Thursday, October 6, 2011

BracketBusters Make a Difference for Mid Major Teams

Last week, ESPN announced the pool of 142 teams for the 2012 BracketBusters.  It's the largest pool of teams in the history of the series that started in 2006.   Whether you like the concept or not, the BracketBusters series has helped mid major teams make a significant impact in the NCAA Tournament the past six years.

You can make a significant case that if it wasn't for the BracketBusters, neither George Mason in 2006 or VCU in 2011 would have made the NCAA Tournament and thus not make their Final Four runs.  It was those BracketBuster national TV spotlight games, George Mason winning at Wichita State and VCU also winning at Wichita State, that gave both teams signature non conference road wins that the NCAA Tournament committee really likes to see.

Furthermore, you could also make a case that the BracketBusters have helped in seeding mid major teams in the NCAA Tournament.  I truly believe that Davidson's road win at Winthrop in 2008 helped get them a #10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which was quite high for a mid major conference champion.  Yes, the Wildcats had a tough non conference schedule in 2007-08, but they hadn't won any of their marquee non conference games until they won at Winthrop.  The win at Winthrop had some clout, because in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, the Eagles stunned Notre Dame in the first round and they would again make the NCAA Tournament in 2008.  Of course, we all know what happened with Davidson in 2008.  In fact, some of us were fortunate to be there to see that regional in Raleigh.

I think the BracketBusters also played a part in other seedings as well.  I don't think George Mason gets a #8 seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament without their road win at Northern Iowa.  The Patriots would eventually knock off Villanova in the first round.  #15 Southern Illinois' nationally televised 68-64 road win over #12 Butler in 2007, broke the Bulldogs' 22 game home winning streak.  It also was the Salukis' first road win over a ranked opponent in over thirty years. It helped give Southern Illinois a #4 seed, which they used to propel themselves to a Sweet 16 run.  Butler would get a #5 seed and also got to the Sweet Sixteen that year as well.

The 2006 BracketBusters showcased 19 eventual NCAA Tournament teams that year, which is the most for any of that series.  The 2006 Bracketbusters also had the most wins by teams in the NCAA Tournament, twelve.  Yes, most of the wins were due to George Mason's Final Four run.  But the Missouri Valley teams did a lot of damage too, as Bradley and Wichita State each went to the Sweet Sixteen.  The 2010 series finished second with ten, due in large part to the National Championship run of Butler and the Sweet 16 run of  Northern Iowa.

Now the 2010 edition would have tied the 2006 edition had St Mary's played that year.  The Gaels, a usual member of the BracketBuster series, decided not to be a part of the BracketBusters that season.   Likewise, the 2011 edition would have broken the 2006 edition's record had Butler, another usual member of the BracketBusters, played last year.  The Bulldogs had become the darling of the national media and played a lot of high visibility games on national TV, so they didn't need the BracketBuster exposure.

But curiously enough, for the 2012 BracketBusters, both Butler and St Mary's are there.  One team that I wished was there, LIU, who lost to North Carolina in the first round of this year's NCAA Tournament, will not be a part of it.  In fact, no NEC teams will be a part of the BracketBusters, due to their demanding conference schedule.  

It's a shame because, like it or not, based on the evidence I have shown above, the BracketBusters has made a difference to mid major teams.  And for the Blackbirds, a team that I think will be a repeat champion in the NEC, a little national exposure and a big non conference win can go a long way.  Ask George Mason, VCU, Davidson and Southern Illinois.

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