College Basketball

March Madness 2014: Bracket Busters to Watch in Conference Tournaments

Dayton guard Jordan Sibert looks to pass off the basketball while being defended by Gonzaga center Sam Dower (35) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Maui Invitational on Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Lahaina, Hawaii. Dayton upset Gonzaga 84-79. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)
Eugene Tanner/Associated Press
Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2014

There is no sweet science that will allow fans to nail down the exact definition of a "bracket buster," so let's just roll with it as a little guy who takes down a big guy in the NCAA tournament.

Boom.

As it stands now, a lot of those little guys may make it through conference championships, get the nod on Selection Sunday and match up well with some of the best teams in the nation.

The conference championships are one final proving ground for most teams, where serious momentum can be had en route to a shocking performance in the tournament. Three teams jump off the page when one looks at the applicants for the "bracket buster" job.

 

Toledo Rockets

Dec 30, 2013; Lawrence, KS, USA; Toledo Rockets guard Julius Brown (20) passes against Kansas Jayhawks guard Naadir Tharpe (10) in the second half at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas won 93-83. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The Toledo Rockets are smaller than many of the schools they might encounter in the tournament, and that can be applied in more ways than one.

Not many schools tout a point guard who stands at 5'10" and happens to be one of the better players in the nation.

Toledo, now sitting at 26-5, does thanks to Julius Brown, who averages 14.8 points and 6.3 assists per game. Brown works well in tandem with Justin Drummond, who feeds off Brown's propensity to dish out assists by averaging 14.5 points per game.

Drummond's story is particularly impressive, as a recent DUI arrest brought the team together, according to head coach Tod Kowalczyk via Dave Hackenberg of The Toledo Blade:

I don’t think he had to earn anything back from his teammates. They know what kind of person he is and what he stands for. Now, maybe he had to earn it back from the community.

Obviously, everybody was very disappointed in Justin; including Justin. I have so much respect for him. There’s no coaching manual in how you deal with this. So I’ve always thought you deal with it based on the individual.

He’s been exemplary in all regards at the University of Toledo … great student, great teammate, and great leader. Unfortunately, he made a very poor choice. He was extremely embarrassed, as he should have been.

Overall, the undersized Rockets excel when they consistently hit shots from behind the arc. A team that stuck with Kansas at Phog Allen Fieldhouse in a 93-83 loss is not one to underestimate come tournament time.

 

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

Jan 19, 2014; Hattiesburg, MS, USA; Louisiana Tech Bulldogs guard Kenneth Smith (4) makes a pass while defended by Southern Miss Golden Eagles forward Jeremiah Eason (30) during the first half at Reed Green Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Tied for first in Conference USA at 25-6, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs are one of the last teams any fan should sleep on come tournament time.

Led by Raheem Appleby and Kenneth Smith, the Bulldogs have shown a capacity to hang with the big fish in the sea like Oklahoma, which makes them a dangerous team when the tournament rolls around.

The Bulldogs tout a defense that usually flusters opponents into mistakes while both Appleby and Alex Hamilton capitalize on the other end of the court by averaging more than 13.5 points apiece.

Louisiana Tech also does not have any size issues, meaning the strong defense is able to adapt to the opposition when necessary.

 

Dayton Flyers

Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

The Dayton Flyers quietly have a better resume than most would expect. Archie Miller's team is 22-9, has won nine of its last 10 and touts four top-30 wins.

Not only that, Dayton is 8-6 against the top 100 and has a sound record away from home thanks to a 9-5 mark.

Ohio State fans may want to look away now.

Jordan Sibert is a major reason for Dayton's success as he is the perfect complementary piece to the Flyers offense that relies on ball movement, sound defense and stretch forwards to find success. As Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com pointed out, Dayton's gain from Sibert's transfer is Ohio State's major loss:

But a guy like Sibert would be nice.

Matta wanted Sibert to be that player two years ago. The 6-foot-4 guard was a real part of the rotation for that 2011-12 OSU team that went to the Final Four. He averaged 14 minutes per game through the first 17 games of the season before he lost playing time to Smith and Thompson. That was because in those first 17 games, Sibert was 12 of 45 on 3-pointers, making 27 percent.

Sibert has since improved and hits on 44 percent of his shots from behind the arc. His experience with a deep run in the tournament before the transfer will come in handy in the A-10 tournament before the real tournament gets underway.

Dayton has some very, very ugly losses on its resume. But the Flyers are a strong candidate to get in, and when they do, Sibert just has to keep his foot on the gas.

 

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