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Tuesday, January 31, 2012
MMR: BracketBusters players to watch

By Myron Medcalf
ESPN.com

On Monday night, the BracketBusters matchups were announced. By now, most college basketball fans know some of the event's biggest stars -- Doug McDermott, Scott Machado, Isaiah Canaan -- but these under-the-radar difference-makers might hold the keys to victory in their respective matchups.

Donte Poole
Donte Poole has upped his scoring average 10 points this season for Murray State.

1. Donte Poole (Murray State): Canaan has become a star for the undefeated Racers. But Poole, a 6-foot-3 guard, has averaged 19.2 points in his team's past five outings. He's shooting 41 percent from the 3-point line. He'll be crucial against Saint Mary's.

2. Antoine Young (Creighton): He plays next to a guy who might win national player of the year honors. But McDermott's point guard runs the show and is a huge factor in the sophomore's success. Young is averaging 11.2 ppg and 4.4 rpg. In Creighton's two losses this season, he recorded a combined five dishes. When he's not facilitating efficiently, Creighton doesn't play its best basketball. The Bluejays will need it in their BracketBusters matchup. Long Beach State is a veteran team that played one of the toughest nonconference schedules in America.

3. Michael Glover (Iona): Machado made the Wooden Award's midseason list. But he might not be the most important player on his team. That honor might belong to Glover, a 6-7 forward with 10 double-doubles this season. He's averaging 18.8 ppg and 9.0 rpg. The Wolf Pack should be concerned.

4. Jake Cohen (Davidson): During his team's eight-game winning streak -- snapped at Samford over the weekend -- Cohen recorded five 20-point efforts. The 6-10 forward is not afraid to shoot, either. He's shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc this season. His versatility could cause matchup problems for Wichita State.

5. D'Aundray Brown (Cleveland State): The Vikings' BracketBusters matchup with Drexel should be a defensive battle. They're lucky they have Brown. He's leading the Horizon League with 2.6 steals per game.

6. Zeke Marshall (Akron): Marshall's defensive prowess (3.0 blocks per game) is a known commodity now in college basketball. He's blocked five shots or more six times this season. The 7-footer's biggest concern in his team's BracketBusters matchup at Oral Roberts will be foul trouble.

7. Drew Viney (Loyola Marymount): He scored 18 points against Saint Mary's last week. And he recorded 21 at BYU a week earlier. He's a threat from the field (41 percent from beyond the arc) and the charity stripe (80 percent). He could give Valpo fits.

8. Bradford Burgess (VCU): Many know Burgess from his success in last season's NCAA tournament. This year, however, he's even better. He's led a young Rams squad to the top of the CAA. He's averaging 12.6 ppg and his team has won seven straight. Northern Iowa will be a tough opponent, even at home. But the Rams won't be intimidated with Burgess leading the way.

9. Nate Wolters (South Dakota State): Wolters is fun to watch. He was passed on by a multitude of Division I programs after high school, including his home-state Gophers. But this season, he's proving a lot of coaches wrong by averaging 20.7 ppg and leading the Jackrabbits to a 9-2 start in Summit League play. Buffalo will have its hands full.

10. Rayvonte Rice: He had 19 points in his team's triple-overtime win over Wichita State on Saturday night and he's averaging 17.3 ppg this season. The 6-4 guard is a talented defender, too (2.4 spg). New Mexico State should be concerned.

Five games you don't want to miss

Illinois State at No. 12 Creighton (ESPN3, 8:05 ET, Wednesday): Creighton has won 10 straight and the Bluejays are undefeated in 2012. But the last time they faced Illinois State, the Redbirds hit a 3-pointer with a minute left to cut Creighton's lead to two. So don't be misled by that final score (87-78). Creighton needed all 40 minutes to dismiss an Illinois State squad that committed just three turnovers.

Gonzaga at BYU (ESPN2/ESPN,11 p.m. ET, Thursday): You should watch this game because Saint Mary's is running away with the West Coast Conference title. So both Gonzaga (second entering the week) and BYU (tied for third entering the week) need a victory. You should also watch because the BYU crowd was on its worst behavior when Saint Mary's beat BYU 80-66 at the Marriott Center on Saturday. Fans threw garbage onto the floor. Wonder if they'll behave with another new rival coming to town.

Middle Tennessee at Denver (ESPN2/ESPN3, 4 p.m. ET, Saturday): The Blue Raiders were approaching Top 25 status prior to their loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday. But that defeat -- and the fight they put up during that game -- should elevate this sleeper's stock. Denver drew attention to the Sun Belt after the Pioneers knocked off Saint Mary's in November. They're still in contention for the conference's West title and MTSU is on top of the East. Crucial game for both.

Iona at Manhattan (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET, Saturday): There's a three-way tie for first place in the MAAC right now with Iona, Manhattan and Loyola (Md.) entering the week at 9-2. The Gaels and their potent offensive attack were supposed to dominate this league. But they're in a fight as February approaches. This should be a good matchup, considering the stakes.

Old Dominion at George Mason (ESPNU, 5 p.m. ET, Saturday): Both teams are vying for the CAA regular-season crown. George Mason entered the week in first place (10-1). And Old Dominion was in a three-way tie for second place. George Mason has the league's top scoring offense. Old Dominion possesses the CAA's No. 2 scoring defense. Something has to give.

Five individual performances you might have missed

Shane Gibson (Sacred Heart): The 6-2 junior scored 41 points in his team's 81-80 double-overtime loss against Mount St. Mary's on Saturday. He was 6-for-13 from beyond the arc. The 10-13 Pioneers haven't had much to smile about this season. But Gibson's lights-out performance was impressive, even though his team lost.

Travis Bader (Oakland): The 6-4 guard recorded 37 in his squad's 92-87 win over South Dakota State on Thursday. Bader didn't even start, but he hit 10 of his 14 3-point attempts (71 percent) in 35 minutes of action.

Rob Jones (Saint Mary's): The 6-6 senior has been vital for No. 16 Saint Mary's during its 10-0 start in West Coast Conference play. He recorded 15 rebounds for the second consecutive game during his team's 71-64 victory at Loyola Marymount on Thursday. In Saturday's 80-66 win at BYU, Jones scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

Augustine Rubit (South Alabama): The second-year center scored 18 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in South Alabama's 68-66 victory over Troy on Sunday. It was his eighth double-double of the season.

Wolters (South Dakota State): The Summit League star was impressive in his squad's 92-87 loss at Oakland on Thursday. He scored 21 points, dished 12 assists, grabbed eight rebounds and recorded two steals. And he played all 40 minutes.

Five scores you might have missed

Samford 77, Davidson 74 (Saturday): The Wildcats' eight-game winning streak was surprisingly snapped on the road against a team that entered the week with a 7-13 record. The same Davidson team that upset Kansas in Lawrence last month went 10-for-29 in the first half of this matchup. Samford hit a pair of late free throws to seal the victory. De'Mon Brooks' 20 points weren't enough to help Davidson avoid the upset.

No. 16 Saint Mary's 80, BYU 66 (Saturday): The Gaels sent a message to the WCC and the nation in this one: We're for real. They manhandled BYU in the Marriott Center, one of the most hostile venues in the country. Toward the end of the lopsided matchup, fans threw trash onto the floor. But the atmosphere didn't deter a Saint Mary's team that's 10-0 in the WCC, after shooting 56 percent from the field.

Vanderbilt 84, Middle Tennessee State 77 (Saturday): The Blue Raiders shouldn't hang their heads after this loss. They pressured a Vandy squad that's won 10 of 11 for a full 40 minutes. There were eight lead changes in a game that snapped MTSU's 12-game winning streak.

Stony Brook 66, Boston University 57 (Friday): The Seawolves snapped a five-game losing skid against Boston University in this scrappy matchup. The hostility between the two teams was on display in the second half with a number of hard fouls and physical play inside. Stony Brook has won four in a row.

Idaho St. 64, Weber St. 62 (Saturday): Damian Lillard, the nation's No. 1 scorer, recorded just 15 points, as his squad's 10-game winning streak was snapped on the road. The Wildcats were 6-for-21 from beyond the arc.

Mid-major Power 15 (MWC, A10, C-USA are not included)

1. Creighton: The Bluejays have won 10 in a row.
2. Saint Mary's: The Gaels' road win over BYU put the whole country on alert.
3. Murray State: Can't wait to see the Racers' BracketBusters meeting with Saint Mary's.
4. Harvard: Still undefeated in Ivy League play.
5. Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have won four straight since Jan. 12 loss to Saint Mary's.
6. Long Beach State: The 49ers are dominating conference, but can they win Big West tourney?
7. Wichita State: Took a tough triple-overtime loss at Drake on Saturday.
8. Nevada: The WAC leader has won 15 straight.
9. Oral Roberts: Golden Eagles on a 13-game winning streak.
10. Middle Tennessee: Nearly knocked off Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday.
11. BYU: Squad has been swept by Saint Mary's, faces Gonzaga this week.
12. George Mason: Paul Hewitt's team sitting on top of the CAA.
13. Iona: Nothing easy in the MAAC, where three teams tied with 9-2 records.
14. VCU: The Rams have won seven straight.
15. Cleveland State: The Vikings are the top squad in the Horizon League.

Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mmedcalf3030@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN