The Full Court Press: SP Sports

Dear Cinderella: Would you like to Dance?

We’re about half-way through Championship Week, and in case you aren’t a crazy person like me, staying up to watch replays of Atlantic Sun conference games and obsessing about college basketball since before November, here is a quick run down of who has already punched their ticket to The Big Dance.

Atlantic Sun

North Florida Ospreys

23-11 (12-2)

Chance to be Cinderella – Good.

The Ospreys make their NCAA tournament debut, playing an incredibly up-tempo style. UNF averages over 75 points per game, good enough for 26th in all of college basketball and shooting nearly 47% from the field. Do-it-all guard Dallas Moore can carry a game and scorch the net. And the Ospreys played some competition this year: a heady win over Purdue is something to build on, and they went to Alabama, FSU, Iowa, Northern Iowa, and Northwestern. Not an imposing list, but going on the road to play upper-tier competition will go a long way in helping grab an upset. They also swept FGCU – darlings of the 2013 Dance – along the way to the A-Sun title. And remember, this is the conference that produced that “Dunk City” team and last year’s Mercer Bears that upset Duke. These guys have the talent to win as a 15-seed. More importantly, they think they can.

Big South

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

24-9 (12-6)

Chance to be Cinderella – Good

The Chanticleers have 2 things going for them going into this years Tournament: they crash the boards harder than almost any program in the country (40 per game!) and they bring back a lot of guys off of the squad that went dancing last year. That team was up at the half against 1-seed Virginia. Their non-conference schedule doesn’t have any big-name wins really (UCLA and Ole Miss are the only ones that are even close), but these guys could prove to be a problem if they’re a 15-seed, especially if they get a draw of Kansas.

Colonial

Northeastern Huskies

23-11 (12-6)

Chance to be Cinderella – Extremely Low

The Huskies post a solid RPI for a low-major (89) and a handful of solid non-conference games (wins at FSU, Richmond and a close OT loss at St. Mary’s), but otherwise Northeastern is just rather run of the mill. They “upset” top seeded William & Mary to keep The Tribe relegated to the “Cursed 5,” but that might be the Huskies biggest accomplishment this post-season. I just don’t see them making much noise in the Dance.

Horizon

Valparaiso Crusaders

28-5 (13-3)

Chance to be Cinderella – Very Good

Val-P stands as one of the toughest outs in the first round – the Crusaders play a stingy brand of defense – top 20 in ppg – and a solid offense anchored by big man Alec Peters (averaging almost 17 a game). They didn’t really wow with their non-conference schedule, though they did hand Murray State their last loss before the Belmont game. They’re projected as a 12 seed right now, which is usually where the committee plants the low/mid-majors they think can make a run. This Crusaders team can definitely do that. Watch for the upset here.

Metro Atlantic

Manhatten Jaspers

19-13 (13-7)

Chance to be Cinderella – Extremely Low.

The Jaspers are dancing for the second straight year after upsetting top-seeded Iona. Last year’s team gave Louisville a hell of a run in the round of 64, pitting Rick Pitino against his former player and assistant Steve Masiello. After a weird scandal about graduation (Masiello’s, not any of his players), the Jaspers are playing with a Louisville level of intense press defense – ranking in the top 10 in turnovers. It has been a crazy year for the Jaspers, but playing a top 2 seed close is probably the best they can hope for at this point. To even reach here has been a massive over-achievement.

Missouri Valley

Northern Iowa Panthers

30-3 (16-2)

Chance to be Cinderella – None. Because these guys are legit.

The Panthers sport one of the stingiest defenses in America while also playing efficient basketball on the other end, ranking in the top 20 in field goal efficiency. 2 of their 3 losses came to Wichita State and VCU, and their non-conference wins are a who’s who of mid-majors (South Dakota State, North Florida, Richmond, S.F. Austin, and a Power Conference win over Iowa). Northern Iowa should be favored in their games in the 1st weekend, and are a legitimate threat to make the Final Four.

Also Ran – Don’t discount the Shockers! Wichita State might not have won their conference title, but the 28-3 Shockers are a threat to make a run to the Final Four. They’re bringing back one of the most dynamic back courts in the nation in Fred van Vleet and Ron Baker, and this team does nothing but win. Most of the principle players from the 2013 Final Four run and last year’s run at perfection remain. No reason to think they can’t do it again.

Northeast

Robert Morris Colonials

19-4 (12-6)

Chance to be Cinderella – Not Great.

The Colonials are dancing for the first time since 2010. These kids have active hands and…that’s probably about it. They kept St. Francis from dancing for the first time ever, and that is going to be the
only real footnote Robert Morris will add to this year’s tournament. They don’t do anything particularly well, which is a recipe for getting man-handled in the first weekend. Sorry Colonials.

Ohio Valley

Belmont Bruins

22-10 (11-5)

Chance to be Cinderella – Pretty Good

Like fast-paced, mind-boggling offense? Then this is the mid-major for you. The Bruins score over 75 a game and shoot nearly 48% from the field. While their upset of Murray State was a little unexpected, it doesn’t mean Belmont isn’t deserving of a chance. A good draw against a more plodding seed, say an Oklahoma or Wisconsin, and the Bruins could be playing over the weekend.

Maybe also? Can Murray State get an at large bid? It’s possible. Unlikely, but possible. The Racers are probably a top 30 team and hadn’t lost a game since November before falling in the OVC Championship. Murray State is an offensive juggernaut, but will the Selection Committee overlook their mundane RPI and SOS numbers in favor of advanced metrics? History says no, and that a middling Power Conference team, like Indiana or Miami, will get that spot. But we can wish, can’t we?

Southern

Wofford Terriers

28-6 (16-2)

Chance to be Cinderella – Very Good

Wofford survived a scare from SoCo tourney Cinderella Furman – who were dead last in the conference heading into the postseason – to punch their ticket to the dance. Wofford plays a classic Cinderella slow-it down and grind it out style with 3-pt capability, which can cause problems for run of the mill high majors (UNC/Kansas/Arizona). They also tested themselves in the off-season – heading to Duke and WVU in late December and winning at NC State earlier that month. Projected as a 12-seed, and a dangerous one at that.

Summit League

North Dakata State Bison

23-9 (12-4)

Chance to be Cinderella – Not Great.

In one of my favorite games from one of my favorite leagues, the Bison topped the rival South Dakota State Jackrabbits in a nail-bitter. The good news for NDSU – they believe in themselves, their conference is sneaky tough, and they aren’t afraid (they played Texas and Iowa to open the season). The bad news: this isn’t last year’s team that knocked off Oklahoma. Most of the core from those Bisons graduated, and the most offensively efficient team in America last year has looked mediocre at best. Part of it could be an increase in 3s attempted. Still, I wouldn’t expect another upset from this year’s squad. But next year? Watch out.

West Coast

Gonzaga Bulldogs

32-2 (17-1)
Chance to be Cinderella – None (teams slated to get a 2-seed are not eligible. Duh.)

Is this year’s iteration of Mark Few’s Zags better than any other before? Maybe. They play defense better than ever before. They have size at all 5 positions. They put up points that may make you think you’re trying to score a cricket match (READ: A LOT). Kevin Pangos is one of the headiest seniors in the nation, and Kyle Wiltjer is a one man wrecking crew. It could be the year the Zags make a run on the Final Four. Or they could get bounced in the 1st weekend again. The beauty and tragedy of March Madness

2-bid league? BYU is sitting on the bubble at the moment, and with no more games to play, they are somewhat at the mercy of other teams and the committee’s fickle nature. By metrics, the Cougars are one of the best offensive teams in Div I. By RPI…they have one win (Gonzaga) to point towards that says “we belong!” It will be interesting to see where they fall this time (they made the cut last year over SMU, and proceeded to stink it up. I called it a mistake when the field was announced. Will the committee have buyer’s remorse this time around?)

Check back this weekend to get part 2 (more mid-majors) and part 3 (Power Conferences). I’ll also look at the bracket at large once the field is announced on Sunday, going over my trademarked “10 Truths About March Madness” again.

Also, make sure to join the Saas Perspective Bracket Challenge

http://thesaasperspective.com/2015/03/08/2015-tsp-bracket-challenge/

and follow the page over on Facebook, where I’ll be doing instant reactions again this year after each game of the first weekend.

Let the Madness begin!

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