After Kentucky and Syracuse, the rest of Top 25 have been interchangeable. If Notre Dame can win the Big East regular season title, it is a red flag that this tournament will be filled with underdogs. Butler will not be in the tournament this year, but who will be this year’s Butler? I breakdown the possibility of some of the mid-majors & overlooked power conference teams, who have strong RPI Rankings so far this season.
For those who are unaware of what the RPI Rankings measure, it factors in the team’s strength of schedule and how a team does against their schedule. It was created in 1981 and it is used by the NCAA Selection Committee to pick the field of 68.
Temple 24-6 (RPI: 13) – Temple has cracked the Top 25, but they have a chance at possibly knocking off a few higher seeds. Temple have quality wins against Duke & Wichita State on their resumé. They won’t be sneaking up on anyone in the tournament. The back-court trio of Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt, & Juan Fernandez will cause havoc against teams that have weak perimeter defense. All three of these guards at at least 6’4, so they will also have the advantage against smaller guards. Temple has some size with Michael Eric, but they lack depth at center and power forward. If they face a team with a lot of size, like North Carolina, they will be exposed.
Witchita State 27-5 (RPI: 14) – They lost early in the Missouri Valley conference tournament, but the AP #16 team should get an at-large bid. Their quality wins are against UNLV and they split the series with Creighton. They played Temple and Alabama close, but couldn’t pull out wins against those teams. Garrett Stutz is the star on this team, the 7-foot center leads the team in points and rebounds. He has decent range for a big man and will pull a team’s defense away from the paint. This will help guards, Joe Ragland & Touré Murry, drive the lane. The Shockers are one of my favorite candidates to be this year’s Butler.
Southern Miss 24-7 (RPI: 15) – The Golden Eagles aren’t known for having an elite basketball program. They ended the season with the second best record in Conference USA. They lack a marquee signature wins, since their best wins came against Memphis, New Mexico State, & South Florida. They had some bad losses at the end of the year with losses coming against UAB, Houston & UTEP. Overall, they had a very tough schedule and played Murray State & Denver (both should get NCAA Tournament bids). Southern Miss lacks size and will need their guards to be hot from behind the arc. If they are cold, they could be done early.
Murray State 30-1 (RPI: 20) – The Murray State Racers have been in the Top 15 for most of the season. Their only loss came against Tennessee State, but bounced back and won their “Bracket Buster” game against St. Mary’s. Murray State also knocked off Memphis, Dayton, & Southern Miss during the season. They have used their talented back-court to win games. Isaiah Canaan has been lights-out from behind the arc, he’s shooting 47.3% and hit over 90 3-pointers this year. Donte Poole is also a threat from the perimeter, so double-teaming isn’t an option. Just like Southern Miss, this team lacks size. They don’t have a guy on the team that has averaged more than 6 rebounds per game and has only one player who is over 6’9 that plays regularly.
Colorado State 20-10 (RPI: 21) – The Mountain West conference has been a very talented mid-major conference this season. The Rams will need to beat San Diego State tonight to cement a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Their signature wins come inside their own conference, against San Diego State, UNLV, & New Mexico, those wins coming at home. Wes Elkmeier & Dorian Green are the best scoring options for the Rams. Pierce Horning is a good rebounder and is a good defender. A lot of things would have to line up perfectly, but the Mountain West could secure four bids this year.
San Diego State 25-6 (RPI: 27) – The regular season winner of the Mountain West conference, they played a very difficult early season schedule. They faced Baylor, Arizona, Creighton, & California…and came out of that gauntlet with wins at Arizona & against California. All of their losses have came against teams that should make the NCAA Tournament, except a close loss against Air Force. This team isn’t as talented as last year’s team, but they have an impressive resumé. They take a lot of 3-point shots, but if they are on, they could slay a few giants. Jamaal Franklin & Chas Tapley are both legit back-court scoring threats. Don’t sleep on the Aztecs this year, they could sneak out a few wins in the NCAA Tournament.
Saint Louis 24-6 (RPI: 30) – Rick Majerus has done it again. He has rejuvenated another program and has the Billikens playing at an elite level. I honestly haven’t even thought about their basketball program since Larry Hughes was lighting up the nets. They had an advantageous early season schedule with Washington, Boston College, Villanova, & Oklahoma on their schedule. Unfortunately, only Washington had a good year and it was down years for the other programs. They lack big marquee wins, but they did the best with the schedule that they were given. They can match-up with some different teams. They can score in the low-post and are a threat to hit from the perimeter with Kwamain Mitchell & Code Ellis.
Iowa State 22-10 (RPI: 33) – I love what Fred Hoiberg has done for his alma mater. He brought in Royce White, a troubled transfer and has turned into an elite low-post player. He has been the difference in a lot of their wins and he’s so good that he can match-up against any elite big man. The Big 12 is one of the best basketball conferences this year and the Cyclones get lost in the mix. They have played elite-level competition and have beaten Baylor, Kansas, & swept Kansas State. All of their late-season losses came against teams in the Top 10. They should get a seed in the middle of the pack, but I look for them to win a few games.
Harvard 26-4 (RPI: 36) – Can an Ivy League team advance passed the first-round? It has been over a half-century since they have made the Tournament. They have some inside-outside talent on this team with Kyle Casey & Keith Wright, but they might need more. They will be getting a high seed, probably a 14 or 15, so they will be playing against elite teams. It would take a nearly-perfect game for them to advance, but any team in this tournament can have an off-game. If you fill out your bracket and pick Harvard advancing in the round of 32, it would be a very courageous pick.
Long Beach State 23-8 (RPI: 38) – The Big West Conference isn’t even considered a “mid-major”, but they played like a powerhouse this season. They played Pitt, Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina, Xavier, Kansas State, & Creighton this season, they played all of them close and even registered wins against Xavier & Pitt. They wanted to prove their worth to the committee, since all of those games were on the road. They are deep team with some size, but usually only go with a seven or eight-man rotation. Watch out for Casper Ware, he takes a lot of 3-point shots (7.4 per game) and if he catches fire, they could knock off any team.
Iona 25-7 (RPI: 40) – The Gaels have the top talent in the Metro Atlantic, but lost to Fairfield in the conference tournament. Mike Glover, Lamont Jones, Scott Machado, & Sean Armond are high-percentage shooters, with Glover being the stand-out in the group. Their possible at-large bid could be hurt by the lack of quality wins. Their record against teams with an RPI in the Top 50 was 1-1. Only playing two teams with a high RPI isn’t impressing the committee. If they make it in, watch out for Glover to impress a lot of people.
Nevada 26-5 (RPI: 48) – The Western Athletic Conference regular season champions need to win their conference tournament to assure their bid. They are in the same situation as Iona, they lack marquee wins and lost to all three teams that they played in the RPI Top 50. They have a balance offensive attack with Deonte Burton, Malik Story, Olek Czyz, & Dario Hunt all averaging over 10 points per game. Story is their lone perimeter scoring threat, since the Wolf Pack do most of their scoring in the paint. They get a lot of second-chance points with Hunt averaging nearly four offensive rebounds per game. If they make the tournament, they’ll give their first-round opponent a struggle.
Drexel 27-6 (RPI:65) – They lost to VCU in the Colonel Athletic Conference Tournament, in what was a very entertaining game to watch. Drexel was the regular season champions and have some decent wins against VCU, Cleveland State, & George Mason. The Colonel got a few bids last year and Drexel is definitely on the bubble, but I think that they sneak in this year. They have a talented back-court with Frantz Massenat & Damion Lee and have Samme Givens giving the Dragons low-post defense. If they sneak in, they’ll probably be a #12 seed, which are always dangerous in the NCAA Tournament.
I think these are some of the possible underdogs in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. You can refer to this article when filling out your bracket. I hope I have better informed the public about some of the teams that have flown under-the-radar this season.
White Boy’s 2012 NCAA Tournament Coverage
2012 NCAA Tournament: West Region Picks
2012 NCAA Tournament: South Region Picks
2012 NCAA Tournament: East Region Picks
2012 NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Picks
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