The Final Year of Bracket Busters Still Has Worthy Stories

6 Feb

The match ups for the final BracketBusters event were announced on Monday and the result has been underwhelming.  What used to be a showcase for mid and low major teams to get a marquee win on their resume and show what they are capable of to larger audiences, has become an event that is manipulated to get the best television games not necessarily what is in the best interest of the teams and their seasons.

This year’s match ups may end up doing more harm than good to some of these teams’ at-large hopes as March approaches.  The one team that gets a serious benefit is the St. Mary’s Gaels who drew (for mostly TV reasons) the only top 25 team in the event, Creighton who will make the trip to Moraga.  The Gaels despite being 19-4 don’t have much meat on their profile with their best win being a one-point win at BYU or a win at Utah State in the 2nd game of the season.

A few teams have been put in virtual no-win situations with the draws for the event.   A couple of Missouri Valley teams in Indiana State and Wichita State have games that if they were to lose could put a serious dent in their at-large hopes.

The Shockers seemed pretty safe when it comes to the NCAA tournament but they have hit a bit of a skid losing their three two games to Indiana State, at Northern Iowa and at Southern Illinois.  They have a chance to rebound with their next three games coming against the bottom feeders of the league (Missouri State, Drake and Illinois State) before a rematch with Indiana State.  The Shockers welcome Detroit and one of the more dangerous and perhaps little-known guards in the country in Ray McCallum to Wichita as part of Bracket Busters.    A win would help solidify the Shockers’ place in the field of 68 while a loss would give people more reason to pause and examine things more closely and possibly effect WSU’s seeding.

Fellow Valley cohort Indiana State is in a similar position, the Sycamores are hoping to be a third team out of the conference to make the tournament.  With wins over UCLA to start the season as well as victories over Mississippi and a red-hot Miami team they have a good foundation.  But they also have some questionable losses to an under .500 Morehead State and three of their four conference losses have come at the hands of the league’s cellar dwellers, Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Drake.  With seven losses and four in conference Indiana State cannot afford very many (if any) more losses before the conference tournament.  As a team that prefers a slower pace Indiana State has drawn the 4th highest scoring team in the country, the Iona Gaels who put up over 81 points per game.  The Gaels are led by MoMo Jones whose 21.9 points is 3rd best in the country.  This may be considered a must win for the Sycamores’ NCAA at-large hopes.

The team people were hoping would draw Creighton, the Belmont Bruins out of the Ohio Valley did not.  The 19-4 Bruins instead get an Ohio team that is led by senior guard D.J. Cooper and made a trip to last year’s Sweet 16.  The Bruins who have a top 20 RPI and no bad losses are also void of good head-turning wins and desperately could’ve used a game with Creighton, instead all they can do is keep winning and face four straight road games, beginning with Murray State on Thursday before the Bobcats come calling.

Even though the match ups for the event may not be ideal it is still a showcase for some players that may not have a chance otherwise.  Let’s start with two guards that go head-to-head on the court and on the score sheet as Isaiah Canaan and Murray State host Nate Wolters and the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State.  Both guys grabbed the spotlight last season as Murray State was the last team in basketball to lose a game and were nationally ranked for the first time in school history.  Wolters garnered attention for his 22-point, 6-rebound and 8-assist showing in a blowout win over Buffalo in last year’s Bracket Busters.  He would then lead the Jack rabbits to their first Summit League Championship and NCAA bid.  The two seniors are hoping for repeat performances, Canaan’s 21 points per game is 8th best in the country and Wolters is nipping at his heels at 20.8 points per contest.  This may be the most anticipated on the floor matchup of the weekend.

The Akron Zips are 18-4 and an unblemished 9-0 in the Mid-American Conference and a big reason why is 7’0 senior center Zeke Marshall who leads the team in scoring at 12.6 per game and blocks with 3.57 good enough for 5th best in the country.  The Zips who can score the ball averaging 75 points a game welcome one of the stingiest defenses in the country to town in the Summit’s North Dakota State Bison.  The Bison (19-4, 9-2) not only boast the 8th best scoring defense only surrendering 55.3 points they also the nation’s leader in field goal percentage in 6-8 junior forward Marshall Bjorklund who shoots it at a clip of 70.7%.  A couple of contrasting styles and under-the-radar big men make this a game to keep an eye on.

If you like scoring the game for you might be Niagara hosting Northwestern State out of the Southland.  The surprise leader of the MAAC, Niagara puts up 75 points a game and is led by a sophomore back court of Antoine Mason (the son of former Knick Anthony Mason) and Juan’ya Green.   The dynamic duo averages a combined 35.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists a game.  The visiting Demons have an even more potent offense, the nation’s best in fact at 83.9 points a game.  But the Demons score in a different manner than Niagara, they do it with depth, they go 10 deep and have four guys averaging over 11 points a game.   This track meet should be fun to watch, can Northwestern State contain the Purple Eagle back court?  How will Niagara handle the depth of the Demons?

Belmont welcomes 2012 Sweet Sixteen team the Ohio Bobcats to Nashville, while the Bruins missed out on the prize of Bracket Busters the Creighton Bluejays the consolation prize isn’t half bad, one of the more unique point guards in all of college basketball, the Bobcats’ D.J. Cooper.  Not only are Cooper’s 8.0 assists third best in the country, he is just 100 points and 39 assists away from a career stat line of at least 2,000 points, 900 assists, 500 rebounds and 300 steals which would make him the only player in the history of college basketball to reach such levels.  Depending on how things go between now and Feb. 23 Nashville could be the site of some NCAA history.

In the final year of the Bracket Buster event the games may not be what they could have been, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be things to watch for and perhaps a little foreshadowing of things to come in March.

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