With the Bears getting the 3rd seed in the South Region, they are the on-paper favorites to reach the round of 16, and move on to Atlanta. This is a pretty interesting group here. We have a former power house in UNLV, a former conference-mate in Colorado, and a 1st time NCAA participant in South Dakota State University. I will have a more detailed preview about the Jackrabbits later this week, but let's take some time getting to know these teams!
#6 Seed- UNLV Runnin' Rebels-Mountain West Conference - 26-8, 9-5
#20 AP Poll, #25 in Coaches, #19 RPI, #49 SOS
The Runnin' Rebels are a team that is sliding a bit as they get into the NCAA Tournament. In their last 10 games, they are 5-5, wish losses to Wyoming, TCU, New Mexico, Colorado State and New Mexico again in the Moutain-West Conference Semi-Finals by 10.
In early February, the Rebels were ranked 11th in the country, and were coming off of a big win against New Mexico. They stumbled against Wyoming, but came back to beat San Diego State at home. Since that last win over the Aztecs though, they have not played that well. The TCU loss is a big puzzler. TCU scored 108 points against UNLV (85 in regulation).
The Rebels were just 5-7 on the road, but a very solid 4-1 in Neutral court games, including their best win of the year against North Carolina. Looking at that closer though, 3 of those "neutral court" games were at the Orleans arena in Vegas.
In terms of Tournament teams played, they went 5-4 against tournament teams (Beat UNC, Cal, New Mexico, San Diego State, Colorado State; Lost to Wisconsin, San Diego State, New Mexico twice). The Rebels finished 3rd in the Mountain West.
UNLV is a pressing team that likes to shoot and shoot fast. They take and make a lot of 3-pointers. They have been well-tested this year, in a better conference than their power-conference opposition in Colorado. UNLV has put the Runnin' back in their names this year. They finished 23rd in scoring this year, they take the 10th most 3-point field goals in the country, and they hit the defensive glass hard.
Their best player is Mike Moser, a transfer from UCLA. He is a good all around player who is a shooting power forward. He averages 14.1 ppg and 10.6 rpg, both best on the team.
#11 Seed - Colorado Buffaloes- Pac-12 Conference, 23-11, 11-7
#62 RPI, #85 SOS, Not ranked in polls
Our old friends, and former conference mates the Buffaloes play the aforementioned Rebels on the other side of our bracket. They got into the tournament by virtue of winning the Pac-12 conference tournament and earning the automatic bid. The Buffs finished 5th in conference mainly behind winning 8 of 9 home games. They went just 4-7 in away games, and 5-2 in neutral games.
Colorado was not ranked at any time this year, and got off to a tough start to the season, losing to Wichita State and Maryland in a Puerto Rico tournament. Their neutral record though is buoyed by their run in the Pac-12 tournament, with wins over Utah, Oregon, California and Arizona. Out of all of those teams, Cal is the only one in the NCAA tournament as a 12 seed and one of the last 4 teams in. Needless to say, the Pac-12 had a bad year this year.
Colorado played a very weak schedule and did not beat . They went just 2-3 against tournament teams, with both wins coming against California. They lost to Cal, Colorado State and Wichita State.
Colorado is more of a defensive slow down team. They take their time and really run the offense for the whole 35 seconds. They are a below average shooting team, and none of their high-volume 3-point shooters are very good at it. They are a fundamental team that will make you works to get shots, and make you play defense for a long time.
They have a very balanced attack with four players in double figure scoring, including Carlon Brown, Andre Roberson, Austin Dufault and Spencer Dinwiddie. Roberson is a very athletic player and averages 11.1 rebounds per game as well. At 6-7, he is a great rebounder for his size, and one that really uses his athleticism around the bucket.
#14 Seed- South Dakota St. Jackrabbits- Summit League, 27-7, 15-3
#49 RPI, #194 SOS, Not ranked in polls
The Jackrabbits earned their spot in the tournament by winning the Summit League Championship game over Western Illinois in overtime. That game was everything good about March Madness and Championship week. They did not play a single team in the NCAA tournament this year though, as their SOS will tell you.
However, they did have tow impressive wins that I see. First off is beating Oral Roberts. They did lose to ORU on the road, but beat them a little later in the year by 15. ORU was pretty close to being in this tournament so that is a good win.
Their big win this year though was in Washington to play the regular season Pac-12 champion Washington Huskies. They didn't just beat the Huskies, they destroyed them by 19 points. When you shoot 54.9% from the field, including making 10-16 from behind the arc, you are going to win some games. They shot an effective FG% of 64.7%. Nate Wolters went for 34 points, and they had 4 other guys in double figures. This was a whipping, and one that ANY team in the country can be proud of.
Statistically, this looks like the definition of a 1-man team with Nate Wolters leading the charge. However, that really is not the case here. While Wolters is an excellent player, the Jackrabbits surround him with good shooters that spread the floor and let him do what he does bet, get into the paint and create for himself or others.
If the defense sinks down on him, he will kick it out to one of the four (yes FOUR!) players they have shooting over 40% from the 3-point line. SDSU is 18th in the nation in 3-point shooting, so they can hit their shots. If the defense stays with the shooters though, Wolters has an endless array of mid-range shots and moves. He is not a good shooter really (just 24.4% from 3-piont range), but if he gets into the paint, he is as good as any guard in the country.
We will get into more detail on SDSU before the game Thursday night, but I wanted to give you a quick look at them as well.
Good luck with your brackets!