By: Chuck Ranspach
For those of you that are not aware, which is probably very few, the NCAA Tournament expanded from 65 teams to 68 teams back in 2011.
That means each year there are four play-in games instead of one for those ever elusive last four spots. The way that the NCAA has decided to do this was making two play-in games be between 16 seeds and two play-in games be between 11 seeds.
Let’s get this out of the way first, I think it is a travesty to make 16 seeds be involved in these play-in games. A 16-seed has never beaten a 1 seed and by making a 16 seed play-in to the tournament basically means that there is a 50 percent less chance every year that this will happen. No 16 seeded team is prepared to play on Tuesday/Wednesday and then again on Thursday/Friday. The only benefit that this has for the 16 seeded schools is allowing two more teams a year to say that they “made” the tournament.
On the other hand, by allowing two more teams that were on the “bubble” have a chance to break into the tournament gives them a great shot at at least getting into the second game of the weekend.
By allowing teams (this year) like ASU, UCLA, Syracuse, and St. Bonnie’s to have an extra game before their Thursday/Friday matchup, basically gives their athletes a chance to get comfortable in the tourney and come out ready to play after they win their play-in game.
This theory is shown in the conference tournaments when the lower seed plays against a team that had a bye (Michigan comes to mind this year after playing Iowa in a tough game they were loose against Nebraska who looked tight, due to not playing yet).
In the cases of the 11 seed play in games (other than St. Bonnie’s) you have middle of the pack major conference teams playing against mid majors. Now as much as we love mid majors here at Medium Rare, I will most likely take the 11 seeds in these match ups.
Before we get into the match ups, here is a little blurb on each team, because, hey even the play in teams deserve a little recognition.
NC Central finished 6th in the Mid-Eastern, but surprised all by winning their conference tournament to, “tell them what they have won Johnny!” Potentially play a Xavier team that is on of the best teams that Xavier has ever had.
Their leading scorer is a junior big man named Raesean Davis, who averages 15 points a game.
They are 309th overall in KenPom with a 98.0 Adjusted Offense and a 110.9 Adjusted Defense. NC Central is the lowest ranking team in the tournament according to the Kenpom numbers. This team winning one game would be a Cinderella story, I’ll leave a place in my heart for them.
Texas Southern finished 2nd in the Southwestern Athletic conference and won their conference tournament to gain the right to maybe play Xavier as well.
They have made the tournament four of the last five years, nothing to scoff at, and are led by the 7’2 Trayvon Reed and 5’7 Demontrae Jefferson who average 23.6 points per game.
This team doesn’t feel like your typical 16 seed and I could see them giving Xavier fits, at least for a little bit.
Texas southern is rated 249 in KenPom with a 105.3 in Adjusted Offense and a 112.9 in Adjusted Defense.
Texas Southern will beat NC Central to go on and play Xavier in the first round.
LIU Brooklyn finished 4th in the Northeastern Conference and won their conference tournament upsetting the favorite Wagner. Like the other 16 seeds if they win their play-in game they will play the number 1 seed in their region, Villanova. (Can we talk about the Big East getting off so easy? Doesn’t the number 1 overall seed Virginia deserve a team who already played a game?)
They are led by their leading scorer Joel Hernandez who averages just over 20 points per game.
LIU Brooklyn is rated 251 in KenPom with a 103.3 Adjusted offense and a 111.1 Adjusted defense.
The Blackbirds are going to have to continue their hot play and extend their winning streak to six if they are going to have the pleasure of losing to an amazing Villanova team.
Radford finished 2nd in the big south and won their conference tournament to get to where they are now by hitting an amazing buzzer beater in the last game.
Their leading scorer is Ed Polite Jr. averaging 13.5 points a game.
Radford is 170 in KenPom with a 103.6 in Adjusted offense and a 103.6 in Adjusted defense.
The Highlanders (there can be only one!) are going to need a mammoth effort from Polite and company if they are going to pull out a win against LIU.
Look for LIU to win this game and play Villanova in a blow out win in favor of Nova.
Now that we have covered the 16 seeds, let’s look at the 11 seeds.
The Bonnie’s finished 2nd in the Atlantic 10 division and received an at-large bid after losing to Davidson in their conference tournament. A team that once was looking to miss the tournament is now a dark horse for best bracket buster potential (only behind our favorite mid-major: New Mexico St.)
The senior guard duo of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobly lead this team and are one of the best back courts in all of basketball. If you know me, I love good guard play. They average 20 and 19 points respectively.
They rank 69 in KenPom and have a 112.3 in Adjusted offense and a 101.4 in Adjusted Denfense.
With something to prove, this Bonnies team WILL be scary for UCLA. Unfortunately for the Bonnie’s I don’t think they have what it takes to beat a Florida team that I have in my final four. (Ironically Florida and St, Bonaventure are very similar teams.)
Oh Bruins, what will I do with you. This team feels like it should be so much more and honestly a very scary team to match up against anyone early. They finished 3rd in the Pac-12 (which is having a very down year)
Ranked 49 in KenPom with a 116.4 in Adjusted offense and 102.1 in Adjusted defense, their offense is potent and can hurt any team they play.
They are led by Aaron holiday and he averages 20.3 points a game. Kris Wilkes is an exciting freshman that averages 13 points a game.
They can scare Florida more than St. Bonnie, but I don’t see them getting the upset either.
Look for St. Bonaventure to come out with more passion and more to prove and beat the Bruins, eventually losing to Florida
Syracuse is a perennial bubble team, maybe it is the fact they are in the ACC or the fact that Boeheim plays his zone, but they are alway on the bubble. This team shouldn’t be in the tournament when you look at teams like Norte Dame or Oklahoma St., who got snubbed in my opinion, but we can’t change it now.
Nothing about Syracuse scares me, their offense is mundane but their defense seems to be why they are where they are at. Apparently the zone is doing wonders this year.
They finished 10th in the ACC and lost to North Carolina (maybe a good loss is what got them in?)
They are ranked 54 in KenPom and have 107.7 Adjusted offense and a great 94.1 in Adjusted defense.
The backcourt of Tyus Battle and Frank Howard are amazing talents that never come off of the court, because they can’t. They score at 20 and 15 a game each. They are what make this team click.
The team that feels the least deserving to be in the tournament. But have the talent to go really far. I say this because the Pac 12 is pretty bad this year and they finished 8th in the league, that just doesn’t seem like a team that should be here, but again, can’t change that.
Like I said they finished 8th in the league and lost to Colorado in their first game of the tournament.
Their early season play and amazing offense (91.8 ppm) give something to look at and honestly make me terrified for any team they play (especially since “any team” could mean my Spartans). Any team that scores at that clip is a terrifying prospect in a win or go home setting.
Their starting five averages double figures and the bench provides scoring as well. Tra Holder leads with 19 pppg and wears the number 0 which I fricken love.
They are 45th in KenPom and have a 117.7 Adjusted offense and a 102.9 Adjusted Defense.
If Arizona State can figure out the zone, they are going to kill Syracuse. Look for ASU to get back to early season form.
ASU will beat Syracuse and gain momentum. They will be loose due to already playing a game and beat TCU, but fall short against MSU (no bias there).
So there you have it, a look at the teams that just squeaked in. Hope this helps your bracket strategy slightly.
Chuck runs the Spartan Speculations blog and co-hosts the Medium Rare College Basketball podcast (and edits it too.)