It’s that time of the year again. The time when ESPN takes away the feeling that we are only weeks away from March and makes it feel like November again. The time when we stop talking about important conferences races and start talking about Albany heading to Boise State…a game not even Great Danes would talk about in November. The time when Oral Roberts’ Caleb Green and Ken Tutt spend senior night facing Utah State, instead of a traditional conference foe. But here we are so close to March and ready again for another installment of BracketBusters. Fourteen games will be on the ESPN family February 16th and 17th; six on ESPN2, five on ESPNU and three on ESPN360.
There are two types of BracketBuster games…those that could have an impact on your bracket …and those that won’t. Those that do provide more than just an impressive win or a tough loss, they provide exposure for the so-called mid-major teams that don’t usually get the wonderful exposure of ESPNU. In the case of the Missouri Valley Conference, it’s a step down.
The Big Games:
Southern Illinois at Butler
This one won’t bust any brackets. Both teams are virtually dancing already, yet the momentum could keep going through March for the winner…especially for Butler, who doesn’t face the same type of competition as the Salukis on a weekly basis. First one to 50 wins.
Drexel at Creighton
Still dreaming of at-large bids? The Dragons and the Bluejays sure are and a win on BracketBusters Saturday will surely help. Creighton and Nate Funk have been inconsistent, but have pulled together for conference play and find themselves atop the MVC standings. For Drexel, it could be a George Mason-esque BracketBusters win that catapults the CAA team into the NCAA Tournament.
Northern Iowa at Nevada
The Panthers need a huge win and they can get it in Reno. Nevada’s Nick Fazekas will have his hands full with the talented, albeit undersized, frontcourt of Grant Stout and Eric Coleman. The Wolfpack doesn’t have much to play for besides a seed or two.
Ohio at New Mexico State
Reggie Theus and New Mexico State have won 16 of their last 17 games. While Ohio isn’t going to be as big of a win as Nevada, the Aggies aren’t out of the bubble picture quite yet and any win helps. In a conference like the WAC, NMSUs at-large hopes ride on games against Utah State, Fresno State and Nevada…not Ohio.
Winthrop at Missouri State
Winthrop has only lost to North Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas A&M and Maryland this year. However, they lack a memorable victory and won’t find one with the rest of the Big South schedule. BracketBusters provides them with a chance for that elusive big win, which would keep the Eagles alive for an at-large bid should they stumble in their conference tournament.
Bradley at VCU
The winner can garner some at-large attention, but Bradley needs to get hot well before their encounter with VCU. The Rams are 18-3 and 10-0 in the CAA and their status as an at-large contender or pretender may be known well before the February 17th encounter with Bradley with games against Hofstra, Old Dominion and George Mason in late January and early February.
The games that don’t have an effect on March aren’t totally meaningless. It is nice for the home crowd to see a new and different team playing on the home court. And, in the world of small conferences, those are games, and the return games, that the administration can not imagine getting without the help of the BracketBusters system. Some might be interesting, but they bear little weight on the 2006-2007 season. At the best, a hyped up crowd and team could give some squads momentum riding into the conference tournament.
The Interesting Games:
Kent State at George Mason
Both squads have realistic hopes of winning their conference tournaments and will bring a Cinderella history with them. Before George Mason last year, it was Kent State’s Elite Eight run in 2002 that embodied the hopes and dreams of mid-majors everywhere.
Appalachian State at Wichita State
This can only be bad for Wichita State. If the Shockers play themselves back on the bubble, a loss against the Mountaineers will knock them right back off. A win will only be slightly more memorable than the UMKC home victory in November. Appalachian State is an intriguing team that could end up with five players averaging in double-digit scoring, but their NCAA hopes will most likely depend on the Southern Conference Tournament.
Utah State at Oral Roberts
Again? USU swept a home and home series with ORU last year and the squads will meet up again this year. The good news for ORU is that they can beat USU this time around and that is enough to improve to a 15 seed come March.
Cal State Fullerton at Wright State
Short people, well short for basketball, will love this game. Bobby Brown, 6-0, of Fullerton and Dashaun Wood, 5-11, of Wright State are both leading their teams in scoring with an average of at least 19.0 points per game. Fullerton has the ability to light it up from long range and another night of hot shooting could make the long trip to Dayton a prosperous one for Fullerton.
ESPN and the powers that be at the schools usually do a good job of setting up good games that make sense based on geography and team strength. However, we would have made a few changes.
The Games That Will Never Be:
Bradley at Fresno State
Unfortunately, Bradley is a little better than most thought and Fresno State is a little disappointing thus far, but this could have been the ultimate battle of long range shooting. Bradley makes 10.4 three balls per game, ranking 4th in the nation, while Fresno State isn’t far behind at 9.8 per contest.
Creighton, Missouri State or Wichita State at Nevada
A home team heavy MVC slate leaves only one marquee match-up available. Nevada taking on Creighton, Missouri State or Wichita State would be more interesting than Northern Iowa. Creighton is finally proving to be as dangerous as most thought in the preseason and matching up against Nevada would be an epic battle.