The Latest at CHJ: Beating the Odds: Teams looking to join the NCAA club
There are 50 teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament. Everyone has heard of Northwestern’s plight, but as conference tournaments kick into high gear during championship fortnight a number of smaller conference schools get their shot at earning an automatic berth to the Big Dance.
Of course, seven of those schools – due to the fact that they’re independents or play in the Great West – don’t really get a chance. But, seven of those 50 teams play in either the Northeast or the America East conferences and have set the stage for a run to the title.
The seven teams searching for their one shining moment in those two conferences are: Quinnipiac, St. Francis (NY) and Sacred Heart from the NEC, and Stony Brook, Maine, New Hampshire and Hartford in America East. And the odds of at least one of them earning their first berth in conference history are about two in three.
Let’s start with these possible odds of winning the conference tournament, which I calculated through 10,000 simulations of the tournament using Ken Pomeroy’s odds and the specific parameters. (Pomeroy likes to use Log5 analysis to do this, I find simulating tournaments more fun somehow, you get essentially the same results.) The chances of each school winning a title from best to worst:
- Stony Brook – 53.9%
- Quinnipiac – 22.6%
- St. Francis (NY) – 2.6%
- Maine – 0.7%
- New Hampshire – 0.6%
- Sacred Heart – 0.4%
- Hartford – 0.1%
Using those numbers there’s about a 34.1% chance that none of them makes the tournament this season, or, put in a happier manner, a 65.9% that at least one team breaks the drought. Let’s break down the strengths and weaknesses of the top teams, Stony Brook and Quinnipiac, in further detail.
Stony Brook (20-8):
The Seawolves earned the top seed in America East this season thanks to a gritty defense and enough offense to get by. Thanks the odd format of the AE tournament Steve Pikiell’s team is heading to neutral site Hartford along with the other eight teams in the conference. They’ll get to take on the winner of the 8/9 game between Binghamton and UMBC in the first round on Friday. If they can survive that and a semifinal then Stony Brook gets to play the title game on Long Island – but probably not in their home gym. That home court advantage in the finals is why SBU is the favorite in the conference tournament. The Seawolves lost at Vermont, their main challenger, 68-49 on February 12, but also took away a 65-59 home victory on January 2.
Stony Brook is 20-8 thanks to a club that doesn’t shoot well, but is excellent at doing the little things that help win basketball games. A unique team because of its size, SBU is the best rebounding team in America East. Three legitimate big men, Dallis Joyner, Tommy Brenton and Al Rapier, always attack the glass.
In its two losses this season in conference play Stony Brook shot a combined 7-34, including 0-15 against Vermont, from beyond the three-point line. The key is senior Bryan Dougher, who shot 4-18 from three in those two games, but shot 37.3% overall this season from distance.
Stony Brook has finished first in America East in two of the past three seasons and also played in the championship game against Boston University last season. This is a battle-tested group that is expected to bring home a conference tournament title and the school’s first tournament berth.
The flipside of that coin is the Bobcats. The fifth seed in the NEC tournament, Quinnipiac won’t even play at home during the quarterfinals on Thursday. Because the tournament reseeds, there’s a possibility that Tom Moore’s team could eventually play a home game, but it’s rather unlikely. Thus they’ll have to do it the hard way and win three away from home to make the tournament.
The good news is that most metrics think that the Bobcats are actually the fourth best team in the NEC. Ken Pomeroy has them as a 53% favorite to take out St. Francis (NY) and continue on.
If Quinnipiac manages to win that game it’ll likely be due to one of the most underrated players in the NEC and the nation, Ike Azotam. The sophomore forward has blossomed this season into an efficient scorer and solid rebounder. He almost averaged a double-double this season at 15.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game on 56.5% shooting from the field.
In each of the past three seasons Quinnipiac has at least made the NEC semifinals. They got oh so close to earning that elusive tournament ticket in 2010, when they lost the finals to Robert Morris, 52-50.
Even with Azotam, the one big flaw in Quinnipiac’s offense during NEC play has been the inability to score inside. That’s mainly because the rest of the offense relies heavily on guards James Johnson and Dave Johnson. The Bobcats were last in 3PA/FGA in the NEC this season and last in two-point field goal percentage at 46.2%. Johnson, a 5’10” guard, has shot 55 threes and 172 twos. Somehow though this nets out to 62.5% of the Bobcats’ points coming from inside the arc, the most in the NEC. They overcame their inefficiencies by being the best offensive rebounding and least turnover prone team in the conference, an excellent one-two punch.
It’ll be interesting to see what gambles Moore takes as his team tries to win three road games to overcome the odds and take home an unlikely, but still possible NCAA Tournament berth.