That the entire season will come down to a week in Frisco, TX is a bit harsh for some teams with grander aspirations. For those hoping for a second chance, this tournament represents opportunity.
For those unfamiliar with the roles in this little drama, we can cast the roles:
Best Team: Old Dominion
A good tournament for ODU will be winning said tournament and moving on in healthy fashion. Anything less will be more than a little disappointing.
Most Talented Team: WKU
Charles Bassey is great and he can single-handedly win a game with his superb talent. The entire roster is filled with dudes that can change the game due to their multi-star level talent. They are favorites to win this but they are not as experienced together.
Most Fun: UTSA
No doubt that Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace are exciting and can win a neutral arena to their cause with their dynamism and shot-making.
Dark Horse: Marshall
The reigning champs have John Elmore and CJ Burks to make noise in this one. They can beat anyone but the team overall has been struggling to defend.
Sneaky Insider Pick: Southern Miss
I tweeted this above list before KenPom tweeted that USM has the best chance of winning the league.
Louisiana Tech can play. DaQuan Bracey is fearless and this team is more talented than most realize. They can beat anyone and play really good defense. It is hard to see them winning the tournament given their bracket — they face a tough FAU and then play a rested ODU. That scenario (beating a tough team and playing ODU) is the same one we saw them face last season.
UAB has a relatively easy first matchup with Middle but they did lose to Middle twice this season. UAB is good, but not really good and that means we do not know what to expect from this squad. They would face UTSA in the next round.
FIU should beat UNT again, although this game is a de facto “home” game for North Texas given the location — just a short drive from Denton, TX. UNT has been struggling for a month and evne if they have a one-game turn-around there is little reason to think they can make major noise in this tournament. WKU awaits the winner.
WKU lost to FIU and beat NT in a close game this season.
Marshall and Rice should be fun and this is probably most casual’s upset pick. Rice has been playing well, but they are not as experienced as Marshall. The Herd going out here would be sad for all our storylines but would not be shocking. USM awaits the winner here. USM destroyed Marshall in Hattiesburg but lost to Rice in Houston.
Quick Numbers to Help You
All numbers via Kenpom.
The best offense in this league is … Southern Miss. They shoot the best (54.9 eFG%) and score at 41% from three. They also play some nice, mid-tier defense.
The best defense is … North Texas. Whatever you think of that offense, they can stop people. They force turnovers (19.1% 3rd) and get rebounds. They just cant score.
Both ODU and USM play slowly, relative to the conference. Throw in UAB — the fifth seed — who ranks slowest in tempo, and you can say the most deliberate teams in this league are it’s best. Louisiana Tech has the fourth-slowest tempo and also the fourth-best Adjusted efficiency.
Non-Exhaustive List of Guys To Watch
You do not have to know everyone in this league but here is a quick primer of some guys you might not want to miss play this week:
DaQuan Bracey — Louisiana Tech.
He’s short, fast, has handles, and is left-handed. Also, he has a knack for getting big buckets amongst the trees when the clock is ticking down and the pressure is on. He is a classic college basketball baller.
Jhivvan Jackson/Keaton Wallace — UTSA
Everyone will be telling you to watch these two, but you should. Jackson is small, Trae Young-like (without the passing) and can shoot from anywhere. He has gotten big buckets inside and mostly outside with no fear.
Wallace has been balling also, with the same kind of range with a little more size. Also, he is a lefty and that always makes things more exciting (for some reason).
Charles Bassey — Western Kentucky
He is a giant, and is really good. Kenpom’s comparisons for him are a list of NBA dudes (Derrick Favors, Willie Cauley-Stein, Jarrett Allen, Chris Bosh) because he has NBA-talent.
Josh Anderson — WKU
Ryan Woolridge — North Texas
He is a little hurt so this might not be do-able. When he is on, he can get to the rim at will because of his speed. The thing is that he can score there with both hands.
Jon Elmore — Marshall
You saw him in last year’s CUSA Tourney, and then the NCAA tournament. He can score from anywhere and has ice in his veins.
Handicapping the Bracket
Kenpom already did this, so we will give you our reasoning here.
Tech vs FAU — Tech wins this, the more talented team.
UAB vs Middle — UAB wins this, although it will be close.
FIU vs UNT — FIU wins this but NT makes a run late
Marshall v Rice — Marshall in a close one.
ODU vs Tech — ODU is too much for Tech, who struggles on the road.
UTSA vs UAB — UAB beats UTSA because UAB can defend and UTSA’s luck runs out
WKU vs FIU — Western rolls
USM vs Marshall — USM blows out Marshall once again
ODU vs UAB — ODU beats UAB in a close one
WKU vs USM — WKU escapes in a game they probably should lose
ODU vs WKU — ODU squeaks past WKU in a classic.
Edit: Fixed the mistake where I had “USM” instead of “WKU” even though I picked WKU in the semis.