Barring a remarkable run in the final month of the season, the Gophers will not be participating in the NCAA Tournament this March. But the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is the best weekend of the calendar year (this is fact, not an opinion). Dozens of college basketball games with teams and players trying to make themselves a household name, even if for just the weekend. Small schools from smaller conferences get their shot at knocking off schools with more established basketball pedigrees. This is going to be a series where we take a look at 22 conferences and the schools most likely to represent them in the NCAA Tournament. Consider this early bracket research to find that Cinderella team that busts everyone’s bracket...except yours.
Big South Conference
Last Year’s NCAA Participant: (13) Winthrop Eagles
Prior Years Upset Team: Winthrop beat Notre Dame as an 11-seed in the 2007 tournament. This is the only conference win other than an opening round win in Dayton.
The Big South is typically one of the lower RPI leagues and thus often is relegated to a 15 or 16 seed in the Tournament. Winthrop has dominated the league with 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, most of them coming in the first decade of the 2000’s. This year the league appears to be 16-seed once again and probably playing in Dayton leading up to the big weekend.
KenPom Rank: 137
Off Efficiency: 107.2 (141 rank)
Def Efficiency: 104.2 (148)
eFG%: 55.6% (26)
Why are the dangerous: First thing of note for the Eagles is that they have 2 starters from Minnesota. Anders and Bjorn Broman are Duluth natives who took their game down south. But the Eagles are lead by big man, Xavier Cooks who has averaged 16 points and 9 boards for the past 2 seasons. Then the Broman brothers connect from the outside, taking and making a lot of threes.
The Eagles have won 9 of their last 10 games and oddly have been swept by Liberty in their conference season and being their only 2 losses in 11 games. This team was in the Tourney last year, losing to Butler in the game directly preceding the Gophers loss to MTSU. This team has the experience and a balanced attack to be dangerous. Still not looking like a giant-killer.
KenPom Rank: 178
Off Efficiency: 105.9 (167)
Def Efficiency: 106.9 (202)
eFG%: 54.7% (39)
Why are the dangerous: After losing to Winthrop by 27 nearly a month ago the Bulldogs have rattled off 7 straight wins to solidify themselves as the #2 team in the league. They’ll sit one game back of Winthrop with a chance to avenge that January loss on the 22nd of Feb. Their 27-point loss to Winthrop makes their run to win the league and earn the automatic bid seem less likely. But have a senior laden team capable of stringing some wins together and knocking off the Eagles.
Can they in in the NCAA Tournament? As a likely 16-seed, this seems unlikely. They do have 3 seniors averaging double-digits to give this team some experience. But defensively they give up more than they are scoring, a trait not indicative of an upset team.
NCAA Tournament Outlook
Things do not appear to be lining up for the Big South to produce a “David” this season. Winthrop would likely be their best shot given they have good balance, they played in the Tournament last year and they shoot the ball fairly well.