Bubble Breakdown: Safe Side of the Bubble

Nebraska (19-11)

Conference: Big Ten

KenPom Rank – 47

RPI Rank – 42

Best Player – Terran Petteway

How they got here: No team has had a bigger jump since the time of my first writing to today than Nebrasketball. While their tournament chances and RPI took a big jump after they knocked off Wisconsin at home on Sunday to get the #4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, their win was not much of a surprise. They had a 40% chance to win on Sunday and they have been absolutely dynamite at home the whole season. Nebraska has only had one loss at home, to Michigan by one point, and their inspired play at their brand-new stadium has brought them to the doorstep of their first tournament appearance since 1998.

How do they play? Nebraska runs the majority of their offense through Terran Petteway. Petteway leads the Big Ten in percentage of team shots taken (32%) and also in usage rate. Petteway is a balanced scorer who is pretty efficient from both 2 and 3. However, where he is best is at drawing fouls (6 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, 3rd in the Big Ten) and knocking down free throws, where he hits 82%. As a team, Nebraska’s specialty is defense where they rank 27th in the country in defensive efficiency, specializing in a strong defensive rebounding percentage. Nebrasketball plays slower than average, as to be expected for a Big Ten team, and relies on Petteway and Shavon Shields to carry the bulk of the minutes for the squad.

Are they any good? Eh. They are pretty good, but unspectacular. There are two tournament clichés that go against each other when it comes to Nebrasketball. First of all, Nebraska is coming into the Big Ten Tournament on a run, going 8-1 in their last 9 games and beating Wisconsin, and winning at Indiana and at Michigan State. However, their team is run through one player and when a team has a week to completely focus on scouting, that one player is usually taken away in the tournament, making them predictable and vulnerable. Despite that, the bigger Red Herring for Nebraska is this: on Teamrankings.com, Nebraska’s home power ranking is #12. Their away power ranking is #62 and their neutral site power ranking is #135. Here’s a news flash: there are no home games in the NCAA tournament. Can Nebrasketball survive away from their heartland? We will see.

Where do they go next? Nebraska has gained the enviable position of a first round bye in the Big Ten tournament setting up a potential matchup with Ohio State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, a game in which they will be underdogs. Barring a blow out in the Ohio State game, they will be in the tournament come Selection Sunday, and picking up some wins in the Big Ten tournament could move them up potentially as far as an 8 seed.

Dayton (22-9)

Conference: Atlantic 10

KenPom Rank – 51

RPI Rank – 38

Best Player – Devin Oliver

How they got here: Dayton has put together a number of quality wins this year over teams such as Gonzaga, George Washington, and at St. Louis. Dayton has also won difficult road games at Mississippi and Georgia Tech. They, like Nebraska, have gone on a hot streak recently, where they are 9-1 in their last ten games, with a huge win at St. Louis included. Dayton’s recent run has put them in a comfortable, but not guaranteed, spot heading into the next week.

How do they play? Dayton has a very balanced team that relies on a strong team 3P%, 37.5%, which ranks 55th in the country, and a strong offensive rebound percentage, ranking 40th in the nation. This is all embodied by Devin Oliver, who shoots 54% from 2 and 40% from 3, all while pulling down over 7 rebounds a game. In their recent run, they have scored more than 1 point per possession in 8 of their 10 games, which is the strength of their team, ranking 31st nationally in offensive efficiency. Dayton’s defense is lacking and they are a team that fouls an awful lot, ranking 252nd in FTA/FGA nationally.

Are they any good? While they are a little overrated in the RPI rank, this is a team that is still pretty decent overall, while the still may be a little over seeded in the tournament. Dayton has accumulated quality wins this season that have shown they have the potential to make a run. While Dayton has been under the radar all year, they have put together the best offense in the A10 and can really attack from the 3 point line.

Where do they go next? Dayton has a relatively easy path in the A10 tournament, facing the winner of Fordham – George Mason, and then facing an overrated St. Joe’s team in the quarters. This combination helps Dayton fans feel pretty comfortable getting into the tournament as long as they win their first game. Dayton is being projected to get a 11 or 12 seed at this point which could bring the best outcome for basketball fans, Dayton playing in the First Four games at home in Dayton.

Tennessee (20-11)

Conference: SEC

KenPom Rank – 14

RPI Rank – 43

Best Player – Jordan McRae

How they got here: Tennessee has had an awful amount of bad luck to get them here on the bubble, even if they will probably be getting in at the end of the day. Tennessee has had close losses at Xavier, at Vanderbilt, at Missouri, and at Texas A&M. Also well as their close losses, Tennessee has beat down some damn good teams, including a 15 point win over Virginia, a 15 point win over Xavier in a neutral site rematch and a 27 point destruction of Missouri. Tennessee has had a pretty difficult schedule this year, ranking 51st in the KenPom strength of schedule ranking and has the 3rd hardest schedule in the SEC.

How do they play? Tennessee plays quite a slow style yet, they are remarkable efficient on both the offensive and defensive end, ranking 17th in offensive efficiency and 28th in defensive efficiency. They are absolute beasts on the offensive glass, ranking 4th in the nation in offensive rebounding. Tennessee is also graced with the best player in the SEC and a top ten player nationally in Jordan McRae. McRae draws a large amount of fouls and shoots a good percentage from 2 point range, 3 point range and the line, all while taking the 3rd highest percentage of shots in the SEC. His partner in crime Jarnell Stokes is a heck of a player as well, currently ranked as the 3rd best player in the SEC by KenPom and has been dynamite from two point range, shooting 53% while killing it on the offensive boards, where he has lead the SEC in offensive rebounding percentage, and is 16th nationally. On the defensive end, Tennessee still rebounds well, and also holds teams to a very low 2 point field goal percentage, at 44.3%, 42nd in the country.

Are they any good? If you are looking for the team that high seeds want to avoid early in the tournament, look no further than Tennessee. Tennessee is a hell of a team, ranking 14th in KenPom right next to Syracuse, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan. Now imagine being a five seed facing one of those teams in the first game of the NCAA tournament and that’s what a team facing Tennessee will get. Not only do the stats show that Tennessee is that good, Tennessee has shown it already this year when they beat potential #1 seed Virginia by 15 handing them their largest loss of the year. Depending on how the bracket ends up, Tennessee has a very good chance of getting to the Sweet Sixteen, if not the Final Four, even though they will likely be an 11 or 12 seed, with the outside chance of sneaking up to a 10 seed if they beat Florida in the SEC tournament.

Where do they go next? They will probably lock up their spot with a win against Arkansas in the SEC tournament, a team that they are much better than (they should be relatively large favorites in that game). However, Tennessee continues to get unlucky, as while by KenPom they are the second best team in the conference, they have gotten the 4th seed in the conference tournament and a semifinal match up against the dominant Gators. They have a decent chance at beating Florida on a neutral court, but it’s not a game that they are expected to win. However, if they get past the Gators, they have a great shot at winning the whole tournament. Into the NCAA tournament, Tennessee should be hoping to get potentially overrated high seeded teams such as San Diego State, Iowa State, and Saint Louis.

by Robert Garcia, Northwestern University

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