You might remember that the Northern Colorado Bears qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year (or maybe you don't; the Bears got their doors blown off by San Diego State, 68-50, in the first round of the Dance). Northern Colorado finished the 2010-'11 season at 21-11, having ripped off a 13-3 mark in the Big Sky Conference on the strength of a prolific three-point shooting attack (38.3% from deep as a team, good for 23rd amongst D-1 schools).
That fact that the Bears made the Tourney last year, standing alone, makes them one of the best buy games Marquette has this year. That said: this year's Northern Colorado team isn't last year's Northern Colorado team, as the Bears lost almost two-thirds of their scoring to graduation:
Devon Beitzel (35.4 mpg, leading scorer at 21.5 ppg, 39% from three and 90% free throws)? Gone.
Neil Kingman (25.1 mpg, 10.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and 37% from three)? Buh-bye.
Chris Kaba (27.4 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, and 42% from three)? Adieu.
Taylor Montgomery (25.7 mpg, leading rebounder at 5.9 rpg)? Farewell.
This year, the Bears sit at 3-6 and ranked 172 by Ken Pomeroy, with blowout wins over Western Carolina (74-57) and Southern (77-57) and what appears to be a corporate rec league team (Johnson & Wales CO? If you say so), and losses to New Mexico State, Wyoming, Northern Iowa, Iowa State, and, most recently, Denver.
With a nod to StatSheet.com, here's a brief look at Northern Colorado by the numbers:
(1) The personnel has changed, but the philosophy hasn't. The Bears were one of the more experienced teams in the nation last year, and now they're one of the youngest, but while the faces have changed, the approach on offense has not: just like last year, the Bears boast a bevy of long-range snipers, having hit 67 of 156 three-point attempts in 2011, a success rate of 42.9% (wow) which ranks eighth amongst D-1 schools. Sophomore guard Paul Garnica leads the way in three-point shooting, hitting 23 of his 44 attempts from distance (52.3%), but Tate Unruh (another sophomore guard) isn't far behind, as he's hit 18 threes in 42 attempts (42.9%).
(2) They're kind of a one-trick pony. All those hits from deep make for a sparkling eFG% (54.0%), and the misses lead to a fair number of offense rebounds (100 in nine games, for an o-reb rate of 35.1%), but that's where the pretty numbers end for the Bears. Because they're content to shoot jumpers all day long, Northern Colorado hardly ever gets to the line -- free throw rate is just 34.1% (and that's including the two games against non-D1 competition), though they're good from the line when they get there (74.4%). The Bears are also surprisingly sloppy with the basketball -- 16.8 turnovers per game, for a 24.3% turnover rate that ranks near the bottom of all D1 schools -- especially since their tempo numbers aren't crazy fast (69 possessions per 40 minutes, which is right around average).
(3) They don't have the size to compete inside. Northern Colorado's defense is as inefficient as its offense is efficient: the Bears have identical 105.5 ratings for both their offense and defense, which puts them in the top third of D1 schools offensively but ranks 294th defensively. There are problems everywhere on the defensive side of the court: the Bears are getting hurt from distance (35.9% opponent three-point shooting) and they're getting hurt badly in the paint (51% opponent two-point shooting) because their standard lineup looks like this: Garnica (6'0"); Unruh (6'4"); Mike Proctor (6'8"); Elliott Lloyd (6'1"); and Emmanuel Addo (6'7").
There isn't a player on Northern Colorado's roster taller than 6'9" Connor Osborne, who gets 19 minutes of run per game. Osborne leads the team in rebounding at 5.75 rpg (with Addo at 5.4 rpg and Proctor at 4.9 rpg), but he's also a bit of a hack (2.75 fouls per contest), which is another problem for the Bears: their opponent free-throw rate is 43.7%, and they have five players who average more than 2.5 fouls per contest: Unruh and Proctor lead at 2.9 fouls per game, with Garnica (2.8) and Osborne close behind. Unruh and Garnica have each fouled out of a game already this year, and Proctor's been DQ'd twice with five fouls.