger partisans.  However, both had rocky starts to their college careers. After eight excellent games for Duke, Irving injured a ligament in his right big right toe and was put in a cast. From the outset, Barnes shot poorly, as if he hadn’t worked on his jumper for weeks before enrolling at North Carolina, and, worse, he played with neither assertiveness nor confidence. The only consolation for Blue Devils’ fans who were mourning the loss of Irving was that Barnes, who had famously and surprisingly chosen North Carolina over Duke in a photo-finish announcement on national televison, was playing so badly. They drowned their sorrows in schadenfreude.

Now, unimaginable as it was at the end of December, Irving and Barnes are central figures, perhaps their team’s central figures, in the week of the Sweet Sixteen.  Irving, a 6’2 point guard, played for the first time in months in the Charlotte NCAA rounds and has recaptured his form nearly as quickly as his slashingly acrobatic drives carry him from beyond the key to the rim.  In total, in the two games, he was on the court for 41 minutes, scoring 25 points and sinking all but one of 14 free throws. He hit the game-winning basket with 19.3 seconds left as Duke downed Michigan 73-71 Sunday, a close-in driving bank shot as he slipped along the baseline with the Blue Devils leading by just one. He appeared to suffer no lingering effects, physical or psychological, from his injury. He was more than fit as a fiddle; he looked like a Stradivarius.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had lots to say about Irving. Listen to some remarks from his post-game interview: “We wouldn’t be going forward if he didn’t play. … Kyrie is a heck of a pentrator. … If he plays the whole year, he might be the best player in college basketball. … I think a real big reason why we won today is that he got 20 in (the Hampton game). … You’ve got to get back on stage. I don’t care how much you practice, you got to get back on stage and then do your dancing and singing or whatever … in front of people … We now know that Kyrie will play, and he can play extended minutes. We knew he could play; we didn’t know rusty he would be. … He kept getting better, hit the big shot, and we know that he wants to be there with pressure. That’s a big thing, going forward.”

Barnes, a 6’8 forward, has improved steadily over the course of the season. He started taking important shots in the middle of January, then began making them more and more consistently and spectacularly, and, recently, peaked with such demonstrations as a 40-point showing in the ACC tournament against Clemson and a 24-point-and-16 rebound effort versus Long Island in the Tar Heels’ second-round NCAA matchup. His field-goal percentage, once as low as a good batting average, is now up to 42.3 and rising. The tentativeness that marked his game early in the season is gone, replaced by something that is as far short of swagger as it is well above hesitancy. For example, with North Carolina ahead of Washington 84-80, he missed a jump shot and a drive with in a few seconds; in December he wouldn’t have attempted the second after missing the first.

Barnes, averaging a team-leading 15.5 points, is the best three-point shooter in the Tar Heels’ starting lineup, and because outside scoring is their weakness, he is indispensably vital. Irving, despite the presence of the always remarkable Nolan Smith and the often remarkable Kyle Singler, is, as Krzyzewski pointed out, a guy who wants the ball in the waning minutes. What’s more, even if he continues as a substitute, he gives the Blue Devils a depth they have been lacking for months.  Plus, as his team’s most instinctive playmaker, he can help overcome the late-game problems Duke encountered with Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone, difficulties that surely have been replayed on tape in the offices of every coach who might face the Blue Devils the rest of the way.  For Irving and Barnes, that rest of the way, their path to the Final Four, is growing shorter and shorter.

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Coach K Ups The Ante With The Possibility Of Kyrie Irving’s Return

Posted by nvr1983 on March 16th, 2011

From the moment that Duke cut down the nets in Indianapolis last April there was an expectation that this year’s team with the addition of the much-hyped point guard recruit Kyrie Irving could actually pull of the rare repeat. While many questioned Irving’s abilities before the Devils’ opening night game against Princeton those questions were quickly answered as Irving asserted himself as the best player on the team and quite possibly the country. With each brilliant performance by Irving the Devils became the odds-on favorite to win the national title and become only the third team since 1973 to repeat as NCAA champions. At its fever pitch, the hype around this Duke team became so much that we felt compelled to publish a column asking whether the Blue Devils could actually go undefeated.

Will Kyrie Irving return on Friday?

Unfortunately for Duke, that was published before the extent to which Irving had injured his toe against Butler had become apparent (actually, the severity of the injury still isn’t clear). Following Irving’s injury the Blue Devils slipped from being the favorite to being one of the favorites and were at times severely outplayed at the point guard position like they were on March 5th against Kendall Marshall and UNC in a game that cost them the ACC regular season title. Throughout Irving’s prolonged recovery college basketball fans wondered whether Irving would return this season or if he would ever play another game in a Blue Devil uniform. Those hopes were boosted prior to Duke’s ACC quarterfinal win against Maryland when Irving ran through some drills before the game started.

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The Other 26: Bracket Analysis Part I

Posted by KDoyle on March 15th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

By now, we have all read, watched, and heard the breakdown of those teams fortunate enough to have earned a top seed in this year’s Tournament. We know Pittsburgh has the easiest road to Houston of the four #1 seeds—or do they? Georgetown, with Chris Wright returning to the lineup, is poised to make a run to the second weekend. Ohio State and Kansas are the favorites to advance to the Final Four according to many of the so-called experts. They can only review so many times how teams with Tournament experience traditionally perform well, and that having a formidable frontcourt is essential to reaching the Final Four. But, what about those pesky teams from the Other 26 conferences? While there are several popular teams that have the capability of playing the role of Cinderella this year that have received ample coverage—Belmont, Utah State and Oakland just to name a few—let’s dive in and investigate the fifteen O26 teams on the left-hand side of the bracket: the East and West Regions. Yes, even you, Texas-San Antonio and Long Island, are getting some love here.

I elected to break down the 15 teams by inserting each into one of the four categories: 1) Have a legitimate shot at actually advancing far into the Tournament; 2) Can win a game, but not much more; 3) If their shots are falling and their opponents are not, they have an outside shot; and, 4) We are just happy to be here

Ability to advance to the second weekend

(6, East) Xavier—Despite a setback to Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, Xavier breezed through their conference schedule with their only loss coming to Charlotte. Subsequently, they are one of the hotter teams entering the Tournament and possess one of the most dynamic and potent point guards in the country in Tu Holloway. The Musketeers’ date with Marquette in the first round is one of the most intriguing early match-ups of the tournament. Getting by the Golden Eagles would undoubtedly give them confidence against another Big East foe in Syracuse in the following round. Bare in mind, Xavier has reached the Sweet 16 in the past three NCAA Tournaments.

Tu Holloway Makes the XU Offense Go

(2, West) San Diego State—The Aztecs are one of the best feel good stories of the entire year. They have a very likable team with guys like D.J. Gay and Kawhi Leonard being the face of the program, and Steve Fisher’s journey back to the top of the college basketball world has been great to watch. San Diego State sprinted through their entire regular season schedule with their only two blemishes coming at the hands of Jimmer Fredette and BYU. The play of Gay in the backcourt and Leonard in the frontcourt makes it hard for any opponent to cope with. SDSU will look to avenge their first round loss to Tennessee in last year’s tournament with a much deeper run this year.

(7, West) Temple—In the illustrious career of Fran Dunphy, the longtime coach has never won an NCAA Tournament game. After a strong non-conference performance that translated to a 14-2 record in the Atlantic 10, Temple seems poised to give Dunphy that first “W.” The Owls are one of the best defensive teams in the tournament, which will suite them well for Penn State’s hard-nosed and methodical offense. The match-up featuring Ramone Moore and Talor Battle will no doubt be a great one that may determine the outcome of the game.

Can win a game

(8, East) George Mason—The nation is finally witnessing the highly touted recruits that Jim Larranaga attracted to George Mason following their magical Final Four run back in 2006. The play of Ryan Pearson and Cam Long has been nothing short of exceptional during the second half of the season as GMU won 16 consecutive games. The streaking Patriots will take on the slumping Villanova Wildcats in the first round who have lost five straight games and 10 of their last 15. While the Nova backcourt is one of the best around with Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, GMU is playing with confidence and swagger that Villanova seems to have lost. I’ll take the hotter team in this one.

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