"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Bracketology: Bracket Dreams (and Nightmares)


Cracked Sidewalks identified Vermont as a 2023 Dream Matchup

Photo by Michael Conroy | AP Photo

Bids have been awarded, Championship Week is in full swing, and Selection Sunday is just days away. Before we get there, we are going to turn to the bracket and look at some teams Marquette might see on the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament to try to determine dream matchups that could pave the way to a Sweet 16 and nightmare scenarios that could lead to an early exit. As Marquette is virtually locked into a 2-seed or 3-seed, we are going to pick a dream and nightmare scenario from each of the six lines they could see facing them next week.

First Round - The teams that can give Marquette trouble are experienced teams that have high-major players, can slow the pace and make up for the talent gap with three-point shooting, and defend the pick and roll well. Do those things well and we don't want to see them, do those things poorly and it plays right into Marquette's hands.

14-Seed Dream - Charleston Cougars: This is the exact kind of team Marquette would want to see. They play an up-tempo style but are mediocre (#133) long-range shooting team. Charleston doesn't have any prominent high-major down-transfers and rank #219 in experience. Finally, their pick and roll defense is #197 nationally, which Marquette can exploit.

14-Seed Nightmare - Akron Zips: The Zips check almost all of the Cinderella criteria. They are ranked #32 in pick and roll defense, are #22 nationally in experience, and feature a trio of high-major down transfers in Ali Ali, Sammy Hunter, and Shammah Scott. They slow the tempo at #300 in pace and though they aren't great three point shooters (#238 nationally) overall, they have ten games over 40% as a team and are #32 in 2PFG% so the potential for big offensive output is there. Finally, head coach John Groce is no stranger to Cinderella's slipper as he took Ohio to the Sweet 16 in 2012.

Butler to Akron transfer Ali Ali challenges Tyler Kolek

Photo from IndyStar.com

15-Seed Dream - Colgate Raiders:  The past few years, Matt Langel's Raiders have had all the makings of a trendy upset pick, with great three point shooting and tons of experience. But while Langel's past four tourney teams averaged a 58.5 offensive rank while being top-10 in 3PFG% every year, this team is at #209 and #85. They defend the pick and roll decently at #58, but don't have the experience (#150) or high-major down transfers to really be an upset threat. The name might get some people to pick them, but their game isn't nearly as good as recent Raider teams.

15-Seed Nightmare - Morehead State Eagles: Late results scrubbed Morehead up to the 14-line, but if there's a 14 or 15 can pull an upset in 2024 this is the team I expect to do it. The Eagles are #33 in pick and roll defense, slow the pace at #336 nationally, and are effective from deep at #106 in 3PFG%. They are middle of the road (#163) in experience but have legitimate talent in Xavier transfer Dieonte Miles and former top-100 recruit Jordan Lathon, who scored 26 points as a freshman for UTEP all the way back in December 2018 against Marquette at Fiserv Forum. This is a dangerous, dangerous team.

Second Round - In the second round, the teams tend to have less of a talent disparity. While it's still worth looking at pick and roll defense, pace, and three-point shooting, at the other end of the spectrum it's the NBA caliber talent and teams with elite offenses or defenses that are worrisome, and the teams without those things that tend to provide less resistance.

6-Seed Dream - Utah State Aggies: Since 2019, the Mountain West has earned 12 NCAA bids. With the exception of last year's San Diego State team that went to the Championship Game, the other 11 teams to earn a bid in the last 5 years went 0-11 in NCAA Tournament games. On top of that history, Utah State is #109 in pick and roll defense, doesn't slow the pace (#114), and doesn't shoot the three well (#252). Utah State isn't bad offensively (#38) or defensively (#51) but aren't elite on either end either. Without any difference-making NBA talents, this team may not make the second round and doesn't look likely to break the non-Aztec Mountain West curse.

6-Seed Nightmare - Dayton Flyers: Anybody but Dayton is my mantra on Selection Sunday. This team is everything Marquette doesn't want to see. They are #4 nationally in pick and roll defense, slow the pace at #338, and are lights out from deep, ranking #3 in 3PFG%. Dayton is borderline elite on offense, ranking #17 in adjusted efficiency per kenpom. They are built around Daron Holmes, a projected NBA Draft pick that is #3 in kenpom's Player of the Year ranking. Dayton hasn't proven themselves against the big boys, but like 2019 Murray State, everything they do is everything you don't want to see.

7-Seed Dream - Washington State Cougars: They are poor (#231) at pick and roll defense and are adequate but not elite on offense (#54) or defense (#30). The Cougars do slow the pace at #313 but don't have the shooting to truly take advantage (#150). Wazzu also doesn't have anyone who stands out as a next level talent. This is a decent team that likely won't embarrass themselves in March, but also aren't likely to make a deep run.

7-Seed Nightmare - St. Mary's Gaels: It isn't just the #24 pick and roll defense or the #15 overall defense, but what really stands out is their shot volume difference. The Gaels take 17.6 more shots per 100 possessions than their opponents because they are dominant on the glass on both ends (#3 Offensive Rebounding Rate/#2 Defensive Rebounding Rate). While NBA talent isn't there, this is a team that is big, long, and physical across the front line with dominant glass eaters. Offensively, they aren't elite (#46) but they slow the pace (#358) and are a solid shooting team (#95). Finally, this team is 23-2 since December 5, so they know how and expect to win.

Tyson Walker & Michigan State were Marquette's nightmare last year
 Photo by Andy Lyons | Getty Images

10-Seed Dream - Drake Bulldogs: Drake has a relatively efficient offense at #36 nationally, but is mediocre defensively (#78) and terrible guarding the pick and roll (#291). They do shoot the three well, but they also are willing to play up-tempo, and against high-major teams that is often a recipe for trouble because the more possessions you play the more likely the metrically superior team wins, especially when there's no next level talent on the roster.

10-Seed Nightmare - Michigan State Spartans: Haven't we lived this nightmare before? Top-100 pick and roll defense, #11 overall defense, and guys that will at least sniff the NBA if not make it outright in Tyson Walker, A.J. Hoggard, and Malik Hall. Add in a very good to excellent shooting team (#67, but #13 since December 1st) that slows the pace (#304) and you have a team that is built to give a higher seed problems. Add in how good Tom Izzo is on the second game of an NCAA weekend (24-7 in his career) and you have a recipe for disaster.

11-Seed Dream - Indiana State Sycamores: They have some great college players in Robbie Avila and Isaiah Swope, as well as a great story, but this isn't a team that should scare the big boys much. They do shoot well (#11 nationally) and have a potent offense (#20), but turn it over a bit too much for comfort against pressure (#152) which is an area Marquette could exploit. Their defense is porous (#98) and they don't defend pick and roll well (#216). The Sycamores dropped their only two games against high major opponents (Alabama, Michigan State) by double-digits and while they could get lucky in an up-tempo shooting contest, there are too many warts to consider them a strong second weekend threat.

11-Seed Nightmare - Colorado Buffaloes: At a glance, there are areas to exploit. They have a poor defense (#62) and worse pick and roll defense (#277). But at the other end, they are top-20 in offense and are the #5 three-point shooting team in the country. Further, they have three players who project to be NBA Draft picks in K.J. Simpson, Tristan Da Silva, and Cody Williams. Despite erratic early season play, they have found consistency in their current six-game winning streak. On raw talent alone, this team will be a handful for any first weekend opponent.

Multibid Leagues

Big 12: 9

SEC: 8

Big 10: 6

Mountain West: 6

Big East: 5

ACC: 4

Pac-12: 3

West Coast: 2

Missouri Valley: 2

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