The Spartans are in the dance for the 22nd year in a row, receiving a two-seed in the East Region. Despite how we all feel about how the seeding shook out, it is time to focus on the task at hand. First up for the Spartans is Bradley. That is an entire team, not just one dude named Brad in case you were wondering. Here is all you need to know about the 15-seed in the East.
School: Bradley University
Location: Peoria, Illinois
Conference: Missouri Valley
Head Coach: Brian Wardle (5th season)
The Bradley Braves are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006, having won their conference tournament for the first time since 1988. They actually had a pretty nice run in 2006 in the dance, knocking off Kansas and Pitt before bowing out to Memphis in the Sweet Sixteen.
Back in the day, Bradley was a pretty big time basketball school, making the championship game in both 1950 and 1954, as well as an Elite Eight appearance in 1955. But after that they didn’t see the Sweet Sixteen again until that 2006 run.
The Braves have won four NIT titles, most recently in 1982 when they beat Purdue in the championship game.
The Spartans have faced Bradley four times in their history, winning all four matchups. The most recent games were over a three year stretch from 2006-2008, where the teams played mid-December non-conference matchups, twice in East Lansing and once in Peoria. MSU won the two matchups at home easily, and squeaked out a win in Peoria in a tough five point game in late 2007.
This will be the first time the two teams play in the NCAA Tournament.
Bradley checks in at 165 in the KenPom ranks, having gone 20-14 on the season and 9-9 in MVC play. They knocked off previous NCAA cinderellas Loyola Chicago and Northern Iowa to win the MVC Tournament.
If you are looking for their best win of the season it is undoubtedly a neutral site win over Penn State, 59-56 back in November. It was their only Tier A game of the season. They went 1-3 in their Tier B games, with the lone win coming at Southern Illinois.
Bradley is challenged offensively, ranking 247th in offensive efficiency. Defensively they are better, where they rank 117th, and are almost three points better than the D-1 average.
Tempo wise they are near the bottom of the country, 299th overall and 346th in defensive tempo, forcing teams to use almost 19 seconds per possession. That is a lot of late shot clocks.
Checking in on the four factors and the Braves are below average in eFG%, turnover rate, and offensive rebounding. They are decent when it comes to getting to the free throw line, ranking 83rd overall.
Defensively the Braves are solid at eFG% where they are 40th overall, and right at the national average in forcing turnovers. They are also a decent defensive rebounding team at 104th overall. However, they let teams get to the free throw line at a higher than normal clip.
One mild area of concern is the three-point shooting, which can always be scary in a one-and-done scenario. Bradley shoots 36.8% from beyond the arc, 58th best in the country. However, they are atrocious inside the arc, where they are 302nd overall at 46.7 percent.
The Spartans have the third best two-point defense in the country, so that doesn’t bode well for Bradley operating inside very much.
And despite getting to the free throw line at a decent rate, the Braves shoot just 69.2% from the charity stripe.
One again on the defensive side, the Braves are mostly decent across the board. They are 34th in two-point defense, 94th in three-point defense, and 61st in block rate. They don’t get a lot of steals, but other than that they are solid.
Players to Watch
Bradley is led by their point guard, Darrell Brown, a 5-10 junior from Memphis. Brown averages 14.7 points and 3.1 assists per game. He is also their best three-point shooter at 44.4% and leads the team in attempts and makes.
Their second leading scorer is Elijah Childs, a 6-7 sophomore. Childs is averaging 12.2 points per game and also leads the team in rebounding at 7.8 boards per game. He is also the team leader in blocks at 1.4 per game.
After those two it is a pair of upper-classmen guards in junior Nate Kennell, and senior Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye. Kennell chips in 9.4 points per game and shoots just over 40% from three. Lautier-Ogunleye averages 8.6 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 39% from deep.
Those four players all average at least 28 minutes per game, and are really the key contributors.
Their only real size concern is 6-11 junior Koch Bar. The Sudanese import averages 5.8 points and 4.4 rebounds in almost 18 minutes per game.
Now they will dip into their bench for a couple of key reserves. Luuk van Bree, a 6-9 senior, averages 18 and a half minutes per game and can play inside and out.
Lugman Lundy, a 6-6 freshman from Saskatoon also comes off the bench for almost 18 minutes a game.
At this point you might think I am making some of these names up, but I assure you I am not. The Bradley roster has quite an international flavor. Lautier-Ogunleye is from London, Bar from South Sudan, van Bree is from the Netherlands, and Lundy is from Canada. They also have Australian native Jayden Hodgson, and Ari Boya from Cameroon.
This team isn’t that scary when you look at their whole body of work. They played .500 ball in conference play in the 17th ranked conference per Kenpom. They also have the worst adjusted efficiency margin of any of the 15 seeds, barely ahead of the highest rated 16 seed.
Their desire to slow the game down will be interesting to see play against the Spartans desire to play quickly on offense. MSU wasn’t a super-fast team tempo team on offense, but they were above average and we know how deadly they can be in transition.
Bradley overall isn’t a good offensive team, although they are a good three-point shooting team. The game plan appears to be pretty simple though, run them off the arc and force them to beat you inside the line, where they have been terrible and MSU is strong defensively.
If the Spartans have a hard time getting out in transition, it’s possible the game could get a little grindy for them in the half court. But I think Nick Ward could have a nice return to action game here against a team that is not big on size outside of Bar, who despite being two inches taller, is 20 pounds lighter than Ward.
The Spartans should be able to advance without too much trouble in this one, although none of the first round games have been very easy for MSU lately. But I just don’t see enough offense for Bradley to be able to keep up with MSU.