Despite Loss, Toledo Proves Its Legitimacy Against Kansas

Photo: Nick Kneer
Toldeo point guard Juice Brown is among the NCAA Division I’s leaders with 7.2 assists per game. (Photo: Nick Kneer)

Toledo’s perfect season ended Monday night as the Rockets lost to the nationally ranked Kansas Jayhawks on one of the toughest home courts in college basketball.

With the Rockets now standing at 12-1, their best win is against…Stony Brook? Boston College? Cleveland State?

Simply, they have no good wins, and unless they run the table in the MAC they probably would still need to win the conference tournament to earn a NCAA Tournament bid.

But that does not mean Toledo should be written off as a premier mid-major or crossed off the list of potential Cinderellas for the 2014 Big Dance. The Rockets still have a potent offense, multiple playmakers, and 40 minutes of competitive play against the No. 16 team in the nation to prove they are part of the conversation.

If you did not watch Toldeo’s game against Kansas on Monday night, the Rockets scored 83 points and 1.17 points against the nation’s 16th-most efficient defense.

The Rockets’ defense struggled against the taller, more athletic Jayhawks; but their offensive firepower kept them close through the final minutes. The Rockets led at a few points in the first half and trailed by as many as 16 points in the second, but they showed strong resolve on the road to cut the deficit to single digits in the final four minutes.

One of the most impressive qualities of this team is their balance — every member of the starting lineup can beat you, and they get quality production from their reserves. On Monday, four Rockets scored in double figures, and eight had at least six points. While most of their scoring came from the starting five, they received 23 points from their bench compared to Kansas’ 10.

Some of the more memorable Cinderellas in recent years have been one- or two-man shows. (Think Stephen Curry at Davidson and Courtney Lee/Tyrone Brazelton at Western Kentucky.)

But the mid-major teams with the most successful runs in the postseason have always head great balance.

George Mason ’06 had all five starters average at least 11 points; Butler ’10 had four guys averaging at least 9.8 points, and two additional players who could do their share of damage in Ronald Nored and Zach Hahn; Virginia Commonwealth ’11 had four players average double digit scoring and nine average double digit minutes per game.

Most recently were Wichita State and Florida Gulf Coast last season.

The Shockers made the 2013 Final Four with three players averaging more than 10 points per contest. In large part, their five-game run in the NCAA Tournament was thanks to big contributions from additional players like Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, and Tekele Cotton.

With its balanced effort in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Florida Gulf Coast become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Elsa | Getty Images)
With its balanced effort in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Florida Gulf Coast become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Elsa Garrison | Getty Images)

Watch a Dunk City highlight reel of the Eagles’ Sweet 16 run, and you’ll see many different names on the jerseys: Sherwood Brown, Bernard Thompson, Chase Fieler, Brett Comer, Eric McKnight, and a couple of others.

This year’s Toledo team has that type of balance and depth.

All five of the Rockets’ starters — Rian Pearson, Justin Drummond, Juice Brown, J.D. Weatherspoon, and Nathan Boothe — have their scoring averages in double figures. Except for Brown, who stands at 5’10”, they all grab at least 4.5 boards per game.

Off the bench, freshman Jonathan Williams averages 7.9 points and senior Matt Smith records 5.7 points with 44.1% three-point shooting.

So if Toledo is fortunate enough to survive the competitive MAC this winter, don’t write them off against that No. 5, No. 4, or No. 3 seed in the Round of 64.

Put the Rockets against Kansas on a neutral site instead of a place where the Jayhawks have won 68 non-conference games in a row and 43 of their last 44 overall. Maybe the outcome would be different.

These boys are capable of busting your brackets in March.

 

All advanced statistics are courtesy of KenPom.

Author: Jesse Kramer

Jesse Kramer is the founder of The Catch and Shoot. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He has had work featured on SI.com, College Insider, The Comeback/Awful Announcing, and 247Sports.

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