A 13 seed- again. How wonderful would it be?
I have made it to every Selection Sunday celebration at Belmont University. The Beaman Student Life Center is packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, camera-to-camera, Sodexho hot dog-to-Sodexho hot dog. Sodexho brings out their semi-best catered food, and news crews crawl around the campus. It is like a second, less sniper-rifled version of the Presidential Town Hall Debates. In fact, CBS will be here according to Belmont’s official basketball website. So, come one, come all Sunday. Festivities start at 4 p.m.
But what would it really mean for Belmont to draw a 13 seed in the NCAA tournament this year? Last year we drew the 13 seed and were up against a Wisconsin team that many eyed to be out in a first-round upset. If my memory serves me correct, Dick Vitale even chose the Bruins in his bracket upset. But it was not in the cards. And as you will read below, Wisconsin and Belmont are in a similar position as last year. Below are the 4-seed possibilities.
The Four Seeds
Maybe teams should be ranked by two of the following stipulations this year: have you played Kentucky? Did you beat Kentucky? Tom Crean’s Hoosiers did actually play Kentucky this year (satisfying the first stipulation), and not only did they play them- they beat them (the second stipulation). No other resume in college basketball boasts this quality win, and Indiana proudly stands at 11 on the RPI. But in their first Big Ten tournament win in years, Hoosiers’ Senior Guard Verdell Jones III crumpled to the floor on an awkward jump stop. The knee injury wasn’t good according to Crean, and the 25 minute, 7.5 points a game senior won’t see the Hoosiers through the tournament because of a torn ACL. But while Jones’ injury is a tough one, freshman Cody Zeller is the story of the year for the Hoosiers. This 6-11 forward posts over 15 a game with 6 boards and ranks 15th in the NCAA in FG% at .629. The freshman is a beast and causes problems for any opponent inside. The third most efficient offensive team in the nation, the Hoosiers combination of size and offense will guarantee a tough matchup for anyone.
With an adjusted tempo of with 58.9, Wisconsin ranks 344th in the NCAA according to Ken Pom in overall pace of the game. Belmont averages 68.4, showing one of the key reasons that Belmont got lost last year when they played Bo Ryan’s Badgers. Wisconsin slows the game tremendously, and for the run and gun type offense of the Bruins, game plans must be changed accordingly. Senior Guard Jordan Taylor averages 14.6 points this year, down from 18 last year. And thankfully Jon Leuer (that guy who put up 22 points against us last year in the tournament) is now with the Milwaukee Bucks. However, getting this Wisconsin team this year will still not be considerably easier. The Badgers are hot, coming off a win against Ohio State and taking down Indiana on Friday, waiting for Michigan State today to prove they are ready for a deep tournament run.
What can you say about the Seminoles? They are 12-4 in the ACC with a record that shows big wins against North Carolina and Duke but some Ivy League losses to Harvard and Princeton. This seems to be the best way to really sum up this team- ”Big wins, strange losses”. Junior guard Michael Snaer puts up a respectable 14 points a game, but the Seminoles turn over the ball a shocking 1 out of every 4 possessions. They rank almost last in this category in the NCAA at 330th. But that is the BAD. The GOOD is their defense. Ranked in the top 20 in nearly every defensive ranking (efficiency, block percentage, etc…), the Seminoles are a team that can go deep or be beat based on the amount of turnovers their offense gives up. The Seminoles face off against the Blue Devils at 2 p.m. in the ACC semifinals.
The Shockers. Wichita State is called the Shockers [insert witty March Madness quote here]. And it is, indeed, shocking to watch Wichita State’s Garrett Stutz go 4-4 from the 3. Yes, from the 3 point line. This doesn’t seem like a crazy stat at first until you realize Stutz is 7 feet tall. He is a mobile 7 footer that made 6 three-pointers in a row between two games. The Shockers out of conference schedule included UNLV, Temple and Alabama and came out of it 1-2 with a 19 point win against UNLV. So what is it about this team that makes them a 4? They rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency and in the top 20 in defense efficiency. But the Shockers have some shocking (sorry) losses this year, namely Drake and Illinois State. Granted, the Drake loss was in 3 overtimes and Illinois State almost beat Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference Championship game. The Shockers are good all around and Senior Guard Joe Ragland leads the team with 13 points per game. Ranked 5th in the nation in overall experience (2.51 years), the Shockers have the depth, teamwork, and maturity to make a legitimate run in the Madness.
The Dark Horse: Murray State
In what could make an instant rivalry, Belmont could potentially draw future Ohio Valley Conference foe Murray State. This one loss Racer team is lead by one of the best point guards in the country, Isaiah Canaan. The Junior put up nearly 20 points a game this season and currently ranks in the top 20 in the nation in 3P%. He is a beast. But when you start to look deeply at this team, some people don’t think they could hang as a favorable seed. In fact, Ken Pomeroy has the Racers ranked 44th. For some perspective, Belmont is ranked 24th overall in the Ken Pom rankings. The Murray State Racers are the wild card in all the Madness. With three top-50 RPI wins over Southern Mississippi, @ Memphis, and St. Mary’s, you can argue this team either way. In trying to find a weakness for this team, I attempted to simplify things. ”I’ll just crunch some numbers in their loss against TSU,” methinks. ”Limit Canaan. That’s all you have to do.” But it is not that easy. Canaan dropped 31 points against Tennessee State in their only loss of the season.
First year head coach Steve Prohm leads a disciplined team that has done serious damage in their schedule, but has it been enough? While it would infuriate me as a fan to see my team only lose one game and even be questioned as a top seeded team, the national conversation about Murray State has placed them from a 3 seed to a 6 seed. The loss to Tennessee State showed a Racer team that practically gave up in the last two minutes. If you saw the loss, you noticed a frantic, mistake-prone Murray State team that lost its cool under pressure. Who could upset this team?
Belmont. The guard heavy, three-point efficient, experienced, ready-to-win-its-first-NCAA-tournament-game team comes in hungry. What would be better than an instant OVC showdown for the Bruins in the national spotlight? I can’t think of anything.
What do you think?