For the first time in four years, the Southland will have a different representative in the NCAA Tournament. The New Orleans Privateers made it back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1996, and will face Mount St. Mary’s in the First Four.
The Privateers’ journey through the Southland was their best since joining the conference in 2013. They finished the regular season with a 20-11 record, and won the league with a 13-5 record.
After an overtime win against Texas A&M Corpus Christi in the conference tournament, the Privateers were sent to Dayton. If they beat Mount St. Mary’s, they’ll be placed in the East Regional where they will ultimately be sacrificed to the defending champion Villanova Wildcats. Nonetheless, they’ll have an opportunity to get at least one NCAA Tournament win Tuesday night.
How they can win
This was the first year under Mark Slessinger that the Privateers slowed the tempo down; in his first four years, the Privateers finished in the top 25 in tempo, per KenPom. This year, they sit at No. 263 with just under 66 possessions per game. The change appears to have worked out for the better.
The biggest advantage that the Privateers will have is on the offensive glass. The Privateers rank in the top 20 in offensive rebounding percentage, and Mount St. Mary’s is in the bottom 20 in opponent OR%. Combine that with one of the highest free throw rates in the country, and the Privateers have recipe that can get Mount St. Mary’s in foul trouble early. New Orleans does almost all of its damage on the interior, and will look to exploit that.
On the defensive end, the Privateers improved by leaps and bounds this year. They finished just outside the top 100 thanks to the ability to force turnovers and defend the three-point line. They’re ranked No. 15 in the country in opponent turnover rate, and are also a top-25 team when it comes to opponent three-point percentage. In a tournament setting, those can be two key areas that can swing the game in their favor.
How they can lose
To put it nicely, the Privateers have a habit of turning the ball over. A lot. They’re ranked 349th out of 351 teams, and turn the ball over on almost a quarter of their possessions. You can’t score if you give the ball away, and a team that struggles offensively like New Orleans does can’t afford to be careless with the ball.
The Privateers also lack a legitimate perimeter threat. They shoot 31.1 percent from distance, and don’t really have anyone that hits from the outside with consistency. If they struggle to get anything going on the interior, they might be in trouble.
Also, despite being a good offensive rebounding team, they fail to have the same success on the defensive glass. Their opponents’ offensive rebounding rate of 32.7 percent is only a few percentage points lower than their own. If Mount St. Mary’s is able to control the interior and limit their effect down in the trenches, New Orleans won’t even get a shot at Villanova.