Coastal Carolina Strength: Experience Weakness: Free throw percentage The chanticleers are my pick to become this year’s Florida Gulf Coast. Coastal Carolina returns four of five starters from last year’s team that contested Virginia during the 1-16 matchup in the NCAA Tournament. They contest at the rim, though they don’t have a true center. In the Big South Championship game, Coastal Carolina also fouled Winthrop often and made them earn it at the line. Warren Gillis scores well from the 2 spot. They get solid bench contributions. The one player who did not log minutes in that Virginia game, sophomore Elijah Wilson, came off the bench to score 19 critical points. Badou Diagne is always the guy who jumps off the screen when I watch Coastal. He’s a 6’7″ junior who looks and plays like a college version of Luol Deng. However, he contests a lot of shots at the rim. He registered no blocks in the Winthrop win, but was definitely a factor on defense. Diagne grabbed 5 rebounds and used three of his fouls well.
Strength: Athleticism that can win over neutral crowd
Weakness: Strength in the post
I love the Cowboys. Let me say that up front. I saw Wyoming beat Colorado in an early season contest. They did it in convincing fashion. I also saw the Cowboys get beat by San Diego State because the Aztecs double-teamed Larry Nance Jr. and the Cowboys had little answers. Wyoming is one of the worst rebounding teams among all of the power conference teams in the country. However, they shoot lights out. Despite the loss, they shot 92% from the free throw line against San Diego State. The Cowboys have also consistently ranked in the top 10 in field goal percentage during the season. What my eye test tells me, is that point guard Josh Adams makes the Cowboys compete in the wild west. Adams creates for guys like Hankerson, Jr. and Cooke Jr., who have great athleticism to finish a play. Wyoming’s other strength is that multiple guys can create shots for themselves. If you find a resource that records how many dunks each team has on the season, please let me know. Until then, I’ll claim that the Wyoming Cowboys have more dunks this season than any other NCAA squad. In the Mountain West Championship game, the Cowboys really endured the San Diego State Aztecs putting the clamp down on defense for an entire game. Nance was red hot from the start. He hit two threes in the first sequence and was solid on defense. The Cowboys held tough, hitting two free throws to seal it. Do not look at the 180+ RPI (or whatever number) and underestimate this team!
Stephen F Austin
Strength: Sharing the ball
Weakness: No rim protection
SF Austin has little rim protection (bottom third in blocked shots in its own conference). However, there are so many good things to say about this team. They lead the country with more than 17 team assists per game. They look more athletic than the team that beat VCU in last year’s tournament. 10 players get minutes. SF Austin did not have any big quality wins, losing in convincing fashion to Baylor and other. I would imagine this unit has retooled and improved over the course of the season since some of those non-con losses, because they looked well-connected in the Southland Championship. SF Austin reminds me a lot of Davidson in the way they share the ball but allow some easy baskets at the rim.I’m concerned about Bobby King’s injury. He is one of the most athletic players in a more athletic bunch.
Strength: Defensive rebounding
North Florida won the Atlantic Sun Conference, AKA the league that sent Mercer and Florida Coast toward successful NCAA Tournament appearances. North Florida is big. North Florida has so much size, it beat Purdue. The Ospreys have a 6’6″ guard who is a leading scorer in Jalen Nesbitt. Demarcus Daniels is the defensive player of the year, but scored in the post well against SC Upstate in the championship game. In fact, he single handedly won the game with 22 points off of the bench. What concerns me is that the Ospreys gave up a 12 point halftime lead at home to SC Upstate during a home-court championship game. Therefore, the Ospreys are streaky and also rank outside the top 200 on total rebounds nationwide. Despite its size, this team also takes a lot of three-pointers. North Florida shut down one of SC Upstate’s dominant scorers in their tournament win.
Strength: Defensive rebounding
Weakness: Taking care of the ball
It’s impressive to see Buffalo of the MAC rank in the top 25 nationwide in rebounding. When you watch them, some thick guys upfront like Justin Moss jump out at you. The junior from Detroit is affectionally listed at 240 pounds. Both guards are under impressive in terms of orchestrating a traditional offense. Lamonte Bearden and Shannon Evans each hover around 2 assists-per-turnover per game. With some of those huskies down low, I find myself asking for the guards to let the big dogs eat. On defense, they also have a tendency of getting lost going under picks. But, hey, Bobby Hurley is their head coach. He’s one of the best point guards to play college basketball in the modern era. I would not be surprised if the Bulls continue to massage that 175th Assist-per-game rank as a team. The good news is Bearden and Evans create their own shots at will. Buffalo is the quintessential 15 or 16 seed to cover a first half spread because a team overlooks them (as Kentucky did this season), before adjustments are made in the second half. A fellow Upstater and friend of the blog on Twitter, who is also a SUNY/Cornell graduate, challenged the idea of Buffalo being a 15 or 16 seed. I agree they likely won’t be a 16. However, I can’t see them projected as a 13. Let’s settle on 14.5 for now on March 12th. In the championship game against Central Michigan, when the Bulls got up-and-down the court, they looked like a 9 or 10 seed. Freshman Bearden is high risk, high reward with the ball, but can do a lot of shake and bake. I love the back-screen action made off the ball from the extended-wing to the rim. Rodell Wigginton had a beautiful catch on an alley-oop dunk. If the Bulls were a real estate property, the curb appeal would have a neutral crowd buying-in. I liked the flashes of what I saw in that MAC Final.
Weakness: Guarding the three point line
Mamadou Ndiaye is the biggest man in college basketball. He has some foot issues and it’s evident he has trouble getting up and down the floor in a fast paced game. That said, he had a top ten play block against Hawaii in the Big West Championship game. Ndiaye scores well of course because of his size, but he also has decent touch for a giant. I also like UC Irvine’s team surrounding Ndiaye. There are other big men to spell him. Irvine’s unit with Ndiaye on the bench represented itself well. Will Davis II is a good looking 6′ 7″ senior who leads the team in scoring. I’m putting down guarding the perimeter as the weakness. Hawaii stretched the floor and got out to a 17-7 lead immediately on IC Irvine with their 4 guard lineup. If UC Irvine wins a 14-3, 15-2 matchup, it will be no surprise. UC Irvine won six straight to finish January. It also beat fellow-bubble tournament team Green Bay in a non-conference championship game in Las Vegas.