As the college basketball season continues to progress, we are constantly reminded of just how unpredictable this time of year can be. Over the course of the last couple weeks we have been witness to some upsets that, quite frankly, are what make the sport so captivating. So as Selection Sunday grows closer, I couldn’t help but start thinking of those teams that could potentially wear the glass slipper come March. Here are a couple teams that have caught my eye this season, and who could potentially fit the role of Cinderella once the Madness starts.
Editors Note: For the sake of argument, Butler, Gonzaga, and Creighton have been omitted from this list. The reason being that I fully expect each to win at least one game come tournament time. For what it’s worth, I almost left VCU off the list, as I feel they fit that description as well.
VCU Rams (18-5, 6-2 A-10) Current RPI #49)
Why they will be Dangerous come March: Two words, Shaka Smart. The fourth year head coach continues to earn his keep, even with the program’s move to A-10 country. Smart always seems to have his Rams team’s prepared to compete at the highest level (evident by his 76% winning rate while at VCU.) This year’s Rams team does a couple things really well that I expect to translate into success come March.
First and foremost, they generate an abundance of shots. VCU currently ranks in the Top 10 nationally in field goals attempts (1450-1st) and field goals made (649-6th). Juvonte Reddic, Treveon Graham, Troy Daniels, and Rob Brandenburg are all high volume shot takers/shot makers. You can never have too many of those. Next, the Rams rank in the Top 5 nationally in offensive rebounding (349-2nd) and steals (279-1st); both statistics have proven game swaying characteristics.
Wichita State Shockers (19-5, 8-4 MVC) Current RPI #38
Why they will be Dangerous come March: Although they have dropped their last three conference games, the Shockers still appear to be in good shape to earn an automatic bid come Selection Sunday. Wichita State’s depth is pretty unique, in that 11 of their players earn at least 10 minutes per game on the floor. I think that has a lot to do with their success on defense, and consequently rebounding the ball.
The Shockers are currently holding their opponents to just 39.5% shooting from the floor, and their 38.2 rebounds per game is tops in the Missouri Valley Conference. Junior forward Cleanthony Early (love that name) has been ultra productive during his stint on the court for head coach Gregg Marshall. Although he is averaging just 25.2 minutes per game, Early has shown the propensity to take over games offensively this season. During the team’s 82-76 victory over Southern Illinois back on January 9th, Early dropped 39 points on 13 of 19 shooting from the floor.
Bucknell Bison (19-4, 6-1 Patriot) Current RPI #59
Why they will be Dangerous come March: Mike Muscala has dominated the Patriot League the last couple of seasons. This season, he is hoping that he’ll get one more crack at the Big Dance. The 6-11 senior is having a banner year for the Bison having scored in double figures in every game this season and posted an impressive 16 double doubles. He currently ranks in the Top 10 nationally in free throws made (127-9th), defensive rebounds (193-1st), and total rebounds (64-3rd). And according to the Roland Rating (measures a team’s success with a specific player ON the court vs. him OFF the court), Muscala is the most important player in the nation to the success of his team (350-1st). The Bison will probably need to fend off Lehigh to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.
Belmont Bruins (19-4, 10-0 Ohio Valley) Current RPI #19
Why they will be Dangerous come March: It seems like head coach Rick Byrd and the Bruins are always the trendy pick to do some damage come tournament time. And although the team is yet to capitalize on a marquee victory during March (they did have Duke dead in the water back in 2008), 2013 could be the turning point for the program.
Belmont has always had an extremely effective offensive attack, however this season they have turned up their intensity on the defensive end. The Bruins are holding their opponents to a 40% clip from the field, nearly 3% less than last year’s average. During league play, there are actually outshooting their opponents from the field by an impressive 11.1% (53.5%-Belmont vs. 42.4%-Opponents). Come March, if the Bruins are able to duplicate anything close to those numbers, we could be looking at their first tournament win (or two).
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (19-3, 10-0 WAC) Current RPI #48
Why they will be Dangerous come March: The Bulldogs are one of the bigger surprises of the college basketball season. After finishing just 18-16 last season, this year’s squad has already surpassed that win total (19-3), all while dominating league play in the WAC (10-0). That’s pretty impressive for a team that had only one returning starter from a year ago.
In year two, head coach Michael White has been able to implement his up-tempo system to perfection, as the Bulldogs primarily go with a four guard lineup to keep constant pressure on their opponents (push the ball on offense & constantly press on defense). Sophomore guard Raheem Appleby spearheads a lineup that is generating 17.4 turnovers per game from their conference opponents. If the Bulldogs can improve their efficiency from the field (just 40.7% shooting on the season), their unique style could frustrate an opening round opponent come tourney time.
La Salle Explorers (15-6, 5-3 A-10) Current RPI #29
Why they will be Dangerous come March: There is no doubt in my mind that if the Explorers can finish conference play strong it will translate into their finish NCAA tournament appearance since 1992 (by the way, that 92 team was really good with players like Lionel Simmons, Doug Overton, and Randy Woods).
La Salle’s resurgence has been fueled by the excellent guard play out of Tyreek Duren, Ramon Galloway, and Tyrone Garland. The trio is accounting for over 60% of the team’s scoring this season. The senior Galloway has especially excelled in 2013, scoring double figures in all but three of his games. The Explorers currently rank in the Top 5 in the A-10 in points allowed (64.9-5th), free throw % (75.2%-2nd), steals per game (10.1-2nd), and blocks per game (5.0-2nd).
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