Giant Killers — Liberty, Akron and others could surprise in the first round

Giant Killers -- Liberty, Akron and others could surprise in the first round

Each big can fall.

If there’s any lesson from this faculty basketball season, that needs to be it (San Diego State apart, for now). Ready within the wings to bust open March Insanity brackets, maybe this season greater than ever, are a gaggle of future underdogs in search of to finish contenders’ match desires early. That is what this area is devoted towards: the Large Killers.

It has gone by a number of iterations by the years, however the thought has lengthy been to make use of data-driven evaluation to establish these Large Killers, which we outline as any workforce a minimum of 5 seed traces under its opponent within the match that poses a reputable menace to win. So for the primary time in 2020, we’re looking on the discipline and making an attempt to reply this query: Who’re the early Large Killer contenders we needs to be watching?

The present methodology makes use of our Basketball Energy Index (BPI) as a base after which builds on that by contemplating stylistic benefits between two groups in a given matchup. You possibly can learn extra in regards to the methodology right here in our introduction from 2018.

However again to 2020: Right this moment we’re specializing in potential first-round Large Killers — projected No. 11 seeds or worse — that would wreak havoc subsequent month.

Notice: All data as of Wednesday.

Liberty Flames

Liberty is well-positioned for a repeat efficiency as a Large Killer. Final season the Flames upset No. 5 seed Mississippi State due largely to a 30-point, 62.5% discipline aim fee sport from Caleb Homesley. Now he and massive man Scottie James — whom we highlighted a 12 months in the past — have Liberty flying towards the match once more.

2 Associated

Although at present tied for first within the Atlantic Solar, the Flames have an 89% probability to succeed in the NCAA match as a result of they’re over eight factors per sport higher than every other workforce within the convention. And with our mannequin projecting the Flames to earn a median seed of 11.3, they’re additionally on observe to have a comparatively straightforward first-round opponent. Liberty has a 13% probability to succeed in the Candy 16 — unbelievable for a workforce reliant on its convention championship to earn a match bid. That is how bullish our numbers are on this workforce.

BPI, which adjusts for high quality of opponent, considers the Flames the 31st-best defensive workforce within the nation.

Amongst fairly seemingly Large Killer matchups — together with groups with a minimum of a 25% probability to succeed in the match and in opposition to opponents they face in one in all our simulations — the most definitely qualifying upset is Liberty over Oregon (44%), due to the Flames’ superior protection and 2-point scoring.

Furman Paladins

Furman faces a much tougher path to actually reaching the tournament because it plays in a Southern Conference that is quite strong at the top with East Tennessee State, UNC Greensboro and Furman all ranking in BPI’s top 70. As a result, Furman has only a 22% chance at winning the conference tournament, though it’s at least possible the Paladins could also secure an at-large bid, so BPI gives Furman an overall 35% chance to reach the tournament. As of Wednesday afternoon, Joe Lunardi has Furman as a No. 12 seed in Bracketology.

The Paladins, led by senior guard Jordan Lyons and junior forward Clay Mounce, would be a tough out in the first round. They take a high rate of shots beyond the arc and are ruthlessly efficient when shooting from the field (though less so once we adjust for quality of opponents). While dangerous, Furman isn’t as feisty as Liberty; its best potential matchup (also vs. Oregon) yields a 33% chance to win.

Akron Zips

This is all about Loren Cristian Jackson. The Akron guard ranks 12th in the country in our opponent-adjusted win shares metric, one spot ahead of fellow Ohio school star Obi Toppin. He’s shooting 45% from 3-point range (including a 48% rate against D-I opponents, per KenPom), which is just part of an exceptionally efficient and voluminous 3-point attack from the Zips as a whole.

That long-range shooting paired with particularly strong free throw shooting is why the Zips will pose a significant threat to many potential opponents in the first round of the NCAA tournament … should they get there.

Akron almost certainly will have to win the MAC conference tourney to go dancing, but it does have the benefit of being, in BPI’s eyes, the best team in the conference. However, with Ball State, Kent State and even Toledo not too far behind, our model only gives the Zips a 38% chance to win the conference title.

Vermont Catamounts

Is it really a Giant Killers story if we don’t include Vermont? The Catamounts are regulars here, and this season is no different. They’re exceptionally likely to reach the tournament given how much better they are than the rest of the America East again.

BPI likes the Catamounts’ strong defense, though our Giant Killers model is a little less bullish on them because their 3-point attempts and efficiency are both lacking. But that defense, which has held opponents to 42% shooting from 2-point range, per KenPom, is scary enough that Vermont will be a tricky foe for a potential No. 5 or No. 6 seed come March.

Northern Colorado Bears

This is a little more of a deep cut, because if the Bears reach the tournament they’ll probably be a lower seed than the teams listed above. In BPI simulations in which Northern Colorado reached the tournament, it averaged a seed of 13.7.

But the Bears are better than their 15-8 record and current third-place spot in the Big Sky suggest. In terms of straight net efficiency, the Bears are best in the Big Sky by just over two points per game. But once we factor in an opponent adjustment, that advantage balloons to about 4.5 points. They are the best team in the conference, in our estimation, and as a result are nearly a coin flip (47%) to win their conference tournament and earn a bid.

Senior guard Jonah Radebaugh is the key for the Bears’ offense, connecting on 41% of shots from beyond the arc and averaging over six assists per game. Even with a potential No. 14 vs. No. 3 seed matchups against, for example, Florida State or Penn State, the Bears would have a 27% and 24% chance to win, respectively.

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