2014 Automatic Bids

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NCAA Tournament Primer: Western Michigan Broncos

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Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: Mid-American Conference

Coach: Steve Hawkins

Record: 23-9 (14-4 MAC)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 112
– RPI: 82
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: As of Dave Ommen’s bracket update on Saturday morning, Toledo, who Western Michigan beat in the MAC title game, was a No. 12 seed. Western Michigan, whose RPI is 50 spots lower, will likely be closer to a No. 13 or 14 seed.

Names you need to know: David Brown (19.0 ppg), Shayne Whittington (16.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg), Connar Tava (12.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.8 apg)

Stats you need to know: There are three things that mid-majors need to be able to do if they want to pull off an upset in the NCAA tournament: hit a lot of threes, protect the ball offensively and get to the foul line. WMU’s free throw rate is 52.0, which is top 15 nationally. But they turn the ball over on 20.9% of their possessions (which is really bad) and shoot just 33.0% from three.

Tendencies: The Broncos aren’t deep, relying on their five starters for the most part, and their offense largely runs through star guard David Brown, who was the leading scorer in a strong MAC this season.

Big wins, bad losses: The Broncos actually have a pretty strong profile. They have a pair of top 50 wins (both Toledo) and an 8-4 record against top 100 opponents.

How’d they get here?: The Broncos earned a share of the MAC regular season title before knocking off Toledo in the MAC tournament title game.

Outlook: The Broncos ended the season as hot as anyone in the mid-major ranks. They’ve won 12 of their last 13 games with the only loss being in overtime to Toledo, who they beat twice this season, on the road. They won’t be a trendy upset pick, but this is a team that you’ll want to take a long look at when the brackets are released.

How do I know you?: You probably don’t. This is the first time in a decade that WMU has reached the NCAA tournament. That was Hawkins’ first season in Kalamazoo.

NCAA Tournament Primer: New Mexico State Aggies

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Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: WAC

Coach: Marvin Menzies

Record: 26-9 (12-4 WAC)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 72
– RPI: 78
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: As of Dave Ommen’s bracket update on Saturday morning, New Mexico State was a No. 15 seed.

Names you need to know: Daniel Mullings (16.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.9 spg), Sim Bhullar (10.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.5 bpg), Tshilidzi Nephawe (11.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.5 bpg)

Stats you need to know: The Aggies can score. They’re top 50 in offensive efficiency because they hit threes, they have post scorers, they get to the offensive glass and they have Daniel Mullings. They aren’t all that good defensively, however, because they don’t force turnovers and they can’t clean the defensive glass.

Tendencies: There are things that the Aggies do quite well. They can score, they have size and they have a playmaker offensively that can go for 20 on any given night. They chase teams off the three point line and they have the length and athleticism to contest shots inside the arc. Where they struggle is on the defensive glass. Too many second chance points on a team that doesn’t gamble for steals is not a good combination.

Big wins, bad losses: New Mexico State swept UTEP and also picked up a win over New Mexico in The Pit, one of the toughest places in the country to play.

How’d they get here?: The Aggies finished second in the WAC during the regular season, but they won the league tournament thanks, in part, to Idaho upsetting Utah Valley in the semifinals.

Outlook: New Mexico State beat New Mexico at New Mexico. That’s not an easy thing to do, and it should be proof that they can give whoever they draw in the first round some issues. The problem? A watered-down WAC combined with four ugly league losses means that they’ll likely end up playing a No. 2 or a No. 3 seed in their first game makes it tough to predict an upset.

How do I know you?: Because they have this guy, who is 7-foot-5:

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And they played in a game where this happened:

NCAA Tournament Primer: Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

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Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: Southland

Coach: Brad Underwood

Record: 29-2 (18-0 Southland)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 60
– RPI: 63
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: The Lunberjacks were a No. 13 seed in Dave Ommen’s most recent bracket projected.

Names you need to know: Desmond Haymon (14.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.8 apg), Jacob Parker (14.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 spg), Thomas Walkup (12.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.1 apg), Deshaunt Walker (12.0 ppg)

Stats you need to know: The Lumberjacks are third in the nation in defensive turnover percentage, but it comes at a price. They’re also one of the most foul prone teams in the country, with a free throw rate that ranks among the worst in Division I despite playing just a single NCAA tournament team.

Tendencies: The Lumberjacks are a bit unique. They force a ton of turnovers and commit a lot of fouls, but they’re one of the most patient offensive teams in the country. They don’t start anyone taller than 6-foot-6, all of whom shoot at least 35.3% from three, yet their offensive rebounding percentage is 38.5%, 11th nationally.

Big wins, bad losses: Stephen F. Austin has only lost twice this season — at Texas and at East Tennessee State, both in November. They’ve won 28 straight since then, but only one of those 28 teams ranked in KenPom’s to 150. That’s Towson.

How’d they get here?: SFA rolled through the Southland Conference and then rolled through the Southland tournament.

Outlook: If SFA is going to win a game in the dance, they’re going to have to get lucky with a matchup. A team with solid, turnover-free point guard play and a big front line might embarrass them. If they can catch a break and draw a team like Ohio State or Villanova, there might be some potential there.

How do I know you?: The Lumberjacks have made one NCAA tournament in their history. You probably don’t know much about them unless you read Scott Phillips’ feature on the team from last month.

NCAA Tournament Primer: Tulsa Golden Hurricane

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Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: Conference USA

Coach: Danny Manning

Record: 21-12 (13-3 Conference USA)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 76
– RPI: 81
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: Louisiana Tech was a No. 12 seed in Dave Ommen’s latest bracket projection, and Tulsa should end up being somewhere in that No. 12-13 seed range as well.

Names you need to know: James Woodard (15.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Rashad Smith (12.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Shaquille Harrison (9.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg)

Stats you need to know: Conference USA isn’t a great league this season, but they do have a couple of really good defensive teams, and the Golden Hurricane are as good as anyone in the conference. In fact, they rank 36th nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, which slots them in front of Michigan, Kansas, Wisconsin and Iowa State. The concern, however, is that Tulsa can’t shoot. They shot 30.0% from three in CUSA play and were 270th nationally from beyond the arc this season.

Tendencies: Tulsa doesn’t force a lot of turnovers and they’re not going to block a lot of shots, it’s just a fundamental, positional defense that forces tough shots and cleans the defensive glass. That’s promising, because smaller conference teams that rely on size and/or athleticism defensively are usually in for a rude awakening when they run into high-major athletes.

Offensively, Tulsa relies on their talented perimeter players to get to the rim and draw fouls. They have a high free throws rate and get a lot of clean looks around the rim despite not having great low-post scoring options. James Woodard, the older brother of Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard, is the best of the bunch, a 6-foot-3 lefty that as a knack for sliding through defenses.

Big wins, bad losses: The Golden Hurricane have five top 100 wins, including a top 50 win over Southern Miss, but they also have lost five games to teams with RPIs below 147, including a sweep at the hands of TCU.

How’d they get here?: Tulsa lost their first four games of the season, six of their first seven and entered the 2014 calendar year with a 4-9 record. But they ended the season winning their last 11 games.

Outlook: The Golden Hurricane are good enough defensively that they should be able to compete with any team on the No. 4 or No. 5 seed line. The issue will be whether or not they are able to score enough. If they can luck into a draw where they square off with someone like Duke or Creighton, a team not known for their defense, Tulsa might have a shot at pulling an upset.

The outlook for the program is terrific, however. Tulsa’s top six players right now are all sophomores.

How do I know you?: Tulsa was one of the best mid-major programs in the country a decade ago, making eight tournaments between 1994 and 2003, making it out of the first round seven times, three Sweet 16s and one Elite 8. But this will be their first trip to the Big Dance in 11 years.

Oh, and should I mention that their head coach just so happens to be Danny Manning? He may the next in a long line of coaches that springboarded their career with the program.

2014 NCAA Tournament Primer: American Eagles

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Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: Patriot League

Coach: Mike Brennan

Record: 20-12 (13-5)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 115
– RPI: 135
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: 16

Names you need to know: G Jesse Reed (14.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg), C Tony Wroblicky (12.1, 7.3, 3.0 apg), G Darius Gardner (11.3, 3.7, 4.2 apg)

Stats you need to know: American led the Patriot League in scoring (59.4 ppg allowed), field goal percentage (41.5%) and three-point percentage (32.3%) defense this season, and the Eagles’ work on that end of the floor was the biggest reason why they managed to win the automatic bid. A good man-to-man team, American also made very good use of the 2-3 zone in the second half of its 55-36 win over Boston University in the Patriot League title game. Offensively they aren’t a high-scoring team but American has four players averaging double figures, and they led the Patriot League in field goal percentage (49.3%) and ranked fourth in three-point percentage.

Tendencies: That offensive balance, with Reed and Wroblicky leading the way, is one of American’s best assets. And in their win over BU guard Darius Gardner stepped forward, scoring 18 points to go along with four assists and three rebounds. Tempo is key for Mike Brennan’s team, as they were ranked 342nd nationally in adjusted tempo per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Making teams play a full 35 seconds on both ends of the floor puts American in the best position to win.

Big wins, bad losses: American won two of its three games against the regular season champion BU, including an 86-56 home win in January. There were no major wins of note in non-conference play, and the Eagles dropped Patriot League road games at Lafayette and Loyola (MD).

How’d they get here?: Won the Patriot League tournament, beating Boston University 55-36 in the title game.

Outlook: It’s difficult to see the Eagles winning a game next week, but it was also difficult for many to see this group contending in the Patriot League back in October. Pace will be critical, and controlling it can be difficult against the caliber of opponent they’re likely to face.

How do I know you?: Despite being led by a first-year head coach in Brennan, American began Patriot League play with ten straight wins. And they’ll be making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

NCAA Tournament Primer: Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers

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Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: Northeast Conference

Coach: Jamion Christian

Record: 16-16 (9-7 Northeast Conference)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 207
– RPI: 216
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: In Dave Ommen’s most recent bracket, Robert Morris was projected as a No. 16 seed. RMC was the No. 1 seed in the NEC tournament. MSM finished fourth in the conference. They will be a No. 16 seed, and could end up in the play-in game.

Names you need to know: Rashad Whack (17.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg), Julian Norfleet (17.5 ppg, 5.5 apg), Sam Prescott (10.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg)

Stats you need to know: Mount St. Mary’s is 33rd nationally in tempo, according to KenPom. Their best attribute defensively is their ability to force turnovers, and while they are quite literally as good as anyone in the country at taking away the three-pointer (only one team gives up a lower percentage of their points from beyond the arc), a lot of that is because they simply cannot defend around the rim. No team in the country allows more points from two-point range, and they rank 337th nationally in opponent’s two-point field goal percentage.

Tendencies: Christian is a product of the Shaka Smart coaching tree, and as a result, the Mountaineers play a similar style. They want to press. They want to force turnovers. They gamble a lot, which is why they give up so many layups. They want an uptempo, hectic game. They shoot a lot of threes. It’s Havoc, only not as good and without the nickname.

Big wins, bad losses: According to KenPom, the Mount’s two best wins on the season came back in November, when they knocked off American and Bucknell, who are both top 150 teams. Bad losses? Well, they’ve lost to three of the nation’s 25 worst teams. Do those count?

How’d they get here?: The Mountaineers won the Northeast Conference tournament in impressive fashion, knocking off No. 2 seed Wagner in the semis before going into Pittsburgh to beat No. 1 seed league champ Robert Morris.

Outlook: Mount St. Mary’s is going to have a tough time winning a game in the NCAA tournament unless that happen to end up in the play-in game. They finished the regular season below .500. They finished tied for fourth place in the NEC. They got hot and the right time, winning the NEC tournament in part because of a ridiculous shooting display early on in the title game, and that’s why they are dancing.

How do I know you?: Jim Phelan, who coached for 49 years at the Mount, is one of 14 NCAA coaches with more than 800 career wins. He’s the winningest coach that isn’t currently in the Hall of Fame.