Thursday, February 21, 2008


BracketBuster Preview

One of the most interesting recent innovations in college basketball starts Friday night, the four-letter network's slightly inaccurately named BracketBusters weekend. (Since around 100 teams participate now, I think "inaccurate" is being kind, considering only 65 teams get in the bracket that's going to be busted, but I digress.) While it might be more fun to see middling major conference teams take a break from their league schedules to meet other bubble boys (as long as Florida and Syracuse aren't drawn against each other in this mythical event), the chances of that happening are as good as the opening round game featuring two at-larges. So, here's my preview of the TV games, going in order of increasing at-large implications. Note, I'm not counting four-letter 360's games, since I have no way of seeing them short of flying down to my parents' house this weekend.

All times are Eastern.

NO At-Large Implications

Miami (13-12, 7-6 MAC) at Valparaiso (13-12, 6-9 Horizon) - Saturday 6 p.m., four-letter Classic
Seriously... Miami is a middle-of-the-pack MAC side and Valpo has found life in the Horizon to be tough. Next!

(15-12, 9-7 MAAC) at Cleveland State (16-11, 11-6 Horizon) - Saturday 6:30 p.m., four-letterU
This is a matchup of teams who had real tournament chances about three weeks ago. The Red Foxes were in the lead pack in the Metro Atlantic earlier in the season, but now don't belong in the same conversation as teams like Siena, Rider, Niagara, and Loyola. (Even though with a road win at Rider and a 19-point home win over Niagara, they could make noise in Albany in March.) Meanwhile, the Vikings threatened to make the Horizon a multi-bid league after jumping out to a 7-0 league start, including a win over Butler at home. A five-game losing streak immediately followed, but Gary Waters' team has done a nice job of righting the ship by winning four of their five.

UC-Santa Barbara (19-6, 9-4 Big West) at Utah State (17-9, 8-4 WAC) - Friday 9 p.m., four-letterU
The Aggies were leading the WAC until their recent three game road trip, which turned into a three-game losing streak. With an RPI of 92 and an underwhelming SOS (best win at home to Oral Roberts), they don't have the at-large chance they usually have while contending. The Gauchos, who are trying to keep pace with Northridge and Fullerton in the Big West, have a slightly better RPI (88) and own a win over UNLV, who may have a chance at an at-large out of the Mountain West.

Rider (18-9, 11-5 MAAC) at Cal State-Northridge (17-6, 10-2 Big West) - Saturday 9 p.m., four-letterU
Two teams you may see as 14 seeds on Selection Sunday. It's a chance to see the Thompson brothers, Jason and Ryan, in a real road challenge. Considering the Broncs may need to beat Siena on their home court to get to the Dance, this matchup is a good piece of practice for them. The Matadors have lost only once at home all year (to Fullerton by 8) and the tiny Matadome will be rocking.

Nevada (16-9, 9-4 WAC) at Southern Illinois (15-12, 10-6 MVC) - Saturday 4:30 p.m., four-letterU
The Wolf Pack currently has one top 100 win (at home to Utah State). They can make it two with a win in Carbondale. The Salukis currently sit a game behind Illinois State for second in the Valley, and since they've beaten Drake, have a good chance at stealing the auto bid at Arch Madness. A win here would boost their confidence heading down the stretch.

At-Large Implications Only if There's Another Lunar Eclipse in the Next Three Weeks

Wright State
(20-6, 12-4 Horizon) at Illinois State (18-8, 11-5 MVC) - Sunday 6:30 p.m., four-letterU
The Raiders once again sit two games behind Butler in the Horizon. They also have beaten the Bulldogs in Dayton. Their RPI of 70 is in the neighborhood of at-large consideration, but they have no big wins outside of Butler. If this game was played a few weeks ago, a win at Redbird Arena would probably have helped the cause. However, the Redbirds are 5-5 in their last 10, after starting 6-0 in the Valley. Illinois State's RPI currently sits at 52, impressive considering they don't have a win over a team rated better than 56. And who says the RPI isn't flawed??

Creighton (17-8, 9-7 MVC) at Oral Roberts (18-6, 14-1 Summit) - Saturday 3 p.m., four-letter2
The closest the Blue Jays may get to the tourney this year is watching it at the Qwest Center. The Golden Eagles just had their dreams of a perfect Summit League season dashed by the IUPUI Jaguars Saturday night, and are looking for a name scalp to make up for it. Their RPI of 44 is definitely within the traditional boundary for at-large consideration, but even with a win Saturday the actual schedule doesn't measure up.

Serious At-Large Implications

Virginia Commonwealth
(20-6, 13-3 CAA) at Akron (19-7, 9-4 MAC) - Saturday 11 a.m., four-letter2
More on the line here for the Rams than the Zips. The Zips were left out by the Committee last year despite a 25-7 record and will have to win out and win the MAC tournament to match that win total (taking the guys in the Indy hotel room out of the equation). They won't get at-large consideration this year for the same reason as last year, their out-of-conference schedule is too weak. On the other hand, the Rams have a very good chance at getting in, if they win out and make the Colonial final. They just cannot lose this one, however.

George Mason (19-8, 11-5 CAA) at Ohio (17-9, 8-5 MAC) - Saturday 1 p.m., four-letter2
The Bobcats were looking like a reasonable at-large candidate until a recent 2-2 run in the MAC. The Patriots have some very good wins (Kansas State and Dayton) and some really bad losses (East Carolina and Georgia State). If they didn't drop those two games, they're almost certainly in the field. Now, they may need to win the CAA tournament and like VCU, they can't lose to a slightly inferior MAC opponent.

Davidson (19-6, 18-0 Southern) at Winthrop (16-9, 9-3 Big South) - Friday 7 p.m., four-letter2
Thanks to recent stumbles by UNC-Asheville, the Golden Eagles are back in front of the Big South. Davidson is trying to go unbeaten in the SoCon for the second time in four years, though this year's feat would be more impressive thanks to four more league games on the slate. Yes, the Wildcats went 1-6 in D1 games in the non-league portion of the schedule, but the losses will give the Committee a lot to think about if the Cats don't get the auto bid, UNC by 4, Duke by 6, UCLA by 12, NC State by 1 (though losses to Western Michigan and Charlotte aren't quite the same). In the final analysis, this is another case of a team with a borderline profile that cannot afford to lose.

Kent State (22-5, 11-2 MAC) at St. Mary's (22-3, 10-1 WCC) - Saturday, 11:59 p.m., four-letter2
The Gaels are almost certainly in the field at this point, but the Golden Flashes are the MAC's only shot at an at-large. (Wins over Mason and Illinois State help their case, a season-opening one-point loss to a terrible Detroit team is forgivable, as is the neutral loss to Xavier and road losses to UNC and Ohio, losing at Toledo is dicey.) A win in Moraga, where it is virtually impossible to win would immediately boost Kent State's profile and keep them on the board should they get knocked out in the MAC tournament. I don't think Randy Bennett's Aussie contingent will let that happen though.

Playing for Seeding

The game of the slate is at Hinkle Fieldhouse between the battling Bulldogs, Drake (21-3, 14-2 MVC) and Butler (25-2, 14-2 Horizon). Both teams are in the field, so this game may very well be for a protected seed, though I still think that Butler has a better chance for one long term, even if my current bracket doesn't reflect this. This will be the first chance many fans will have to see Drake play this year, and that's a shame. They're a hard team to pin down. They're not terribly athletic or talented, in fact, most of their opposition is equal or slightly better talent-wise. They just have a great team ethic and will to win. Both teams play a similar style, so expect a very close, defensive game in the low 60s.

There are a few non-TV games that deserve a mention. Big Sky leader Portland State goes to Fullerton to take on the Big West's second place team. Niagara has a good shot in the MAAC and will get a stiff test at Appalachian State, who still has a shot in the SoCon North (aka the non-Davidson division). Georgia Southern goes to Ohio Valley leaders Austin Peay.

Since the season is heading for the homestretch, I am as well. I'm moving to a Saturday morning/Monday evening bracket schedule this week.

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