Could Western Illinois Pull off an NCAA Tournament Win?
Western Illinois grabbed the Summit League crown on Tuesday, securing an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995, according to the Summit League.
After rolling through its first game, an 82-39 victory over Denver, Western Illinois had to claw its way through the final two rounds to hoist the Summit League trophy as champions.
With the NCAA Tournament looming ahead, Western Illinois' league championship begs the question, "what can we expect from the Fighting Leathernecks?"
This question is difficult to answer without knowing who the Leathernecks will face because much of the NCAA Tournament and predicting game outcomes is based on matchups.
What we do know is that Western Illinois will fight. After essentially giving the Summit League Championship away, the Fighting Leathernecks looked spent. But, like their school nickname suggests, they fought, hitting a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime. From there, the rest was easy.
Western Illinois' guard play is what gives them a shot at pulling off an NCAA Tournament upset. Summit League Player of the Year Emily Clemens commands her team and can fill the statsheet in multiple categories.
Plus, Clemens and her fellow guards can light it up from 3-point range. If the Leathernecks start hitting from deep, they have a shot at beating nearly anyone (UCONN doesn't count).
Size is where Western Illinois hurts the most against what will likely be a larger, much higher-seed NCAA foe. Olivia Braun stands at 6-feet-1-inch tall and is one of only two players listed as forwards on the official Western Illinois roster.
Western Illinois isn't a young team, but they don't have many seniors. There are only two seniors on the Leatherneck roster, but there are a handful of juniors. This is a team that's played a lot of basketball and knows the magnitude of the opportunity at hand.
For the Fighting Leathernecks to pull off an upset at the NCAA Tournament, they'll need to rely on outstanding guard play and hounding defense. If we see a more all-around consistent effort like in their performance against Denver, Western Illinois has a legit chance.
Is an upset likely? Probably not. But with efficient, smart guard-play, an upset isn't out of the question.