Championship week is in full swing. Several more teams have clinched their bracket spots and are getting national exposure for the first time this season. After a victory in the Colonial Conference championship game, the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens are headed into the NCAA Tournament as a likely 12 seed or lower with a legitimate chance to pull off an upset.
The reason March Madness is so fascinating is that with such a large field, upsets are all but guaranteed. Few things are more memorable than an unknown school cutting down goliaths on national television. Arguably the most compelling story from last year was Florida Gulf Coast University’s (FGCU) run to the Sweet 16. In fact, more fans probably remember that than who actually won the final game.
Championship teams are built with depth, height, and all-around talent. But to pull off an upset in one game, teams have to find an advantage and run it into the ground. FGCU toppled No. 2 seeded Georgetown by increasing the tempo, scoring 21 more points than Georgetown’s season average for points allowed. FGCU had a strength all season of forcing turnovers (fifth in the nation in steals) and getting up a lot of shots (15th most field goal attempts).
So what warrants looking at Delaware as a potential bracket buster? Their overall strength of schedule was weak. Their conference has zero ranked teams. They didn’t beat anyone of significance. But Delaware has a lot of the ingredients needed to pull of an upset in the NCAA Tournament.
One way to make opponents uncomfortable is to play up-tempo. This is especially true in when there is a short turnaround between games. Opponents have almost zero time to prepare and scout. Delaware is built to take advantage of this. They were third in the nation in field goals and 11th in defensive rebounding. Delaware gathers misses and gets up shots quickly, and their players even sprint towards the offensive end after opponents make shots.
On the other hand, the pace they play at allows their opponents to score a lot too, which is why they are not a dominant team. But completing an upset does not require a dominant season. It requires one night of Delaware forcing the pace they want and shooting a good percentage on the enormous number of shots they take. Delaware has several skilled players that can carry the team on any given night.
The balance shown by the Hens is almost as staggering as the speed they get down the court with. All five starters score in double digits, with three of those players–Davon Usher, Jarvis Threatt, and Devon Saddler–scoring more than 18 a game. Balance allows the tempo to stay high as different players can carry the offensive load for varying stretches as opponents gradually wear down.
Delaware is assuredly matching up with a physically superior team, but they have several tools in their bag to manage an NCAA Tournament upset. Earlier in the season they nearly ran their way to an upset of current No. 3 seed Villanova before falling four points shy in a high scoring game. Delaware’s play will certainly win them a few fans, and when they open tournament competition either March 20th or 21st they may be able to run all the way to the regionals.
Commentary by Brian Moore