Between eating, spending time with family, and more eating, I haven't been religiously following college basketball today (crazy, I know).
Then I turn on my computer and see this:
San Diego 76
Nicholls State 58
Now, the Cougars got a ridiculously easy draw in this tournament to begin with. Pool A is UAA, Nicholls State, and WSU. Pool B is Houston, Oklahoma and San Diego. Wow. Still, we expected a tough championship game with Oklahoma, assuming our Cougars took care of business in the first two games. Now Oklahoma is done, and Houston and San Diego are the possible opponents for a finale in Anchorage.
Nicholls State is horrible. If we don't beat them, we sure as heck don't deserve to play for a Great Alaska Shootout title. They are ranked 313th by kenpom, sit at 0-6 on the year, and in all four games against Top 150 opponents have lost by 23 points or more. Of course this also means you should feel better about our seemingly lackluster win over Alaska-Anchorage, since they easily took care of Nicholls State and are a better team than a lot of Cougar fans were expecting.
On the other side of the bracket, danger lurks, even if it isn't a big name like Oklahoma. San Diego (stay classy) is 3-1 with only a one-point loss to Pacific. They beat Stanford in their season opener by 13, and are ranked 66th by kenpom. They are a great defensive team under Bill Grier, but have failed to shoot the three very well to start the season (28.8%). Really bad news? They are 44th in offensive rebounding percentage so far. That could be a serious issue against a team like WSU that is struggling on the boards.
Houston - the other Cougars - are #76 by kenpom but have only played three games. They are 2-1 with a 112-99 loss to Nevada on the slate (The other win, oddly enough, is over Nicholls State). They are the second fastest team in the nation, so far, in terms of tempo. That makes them a great matchup for the Cougs, who have been thriving in uptempo stretches of games this season. They have also been flat out horrible at defending shooters so far this season, and cannot offensive rebound. Their saving grace so far has been good three-point shooting and a rather incredible ability to protect the ball even though they keep run run running.
Now - it's early, so you have to take small sample size into account when discussing these other teams' strengths and weaknesses. But, for now: Go Houston. That matchup gives us the greatest likelihood of going home with a GAS title.