Long, long ago, ESPN decided to create a new event…feeding off the public’s tremendous interest in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (forever known as March Madness or The Big Dance)…the powers-that-be felt if they were to match some good mid-major colleges against each other, viewer interest would be there…and these teams would get a bit more recognition come Selection Sunday. Well, a good idea has gone bad. If you look at the match-ups, there are just two that will have real interest: St. Mary’s at Murray State and Long Beach State at Creighton. As for many of the others, someone is going to be hurt.
Some teams, like VCU, will not be helped and could be hurt, by playing Northern Iowa. NIU is traditionally a good team and has scored upsets in the Dance…but not this year. A loss to NIU would really hurt VCU, who should make the tournament, but their seeding could be affected. And there are others…but, that being said, let’s take a brief look at five interesting match-ups…
This is one of the two best games of the bunch. Murray State has a dismal 236 strength of schedule, but is the ONLY unbeaten college in the country. The Gaels are winning the WCC and the Racers are on top in the OVC. This will be their toughest test of the season, as the Gaels are big and good. Both teams have outstanding point guards, and the game could affect seeding for both teams. Since both teams are going to the Big Dance, the only real drama here is to see if Murray State can win. If the do, they’ll run the table into March.
This is the second of the best games scheduled. The 49ers are used to being away from home, so this should not worry them…much. They have already played at Kansas, Louisville, San Diego State, North Carolina, Montana and Pittsburgh. They played in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic. They feature star guard Casper Ware. For the Blue Jays, they own the top RPI (17) among the BracketBuster teams. They feature National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott. This would be a really nice March Madness match-up…West Coast vs. Midwest. Both teams should make the tournament, and a win here will enhance seeding if we are to believe the BracketBusters mean anything.
A return to the Carolinas for Shockers head man Gregg Marshall (formerly head coach at Winthrop University, located in Rock Hill, SC, a short drive south of Davidson). He has his team running and pushing, while the Wildcats like to take their time and play at a more deliberate pace. Davidson (67 RPI) needs to win against a Top-40 RPI team…and Wichita is that team. The SoCon is a good mid-major conference, and Davidson has the goods to win it. On the other hand, Wichita probably needs this win more because they are in a more-competitive conference (Missouri Valley), where they are currently second to Creighton. Both teams have good non-conference wins – Wichita beat UNLV at home and Davidson shocked Kansas in Kansas City, a virtual home game for the Jayhawks.
Nevada is unbeaten in the WAC…Iona is tied with Loyola (MD) and Manhattan for first place in the MAAC. Neither team is a lock to make the Big Dance if they don’t win their conference tournament, so you see the importance of getting a win in this one. If Nevada can travel thousands of miles and come away with a victory, it will go a long way in the minds of the selection committee. Expect an up-tempo game from both teams. Neither team has an outstanding non-conference win. Guard play will decide this one as both team’s feature outstanding players at that position. For the Wolf Pack, Deonte Burton averages 15.5 PPG and for the Gaels, Scott Machado averages 13.4 PPG, and has been mentioned as being one of the top four point guards in the nation.
UNC Asheville (13-7; 11-1 Big South; 127 RPI; 213 SOS) at Ohio (16-4; 5-2 MAC; 72 RPI, 187 SOS):
Several people I spoke to over the past few days at Asheville were really hoping to travel over to the Charlotte area to play Davidson. It would have brought Bulldog fans into Davidson’s arena and I think could have been a great place to play. Some of the players said they thought the Dogs would be travelling up to Butler to play at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, but that was not to be. Instead, Asheville will travel to Athens, OH to play one of the four-best teams in the MAC, the Ohio Bobcats. This should be a good game if you like excellent guard play. Asheville’s dynamic senior guards, Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm, have been living up to pre-season expectations. Over the past two games, they have traded being high-scorers, with Primm (30 vs. High Point) and Dickey (31 vs. Campbell) both setting career-scoring marks. Ohio features D.J. Cooper, who is averaging 14 points a game. A solid, tough Asheville team…road-tested…and ready for anything…will give Ohio a battle. It would be great for Asheville to avenge a last-second loss to Northeastern in last year’s BracketBuster game…a game that did not help them come tournament-seeding time. Maybe this year will be different.
There are many, many other BracketBuster games, with the majority of them being played on Saturday, Feb. 18. Check your ESPN listings, as they are on the family of stations (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3) and try to see if you can find this year’s dark-horse candidate to make a run in the Big Dance!