NCAA Tournament: The Low and Mid Major Conferences

After a day of looking at the brackets, it is time to look at which Cinderellas could advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. It happens every year, and now that Gonzaga can no longer be considered your Cinderella, you have to pick someone else. In this look at some of the mid- and low-major conference representatives in the NCAA Tournament, Brumby gives you some ideas of teams you should keep an eye out for when you are filling out your bracket, or placing you bets.

When filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket, there is no better feeling that arriving at the second week of the tournament with fifteen of the sixteen teams left on your sheet (unless you are Mike Golic, then you have about twenty sheets each with different outcomes in an effort to win the cash). On Monday night I sat down with my slide rule and abacus along with my web browser pointed to the various official sites of mid major institutions to calculate the same efficiency numbers that I used in yesterday's column on the power conferences.

I only picked ten of the thirty teams to profile for two reasons: (1) I did not have as much time tonight to look at every team and (2) not every team is worth looking at because they will probably not win a game in the NCAA Tournament. The ten teams that I chose to look at range from Northern Iowa, the team many believe was the last at-large team invited to the NCAA Tournament, to UW-Milwaukee, a team coached by Satan himself, Bruce Pearl.

Team Name Pace Defensive
Nevada 67.23 90.78 104.37 13.59
UW - Milwaukee 67.73 92.28 109.93 17.65
Utah State 61.32 93.32 117.63 24.31
Pacific 63.81 98.25 113.08 14.83
New Mexico 66.5 96.99 115.01 18.02
Northern Iowa 65.57 100.71 110.58 9.87
Bucknell 63.19 91.88 100.49 8.6
Old Dominion 66.75 89.19 107.2 18.02
Vermont 65.48 94.52 110.95 16.43
Niagra 70.78 108.25 117.65 9.4

The first thing that I noticed when I looked over these stats was simple, each of these teams plays very efficient and solid defense, outside of Northern Iowa and Niagra. The other key point is that very few of these teams will run with the basketball, as they prefer a slow it down style of game. The slow it down style of game is what is known to bring upsets in the NCAA Tournament. The only team highlighted of these ten teams that does not play at a slower pace is Niagra.

The 5/12 match up is always the upset waiting to happen when filling out your NCAA Tournament brackets. For this article, I decided to focus on two of the five seeds: New Mexico (Syracuse) and Old Dominion (Austin).

The game I remember the most from Villanova is when they bombed Kansas for the Jayhawks first loss of the season in January. Outside of that game, I was not able to see much of 'Nova this season, but I do know plenty about Allan Ray and Curtis Sumpter to realize the Wildcats could upset any one in the tournament, including North Carolina. But will the Wildcats get past the Lobos?

I watched New Mexico defeat Utah and Andrew Bogut in the Mountain West Conference Championship game on Saturday night, and the one thing I noticed about the Lobos was that they had "that guy" that can carry a team through two rounds of the tournament and into the Sweet 16. No, Bryce Drew is not reincarnated and alive in New Mexico, but Danny Granger could be the mid-major star of the tournament that leads his team to the Sweet 16. So far in March Granger has scored twenty points three times in four games, and the one time he did not score at least twenty points he had nineteen against Colorado State.

New Mexico has also won nine games in a row.

Villanova has eight of their last ten, and they lost to an extremely hot West Virginia team in the Big East Tournament.

As much as it pains me to say, the five seed that is ripe for an upset is the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans just do not have that killer instinct and it has cost them in a few games this season, including a loss to Iowa which was caused because the Spartans could not hit their free throws down the stretch.

Michigan State is one of the best offensive teams in the country, and Tom Izzo's Spartans like to get out and run. The Spartans are at their best when they are running up and down the court and can control the tempo of the game.

This game will be decided on whether or not the Old Dominion defense (efficiency of 89.19) can slow down the Spartan offense (efficiency of 116.79). I always like to put down money on a good defensive team instead of a good offensive team, so that tells me Michigan State is ripe for an upset at the hands of Old Dominion.

Now, I will look to some of the other games that I find interesting …

The winner of this game will face the Illini. Texas is not the same team it was earlier in the season due to PJ Tucker's ineligibility. Nevada is not the same team that was lead by Kirk Snyder last year. The key to Nevada is their defense, and they will need all of their defense to slow down Texas and freshman point guard Daniel Gibson if they want to upset the Longhorns and have a chance to face the Fighting Illini in the second round.

While Nevada's defense is very efficient, I do not think it will be enough to defeat Texas, who is a team that is solid on both sides of the ball.

Utah State against Arizona could be a clash in styles between two very different teams. The Wildcats like to run up and down the court, while the Aggies prefer to slow the game down. Last time there were regionals in Boise, Hampton upset Iowa State so there could still be lingering upset clouds in Idaho.

Utah State will have to do a few different things to upset Arizona. They will need to control the tempo of the game by taking at least thirty seconds every possession before taking a shot, and they will need to pressure the Arizona guards, removing them from their comfort zone. Now, an upset is not likely, but Utah State should be able to keep the score low (take the under) and they should be able to stay close (take Utah State to cover).

Pacific finds itself as an eight seed, and is not unaccustomed to pulling an upset or two in the NCAA Tournament thanks to their upset of Providence last season in Kansas City. Pacific became the mid-major story this year not named Gonzaga when they won 22 games in a row before losing to Utah State in their conference tournament championship game. Now, they have the unenviable task of facing Pittsburgh in the first round of the tournament, a team that efficiency and pace wise resembles them a lot. Pittsburgh is the better defensive team by just over one point per 100 possessions while Pacific is the better offensive team by that same margin. It should be a knock down drag out fight between Michael Olowokandi's alma mater and Dave Wannstedt's new home.

Look for the winner of this game, if it is Pittsburgh or Pacific, to knock of Washington in the second round thanks to their defense and ability to control the pace of a game.

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