5 Lessons from ESPN BracketBusters That Will Help You Win a March Madness Pool

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIFebruary 24, 2013

5 Lessons from ESPN BracketBusters That Will Help You Win a March Madness Pool

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    Trying to extrapolate from one game is always tricky, but ESPN BracketBusters demands we at least try.

    It's our one chance to make some substantive apples-to-apples comparisons among the nation's most promising mid-majors. And if one of those mid-majors just happens to have an off night, well, that's all we really have to go on.

    With that as a disclaimer, let's look at five teams that left an impression this weekend.

Montana Is Not an Upset Threat

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    BracketBuster Result

    Montana: 87

    Davidson: 93 (OT)

     

    What It Means

    There was a moment mid-season when the Montana Grizzlies looked like a potential postseason menace.

    They'd won 14 straight. They had a close loss to Colorado State on their resume. And most encouraging of all, they had a dynamic backcourt led by star guard Will Cherry.

    Unfortunately, Cherry re-aggravated a foot injury in Montana's BracketBusters loss at Davidson. It's unclear how much time he'll miss, but early reports aren't encouraging.

    Cherry's presence means the most to the Grizzlies on defense. With the California native in the lineup, Montana held 11 of 17 opponents to less than one point per possession. By comparison, all five of the Division I teams Montana played in Cherry's absence registered better than 0.97 points per possession.

    Montana, a team ranked 210th in adjusted defensive efficiency, was already going to struggle against single-seeded opponents, even with Cherry in the lineup.

    Without him, Montana can kiss those second-weekend dreams goodbye.

Niagara Could Be That 16th Seed

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    BracketBuster Result

    Northwestern State: 76

    Niagara: 92

     

    What It Means

    With all the turbulence in the AP Top Five, there's been some speculation that this year's tournament could feature the first-ever victory by a No. 16 seed over a No. 1 seed.

    Could Niagara be the team to spring that elusive upset?

    The Purple Eagles are a 15th seed in Joe Lunardi's latest bracket, but the presumptive MAAC champion was a rung lower as recently as Feb. 15. Depending on how the teams around it fare, Niagara could end up back on the bottom line.

    And if it does, watch out.

    Leading scorer Antoine Mason returned from an ankle injury to drop 20 points on Northwestern State. His backcourt mate, Juan'ya Green, poured in 20 of his own. Together with Ameen Tanksley, they help form one of the America's better mid-major guard trios.

    Of course, there's always the possibility that Niagara fails to win its conference tournament. And if so, look for conference rival Iona as a possible replacement 16th seed. The Gaels looked impressive in defeat on Saturday, losing by just one on the road at Indiana State.

Detroit's Defense Is a Major Problem

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    BracketBuster Result

    Detroit: 79

    Wichita State: 94

     

    What It Means

    On a per-athlete basis, Detroit is one of the most intriguing mid-major teams in America. The headliner is star point guard Ray McCallum Jr., but the Titans have high-major-type talent all over the floor.

    The bugaboo for this team has been defense, and against Wichita State, that flaw was apparent.

    The Shockers—a good-but-not-great offensive team—scored 94 points at a rate of 1.29 points per possession. Behind the efforts of Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early, Wichita State shot a scintillating 60 percent from inside the arc.

    Amazingly, that figure was only 7.6 percent higher than the opponent average against Detroit this year.

    If we're talking about a half or even a game, Detroit can hang with good teams based purely on offensive talent. But the second weekend of the tournament is a bridge too far. Right now, the Titans can't get the stop they need.

Belmont Is Going to Be a Handful

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    BracketBuster Result

    Ohio: 62

    Belmont: 81

     

    What It Means

    For the third year in a row now, Belmont enters March as one of the most dangerous-looking mid-major teams.

    The Bruins made easy work of defending MAC champion Ohio, blitzing the Bobcats' defense to the tune of 51.9 percent shooting and 1.19 points per possession. And if that doesn't sound impressive, consider that Ohio ranks above at-large contenders like Creighton, St. Mary's, UCLA, Arizona State and Iowa State in adjusted defensive efficiency.

    The challenge now becomes turning that promising mid-February profile into March magic.

    The Bruins have fallen short in two consecutive NCAA second-round matchups, and this talented group is running out of chances.

Creighton Is Going to Be Okay

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    BracketBuster Result

    Creighton: 66

    St. Mary's: 74

     

    What It Means

    Creighton came into its game with St. Mary's with more national buzz than the Gaels, but metrics suggested that this would be a pretty even matchup.

    Creighton ranks four spots ahead of St. Mary's in pythagorean win percentage, and the Gaels' home-court advantage more than made up for that small gap.

    So I wouldn't read too deep into St. Mary's eight-point win.

    Creighton remains a flawed defensive team with outstanding offensive potential. Even if the Bluejays—who have lost five of their last seven—wind up with a double-digit seed, they're still a threat to make the Sweet Sixteen.