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March 18, 2009
64 Teams, 64 Thoughts
Part One

by Joe Sheehan

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With Morehead State taking out Alabama State in a fairly sloppy Opening Round game, we're down to 64 dreamers. Here's some information on 32 of them. I've listed them in reverse S-curve order from Sunday's Unfiltered post, with Arizona sliding into Creighton's spot. Look for the top half on Wednesday night

Chattanooga: The Mocs get to the line (fourth in the nation in FT frequency, 39th in percentage of points from the line) and hit threes (25th in threes taken as a percentage of shots, 58th in percentage of points from the arc). They bullied Charleston in the championship game during 20-0 second-half run in which they did both. Senior guard Stephen McDowell (43.4% 3Pt%) will have to go crazy from long range to have any chance to stay with UConn, because they're not going to get much on the inside.

Morehead State: As we saw last night, the Eagles can make a game sloppy, as they coughed up 21 turnovers in their win over Alabama State. Tthey turned the ball over on 22.9% of their possessions during the season. This does not bode well for them against Louisville's pressure. Their game Friday will get out of hand very early.

Radford: Tall and athletic for the Big South Conference, Radford works the ball inside to man-mountain Artisom Parakhouski, who gets to the line (182nd in FT rate) and crashes the boards at both ends (top 50 at grabbing both offensive and defensive rebounds). He didn't see too many players like Tyler Hansbrough in the BSC, however, and Radford did not play up well: they had no Division I wins outside of the conference.

Cal State-Northridge: This veteran squad-the rotation consists of four seniors and three juniors-gets up and down the floor and likes to turn other teams over. They can shoot the ball (74th in eFG%) and they have a better defense (62nd nationally) than their game scores would indicate playing in a conference with a number of teams that like to run. To beat Memphis, they'll need to keep the game completely out of the halfcourt and hope to pressure Tyreke Evans into a bad day with the ball.

Morgan State: From the people that brought you Hampton over Iowa State and Coppin State over South Carolina comes a solid defensive team in the same 15/2 slot that the MEAC has conquered before. Morgan State is by far the best team in the conference, and beat DePaul and Marshall while playing Mississippi close in the preseason. They can't shoot (47.0 eFG%), they have no rotation guys above 6'8" and just one rostered player above that, which will make guarding various Griffins a problem. Their best hope is to harass the guards into a terrible shooting day-the Bears were 12th in eFG defense-and win a game in the 50s.

East Tennessee State: Some minor conference teams don't even bother with resume-building. The Mocs played just one team in the Pomeroy top 100, Temple, and while the Atlantic Sun's 20-game schedule contributes to that, it doesn't give us much nonconference work to go on. DeJuan Blair could have a field day against one of the shortest teams in the tournament, one that relies on getting to the basket to score.

Cornell: The Big Red returns much of last year's team that got smoked by Stanford. They can shoot the lights out, sixth in the nation in three-point FG%, and they also have that rarest of things, an Ivy League seven-footer in senior Jeff Foote. They hung tough against a brutal nonconference schedule, but Missouri's athleticism on the perimeter doesn't match up well for them. The Tigers held opponents to just 30.7% from three, and they force turnovers on one in every four possessions. Good team, bad draw.

Robert Morris: Freshman Rob Robinson has given them an inside presence that last year's team lacked, but that won't be enough against the big Michigan state front line. Their hope is to force enough turnovers-Sparty's biggest weakness is losing the basketball-to keep the game close for gunners Jeremy Chappell and Jimmy Langhurst.

Portland State: Maybe the shortest contributing player in the tournament, 5'6" point guard Jeremiah Dominguez shoots, distributes and stays out of foul trouble. The Vikings also have a dangerous scorer in junior Dominic Waters. The Vikings made headlines by winning at Gonzaga earlier this season, and getting Xavier at Boise is going to be a much friendlier environment against a slightly less-difficult foe. The Vikings are the first team on this list likely to pull an upset.

Binghamton: The second-shortest team at the dance (only Morehead State has less effective height), Binghamton relies on pressure to create tempo that allows them to get easy baskets. Suffice to say a matchup with Duke, which plays a similar style, isn't up their alley. Any team that plays Duke has a chance if it can limit the Blue Devils on the perimeter, and Binghamton did hold opponents to 32.4% from deep, but the lack of size is likely going to cripple them.

Akron: Say, didn't you used to be the Mid-American Conference? Now established as a one-bid league, the MAC has become the Big 11 writ small, a league of plodding offenses, physical defenses, and limited skill players. The Zips need the three (nearly 40% of their shots come from deep) but they don't make the three (they convert less than a third of them). They have little chance of controlling Gonzaga's tall and athletic frontcourt.

Stephen F. Austin: The Southland Conference doesn't always get its best team into the tournament, but it did this time. The Lumberjacks were the second-best team in Division I at preventing the three (28.6%), beating teams with tough man-to-man defense in the halfcourt that featured good size througout the lineup. Senior Matt Kingsley is the focal point of the offense, a 6'9" power forward with a decent shooting touch. They have to keep the Syracuse gunners in check, keep the game in the 60s, to have a shot at the upset.

North Dakota State: Seniors who can shoot. The Bison play four seniors, and all rank in the top 500 in eFG%. When they have the ball, they're as efficient as any low seed can be. The flip side is that they don't defend well, allowing their opponents to shoot well and possess the ball. Just from the stats, it looks like a smart team: they don't turn the ball over or foul, and they protect the defensive glass. Kansas has them outsized by a country mile, but this is exactly the profile of an upset team in the tournament. They're even a bit underseeded.

American : The Eagles return most of the team that put a scare into Tennessee last season before fading in the second half. This is a perimeter team that slows the game down and needs to have a good shooting day to win. Playing Villanova isn't a bad matchup for them, as they could reduce the game to a shooting contest, but Villanova is even better at that game than they are. Playing the Wildcats in a virtual road game is a bad beat.

Cleveland State : The Vikings beat Butler twice, won at Syracuse, and were competitive against Kansas State and West Virginia. Strong interior defense helps them keep games in the 50s and 60s, where they can be competitive with a halfcourt offense that relies on getting shots close to the basket and getting to the line. Their chance of an upset depends on making enough shots to keep Wake out of their transition game.

Northern Iowa : Their methodical offense usually ends with a three or with 7'1" junior Jordan Eglseder banking one home. The latter is a better choice for a team that hits just 34.5% of its threes. Their backcourt may have a real time keeping up with Purdue's athletic slashers and shooters. With just one senior in the rotation, this is warmup for a team that might get a single-digit seed a year from now and play into the second weekend.

Virginia Commonwealth : Senior Eric Maynor gets the attention for those who remember his heroics against Duke and Pittsburgh two seasons ago. He is the only senior in VCU's rotation, which features four sophomores and a freshman, so as with UNI, this might just be a preview of better teams to come. Maynor versus Darren Collison is a TiVo-worthy first-round matchup, but VCU's chance of an upset depends on forwards Larry Sanders and Kirill Pishchalnikov taking advantage of UCLA's occasionally suspect defense.

Western Kentucky : The Hilltoppers lost three seniors off last year's Sweet 16 team, and bounced back to win at Freedom Hall and take the Sun Belt regular-season and tournament titles. They lean heavily on the three to make up for a lack of size, a fatal flaw that Illinois should be able to exploit with Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. Western Kentucky goes just six deep, so any kind of foul trouble as they try to defend against Ilinois' height will be fatal.

Arizona : Subjectively, they still don't look right to me, as both interim coaches the last two years have turned Lute Olson's players into a halfcourt team. At this kind of efficiency (eighth in D-I), wouldn't you want more possessions? Defensively, they dare you to shoot over their zone, which makes beating them all about making your threes. The Utes do this often and well, and given that they don't defend the three, this game could be decided simply by who's hitting from outside. I'll take Arizona in that matchup. Just because a team is the last one in Sunday doesn't mean anything on Friday.

Mississippi State : They probably wouldn't have gotten in without beating Tennessee Sunday, but that doesn't mean they don't belong. Jarvis Varnado gives them a great weapon: the ability to defend the interior (fourth in block percentage, 14th in 2Pt% allowed) without fouling (27th in FT rate). On offense, they're on one line or another-just 323rd in the nation in percentage of points scored on two-point shots. They don't defend well in the backcourt, which will be a problem against Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon.

Temple : Dionte Christmas went 1-for-12 a year ago against Michigan State, and if you think he doesn't remember that, you're crazy. Christmas takes nearly a third of Temple's shots when he's on the floor, despite not being a notably effective shooter (51.1% eFG%). Freshman point Juan Fernandez might be more important to this team, and will be critical Arizona State's James Harden. This is not a good matchup for the Owls, who play an underseeded team that can hit its shots and defend the perimeter.

Minnesota : The Gophers have gone 6-9 since beating Wisconsin in OT on January 29, and they have just two wins against tournament teams (Illinois and Wisconsin) in that span. The Gophers rely on taking care of the ball and a balanced offense in which junior Lawrence Westbrook is primary, but not dominant. They give away bulk on the front line to Texas' unit, which may affect Minnesota's best-in-the-nation shotblocking.

Maryland : The ACC teams in the tournament, outside of the top two, all share a common instability. Maryland personifies this, capable of beating North Carolina or losing to Virginia on any given day. The main reason is that they can't shoot: below average on twos and threes, but good from the line thanks to Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes. They do not defend the perimeter well, and may not have much of an answer for Jerome Randle and Cal's outside shooting.

Utah State : The concept of "staying within your role" didn't originate in Logan, Utah, but Stew Morrill may be perfecting it. Utah State calmly runs its stuff, gets good shots, hits them, and tracks down the ones that don't go in. They've win 50-37 and they've won 89-77, the latter of which could be important against a Marquette squad that can fill it up. The weakness of the Aggies' defense is up top, with guards that struggle to stay in front of quicker players and don't force turnovers. If they're to beat Marquette, they'll need a big shooting day to keep up.

Texas A&M : The Aggies drew the right team, as BYU doesn't have the kind of speed in the backcourt to exploit A&M's so-so backcourt defense, and they foul enough to allow A&M to get to the line, where it scores almost a quarter of its points. A&M has to get the ball inside to Bryan Davis, Chinemelu Elonu and Josh Carter and let them work. BYU plays just six guys, so foul trouble would be devastating to them.

California : The Bears cooled off a bit from January, when at one point they were hitting one of every two three-pointers they took. They still led the nation at 43.4% from long range, and they are good from two and excellent from the line as well. They don't rely on the three, however, with just over a quarter of their shots from out there. They penetrate and get good looks inside the paint, while denying good looks at the other end. They'll have the best player on the court in their first-round matchup, although even their effective shooting will likely not be enough against Memphis on the weekend.

Brigham Young : The Cougars move the ball well, as usually all five men on the court are at least above-average passers. The big three of Jimmer Fredette, Lee Cummard and Jonathan Tavernari match up with any trio outside of the one-seeds, with Cummard and Tavernari better defensively than they get credit for. As John Gasaway noted, BYU is far underseeded as an eight, and not only should they handle Texas A&M, but they're going to be a real threat to beat Connecticut Saturday.

Siena : You know the Saints from such classics "Shooting Vanderbilt Into Their Rebuilding Program." They're back, perhaps a bit overseeded as a nine, with everyone but Tay Fisher back for another go. The Saints like to get up and down the floor, not recklessly, but they will take the first good shot they see, and they shoot well: 52% on twos. The guard-oriented team does not protect the glass well, and they have some issues defending inside. They will struggle to defend Ohio State, and combined with playing in Dayton, have less chance to win this matchup than they did to take out Vandy as a 13-seed a year ago.

Boston College : Another of the ACC's Sybils, the Eagles famously won in Chapel Hill and lost to Harvard in Chestnut Hill in span of four days. The Eagles play porous defense, don't turn opponents over and get killed on the defensive glass, something that USC can exploit with junior Taj Gibson. They're here because they crash the offensive boards and get to the line. Their chance to win depends on drawing fouls inside against a thin USC roster.

Michigan : since opening the Big 11 schedule with the three Is, Michigan is 7-10 with just three wins over tournament teams. Their John Beilein offense requires that they take a lot of threes (38.8%), which doesn't work when you can't make them (33.2%). Eventually, Beilein will wash out the Tommy Amaker recruits and have his own running his offense, and Michigan will be good. This year's team might well be run out of the gym by Clemson.

Wisconsin : Don't let the pace fool you: the Badgers are better scoring than preventing points, thanks to never turning the ball over and respectable shooting from both lines. For them to win what should be a close game over Florida State, they have to get to the line at least 20 times.

Dayton : The more I look into Dayton's performance, the more I wonder if their status as "safely in" was warranted. They crash the boards and they defend reasonably well, but they're a lousy-shooting team that turns the ball over on one in five trips. They are, in fact, their best player personified. Chris Wright is a poor shooter for his size, and probably doesn't warrant the amount of possessions he takes for the flyers. Dayton is almost certainly going to be hammered by the underseeded Mountaineers.

Second half to follow…

Joe Sheehan is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Joe by clicking here or click here to see Joe's other articles.

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Around the Rim (03/18)
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What We Think (03/18)

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