NCAA Tournament Primers

2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: Matchups we should root for

Leave a comment

Now that the 68-team field has been revealed, it’s time to get into the conversations about how the teams match up. There’s also the chance to talk about which games we hope to see happen in the second and regional semifinal rounds. Below are some choices with the obvious caveat that, just to offer up one example, a Stony Brook or Chattanooga fan won’t be rooting for a possible Kentucky/Indiana matchup in the second round since that means their team would be eliminated.

An exercise geared more towards the casual viewer who latches onto attractive individual match-ups and storylines, here are our choices.

SECOND ROUND GAMES YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR

No. 4 seed Kentucky vs. No. 5 seed Indiana (East Region)

By now you know all about the recent history of this series, as the two programs haven’t met since the Sweet 16 of the 2012 NCAA tournament. The committee can say whatever about not purposely matching the Wildcats and Hoosiers, but either way both are one win away from making it happen. The point guard matchup alone (Tyler Ulis vs. Yogi Ferrell) will be worth the price of admission, and given the hopes and expectations of both fan bases the atmosphere should be intense.

No. 3 seed Texas A&M vs. No. 6 seed Texas (West Region)

The longtime rivals have already met once this season, with Texas A&M winning the quarterfinal matchup in the Battle 4 Atlantis. But the stakes this time around would be much higher, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. The question for Texas going into this week is whether or not big man Cameron Ridley (foot) will be able to play; a return to the court would help the Longhorns deal with the front court tandem of Tyler Davis and Jalen Jones. Also there are talented guards, led by Texas’ Isaiah Taylor and A&M’s Danuel House.

[   BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West   ]

No. 2 seed Villanova vs. No. 7 seed Iowa (South Region)

Some of the individual match-ups on the court, most notably how Villanova would defend Jarrod Uthoff and how the Hawkeyes would account for Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, will be interesting if these two teams meet. What also makes this interesting is the pressure on both. Villanova’s failed to get out of the first weekend in each of the last two tournaments, and Iowa’s had issues with late-season tailspins of their own. Which “streak” comes to an end?

No. 4 seed California vs. No. 5 seed Maryland (South)

These are two of the most talented teams in the field, with both receiving the label of “team capable of making a Final Four run” before the brackets were revealed. The Golden Bears have a rotation that includes possible first round picks in Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Tyrone Wallace, and Maryland counters with a talented freshman big man of their own in Diamond Stone and sophomore point guard Melo Trimble. Whoever wins has a shot at knocking off top seed Kansas in the Sweet 16.

No. 1 seed North Carolina vs. No. 9 seed Providence (East)

The Tar Heels and Friars met in the NCAA tournament two years ago, with North Carolina surviving an outstanding 36-point performance from Bryce Cotton. This time around the ACC champs would face the task of corralling Kris Dunn, with forward Ben Bentil being a test for Brice Johnson and the rest of the North Carolina front court. The Friars will need more from their supporting cast, but this is the kind of game that could churn out an excellent individual effort viewers won’t soon forget.

No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 3 seed Utah (Midwest Region)

The Bulldogs will clearly have their work cut out for them against No. 6 Seton Hall in the first round, so who knows if they even get to this point. But a matchup of three of the top big men in the country would be fun to watch. Utah’s Jakob Poeltl won Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, and both Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis were in the conversation for WCC Player of the Year. Would also give NBA types the chance to evaluate these three against quality interior competition.

[ CBT Podcast | Expert Brackets | Guide a bracket pool  ]

THE BEST POTENTIAL SWEET 16 GAMES

No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 5 seed Maryland (South)

You could also put Cal in this spot, as either team has the ability from a talent standpoint to challenge the top overall seed. But Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon vs. Frank Mason III, Devonté Graham and Wayne Selden Jr.? Would be entertaining, that’s for sure.

No. 2 seed Xavier vs. No. 3 seed West Virginia (East)

If you were to put together a “pound for pound” ranking of the toughest teams in the field, the Musketeers and Mountaineers would definitely be in the conversation; neither team is backing down from anyone. Having Devin Williams, Jonathan Holton (WVU), Jalen Reynolds and James Farr (Xavier) all in the paint would be fun, as would seeing how the Musketeer guards deal with the West Virginia pressure.

No. 1 seed North Carolina vs. No. 4 seed Kentucky (East)

Two of the sport’s most storied programs meeting with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line? Cool. There would be quality match-ups across the board but especially on the perimeter, with Ulis and Jamal Murray leading the way for Kentucky and Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige doing so for the Tar Heels.

No. 2 seed Oklahoma vs. No. 3 seed Texas A&M (West)

Two prolific scorers on the court in Buddy Hield and Danuel House, and both teams have more than just one headliner in their respective perimeter rotations. The question for Oklahoma would be whether or not they’d have enough in the post to counter Texas A&M’s deep front court.

No. 2 seed Michigan State vs. No. 3 seed Utah (Midwest)

Two of the nation’s best players would be on the same court in Chicago, with Michigan State being led by Denzel Valentine and Jakob Poeltl doing so for the Runnin’ Utes. Utah’s backcourt has made strides throughout the course of this season, but that would be put to the test against the Spartans with Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris also in the fold.

No. 1 seed Virginia vs. No. 5 seed Iowa State (Midwest) 

The difference in styles would provide some entertainment here, with the Cavaliers having their version of the pack line defense and one of the nation’s best guards in Malcolm Brogdon. Iowa State doesn’t lack for talent but there are depth issues, especially if Jameel McKay isn’t fully engaged. Would make for an interesting chess match.

NCAA Tournament Primer: Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

AP Photo
Leave a comment
source:
AP Photo

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: Cal Poly Mustangs

bennett
1 Comment

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

Conference: Big West

Coach: Joe Callero

Record: 13-19 (6-10 Big West)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 172
– RPI: 223
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: They weren’t in Dave Ommen’s latest bracket, but the Mustangs will likely be a 16 seed with a trip to Dayton in their future.

Names you need to know: F Chris Eversley (13.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg), G David Nwaba (11.9, 4.9), G Kyle Odister (9.3, 2.2)

Stats you need to know: The Mustangs lost nine of their last 11 games to end the regular season, and they played five of those games without Odister. Cal Poly averaged just 63.3 points per game and shot 40.8% from the field, ranking last in the Big West in both statistical categories. However this is a group that takes care of the basketball, averaging just nine turnovers per game and ranking 39th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3). Defensively teams shot 43.5% from the field against Cal Poly.

Tendencies: Tempo is critical for Cal Poly, as they rank 348th in the country with an average of 60.8 possessions per 40 minutes. They’re not going to run up and down the floor, preferring to play one half court at a time. Eversley and Nwaba are their two best offensive options, with Odister being a key figure as well. And in their Big West title game victory over Cal-State Northridge freshman guard Ridge Shipley was an important piece, stepping in for the struggling Jamal Johnson and hitting three three-pointers (finishing with 14 points) off the bench.

Big wins, bad losses: Cal Poly picked up just two wins against Division I opponents in non-conference play, beating Big Sky tournament finalist North Dakota and Santa Clara. In conference play the Mustangs lost a game to Cal-State Fullerton and was swept by UC Davis, which did not qualify for the Big West tournament.

How’d they get here?: Beat Cal-State Northridge 61-59 in the Big West title game. In the two games prior the Mustangs beat two-seed UCSB and one-seed UC Irvine.

Outlook: A win in Dayton looks improbable for the Mustangs. Then again, so did their run through the Big West tournament.

How do I know you?: This is the first-ever NCAA tournament appearance for Cal Poly, whose alums include Ozzie Smith, John Madden and Chuck Liddell.

NCAA Tournament Primer: Weber State Wildcats

berry
Leave a comment

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

Conference: Big Sky

Coach: Randy Rahe

Record: 19-11 (14-6 Big Sky)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 176
– RPI: 154
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: According to Dave Ommen’s most recent bracket, the Wildcats will be a 16 seed.

Names you need to know: G Davion Berry (19.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.0 apg), G Jeremy Senglin (11.1, 2.1, 2.2), F Kyle Tresnak (11.2, 4.8)

Stats you need to know: Weber State led the Big Sky in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, limiting  opponents to 42.5% shooting from the field. Offensively, the Wildcats scored a respectable 72.7 points per game, ranking second in both field goal (47.8%) and free throw percentage (73.3%) and first in three-point percentage (38.9%). From a playing time standpoint seven players are averaging at least 18 minutes per game.

Tendencies: Berry is the key decision-maker for the Wildcats, as he factors into 29.9% of the team’s possessions and ranks second in the Big Sky in offensive rating (minimum 24% possessions). Tresnak is the team’s best interior scoring option, with sophomore Joel Bolomboy being the best rebounder with 10.8 rebounds per game. Weber State isn’t great at forcing turnovers but they are one of the best teams in the country when it comes to blocking shots, ranking third nationally in block percentage (6.1%; Tresnak averages 1.9 blocks/game).

Big wins, bad losses: The Wildcats didn’t pick up a non-conference win of note, losing to BYU and UCLA. Weber State beat North Dakota three times, Northern Colorado twice and split their two meetings with Montana in conference play.

How’d they get here?: Led by Tresnak, who scored 27 points (11-for-15 FG) and grabbed five rebounds, the Wildcats beat North Dakota 88-67 in the Big West title game.

Outlook: While Berry’s a talented player capable of giving opponents fits, it’s difficult to see this team winning a game unless they wind up in Dayton for the First Four.

How do I know you?: The Wildcats are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007, but this is a program that along with Montana has set the standard in the Big Sky in recent years. And you’re probably familiar with alum Damian Lillard, who’s now one of the best young guards in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers.

NCAA Tournament Primer: Tulsa Golden Hurricane

AP Photo
1 Comment

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

brennan
Leave a comment
source:
Getty Images

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.