Muscala does it all for Bucknell. (Credit: Marc Hagemeier)
What is so special about a Cinderella story? Is it the general perception that people are obsessed with upsets? What about the notion that smaller schools (and thus, lesser opportunities for scholarships) have the ability to captivate an audience more-so than a larger, boring school? The great thing about the NCAA Tournament is that a team can be tougher on the glass, have better shooters, and its head coach can make more money, but all the underdog needs to pull out a victory… Is a little bit of magic.
March Madness is a time for reading up on stats (RPI, Strength of Schedule, etc.) that are irrelevant any other time of year, calling in sick to work, and correctly predicting the upsets of the NCAA Tournament. We brag to our friends about how “we called it” when #14 Morehead State (led by Kenneth Faried) upsets #3 Louisville in the first round or VCU makes an unpredictable run to the Final Four. When March rolls around, we will give you some helpful tips to intelligently fill out your bracket, but for now, this week of Stats Slant will give you some insight on which teams could be wearing Cinderella’s slipper deep into the tourney… Enjoy.
Creighton (17-2) Current RPI: 24 Record vs. RPI top 100: 9-2 Likely seeding: 3-4
Assuming Gonzaga is no longer a part of the “mid-majors” classification, the Blue Jays are this year’s cream of the crop. With a true National POY candidate in Doug McDermott and a team deadly from long range (1st in the nation in 3-pt makes per game – 9.6 – and 3-pt FG% – 45.2%), Creighton has a team built for March success. Looking ahead, they will likely finish the season something like 29-4, but they will have five quality wins (Wisconsin, Arizona State, @Cal, St. Joe’s, @Nebraska), which will help boost their RPI. A key game for the Jays, as far as seeding is concerned, will be March 2nd (last regular season game before the MVC Tournament) as they host Wichita State, looking to avenge their loss to the Shockers from this past weekend. That game could be the difference between a three or a four seed for Greg McDermott and company.
VCU (16-3) Current RPI: 31 Record vs. RPI top 100: 6-3 Likely seeding: 5-6
Weber is the A10′s best thief. (Credit: VCU Athletics)
The Rams are in the top-20 as a team in assists per game (16.5) and points per game (79.3). They struggle a bit on the glass (currently 109th overall), but Shaka Smart’s team is deep… Very deep. They have 11 guys who average over eight minutes per game! How’s that for depth? One cause for concern is their main distributor (Darius Theus – 4.9 APG) doesn’t do a lot of scoring (6.6 PPG). Typically teams who go far in the tourney have guards who can score in bunches and get easy baskets when their team needs it. This year’s Rams team relies on team defense and the shooting of Troy Daniels, who makes nearly four 3-pt FG’s per game!
Wichita State (17-2) Current RPI: 15 Record vs. RPI top 100: 6-2 Likely Seeding: 6
After their hard-fought win over Creighton this weekend, the Shockers have proven they are for real. They now have two solid wins on their resume (Creighton and @VCU), but two road losses (@Tennessee and @Evansville) are somewhat concerning. They are ultra-deep as well, as 11 players average 10+ minutes per game. It’s becoming well documented how tough it is for a road team to get a win inside Charles Koch Arena (have now won 17-straight at home), but can they play just as well on a neutral court? That remains to be seen, but with neutral-court victories over Iowa, DePaul, and Southern Miss, there’s reason for optimism surrounding 49-year old head coach, Gregg Marshall and his squad.
Bucknell (16-3) Current RPI: 48 Record vs. RPI top 100: 2-1 Likely seeding: 11-12
We saved the ultimate darling for last. All three Bison losses have come on the road (Penn State, Princeton, and Missouri), but with only two RPI top 100 wins, why are they so intriguing? That’s simple… Mike Muscala. The 6-foot 11 senior is having an outstanding year (20.1 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, and 2.7 BPG) and can take over a game in crunch time. He has scored in double-figures in every game this season as his 54.3% from the field and career 82% from the FT line make him very tough to guard. With C.J. McCollum out until at least early March for Lehigh with a broken bone in his foot, the Patriot League is Bucknell’s to lose. They don’t do anything particularly well on either side of the ball, but in March, you don’t need to do anything well, you just have to have a little bit of magic.
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