With the calendar switching from 2015 to 2016, the college basketball world is shifting its focus to conference play and all teams have the same goal in mind: advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
For the smaller programs, a strong performance in conference play is much more important to them achieving their goal as opposed to power conference programs. Power conferences get multiple bids in the tournament, creating a ton of intrigue as to what teams make it in and what ones do not. Selection Sunday is always a hot topic, as several teams find themselves on the bubble, anxiously awaiting their post-season fate. Some will find their name on a line in the NCAA Tournament bracket, while others will make their way to the NIT.
With the New Year under way, College Court Report’s own Maverick and Bennett offer their first Bracketology of what their Field of 64 could look like. As conference play moves along, we will expand to a field of 68 teams, complete with opening round match-ups. We will be doing a weekly Bracketology report every Saturday night for the latest rankings!
Below, take a look at both sets of predictions, and let us know what you think!
We will be doing a 2016 March Madness Challenge on College Court Report; stay tuned for more details as the tournament approaches!
Maverick’s Bracket Notes
- The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks first made the NCAA Tournament back in 1987, but they endured a lengthy drought until they burst back onto the scene in 2014. With back-to-back appearances under their belts, the Lumberjacks have emerged as one of the top mid-major programs in the country. Their 77-75 win over VCU in overtime in the opening round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament will go down as one of the better games in recent memory.
- The NCAA Tournament hasn’t been too kind to the Oregon State Beavers in recent years, having been without an appearance since 1990. From 1985-1990, the Beavers made four appearances in the NCAA Tournament, failing to make it out of the Round of 64 in each of those years.
- Since the year 2000, the Xavier Musketeers have made the NCAA Tournament 13 times. However, they have never made it past the Elite 8 in that time frame. They have never been ranked higher than a 3-seed in their history, which dates back to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1983. Will they be able to hold a prediction of a #1 seed this year??
- Back in 2002, the Oregon Ducks made the Elite 8 as a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, losing to the Kansas Jayhawks. In 2007, they made it back to the Elite 8, this time as a 3-seed, losing to the Florida Gators. Oregon won the National Championship back in 1939, but haven’t made it back to the national championship since.
- It may be at the Division II level, but the High Point Panthers have made two NCAA Tournament appearances in their history. An appearance at the Division I level has eluded the Panthers, but 2015 could be their year. Coastal Carolina has regressed after winning two straight Big South titles, thus opening the door for teams like the Panthers.
Maverick’s Sleeper Teams
UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (#9 Seed)
The Seahawks were one game last season from making the tournament but fell 71-78 to Northeastern in the CAA Tournament Semifinals. This year, the Seahawks are off to another good start (9-3, (1-0 in CAA), and second year head coach Kevin Keatts has a balanced team led by guard duo and skilled front court players. The guard duo of: Jr. Chris Flemmings (14.7ppg 5.7rpg 54.4 FG%) and Sr. Craig Ponder (12.7ppg 2.2apg 1.6 stlpg) have provided a spark for the Seahawks to help open lanes for the frontcourt players, of Dylan Sherwood (6-9 215; 5.7ppg 2.9ppg 90 FT%), and Marcus Bryan (5.7ppg 6.3rpg 39.1 FG%). The Seahawks haven’t made it to the NCAA Tournament since the 2006 Tournament where they were seeded as a #9 seed (25-8, 15-3 in CAA) but fell in the first round 85-88 to George Washington. Coach Ketts has one of the best rosters that the Seahawks have had in recent years and look for this team in March to make a run.
Wichita State Shockers (#12 Seed)
The Shockers have been off to a slow start this season, coming into 2016 with a (7-5, (1-0 in MVC)) record with loses against: Tulsa, Southern Cal, and Seton Hall but will look to have a strong conference season. If Wichita State wants to get into the tournament this season they will need to win the Mountain Valley title but in their way are two tough teams of Evansville and Southern Illinois who also want a bid in the NCAA Tournament as well. Wichita State will need their senior guard duo of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet to continue leading the team in production. If Baker and VanVleet can do so, look for the Shockers to make their 5th straight NCAA tournament appearance after winning the NIT in the 2010-2011 season. They have advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament in each of the seasons, including a Final 4 appearance in 2013. I predict the Shockers will get to the Elite 8 or better due to the leadership of Baker and VanVleet.
North Carolina State Wolfpack (#9 Seed)
Mark Gottfried has turned around the Wolfpack program since coming from Alabama in 2011; making the NCAA Tournament every year. This year, the Wolfpack are off to a hot start with a (10-3) non-conference record entering conference play today vs Virginia Tech. Leading the way this year for the Wolfpack are: Jr. guard Anthony Barber (23.1ppg 5.2apg 5.2rpg 42.5 FG%), Fr. guard Maverick Rowan (6-7 215; 13.2ppg 4.1rpg 33.3 3pt%), and Soph. forward Abdul-Malik Abu (6-8 240; 11.0ppg 8.2rpg 43.9 FG%). If the Wolfpack can have these three players led the way in ACC play, and get solid production from role players like Cody and Caleb Martin, BeeJay Anya, and Lennard Freeman, this team can be a tough out when it comes NCAA Tournament time.
Bennett’s Bracket Notes
- The Idaho Vandals haven’t made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990, when they lost to the Louisville Cardinals in the Round of 64, 78-59. Their coach in the 1990 tournament was Kermit Davis, who is currently the bench boss of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.
- Fans in Little Rock, AR have been waiting since 2011 for the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. The Trojans lost to UNC Asheville in a First Four match-up. They have a career record of 1-4 in the NCAA Tournament, with two of their four losses coming by 5 points or less. The Trojans’ lone win came against Notre Dame in 1986, 90-83.
- The America East Conference has been represented in the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three seasons by the Albany Great Danes. The Great Danes have made five NCAA Tournament appearances since 2006, the most of any America East team.
- One of the few teams to have never made an NCAA Tournament calls Evanston, IL their home. The Northwestern Wildcats are the only power conference team to not have an NCAA Tournament appearance to their name. The Wildcats have made the NIT seven times, never making it past the quarter-finals.
- Since Mike Krzyzewski came to town in 1980, the Duke Blue Devils have been one of the best teams in the country year after year. The Blue Devils have made 31 NCAA Tournament appearances, 12 Final Fours, and won 5 national championships in that time. Duke has been a 2-seed 10 times in their history, going 26-9 overall with 1 NCAA Championship.
Bennett’s Sleeper Teams
Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans (14-Seed)
In the first half of the college basketball season, one would be hard-pressed to find a mid-major program who played better basketball than the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans. Wins over the likes of San Diego State, East Carolina, and Tulsa highlighted an 11-1 start to the season before the calendar switched to 2016. Little Rock’s Team has balance all across their lineup, and look like a legitimate threat to win the Sun Belt title this season. Returnees like Josh Hagins and Roger Woods have carried the team, but the addition of key newcomers have taken the team to the next level. Marcus Johnson, Jr is enjoying a stellar first season in the NCAA, and Division I transfers like Jermaine Ruttley (Florida A&M) and Jalen Jackson (Central Arkansas) have become meaningful role players in the rotation. Arkansas-Little Rock could be the next UAB or Georgia State, shocking a power conference school in the opening round of the tournament.
Valparaiso Crusaders (12-Seed)
Coming out of the Horizon League could be tough for Valparaiso, as they will have to get past the likes of Oakland Detroit, and Milwaukee, among others. However, if they can weather the storm and make it to the Big Dance, power conference teams better keep an eye on the Crusaders if they are in their bracket. Last season, they nearly knocked off the Maryland Terrapins in the first round as a 13-seed. With Alec Peters and Vashil Fernandez anchoring a talented front court, and Tevonn Walker and Darien Walker running the offense from the back court, the Crusaders are a team that nobody wants to face in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Vanderbilt Commodores (11-Seed)
The Vanderbilt Commodores came into the season with a ton of hype surrounding the program. They were a trendy pick in the SEC, and looked like the top contender to take down Kentucky. While they haven’t performed well to start the 2015-16 season, conference play will give the Commodores plenty of opportunities to build their resume with marquee victories. Sharp-shooting big man Luke Kornet and Damian Jones are one of the top front court tandems in the conference, and Kornet’s ability to stretch the floor with his shooting range will cause match-up problems for opponents. Add in the likes of Wade Baldwin IV and Riley LaChance, and Kevin Stallings’ crew could put several teams on upset alert come March.