1st round NCAA tourney games to love and hate

The first round is all about upsets and mid-majors getting their chance. Sometimes the committee enables the upsets and other times they deny them. Here are some examples.

Love: 13 Seed Eastern Washington vs. 4 Seed Georgetown
Georgetown is becoming the punching bag for Cinderella teams in the past few years (VCU and Florida Gulf Coast) and Eastern Washington gets crack at extending the streak. The team strength of the Hoyas is protecting the rim but the Eagles are a top 10 3-point shooting team and can circumvent the size of the Hoyas. That makes this interesting and a must watch as the opportunity for the upset or a close game is there.

Hate: 12 Seed Wyoming vs. 5 Seed Northern Iowa
See the problem here? Both these mid-majors could top a power conference team but have been denied that opportunity with this pairing. I love Northern Iowa but it would not benefit the exposure and prestige of the program by beating Wyoming. Wish this game was against a Texas or an Indiana team so that the nation would respect UNI more for after a win.

Love: 15 Seed Belmont vs. 2 Seed Virginia
Virginia is one of the best defensive college basketball teams you’ll ever see, but tiny Belmont of the Ohio Valley Conference can score, score, score. Belmont is a top 50 offense and 3-point shooting team. If the Bruins heat up from the field, this little 15 vs. 2 bracket buster could become a very real.

Hate: 8 Seed North Carolina State vs. 9 Seed LSU
Some 8/9 games are compelling but this is not one of them. LSU just lost to a 14-19 Auburn team in its first game of the SEC tournament. NC State was eviscerated by Duke in the ACC tournament in a game that was never competitive. The winner will probably get Villanova but I would rather pass on this game involving two teams combining for 23 losses on the year.

Love: 13 Seed UC Irvine vs. 4 Seed Louisville
Welcome to the block party! Both UC Irvine and Louisville are in the top 50 in blocks per game. The Anteaters have a 7’6” center in Mamadou Ndiaye and if you have a guy like that you have a chance. Louisville is a strong defensive team but UC Irvine can shoot the 3. That’s enough intrigue for me.

Hate: 7 Seed Iowa vs. 10 Seed Davidson
You have no idea how hard it was to write that. How is Davidson the underdog here? The Wildcats went 14-4 in the Atlantic 10 and was rewarded with a 10 seed? Iowa is a 7 seed despite losing to bottom of the conference Penn State team in the Big Ten tournament. The only way this game is worth watching is if Davidson takes to Iowa and blows it out to rectify the poor seeding from the committee.

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Cinderellas of the 2015 NCAA Tournament

Selection Sunday is two days away and that means it’s time to see what little schools have the ability to make big waves in March Madness. These are schools from one-bid leagues or have lacked television time. Note Gonzaga, the Missouri Valley, the Mountain West and the Atlantic-10 are not on this list as they should be part of the big boys now.

If the slipper fits, you must advance to the Sweet 16.

If the slipper fits, you must advance to the Sweet 16.

North Florida: Atlantic Sun Tournament Champion
The North Florida Ospreys played most of their non-conference games on the road and lost most of those as a result but it did beat Purdue. North Florida is in the top 50 in blocks giving it some rim protection thanks to forward Demarcus Daniels. The Ospreys strength though is the 3-point line as they are in the top 50 in shooting percentage and defending the 3. Junior Beau Beech is 6’8” but has made 83 3s this year and is assisted with 80 more from guard Trent Mackey. North Florida’s 75.7 point average is in the top 25 scoring offenses in the nation. A team that can shoot the 3, defend the 3, and rim protect can definitely win a game in March.

Valparaiso: Horizon League Champion
Valparaiso with a top 55 RPI and 28-5 would have been a bubble team for an at-large but thankfully the Crusaders don’t have to worry about that with the automatic bid. Coach Bryce Drew said after his squad beat Green Bay in the tourney final that he hopes to have a better matchup this time. Two years ago, Valpo had to face Michigan State and it was not a good fit. The Crusaders may be more versatile this time as they rank in the top 50 in defense, blocks and 3-point percentage. Valpo holds opponents under 60 points a game and 6’10” senior center Vashil Fernandez averages three blocks a game. If Valpo plays a team that likes to keep the pace down, it should be able to hang around and even knock them off.

New Mexico State: WAC
The Aggies have not won the WAC tournament yet but will be a headache for a team in the first round if they do. New Mexico State tore through the WAC regular season with a 13-1 record. It’s all about defense for the Aggies as they hold opponents under 60 points per game as well. Defending the 3-point line is a big part why as teams shoot less than 30% percent from behind the arc against them. That’s just as good as Virginia and close behind Kentucky. New Mexico State doesn’t bail out offenses either as it is in the top 50 fewest fouls. Rebounding is another team strength so the only problems occur on the offensive end. If the Aggies can heat up just a little from the field it should be an interesting first round game.

BYU: WCC
The Cougars are on the bubble but they deserve to get in as they are a powder keg waiting to explode on the offensive side. BYU averages 83.6 points per game, and that’s good for No. 2 in the country behind Northwestern State. Contributing to scoring is BYU’s No. 5 ranking in free-throw percentage at 76.8%. The Cougars are also sport a plus 4.9 rebound margin giving them some support on the glass. If BYU can draw fouls, it has a chance to pull off wins in the Big Dance.

Stephen F. Austin: Southland
Stephen F. Austin is still fighting for the automatic bid in the Southland tournament so nothing is set yet. With that said the Lumberjacks are scary with a 27-4 record. A top 15 offense at 79 points per game is contributed from six players who average roughly 40 percent from 3. The big strength though is in forcing turnovers and converting them into easy baskets. The Lumberjacks are in the top 20 in turnover margin and pull off eight steals a game. If Stephen F. Austin can get in and play a team with an inexperienced back-court, the Lumberjacks could be on their way to round two and possibly the Sweet 16.

Honorable mentions: Old Dominion, UC-Irvine and Eastern Washington

2014’s Most Depressing Team: SMU

Last year we had four winless FBS teams going into Thanksgiving. Now we have just one but there are teams who are winless in conference play too. Nothing though is more depressing than the burning hulk known as Southern Methodist University football.

SMU: 0-10 (0-6)

The good news for SMU is that they still have two games left. The bad news is the Mustangs have done little to prove they are capable of winning a game. SMU has scored less than 10 points in six games this year. In the first seven games SMU was outscored 336 – 49, those are video game scores.

SMU did not schedule a FCS school, or a cupcake Sun Belt team. With no failsafe game the Ponies were in danger from the get go but this type of collapse was unexpected. Coming off a 5-7 year and multiple winning seasons in years prior should be enough to avoid a winless year.

SMU is still fighting losing by one to South Florida at home 14-13. Still, it’s hard to stay positive for the program, even on Twitter.

What about the graphics department? I’m sure they can make a nice infographic to make SMU’s season seem cheerful.

SMU info

When you don’t have anything nice to say, just show the uniform combination.

I guess when there is nothing positive to report you spend an entire infographic on the uniforms. Not a good situation.

Will SMU win a game? Yes

SMU will play Houston at home Friday before traveling to 2-8 Connecticut to close out the season on Dec. 6. The Mustangs should have more motivation than both opponents and UConn is the best candidate. The two teams are dead even at passing yards per game and UConn is No. 119 in rushing with SMU at No. 121.

This means it will come down to turnovers. The Mustangs have turned the ball over 26 times this year, tied for the No. 118 in the nation. The Huskies have turned the ball over 21 times though so this is an even game. In that case I have to pick the team that wants it more and that should be SMU. It may be the pillow fight of the year but a win for SMU will salvage something for the 2014 season. That would be something to be thankful for.

Other depressing teams:
2. Georgia State: 1-10 (0-7) Only win came against FCS Abilene Christian.
3. Kent State: 1-9 (0-6) Winless in MAC play.
4. Vanderbilt: 3-8 (0-7) Winless in SEC action and nearly lost to FCS Charleston Southern.
5. Colorado: 2-9 (0-8) Winless in PAC-12 play but did force two overtime games.

Tough Day for the Sun Belt

Why is Western Kentucky still here?

Why is Western Kentucky still here?

While the Big 10 has been berated by media folk (rightfully so) one league had an even worse week. The Sun Belt went 0-10 Saturday against schools ranging from LSU to Abilene Christian. Yikes!

It was not completely negative as Georgia Southern gave Georgia Tech a scare losing 42-38 in Atlanta. UL-Monroe was only down 10-0 at LSU after the first half, but the Tigers put the upset to bed with a 30-0 final score. After that… well…
Troy State fell to 0-3 as FCS Abilene Christian shocked it 38-35. That was the probably the most winnable game for the Trojans.

Arkansas State, Louisiana and South Alabama were handled by power conference schools. Idaho was uncompetitive at home against MAC weakling Western Michigan. Texas State surrendered 28 straight points to Navy at home before scoring its first touchdown. UTEP controlled New Mexico State the whole way and Georgia State did what Georgia State does against Air Force. The Panthers even turned to advertising for content on Twitter. Not good.

This doesn’t mean the Sun Belt Conference “sucks” as we like to label struggling leagues. There were disappointing performances to be sure but the Sun Belt is in a bad spot geographically speaking. While the MAC and Conference USA gets to pick at the struggling teams of the Big Ten and Big 12, the Sun Belt is stuck scheduling the SEC. That never ends up well.

The MAC didn’t do great this week either but when a Bowling Green defeats Indiana people tend to forget how badly Central Michigan, Ball State and Kent State played.Sensor Scans

With no big win among the conference other than ULM over Wake Forest in week 1 (not flashy) it’s hard to cover the stinky games up.

Southern Miss Stays Positive

What do you do when you’re getting blown out by No. 2 Alabama? Talk about the field goals your kicker is making and not about the extra points he never tried. The Golden Eagles lost 52-12 but did kick a field goal in each quarter. If that makes Southern Miss fans feel better.

Vanderbilt Hides Football

Forget about “Anchor Down” as Vanderbilt was losing to MAC doormat UMass on Saturday. The Commodores rallied to get their first win but not before reporting on how the school’s cross-country team did on Saturday. This resulted in this awesome exchange.

Vanderbilt might be able to “AnchorDown” against FCS Charleston Southern so fire up that 2-10 season Commodores. You’ll always have cross-country to turn to.

FCS Power Faceplants

No. 15 Sam Houston State was seen as a contender for the FCS playoffs but I’m sure that changed after Colorado State Pueblo destroyed it Saturday. Did I mention that Colorado State Pueblo was Division II? This is like an episode of “Defiance” being better than an episode of “Doctor Who.” It should not happen.

Division II knows how to "Bring the Thunder"

Division II knows how to “Bring the Thunder”

Even more surprising is how this game was never close. The ThunderWolves were up 14-0 after the first quarter and 27-0 at half. The 47-21 final was actually the result of mercy and garbage touchdowns by the Bearkats.

It’s going to be hard for Sam Houston State to come back from this one but maybe it was a learning experience for the Bearkats. One can only hope.

Week 2 Upset Alert

Soft scheduling is a bit of an epidemic in the second week of the season. Only two games are between Top 25 teams and eight of the Top 25 scheduled a FCS school. Here is a look at some of the games that can put a member of the autonomous five in jeopardy.

Eastern Washington at Washington

Washington dropped out of the Top 25 despite defeating Hawaii last week 17-16. That’s how vulnerable the Huskies looked against a 1-11 team and in comes the No. 2 FCS school in country this Saturday. Eastern Washington posted 625 yards of offense in its win over PAC 12 Oregon State last season and that was second highest total OSU allowed all year. Washington will have to have a solid performance to avoid the upset. I don’t think it will as the FCS will get its third win on the season against a FBS school. Hawaii outgained Washington last week and that is a giant red flag.

Oregon State at Hawaii

To the school that nearly defeated Washington as Hawaii gets another crack at a PAC 12 team this week at home. The Rainbow Warriors are better than last season’s 1-11 team and look for them to come out wanting to prove it. FCS Portland State actually had a 14-13 lead at the half last week against Oregon State before the Beavers pulled away in the second half for a 29-14 win. I’ll pick Hawaii since I don’t think Oregon State is stronger than Washington. Plus, this pregame Hawaiian chant is just too cool.

Missouri at Toledo

A MAC frontrunner hosting a SEC team that’s in for a bit of a regression year. Now we’re talking. Toledo pulled away from a very good FCS team in New Hampshire Saturday and has an experienced team. The Tigers defeated the Rockets last year 38-23 but it was only 24-23 in the third quarter. Toledo is going throw everything into this game and that’s why I’m picking them.

Western Kentucky at Illinois

This is a slam dunk, Illinois nearly lost to FCS Youngstown State last week. Now comes CUSA Western Kentucky, who trashed the defending MAC champion Bowling Green State 59-31. The Hilltoppers scored over 30 points per game last season and the Fighting Illini could only do 28 against a FCS squad. Not good. I’m taking WKU.

Central Michigan at Purdue

Purdue is coming off a 1-11 year and showed little improvement against Western Michigan last Saturday who was also 1-11. While the Boilers won 43-34 they are going up against a stronger MAC school in the Chippewas this week. I knew Central would struggle against a quality FCS team in Chattanooga but its defense held a good offense to just 16 points. Honestly, I think Chattanooga’s offense is better than the Purdue squad Central Michigan will face. Purdue has to prove to it can beat an average team before I feel comfortable picking them.

Northern Illinois at Northwestern

This one is also obvious as Northern Illinois has a history of devouring weak Big Ten teams. It beat Iowa and pummeled Purdue 55-24 last season and Northwestern is a sitting duck. The Wildcats have lost eight of their last nine games so it’s insane to see them as a favorite against anyone. My main concern is that NIU winning is not really an upset. Maybe the Huskies will take this game lightly while the Wildcats will be in redemption mode? Until Northwestern shows some life I have to go with NIU.

Old Dominion at NC State

NC State will always be on upset alert when it plays a team from the group of five. CUSA Old Dominion hung in there against Pittsburgh last season in a 35-24 and returns most its team. NC State barely survived Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt last week 24-23 and lost its last eight games of 2013. This is a coin flip and always go with the underdog in that case. Look for ODU to get a big win over an ACC school.

Other upset alert games: Texas Tech at UTEP, Stony Brook at Connecticut, Alcorn State at Southern Miss, Washington State at Nevada

The Best of College Volleyball on Social Media and the Worst

Who knew "kill" would be so peaceful and elegant in cursive?

Who knew “kill” would be so peaceful and elegant in cursive?

While college football and college basketball are the main sports I follow, I try to give some love to the Olympics sports when I can here at the nc2anerd. Volleyball is a particular favorite as its games are right there in the basketball arena.

If a school knows how to promote itself, volleyball can be a revenue producing sport. With the women’s volleyball season starting the same weekend as football, let’s take a look at where volleyball programs are breaking through the football blanket to make a name for themselves in social media and where they’re failing to do so.

McNeese State

The most hilarious volleyball promotion on social media was this You Tube clip of the McNeese State players putting on knee pads and walking down a hallway. Are these Cowgirls going to play a volleyball game because we never see a ball, net, or court for that matter? It’s as if they were denied access to arena the day of shooting. I thought the music change in the middle was a mistake the first time I watched it too.

At lease McNeese State made a promotional video unlike these two schools.

Penn State and Wisconsin

The fact I lumped these two together is a bad sign. Penn State defeated Wisconsin in last year’s title game to win its fifth championship in seven years. Yet both schools have been lackluster in their social media promotions. Wisconsin has had more swagger on Twitter showing off their “finalist rings.”

Besides that and a few “Throwback Thursday” photos, both schools have been quiet and unimpressive on the promotion front. Football as is a big reason why as both schools are football powers in the Big 10.

Texas

The No. 1 seed in last year’s volleyball tournament was Texas and the Longhorns are pretty blunt about how they feel about volleyball compared with their heroes on the gridiron.

Wow, a 3.4 GPA is all it took? That’s what I had in college with only moderate effort. Sorry Mom.

Texas is complimenting their women’s volleyball team here but it also comes across as reinforcing the stereotype that women’s sports are only there to balance out the bad academics of the men. Texas missed a golden opportunity to promote its four players on the preseason All Big 12 team last week. Contrast this with Kansas State (only one player on the list) who quickly jumped to promote their star setter.

Now that is how you showcase your best players Texas. To find a school placing stock in its volleyball program you need to to select one that either doesn’t have a football team or just has a bad one. This brings us to…

Purdue

The Boilermakers went all out to promote their volleyball photo day. Even set up a site for behind the scenes access. Slow motion videos capture the work that went into their team poster.

Sam Diving from Purdue Athletics on Vimeo.

The school is also using social media to sell tickets. Purdue created the BumpTo1000 hashtag as an effort to double the number of season tickets from a year ago. Purdue went to the elite eight last year before falling to Wisconsin in four sets. With their top two leaders in attack percentage returning in Kiki Jones and Faye Adelaja, this could be Purdue’s chance to knock Penn State off the Big 10 Throne.

Minnesota

Purdue isn’t the only Big 10 school trying win over publicity for volleyball. The Golden Gophers have a three-game ticket plan where fans choose from a hierarchy of opponents.

Group one consists of the three schools in the conference with the most volleyball tradition and it moves on down from there. It’s a very interesting ticket plan for an obsessed volleyball fan.

Minnesota reached the Sweet 16 in 2013 but lost their two kill leaders from last season.

Washington

Out in PAC-12 country the Washington Huskies are predicted to not win the conference, just like last season. That’s fine for the Huskies as they won the PAC-12 in 2013 and made it to the Final Four in the tournament. Washington’s volleyball program is nestled in a nice situation as the school’s football team is not overpowering. Check out its short promotional video. Something Penn State and Texas don’t have.

Washington has expanded into sand volleyball in 2014, a very promising sign that the school is committed to being a power in the indoor sport as well. Senior outside hitters Kaleigh Nelson and Krista Vansant return as the two leaders in kills and were named to the All PAC-12 preseason team.

Marquette

Marquette does not have a football team meaning volleyball is large and in charge in autumn. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these ticket prices.

Dang, $70 for courtside seats is almost as expensive as the Milwaukee Bucks. The Golden Eagles lost in the second round last year to Illinois. Unfortunately, Marquette has just one senior on the roster so it will be a challenge for it to improve on that finish.

Morehead State

Smaller schools, such as Morehead, are also promoting volleyball stronger than the finalists from last season. Take a look at Morehead boasting about its Ohio Valley Conference titles.

With #EagleEmpire you know you’re a volleyball school.

New Hampshire

The Wildcats won the American East last season and are the favorites to do so again. The conference let New Hampshire Outside Hitter Abby Brinkman take over the league’s Twitter account in July and there were plenty of highlights.

Abby made this picture the banner photo for the conference for a weekend to put some muscle into the American East.

Buffalo

Things got silly for the Bulls at their media day. It’s an early candidate for selfie of the year.

Southern Mississippi

Want to know what a coach thinks of a player? Well Southern Miss just comes out and says it in its tweets.

The WINNER: Hawaii

The best volleyball program on social media leading up to the season has been the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine. First, the school is making a strong effort to honor its coach, Dave Shoji, who is celebrating 40 years at the program. Picture after picture has been used to show Coach Shoji at the time of each significant achievement in his tenure. To national championships to reaching 500 wins.

The woman on the right must be really glad the school brought back that picture.

Most of all though is the passion of the Hawaii fans. Look at how many were at last year’s first round win against Idaho State.

Over 8,000 fans were on hand for that first round game. That’s more than three times the attendance at Penn State’s second round game against Utah and more than twice of the second round game at Texas. Did I mention Texas was playing arch rival Texas A&M in that game? Whoops.

For volleyball to grow it needs to have schools see it as a companion to football and not as a side item. Hawaii and the Big West Conference have been the leaders on that process so far.

That’s why I’m picking Hawaii to beat Washington in the championship at Oklahoma City this December. Not because of talent but because of fan support and passion.

Will it happen though with eight newcomers? The Rainbow Wahine should be hungry after being caught off guard against BYU in the second round in 2013. They were the No. 11 overall seed last year and return some key players from their team that beat Texas in the regular season. Hawaii is deep in outside hitters with Nikki Taylor, Tai Manu-Olevao and senior leader Kalei Adopho.

Either way, Hawaii will be the most interesting team to follow in women’s volleyball this season. With its fan support you can count on that.

Nine Overlooked Details of March

Here are some things you might have missed while paying attention to all of the March Madness awesomeness.

No. 9: The Big-12 fails to boast
It’s very common for conferences to talk themselves up with postseason success and here is the Big-12’s attempt.

The more you know.

The more you know.

On the surface, this is impressive. However, the Big-12 has fewer teams than the other leagues on this list with only 10. Everyone else has 12 or more, hurting their percentage.

With that taken into account the chart doesn’t really say much at all. It doesn’t help that none of the seven Big-12 teams made it to the Elite Eight.

No. 8: NIT upsets

While there were several upsets in the NCAA tournament, there were quite a few in the NIT too. Robert Morris took down a No. 1 seed for the second straight year in St. John’s. Conference USA was able claim success having Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech reach the quarterfinals. Belmont was the victim of a court storming at Clemson. I guess beating Belmont is like beating Duke in the eyes of Clemson fans.

No. 7: Best fan photo ever

There have been some amazing photos of fans and players celebrating in the tournament. The best has to go to two rival coaches eating popcorn together. I’m biased being born in Kentucky, but Denny Crum and Joe B. Hall is just too good to pass up. Hard to believe they host a radio show together now.


No. 6: Year of the Bison

North Dakota State has to have the happiest athletic department this year. With a FCS championship and a basketball team that won its first ever NCAA tournament game, things are pretty darn good.

No. 5: Women’s NIT
There actually is a women’s NIT and unlike the men’s it is 64 teams. That’s a lot of postseason basketball that receives little to no media attention. This tweet confirms that.

That’s the best crowd for round 2? That’s 10 percent of the attendance for some of these men’s NCAA Tournament games.

No. 4: CBI team with a losing record

If you can’t get into the NCAA Tournament or the NIT there is always the College Basketball Invitational. The CBI has attracted some power conference teams in the past and got Penn State and Texas A&M in this year. So it’s sort of legit.

Problem is Siena is in the championship final. The Saints were the only team in the field to have a losing record and they might win it all. Kind of looks bad for the CBI but it’s not its fault. Other teams turned down their CBI bid like Indiana, allowing lesser schools to get in. Siena is making the most of their opportunity as it should. Postseason basketball should never be taken for granted.

No. 3: A women’s CBI exists too.

The Women’s Basketball Invitational has already crowned their champion as Illinois-Chicago defeated Stephen F. Austin in the title game. While attention is scarce, it is still a meaningful event to the team’s fans.


No. 2: CIT is still meaningless

Meaningful is the opposite of the College Insider.com Tournament or CIT. Unlike the CBI, the CIT field is composed of nothing but mid-majors, most of which are from conferences with low RPIs. The CIT does not have a set bracket making it a tournament that’s constantly in flux and difficult to follow. Check out how many people attended a game at Eastern Michigan. Less than 400!

So what does the CIT do to validate themselves?

Rookie of the Year from CollegeInsider.com 4 on Vimeo.

Because claiming Damian Lillard is going to make people care? Sorry, but finding the one or two guys from small schools who made it big in the NBA is not compelling enough. The other tournaments have more NBA prospects. Good luck with that.

No. 1: Central Missouri shows dedication

The University of Central Missouri won the division II basketball title Saturday and congratulations. UCM goes with the Mules for its men’s teams and Jennies for its women’s. I guess the Philadelphia Phillies are a softball team then.
The main story here though is how UCM reacted to the championship title. Whoever runs their Twitter account was updating a softball game for the “Jennies” while the “Mules” won the championship game on the hardwood.

This has to be the most dedication to a job I’ve seen by an athletic department. Most would have solely focused on the basketball game but here is UCM weaving it in and out with regular season softball coverage.

Props to Central Missouri to making sure the Jennies get the same amount of respect as the Mules. Feminists better rejoice.