Nobody loves NCAA Championship Week more than I do. I have every intention of sitting on my couch as much as possible until Selection Sunday comes. I’ve decided that I’m going to track the teams from smaller conferences who win their conference championship and therefore earn an automatic bid. I shall then write my thoughts on these teams and determine just how far they will make it in this year’s tourney. We all remember George Mason last season. Will there be another small conference Cinderella in 2007?
Niagara started out the season losing their first three contests and only winning one out of their first seven games. Fortunately for them the Purple Eagles found more success at the end of the year. Niagara won 11 straight contests and 13 out of their last 14 en route to earning an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. They earned the bid by defeating Sienna in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship game 83-79.
Niagara is an anomaly as a team. Throughout the year they were a very unstable basketball team. Then out of nowhere they went on their current run. Now the Purple Eagles enter the tournament as a very hot team. The only problem is that they are very likely to receive a 15 or even a 16 seed come Selection Sunday (this article is being written Tuesday, March 6). Either one of those will most likely spell doom for a very hot team.
So where did this current winning surge come from? The success of the Purple Eagles all begins with the duo of Charron Fisher and Clif Brown. Fisher enters the tournament averaging 21 points and 8.1 rebounds a game, while Brown is nearly averaging a double-double, scoring 16 points and bringing in 9.8 rebounds per game. These two are joined by guards Lorenzo Miles and Tyrone Lewis. Miles scores 12.9 points per game while Lewis averages 12.3 points a contest. Finally, forward J.R. Duffey is good for 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds every game.
If you look at the stats of these five players alone it is easy to realize why Niagara just cannot be blown off. If these five can all reach their point averages in a first round game it could be the makings of a major upset. It will undoubtedly take a special effort on offense for something like this to happen, but truth be told stranger things have happened in the NCAA Tournament.
Niagara will also have to step it up on defense. Even if the five above mentioned play their best basketball the Purple Eagles still cannot afford to give up 80 points against a top rated team. For Niagara to have any real chance in the first round of the tournament they will have to play their best defensive game of the year. This includes controlling the tempo on offense.
Quite frankly I would love to see Niagara as a 16 seed in the tournament. It is inevitable that a 16 seed will eventually beat a 1 seed. Because of their poor start at the beginning of the year it is very possible Niagara will find themselves having to do just that. If that is the case and they have to play to worst of the 1 seeds we could all be in for a much closer game than expected.