Greetings, fair weather fans!
I hope you all enjoyed your introduction to college basketball for these past two weeks or so. As always, the sport has not failed to amaze, confuse, and entertain you.
You’ve no doubt heard that this is an especially crazy year, and probably haven’t been able to watch five minutes of one of the talking head shows without hearing someone say “parity” in a very excited voice.
What does that mean? Essentially what they are saying is that there is not a lot of gap in ability between all of the teams as there usually is. Anyone can, and already has, between anyone this season.
But if you’ve ever filled out a bracket, you know that already. This information doesn’t help you at all. In fact, it’s just frustrating. What’s more, these analysts are really only talking about the top 40 or 50 teams when they say that, and they ignore close to twenty mid-major programs who qualify for the NCAA Tournament and could spoil your entire bracket.
Nailing your mid-major upsets is THE KEY to winning your office or family bracket pool. Not only are you winning a game that not many people will get, but you’ve also correctly eliminated a team that others may have advancing several rounds. The issue? You don’t have the time, or the interest to watch all of those boring mid-major games.
My advice? Thin-slice it.
Most people think you need to be watching these teams all season long, tracking their best players and their minute tendencies. But this year, I’m employing a trick I learned from Mr. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink. Instead of being overwhelmed by “paralysis by analysis,” I decided I would thin-slice my mid-major information.
That means that I would watch the most important (short) slice of that team’s season, the second half of their conference championship game, and from that decide how they would fair in the tournament. Gladwell tells us that if we have a base knowledge of the activity, this kind of analysis could actually be more accurate.
Instead of bogging ourselves down with the ebbs and flows of their entire season, we are actually watching the team compete in the truest comparison to what an NCAA Tournament game will be like, taking into account things like pressure and The Edison Effect.
So what are we looking for? We want to “get a sense” of what the team is like. Some basic things you need to observe are the size of the team, and the pace of play. What kind of offense and defense they run. What their strengths and weaknesses are.
Then it’s time to go to the numbers, which tell the truth when the eyes lie. I look and see if the things I observed translate over the course of the whole season. As a reminder for those that didn’t read my breakdown of variance, the stats we’re really looking for are the ones that raise the team’s maximum potential.
In summary, we want teams that create the most possessions, and make the most of those possessions. This means that we like mid-majors who grab a ton of offensive rebounds and create a lot of steals (creating possessions), ones that don’t turn the ball over (wasting possessions), and shoot a lot of threes effectively (maximizing possessions).
Other items on my wish list are teams with a lot of experienced upperclassmen who won’t be flustered, and teams with one dominant alpha scorer who could be the x-factor in an upset.
At the March Madness Survival Guide, I’m here to serve the people. I have officially watched every team that is going to be in the field of sixty-eight this season, so you don’t have to.
Here’s a quick recap of what I found on every mid-major team in the field who could possibly play Cinderella. I only included the schools I didn’t think you would’ve watched, so teams like Gonzaga and Wichita State aren’t in here.
I realize it’s quite long, but gaze at it while you’re filling out your bracket and then remember me whenever you win your pool. I will accept cash or checks from your earnings.
The 16 Seeds
Strengths: You have to tip your hat to the Governors, not just for their great mascot name
but also for already completing a Cinderella run. As an 8 seed in the OVC, they pulled upset after upset en route to earning the first automatic qualifying bid of the year.
The did this mostly on the back of 6-8 senior post scorer Chris Horton, who at 18.9 points per game really knows how to get it done down low.
Weaknesses: It’s important to remember that this team is 18-17 on the season, and went 7-9 in the Ohio Valley Conference regular season. On their record they have a fifty point loss to Indiana and a forty point loss to Vanderbilt.
They play very fast and aggressive, but that leads to a ranking of 296th in turnovers per game, which isn’t a good sign for a team that’s going to need every possession they can get against a 1 seed.
Takeaway: Well this team has already had their Cinderella moment, which is good because I think they’ll probably be lambs to the slaughter of the 1 seed they match up against.
Florida Gulf Coast
A lot of people are going to be nostalgic of “Dunk City” in 2013, but this team likely will stay firmly rooted to the ground. It’s not the same coach, and within a few minutes of watching them you can see it’s not the same athletes either. It took a come from behind overtime victory against 12-22 Stetson, at home mind you, to land the Eagles in the big dance. Here, take a moment and remember the greatness of Dunk City. Then forget about it totally before you fill out your bracket.
Strengths: Well first and foremost, the cheerleaders are their biggest strength. Unquestionably a top 10 squad in the nation. Other than that, there’s not a ton to get excited about.
They are a very big team for a mid-major, starting a pair of 6-4 guards in the backcourt to go with 6-9 250 pound Antravious Simmons in the paint. Marc Eddy Norella (what’s up with these names?) is a 6-8 legit scorer at the power forward position, and the bench runs pretty much 6-5 and taller. That size helps out with rebounding, but causes them to play a slower, half court style.
Weaknesses: It’s actually pretty incredible to consider that this team has only attempted 493 threes this season, good for 323rd out of 351 eligible Division 1 college basketball teams. Watching their game against Stetson, it was immediately clear that there’s only one person on their team that’s comfortable shooting from the outside (Christian Terrell). This leads to very little floor spacing, making the driving lanes that they rely on very small.
Experience isn’t on their side either. They only have two seniors on the roster (one only averages 15 minutes per game). The bulk of the roster has a lot of freshmen and sophomores, meaning they weren’t with the team during that 2013 tournament run.
Takeaway: Joe Lunardi has them as a 16 seed, which lines up with what I saw from them in the conference championship. I can almost guarantee they won’t be the first 16 seed to take down a 1 seed.
Strengths: I don’t know…I’m struggling here. They’re on a five game winning streak, which took them from 13-14 to an NCAA Tournament. Let’s see, what else…they played Villanova?
Weaknesses: Well for starters, their name. It’s too long to remember, which everyone knows means they won’t be a very good Cinderella. Don’t worry world, because their team won’t be memorable either. They lost the aforementioned game to Nova by 37. They also lost to Wagner by 20. This just in, Wagner’s not a 1 seed in the big dance.
Out of their top five scorers, four are sophomores and one is a freshman. And none of them are taller than 6 foot 7. And while later I will probably tell you that certain teams can use this to their advantage, I guess I’m just a hypocrite because I really don’t feel this way with the Knights. They weren’t playing “small ball,” I just felt that the Northeast Conference has a competition level that allows smaller big men.
Takeaway: Well this makes us 0 for 3 on potential 16 seed upsets, because it’s not coming from Farleigh Dickinson. Sorry kids.
Strengths: They play a 1-3-1 zone that nobody in the Patriot League could figure out.
Weaknesses: Whichever 1 seed they’re going to play is going to be able to figure it out. Clearly 19 teams did, because their 14-19 record is the worst in the field. Luckily they made it easy for us because they already played a 1 seed in the season so we can compare. It was Kansas. They lost 92-59.
Takeaway: Look, it’s destined to happen. Eventually a 16 seed will knock off a 1 seed. But it’s not going to be this year.
The 15 Seeds
Strengths: Because everyone on their team is roughly the same size, they switch one through five on defense. This makes them very difficult to score on out of the pick and roll, a cornerstone offensive action in high major play. This is a big reason why they are the 6th ranked team in the nation for steals per game (9.3).
While they don’t have a rim protector, they can be downright disruptive on defense with the way they dig at the ball for steals. It’s also always a good sign to see a win on the schedule like Asheville has against Georgetown, though it needs to be shared that they also got slaughtered by Texas A&M.
Weaknesses: Unlike Florida Gulf Coast above, Asheville is a team that rarely plays anyone over 6 foot 6. That doesn’t mix well with their ranking of 241st in three pointers attempted per game. I’ve played basketball long enough to know what happens when shorter players drive into the lane over and over again without any threat of shooting to space the floor.
The biggest weakness for the Bulldogs is their youth. Of their four leading scorers, two are freshmen and two are sophomores. While this youthfulness definitely adds to the energy that they play with, they don’t resemble one of those fearless squads that Rick Pitino or Bob Huggins field every year, so I could see them really tightening up on the big stage.
Takeaway: Projected as a fifteen seed, I could see them being one of those teams that leads the game at halftime, causing mass panic for college basketball fans everywhere, before fading in the second twenty. They simply don’t have enough playmakers to finish off an upset.
Bittersweet is the word I would use to describe my reaction to Green Bay making the
tournament. If you read the March Madness Survival Guide last year, you know that I followed that Green Bay team almost the entire year and almost guaranteed that they’d be the Cinderella team of last year’s tournament. Then they lost in their conference championship game and never made it. This year’s team lost their two best players (pictured right) from last year’s squad, but now they’re dancing!
Strengths: The Phoenix (another thumbs up for good mascot) scheduled a lot of high major competition this year including Wisconsin, Stanford, and Georgia Tech, and have wins over really good Akron and Valparaiso teams.
The biggest reason to love Green Bay as an upsetter? They are #1 (number one!) in all of college basketball in steals per game. They are DISRUPTIVE, led by a pair of tough guys who play extremely hard in Carrington Love and Charles Cooper. The analytics guys would also love that they’re in the top 100 in three pointers taken, a respectable 111th in turnovers, and top 50 in offensive rebounds per game.
I love that four out of the their top five scorers are upper classmen who have won a ton of ballgames. I love that they’ve won eight out of their last nine games. And I can’t deny I just love this program, I may be too biased!
Weaknesses: Green Bay has no elite post-up threat, and height could be an issue. While they aren’t as small as a lot of these mid-majors, with a lot of 6-7s and 6-8s stocked up, it doesn’t run any taller than that which could be an issue against some of the Goliaths at powerhouse schools.
I never like to see a stat like this: the Phoenix only shoot 65% from the free-throw line as a team, which history has shown us is a big deal.
Takeaway: I didn’t remove my rose-colored glasses before writing this breakdown, but I see Green Bay as the most dangerous of all the 15 seeds. They are great in all the right statistical categories, and play the right style of ball to be a Cinderella. Unashamed to say GO PHOENIX!
Strengths: Of all of the 15 seeds, I like this one the most. The senior duo of guard Jeremy Senglin and post Joel Bolomboy average 18 and 17 respectively, and work really well in tandem. Senglin is an EXCELLENT three point shooter (44.6%), and Bolomboy has legit size not just mid-major size.
While they didn’t play a super schedule, I look at wins like South Dakota State and Central Michigan and see some upside with this team. It’s going to take a huge effort by their two studs but they do have two while most of these squads don’t even have one.
Weaknesses: Well, behind the two big guns there’s not a ton else. Also, the Wildcats (LAME mascot choice) are lacking in statistical categories that we like. They don’t force a lot of steals, turn the ball over an alarming amount, and don’t grab a ton of offensive rebounds.
Takeaway: It’s a long shot, but what 15-2 matchup isn’t? If you’re going to bet on one I’d go with Weber State, even though I’d probably advise you to not go with one this year.
The 14 Seeds
Middle Tennessee State
Strengths: The Conference USA Champions are 24-9, and though they don’t have really any good wins, they don’t have too many embarrassing losses. The biggest reason for that is a pair of sharpshooters in Giddy Potts (49.3% from three) and big man Darnell Harris (40.9%). If they get hot, they can put points up in a hurry.
Weaknesses: This team didn’t really excite me despite the promise of hitting a bunch of threes. They weren’t really explosive, and a lot of threes that I saw were created off of isolation as opposed to slash-and-kick.
This is mostly because they are a very small team. Their starting center, if you can call it that, is 6-8 and prefers to play on the perimeter. The rest of their guys are around 6-6 and don’t protect the rim very well defensively. And while you’d hope to then see them create a lot of steals, it’s a pretty average 146th ranking nationally.
Takeaway: While this is a good basketball team, I don’t think they pack quite enough punch to knock off a 3 seed. It would take a heroic performance by Giddy Potts, which would be really fun because then everyone would be forced to say the words “Giddy Potts” a couple hundred times.
First of all, pour a little out for the homies at Monmouth. There’s still a chance they earn an at-large bid, which needs to happen because America’s favorite team has been polishing their dance shoes since November.
Strengths: Despite not having the star-power of Monmouth, Iona can still really pack a punch. They have one of the best mid-major players in the tournament in AJ English, who’s dangerous scoring (22.4ppg), but also passing (6.2apg), rebounding (5.0rpg) and steals (1.5spg). The skinny 6-4 senior is a legitimate problem for opposing teams on both ends.
As a whole, Iona is going to match up athletically really well with whoever they face. With an impressive blend of height and speed, they shouldn’t be run out of the gym or muscled up. Overall, they’re just hard to stop on the offensive end averaging 79.6 points per game, ranking 34th in the country.
Another thing the Gaels have going for them is their high level of variance. They shoot the ninth most threes per game in the nation, and hit 37.2% of them which is good for 59th. They’re a respectable but not elite rebounding team, and are 43rd in the country in steals per game. Those are a few of the red flags you look for in a Cinderella.
My favorite thing about this team was that in the Monmouth game, their most important game of the season, they made big play after big play. Their second half performance should give them the confidence to make plays on the bigger stage.
Also, I’m not sure if this is a strength or a weakness, but it seems like this team personally keeps every tattoo artist in New York City in business.
Weaknesses: One thing that can’t be argued for the Gaels is their defense, which has gone from warm cheese level early in the season to….slightly less warm cheese? They’ve given up 90 points or more seven times this season, and 75 or more fifteen times. A lot of this comes because of their up-tempo style, and their tendency to gamble for steals. Still, getting stops is crucial in March Madness, so that’s concerning.
In addition, the Iona team clearly doesn’t spend much time in the weight room. Their roster may inflate their weights by twenty pounds each, but it’s not fooling my eyes. While they are tall enough to face top-tier competition, they could get muscled around due to their skinny frames.
Takeaway: Watch out world, because this is a team that no one is talking about that could do some damage. They play with a reckless abandon that I can already envision seeing on the “One Shining Moment” reel. Also this AJ English kid is a stud, and could be an x-factor guy who carries his team to the second weekend.
Strengths: The Rainbow Warriors remains one of the best mascots in all of college athletics.
Seriously, watch out for the Rainbow Warriors though! A big win over Northern Iowa and competing to just a three point loss to Oklahoma? The tallest of any effective big men in the mid-major ranks? How about 24th in the country in steals per game? There’s some things to like here!
Weaknesses: The issue here is that you’re supposed to surround a good big man with three point shooting to spread the floor. Hawai’i didn’t get that message. The team shoots only 32.8% from three as a team.
Defensively, they do produce a lot of steals, but that means a lot of gambling, which means giving up a lot of easy buckets. And we don’t like seeing them ranked 222nd in turnovers.
Takeaway: They try to win us over by naming their team “The Rainbow Warriors,” but don’t feel sorry for a team that’s located in Hawai’i. This team has some players, and will be a firm test for some 3 seed out there, but don’t bet on them to pull an upset. The turnovers and lack of outside shooting are the anchor that sinks the ship (no Pearl Harbor reference intended).
Strengths: The Mountain West is one of the best mid-major conferences in the country, so its winner deserves some credit. But don’t overlook what these Bulldogs (negative points for mascot) did. The 25-9 is respectable, and even more so when you factor in a five point loss to Oregon and a seven point loss to Arizona.
They also boast a legitimate stud in Marvelle Harris, who averages more than 20 points per game. The 6-4 senior is great on both offense and defense (led the conference in steals), and has the ball in his hands enough to really decide this team’s fate.
Weaknesses: The team really heavily relies on Harris, who isn’t an elite athlete and could be stopped with a really athletic wing playing deny defense. If that happens, I’m not sure the Bulldogs have enough firepower to mount any sort of attack.
Unlike San Diego State that has the disruptive defense, Fresno plays a style that more resembles the packline. However, they lack the length and discipline to play the packline at the level of a Virginia, and will pay the price in the tournament.
Takeaway: Well, it all depends on Marvelle Harris. If he goes full-on Hercules, it could override all of this teams other problems. But like I said I don’t see it happening because of the athletes that a potential 3 seed would have. So I see a fairly easy victory for the Bulldogs’ opponent.
The 13 Seeds
Strengths: The 29-5 record pretty much speaks for itself, saying how solid this team is, though it has to be noted that the Southern Conference is one of the weakest in D-1 basketball. They have a lot of upperclassmen on the roster, including all of their six leading scorers.
For the fans of smashmouth basketball, this is your team. Their players haven’t missed many meals, and that translates on to the court in the form of banging in the paint.
Also, apparently it’s a requirement to wear a white headband on this team, since almost every player had one on in the conference championship. Maybe they’re good luck, I’m not going to rule that out.
Weaknesses: As impressive as this year has been, the NCAA Tournament has got to be pretty intimidating for 35-year-old, first year head coach Matt McCall. He does a good job of mixing up different zone and man defenses, but I could see him getting flustered on the big stage.
Also despite their size, or more appropriately girth, they are a mediocre 154th in offensive rebounds per game. While they are a decent shooting team, they don’t create a lot of spacing which leads to a lot of driving head down into traffic. And that, unsurprisingly, is a big reason why they are 270th in turnovers per game.
Takeaway: While 13 seeds are usually dangerous, nothing about this team really struck me. They seem pedestrian in many different areas, with no clear strength that could be an x-factor. They’re really gonna have to create an ugly game to win, and I don’t see it happening.
Strengths: If you can’t tell by now, I’m a sucker for original mascots, so I’ll no doubt be cheering for the UNCW Seahawks. The Seahawks also hold a trump card in 2016: they take away team’s three point games. They allow the 11th fewest three point attempts, and hold opposing teams to 34.3% on those threes. We’re still in a time where we don’t know how powerful this could be, but there are certain teams (hey Indiana!) that could be rattled by them.
Chris Flemmings is a good story too, becoming the best player for Wilmington after not receiving any Division 1 attention out of high school. He instead went to D-2 Barton, where he averaged over twenty points, then begged his way into a walk-on role for the Seahawks.
Weaknesses: While they do have one seven footer, he barely ever plays. In fact, most of the guys that do see the floor are 6’5 and smaller. This allows them to switch 1 through 5 on defense, but leaves them vulnerable to getting pounded both in the paint defensively and in the rebounding department.
This team, like many mid-majors, is not very deep, which could be an issue if they get into foul trouble or get run ragged. I’m also a little concerned about the fact that they haven’t played any opponents better than Georgetown, who they lost to by five.
Takeaway: A very matchup dependent team, UNCW could pull an upset if they get the right type of first round opponent. But I don’t see them as being a great basketball team, which is a fairly important factor in a field that includes a lot of good basketball teams.
Strengths: JAMEEL. WARNEY. Of all of the (hundreds of) mid-major players I watched this week, Warney is the best. The three-time American East Player of the Year is a throwback to the old school, banger big men. At 6 foot 9 he can’t be stopped down low, averaging 19 and 11, and put up a staggering 43 points (on only 22 shots) in the conference
This NCAA Tourney bid means a little more to Stony Brook, who has lost in four of the last five American East Conference championship games and has never made the big dance before. But this class of seniors (including their top three scorers) has a record of 96-37 in their time with the program.
Statistically, they’re a really solid 57th in offensive rebounding, mostly thanks to Warney who averages 4.25 offensive rebounds per game himself. And while he commands double and triple teams in the post, he’s surrounded by a team that shoots 37.3% from three.
Weakness: This team isn’t very deep, and relies on heavy minutes from their three seniors. Also they’re very predictable on offense, since they are looking for Warney on every possession, but good luck stopping him.
Their one glaring weakness however is rim protection. Warney is an exceptional shot blocker (averages 3 per game) but doesn’t always go for the blocks because he can’t afford to be in foul trouble. The rest of the team COMBINES for 1.7 blocks per game, and they were constantly being gashed by a less than explosive Vermont team.
Takeaway: These 13 seeds are all highly dangerous, but Stony Brook is probably the most likely upset bid of the entire tournament. It’s not often you find a senior-laden team that’s 26-6 and lead by an alpha who is as unstoppable as Jameel Warney.
Stephen F. Austin
SFA is the next team that’s going to be added to the list of “no longer mid-major” mid-majors that currently includes Wichita State, Gonzaga, San Diego State, and VCU.
Strengths: Head coach Brad Underwood is 87-13 in his three years at SFA, which leaves no doubt in my mind that he’s some sort of mastermind like Frank Underwood from House of Cards. I don’t think he’ll be there much longer. The Lumberjacks (great name) are confident, experienced, and very well coached.
This year’s team is 26-5 and hasn’t lost a game since the calendar turned over to 2016. They are led by back-to-back Southland Conference POY Thomas Walkup, who plays much bigger than his 6-4 frame and averages 17, 7, 5 assists and 2 steals per contest.
This team checks all the boxes, with essentially everyone on the team having at least one year of Tournament experience, shooting a healthy amount of threes (81st) at a good percentage (37.1%), and grab a lot of offensive rebounds (87th). They may be the most steady and reliable mid-major pick in the field.
Weaknesses: It’s honestly hard to find many for a team that’s won twenty games in a row. But they have lost to a pair of tournament teams in the first two games of the season (Baylor and Northern Iowa), and didn’t play a ton of stiff competition after that so they could be a little thrown off against a 3 seed.
Another thing that could both there is athleticism, since this team likes to play a half court chess match. There are a few options on the 3 line that could really disrupt their rhythm. It’s times like these we need to remember that upsets are not supposed to happen.
Takeaway: It seems almost too good to be true. They have everything we’re looking for and more. Of all of these really good 13 seeds, this is the best team night in and night out. I like them in almost any round one matchup, and they could be a team that makes a run to the second weekend.
The 12 Seeds
Quick question: why does the Ivy League not have a conference tournament? It’s honestly the most Ivy League-thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
Sure, it rewards the best team from the league, it makes the most sense, and is the smartest setup in the country. But come on Ivy Leaguers, get over yourselves and stoop to the level of awesome stupidity that is single-elimination tournaments.
Strengths: In many ways, Yale is the prototypical Ivy League champion. One of their best players took an entire year off basketball to be in a world-renowned acapella group. The most shocking part is he is NOT one of the three white guys who start for this team.
They start three seniors and a junior, and run a slow, methodical half-court offense. At 22-6, this team knows how to finish and win close games, and they pushed SMU (lost by 2) and Duke (close the whole game until the end). They are definitely an example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, though they have an impressive alpha in Justin Sears, who Coach K claimed “would be a really solid player in our league” meaning the ACC.
Weaknesses: Uncharacteristic of the discipline, senior laden team is their turnover rate. Averaging 13.39 per game is good for only 241st in the country, and shows that they could be matchup dependent on not facing a team that plays pressure defense.
They are also going to heavily rely on a slow game tempo, because outside of Sears they are going to have an athletic disadvantage at every position. That’s not the worst characteristic to have, since the tempo in the tournament is usually slow, but if they draw a fast team like West Virginia they may not last long.
Takeaway: As a 12 seed, they could face an uptempo team like Iowa State or California, in which case I don’t like their chances. But if they draw a team like Iowa or Maryland, especially those two who are slumping recently, they could be dangerous. Similar to Mercer in 2014, this team is well coached and good at just making winning plays.
South Dakota State
Strengths: For the irrational college basketball maniacs like me, the conference championship rivalry game between North Dakota State and South Dakota State was as good as it gets. Also NDSU’s win over Oklahoma in 2014 is fresh in my memory.
But for this year’s South Dakota State Jackrabbits (mascot alert), a 26-7 record peaks my interest. Wins over TCU and Minnesota aren’t incredible but they count for something, as does holding teams under 60 points, which the Jackrabbits have done in three of the past five contests. This is mostly due to a slow, deliberate style led by a pair of senior backcourt members in George Marshall and Deondre Parks who COMBINE for just three turnovers per game.
For a mid-major program, you’re not gonna find many big men better than Matt Daum, who is a legit 6 foor 9 with good footwork and a variety of post moves. Oh, and he can step out and nail threes. He could be a problem for a potential five seed from Durham, North Carolina (hint: it rhymes with puke).
Weaknesses: Daum is only a freshman, and if he acts like it and gets into foul trouble, there aren’t really a ton of good options as far as big men. He’s going to be very important for this team since they don’t shoot many threes and don’t create a lot of turnovers for easy buckets.
They are far from a high powered offense, so they’re going to have an interesting matchup with the teams that are currently slotted at #5 who are mostly extremely fast (Iowa State, Cal ect). It’s going to be a matter of who can control the pace.
Takeaway: I’m really interested, but not prepared to pull the trigger on this one. They’re decent, perhaps even good, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough. I wouldn’t be shocked to see it but not one I’m taking in my bracket.
Strengths: Whether it’s the visions of sugerplums or Ali Farokhmanesh hitting the dagger against Kansas dancing in my head, I’m very bullish on the Panthers. Most obviously, they already on the season have a win against North Carolina, Iowa State, and two against Wichita State.
The balls on that kid, my goodness.
They represent a classic “giant killer.” They fire up a lot of threes (87th in 3PA/game) and hit 37.5% as a team (48th), and don’t give away a lot of possessions ranking 7th in the country in turnovers per game.
And I love mid-majors that have a strong and indisputable alpha, which Northern Iowa has in 6-1 mighty mouse Wes Washpun. He hit two huge jumpers down the stretch against Evansville in the conference title game, the second of which was a game winner as the buzzer sounded.
Weaknesses: The two tallest players on the team are redshirting this year, leaving 6-9 Bennett Koch and Ted Friedman as the only post players for the Panthers. This leaves them at 347th (again, out of 351) in total rebounds per game and dead last in offensive rebounds per game.
Takeaway: While I love Northern Iowa as an upset candidate, it all comes down to hitting shots. In a January 16th loss to lowly Loyola, they shot 7-24 (29.2%) from three point range and managed only 41 points. As we’ve already determined, they aren’t going to get a ton of rebounds, so it’s absolutely critical that they hit shots, which they can. In their win against Iowa State, they shot 13-22 from three (59.1%) and scored 81 points against a much stiffer defense.
We’ll have to see who they match up against, but their current projection against Indiana looks quite appealing.
Arkansas Little Rock
Strengths: UALR is a team that all of the analysts on TV have loved this team since the beginning of the season when they had a statement win over Tulsa. And with a 28-4 record, they are hard to deny.
They have very strong guard play in their three leading scorers: Josh Hagins, Roger Woods, and Marcus Johnson Jr. The trio all shoot 37% or better from the three point line, and can really defend the point guard through the small forward positions.
Weaknesses: And yet, UALR is one team I’m not buying the hype on. Sure they’re 28-4, but they haven’t really beaten anybody good along the way. And while you’d expect some dominating wins in that case like Stephen F Austin, there’s really not any to be found.
It’s a good thing they have strong guard play, because their inside game is nonexistent. 6-11 string-bean Lis Soshi is their only big, and he barely plays half of the game. This causes them to run a fun five out offense, but I think it’s going to kill them defensively in the tournament.
Takeaway: Don’t buy the hype. This team is excellent at beating up on less than stellar mid-to-low-major teams, but won’t face one in round one. Their lack of firepower is disappointing considering their five-out, three point firing offense.