Forward Will Barton is one of five stud sophomores on Memphis.
When you’re filling out your NCAA tournament brackets this week, don’t be deceived by these five teams. They are the snakes lurking in the weeds, waiting to poison any chance you have at winning your pool. These teams are all much better than their seeds would suggest and each has a legitimate chance of making some noise in the coming weeks.
Memphis (26-8) – 8-Seed in the West Region
Computer Ranks: 9th (KenPom), 12th (Sagarin)
The Tigers have been on cruise control lately. Memphis has won seven straight, each by double digits with an average margin of victory of 22.7. Most recently, the Tigers dominated the Conference-USA tournament, beating Central Florida by 31 in the semifinals before trouncing Marshall by 26 in the final.
Memphis is one of just ten teams to enter the NCAA Tournament with a top 25 offense and defense, according to KenPom. The Tigers currently have the 19th ranked offense and the 13th ranked defense. Memphis’ profile is very similar to the average Final Four team of the last nine years. Since 2003, the average offensive rank of a Final Four team is 13.89 and the average defensive rank is 17.44.
Memphis is led by sophomore Will Barton (18.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.0 apg), who is having an All-America type season. The 6-5 forward leads the Tigers in points and rebounds and has an offensive rating of 116.1 (24th in the nation).
Forward Tarik Black (10.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .686 FG%) is one of the most efficient scorers in the country. He ranks second in the nation in effective field goal percentage (68.6) and fifth in true shooting percentage (67.3).
The Tigers also have two solid ball distributors. Guards Joe Jackson (11.1 ppg, 3.8 apg, 1.3 spg) and Chris Crawford (9.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3.1 rpg) both have assist rates over 25.0.
Ouch, the Tigers got the shaft from the committee. Not only did Memphis receive an 8-seed, they also drew St. Louis in the first round. Like Memphis, the Billikens are much better than their seed would suggest, they are a top-20 team in both the KenPom and Sagarin rankings.
If the Tigers can get past St. Louis, they’ll get No. 1 seed Michigan State in a match-up of top-15 teams. Rebounding may be the Tigers’ downfall against Tom Izzo’s squad. Memphis has not rebounded well this year, they rank 232nd in offensive rebounding and 173rd in defensive rebounding. The Spartans on the other hand rank 25th in both offensive and defensive rebounding.
7-footer Garrett Stutz will pose match-up problems for opposing teams.
Wichita State (27-5) – 5-Seed in the South Region
Computer Ranks: 10th (KenPom), 10th (Sagarin)
I wrote gushingly about Wichita State a couple weeks ago, and my opinion hasn’t changed. The Shockers are one of the ten best teams in the country and are a serious threat to go far in the NCAA Tournament.
The Shockers had won 17 of their previous 18 games (the one loss was in triple overtime at Drake) before losing to Illinois State in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. They had also won seven straight games by 13 points or more.
Like Memphis, Wichita State is one of ten teams in the nation to have both a top 25 offense and defense. The Shockers rank ninth in offensive efficiency and 18th in defensive efficiency.
Wichita’s success on offense can be explained by their high shooting percentages and their ability to take care of the ball. The Shockers rank 14th in two-point field goal percentage, 60th in three-point field goal percentage, 13th in effective field goal percentage and 47th in turnover percentage. The Shockers have excelled on defense by allowing a low field goal percentage (23rd in effective field goal percentage allowed) and few second chances (sixth in offensive rebounding percentage allowed). Their defense has been superb without forcing a high percentage of turnovers (18.6 percent, 259th in the country).
According to KenPom, the Shockers are the third most experienced team in the nation and second most experienced team in the NCAA Tournament (behind Pat Knight’s awful, horrible group of seniors at Lamar). Of the Shockers’ main rotation of seven, five players are seniors and two are juniors.
While Wichita hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2006 – before any of their current members were on the team – the Shockers won the NIT last season. In my eyes, the squad gained more tourney experience from that run to Madison Square Garden than they would have from a loss in the first round of the NCAAs.
Led by seniors Joe Ragland and Toure’ Murry, the Shockers have the type of backcourt that long tournament runs are made of. The sharp-shooting Ragland has been one of the best, most-efficient guards in the nation this season. The senior has an effective field goal percentage of 67.0 (third in the nation), a true shooting percentage of 70.4 (first in the nation) and an offensive rating of 128.7 (ninth in the nation). In comparison, sweet-shooting Steph Curry had a 60.7 effective field goal percentage and 64.0 true shooting percentage in 2008, the year he took Davidson to the elite eight.
The Shockers also have a solid interior presence, led by 7-footer Garrett Stutz. As mentioned earlier, Wichita allows very few second chances on defense, ranking ninth in the country in offensive rebounding percentage allowed. A lot of that can be attributed to the strong defensive rebounding ability of Stutz. The senior center has a defensive rebound percentage of 27.0, which ranks 14th in the nation. Stutz also does a nice job on the offensive glass, grabbing 9.8 percent of his offensive rebounding opportunities. Stutz also uses his size to take a good number of high-percentage shots and he converts on them, posting an effective field goal percentage of 57.3 and a true shooting percentage of 61.9.
The Shockers didn’t get any favors from the committee either. Wichita State will face a pesky VCU squad in the first round. After their success last season, I expect the Rams to be a popular 12-5 upset pick, but I think the Shockers will hold their own. VCU likes to bring havoc on defense and they force the most turnovers in the nation. However, I think the Shockers have the type of guards in Ragland, Murry and Demetric Williams to be able to take the Rams’ pressure in stride.
The Shockers would then be staring down match-ups with Indiana and Kentucky. It won’t be easy, but I still think Wichita State can hang with any team in the country, so I won’t count out a deep run by the Shockers. Ken Pomeroy gives the Shockers a 17.8 percent chance to reach the Elite Eight and a 11.8 percent chance to reach the Final Four.
Drew Gordon (32) is one of the best defensive rebounders in the country.
New Mexico (27-6) – 5-Seed in the West Region
Computer Rankings: 13th (KenPom), 17th (Sagarin)
The Lobos, champions of the Mountain West Conference tournament, have never gotten the respect they deserve this season. Despite ranking highly in the computer polls all year, the coaches and AP voters have been reluctant to include New Mexico in their rankings. The Lobos were unranked in both polls last week, but no one should be caught off guard if New Mexico wins a few games in the NCAA Tournament.
The Lobos are currently No. 13 in the KenPom rankings and their strength all year has been on defense. The Lobos rank 13th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 39th in adjusted offensive efficiency. New Mexico has done a great job on defense, but their success has not been highly reliant on forcing turnovers. Just 21.3 percent of their defensive possessions have ended with a turnover, the 119th highest mark in the nation. As Luke Winn examined, this could be a good sign for the Lobos. High seeds whose defensive success is heavily reliant on forcing turnovers tend not to have the same success in the NCAA Tournament.
The Lobos ranked 24th in defensive rebounding, allowing opposing offenses to grab just 27.3 percent of available boards. Forward Drew Gordon (13.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 1.2 apg) is a beast on the defensive glass. He grabbed 29.0 percent of available boards on defense this season, the fourth best mark in the nation.
On offense, 64.8 percent of the Lobos’ made baskets were assisted on, the third highest rate in the country. New Mexico had four players — Demetrius Walker, Kendall Williams, Jamal Fenton and Hugh Greenwood- who had an assist rate of 20.0 or more.
Like VCU, I believe Long Beach State will be a popular 12 over 5 upset pick. However, New Mexico is a really tough match-up for the 49ers, and I think the Lobos have a very good chance of knocking off Long Beach State and Louisville. That would set up a great Sweet 16 game between New Mexico and Michigan State, two of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country. A showdown between seniors Drew Gordon and Draymond Green would be highly enjoyable.
Erving Walker is part of the Gators’ talented trio of guards.
Florida (23-10) – 7-seed in the West Region
Computer Rankings: 19th (KenPom), 17th (Sagarin)
I have been down on Florida all season, but I can’t deny that the Gators are a dangerous, talented 7-seed. On the surface, the Gators are very similar to 2-seed Mizzou, but with worse defense, less success and perhaps more talent (Florida has two projected first round picks in Bradley Beal and Patric Young). Unlike the other teams on this list, I’m not arguing that the Gators should have received a higher seed. Florida had a disappointing season, losing 10 games including four of their last five and six of their last 10.
According to KenPom, Florida has the third most efficient offense in the country. The Gators shoot a high percentage (54.8 effective field goal percentage, 8th in the nation) and take good care of the ball (16.6 turnover percentage, 14th in the nation). The Gators boast a trio of highly-efficient guards in Kenny Boynton (16.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.5 apg), Erving Walker (12.1 ppg, 2.8rapg, 4.7 apg) and Bradley Beal (14.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.2 apg). Each has an offensive rating higher than 110.
Florida relies heavily on their three-point shooting as 39.1 percent of their points this season came from three-pointers, the third highest mark in the nation. Luckily, the Gators were a good three-point shooting team, hitting on .390 percent of their attempts, 19th best in the country. The Gators have four players who attempted 120 or more three-point shots this season: Boynton (246), Walker (175), Beal (167) and Erik Murphy (120). Two Gators, Boynton (.427) and Murphy (.442) had three-point field goal percentages above .400.
Unfortunately for the Gators, they rank 119th in defensive efficiency. Florida allows opponents to shoot a high percentage (48.9 effective field goal percentage, 176th in the nation), especially from behind the three-point line where teams have shot .356 percent this season. Florida also ranks 188th in turnover creation and 132nd in defensive rebounding.
Florida’s first round match-up with Virginia will be an interesting clash of styles. The Cavaliers are a basically a mirror-image of the Gators, boasting the fifth ranked defense and the 106th ranked offense. Virginia has done an excellent job defending the three-point line, allowing opponents to shoot just .295 on three-point attempts (13th best in the nation). The Gators will have to rely less on the three-pointer, so Patric Young (10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.2 apg) will have to have a big day if the Gators are to advance to the round of 32.
Kerron Johnson’s Belmont Bruins are not your typical 14-seed.
Belmont (27-7) – 14-seed in the Midwest Region
Computer Rankings: 23rd (KenPom), 33rd (Sagarin)
After losing to Wisconsin in the first round of last year’s tournament, Belmont is back for more. The Bruins are in the tournament for the fifth time since 2006 and are looking to notch a victory for the first time. This could definitely be their year.
The Bruins, winners of 14 straight, are one the strongest 14 seeds in recent memory. They’re ranked No. 23 by KenPom, which equates to being a 5-seed. That’s rough news for Georgetown, a team that has lost to 10-seed Davidson, 14-seed Ohio and 11-seed VCU in their last three tournament appearances.
The Bruins are deep and experienced. Eight players average at least 13 minutes of action per game, and all eight of those players saw time in the last year’s NCAA Tournament game.
Belmont also has a highly efficient offense. The Bruins rank 13th in offensive efficiency overall and four players have an offensive rating higher than 115.0. The Bruins shoot a very high percentage (55.7 effective field goal percentage, fifth in the nation) and turn the ball over at a low rate (17.6 turnover percentage, 35th in the nation).
The Bruins are led by junior Kerron Johnson (14.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.2 apg). The 6-1 guard has a superb offensive rating of 121.0 and leads the team in both scoring and assists. Johnson’s assist rate of 33.6 is the 47th best mark in the country.
Senior Drew Hanlen (10.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.8 apg) is one of the sharpest shooters in the country. Hanlen ranks ninth in effective field goal percentage (65.1) and 14th in true shooting percentage (66.3). The 5-11 guard is a deadly three-point shooter, he connected on .481 percent of his attempts behind the arc this season.
Senior Scott Saunders (10.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg) , the team’s sixth man, is the best rebounder on the Bruins. Saunders grabbed 10.4 percent of available boards on offense, and 22.8 percent on defense. The 6-10 forward also averaged 10.2 points per game in just 17 minutes of action.
I think the Bruins have a pretty good chance of knocking off the Hoyas. Even though Georgetown has been vulnerable to early round defeats, I think my previous statement says more about Belmont than it does the Hoyas. Belmont is a highly skilled team, much better than a typical 14 seed. I don’t think too highly of San Diego State or NC State, so I think the Bruins actually have a pretty good shot of reaching the Sweet 16 in St. Louis. Experience and strong guard play goes a long way in the NCAA Tournament, and Belmont has both.