The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, South and West Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 19th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Oh, well. What’s a royal ball? After all, I suppose it would be frightfully dull, and-and-and boring, and-and completely… Completely wonderful. – Cinderella

It’s time for college basketball’s annual ball, which means it’s time for America to fall in love with Cinderella all over again. There are 36 teams from the 26 non-power-conferences who have been invited to this year’s Big Dance, and while the slipper no longer fits for some of the more prominent of these schools, for the bulk of them, this is a rare opportunity to make a name for themselves on the grandest of stages.

This is the first of a two-part series taking a look at the NCAA Tournament prospects for all 36 teams hailing from The Other 26. We focus today on the TO26 teams in the South and West regions, grouping them into five rough categories, and, within each category, ordering them by their likelihood of advancing.

Regional Threats

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

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

  • Gonzaga (#1, West) — It’s been five years since a TO26 team reached the top seed line. In 2008, Memphis rode its #1 seed all the way to the brink of a national championship, and Zags fans are hoping for the same — and perhaps more — this year. Gonzaga has no glaring weaknesses. They are led by an athletic, skilled frontcourt, the centerpiece of which is NPOY candidate Kelly Olynyk. They get steady guard play from Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and David Stockton. If they’re to run into any trouble, it will likely be against a team that (1) sports a strong, athletic interior defense that can contain Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower and pound the glass, and (2) can hit the three-point shot consistently, as Illinois did in beating them (Gonzaga’s defense allows a lot of three-point attempts). There are a fair number of teams that meet the first criteria in the West bracket, but not many with a lot offensive firepower from the three-point line or otherwise. In short, this is as good a shot as Gonzaga has ever had to make the Final Four. The eyes of the nation will be watching to see if they can make good on their promise.
  • Virginia Commonwealth (#5, South) – VCU is a popular sleeper pick for the Final Four, and there’s some merit to that notion, but here is the most important thing you need to know about them: They are 25-2 on the year (and 14-0 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate over 18 percent. And they are 1-6 (and 0-5 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate under 18 percent. The Rams’ first-round opponent, Akron, falls squarely in the former camp (20.8 percent), a problem for the Zips that will be exacerbated by the absence of their legally-troubled starting point guard, Alex Abreu. After that, things get a bit trickier for the Rams. Their two potential Third Round opponents, Michigan and South Dakota State, rank in the top 10 in the country in turnover rate. Those stats are perhaps somewhat inflated by the fact that both teams play in conferences that don’t feature a lot of pressure defenses, but if you’re looking for a point guard to lead you against such a defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Trey Burke or Nate Wolters. It’s true that Michigan has struggled lately in general, and that if you look ahead to a potential match-up with Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, Havoc’s odds of success improve, but I’d caution against over-exuberance at the Rams’ chances given a potentially dicey Third Round contest.

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Bracket Prep: Albany, Memphis, Southern, North Carolina A&T, Kansas & New Mexico

Posted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013

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Championship Week reached a crescendo on the eve of Selection Sunday, as thirteen automatic bids were handed out. 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 analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets this week.

Albany

How About A Court Storming On An Opponent's Home Floor? Completely Legal, Especially If A Trip To The Big Dance Is On The Line.  Congratulations Albany.

How About A Court Storming On An Opponent’s Home Floor? Completely Legal, Especially If A Trip To The Big Dance Is On The Line. Congratulations Albany.

  • America East Champion (24-10, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #143/#152/#172
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +2.0
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for Albany, but Saturday’s ticket-punching win at Vermont means the ride will roll on to the Big Dance. The America East champs put together an impressive 11-3 non-conference campaign that included a win at Washington, but conference play proved trying for Will Brown’s team, as a 9-7 finish left them as the fourth seed in the America East tournament. Albany lived the familiar March mantra “survive and advance” to the fullest this week, winning three games by a total of eight points to earn the bid.
  2. In a fashion quite typical for these Great Danes, Albany won games this week in which they scored 50, 61 and 53 points, respectively – not exactly “grab some popcorn and take in the show” territory here. The tempo is predictably slow (279th nationally), and with national ranks of 170th offensively and 144th defensively, Albany is very much middle of the road on both ends of the floor. Where the Great Danes do excel is on the glass. They are an above average offensive rebounding team and rank 40th nationally in collecting caroms on the defensive end, aided in part by a relatively big lineup, especially for the America East.
  3. The Albany offensive blueprint is not especially refined, but they rely heavily on a small senior duo of three-point shooters. 6’0” Mike Black leads the Danes in scoring at 15 a contest and towers over his backcourt mate, 5’10” Jacob Iati, who chips in 12.2 PPG. The two have combined to make 139 threes this season, and they would be well served to keep chucking come next week, because unless Albany gets slotted for the First Four in Dayton, it will take a hot shooting night and then some (and then some more, and some more…) to keep the Danes surviving and advancing.

Memphis

Rulers Of Conference USA For The Final Time, Memphis Is Dancing Again

Rulers Of Conference USA For The Final Time, Memphis Is Dancing Again

  • Conference USA Champion (30-4, 19-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #15/#38/#27
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +12.0
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #7-#9

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