Introducing Cinderella: Bradley going to its second-straight NCAA tournament

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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Bradley hasn’t been anywhere near being the favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference the last two seasons, but that hasn’t stopped the Braves from securing the conference’s automatic bid in back-to-back years.

The fourth-seeded Braves won the MVC tourney Saturday with an 80-66 triumph over Valparaiso in St. Louis to go to its second-straight NCAA tournament under coach Brad Wardle.

Darrell Brown scored 21 points while Elijah Childs had 17,  Ja’Shone Henry 16 and Nate Kennell 14 for Bradley, which shot 48.3 percent from the field while making 8 of 17 (47.1 percent) from 3-point range.

LEAGUE: Missouri Valley Conference

COACH: Brian Wardle

RECORD: 23-11, 11-7 MVC

RELATED: Bubble Watch | Bracketology | Conference Tournaments

METRICS:

  • NET: 106
  • KENPOM: 113
  • TORVIK: 109

PROJECTED SEED: Bradley’s resume isn’t overly strong, but the relative strength of the Missouri Valley Conference should be enough to keep them off the 16- or 15-line with a No. 14 seed.

WHO DID THEY BEAT?: The Braves’ best win – and their only over a high-major opponent – was against Kansas State, which finished last in the Big 12, in November. They beat Missouri State twice and Indiana State once for three top-120 KenPom wins during conference play.

WHY BRADLEY CAN WIN AN NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME

The Missouri Valley Conference isn’t what it once was when Wichita State and Creighton were counted among its members, but it’s among the strongest one-bid leagues in the country if Northern Iowa, by far the league’s best team, is left out after losing in the conference tournament quarterfinals. Bradley has played against solid competition all winter. And while the Braves don’t launch 3s at a prolific rate, they are excellent at making the ones they do take, ranking 32nd nationally with a 36.8 percent success rate on 3s. Six-foot-6 senior Nate Kennell has shot 44 percent on 186 attempts from distance. He could be a difference-maker in a single-game setting. Darrell Brown and Elijah Childs are proven scorers as well with NCAA tournament experience.

WHY BRADLEY WON’T WIN AN NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME

The Braves’ defense is going to be their biggest issue. They’re solid enough – teams have an eFG% of 46.3 – but they give up a ton of 3-point attempts, don’t generate any turnovers and are just OK on the defensive glass. A skilled and/or physical offense is going to cause serious problems for Bradley.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?

Bradley is back in the NCAA tournament for the second-straight season after two surprising runs through the MVC conference championship. Last year, they knocked off reigning Final Four participant and top-seeded Loyola Chicago in the semifinals before outlasting Northern Iowa in the title game to earn the automatic bid as the No. 5 seed. If you’re a Michigan State fan – or bettor or aggressive bracket-picker – you might remember Elijah Childs and Darrell Brown scoring a combined 36 points to stay within shouting distance of the Final Four-bound Spartans in the first round. Both are back for a second NCAA tourney with the Braves.

AUTOMATIC BID OUTLOOK

Bradley could find itself as a trendy upset pick – depending on its matchup – given the fact it has NCAA tournament experience, talented offensive players and the ability to connect from distance at a high clip. Veteran players and strong 3-point shooting is a formidable underdog combination. Still, though, the defense is going to be the Achilles heel, and if a more talented and athletic high-major program can push tempo, Bradley is probably going to find itself in trouble.