Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 11:26 AM
If you've taken a moment this week than you have no doubt noticed how there are five non-power conference teams in the current Associated Press Top 25 including - of course -- #1 Gonzaga and so that got us to wondering what may be in store for these handful of teams that don't hail from the so-called "Power 6" conferences/leagues.
Here's a little thumbnail sketch of what we see long range in terms of their respective play in the upcoming NCAA Tournament (note all records below are through Friday's games) ...
#1 GONZAGA (29-2, 16-0 WCC) - The numero uno team in the land swings into mini-tourney action on Saturday evening in the West Coast Conference as the Zags attempt to put the "cherry on top" with a conference tourney title after that unbeaten regular-season mark in league play.
Still, the $64,000 question is what happens come the "Big Dance" when Mark Few's crew - ranked ninth nationally in offense with 78.4 points per game - faces the daunting task of playing some power conference teams from Round III on? The knee-jerk reaction is to say that this Gonzaga team "matches up" well with just about any powerhouse team in the country but will the issue of having to potentially play four and maybe five consecutive games against power conference competition sap the Bulldogs by the time the Final Four in Atlanta rolls around next month?
Gonzaga's one-two front-court punch of Kelly Olynyk (17.7 ppg and 7.0 rebounds per game) and Elias Harris (14.6 ppg and 7.5 rpg) are definitely made-for-prime-time performers but it's quite possible that the lack of athletic prowess in the Zags' backcourt could catch up with 'em should they have to deal with a starry backcourt.
The Right-Here and Right-Now Jim Sez Projection: Gonzaga will get short-circuited before the Final Four with a likely loss in the Elite 8 (or even the Sweet 16 should the Zags play a guard-oriented club there).
#12 NEW MEXICO (26-4, 13-2 MWC) - Los Lobos are on a real run themselves these days as Steve Alford's squad has won nine of its last 10 games and the team's sticky defense is creating major problems for all comers.
The question with New Mexico as it pertains to the NCAA Tournament is this...Can the three-headed monster of G Kendall Williams (13.8 ppg), F/C Alex Kirk (12 ppg) and G Tony Snell (11.8 ppg) produce enough offense to win one of those games played in the mid-to-high 70s ... or does New Mex simply have to grind you to death in each/every game?
Gotta admit that we believe the Lobos are a true sleeping giant in this upcoming NCAA Tournament: Alford is one of the game's "A+" coaches and this crew plays with zero fear but in a year when many folks - but not us - think a mid-major team can win it all you might find New Mexico outlasting Gonzaga in this year's tourney. We'll see.
The Right-Here and Right-Now Jim Sez Projection: New Mexico will beat at least two power conference teams and make it into the Elite Eight but than the competition gets super-stiff and simply can't see Los Lobos beating the likes of an Indiana or a Georgetown or a Kansas.
#16 SAINT LOUIS (23-6, 12-3 A-10) - No doubt this whole 2012-13 season has been a terrific tribute to late Billkens head coach Rick Majerus who surely left a major imprint on this St. Loo squad that plays stingy defense and values the ball.
It's no coincidence that this Atlantic-10 team ranks first in the league in total defense while surrendering a mere 58.5 points a game but how about the fact the Billikens truly have a balanced attack with five players averaging between 12.8 ppg (that's Dwayne Evans) and 9.7 ppg (that's Kwamain Mitchell) and so these guys aren't overly dependent on just one or two scorers as is the case with many tourney teams.
The trick for Saint Louis in this upcoming NCAA Tournament is to force its tempo on the opponent and so how far the Billikens go in the "Big Dance" likely depends strictly on matchups - if the games are in the 50's than Saint Loo can beat most anyone!
The Right-Here and Right-Now Jim Sez Projection: The Billikens could be a first-weekend newsmaker and get to the Sweet 16 round but that'll be it once they have to square off with a more talented power conference team.
#21 VCU (24-6, 12-3 A-10) - Tell us if you've heard this one before: The Virginia Commonwealth Rams are gonna be a major handful for any/all opponents in this year's NCAA Tournament.
Okay, so the guys that played in the Final Four two years ago (lost to Butler, remember) are mostly gone but Shaka Smart's club packs plenty of punch with the top-scoring team in the Atlantic-10 (at 78.1 ppg) and even if the likes of G Treveon Graham (15.7 ppg) and F Juvonte Reddic (14.3 ppg) are hardly household names, these Rams can really light it up plus the half-court defense ain't too bad either!
No question that Smart is - already - one of the top five tourney coaches in the land and anytime you have a shot at grabbing points with this club in March you do so without asking questions but just how will VCU fare when the target's on their back for the first week of play?
The problem with the Rams is that they won't sneak up on anyone this time around and so getting beyond a Sweet 16 spot will be tough - but count us among the folks that would love to see VCU get a shot at either Duke or Indiana in the Sweet 16 round. Yummy!
The Right-Here and Right-Now Jim Sez Projection: A visit to the Sweet 16 and than they're done.
#25 MEMPHIS (26-4, 15-0 C-USA) - The Conference USA champs may not always be the sharpest team on the floor (or did you miss all the hi-jinx in the win against UTEP this past Wednesday night?) but Josh Pastner's club plays hard and as long as they're gobbling up the majority of "50-50 balls" than Memphis could be in for a long ride in this year's NCAA Tournament.
Still, the team's point guard - Joe Jackson (13.7 ppg and 4.8 assists per game) - all too often disappears from a game and Memphis can get truly reckless without 'em.
The Right-Here and Right-Now Jim Sez Projection: Gonna say that Memphis gets a Thursday/Friday win and than exits over the first weekend of NCAA Tourney play when failing to stack up with a power conference club - that that may well be a battle against a #1 seed.
THE MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE TOURNEY PREVIEW
MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT (begins Monday at home sites; Second Round thru Final Game played in Cleveland) - Let the Mid-Am folks ramble all they want but they shouldn't consider Akron (24-5, 14-1) a lead-pipe cinch because there remains a good chance this will be an old-fashioned one-bid league even though both the aforementioned Zips and the high-quality Ohio Bobcats (22-8, 13-2) consider themselves NCAA Tournament-worthy right now.
We'll sort out all the underlings on Monday and Wednesday nights and by the time we get to Friday's semifinals at the Quicken Loans Arena the remaining field should include Akron, Ohio and some combo of Western Michigan, Toledo and/or Kent State. The player to watch in this mini-tourney is Ohio's do-it-all guard D.J. Cooper who averages 14.1 ppg and 7.3 apg for the league's highest-scoring outfit.
The Favorite: Akron
The Dark Horse: Eastern Michigan
NOTE: We'll have lots of College Basketball Conference Tournament Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez - so don't miss out!