- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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The matchups for the 10th annual BracketBusters event were announced Monday night, but projecting how important some of these games will be three weeks before they happen is hardly an exact science.
Nevertheless, the evidence exists that BracketBusters usually help at least one team’s profile. Historically, George Mason is the most obvious example of the event helping a team’s cause. In 2006, the Patriots’ win at Wichita State was a large reason they received a controversial at-large berth -- one they used to reach the Final Four.
Every matchup may not move the meter for the 10-member selection committee, but there is a chance. So with that mind, here are my initial thoughts on what should be the top games. (Keep in mind, the home and road designations are pre-set before the season).
Editor's Note: The non-TV matchups can be found here.
All times ET
1. Saint Mary’s at Murray State, Feb. 18 (6 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): You can debate whether the Gaels should be going to Creighton instead. I made that case in Tuesday’s 3-point shot. The Gaels are winning the WCC. The Bluejays are atop the Missouri Valley. Both conferences play at a higher level than the Ohio Valley.
That said, there’s certainly nothing wrong with this matchup. If Murray State is still unbeaten, it becomes fascinating because the Gaels will be the Racers’ best opponent this season. The best matchup is Matthew Dellavedova against Isaiah Canaan at the point. Rob Jones trying to keep Ivan Aska off the glass also will be critical.
Saint Mary’s is going to be in the NCAA tournament. Murray State will be as well barring some sort of collapse. So this is a game that won’t put a team in the tournament, but could affect seeding. And for drama, this is the game that could prevent the Racers from running the table prior to March. I’m convinced Saint Mary’s has second-weekend potential. Does Murray? This game will help us find out.
2. Long Beach State at Creighton, Feb. 18 (10 p.m., ESPN2): Hey, the 49ers are on the road again. They should be used to it. Long Beach State went to Kansas, Louisville, San Diego State, North Carolina, Montana and Pitt in the nonconference. They also played in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic. This is a legit team. Dan Monson has his best unit at Long Beach with a star guard in Casper Ware. The 49ers are running the table so far in the Big West and with a 34 RPI should have a spot in the NCAAs regardless. Creighton, which is atop the RPI among these teams at 14, has a national player of the year candidate in Doug McDermott. Antoine Young will have his hands full with Ware, but he can also cause problems himself. Creighton has the Omaha home court advantage, but this is a matchup that could easily be seen in the NCAA tournament between two teams that could win a game.
3. Nevada at Iona, Feb. 18 (4 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): The Wolf Pack are undefeated in the WAC. Iona is tied with Loyola (Md.) and Manhattan in the MAAC. But both teams aren’t locks for the NCAAs if they don’t win their respective conference tournaments. That’s why this game will be critical to the cause. A win by Nevada thousands of miles from Reno will get the Pack credit with the selection committee. Neither team has a standout nonconference win but there is star power on the court. Deonte Burton is a legit scorer for the Wolf Pack. Scott Machado is one of the top four point guards in the country. This will likely be an up-tempo game and a good watch. Iona coach Tim Cluess didn’t want a West Coast team for return travel. But he can’t dismiss the good fortune of at least getting a conference leader.
4. Wichita State at Davidson, Feb. 18 (12 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): The Shockers lost in triple overtime at Drake over the weekend. Davidson lost at Samford. That takes a bit of the luster out of both teams’ ability to possibly move up in the matchups. But each team has a shelf-life win that could catch the selection committee in March. Wichita State blew out UNLV at home and Davidson beat Kansas in Kansas City. A road win by Wichita State would enhance its strength of schedule and likely bump up the 31 RPI. Davidson, at 67, could use a top-40 RPI win, too. Wichita will want to push at every opportunity. Davidson may be a bit more deliberate. No one should be shocked if both of these teams are in the tournament and in position to win a first-round game. This game may not knock the other out from contention for a bid. But clearly Wichita State may need it more since Davidson has a better shot to earn the automatic berth out of the Southern than Wichita does in the more competitive Missouri Valley.
5. Drexel at Cleveland State, Feb. 18 (11 a.m., ESPNU): The Dragons are a game behind George Mason in a cluttered group in the Colonial with ODU and VCU. Cleveland State is atop the Horizon League. Cleveland State could get an at-large bid due to its win at Vanderbilt if the Vikings lost in the Horizon League final. Drexel can’t get an at-large bid. But what if the Dragons won at Cleveland State? That’s not enough, but it would help in possible seeding. Both teams are undersized and would prefer a defensive approach. Expect a lower scoring affair that will be a grinder. And Gary Waters and Bruiser Flint, the two head coaches, love to work the sidelines in animated fashion.
6. Akron at Oral Roberts, Feb. 18 (2 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): The Zips are in first place in the MAC and have the defensive presence in Zeke Marshall. His ability to block and alter shots will be a potential difference maker going forward. The Zips, if they can win the MAC tournament, proved that they have the ability to step up in play when they won at Mississippi State. But that was a lifetime ago. Oral Roberts is undefeated in the Summit (although that may change with a game at South Dakota State on Thursday). The Eagles’ best win was over a depleted Xavier in Cincinnati. ORU would be an interesting case for the selection committee if it doesn’t lose again and has four losses. Akron probably can’t get in without winning the MAC tournament -- the MAC can’t seem to get multiple bids.
7. Valparaiso at Loyola Marymount, Feb. 17 (9 p.m., ESPNU): The Crusaders have been the surprise of the Horizon League, a half-game behind Cleveland State. LMU has wins over Saint Louis, Villanova and BYU and is a top-four WCC team, although the Lions couldn’t stop Saint Mary’s at home last week. LMU isn’t going to make the NCAAs unless it goes on a run at the WCC tournament in Las Vegas. Valpo, though, could win the Horizon League. So this could be an opportunity to see one team in the Dance as Bryce Drew has done a solid job in his first year at Valparaiso.
8. Northern Iowa at VCU, Feb. 17 (7 p.m., ESPN2): The Rams are headed in the right direction and are a threat to win the CAA. VCU, a Final Four team last year, is tied with Old Dominion and Drexel for second place. But the Rams didn’t get any favors in this event. VCU needed a better game. Northern Iowa has slumped to 4-7 in the Valley. This game won’t move the meter for the selection committee.
The rest of the TV games (all on Feb. 18):
Buffalo at South Dakota State, 1 p.m. ESPNU: Buffalo rocked Dayton on the road and South Dakota State crushed Washington on the road. And SDSU’s Nate Wolters is a star. Oh, and I love the Jackrabbit nickname, my favorite in the sport. Go Bunnies!
Drake at New Mexico State, 3 p.m., ESPNU: Drake has come on a bit lately with the weekend win over Wichita State. NMSU is the second-best team in the WAC. This game has potential between teams that could be pests in their respective conference tournaments.
Old Dominion at Missouri State, 5 p.m., ESPNU: The Monarchs are tied for second in the CAA. Missouri State has slipped a bit to 6-5 in the Valley. This will be a grinder between teams that have been all over the place this season.
UNC Asheville at Ohio, 7 p.m., ESPN3: Ohio has D.J. Cooper and is one of the four best teams in the MAC. Asheville is atop the Big South standings. A bit stunned that Asheville got a TV game, but the Bulldogs have been solid.
UT-Arlington at Weber State, 8 p.m., ESPN3: Weber State has one of the top five NBA-level point guards in the country in Damian Lillard. Arlington is atop the Southland West division at 7-0, but there were probably better choices for this slot.
Notable omissions: Loyola (Md.) coach Jimmy Patsos has a right to be peeved that his team was left out of the TV portion of BracketBusters. The Greyhounds and Manhattan are tied with Iona atop the always-competitive MAAC, but only Iona made the cut in terms of television selections. It is important to note that both Loyola and Manhattan were designated home teams, so they couldn't have replaced, say, UTA. George Mason is also atop the CAA, but the Patriots are nowhere to be found on this list of TV games. Butler hasn’t played well and didn’t deserve a high spot, but it’s still a stark reminder of how much the Bulldogs are rebuilding this season that they didn’t even make the TV cut. Wow.