Bradley beat the 7 seed in its conference to win the Missouri Valley Championship. While its win against Valpairaso was impressive, you could see the 7 seed ran out of gas in its third game in 3 days. Bradley senior Darrell Brown is the perfect point guard to run circles around you if you are on your heels. And junior forward Elijah Childs is a prolific finisher and ambidextrous. I just question if some of the athleticism they put on display during Arch Madness would look as impressive against a March Madness opponent.
East Tennessee State
Returning only 1 of 5 starters from last season, head coach Steve Forbes deserves all the credit in the world for returning ETSU to March Madness after a one year hiatus. Many people expected ETSU to be in the tourney in 2019. This version of the Buccaneers plays similarly to the other dangerous squads Forbes has overseen. They stretch the floor both by the perimeter and by the way of how they can penetrate. The Bucs shot 42% from 3PT to polish off Wofford in its championship game. But, when you watched, they also gave up some decent looks for Wofford around their perimeter. Luckily, Wofford only hit 6 of 25. The Bucs also lost the turnover battle, being victim to dig outs and surrendering 13. This is a team of runs. In its champ week win against Wofford, it came out hot leading 11-2, then got tied around half, before building a 5 or 6 possession lead early in the second half. In its most high profile game of the season, it suffered a 5:12 minute scoring drought against LSU in the first half. Then the Bucs went nuts. They finished the first half on a 16-7 run and built a 21 point cushion in the second half. (Editor’s note: LSU has been known to have defensive lapses from the perimeter itself this season). The Bucs are a team that can blow a high major team out of the gym. It’s also a team that can suffer from its streakiness. In its last lost, it jacked up 22 threes against Mercer, only hitting three in an otherwise close game (also shot 44% from FT). Buckle up for the Bucs, it will be interesting either way. Their pace of play won’t register high on analytics, in part because of its sound defensive metrics, but it can get hot and excite a neutral crowd.
For a second consecutive year, Hofstra held conference rival Northeastern’s (7th ranked in the nation) scorer Jordan Roland to 11 points in the title game. So there’s that. Hofstra plays like a street ball team. When someone gets hot, they ride the hot hand. They play four guards most of the time, and do thrive on one-on-one creation for shots. The Hofstra Pride can also get creative in the transition game. But heaven help Hofstra if Isaac Kante gets into foul trouble. The 6’7″ junior serves as their lone big man for the most part.
You will hear between now and the Thursday of March Madness dozens of times that Liberty beat Mississippi State last year as the 12 seed versus a 5 matchup. That Liberty team lost to a very good Virginia Tech squad. This year’s Liberty team is better. Caleb Homesley is a red-shirt senior who looks like the Atlantic Sun version of Tracy McGrady. He never looks like he is in a rush, but when he accelerates, it’s normally to finish with ease. Power forward Scottie James is an enforcer, Darius McGhee is a high jumper at point guard, and Elijah Cuffee is a shooting guard adding scoring contributions at the right time. This team looks like the 2005-2006 George Mason team. There will be a few of us that believe that, as an 11 or 12 seed, that this team could make a Final Four run. But those who do believe may be rewarded.
Jalen Tate is the straw that stirs the drink for the Norse. He may qualify as their third guard, but he plays like a forward in the way he can get into the paint (then operate). Northern Kentucky, and its three guards, love to shoot the three. What they lack in efficiency, they make up for in shot attempts. Conversely, they have shown some defensive lapses in both guarding the three point line and defending deep post position. This is a team that can probably get embarrassed by a bigger team, but could also upset a smaller at-large if the Norse get hot from deep. ‘
It’s tough to balance the judgement of Robert Morris after an electric, athletic, energy-filled creciendo of their season with an emphatic conference championship win at home against St. Francis PA. The Colonials share the ball really well. It’s ironic they have two brothers from Akron on the squad, given the brotherly sharing. Robert Morris runs a lot of down screens around the elbow and free throw line, getting action and open shots on the perimeter. They shoot 36% from three, which is top 50 (43rd) in the country. Junior AJ Bramah is a double-double waiting to happen. He crashes the boards for a threat on the offensive glass. This team does not look like a 16 seed.
Utah State is a team that looked like it leaped over a hurdle in its win against San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament. Big man Neemias Queta, who missed the first month of the season, was too much for the Aztecs to handle in the closing stanza of this game. And that’s really what the tournament is about. Teams take their advantage and ram it down your throat. Utah State has no shortage of heady perimeter players. Queta is the perfect compliment and the key to a deep run. 23-year-old senior guard Sam Merrill played all 40 minutes, dropped 27 points, and hit the game winning three. And its was the presence of Queta that kept the Aztecs on its heels. This experience on the perimeter and high low combo could make Utah State very dangerous.
The best thing I can say about the Winthrop Eagles is that they can take a punch. Hampton had them down 22-9 in their house after one quarter of play in the Big South Championship game. D.J. Burns is a big with girth and left-handed banger who can produce in a traditional post game. But, at 6’9″, will that size translate on a national stage in the Big Dance? Winthrop’s top scorer is another left-handed shooter, combo guard Hunter Hale.