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Overrated/Underrated in College Hoops

   by ASA - 03/14/2008

Once March Madness comes around and the NCAA Tournament brackets are released, determining who the haves and the have-nots are can be an arduous task. Obviously teams like North Carolina and UCLA are highly likely to go deep in to the tournament while programs like Morgan State and American are highly likely to go home quickly. Here’s a look at some teams in between, three that are underrated and three that are overrated:

South Alabama – The Jaguars suffered an unfortunate loss to Middle Tennessee State in the semifinals of the Sun Belt tourney and that will hurt their seeding in the NCAA Tournament. South Alabama has done more than enough to earn itself an at-large bid to the dance, though, and will not be an easy out. The Jags are 37th in the nation in RPI, bolstered by non-conference wins over Mississippi State and San Diego, close three-point losses at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt and a season sweep of Sun Belt rival Western Kentucky. Because of its conference affiliation, South Alabama will be overlooked in the tourney but it shouldn’t be. The Jags play solid offensively and defensively and will be hungry to prove they belong.

San Diego – West Coast Conference headlines have been dominated by Gonzaga and St. Mary’s this year, leaving San Diego out in the cold. The Toreros proved what they’re capable of in the conference tourney, beating both the Gaels and the Zags en route to winning the WCC’s automatic bid. Momentum plays a big role come NCAA Tourney time and San Diego has momentum to spare. The Toreros are 13-2 SU and 12-3 ATS in their last 15 games, highlighted by two wins over St. Mary’s and another over Gonzaga. They likely won’t garner a seed any higher than 12 but they could pull off a big first-round upset.

Mississippi State – Many experts felt the SEC had a down year this season. Mississippi State wasn’t one of those teams that fell short of expectations. The Bulldogs won the SEC West with a 12-4 record, finishing behind just Tennessee for best record in the entire league. Mississippi State plays phenomenal defense, which can carry any team deep into the brackets. The Bulldogs, anchored by human fly swatter Jarvis Varnado, are second in the nation in both blocked shots and field-goal percentage defense. Senior forward Charles Rhodes and junior guard Jamont Gordon are two of the most underappreciated players in the country. They’ll have their coming out parties in the tournament.

Washington State – The Cougars, like Mississippi State, have one of the country’s best defenses. Unlike the Bulldogs, Washington State doesn’t have the offense to keep up. It shot up the standings behind a weak non-conference schedule but has been frustratingly inconsistent since. The Cougars went just 11-7 (8-10 ATS) in Pac-10 play and bettors never knew which team would show up. Would it be the team that swept USC or the team that went 5-4 (3-6 ATS) in conference home games? Washington State has very few impressive wins on its resume after being swept by UCLA, Stanford and Arizona. The Cougars are prime candidates to be upset in the opening round.

St. Mary’s – The Gaels have experienced a very similar season progression as Washington State. They have made a name for themselves behind wins over bad teams while picking up very few impressive wins. St. Mary’s has shown little ability to beat a good team away from home, falling at Southern Illinois, Texas, San Diego and Gonzaga while also losing at home to Kent State. The Gaels didn’t post a single road win over a team with a winning record this season. They won’t be facing any sub-.500 teams in the tournament, which could lead to an early exit.

Michigan State – Tom Izzo and his Spartans are usually a good bet come March but 2008 just doesn’t seem like Michigan State’s year. Like the previous two overrated nominees, the Spartans have struggled mightily away from home. They went just 3-6 SU and ATS in Big Ten road contests, falling at Iowa and Penn State. Michigan State averaged just 53.8 points per game in those six losses and is susceptible to long stretches of offensive ineptitude. The Spartans have an impressive history of NCAA Tournament success, leading to them being overrated nearly every March. Unless Michigan State is able to turn it around in the Big Ten Tournament, the Spartans could be a prime candidate for an early-round dismissal.

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