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Looking over the Tournament’s East Region

Picture 3Now that the die has been cast and we know Marquette has a date with Davidson Thursday afternoon, it is time to do what they tell you never to do as a player and peek ahead at what the Golden Eagles might face should they advance.

Drawn as a No. 3 seed into the East Region, Marquette was given a rather favorable draw to get into the Sweet 16, though the road to the Final Four has plenty of obstacles. Yes, Davidson has been a trendy pick for national pundits, with SI’s Pete Thamel and CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander calling for the upset mere hours after the bracket was unveiled, but we will have plenty more on that matchup this week. For now, we will focus on the big picture.

The first thing that stands out is the potential match-up with Tom Crean and No. 1 seed Indiana in the Elite 8. Plenty of outcomes have to happen before that could come into fruition, but when looking at the big picture, there is no juicier storyline for Marquette than having to play its former coach for a shot at the Final Four.

Before we get ahead of ourselves again though, let’s look at the Lexington pod and the corresponding Austin pod for a glimpse of what the Golden Eagles will be up against.

Picture 4The chart above organizes the teams in the bottom portion of the East bracket and provides a bit of extra data besides simple seed line.

Should Marquette slay Davidson, it will be taking on the winner of Butler, an at large selection, and Bucknell, Patriot League champions. All MU fans will be fully familiar with the Bulldogs, seeing as Rotnei Clark’s game-winning heave from the Maui Invitational has been featured in every commercial for the Watch ESPN app all season. While Butler did get the W in that meeting, it has been on a bit of a slide in the second half of the season, finishing 10-6 after starting out 16-2 (with wins over two first seeds in Indiana and Gonzaga). This Butler team doesn’t resemble the one that reached back-to-back title games in 2010 and 2011, but it would surprise no one to have them reach the Sweet 16 yet again.

While a rematch with the future conference member may be tasty, it would not be wise to chalk up Butler and Bucknell to, well, chalk. The Bison didn’t have nearly the amount of top-100 RPI wins as the Bulldogs –winning only three compared to Butler’s 10– but some advanced metrics like KenPom show the difference between the two is not that great. Bucknell’s two victories over Tournament teams came against LaSalle and New Mexico State, neither of which stands out much.

Going down a bit further in the bracket, Miami is the clear favorite to advance out of the Austin pod for a potential Sweet 16 bout. The Canes had been in line for a No. 1 seed for much of the season before losing three of its final five regular season games, with two awful losses at Wake Forest and at home to Georgia Tech. However, the ship may have been righted, as Miami won the ACC Tournament on top of its regular season title.

Gunning for the upsets will be Pacific, Illinois and Colorado. Pacific is a long shot whose sole victory over a Tourney team came in November against St. Mary’s. Don’t expect a repeat of Norfolk State and Missouri from this one.

Illinois and Colorado pose much more formidable threats, though none that will keep Miami fans up at night. The Illini are as up and down as it gets, capable of knocking off the No. 1 team in the country one night and losing to Northwestern another. They are very reliant on the 3-pointer and Brandon Paul, a volatile mix with such a small sample size. The Buffs are similar in that they are not consistent,  failing to rattle off three straight wins since the end of November. Again, the Canes should have more than enough to get by.

At the top of the Region, Syracuse (4) and Indiana are on a collision course to the Sweet 16. Temple (9) and NC State (8) are two teams who don’t gum up games, the type of team that gives Indiana fits, and as such would have trouble pulling off the upset.

UNLV (5) isn’t close to deserving its seed and Cal (12) comes in losers of two straight, to poor teams I might add. Should Syracuse get past a pesky Montana (13) team that didn’t beat one tournament team all season, it would be heavily favored to advance for a date with the Hoosiers.  The Syracuse zone may pose some problems for an up-tempo team like Indiana, but barring a barrage of Southerland threes a la Big East Tournament, the Hoosiers would be favored to advance.

Looking at some outside opinions, the New York Time’s political statistician and rumored wizard Nate Silver weighed in on the East Region and found that Indiana is a heavy favorite to reach Atlanta.

All in all, Marquette has to be satisfied with it’s draw to get to the Final Four. There are no gimme games, yet there is no team that would be a double-digit favorite against the Golden Eagles. Buzz Williams will tell you he’s only worried about Davidson yesterday, today and tomorrow, but should his squad take care of business, the road to Atlanta is bared out before them.

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