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 24 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.
Last Year’s NCAA Participant: Mount Saint Mary’s
Prior Years Upset Team: The NEC has had a terrible time in the NCAA Tournament, and have yet to notch a “real” win to date. Robert Morris is the closest they’ve come, taking Villanova to OT in 2015 as a 15-seed before falling by three.
KenPom Rank: 147
Off Efficiency: 103.6 (206)
Def Efficiency: 101.5 (93)
eFG%: 50.4% (186)
Why are they dangerous: The surprising Seahawks are on a roll this year and are the unquestioned kings of the conference right now. Behind senior guard JoJo Cooper and a stifling defense, Wagner is looking like the team to beat.
Mount St. Mary’s
KenPom Rank: 240
Off Efficiency: 104.1 (198)
Def Efficiency: 111.2 (283)
eFG%: 54.3% (52)
Why are they dangerous: The Mount has become something of a powerhouse in the NEC, and are on a nice five-year run. They have the conference’s best player in Junior Robinson, which is nothing to scoff at. So you’ve got to give them the edge when it comes to experience. They’ve been anything but adequate on defense, however, which could be their undoing.
NCAA Tournament Outlook
It’s Wagner’s bid to lose at this point, but don’t expect any fireworks in the opening round of the tournament. The NEC is slotted for a 16 seed this year.