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.
Western Athletic Conference
Last Year’s NCAA Participant: (14) New Mexico State
Prior Years Upset Team: The WAC looks a lot different than it did five years ago, but New Mexico State is still the owner of the conference. They don’t have a whole lot to show for it, though they did take San Diego State to OT as a 13-seed in 2014.
KenPom Rank: 58
Off Efficiency: 108.3 (119)
Def Efficiency: 95.2 (16)
eFG%: 52.0% (25)
Why are they dangerous: The Aggies are at it again, and this time they aren’t messing around. They’ve taken down major teams like Miami (FL) and Davidson this year, en route to lofty 27-5 record. They’re led by former Gopher Zach Lofton, who is at his fourth school in as many years of eligibility. Since he’s been around forever, he’s pretty good, averaging nearly 20 points per game and pulling down five rounds. He’s pretty much the conference’s best player. The Aggies also bring senior forward Jemerrio Jones to the table who is averaging a ridiculous 11 points and 13 rebounds per game, the latter of which is second in the nation.
KenPom Rank: 109
Off Efficiency: 102.7 (222)
Def Efficiency: 96.8 (32)
eFG%: 48.5% (276)
Why are they dangerous: The upstart Antelopes were a trendy WAC pick to start the season and scheduled a fairly difficult non-conference schedule. While they didn’t pull any upsets they took Boise State to double-OT and nearly beat Illinois on the road. Led by Joshua Braun and Alessando Lever, the ‘Lopes have a senior-freshman connection that has been giving teams problems. They’re 0-2 against NMSU this year, but took them to the wire in their most recent meeting.
NCAA Tournament Outlook
The Aggies are the WAC’s best bet for a first round upset, and would be a handful of a 12-seed for any team unlucky enough to draw them. They’re a slim chance to make the tournament without a conference tournament championship, but with a few bad losses this year they’re likely on the outside looking in without a victory tonight. If they get by GCU, however, I wouldn’t want to be the team to draw them in the first round.