There are 50 games in for BracketBusters this year, which means that 100 teams will be participating. The purpose of this is one final push for a good resume-boosting non-conference win to make a push for mid-majors getting an at-large bid. 14 different conferences are represented in this event, including the Missouri Valley, Western Athletic Conference, Mid-American Conference, and the Colonial Athletic Association.
Here are some of the match-ups that I will be fpaying attention to:
#16 Drake @ #8 Butler (Saturday, 5:00 P.M., ESPN2/ESPN360)
Both teams are in no danger of missing the NCAA Tournament at the moment. This is the best BracketBusters game of the weekend.
Drake is coming off of a heart-breaking loss at home against Bradley. Drake does not have a signature non-conference win, although they beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee (road), Iowa State, and Iowa (road). Drake is pretty much a lock to get in the NCAA Tournament, but getting a signature non-conference win will definitely help their seed come tournament time. They lost earlier in the year at St. Mary's, but who knew that game would have been so important?
Butler has done very well this year. They are 5-0 against BCS conference teams this year (Michigan (neutral), Virginia Tech (neutral), Texas Tech (neutral), Ohio State, Florida State), and they have 2 other good non-conference wins (Souther Illinois (road), Bradley). If Butler wins this game, and runs the table, I would not be surprised at all to see the Bulldogs (Butler) a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Creighton @ Oral Roberts (Saturday, 3:00 P.M., ESPN2/ESPN360)
Two conference powerhouses face off.
Creighton has been struggling as of late, losing 5 of their last 9. The Blue Jays have 3 decent non-conference wins (DePaul, Nebraska, St. Joseph's), but none of them are on the road. A good non-conference road win is just what Creighton needs, but they will be going up against perennial Summit League (formerly Mid-Continent) power Oral Roberts. Creighton had a chance at Xavier earlier in the year, but they lost by 13.
Oral Roberts is a longshot to get an at-large bid because of the conference they play in, but it is possible thanks to their RPI (44) and non-conference strength of schedule (18).. The Eagles played 7 of their 9 non-conference games on the road or in neutral sites. The only good win here is against Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City. If Oral Roberts wins out until the conference tournament final, they will be one of the most highly debated teams come Selection Sunday.
Davidson @ Winthrop (Friday, 7:00 P.M., ESPN2/ESPN360)
Two perennial conference powers collide.
Davidson played one of the most brutal non-conference schedules in the nation, and it did not pay off. They played North Carolina, Duke, Charlotte (road), UCLA (Anaheim), and North Carolina State (road). The Wildcats did not win any of those games (including a bad loss at Western Michigan), which means their only D-I non-conference win is against North Carolina Central. If Davidson wants to get an at-large, they have to win this game because no team has ever gotten in with only 1 non-conference win.
Winthrop is not as good as last year, but they are still decent. Like Davidson, they challenenge themselves in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Even though they did not schedule the same quality teams that Davidson did, the Eagles have some good wins (Georgia Tech (neutral), Akron, Old Dominion, Miami (Sunrise)). I do not think Winthrop has any chance at an at-large, but this should be a good game.
George Mason at Ohio (Saturday, 1:00 P.M., ESPN2/ESPN360)
George Mason and Ohio are both mid-majors that are currently on the wrong side of the bubble. The loser can start thinking NIT. This is the biggest BracketBusters game of the weekend
George Mason is quietly putting together a solid season. They have wins over Dayton and Kansas State (neutral). They only have 1 non-conference road win (Florida International), and their best road win overall is against James Madison (RPI: 206). This is a must-win game for George Mason. They have to do very well down the stretch because 5 losses in the CAA is way too many to get an at-large.
Ohio is another team that is having a quiet season. They beat New Mexico State and Maryland (road) for good non-conference wins. They also beat Kent State for a good conference win. The Bobcats currently have 9 losses, including 5 in the MAC. If Ohio plans on making the NCAA Tournament, they have to finish strong. They are 2-3 in their last 5 games.
Kent State at Saint Mary's (Saturday, 12:00 A.M., ESPN2/ESPN360)
Kent State is going to be one of the hottest debates if they do not win the MAC Tournament.
Kent State started the year with a bad loss against Detroit. They do not have much in the non-conference, but they did beat fellow bubble teams George Mason and Illinois State (neutral). They currently have 22 wins, but Akron got snubbed last year despite having 26 wins. Kent State has to win this game so they have a safety net in case they slip up in the MAC Tournament.
St. Mary's is one of the pleasant surprises this season. They have plenty of good wins in non-conference play, including Drake, Oregon, Seton Hall, San Diego State (Anaheim), and Ohio (neutral). They are sure to get an automatic bid, but another good win on the resume does not hurt.
Prediction: St. Mary's
Nevada at Southern Illinois (Saturday, 4:30 P.M., ESPNU)
Both teams have been major disappointments this season, but it should be a great game.
Nevada has been very streaky all season. They started out 2-4, but the Wolfpack are 14-5 since. There isn't much in the non-conference except for a win at Northern Iowa. Nevada is third in the WAC behind Boise State and New Mexico State. Nevada has to start winning consistently if they expect to be in the field in March. A win in Carbondale against Southern Illinois isn't a bad start.
The Salukis have also disappointed this season. They played a brutal non-conference schedule which is why their record is what it is. They have wins over Mississippi State (neutral), St. Mary's, and Western Kentucky. They have been hot as of late, winning 7 of their last 10. Their record does not show it, but this is a very good team. If they can put together a winning streak late in the season, they could sneak in, and it could start Saturday against Nevada.
Prediction: Southern Illinois
Virginia Commonwealth at Akron (Saturday, 11:00 A.M., ESPN2/ESPN360)
VCU could probably get in if they don't win their conference tournament. The same can't be said for Akron.
The Rams have good non-conference wins already against Maryland (Washington D.C.), Houston (neutral), and Bradley. They also played Miami and Arkansas tough on neutral floors, even though they lost both games. A win over Akron on the road would be huge for their resume. It is hard seeing anyone from the Colonial getting an at-large this year, despite VCU's 20-6 record and good resume. The home loss to Old Dominion really hurt the RPI. In order for VCU to have a realistic shot at an at-large, they have to win this game.
Akron got robbed of an NCAA bid last year despite having 26 wins. Akron only has 1 decent non-conference win (Temple), so they need this one badly. It is highly unlikely that the Zips make it to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large, but the MAC has been good this year. Maybe the selection committee takes that into consideration and gives Akron a look. They have to win this game though.
Wright State at Illinois State (Sunday, 6:30 P.M., ESPNU)
A big bubble matchup for both teams.
Wright State is one of the best teams in the Horizon League, which has been doing well this season. After starting out 2-4 in conference play, Wright State has won 10 straight Horizon League games, and 11 games in a row overall. They have two decent non-conference wins against Belmont (Chattanooga) and Miami-Ohio. A road win over Illinois State would be huge. Wright State is only one of two teams to beat Butler.
Illinois State is fighting for their tournament lives. If the Missouri Valley is going to get an at-large (other than Drake), Illinois State is the team. They beat UNC-Wilmington and Cincinnati in the non-conference, and missed chances against Indiana (neutral), and Kent State (neutral). Illinois State is 5-5 in their last 10 games, and they finish with Wright State, Creighton, and at Southern Illinois. The Redbirds have to win 2 of their final 3 and a game in the MVC tournament to get in the field.
Prediction: Illinois State