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NCAA Tournament Bracket Research: Looking at the Horizon League

It’s Northern Kentucky and Wright State in a two-horse race.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Kentucky at Texas A&M C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Horizon League

Last Year’s NCAA Participant: (15) Northern Kentucky
Prior Years Upset Team: Remember the Butler Bulldogs? They made quite a bit of noise in 2010 and 2011 as a Horizon team, reaching the championship game in consecutive seasons on the shoulders of Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack. Of course, now they’ve flown the coop, and are the Big East. Former Horizon darling Valparaiso is also gone, elevated to the Missouri Valley.

Northern Kentucky Norse

KenPom Rank: 84
Off Efficiency: 108.5 (116)
Def Efficiency: 99.8 (68)
eFG%: 54.7% (42)

Why are they dangerous: The Norse started their eligible D-I era off well last year, making the NCAA Tournament on their first try and giving #2-seed Kentucky a minor scare in their opening round game. They didn’t win, but sent a message that they’re just getting started. They got two of the conference’s best players on their team, including junior forward Drew McDonald and senior guard Lavone Holland II. McDonald has been dropping double doubles all year, while Holland has poured in 14 points and more than four assists per game. What’s more, NKU returned four starters from last year’s squad. That type of experience could make them a dangerous 15-seed.

Wright State Raiders

KenPom Rank: 145
Off Efficiency: 100.5 (257)
Def Efficiency: 98.4 (47)
eFG%: 49.0% (258)

Why are they dangerous: The Raiders have one of the better defenses in the nation, surprisingly enough, and have gotten a tremendous performance from freshman phenom Loudon Love, who is already one of the better players in the conference. Love pours in nearly 13 ppg and almost 10 boards. What’s more? The Raiders took down Northern Kentucky in both meetings this season, which could mean fireworks in the conference tournament.

NCAA Tournament Outlook

Neither NKU or Wright State strike a whole lot of fear in the opposition, though the Norse did take Texas A&M to the wire in a true road game in December. Their veteran leadership and relative experience make them the biggest threat coming out of the Horizon. Never mess with a mid-major that has senior leadership and has been there before.