NCAA Basketball Tournament Sleeper: Michael White's Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, coached by Michael White, are a sleeper capable of making noise in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Don't forget about the Bulldogs when it comes time to fill out your office brackets, because they could be this year's Cinderella.
Currently projected to be a No. 13 seed (Joe Lunardi) in the West, squaring off against No. 4 Georgetown in the first round, Louisiana Tech has posted a 24-3 (14-0 WAC) record as of February 24.
Led by second-year head coach Michael White, the Bulldogs are primed to receive their first bid to the Big Dance since 1991. The young coach himself is no stranger to March Madness. He helped lead his Ole Miss Rebels to three consecutive NCAA Tournament bids (1997, 1998 and 1999), including the program's first win in the NCAA Tournament.
In fact, White almost led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament last season in his initial year at the helm. At 35 years old in his first season as a college head coach, his club nearly ran the table as the No. 5 seed in the WAC Basketball Tournament and captured an automatic bid to the Big Dance. However, New Mexico State ultimately ended the tournament dreams of Tech fans.
Coming within 40 minutes of advancing to the NCAA Tournament in 2011-2012, the Bulldogs are destined for a berth this season. Quietly, they have won their past 16 games in a row heading into a February 28 tilt with Utah State. Further, White's squad will get a chance to sweep the same New Mexico State team that knocked his club out of the Big Dance last season when the two meet on March 7.
While sophomore guard Raheem Appleby leads his team in scoring with 14.7 PPG, six Louisiana Tech players are averaging 6.9 PPG or better. The head coach has developed his group into a true team, with 10 players averaging 10.1 minutes per game or more.
At the charity stripe, the Bulldogs shoot over 70 percent as a team, led by eight different players averaging 70 percent or better. The fact that White's team doesn't have to rely on just one or two players could bode quite well for Louisiana Tech when the level of competition goes up a notch in the Big Dance. They have depth.
One area of emphasis for White's club has been aggressive, yet careful play. The Bulldogs are No. 18 in the nation in steals per game with 9.1 per contest, while ranking No. 6 in the country in turnover margin at plus-5.3 steals per game. Come mid-March being able to protect the basketball becomes mission critical, an area in which Tech has been quite successful thus far in 2012-2013.
Averaging 73.9 PPG (No. 41 nationally) and 39.3 RPG (No. 21 nationally) as a unit, White's squad gets things done the old-fashioned way, as a team. If the Bulldogs can manage to win their final four games of the regular season, they would enter the WAC Tournament having won their last 20 contests. There's no denying the cohesiveness of a team both on and off the court, which can rattle off as many wins in a row (16) as Louisiana Tech has done to date.
The two schools that will challenge this group for a conference tournament championship will be Denver (18-8, 13-2 WAC) and New Mexico State (19-9, 12-3 WAC). Having come so close to winning the WAC Tournament in 2012, White should have his players mentally prepared to take home the title.
On Sunday, March 17, Bulldogs players, coaches and fan will circle around the biggest flat screen in Ruston, LA to see who their team will face in round one of the Big Dance. Regardless of who the opponent ends up being, one thing is for sure: Their opponent best not look past these Bulldogs, because they're a team capable of wearing the glass slipper for a while.
If that happens, look for Michael White to be one of the hot young coaching names in America.
I like Louisiana Tech's chances in March, maybe just enough to reach the Sweet 16.
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