Earlier this week, Zimmer and I broke down every Conference Regular Season Champion who failed to win their conference tournament, and what they can bring to the table in a potential NIT appearance. With just a few hours until the NCAA Tournament bracket is made, let's break down four more teams that may miss the cut, and what they can do with a trip to Vegas on the line.
Our List So Far:
KenPom and NET Rankings are updated through games played March 11th.
Alcorn State-SWAC Regular Season Champions
by Jake Zimmer
Record: 18-13 (15-4 Conference)
Key Wins: Wichita State (66-57 Away), Stephen F. Austin (69-60 Away), Grambling State (63-60 Away)
Key Players: Dominic Brewton (12 PPG), Jeremiah Kendall (11.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG)
As the curious case of Texas Southern continues, it comes at the expense of the SWAC Regular Season Champs, the Alcorn State Braves. They rank first in the conference in several offensive categories (efficiency, turnover %, free-throws, and offensive rebounds), but have struggled with their shot selection, as well as making three-pointers at a high clip. Alcorn’s top scorer Dominic Brewton only having 12 PPG to his name should tell you everything you need to know about this Alcorn offense - it works in the SWAC, but it’s a far cry from a well-oiled machine. The Braves had a three-point lead at halftime against Texas Southern in the first round of the SWAC Tournament, but proceeded to let the Tigers go on a 23-6 run that proved to be insurmountable. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Alcorn State moving forward; will they be competitive in the NIT or will they lay an egg? Their non-con wins over Wichita State and SF Austin are commendable, but time will tell if they are good enough to make some noise in the postseason.
Utah Valley-WAC Regular Season Champs
by Jake Zimmer
Record: 25-8 (16-4 Conference)
Key Wins: Oregon (77-72 Away), Sam Houston State (80-64 Home), BYU (75-60 Away)
Key Players: Le’Tre Darthard (14.2 PPG, 37% 3PT); Trey Woodbury (13.4 PPG, 40% 3PT)
Preseason, Utah Valley was the almost-unanimous choice to win the WAC for the first time in program history. The Wolverines carved through the conference schedule and finished 15-3. In large part, they did it by way of their defense - they consistently ranked among the nation’s best in blocks, interior/paint defense, and defensive EFG%. But the same defense that carried the Wolverines to a NET and KenPom ranking in the low-70's was the same that let up 89 points in the WAC Semifinals to Southern Utah, one of the three in-conference opponents they lost to during the regular season. Former Minnesota Timberwolves center Mark Madsen is the head coach of Utah Valley, and he’s been able to assemble a solid roster of homegrown talent in Le’Tre Darthard, Justin Harmon, and 2019 UNLV benchwarmer Trey Woodbury…now all three are crucial cogs in the Wolverines machine.
UC Irvine-Big West Regular Season Champs
by Sam Basel
Record: 21-11 (15-5 Conference)
Key Wins: Oregon (69-56 Away), Santa Barbara (70-59 Away)
Key Players: Dawson Baker (15.3 PPG), DJ Davis (15.2 PPG)
Perhaps Irvine was not expecting to be a 20-win team, otherwise they would have prepared a more convincing non-conference schedule. Throw in a few more winnable Mountain West or WCC teams in the first half of Irvine's 2022-23 slate, and they may have been on the bubble despite winning potentially less games. Regardless, the Anteaters (amazing name, by the way) bring two Prolific WAC scorers to the NIT pool in Dawson Baker and DJ Davis. Irvine can shoot the lights out on opponents, defend hard on the perimeter, and limit opposing offensive rebounds to dominate a game's tempo.
Toledo-MAC Regular Season Champs
by Sam Basel
Record: 26-7 (16-2 Conference)
Key Wins: Oakland (112-90 Home), UAB (93-85 Neutral Site)
Key Players: Ray J Dennis (19.7 PPG, 53.8 eFG%)
Holy Toledo! Winning the MAC Regular Season Title by just a game, the Rockets bring experience from one of the tightest mid-majors in the country to what should be a tight NIT. The 6th best team in the country in KenPom offensive efficiency, the Rockets rarely turn the ball over and shoot with impeccable efficiency. If anything will stop Toledo, it will likely be their defense, who let up 93 points against Kent State in the MAC Championship Game.