Murray State: Giant or Giant Killer?

Murray State won the OVC on Saturday, but is the team a Giant or Giant Killer? AP Photo/Mike Strasinger

With the first three automatic bids handed out yesterday, we can officially start talking about potential Giant Killers in earnest. And we will. But what's about to happen is also of paramount importance. We addressed bid-stealers already, and one of our scenarios could play out today when Illinois State takes on Creighton for the Missouri Valley title. And the Ivy League is one heated rivalry game away from a playoff after last night's action, though the results of that potential play-in game might not matter in the way you'd think. But first, let's deal with what we know:

Murray State is in, but doesn't have a label yet.

Much has already been made of Murray State's narrow escape over bid-stealer Tennessee State yesterday, and its effect on bubble teams. But how do we evaluate the Racers?

There may not be a more interesting case study on Selection Sunday. There's no question that, at No. 9 in the country, the Racers are ranked too high, and certainly won't be in contention for a 2- or 3-seed. But what happens after that? How do you handle a team that has only one loss and an RPI of 24, but also is just 33rd in the BPI and 45th on KenPom.com?

Joe Lunardi currently had the Racers pegged as a 6-seed, which feels about right, although knocking them down another peg or two wouldn't be absurd (look at the 2005-06 George Washington team as an example). But that seeding matters quite a bit to us because Murray State could arguably be a Giant or a Giant Killer this year, depending on what the committee decides. And the lower they end up, the better it is for us, because the Racers sport one heck of a GK profile. Nailing 3-pointers, forcing turnovers, crashing the offensive glass -- the Racers do everything you'd want out of a team seeking an upset. Conversely, they're also vulnerable as a higher seed. They rely too much on free throws for their scoring margin and do a poor job on the defensive boards. Keep that in mind going forward.

Belmont is alive and well.

The Bruins have been a strange team all season. They started off with high expectations and nearly beat Duke in Cameron, but then suffered a string of bad losses and were 13-7 at one point. All along, though, their efficiency stats suggested better results, and they've now won 14 games in a row. Last season they had an outstanding GK profile; when we release this year's numbers, will they match up?

Not quite. The country's ninth most efficient offense, per KenPom.com, relies heavily on 3-pointers, attacks the offensive glass at a solid rate and doesn't turn it over. But the biggest difference between this season and last is on defense. Last season, Belmont was second in the nation in turnover percentage; this season, the Bruins are just 147th. We expect the Bruins to come out as a live dog after the model does its thing (and certainly a better GK option than Florida Gulf Coast would have been), but not at last year's level.

UNC-Asheville should only bother packing for a day.

Congrats to the Bulldogs on winning the Big South tourney. But they're likely headed to a play-in ... err ... "first round" game. And their GK profile suggests that even if they make it past another 16-seed, they have almost no chance of pulling off a huge upset. Only 24.4 percent of their offense comes from 3-pointers, they're barely an average offensive rebounding team and they don't block shots or protect the defensive glass. About all they have going for them, from a GK perspective, is a decent rate of forcing turnovers.

The Ivy League is headed for a fascinating finish.

Harvard, ranked for portions of the season and a potential at-large team, finished conference play with a 12-2 record. Pennsylvania, quietly enough, is 11-2. The Quakers have a doozy of a final game coming up on Tuesday, as they travel to a good Princeton squad in one of college basketball's best rivalries. So if Penn gets by Princeton and sets up a one-game playoff against Harvard, we should be pulling for the Crimson, right?

Not necessarily. In many ways, Penn is better suited to be a Giant Killer. The Quakers generate a higher percentage of their scoring from 3-point range than do the Crimson, force more turnovers and, led by superb point guard Zack Rosen, take better care of the ball. The Quakers might not be as good of a team as the Crimson, but they play a higher-risk/higher-reward style, which we know is a hallmark of Giant Killers. Harvard, by contrast, is almost built like a Giant, protecting the ball, owning the defensive glass and dominating from 2-point range at both ends of the court.

So while we look ahead and wonder whether the Ivy League could possibly get two teams into the tourney (Harvard has a strong case with a loss), it's worth taking a closer look at Penn as a team that just might have a loaded slingshot.