Thursday, February 18, 2010

Let's Get Ready To Rumble! Bracketbuster Weekend is Here!

Bracketbuster weekend starts tomorrow night. Eleven games over the span of two days. For a few teams such as Northern Iowa, Old Dominion, Siena and Wichita State, the games are potential make or breaks as far as at large bids. For a team like Butler, their Bracketbuster game provides potential reaffirmation of how good the Bulldogs really are. For others such as William and Mary, Utah State and Murray State, the games are showcases to give the country a look at very good teams people probably haven't seen.

So here are my predictions of how the games are going to go down. I will go in depth on six of the games and predict the scores of the rest of the other five games.

1) Old Dominion 58 Northern Iowa 53. These are two of the top four mid major teams in the country. Northern Iowas leads the Valley and is nationally ranked. Meanwhile ODU is tied for the lead in the CAA and has a signature road win over nationally ranked Georgetown. Both teams are in the top 10 in the country in scoring defense. When you have two teams that are in the top 10 in scoring defense in the country playing each other, two things are certain. One points will be at a premium. Two, the game will be in the fifties.

Now the Panthers are perfect at home 14-0 and had Jordan Eglseder not been suspended for a DUI, I would have taken the Panthers. But when you are facing the ODU frontcourt law firm of Hassell, Finney and Lee, you need every good frontcourt player you have. Lucas O'Rear (one of my first team All College Hardwood Name Players) must stick out his O' Rear and fend off the Monarchs on the boards.

I think it comes down to which team is better handling the ball. And ODU's assist to turnover ratio is terrific. That will overcome their poor backcourt shooting. This game is eerily similar to the classic 2006 George Mason- Wichita State Bracketbuster game which featured two teams that ended up getting at large bids. The Patriots won on the Shockers home court 70-67. And I think a similar ending occurs here. And I bet from now on Eglseder will have a lot of his fellow UNI students offer to be designated drivers for him.

2) William and Mary 73 - Iona 66. These are two of the better feel good stories of the season. Last season, William and Mary was 10-20 and was predicted to finish 10th in the CAA this season. Then the Tribe started their season 0-2, but won their next ten games in a row. Among those ten wins were road wins at Wake Forest and Maryland and a home win over Richmond. The Tribe have continued their winning ways in the CAA as they are currently third with a 11-5 record.

As for Iona, last season the Gaels were 12-19, which was the second season in a row that the Gaels had 12 wins (in 2007-08, the Gaels were 12-20). This season, Iona started the season 4-4 before winning 13 of their next 15 games. The Gaels best win was a road win at Providence.

The Tribe are one of the best three point shooting teams in the CAA, second overall in three point FG percentage and average over 8.5 three pointers per game. The Mary, as my friend Tieff calls them are also first in the CAA in my favorite category, assist to turnover ratio. Iona is balanced. Second in the MAAC in scoring defense and first in the MAAC in three point FG percentage.

I think this comes down to the Tribe's ability to win on the road. W&M is 9-5 on the road and having won at tough ACC arenas, the Tribe will be ready for a loud Mulcahy Campus Center. And the ability to handle the ball as the Mary do so well is very important in road games.

I will be there for tomorrow night's game so I will have a full in depth story on Saturday.

3) Butler 68 Siena 65 - Saturday morning's contest at the Hinkle Fieldhouse is the marquee matchup for the Bracketbusters. The Saints, who have won a NCAA Tournament game each of the last two seasons. A team that had a 15 game winning streak snapped recently by Niagara. They take on the Bulldogs, winners of 17 straight games. Undefeated in the Horizon league. A team that has made the NCAA Tournament the last three seasons in a row, and won three games in the Tournament during that stretch. A 22-5 team meets a 24-4 team.

It's going to be a battle of styles. Siena's uptempo offense vs. the patient half court offense of Butler. It's Rossiter, Ubiles, Franklin and Moore vs. Howard, Hayward, Mack and Veasley. Simply put it's going to be a dandy. A NCAA Tournament game if there ever was one.

So why is Butler going to win? Though the Saints are a very good road team at 8-4, they are taking on a team that is undefeated at Hinkle with wins over Ohio State and Xavier. Plus I think Butler's vaunted defense, second in the Horizon in scoring defense, tied for second in FG percentage defense, will frustrate Siena just enough to win.

However, to be successful at frustrating Siena, Butler must keep Matt Howard on the floor. Over Howard's last eight games, he has averaged 15 points per game on 56 percent shooting from the field . But over that same stretch, Howard has averaged four fouls per game and only 24 minutes per game (which is his season average and is down 2 minutes per game from last season). Howard has almost as many personal fouls this season, 100, then he did all of last season, 101, in four less games. Howard's presence on the court is vital to Butler's success.

4) Murray State 78 Morgan State 72. The Racers, undefeated in the Ohio Valley at 16-0 take on the defending MEAC tournament champs, Morgan State. Two twenty win plus teams facing in each other in a high noon contest. Two teams that score seventy seven points per game or more tearing up the Regional Events Center court.

Lest you think the 20-8 Bears are not a worthy opponent for the 25-3 Racers, think again. The Bears have eleven road wins this season, an impressive feat in itself. And one of those road wins is against the current SEC West leaders, Arkansas. Plus Morgan State features one of the nation's leading scorers, Reggie Holmes. The senior guard averages 22 points per game as well as getting to the line an average 8 times per game (where he shoots 82 percent from the line). And Hughes put up a 34 spot in the win vs. the Razorbacks, where he was 8 of 16 from the field and 13 of 15 from the line.

The Racers scream balance. They have ten players that average eleven minutes or more per game and six players that average between 9.8 points and 10.5 points per game. And it's not like the Racers are going unnoticed. Guest Mid Majority host John Gasaway writes about Isaiah Canaan and his propensity to down two pointers. So I think the Racers balance wins out over the highly prolific Holmes in a very entertaining game.

5) Northeastern 70 Louisiana Tech 62. Five games into the Bracketbusters and already three CAA teams. Again, further proof of my belief that the CAA is the best mid major conference in the country (remember my mid major philosophy is A-10 free). The Huskies, first place co-leaders in the Colonial take on one of the surprise teams in mid majordom, the 20-6 Bulldogs of the WAC, the second best mid major conference in the country.

The Huskies are a senior laden team with three seniors, Matt Janning, Manny Adako and Nkem Ojougboh. However, it's a junior, Chaisson Allen that fuels this team. Allen is shooting a blistering 46 percent from beyond the arc. In Allen's last 15 games, he is shooting 52 percent from beyond the arc (57 of 110) and the Huskies record during that stretch is 13-2. In the two losses, Allen was only 4 of 15 from beyond the arc. Coincidence? I think not. Janning and Allen combine for just about 30 points per game.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are led by Kyle Gibson's 20.7 average per game. What's great about Gibson is that he gets to the line. In five games this season, Gibson has made ten or more free throws and averages eight free throw attempts per game. But it's not just Gibson that makes the Bulldogs successful. Four other Bulldogs average double figures in scoring including another member of "The College Hardwood's All Name Team" in Magnum "PI" Rolle. Rolle averages nearly 15 points per game, 9 rebounds per game, 2 blocks per game and shoots 55 percent from the field.

I think the difference in this game is Northeastern's patience on the offensive end. This will result in frustrating an up tempo team in Louisiana Tech. If Allen has a typical shooting day, that should propel the Huskies to the win.

6) Utah State 70 Wichita State 66. If you can stay up for the midnight contest, you will see a really good game. Utah State is one of the best mid major programs in the country and coach Stew Morrill deserves a lot of credit. The Aggies win nearly 25 games a year, have made NCAA tournament four times in the past seven seasons and nearly put a L on Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year.

Meanwhile, Gregg Marshall left the comfort of Winthrop for the chance to resurrect Wichita State. And Marshall has succeeded in bringing energy to the Shockers. Wichita State is 22-6, second place in the Valley with an 11-5 record and the Shockers only have one senior in their nine man rotation. Toure Murray looks to be a future Valley player of the year.

However, the Dee Glen Spectrum in Logan is a very tough place to play. And when you are facing a very good veteran laden Aggies team with Tai Wesley and Jared Quayle, you need to be at your best. However, Wichita State has struggled, only winning six of their last ten games. They lost at last place Evansville, giving the Purple Aces their first win in conference all season. And the Shockers needed OT this week to beat the Purple Aces again. Meanwhile Utah State is on a roll with eleven straight wins. Combine the streak with the home court factor and it will be too much for a good Wichita State team.

Other televised bracketbuster games

Missouri State 74 Nevada 70. Luke Babbitt is one of the best mid major players in the country with his 21 points per game average. He also nearly averages a double double per game with 9.8 boards per game. But the Wolfpack struggle on the road, 3-7 on the season and it will be 3-8 after a loss to the Bears.

VCU 78 Akron 67. The Siegel Center is not welcoming to visiting teams. Neither is Larry Sanders. Rams roll here and Sanders gives the nation and more pro scouts a glimpse into his NBA future.

Kent State 70, Western Carolina 58. The Golden Flashes get a chance for their 20th win at home on national TV. The Catamounts have a big road win over Louisville but have struggled recently, losing four of their last five games. Their first taste of MAC slugfest basketball will make it losing five of their last six games.

George Mason 80, Charleston 74. I get the feeling that a young Patriots team will be happy to run with the Cougars. And I don't see Mason losing two games in a row in the Patriot Center.
Be curious to see how much playing time Patriots' forward Kevin Foster gets on Saturday. Every time I see him play, I am impressed with him.

New Mexico State 70 Pacific 67. Another clash of styles as the track meet Aggies face the deliberate Tigers. Usually that favors the home team, in this case Pacific. But I think the Aggies balance which includes Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson, will be too much for the Tigers.

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