Written By Billy Attridge
After last weeks Bracket Watch 2020 article, we’re back with the second iteration as we inch closer to the 15th and the ball dropping for March Madness. There’s no better way to acknowledge this special time than analyzing all the “Bracketologists” out there yelling from the heavens that TEAM A is in a “must win” situation, TEAM B isn’t deserving, and there’s no way TEAM C has enough “Tier 1” wins to be included! “Tier 1” wins ?? Chuckle. Seems like a faulty measure when “Tier 1” opportunities are common place for major programs but few and far between for the mid-majors, no? Looking specifically at ESPN’s most recent projected bracket, we’ll point out two teams that are currently seeded wrong, one team that’s projected to be in that we feel is undeserving – and we’ll also acknowledge a team that should be included that somehow finds itself on the outside looking in. We shift our focus by taking a glance at the meaningful games on the board ahead this week that will impact the field of 68, as well. Let’s get started…
Seeded too Low: (6) Ohio State Buckeyes
No bigger disparity right now between my power ratings and the current seeding of THE Ohio State Buckeyes. Ohio State ranks Top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, all while playing an incredibly difficult schedule (20th). According to our metrics, there’s only 3 teams in all the land that rank Top 20 in those 3 categories: Kansas, Michigan State, and Ohio State. The Buckeyes shoot the 3-ball well; knocking down 37.8% behind the arc, good for 17th in the country. Led by their talented slew of big men that include the Wesson brothers, Kyle Young (please get healthy) and freshman EJ Liddell, Ohio State has been great on the glass, specifically on defense, where they rank 25th nationally and 1st in the BIG 10 in defensive rebound %. The backcourt has been more than serviceable with CJ Walker and Luther Muhammad pulling the strings, despite losing their stud freshman point guard D.J. Carton midway through the season. OSU took down Cincinnati, Villanova, UNC, Penn State, and Kentucky in their first 12 games, hit a couple road bumps while transitioning through injuries, but has really come on strong over the past month beating Michigan (2x) and Maryland. We’re big fans of Head Coach Chris Holtmann, as his teams tend to improve defensively throughout the season. At the end of the day, everything with the Buckeyes runs through big man Kaleb Wesson, who has added the 3-point shot to his arsenal this season. Wesson has increased his 3-point shot output 10.7% year-over-year, and his hit rate has increased 9% to where Kaleb is shooting 43% from deep. As of this morning, we have Ohio State power rated 9th in the country. With a big game on deck against Illinois at home, a win could catapult this team into the 4-seed area, which is much closer (still short) to where we have them.
Seeded too High: (5) Auburn Tigers
Auburn has exceeded expectation after their Final Four squad from last season was all but gutted. Freshman Isaac Okoro has been tremendous on the offensive end, and Seniors Doughty, McCormick, Purifoy, and Wiley have stepped up admirably in the wake of the talent rich class exiting. All that said, there are some glaring concerns for the Tigers and it starts on the offensive end of the floor. Bruce Pearl loves to run, gun, and chuck; that style carried Auburn last season. The Tigers still shoot plenty of 3’s (44th in the country in attempts) but they really struggle to hit shots consistently (313th in the country from 3 at 29.9%). Some would call for positive regression from beyond the arc, but the Tigers struggle mightily at the free-throw line as well, shooting just 67% for the season (294th in the country). Auburn is the 4th luckiest team in the country right now, going 5-0 in all of their overtime games this season. They are 3-5 on the road in the SEC, and have only ONE win over a current Top 30 team, which was their home victory against Kentucky at the beginning of February and they trailed with 5 minutes to go. While I’ve been impressed with what Bruce Pearl and company has done this season, based on my power ratings I would have Auburn closer to a 10-seed.
Currently In, but really?: (10) Arizona State Sun Devils
I’m not here to pick on the Pac-12, and I fully admit for this portion I am getting a little petty. Arizona State is a solid team with a fun point guard in Remy Martin, and his trusty wing-man Alonzo Verge. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, things can change quickly in the college basketball landscape, and two road losses to UCLA and USC have now forced me to feature them in this section. ESPN has ASU as a 10-seed, but the one thing that they’re missing for me, is that quality road/neutral court win. Their best win away from home is against a Stanford team that was missing its best player, Oscar da Silva. Colorado beat them by double-digits on a neutral and Virginia held them to 45 on a neutral. St. Mary’s annihilated them by 40 on a semi-home court, as well. Despite the flashy names on the offensive end, that is where ASU has floundered at times, with an overall efficiency that ranks north of 120th in the country. 33% of Arizona State’s shot attempts come in transition, so if you can force them into the half court things get dicey for the Sun Devils. That’s mostly due to an undersized front court, with no significant player over 6’8, and it shows in their rebounding metrics, which rank in the bottom half on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Arizona State cannot afford to drop either of their last two games this season, both at home against the Washington schools. At this very moment, we have Arizona State power rated 63rd in the country, placing Stanford, USC, and even Washington ahead of the Sun Devils.
Outside looking in, but Deserving: Richmond Spiders
The Spiders! After pasting Davidson by 17 last night as 5.5-point chalk, Richmond continues to make a strong case that they belong in the field as an at-large team. Richmond plays analytically sound basketball; shooting and defending the 3-ball extremely well, as they rank Top 45 in both 3-point % offense and defense. They’re fundamentally sound and don’t beat themselves, turning the ball over only 15.5% of the time on offense, good enough for 16th in the country. Another plus for Spiders is the experience they bring to the court; all 5 starters are upperclassmen AND shoot north of 70% from the charity stripe. Where Richmond tends to struggle is defending on the interior; opponents are making nearly 62% of their rim shots, as the Spiders lack a true rim protector blocking less than 8% of attempts in the paint. Even though we have Richmond power rated 45th, it’s clear Richmond needs to win their regular season finale at Duquesne to appease “Bracketologists” or it seems (unfortunately) a finals appearance in the Atlantic 10 tournament would be necessary to make the field.
Pivotal games to watch this week:
Tonight: Xavier @ Providence – If you fancy yourself an old school Big East basketball guy, you’ll want to tune in for this “Bubble Battle”.
Friday: Richmond @ Duquesne – In what should open Richmond -1, the Spiders need to show the committee they are worthy of an at-large bid. Prove us right!
Saturday: Wisconsin @ Indiana – Wisconsin might be the hottest team in college hoops right now, while Indiana is in “must win” mode from here on out. The opening line FoxBet.com oddsmakers use will be quite telling.