Jockeying begins for BracketBusters

January, 10, 2012
01/10/12
2:50
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No. 14 Murray State will not play a ranked team the rest of the regular season. The 16-0 Racers did play one earlier in the season, knocking off then No. 20 Memphis on the road. Beating Southern Miss in double overtime to win the Great Alaska Shootout and smacking around Dayton will likely end up being quality wins, as well.

But the schedule is light because the Ohio Valley Conference doesn't have a team that's even in the ballpark with Murray. The Racers could run the table in the OVC and it would surprise no one.

And that's why the opponent for the BracketBusters game on either Feb. 17, 18 or 19 will be so critical. The Racers may need some extra power-ratings pop for seeding or just in case they don't win the OVC tourney.

Selections for the game will be made Jan. 29 and a lot obviously will happen on the court in the next three weeks. But for the Racers, the opponent may come down to a select few (for a complete list of home and road designations, click here). The home teams have to return the BracketBusters game the following year in a traditional nonconference game and sometimes travel concerns play a role.

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Isaiah Canaan
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesIsaiah Canaan and Murray State will almost certainly draw a top opponent for BracketBusters.

Murray State is already a predetermined home team. So is Creighton, the only other team in the event that has been ranked or has a chance to be ranked for the duration of the season. So the ideal matchup between the Racers and Bluejays can't happen.

Murray State coach Steve Prohm said the best choices for the Racers would be Long Beach State, Saint Mary's, Wichita State or Charleston.

The discussion should begin and end with Long Beach State. An LBSU-Murray matchup would help the Racers because of the 49ers' expected rise in the RPI after playing a gauntlet of nonconference games like North Carolina, Kansas, Louisville, Kansas State, Pitt and Xavier. The 49ers won the latter two, one in a true road game and the other neutral.

"We just want to try to get another quality win," Prohm said.

Creighton coach Greg McDermott's team did play a tougher slate than Murray and is in a much more difficult conference in the Missouri Valley. The Bluejays are likely looking at a similar pool of teams with Saint Mary's and/or Nevada. McDermott said he just wants a quality opponent. The WAC favorite or a WCC contender would suffice.

Iona is the favorite in the MAAC and did play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic, but lost to Purdue there and didn't get to face Alabama. Beating Maryland, Saint Joe's and Richmond isn't bad, but the Gaels need more power-rating pop.

Iona coach Tim Cluess, though, is already concerned about 2012-13. He doesn't want a difficult road game, especially for travel and cost, next season. Wichita State would probably be the best choice for the Gaels, but some other worthy opponents would be MAC contender Akron (won at Mississippi State, at Marshall) or a possible SoCon champ in the College of Charleston, which did beat Tennessee, Clemson and UMass and nearly clipped Louisville.

Missouri State opened the Missouri Valley by winning at Creighton and is currently in a battle with the Bluejays, Wichita State and surprising Illinois State atop the MVC. The Bears might not get the ideal BracketBusters choice since they already played Saint Mary's (lost in Vegas) and Nevada (won on the road). If it were up to Missouri State coach Paul Lusk, his choice would be Akron. We'll see how those two teams play out over the next few weeks.

George Mason is atop the Colonial Athletic Association at 4-0, but the Patriots don't have a great at-large profile at this juncture. GMU already played Charleston on the road and won. Naturally, first-year coach Paul Hewitt wants the highest-rated team. That might end up being Indiana State (won at Vanderbilt) or it might lead to a rekindling of the Wichita State-GMU mini-rivalry, a game that helped the Patriots get into the NCAA tournament in 2006.

One of the most intriguing teams to schedule will be Oral Roberts. ORU is off to a 6-0 start in the Summit League. The Golden Eagles did play a strong schedule but lost at West Virginia, Oklahoma and Gonzaga before winning at depleted Xavier and taking out Texas Tech from the bottom of the Big 12. ORU is a home team and head coach Scott Sutton would want Wichita State, Saint Mary's or Northern Iowa. It's hard to see a scenario in which the Gaels would be available, but UNI could be attainable.

Butler is back in the event, too. And one of the elite teams from the Horizon League -- Butler, Cleveland State and/or Detroit -- is going to have to get a decent team. All three are at home. And therein lies the problem.

If the best matchup is Long Beach State-Murray State and then perhaps Saint Mary's-Creighton and Akron-Iona, that leaves WAC favorite Nevada as the most intriguing remaining road team. The best matchup, certainly in name recognition for television, may be to pit Nevada at Butler. These are two teams that are improving and could make their way to the NCAA tournament as their respective conference champs.

That leave would leave a scenario under which road teams Wichita State, Northern Iowa, Charleston, Drexel and Old Dominion are paired up with home teams Oral Roberts, George Mason, Cleveland State, Missouri State and Detroit in some fashion.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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