The NCAA Tournament is going to be filled with a hearty batch of programs that are making return trips for the first time in a decade or more. Tulsa and Texas Southern are two teams from Saturday that fit this profile, and so does Western Michigan.
The Broncos haven't been to the Big Dance since 2004, but on Saturday night they won the MAC's auto bid with a 98-77 win over
David Brown, the team's leading scorer at 19 per game, had 32 in giving WMU its second highest total in a win this season. Shayne Whittington, who snags 9.0 rebounds per game, had 20 points and 13 boards. It was a perfectly timed effort/performance for Steve Hawkins' team.
The Rockets, who finish the season at 27-6, were one of the final teams without a loss. But by nature of the team's big season, they'll surely be headed to the NIT. The team's 27 victories are the most in school history. The program is now in the midst of a 34-year NCAA Tournament drought.
Of note from the game: Western Michigan had to win this game in Cleveland, and a snowstorm rocked the Midwest in recent days. It took the team 11 hours to complete what's normally a four-hour trek. And yet the Broncos still whooped the Rockets, pulling away after leading 42-40 at the half. Mighty impressive.
Player to know: David Brown. The WMU guard is aggressive, can play defense and is the leading scorer in the conference. He'll be liable to toss up a few big shots in whatever game WMU is placed in come Thursday or Friday. WMU is built like many power-league teams in that there's not a deep bench. They'll run with their five starters most of the way if needed.
- Record: 23-9 overall, 14-4 in the MAC
- Most recent tournament appearance: 2004 (lost to Vanderbilt in first round as 11 seed)
- Jerry Palm predicts: 13 seed
- RPI: 83
- KenPom ranking: 126
- Sagarin ranking: 129
- Best wins: vs. New Mexico State, vs. Toledo
- Worst losses: at Drake, vs. Bowling Green
- Notable stat: 52.0. The Broncos shoot 52 percent of their shots from the foul line, one of the highest rates in the country. When at the charity stripe, WMU is 71.7 percent. That's a little above average. Drawing contact and getting trips to the foul line is probably the third-most important thing for mid-majors in the NCAA outside of hitting a lot of 3s and not turning the ball over.
- Closing quip: WMU is the sneaky upset pick that none of your friends will be on to. Think long and hard. I talked with a few people in the MAC this year, and this team was considered the toughest matchup -- while maybe not necessarily the clear-cut best team -- for opposing groups. Hawkins' team has the best per-shot offensive in the conference, averaging 1.14.