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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Belmont Escapes At-Large Worries: Can the Bruins Break Through?

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s OVC Championship in Nashville.

Late in Saturday’s Ohio Valley Conference Championship Game, it looked like the college basketball world would face a week-long debate about whether Belmont, a top-25 RPI team that won the league’s regular season championship, would merit an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament after falling to defending champion Murray State. The Racers appeared to be in control when they led 62-58 with fewer than 40 seconds to play in regulation. But an Ian Clark jumper and a two missed free throws from Ed Daniel set up a Kerron Johnson drive that tied the game with nine seconds remaining. Following some controversy surrounding a clock stoppage issue and Murray State calling timeout before crossing half-court, the Racers could not get a good look for the win. In overtime, after Murray State star Isaiah Canaan dribbled the ball off of his foot in a tie game with 25 seconds remaining – one of 26 Racer turnovers on the night — it was Johnson again playing the hero as he pulled up in the lane and made a high-arcing jumper over Daniel, giving the Bruins a 70-68 victory and the league’s auto-bid in their first year, as well as the 1,000th victory in program history.

It Was Storybook For Belmont Saturday

It Was Storybook For Belmont Saturday

Belmont is now able to avoid all talk of whether its resume was good enough to earn a coveted at-large spot in the field, and while we may never know whether it was, coach Rick Byrd is more than happy to not have to wonder. “I had thought about that question because I knew we could lose either of these games,” he said. Now, he can focus on getting his team ready for its next opponent, whoever it may be. The Bruins must sit and wait a week before finding out whether their resume was good enough to earn a seed that will give them a reasonable shot at a first-round victory, something that has eluded the program in its first five appearances in the Big Dance. There was the near-miss in 2008 against Duke that put the program on the national map, and the disappointing double-figure losses to Wisconsin and Georgetown the last two years, when the Bruins represented the Atlantic Sun. While they clearly stepped up in competition in the OVC this year, most projections, including our latest, have them in the #12-line, only a spot better than the past two seasons.  So while the RPI may be higher than it has ever been for Byrd’s team, the draw his team gets may look familiar. What likely faces the Bruins is a game against a bigger, more athletic high-major squad that will present match-up issues.

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131st Battle of the Boulevard Goes to Belmont

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2012

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from tonight’s Battle of the Boulevard match-up between Belmont and Lipscomb.

They may be in a new league, and they may have lost their two biggest contributors in the post, but anyone who thinks the Belmont Bruins will do anything but contend for their seventh trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last nine years is in for a rude awakening. As they proved by their 89-60 dismantling of their archrival Lipscomb on Friday, the Bruins will give OVC favorite and defending champion Murray State all they want in the Racers’ quest to return to the Big Dance. Belmont may have lost Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders, its two leading rebounders and biggest bodies from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, but it returned one of the league’s best backcourts in Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark. Johnson is a classic pass-first point guard who uses his athleticism to break down defenses and can also score (he led the Bruins with 22 points on Friday). Clark is a prolific shooter with an unorthodox but quick release that is difficult to defend. The pair combined for 41 points on Friday, and it is reasonable to expect similar results throughout the season.

Belmont’s First Game This Year Was a Resounding Success

The most pleasant surprise Bruins coach Rick Byrd got from Friday’s win was the play of forward Trevor Noack. The 6’7″ senior averaged less than eight minutes per game last season, but hit double figures by the half and looked like a player who could be a consistent scoring option behind Clark, Johnson, and junior forward J.J. Mann. Belmont will be well-served by the athleticism of its backcourt, which will allow it to compete with the likes of Murray State and Tennessee State. Where the Bruins have questions is on the front line. While Noack’s offensive emergence is encouraging, Belmont will certainly struggle with talented big men – such as TSU’s Robert Covington – as it simply does not have much size on the interior. The Bruins play no one taller than 6’7″, and Noack and athletic frontcourt mate Blake Jenkins, a solid defender, do not offset their height disadvantages with much beef.

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 23rd, 2012

David Changas is the RTC correspondent for the OVC.  You can follow him on Twitter @dchangas.

Top Storylines

  • Can Murray State Repeat Its Success?  Last year, the Racers took the college basketball world by storm by being the nation’s last remaining undefeated team after starting 23-0. They lose several key contributors, but another run to a second-round NCAA Tournament win is realistic, and coach Steve Prohm proved he can coach in his first season at the helm. Should Murray State win the league’s automatic bid, it likely will not come with a lofty five-seed as it did last year, but any team with potential All-American Isaiah Canaan leading it in March will be dangerous.

Isaiah Canaan Is The Early Favorite For OVC Player Of The Year And Has A Shot At Even Higher Accolades. (Getty Images)

  • Belmont Arrives:  In an effort to raise its overall profile, Belmont left the Atlantic Sun and certainly will add cachet to a league coming off its best year in recent memory. The Bruins have been a dominant force in the A-Sun for the past dozen years, earning the conference’s automatic bid in five of the last seven. Their addition to an already formidable league raises its profile that much more, and though Murray State is the league favorite, Belmont will draw attention to the OVC in this and years to come.
  • Who is Robert Covington? With all of the hoopla surrounding Canaan and Murray State, plus the arrival of Belmont, the player who isn’t the subject of enough discussion is Tennessee State big man Robert Covington. The 6’9″ senior finished third in the league in scoring and second in rebounding last year, and is projected by some to be a second-round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.  He scores, rebounds, and shoots the three proficiently, and has an NBA physique.  A player of the year caliber season should be expected from Covington, and the presence of NBA scouts will be commonplace at Tiger games.

Reader’s Take

 

Predicted Order of Finish

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