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Bracket Buster event busting at the seams

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Sept. 12
The Bracket Buster event will expand this season from 18 teams to 46 in only its second year. Bracket Buster Saturday features mid-major schools competing against each other across conference lines. Mid-majors love the national television coverage and added exposure. All 13 Mid-American Conference schools will participate in this unique format.

The event was well-received last season, and this season it will be held on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2004. The home-and-road schools have been announced, but the pairings won't be set until during the season, with the official matchups released Feb. 1. This adds intrigue and allows for the best matchups to be established based on season performance, not preseason press clippings.

A mid-major like Gonzaga could challenge for the Final Four this season.
Five games will air on ESPN or ESPN2, with many others included in the cable Full Court package. It's a hoop lovers dream, wall-to-wall basketball, baby! It's an opportunity for mid-majors to receive exposure at a time when they need an edge trying to get that cherished NCAA berth.

Look at how the mid-majors have made noise in recent years. Their emergence has been impressive year in and year out. A school like Gonzaga could challenge for the Final Four this season. I have the Zags in my top 15 going into the campaign!

These schools can play with the big boys. That's also the case in football, as is evident this season with Northern Illinois upsetting Maryland and Bowling Green toppling Purdue. Lots of the big schools weren't interested in the athletes now competing at these smaller schools, but they still come through with big showings at the Division I level.

Maybe the evaluation process should change in the recruiting of these kids. Then there's the development-and-hard-work process -- these athletes bust their guts to get better and better. And they have the added incentive of being snubbed by the big boys. There really isn't much difference between the level of play of the mid-majors and majors.

There's also the magic of teamwork, and that's the beauty of college basketball -- when everybody shares the ball and plays together on the defensive end. Mid-majors have an advantage in that they don't lose as many kids early to the NBA draft. They keep their rosters intact more often, and that's why schools like Butler, Kent State and Ball State can challenge the big boys.

Bracket Buster Saturday is a creation of ESPN's Burke Magnus and the programming department, who came through big-time. Here's a salute to them! Many schools that wouldn't normally get such exposure are in the spotlight at an important time in the basketball season.

The following conferences and schools are slated to take part in Bracket Buster 2004 (21 of the 46 teams appeared in the past two NCAA Tournaments, including three Sweet Sixteen squads -- Southern Illinois and Kent State in 2002, Butler in 2003):

HOME TEAMS
Horizon

Butler
Cleveland State
Illinois-Chicago
UW Green Bay
Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Mid-American
Akron
Ball State
Bowling Green State
Central Michigan
Kent State
Marshall
Miami (Ohio)

Missouri Valley
Bradley
Evansville
Illinois State
Southern Illinois
Indiana State

Sun Belt
Louisiana-Lafayette
New Mexico State

Western Athletic
Fresno State
Nevada
Rice
Tulsa

VISITING TEAMS
Horizon

Detroit
Loyola
Youngstown State

Mid-American
Buffalo
Eastern Michigan
Northern Illinois
Ohio
Toledo
Western Michigan

Missouri Valley
Creighton
Drake
Northern Iowa
Southwest Missouri State
Wichita State

Sun Belt
Western Kentucky

Western Athletic
Hawaii

West Coast
Gonzaga

Big West
University of California-Irvine

Colonial Athletic
UNC-Wilmington

Metro Atlantic
Manhattan

Ohio Valley
Austin Peay

Southern
College of Charleston
East Tennessee State

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