Back in 2005, St. Joseph’s completed with the Atlantic 10’s finest report however misplaced within the convention match to George Washington and wound up within the NIT. That was the final time the A-10 acquired just one bid to the NCAA Tournament. But the way in which issues look, with simply 10 days till Selection Sunday, the A-10 could possibly be in an identical place this March.
And that’s dangerous information for VCU.
The Rams lead the convention by two video games at 14-3 and boast a 23-7 general report. But they’re simply 68th within the NET rankings, and most bracketologists don’t view them as a probable at-large group in the event that they slip up within the convention match in Brooklyn. Even our mannequin views them as a barely lesser group than Dayton (albeit the higher potential killer).
In the previous, that résumé might need been sufficient to get VCU into the NCAA tourney. But convention realignment has centralized much more tourney bids within the palms of the mighty few. It wasn’t way back that leagues such because the A-10 or American might anticipate three and even 4 groups to achieve the NCAA match. Now, they’re combating for fewer out there slots and have much less of an opportunity to show themselves. Why? Power conferences have elevated, which means they play extra league video games. Add in early-season tournaments and occasions just like the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and there’s much less incentive for these faculties to schedule their few remaining video games towards difficult mid-major applications like VCU.
“It’s the hardest part of this job, and it’s the one thing that’s changed the most,” says VCU head coach Mike Rhoades. “[Executive Director of Men’s Basketball Operations] Jimmy Martelli is in charge of that. If I showed you his notebooks – because he writes everything down – and how hard we try to get games, and even neutral games, it’s just really difficult. We’re not the only ones in this boat, so I’m not crying over spilled milk. It’s the reality. We didn’t win enough out of conference this year, but now that is drastically magnified because we don’t have as many opportunities.”
But if VCU runs the desk in Brooklyn or by some means finds its approach into an at-large bid?
VCU is not any stranger to tourney upsets and stays a patron saint of large killing due to its continued emphasis on urgent and trapping to power bundles of turnovers. The Rams rank fourth within the nation in defensive turnover charge (24.8%), the fifth 12 months in a row they’ve had a top-10 outfit and the eighth time previously 12 seasons they’ve hit that mark. And not like in Shaka Smart’s model of Havoc (when Rhoades served as an assistant coach), the stress continues even after the opponent crosses midcourt.
“I think the difference from the past to now is that when we sit down in halfcourt defense, we get turnovers,” Rhoades says. “That’s where we’re better; that’s where we’re different. Even if we don’t get steals in the backcourt, we can still get steals in the frontcourt. We’re more aggressive and more sound in the halfcourt.”
That’s a giant cause why our mannequin provides the Rams a 16.2% probability of beating a generic group seeded at the least 5 spots greater. And if latest developments are predictive of future outcomes, Slingshot could also be underselling the Rams’ probabilities. Taking (and making) numerous threes is usually a key consider producing upsets. VCU falls quick in that space of their season numbers: The Rams rank 297th nationally in 3-point frequency (33.1%) and solely make 33.7% of them. But David Shriver is altering that calculus.
The 6-foot-6 switch from Hartford has been scorching nets recently. In convention play, he’s flattening 46.8% of his threes and altering how groups defend the Rams.
“Him just being out on the court has gotten guys shots and made lanes to score even wider,” Rhoades says. “We played the last two games and guys scored layups because they’re on the same side of the court as Shrive.”
Throw in a giant, athletic frontline that relentlessly assaults the rim and a slick level guard in Ace Baldwin, and the Rams have the firepower crucial for a March shock.
They simply should get there first.
Who else is likely to be in an identical state of affairs to VCU – a natural-born killer whose convention may deny them entry into the Big Dance? Slingshot has its sights set on just a few such squads from the 12 non-major conferences that can maintain their tournaments throughout the second week in March.
Breaking down that dozen the way in which we checked out earlier tournaments, we discover one — the West Coast Conference — that nearly definitely is not going to be sending any groups to the underside half of the sector of 68 this 12 months. Our mannequin reveals two extra — the MEAC and SWAC — the place the most effective underdog has a Killer Rating of lower than 5, which means possibilities of lower than 5 p.c of beating a median match opponent seeded at the least 5 slots greater. And in one other two conferences, the most effective longshot can also be the most effective group and does have a Killer Rating of at the least 5: Iona (8.9) within the MAAC, Kent State (19.3) within the MAC. We’ve seen out of your feedback that the Golden Flashes have caught the eye of some readers; Slingshot approves.
Then there’s VCU and would-be killers from six different conferences who’ve work to do. You want these groups to root into the large dance to allow them to lay waste to bracket normalcy. We will listing them so as of their Killer Ratings:
Western Athletic Conference | Killer Rating: 30.2
Let’s cling some particulars on the thrill we’ve got already expressed in regards to the Bearkats: Sam Houston State performs at a disruptively sluggish tempo (64.5 possessions per sport, rating 324th within the nation) and offers up simply 96 adjusted factors per 100 possessions, the Twenty eighth-lowest whole within the NCAA. They’re led by senior PG Qua Grant, who excels at sneaking into passing lanes, nabs steals on 4.1 p.c of opponent possessions and sparks their transition sport. Coach Jason Hooten deploys a really deep rotation, with 10 Bearkats averaging at the least 10 minutes per sport and bench gamers accounting for 38.7% of whole taking part in time (rating 18th). That’s one cause they’ve sufficient vitality to stress opponents repeatedly whereas additionally hitting the boards at each ends (31.2% offensive rebounding proportion, rating 92nd).
As you may anticipate — and as our mannequin loves — that each one means Sam Houston State actually piles up possessions, even towards excellent opponents. In their season opener, the Bearkats had 64 field-goal makes an attempt vs. simply 43 for Oklahoma, and eked out a 1-point victory. Later in November, they hauled in 14 offensive rebounds and compelled 16 turnovers towards Utah, and, actually, once they received in Salt Lake City, it didn’t even really feel like an upset. And whereas their fleet of undersized guards don’t shoot properly from inside, they’ve a secret weapon: F Cameron Huefner leads the complete nation in 3-point capturing proportion (51.2%), and the Bearkats as a group rank eighth (39%). Sam Houston State barely cracks the highest 200 in 3PA/FGA, however a wise group can flip that right into a plus within the NCAA Tournament by extending its effectivity over extra makes an attempt when pictures matter most. We name such groups chameleons. Classic instance: Harvard vs. New Mexico in 2013.
At 12-4, Sam Houston State trails Utah Valley by one sport within the WAC, with two left for every to play. And if our mannequin might increase its arms, you’d see it waving pink flags furiously proper now. The Wolverines are solely a few factors weaker than the Bearkats in our mannequin’s primary energy scores, however they’re the worst underdog within the WAC: Utah Valley doesn’t rebound properly at both finish, or power turnovers, or shield the ball, or shoot, or make threes. Last week, they allowed 60 FGA, grabbed simply 8 of 35 missed pictures and dedicated 19 turnovers — towards Tarleton State. Uh, good luck towards UConn?
Bottom line: If you like NCAA upsets, the distinction between the No. 1 and No. 2 groups on this convention is the most important.
Conference USA | Killer Rating: 29.6
Slingshot loves itself some Grant McCasland. After all, he was the first-ever visitor on the Underdogs podcast, and totally embraces superior theories in giant-killing. After knocking off Purdue within the 2021 tourney, we by no means obtained to see an encore, because the Mean Green fell to Louisiana Tech in a disgusting 42-36 convention tourney sport final 12 months, costing them an NCAA bid.
This 12 months’s model could also be a good higher underdog, although. They examine all the primary containers that produce upsets. North Texas ranks:
-Twenty eighth within the nation in offensive rebounding (33.7%).
-71st in forcing turnovers (20.3%)
-89th in 3-point frequency (40.7% – they usually make 36.2% of them)
-363rd in adjusted tempo (58.5 possessions per sport)
In different phrases, the Mean Green maximize a small variety of possessions – the right recipe for a group that faces a expertise hole. Not that North Texas is untalented. Tylor Perry, their 5-foot-11 main scorer, is capturing 44% from three. Rubin Jones ranks 61st within the nation with a 3.7% steal charge. Abou Ousmane, at 6-foot-10, ranks forty ninth in offensive rebound charge and chips in with 11.5 factors and 1.2 blocks per sport. If Kai Huntsberry (12.3 ppg on solely 31.4% three-point capturing) can discover his stroke (he knocked down 41% of his threes final 12 months on the University of Mary), North Texas might attain one other degree.
The drawback, in fact, is that they’re not presently the most effective group in C-USA. That can be the 26-3 Florida Atlantic Owls, a powerful killer in their very own proper (22.9 ranking). The Owls can be a high quality consultant of the convention, however whereas they take greater than 44% of their pictures from 3-point vary, they don’t totally embrace a high-risk, high-reward fashion the way in which North Texas does. If solely there have been a solution to get each groups in. Alas, within the present faculty basketball panorama, that’s not an possibility.
American Athletic Conference | Killer Rating: 28.8
The basic pondering is that the AAC will get two groups into the tourney – top-ranked Houston and Memphis. Meanwhile, UCF isn’t close to the at-large dialog, sitting in seventh place within the convention (16-12, 7-9). But bizarre issues occur in convention tournaments, and maybe Johnny Dawkins’ squad is able to make an unlikely run. Slingshot definitely thinks they’ve the instruments to take action.
Much like North Texas, the Knights play as if an AI program run by Slingshot created them. They rank twenty seventh nationally in forcing turnovers, twenty second in offensive rebounding and 58th in 3-point frequency. Of course, additionally they flip the ball over a ton (19.8%) and quit offensive rebounds (31.3% opponent charge). That’s why they’ve misplaced 12 video games. But right here at Bracket Breaker Central, we’re within the upside, so we’ll preserve an in depth eye on these Knights ought to they run on the Ford Center.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Mountain West Conference | Killer Rating: 23.2
Speaking of groups that must make an unlikely convention tourney run to achieve the Big Dance, we provide you with UNLV. The Rebels are simply 6-10 within the Mountain West, however like UCF, they’re geared to beat extra gifted groups (or lose by 30 to them). That’s the great thing about a high-risk, high-reward system.
UNLV wins by forcing turnovers. Its 25.3% charge ranks third within the nation, led by guards Luis Rodriguez and Keshon Gilbert (1.9 steals per sport every). In a one-and-done situation, that’s the kind of group that may rattle a heavy favourite. Of course, UNLV does hand over a 31.4% offensive rebounding charge to opponents and solely shoots 33.8% from past the arc. But should you’re in search of a enjoyable angle (and an unlikely story) to observe within the Mountain West, try UNLV.
Ivy League | Killer Rating: 20.4
We fell in love with Cornell early right here at Bracket Breaker Central. The Big Red obtained off to a 14-4 begin this season, effectively demolishing one opponent after one other, albeit on the degree of Lehigh and Monmouth. The Big Red take a whopping 47.9% of their pictures from downtown (sixth-most within the nation), and we couldn’t assist however consider the sharpshooting 2010 squad that went 29-5 and beat two giants within the NCAA match.
But Ivy League foes couldn’t deal with that group, whereas it is likely to be a wee understatement to say the convention has discovered the best way to dismantle Cornell this season. This month, opponents have shot over 60% from inside and practically 40% from outdoors towards them! Our mannequin doesn’t look too deeply at assists, however over the identical stretch, convention foes have assists on virtually two-thirds of their area objectives. Teams are simply transferring the ball round on Cornell at will, which was particularly evident within the spankings they only obtained from Harvard and Yale.
The Big Red do take sufficient threes to make any large nervous in a one-and-done situation. But successful any convention match turns into a really tall order should you permit an efficient objective proportion of 55.6% — solely seven D-I groups are worse.
Big West Conference | Killer Rating: 6.5
UCSB’s decent-but-not-special stat strains pretty characterize the Gauchos’ expertise degree and their longshot odds. Slingshot pegs them because the 116th-best group within the nation and the 111th-best underdog.
They’re nonetheless the Big West’s finest guess on the Big Dance as a result of rival UC Irvine has collapsed in our Killer Ratings over the previous 4 years. Specifically, the Anteaters rank 221st within the nation in offensive rebounding, seizing 27.4% of their very own missed pictures, persevering with a slide that started in 2021. And we’re fairly certain we all know why.
In 2016, UC Irvine received 28 video games however ranked simply 195th in OR%. Then coach Russell Turner employed a specific assistant, and the Anteaters’ offensive rebounding proportion jumped from 29% to 31.9% to 32.3% to 33.7% to 34.1%. The Anteaters received the Big West, pulled a 13-4 upset towards Kansas State in 2019, and led the convention once more within the pandemic 12 months of 2020. Then the assistant stepped right down to have ankle and knee surgical procedure, and the group’s numbers on the offensive boards have fallen yearly.
This wizard of glass? That’s proper: Blaine Taylor, who we’ve got been writing about perpetually however in all probability received’t have the prospect to salute once more. From 2001 to 2013, Taylor coached groups at Old Dominion whose work on the boards was simply staggering. In 2010, his Monarchs led the nation in offensive rebounding and scored a memorable giant-killing towards Notre Dame within the NCAA Tournament. In 2011, Old Dominion had the Sixty fourth-best offense within the nation regardless that they ranked two hundredth in eFG% — as a result of they grabbed an eye-popping 44.9% (!) of their very own missed pictures.
Last week, reader Daniel G. requested a very good query: “If you win a mid-major league primarily by overwhelming less athletic teams on the boards, can you still expect to rely on offensive rebounding variance to help you pull off an upset against the big boys?” The reply can be no if offensive rebounding had been solely about dimension and energy. But it seems it’s additionally about sensible positioning and arduous work. Longshots often should take extra dangers than literal giants to safe themselves additional possessions, however once they succeed, historical past reveals they develop into NCAA Tournament threats. Blaine Taylor proved that within the CAA, then once more within the Big West.
Taylor had issues with alcohol, and his tenure at Old Dominion ended disastrously. After his profitable comeback with the Anteaters, he returned to ODU as a fundraiser for the athletic program. We want him properly. And we will’t actually blame UC Irvine for letting him depart. But Slingshot certain does discover that he’s lacking. The significance of offensive rebounding, to turnarounds and giant-killing, notable in Taylor’s presence in addition to his absence, ought to be his on-court legacy.
(Top picture of VCU’s Nick Kern Jr: Erica Denhoff / Icon Sportswire through Getty Images)