Tonight on ESPNU the televised BracketBusters match ups were announced. I nailed three of them in my preview. A lot of the games make tons of sense (and good television), but there are a few I’m skeptical about. Here’s my ratings from 1 to 13.
1. Creighton at St. Mary’s (ESPN/ESPN2, Feb. 23) - The Bluejays were definitely the best away team available and they’re matched up against the Gaels in a game that could definitely influence the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday. We knew this was coming. It’ll make for good television.
2. Ohio at Belmont (ESPN2, Feb. 23) - This game makes a lot of sense too. While Akron is the undefeated team in the MAC, the Bobcats are talented and D.J. Cooper makes for a fun face to put on television. I thought this one would happen and I’m glad that ESPN made it work. It got a nice slot at 10 p.m., Feb. 23rd on ESPN2.
3. Detroit at Wichita St. (ESPN/ESPN2, Feb. 23) - Gregg Marshall’s team is 19-4 with a couple weird losses in the Missouri Valley Conference, but the Shockers are going to host a hot Detroit team that could use this win. The Titans aren’t a true at-large contender at 72 in RPI and 15-8 overall, but they’ve got dangerous players in guys like Ray McCallum. This is a must win for Marshall if he doesn’t want to start sweating out Selection Sunday.
4. South Dakota St. at Murray St. (ESPN2, Feb. 23) - This is a sexier television game than it is a NCAA decider. Nate Wolters and Isaiah Canaan should be an easy sell and it’ll be exciting. I’d expect this one to be close. Neither team is getting an at-large bid this season.
5. North Dakota St. at Akron (ESPN2, Feb. 22) - Andy Katz gave us an interesting anecdote during the selection show when he noted that Keith Dambrot was trying to switch to a road team this season. With good reason too. The Zips needed a tough game than this. Still, NDSU is really good and extremely underrated.
6. Iona at Indiana St. (ESPNU, Feb. 22) - There’s a lot of intrigue here. Indiana State’s profile is all over the place. The Sycamores have beaten Ole Miss, Miami (FL) and Wichita St. They’ve also lost to Southern Illinois, Morehead St. and recently Drake. If this type of up-and-down play reminds you of Iona, well you’re not the only one. This is definitely going to be a tough game, but it’s a winnable one for the Gaels and one that could help put Iona back in the spotlight.
7. Eastern Kentucky at Valparaiso (ESPNU, Feb. 22) - This game could be a lot of fun. EKU is probably the second best team in the OVC behind Belmont and the Colonels play lots of offense and little defense. Valparaiso is a talented all-around team. The Crusaders should win this game, but it could be high-scoring and played in the open court.
8. Stephen F. Austin at Long Beach St. (ESPNU, Feb. 22) - This is another chance for SFA to prove it’s for real. The Lumberjacks will head to LBSU and have to prove that their dominance of the Southland isn’t a fluke. KenPom ratings seem to suggest that this game is going to be really close, though the 49ers have been playing better as of late, winning eight in a row in the Big West.
9. Canisius at Vermont (ESPN3, Feb. 22) - I’m actually quite intrigued by this game, I don’t know how many casual fans will be. The Golden Griffs get a game on television, which they deserve after a big turnaround. John Becker’s team though is really good at home and plays a style that’s tough to game plan for. Towson and College of Charleston already won there though, so it isn’t impossible.
10. Montana at Davidson (ESPNU, Feb. 23) - Katz said that this is a game he’s really looking forward to, but I don’t know. Will Cherry and Jake Cohen are two good names, but the Grizzlies have to travel across the country to play a good Wildcats team. Neither team has anything to gain here either. It’s a weird, non-geographical match up that’s a good example of why BracketBusters is ending and conferences should definitely consider mini-challenges of some sort.
11. Denver at Northern Iowa (ESPN3, Feb. 23) - Two sneaky around .500 teams that are actually better than their records indicate, which is why they’re playing in a television game. The Pioneers are ranked 51st in KenPom and Northern Iowa is 64th. This game with be sloooooooooow. Denver is 319th in adjusted tempo and UNI isn’t much better at 298.
12. Pacific at Western Michigan (ESPN3, Feb. 22) - This is a weird match up. Pacific has a decent RPI at 114, but benefitted from a weak road team field. WMU is the third best team in the MAC (maybe). Tough to get excited for this one.
13. Northwestern St. at Niagara (ESPNU, Feb. 23) - Congratulations to the Southland Conference for getting two television games during the BracketBusters, but this is a television game, but not a great draw for the Purple Eagles – the current MAAC leaders. Watch out though for DeQuan Hicks. He could bother the Niagara front court.