NCAA Tournament 2013 preview: Searching for an upset in the Bridgeport bracket

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

There's a lot of uncertainty among the sub-regionals in the Bridgeport bracket, aside from the Connecticut Huskies in Storrs. Yet after that, not everyone believes that the Huskies will advance to the Final Four unchallenged.

Playing in Bridgeport - and Storrs - there's plenty of reason to believe that UConn is headed to yet another Final Four.

And after smashing almost all but the best two teams in the nation, it's clear why they're not the easiest team to beat.

Favorite: Connecticut Huskies

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

UConn

55.89%

24.03%

41.40%

17.08%

Opp

35.63%

21.29%

29.15%

23.11%

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

UConn

2.03

0.06

0.51

0.51

Four Factors statistics for the Connecticut Huskies in 2012-13.

So how do you beat this team? Like if you don't have a 6-foot-8 center or dominant point guard at your disposal?

The key lies in UConn's relatively low free throw rate, even if they have a positive differential relative to their opponents: the Huskies can fall in love with their perimeter shots.

Of course, as their scoring efficiency above demonstrates, they do score extremely efficiently: while they took 754 threes this season, they made a startling 37.4% of them (7th in the nation). And with a number of players right around or over 35%, it's hard to stop all of them. Of course, that's essentially what happened in all four of their losses and, for whatever it's worth, their blow out victory against Stanford: in those five games against the tournament's top seeds UConn shot just 27.08% from the 3-point line.

Just a couple of years removed from one of the best streaks in the history of sports, this team does seem to have at least one weakness. And that's probably what gives people hope that someone else can emerge from this bracket and reach the Final Four.

Wild card: Kentucky Wildcats

Three of Swish Appeal's staff members chose Kentucky to make it out of the Bridgeport region instead of UConn. But one chose Kentucky as the biggest wild card in the tournament. And that says a lot about Kentucky's potential.

Kentucky's highly-touted Forty Minutes of Dread defense can wreak havoc on opposing teams, not only forcing them into turnovers but also keeping them completely off-balance. They're a deep team, which allows them to maintain their frantic pace they want to impose on the game. And they rebound very well, which helps them get high percentage scoring opportunities around the basket in addition to those that they earn in transition.

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Kentucky

47.24%

28.36%

41.08%

16.94%

Opp

42.49%

33.63%

34.38%

28.19%

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Kentucky

0.48

-0.11

0.28

0.9450

Four Factors statistics for the Kentucky Wildcats.

Their problem is very similar to that of UConn: they can fall in love with the perimeter shot, as evidenced by their less than pedestrian free throw rate. Yet unlike UConn, they're not quite as proficient on a regular basis (33.23% from the 3-point line).

But what makes them such a wild card, is that they can get hot from beyond the arc. If they get hot, the team is forcing turnovers and scoring in transition, and the bigs are dominating the boards, they can be an extremely efficient offense. And it might be fair to say that it begins with leading scorer A'dia Mathies.

X-Factor: A'dia Mathies, Kentucky Wildcats

Mathies, a senior who has been on our WNBA Draft radar all season, is a 40% 3-point shooter and might best represent why it might be so hard to project how far Kentucky can go.

At her worst, as she began the season, Mathies can be a high usage (25.04% usage rate), low efficiency jump shooter (42.3% 2-point percentage), essentially bailing defenders out from having to guard her athleticism by taking off-balance jumpers. At best, she's a dominant scorer and lockdown defender who can affect the game in a number of ways: she rebounds well for a guard (5.5% offensive rebounding percentage) and doesn't turn the ball over very often as a high usage guard (9.52% turnover ratio).

But her usage rate is the thing that stands out as significant: Kentucky is going to put the ball in her hands often. The more efficient she can be with it, the better. At the same time, they're not reliant on her offense to win games: they're 27-5 for a reason and it's due to their depth.

Still, if they go cold, it's absolutely not inconceivable that they fall to St. John's in Queens. If they get past St. John's, they'll have a North Carolina defense to contend with that likes to attack the basket on offense, which plays into another of Kentucky's weaknesses: fouling to put teams on the free throw line.

In other words, it's really difficult to say just how far Kentucky will go: Sweet 16 is probably likely, but where the road ends could be in the Promised Land or somewhere in Bridgeport.

Darkhorse candidate: St. John's Red Storm

St. John's is "only" 10-4 at home this season, but those losses were to UCLA (OT), Delaware (OT), Syracuse, and UConn (in that order); drop the UConn loss and they lost the other three by a combined five points. And they finished the regular season with four straight home wins.

While that might not say much, it's fair to say that this team will be a tough out on their home floor.

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

St. John's

42.19%

33.49%

35.42%

17.51%

Opp

40.01%

27.02%

34.72%

19.89%

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

St. John's

0.22

0.14

0.03

0.20

Dayton, as good as they've been, will have to find answers for scoring point guard Nadirah McKenith and 6'1" wing Shenneika Smith, which will be an interesting game to watch. Assuming Kentucky advances to the second round, St. John's might be as prepared for their pressure as anyone in nation: they've already faced Notre Dame, Rutgers (twice), UCLA, and UConn. All of those teams play different styles of defense with varying personnel, but the Red Storm at least have some idea of what's coming.

If McKenith can navigate Kentucky's pressure and Smith can attack the basket to be an efficient scorer, St. John's has as good a shot as any team seeded 7th or lower in this region to advance. Strange things can happen on a team's home court.

WNBA Draft spotlight: Nadirah McKenith, PG, St. John's Red Storm

Yes, I realize there are plenty of other top draft prospects in this region, including Elena Delle Donne. No, I'm not doing this to please Queenie.

But you've probably already seen plenty of Kelly Faris and A'dia Mathies. Delle Donne is going in the top three of the draft without question. And we've talked about everyone else previously. But McKenith is a point guard prospect who has sort of flown under the radar and if St. John's does manage to get out of the sub-regional they're hosting - and yes, I know that will be difficult - McKenith will be a large part of it.

McKenith's pure point rating (1.36) and assist/turnover ratio are not going to wow anyone, but that comes with a caveat: she's a relatively high usage point guard (24.09% usage rate), which means she's responsible for taking risks both as a distributor and a scorer. And all of her athletic indicators are solid: she has a 45.24% free throw rate and a 5.13% offensive rebounding rate (really strong for a point guard).

It's hard to know how exactly to project McKenith as a WNBA point guard, but she's worth a look in the second round for any team looking for ball handling as the numbers are very much in her favor.

Upset watch: #11 West Virginia vs. #6 Delaware

Upsets might be hard to come by in this region simply because of a combination of home court advantage and statistical advantages, mostly rebounding.

My first instinct was that Marist - Michigan State could be an upset candidate, but MSU is a gang rebounding team and that might be too much for Marist to overcome. Quinnipiac over Maryland is another upset a couple people on our staff picked, but same thing: Maryland rebounds so well that even if Quinnipiac makes it a sloppy up and down 3-point contest the Terps will have a way to find points (and at home no less).

So sticking with the rebounding theme, West Virginia might actually have the best shot at an upset even playing in Delaware: both are strong offensive rebounding teams and that the Mountaineers came out of the Big XII as strong a rebounding team as they are is quite impressive.

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Delaware

45.48%

32.00%

41.01%

15.11%

Opp

37.80%

24.18%

33.00%

19.21%

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Delaware

0.77

0.16

0.34

0.34

West Virginia can play a physical brand of ball, led by 6'3" center Ayana Dunning, and if they can make this a sloppy game with turnovers and a battle in the paint that mitigates Delle Donne's impact - though it's unlikely they'll contain her - they could very well pull off the win. A lot of that depends on Dunning finding a way to keep herself out of foul trouble - if she's in foul trouble, Delaware will be able to take it.

Game to watch: #6 Delaware vs. #3 North Carolina

If Delaware gets past West Virginia, things won't get any easier at home: North Carolina is another aggressive, physical team with big guards that could make it hard for Delaware to operate offensively.

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

UNC

43.69%

40.30%

38.47%

22.34%

Opp

39.01%

30.52%

34.94%

25.59%

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

UNC

0.47

0.21

0.15

0.2733

The thing is, to the point above about turnovers, that Delaware thrives off not turning the ball over. Both UNC and WVU force quite a few. If either can muscle the Blue Hens while crashing the boards with their big guards - and 6-foot-6 center Waltiea Rolle would be no small part of that strategy for UNC - it's not inconceivable that Delle Donne's last game in Delaware could be very disappointing.

Yet though it may look like I'm saying this game is so slanted in UNC's favor that it's not worth watching, the fact remains that Delle Donne is still a special player: if Delaware does pull this game off, it would be due in large part to a performance by Delle Donne that you might not want to miss.

Fun statistic: Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis' nation-leading scoring efficiency

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis leads the nation with a 68.97% true shooting percentage - one of three UConn players in the top 15 (along with Stefanie Dolson and Kelly Faris) - which is absolutely amazing when you consider that she's primarily a jump shooter: her free throw rate of just 17.86% is rather low, meaning she doesn't get to the line often for free points.

To shoot exactly 50% on 208 3-pointers is remarkable enough. But when you put together the rest of the profile, the fact that she shoots 55.68% from 2-point range as a player who doesn't attack the basket all that often makes her all the more amazing. And she still has two more years of eligibility.

For more on the tournament, visit our 2013 NCAA Tournament section.

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