Sears BracketBusters Saturday Preview

February 19th, 2011
Score two wins for the Colonial Athletic Association, with VCU winning at Wichita State and Drexel defending their home floor with a win over Kent State in Friday's Sears BracketBusters contests. VCU needed a pair of Joey Rodriguez free throws with eight tenths of a second remaining to win a game they nearly handed over after leading by nine at the half. Rodriguez racked up 11 assists to go along with 15 points. Bradford Burgess scored 17 to lead the Rams, and Joe Ragland scored 15 to lead the Shockers. Gregg Marshall's team shot just 39% for the game, and if not for VCU getting just eight free throws (18 for Wichita State) the margin is likely larger. As for Drexel Samme Given led five Dragons in double figures with 17 points and 15 rebounds, and defensively they limited Kent State to 35.9% shooting on the night. Two victories that give the CAA a slight bump in the computers could become more valuable as the season approaches Selection Sunday.

The crown jewel of this year's Sears BracketBusters event comes from the West Coast, where Utah State visits Saint Mary's in a game both need for their respective resumes. One could argue that the visiting Aggies (24-3, 12-1 WAC) need a win more, given their 0-2 record in games against teams in the RPI Top 50 and the high probability that this will be their last chance to erase that bagel before Selection Sunday. Saint Mary's (22-5, 10-2 WCC) can at least claim one Top 50 win (St. John's) and they also host Gonzaga in their next contest. While Gonzaga isn't as good as previous editions their presence on Saint Mary's slate outweighs any remaining games on Utah State's schedule.

Randy Bennett's Gaels have yet to lose at home this season, and in addition to the crowd their guard play has been a key reason as to why. Mickey McConnell (16.9 ppg, 6.2 apg) and Matthew Dellavedova (12.7 ppg, 5.4 apg) were crucial factors in the run to the Sweet 16 a season ago and they've had their fingerprints on a number of Saint Mary's victories this season as well. McConnell is likely the favorite at this point to win Player of the Year in the WCC, boasting an assist-to-turnover ratio near 3-to-1 while shooting 52% from the field and 47% from three. How junior Brockeith Pane (10.7 ppg, 3.3 apg) performs in this matchup will have a lot to do with the outcome, and Pane needs to play under control for forty minutes.

Inside Stew Morrill's team will have the size advantage, although Saint Mary's has some solid interior players. But in Tai Wesley (14.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg) the Aggies have one of the premier forwards in the Western United States, and his partners in crime aren't too shabby either. Brady Jardine and Nate Bendall also contribute to a team that has a rebounding margin of plus-8.9 on the season. Saint Mary's with Rob Jones and Mitchell Young won't be as physical up front and they hold a rebounding edge of just plus-3.4, but they'll compete and make things tough on Utah State. If Wesley gets into early foul trouble the edge that the Aggies hold could be neutralized.

Two players to keep an eye on for the Aggies who haven't been mentioned yet: veterans Pooh Williams and Brian Green. Williams averages just under nine points per game but he's a solid defender who does many of the little things on the floor for the Aggies. Green averages 11 points per game off the bench and knocks down 46% of his shots from beyond the arc. Adding in Brady Jardine's contributions off the bench and Coach Morrill has a pair of reserves who can outperform most starters on any given night. And with the Aggies needing a solid resume win to add to their resume both will need to step up in Moraga.

Other televised games to keep an eye on include Vermont at Charleston and George Mason at Northern Iowa, with the road teams being among the hotter clubs in America. Jim Larranaga's Patriots have shown off the value of preseason trips to Europe, as their trek to Italy fostered a level of unity that was nowhere to be found last season. They've won 12 straight games with 11 of the wins by 14 points or more, and while it's tough to knock off UNI in their building Ben Jacobson's group has struggled of late in the Missouri Valley.

As for Vermont, the move by head coach Mike Lonergan to put freshman point guard into the starting lineup for defensive reasons has led to 10 straight wins. But he's in for a challenge with Andrew Goudelock being one of the best scorers in the nation. That being said, Antwaine Wiggins and the other Charleston forwards will need to contend with the tandem of Evan Fjeld and Brian Voelkel, with both likely to clean up come awards time in America East.

Iona visits Liberty with the home team possibly feeling better about their NCAA Tournament chances due to the roster turnover at Coastal Carolina, and two of the better guards around meet in Dayton with Charles Jenkins (Hofstra) and Vaughn Duggins (Wright State) on the same floor. It's always difficult to define the true value of the BracketBusters event but at the least it's one more shot at beating a solid opponent late in the season, and the games tend to provide good entertainment for that reason.

Televised Games
11 a.m. Hofstra at Wright State (ESPNU)
1 p.m. Austin Peay at Fairfield (ESPNU)
3 p.m. Iona at Liberty (ESPNU)
5 p.m. Missouri State at Valparaiso (ESPN2)
5 p.m. Vermont at College of Charleston (ESPNU)
7 p.m. George Mason at Northern Iowa (ESPN2)
9 p.m. No. 21 Utah State at Saint Mary's (ESPN2)
11 p.m. Montana at Long Beach State (ESPN2)
1 p.m. (Sunday) Cleveland State at Old Dominion (ESPN2)

Non-Televised Games
Noon Miami (Ohio) at James Madison
1:05 p.m. Morehead State at Indiana State
2 p.m. Eastern Kentucky at Western Carolina
2 p.m. Canisius at Boston University
2 p.m. Manhattan at Stony Brook
2 p.m. Central Michigan at Niagara
2 p.m. Illinois State at Western Michigan
2 p.m. Northeastern at UNC Asheville
3 p.m. Bradley at Tennessee-Martin
3 p.m. Saint Peter's at Loyola-Chicago
3:05 p.m. Green Bay at Southern Illinois
4 p.m. Delaware at Rider
4 p.m. Delaware State at Tennessee State
4 p.m. Georgia State at Louisiana Tech
4 p.m. Seattle at Northern Illinois
4 p.m. VMI at Morgan State
4:30 p.m. Jacksonville State at Eastern Michigan
5 p.m. Hawaii at UC Davis
5 p.m. UC Irvine at Nevada
6 p.m. Cal State Fullerton at Idaho State
7 p.m. Eastern Illinois at Toledo
7 p.m. Appalachian State at High Point
7 p.m. Ball State at Wofford
7 p.m. Charleston Southern at UNC Wilmington
7 p.m. Creighton at Akron
7 p.m. Hartford at UMBC
7 p.m. Loyola at Towson
7 p.m. Maine at Siena
7 p.m. Milwaukee at Buffalo
7 p.m. Ohio at Winthrop
7 p.m. Radford at William & Mary
7:05 p.m. Bowling Green at Youngstown State
7:30 p.m. Davidson at Presbyterian
7:30 p.m. New Hampshire at Marist
8 p.m. Evansville at Murray State
8 p.m. Pacific at Oral Roberts
8:05 p.m. Detroit at Drake
8:30 p.m. Northern Colorado at New Mexico State
8:30 p.m. Sacramento State at Southeast Missouri State
8:30 p.m. Gardner-Webb at Tennessee Tech
9 p.m. Idaho at Montana State
10 p.m. Cal State Northridge at Eastern Washington
10 p.m. UC Riverside at Fresno State
10 p.m. Boise State at UC Santa Barbara
10 p.m. Northern Arizona at Cal Poly
10 p.m. Weber State at San Jose State