Southern Mississippi (26-5)
KenPom rank- 60
RPI rank – 36
Best Player – Michael Craig
Due to an inflated RPI and a very winnable conference tournament where they will probably be favored to win, the Golden Eagles have a very good chance of making the tournament.
How they got here: Southern Miss got their 36th ranked RPI and high probability of getting in on the back of their 5 losses. They have played a particularly soft schedule, playing only 1 top-50 KenPom team, Louisville, where they were promptly smashed by 31 points. Their top win is probably beating North Dakota State on the road, which does not arouse much confidence in the team. However, they have taken care of business for the most part, particularly at home, where they went undefeated. They have put themselves in an enviable position before their conference tournament.
How do they play? Southern Miss plays a particularly balanced game, with the only player playing more than 70% of their team’s minutes being 3-point specialist Neil Watson. They play pretty slowly, ranking 277th in Adj Tempo, and are also pretty balanced in offense and defense, ranking 65th in offensive efficiency and 87th in defensive efficiency per KenPom. Their biggest specialty is offensive rebounding, where they are 11th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage at 38.6%. Six foot five inch Michael Craig leads the way in the rebounding department, leading the team in defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage. Craig is their best offensive weapon, mostly through his 56.8% 2-point FG%.
Are they any good?: For a team with as good chance of getting into the tournament as Southern Miss, they are not very good. As of this time, they are projected to get a seed anywhere from 9-12 and at 9 they would be severely over seeded. At the 60th best team in the KenPom rankings, they profile along with teams such as Green Bay, West Virginia and Georgia State. Placing this team at a 9 seed would be over-valuing them by about 20 to 30 spots.
Where do they go next?: To the CUSA conference tournament, where they will likely face UTEP in their first matchup. Unfortunately for Southern Miss, the CUSA conference tournament is being played at Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas, which happens to be UTEP’s home court. If they get past UTEP they will face their toughest matchup of the tournament in Louisiana Tech, the best team in the CUSA per KenPom. Regardless of Southern Miss’s results in the tournament, they are likely to be heading to the big dance come selection Sunday.
Oklahoma State (20-11)
Conference: Big 12
KenPom Rank – 19
RPI rank – 41
Best Player – Marcus Smart
How they got here: For the majority of the season, Oklahoma State has been one of the biggest disappointments of the year in college basketball. However, looking back, a lot of that can be chalked up to a deceptively tough schedule, bad luck, and losing their best player for 3 games. Oklahoma State was believed to be missing the tournament after their 7 game losing streak, still after being a top team in the preseason and for a good amount of the beginning of the season. Looking back on that 7 game losing streak which put them here on the bubble, not many teams would have even gone 3-4 in a schedule of Oklahoma home and away, Baylor home and away, Iowa State, Texas on the road and Texas tech on the road. Oh, and by the way, they didn’t have their best player for 3 of those games. Yet even though they did lose those 7 games in a row, they only lost by 10+ twice in those 7 games, and pushed the game to OT twice.
How do they play? This is another particularly balanced team that has the 25th best offense in the nation and the 34th best defense in the nation. They play fast, getting up and down the court, but also take great care of the ball, ranking 16th in the nation in turnover percentage. Oklahoma State really rides their starters for minutes with Smart, Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash, Phil Forte and Kamari Murphy spending 42.4% of the teams minutes on the court together. Smart leads the offense as a scorer and a passer and helps set up their 3 other scores: Forte (3 point guy), as well as Nash and Brown, who both shoot very well from 2 and the line.
Are they any good? Yes. Very good. I remember a couple weeks back thinking about how at the pace OK State was at, they were going to be one of the best 12 seeds in the history of the tournament. Fortunately for 5 seeds everywhere, they have played themselves into a higher seed, yet will still be extremely dangerous and could easily be favored in their first NCAA tournament matchup even as a 10 or 11 seed. Oklahoma State is very highly ranked in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and at their peak, they have proven to be able to beat Kansas, Memphis, Colorado and Kansas State. This is a team that higher seeds do not want to be placed near on Selection Sunday.
Where do they go next? OK State was dealt a difficult Big 12 tournament draw, whereafter playing Texas Tech in the play-in game, they would have to play #1 seeded Kansas in the quarter finals. Regardless of their results in the Big 12 tournament, this is a team that will be dancing and will be a popular upset pick in your pools this year.
by Robert Garcia, Northwestern University