The Dance Starts Tuesday With The First Four

THE DANCE BEGINS TUESDAY NIGHT IN DAYTON WITH OPENING ROUND ACTION

Players, coaches, and fans from St. Mary's and Middle Tennessee State were on pins and needles all day Sunday wondering if they'd be invited into the NCAA Tournament. They knew it was going to be close. Joe Lunardi of ESPN said they were barely in. Others said they were barely out. Some harsh critics said neither deserved to be in the Big Dance because they had played soft schedules.

When announcement time came on CBS..BOTH WERE IN! Well, kinda. St. Mary's and Middle Tennessee State would have to play each other Tuesday Night as #11 seeds for the right to face #6 Memphis later in the week. And, truth be told...many Power Rating methodologies had those two teams about even with Memphis anyway! At least they were in...with a chance to go deep if they played well.

That St. Mary's/Middle Tennessee State game is the nightcap of the Tuesday doubleheader in Dayton. It will follow a #16 seed play-in game matching North Carolina A&M and Liberty for the right to get crushed by Louisville a few days hence. We'll run a stat brief for that first game, followed by our expanded preview gauntlet of indicator stats for the second...

Play-In Game for #16 Seeds: North Carolina A&T vs. Liberty (6:40 p.m. ET)
Vegas Line: North Carolina A&T by 2

NC A&T: 242 in Sagarin, 226 in Pomeroy
Liberty: 260 in Sagarin, 251 in Pomeroy
NC A&T (317 offense, 81 defense); Liberty (184 offense, 303 defense)

Both of these teams are pretty horrible in the big picture. Liberty is probably one of the worst tournament teams EVER. Though, NC A&T is only 20-25 spots ahead of them in the respected computer ratings of Jeff Sagarin (USA Today) and Ken Pomeroy (Kenpom.com). Pomeroy shows A&T has having the much better defense. That's why they're favored by 2 points as we go to press. Handicappers will have to decide if this is more like a true pick-em because it's so hard for computers to properly evaluate such bad teams...or if defense is so important in playoff-style basketball that A&T should actually be favored by more like four or five.

 

Play-in Game for #11 Seeds: St. Mary's vs. Middle Tennessee (9:10 p.m. ET)
Vegas Line: St. Mary's by 3

WON-LOST RECORDS
St Mary's: 27-6 (14-2 in the West Coast Conference)
MTSU: 28-5 (19-1 in the Sun Belt)

Both of these teams played in weak conferences. St. Mary's only losses in league play were to Gonzaga. Middle Tennessee lost just once in the regular season in the Sun Belt...but then was stunned in the conference tournament by Florida International. Let's note here that St. Mary's did beat Creighton in a Bracket Buster game...and Creighton is a #7 seed capable of knocking off Cincinnati and Duke in succession this weekend if they can make some treys.

COMPUTER RANKINGS
St Mary's: #34 with Sagarin, #22 with Pomeroy
MTSU: #53 with Sagarin, #32 with Pomeroy

Both computers have St. Mary's better by double digits. In fact, both computers have St. Mary's as MUCH better than a bubble team! Sagarin would have had them as a #9 seed, Pomeroy a #6. Our own proprietary rankings aren't as favorable for St. Mary's. We think the West Coast Conference, and most West coast basketball in general is overrated by the public computers. St. Mary's was a bubble team, and it would have been more clear if they played in a better conference. Middle Tennessee? Well, we're not going to tell you here what we think about BOTH teams. We have to save something for the paying customers!

COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
St Mary's: #120 with Sagarin, #114 with Pomeroy
MTSU: #211 with Sagarin, #202 with Pomeroy

Even though St. Mary's played a soft schedule, it was significantly stronger than Middle Tennessee's. Note being battle tested doesn't guarantee that MTSU will be in over its heads. They will certainly be in uncharted waters though. St. Mary's played three games vs. a team seeded #1 in the Dance. You learn a lot about yourself with those kinds of challenges. Middle Tennessee only played three top 50 teams (Sagarin) all season.

WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN'S TOP 50
St Mary's: 1-3
MTSU: 1-2

Well, St. Mary's only played four because they had one other tough game besides the Gonzaga series! That win was the home victory over Creighton that we already mentioned. You haven't seen much of these teams on TV this year because they weren't playing games worthy of television.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
St Mary's: #11
MTSU: #73

Moving to the chess match, St. Mary's grades out as a top dozen offense according to Pomeroy when you adjust for strength of schedule and pace. In our view, that's NUTS! We respect most of Pomeroy's methodology...but he can really overshoot things on certain teams, particularly when they play such easy schedules. No way you stick St. Mary's in the Big East or Big 10 and come to the conclusion they should rank top 12 nationally on offense. We agree that St. Mary's has the better offense of the two teams squaring off tonight.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
St Mary's: #68
MTSU: #20

Same story here with the other team. Middle Tennessee grades out well defensively against a pathetic schedule. We don't think Pomeroy makes proper adjustments in those situations on either side of the ball. We agree that Middle Tennessee has the better stop-unit of the two sides. YOU should not be thinking of these teams as one nationally great offense facing one nationally great defense. That will only mess you up when you handicap the game involving the winner and Memphis.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
St Mary's: #223
MTSU: #210

These teams play very similar tempos...virtually identical given the margin for error with well over 300 teams in the sample size. Both are slightly below average...but not so far below average that they just run clock all night. Though, playoff style basketball can slow things down of course. We don't expect a track meet. Especially if the second half is close.

BEST EXPECTATION
This is very likely to be a selection for NETWORK clients tonight, so we're not at Liberty (ha!) to get too specific about either game in Dayton. We've told you that we think the computers are overrating St. Mary's. If they're also overrating Middle Tennessee significantly, then we'll be on the favorite. If Middle Tennessee is a true darkhorse waiting for a chance to impress...we could be calling for an outright upset with the Blue Raiders as a dog.

Possibilities from the rest of the Tuesday card:
St. John's at St. Joseph's in the NIT
Ohio at Denver in the NIT
Washington at Brigham Young in the NIT
Denver at Oklahoma City in the NBA

You can purchase game day releases all through MARCH MADNESS and beyond right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about the rest of basketball (the Dance, the NIT, the other tourneys, and the NBA), call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. The schedule is REALLY going to get crazy starting Thursday morning, so TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS NOW!

Back with you Wednesday for a matching piece of preview analysis for Dayton action in Long Island-James Madison and Boise State-LaSalle. Then we'll pick showcase games for spotlight coverage every day through the weekend so you can have in-depth knowledge of the biggest TV showdowns. Watch and win through all the MADNESS with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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