Potential Bracket Busts, Pt. 2
No doubt, these sleepers will cause trouble in March.
For college hoops fans like myself, whose obsession goes beyond the names you’ll find in the Big East or ACC, Bracket Buster weekend is a kind of all-encompassing buffet complete with everything you need for a terrific Saturday. This year’s lineup included 102 teams from 17 conferences doing battle in 51 games; granted only 13 of these were televised on the family of networks, but with help from a few regional networks there was plenty of arbitrary basketball action to go around.
Now for the casual observer, the absence of Saint Mary’s star Patty Mills and the ice cold return performance of Davidson’s Steph Curry may have been enough to prompt some channel surfing, but to those thinking ahead to March this was a golden opportunity to observe some potential sleeper teams. Due to the general lack of top-to-bottom strength in some of these conferences, it is possible that some of the teams listed below will fail to reach the NCAA Tournament if they are unable to secure their conferences automatic bid. Regardless, each of these is a squad that the proud owners of seeds 1 through 6 should be weary of.
Siena – MAAC
22-6 (15-1), RPI: 24, vs. RPI Top 100: 5-4
With nine players returning from a team that pulled a 13 over 4 upset on Vanderbilt last year, is it any surprise that Siena is back atop the MAAC? The answer to that question is a resounding no. The Saints took care of business in their Bracket Buster match up, knocking off Missouri Valley front runner Northern Iowa in fairly convincing fashion.
Siena has the size and the balance that makes them an unsettling first round match up. Kenny Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin are all averaging better than 13 ppg and Franklin and big man Ryan Rossiter each haul in better than 7 rpg. The Saints are a very efficient offensive team that likes to put the ball on the floor and create scoring opportunities by getting into the lane and distributing the basketball. A somewhat inflated 15-1 record in the MAAC shouldn’t be reason to overlook this team; the Saints have a winning record against top 100 competition this year.
Creighton – Missouri Valley
23-6 (12-4), RPI: 47, vs. Top 100: 9-4
Creighton should be a name that is familiar to most college basketball fans with the Blue Jays having appeared in the NCAA Tournament six times since 2000, although 2002 was the only year they advanced past the first round. Dana Altman’s squad currently finds itself in a tie for first place in the MVC with Northern Iowa, but has a solid enough resume that it might be able to garner an at-large bid.
What the Bluejays may lack in bulk, they more than make up for with quickness and shooting prowess. Thanks in large part to senior Booker Woodfox, Creighton connects on nearly 40 percent of its shot attempts from beyond the arc, and certainly perimeter shooting has been the cause of more than a few upsets over the years. Speedsters P’Allen Stinnet, Cavel Winter and Josh Dotzler provide pesky defense and Kenny Lawson Jr. alters his fair share of shots around the rim. With several experienced upperclassmen and a top notch coach at the helm, Creighton is not a team the big boys should sleep on.
Butler – Horizon League
22-4 (13-3), RPI: 21, vs. Top 100: 8-2
OK, so maybe Butler isn’t necessarily a “bracket buster” since they are ranked in the AP Top 25, but they did partake in Saturday’s festivities so they get some ink. At their current rate the Bulldogs are looking at five or a six seed depending on how conference tournaments shake out, but they have the talent to make a run to the Sweet 16 or better. Matt Howard is a fantastic presence inside and Gordon Hayward surely is one of the best freshmen that no one has ever heard of. Howard and Hayward stand 6-7 and 6-8 respectively but have no qualms about stepping away from the basket to create matchup problems; Hayward is shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc to add some light to that statement.
With wins over Xavier (on the road), UAB and most recently Davidson, Butler has proven its worth already as a team that can make people take notice of the Horizon League once again this March.
Virginia Commonwealth – Colonial
19-9 (12-4), RPI: 71, vs. Top 100: 4-5
At this point, VCU is likely going to have to win the CAA Tournament in order to crack the field of 65, but if they do, they have some weapons that could make them an interesting draw. Point guard Eric Maynor is one of the best players at his position in the country. Posting over 23 ppg and 6 apg, the senior has a fantastic dribble drive game that allows him to burn opponents with his mid-range shooting or fantastic play making abilities.
The Rams may be lacking in size across the board, but sophomore Larry Sanders provides enough of a presence inside that it might not matter. At 6-9 with a 7-6 wingspan, Sanders is one of the top shot blockers in the country and his offensive game is starting to vastly improve as well. Bull-headed Kirill Pishchalnikov provides toughness inside while Joey Rodriguez is a solid perimeter threat. VCU has just enough star power that should it qualify, it has the potential to knock off a team that may have been over seeded.
UNLV – Mountain West
20-7 (8-5), RPI: 51, vs. Top 100: 9-5
The Runnin’ Rebels helped themselves tremendously by knocking off BYU on Saturday to inch closer to the top of the MWC standings, but they still have some work to do before they can hop off the bubble. UNLV certainly has a impressive series of wins to hang its hat on though: Arizona, Louisville, Utah and now two wins over BYU. Guards Wink Adams, Tre’Von Willis and Rene Rougeau make for a very talented backcourt that has enough size to match up well with any team in the country.
There isn’t a tremendous interior presence, with the tallest rotational player standing at just 6-7, but UNLV is gritty enough defensively that they have managed to shut down some high powered offenses this year, including holding Louisville to just 55 points back in December. If the Rebels find themselves matched up with another team lacking in the middle, it could make for a very good match up.
See also: Potential Bracket Busts, Pt. 1