A look at 10 ‘giant killers’ to watch for the NCAA tournament
The Grand Introduction
FOX Sports South invokes a detailed look at 10 college programs -- namely teams outside the RPI's Top 30 (as of March 6) -- that will likely wreak havoc in the upcoming NCAA men's basketball tournament. These proverbial giant killers should be viable threats to the elite regional seeds (1 through 4) on the tourney's opening weekend -- and perhaps beyond. (Photos: Rick Osentoski/Derick E. Hingle/Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)
Texas Southern (SWAC)
RECORD: 18-12 (15-2) ... RPI: 135 ... KEY WINS: @ Michigan State, @ Kansas State ... QUALITY LOSSES: @ Indiana, @ Tennessee, @ SMU, @ Florida, @ Gonzaga, @ Auburn, @ Baylor ... REASONS TO AVOID 'EM IN THE TOURNEY: 1) No team had a more daunting December than Texas Southern, which scheduled seven road trips to Baylor, Florida, Gonzaga, Michigan State, Auburn, Kansas State and New Mexico State -- with no home outings as filler. And yet, the Tigers still walked out of East Lansing (Mich.) and Manhattan (Kan.) with stunning victories. 2) Of his last 15 games, senior guard Madarious Gibbs (above) -- the Tigers' leader in points (14.0 per game) and assists (4.1) -- has tallied 16-plus points 10 times, including his last four outings.
RECORD: 19-11 (9-8) ... RPI: 65 ... KEY WINS: @ Duke, @ Florida, vs. NC State, vs. Illinois, vs. Clemson, @ Pitt ... QUALITY LOSSES: @ Notre Dame, vs. Providence, vs. Virginia (2OT), vs. Louisville, @ Louisville ... REASONS TO AVOID 'EM IN THE TOURNEY: 1) The Jan. 13 road rout of Duke will look even better ... if/when the Blue Devils earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney. 2) U-M scoring leader Sheldon McClellan (center) has averaged 18.9 points in his last six outings. 3) The Hurricanes shouldn't be condemned for having a 1-5 record against the ACC's ranked clubs -- Duke, UVa, Notre Dame, Louisville, North Carolina. ... IT'S WORTH NOTING: Miami bears plenty of blame for bad blowout losses to Eastern Kentucky (by 28!) and Georgia Tech.
RECORD: 21-9 (10-7) ... RPI: 54 ... KEY WINS: @ West Virginia, vs. Georgia, @ Ole Miss, @ Florida, vs. Florida ... QUALITY LOSSES: vs. Kentucky, vs. Clemson, vs. Texas A&M ... REASONS TO AVOID 'EM IN THE TOURNEY: 1) The big-man duo of Jordan Mickey (above -- 16.0 points, 9.9 rebounds) and Jarell Martin (16.6 points/9.0 boards) would present a tough matchup for nearly every team. They were prodigious against Kentucky, combining for 37 points and 18 rebounds.. 2) The Tigers rank both 14th nationally in rebounds (39.1 per game) and assists (15.8) -- a pair of telltale stats which justify the next point ... 3) LSU has incurred just one defeat of double digits this season (vs. Tennessee). 4) The Tigers are balanced, unselfish and formidable in the frontcourt -- a recipe for advancing to the Sweet 16 round.
Derick E. Hingle
Texas A&M (SEC)
RECORD: 20-9 (11-6) ... RPI: 47 ... KEY WINS: @ LSU, vs. Florida, vs. LSU ... QUALITY LOSSES: vs. Kentucky (2OT), @ Baylor, @ Arkansas, @ Ole Miss, vs. Georgia ... REASONS TO AVOID 'EM IN THE TOURNEY: 1) How's this for resilient: After its gut-wrenching loss to Kentucky on Jan. 10, Texas A&M rallied for six straight conference victories -- three by double figures. 2) For the season, guard Jalen Jones (above -- 13.6 PPG/6.6 boards) has notched two double-doubles and seven outings of 15 points/7 rebounds. 3) A&M's defense has surrendered 70 or more points only six times. 4) The Aggies, whose NCAA seed may be in the 6-9 range, certainly have the stuff to upend a top-3 seed in The Big Dance.
Temple (American Athletic)
RECORD: 21-9 (12-5) ... RPI: 42 ... KEY WINS: vs. Kansas, @ UConn, vs. Cincinnati ... QUALITY LOSSES: @ SMU, @ Villanova, vs. SMU, vs. Duke, @ Tulsa, @ Cincy, @ Tulsa ... REASONS TO AVOID 'EM IN THE TOURNEY: 1) The underrated American Athletic has a great divide within its ranks, with six clubs having 10-plus conference wins (SMU, Tulsa, Cincy, Memphis, UConn, Temple) ... and the remaining five teams posting six or fewer. 2) Temple has enjoyed respective winning streaks of six and seven games The first streak includded an overtime win over UConn (Dec. 31) ... and a shocking 25-point thumping of Kansas (Dec. 22). 3) Will Cummings, the Owls' leader in points (13.8 per game) and assists (4.3), has scored in double figures in 11 straight games -- or nine Temple wins.
Raymond Carlin III
BYU (West Coast)
RECORD: 23-8 (13-5) ... RPI: 40 ... KEY WINS: @ Gonzaga, vs. Saint Mary's, vs. Stanford ... QUALITY LOSSES: vs. Gonzaga, vs. Purdue, vs. San Diego State, vs. Utah, @ Saint Mary's ... REASONS TO AVOID 'EM IN THE TOURNEY: 1) BYU is an offensive juggernaut, leading the nation in scoring (84 points per game) and assists (17.1). Of equal relevance, the Cougars also rank 15th nationally in rebounds. 2) On Feb. 28, BYU upended No. 3 Gonzaga, snapping the Bulldogs' 41-game home winning streak. 3) Senior guard Tyler Hawks (above -- 21.3 PPG) has scored double figures in 30 of 31 games this season. Against Purdue, San Diego State and Stanford, Haws cumulatively averaged 27 points.
Iowa (Big Ten)
RECORD: 20-10 (11-6) ... RPI: 36 ... KEY WINS: @ North Carolina, @ Ohio State, @ Indiana, vs. Ohio State ... QUALITY LOSSES: vs. Wisconsin, @ Wisconsin, @ Purdue, vs. Texas, vs. Syracuse, vs. Iowa State, vs. Michigan State .... REASONS TO AVOID 'EM IN THE TOURNEY: 1) How's this for weird: Iowa has been more proficient on the road this season (7-3) ... than on a neutral court (0-3). 2) Andrew White (above -- per-game averages: 15.6 points/7.3 boards) and the Hawkeyes have won five straight games -- by an average margin of 17 points. IT'S WORTH NOTING: The essentials of dictating pace: Iowa doesn't have a strong comfort level with high-scoring games. When allowing 75 points or more, the Hawkeyes are just 2-3.
RECORD: 20-9 (11-6) ... RPI: 33 ... KEY WINS: @ Bowling Green ... QUALITY LOSSES: @ Kentucky, @ Wisconsin, @ Central Michigan, vs. Central Michigan .... REASONS TO AVOID 'EM IN THE TOURNEY: 1) The MAC currently boasts five clubs with 11-plus conference wins -- Central Michigan, Bowling Green, Kent State, Toledo and Buffalo. But the Bulls are the ONLY ones with a shot of making the NCAA tournament, IF they don't capture the MAC tourney title. The reasoning: UB has respectable losses to vaunted Kentucky and Wisconsin. 2) Justin Moss (left) has 14 double-doubles this season; and Shannon Evans (right -- 15.4 points/4.6 boards) tallied a triple-double against Binghamton. (Photos: Mary Langerfield/Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports)
St. John's (Big East)
RECORD: 21-9 (10-7) ... RPI: 32 ... KEY WINS: @ Providence, @ Syracuse, vs. Georgetown, vs. Providence, vs. Saint Mary's ... QUALITY LOSSES: vs. Gonzaga, vs. Duke, @ Butler, @ Creighton, @ Georgetown, vs. Butler, vs. Villanova, @ Seton Hall ... REASONS TO AVOID 'EM IN THE TOURNEY: 1) St. John's only has two bad losses on its quality docket -- at Creighton and at DePaul. 2) The Jan. 25 home loss to Duke -- aka Mike Krzyzewski's 1,000th coaching win -- was a gut-wrenching defeat and one that might have sewn up St. John's tournament bid. 3) Guard D'Angelo Harrison (above) tallied double-doubles in back-to-back Big East games last month. 4) The Red Storm have been rolling of late, going 7-1 in the last 30 days.
Ohio State (Big Ten)
RECORD: 22-8 (11-6) ... RPI: 31 ... KEY WINS: vs. Maryland, vs. Purdue, vs. Indiana ... QUALITY LOSSES: @ Louisville, vs. North Carolina, vs. Iowa, @ Purdue, @ Iowa, @ Michigan State ... REASONS TO AVOID 'EM IN THE TOURNEY: 1) Ohio State doesn't have a slew of impressive wins, to date. But that could change over the next 10 days, as the Buckeyes host Wisconsin on Sunday ... and then could face No. 6 Wisconsin and/or No. 10 Maryland in next week's Big Ten tourney. 2) Freshman D'Angelo Russell (above -- averaging 19.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists) is an All-American candidate. He also has the all-around game to carry Ohio State to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. 3) The Buckeyes are a Final Four dark horse, stats-wise: Ranking 20th nationally in points (77 per game), 24th in assists (15.6) and 5th in field-goal shooting (49 percent).