Four teams won automatic bids yesterday into the NCAA Tournament - Harvard (Ivy League), Detroit (Horizon League), South Dakota State (Summit League) and Western Kentucky (Sun Belt Conference). Let's take a quick peak at the first three teams on that list and how they may fare come NCAA Tournament time. No offense to Western Kentucky, but with an 11-18 regular season record - it doesn't appear that they will be too much of a threat as a 16-seed playing in of the "First Four" games. Not trying to poke too much fun at Western Kentucky - but the Hilltoppers rank 325 out of 344
After the breakdowns will be the new brackets updated around 6:30PM EST on March 7th.
- Harvard University - 25-4 (12-2) - RPI: 36 - SOS: 222 - vs Top-50: 1-1 - Last 12: 10-2
For the first time in 60 plus years, the Harvard Crimson will be doing something other than studying during the NCAA Tournament. Former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker has amassed a very solid team that will represent the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament. The Ivy League has not had many unstoppable forces in the NCAA Tournament over the years, but they are on a bit of a run of having NCAA Tournament ready teams. In 2010, Cornell made it all the way to the Sweet 16, and last year Princeton lost to Kentucky on a last second shot in their first round NCAA Tournament game. Harvard is expected to continue the streak of competitiveness, and maybe even deliver a bigger blow. Let's set one thing straight before we move forward: Harvard is not Cornell. The team Cornell put on the floor in 2010 had two years of prior NCAA Tournament experience, more regular season tests and a nearly unstoppable force of three-point shooting. With that said, the Harvard Crimson have the tools to punch through to the second round or even Sweet 16 with a few upsets. They don't score many points - but they do score in efficient ways by taking smart shots, controlling possessions and moving the ball well. There is the need to factor in the fact that Harvard is the fourth best statistical team in the country in terms of defense. They play lock down defense unmatched by, for the most part, every team that they could potentially face in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. While this team does not have the firepower that 2007 Winthrop had, the two teams are very similar. An experienced coach, tough defense and a team that can go more than ten men deep on any night. Their records were very similar and, while Wintrhop played a few more, both teams faced some tough top RPI ranked opponents. Winthrop upset Notre Dame as an 11-seed in a game where many expected them to come out victorious. The same can be said for Harvard, as many have expected the Crimson to breakthrough in the NCAA Tournament all year. In terms of resume, Harvard is able to hang their hat on a very tough victory over Florida State in November, and will have the same upset minded approach next week.
Similar To: 11-seed Winthrop - 2007 NCAA Tournament - upset 6-seed Notre Dame 74-64
Upset Concern: Very High
- University of Detroit Mercy - 20-13 (11-7) - RPI: 128 - SOS: 183 - vs Top-50: 0-2 - Last 12: 10-2
The numbers for Detroit are not very impressive - with RPI and SOS numbers over 120, there is not much meat in their resume. The beauty of an automatic bid? Your resume doesn't mean anything if you're already in. Detroit had two tough games out of conference against Alabama and Notre Dame, and despite not winning either, they played both teams very tightly. The reason being their top player, and the son of their coach: Ray McCallum. The four star and top-50 ranked recruit from the class of 2010 decided to skip playing at the big time programs in order to play for his father, Ray, at Detroit. This season was a bit of a letdown for the Titans, until they caught fire in the Horizon League Tournament. A 20-win team from a year ago, Detroit is loaded with talent and scary confidence for a team that was no where near NCAA Tournament talk before winning their conference tournament. Averaging 15.6 points per game, Ray McCallum is the type of player that has enough elite talent to help spark a cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament. This team may not be good enough to reach the Sweet 16, but their first round opponent needs to be very scared of Detroit. Their season is very similar to that of the 2009-2010 Ohio Bobcats - that team won a string of games in the MAC Championship, had a star player in Armon Bassett and then proceded to upset 3-seed Georgetown in impressive fashion. Both Detroit and Ohio are very similar - I will have one hell of a time picking against Detroit in the NCAA Tournament even if they are a 15-seed. Just remember the name Ray McCallum when filling out your brackets - this kid was born to play on the big stage of the NCAA Tournament.
Similar To: 14-seed Ohio - 2010 NCAA Tournament - upset 3-seed Georgetown 97-83
Upset Concern: High
- South Dakota State University - 25-7 (15-3) - RPI: 55 - SOS: 212 - vs Top-50: 0-0 - Last 12: 11-1
Don't laugh - this one is completely for real. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits are about to play in their first ever NCAA Tournament, and do so this with a pretty scary offense. The Summit League Champions are top-45 in the country in both scoring and offensive efficiency - a trait that typically is an indicator of a teams' ability to compete with the big boys in the NCAA Tournament. South Dakota State totes a few poor losses, but also managed to knock off Pac-12 leading Washington and a dangerous Oral Roberts squad. The "what have you done for me lately" test is always one to use on mid-major teams when entering the thick of march madness. Teams that are on a hot streak typically perform pretty well come NCAA Tournament time. The Jackrabbits are 11-1 in their last 12 games and have been helped by their star Nate Wolters. On the year Wolters has averaged 21.3 points per game and established himself as one of the most consistent offensive threats in the country. No one on South Dakota State is ranked among the top three point shooters in terms of makes, but they have five guys that all can light it up from deep. Basically, they share the wealth from beyond the arc - enough to the point where they have made 274, which is good for ninth overall in the NCAA. In 2005-2006, the Northwestern State Demons had a very similar resume and body of work heading into the NCAA Tournament. Their offensive numbers were not quite as gaudy as those of South Dakota State, but they were a very solid team. That team, as many remember, famously upset Iowa with a late three pointer as time expired in the NCAA Tournament. The big similarity between the two teams is consistency and their ability to fly under the radar - both teams played the same level opponents, used a strong core of players with wide ranges of abilities, had a consistent season and then rode a blistering hot streak into the NCAA Tournament. South Dakota State may have what it takes to pull off the big upset, especially considering they can have multiple combinations of five guys on the floor that can stroke from downtown.
Similar To: 14-seed Northwestern State - 2006 NCAA Tournament - upset 3-seed Iowa 64-63
Upset Concern: High
- Jeff Lowe
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