Hoonhout: Way-too-early Cinderella predictions
Tobias Hoonhout | Friday, February 15, 2019
On Thursday, ESPN college basketball guru Jay Bilas released “Volume II of The Bilas Index,” the Bilas-assured “most dependable and trusted metric of hoop quality and capability in the known universe.”
In case you were nervous about its veracity, take it from the source: “It is culled from the most savvy and informed mind the game has ever known, and therefore, it is the most powerful basketball evaluation tool ever invented.”
Bilas goes on to list his evaluations of 68 teams, separated into five tiers of March aspirations. Now, I’m not going to pull a Connor Mulvena and pick beef with the pundits at ESPN. Instead, let’s fill in the obvious holes in Bilas’s analysis — after all, Thursday was Valentine’s Day.
So without further adieu, allow me to introduce you to Tier Heartthrob: The Cinderellas.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
First on this list is a glaring omission from Jay’s rankings, and for one reason — 6-foot-9 and two-time Summit League Player of the Year Mike Daum. By now, you should at least recognize the name — South Dakota State has made the last three dances, but has yet to win a game; Daum and Co. only lost to Ohio State by eight last year in a game that was tied at half and pretty close the whole way. This year, if I’m Daum and the Jackrabbits, I’m feeling used to the Madness. The squad is in the top-five in field goal and 3-point percentage. Don’t be surprised to see them take their chance come March.
You shouldn’t be surprised to see the Terriers sitting 32nd in KenPom efficiency ratings — this team is dangerously good, and at least Jay sort-of-agreed by ranking them 37th. Wofford’s four losses on the year have all come against big programs: North Carolina, Kansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi State, and the have won 12-straight and sit undefeated in conference play. With five players shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc, led by Storm Murphy, who is just a hair shy of that 50 percent threshold, the Terriers can spread the floor and light it up from long distance — the two pillars of every Cinderella run.
Coming in at a measly No. 58 on Mr. Bilas’ rankings, Hofstra has a dagger up its sleeve that, come March, will probably become a household name: Justin Wright-Foreman. The senior guard is currently third in the country with 26 points per game. He shoots 42.5 percent from three, 87.3 from the charity stripe and has multiple 40-point games this season — AND the Pride have pieces around him to complement — Hofstra is 20th in offensive efficiency per KenPom. If they get to March, do NOT let them get hot.
Liberty Flames / Lipscomb Bisons — whoever wins the Atlantic Sun
After Liberty’s 74-66 win over Lipscomb on Wednesday night, both teams sit tied atop the ASUN standings at 11-1. Both the Flames and the Bisons have the pieces — Lipscomb is sixth in the country at 85.8 points per game and upset TCU and SMU earlier in the year, while Liberty is the fifth-best defensive team in the country, giving up 59.8 points per game. It’s highly unlikely both get in, but just on paper, whoever comes out of the conference is going to pose a potential nightmare.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.