O26 Bracketbusting: South and Midwest Regions

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 18th, 2014

Sing it with me: It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The Big Dance is finally upon us. After a terrific regular season, we finally have the bracket in our hands. Before the inexorable slide into ripping them up in exasperation, we are left with hope for a couple more days — hope that we can pick the right Final Four and National Champion. Hope that we can suss out the nearly impossible task of selecting which upsets will actually come to fruition. Will there be another Dunk City-esque run in 2014? Which Other 26 conference team will become America’s next darling? Well, we here at the O26 microsite will try to help you out. Let’s take a look at the O26 teams — starting with the Midwest and South Regions — and discuss the likelihood that each has to advance this week.

MIDWEST

Regional Threats. These are the teams that could be second- and third-weekend squads.

Wichita State's run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken)

Wichita State, despite a tough road, could make another Final Four. (AP/Peter Aiken)

  • Wichita State (#1 seed) — The Shockers might be the most polarizing team in the nation. Some people love ‘em and want to see a repeat Final Four run, and others want to see them fall flat on their faces, validating their loud group of detractors. The fact is Wichita State is 34-0 and the first team since UNLV in 1991 to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated. Well, if the Wheatshockers can return to the Final Four, they’ll shut those detractors up. They have arguably the toughest path to the Final Four out of all the #1 seeds. Preseason #1 Kentucky in the round of 32, a criminally underseeded #4 Louisville team in the Sweet Sixteen, and then either #2 seed Michigan or #3 seed Duke in the Elite Eight. Woof. This is Wichita State’s opportunity to show the nation just how good it is. And the Shockers are plenty good. They boast a top-10 ranking in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. Star power forward Cleanthony Early also ranked seventh in KenPom’s player of the year rankings. With additional prospects in guard Ron Baker and point guard Fred VanVleet, the Shockers could find themselves in Arlington, Texas, in early April.

One and Done. These teams have a solid shot at winning their round of 64 game, but are unlikely to reach the second weekend.

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Who Won The Week? Louisville, Marcus Smart, Michigan and The Citadel…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.

WINNER: Louisville

Russ Smith won Louisville's game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.

Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.

(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)

LOSER: Saint Louis

The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?

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O26 Storylines: Saint Louis, Gonzaga, Vermont and More…

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 28th, 2014

Selection Sunday is right around the corner. Conference tournaments begin in just three days. Let’s take a look at the storylines surrounding the O26 conferences as we head into the stretch run of the regular season.

Was Saint Louis Exposed on Thursday night?

Is SLU really all that good? (Photo courtesy of foxpsports.com)

Is SLU really all that good? (Getty)

The Billikens have been playing with fire for far too long. They were finally burned on Thursday night, dropping a shocking home game against Atlantic 10 cellar-dweller Duquesne. Saint Louis won its previous six games by single digits, with two coming by one possession and two more coming in overtime to George Mason. Saint Louis is still in prime position to win the A-10, needing only a single win in its last three games — at VCU, vs. Dayton, at Massachusetts — to secure the top seed in the A-10 Tournament. But Thursday’s result is certainly worrisome. SLU’s best wins are against VCU, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s. Those three teams might be NCAA Tournament teams, but the rest of its resume is hardly impressive. The Bills still have the fourth-ranked defense, according to Ken Pomeroy, allowing just 89.5 points per 100 possessions. But their offense is a huge concern, coming in at 169th at 105 points per 100 possessions. Jim Crews’ team still has three tough games remaining, and it could see its #10 national ranking and possible #4/#5 seed turn into a date in the #8/#9 game if it’s not careful. Read the rest of this entry »

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