McKines

Night time on the Oregon trail: Wichita State vs. VCU, Indiana vs. New Mexico State

The evening games in the Portland pod of the South region feature a contemptible mid-on-mid matchup (really, selection committee? This is why we can’t have nice things.), and a new chapter in the incredible Tom Crean saga.

No. 5 Wichita State (27-5; Pomeroy ranked 10th) vs. No. 12 VCU (28-6; 45th)

I really can’t express how much I hate to see these two teams do battle in the round of 64. It’s a shame, really, that only one will have the chance to be a Cinderella team.

How they got here: Wichita State fell to Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, but picked up a very well-deserved at-large bid. I like to think I had a hand in that. The Shockers won the NIT Tournament Championship last season.

VCU is here because, well, Shaka Smart asked to be. Actually, the Rams beat Drexel in the CAA Conference Tournament, 59-56, to lock up an auto-bid and another shot at super-stardom.

How they actually got here: Wichita, Kansas is a solid 1,766 miles from Portland — no way they drove. Google says it would take 1 day and 22 hours to drive the 2,872 miles from Richmond, Viriginia to Portland. We can safely call this a neutral site.

Pomeroy: 76% in Wichita State’s favor.

Which mascot wins in a fight to the death (hey, I don’t know how you pick your bracket): Rams eat wheat probably, right? I mean they eat jeans and beer cans, so, a shock of wheat should be no problem. Yes, I’m from Kansas.

Why VCU could pull the upset: I’m heavily in the corner of Gregg Marshall’s Shockers, but based on tempo-free data, you can make a case for Smart’s guys.

1. Experience Did you have a TV last March? Then you know about VCU. They made it past USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas before losing to Butler (their only mid-major foe) in the Final Four. The bad news: Only one starter from that team, Bradford Burgess, still remains. Of course the rest of the current starters played off the bench as well.

2. Turnovers The Rams’ backcourt comfortably leads this metric on both ends of the floor. They create far more than WSU does (one in 27.4 percent of opponent possessions, which is tops in the nation, vs. WSU’s rate of one in 18.6 percent of opponent possessions, 255th nationally), and they hold onto the ball far better with just a turnover in 17.5 percent of possessions vs. the Shocker’s 18.0 percent mark.

3. Obama picked them on his bracket He must see something I don’t.

4. The Rams beat WSU in BracketBusters last season This could be fodder for the revenge-seeking Shockers, but its also a confidence-booster for Smart’s men.

5. Offensive rebounding VCU may be small compared to Garrett Stutz, but they’ve had a full season of higher rebounding rates than the Shockers, and that’s no laughing matter. The Rams are tough inside.

Key: For the Shockers it’s all about shooting. All five of WSU’s losses featured high rebounding rates (all were among the top 13 outings of their season in rebounding), and all also were among their eight worst shooting performances. If the Rams can adjust to the time zone, find some height and throw off the Shockers’ attack, they can make some difference.

No. 4 Indiana (25-8; 11th) vs. No. 13 New Mexico State (26-9; 63rd)

How they got here: It’s been four long years since the Hoosiers have danced, but finally Tom Crean has turned his gutted squad into a four-seed after earning an at-large bid.

The Aggies of New Mexico State beat Louisiana Tech in the final round of the WAC Conference Tournament to secure an auto-bid. They were one possession away from knocking off Michigan State in the opening round of the 2010 NCAA tournament.

How they actually got here: Bloomington is far from Portland: 2,236 miles; New Mexico State is still far, at 1,584 miles. I’m not sure why I even included this bullet point for these two previews. The PAC 12 is no where to be found.

Pomeroy: 78% in Indiana’s favor.

Which mascot wins in a fight to the death: Based on my research I believe it’s possible that some Hoosiers may actually be aggies. There’s no way to call this.

How New Mexico State could pull the upset:

1. Experience Frontcourt force Wendell McKines was there in 2010 when the Aggies were three points away from knocking off Michigan State.

2. Frontcourt The Aggies feature a Big Ten-sized frontcourt built around 6-6, 230-pound McKines and 6-8 junior Bandja Sy that pull down offensive boards at a rate (40.8 percent) that ranks fourth nationally. They will cause serious problems for Indiana’s inside game. NMSU also shoots better than the Hoosiers from inside the arc.

3. Free throw rate NMSU is the best team in the nation at getting to the charity stripe. This will be a difference-maker in this game. The Hoosiers haven’t yet played a team that’s more able to get to the stripe than they are (they rank sixth). Note that among the ten teams that are the best at getting to the line, according to Pomeroy’s data, nine were selected for either the NCAA or NIT tournament.

4. Pace The Aggies average three more possessions per game over this season than Indiana. They’re athletic and able to push the tempo.

Key: Keep it inside. Indiana is deadly accurate from most anywhere on the floor, but they’ll kill you from outside the arc. The Aggies have the size, depth and athleticism to compete at a high level in the post. Keep it there and push the tempo on both ends and NMSU has a fighting chance to end Crean’s little fun.

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