Conference: Southland (Auto Bid)
Record: 20-11 (13-5)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 16 (East)
How they got to the Big Dance
After finishing 10-20 overall and 6-12 in the Southland last season, New Orleans did not have very high expectations coming into this season. However, they played a tough non-conference schedule, and despite going only 7-6, the Privateers picked up solid wins over Tulane and Washington State. They then entered conference play, and started to find their form.
The Privateers earned the No. 1 seed in the Southland Conference Tournament, and received a double-bye into the semifinal round. They defeated Sam Houston State there before taking down Texas A&M Corpus-Christi in overtime in the final to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
The Privateers have gotten to this point because of their defense, and it’s what could propel them to a victory in the NCAA Tournament. They held opponents to 43.9 percent shooting from the floor this season and an abysmal 31 percent shooting from 3-point range. Being such a low seed, New Orleans will be outmatched in the first round, but if they can hold an opposing team to a low percentage from beyond the arc, the Privateers could complete a big upset.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
The 3-point shot plays a key role in the NCAA Tournament, and New Orleans does not really have that shot in its arsenal. The Privateers shoot only 32.2 percent from long range, which is one of the worst marks in college basketball. Senior guard Christavious Gill has taken 188 3-pointers this season, 110 more than any other player on the team, but shoots only 31.9 percent from downtown. If the Privateers can’t get it in from 3-point range, they won’t be able to pull off any upsets.
Player to Watch: Forward Erik Thomas
Thomas is New Orleans’ leading scorer at 19.5 points per game, and earned Southland Player of the Year this season. He shot an incredible 59.1 percent from the floor and a reliable 78.3 percent from the free throw line. The senior forward stands at only 6-foot-5, but is a force inside. He grabs 7.8 rebounds per game, and has the confidence to battle inside with any opposing big man, no matter how tall.
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