College basketball cleverly invented the concept of this weekend in 2006. The idea was to give strong mid-major schools a good out of conference game late in the season to help their resumes. Many a good, even great story has emerged from this weekend through history.
Number of NCAA tournament births by year: 2006 (19), 2007 (17), 2008 (15), 2009 (13), 2010 (12), 2011 (13), 2012 (12)
Number of NCAA tournament wins by year: 2006 (12), 2007 (7), 2008 (6), 2009 (3), 2010 (10), 2011 (8), 2012 (5)
2006- 3 teams to the Sweet 16, George Mason to the Final Four
2007- 2 teams to the Sweet 16
2008- Davidson to the Elite 8
2010- Butler to the National Title Game
2011- VCU to the Final Four
2012- Ohio to the Sweet 16
Only once in seven years did the Bracketbusters not produce at least one Sweet 16 team. Who could be this year’s Cinderella?
Previewing this year:
Friday, Feb. 22
North Dakota State at Akron, ESPN2, 7 ET
Who has the nation’s longest winning streak? That would be Akron. The Zips have won 17 straight games behind their defense, especially big man Zeke Marshall who is among the leaders in blocked shots. North Dakota State has been slipping of late, and probably was little chance to get in as an at-large, so this game is more important for Akron’s resume.
Stephen F. Austin at Long Beach State, ESPNU, 9 ET
Both are in 1st place in their conference. Both are longshots to dance without a conference title. The Beach got to the dance last year, and beefed up their non-conference to impress, unfortunately they lost all those games, and weren’t close in any of them. They lost to USC, Arizona, UCLA, North Carolina, Ohio State, and Syracuse! Good try, good effort. The Lumberjacks didn’t touch that schedule, but they did score a win against Georgia. Worth watching just to gauge each teams chances of scoring a win in the NCAA tournament if they make it.
Saturday, Feb. 23
Iona at Indiana State, ESPNU, 11 a.m. ET
The Gaels went dancing last season, and surrendered the biggest comeback in NCAA tournament history to BYU in the 1st round (play-in game). National assists leader Scott Machado is gone to the NBA, but Momo Jones is back and one of the top scorers in the nation for the 3rd highest scoring team in the country. Unfortunately, they are struggling and have no shot at an at-large bid. Indiana State scored some huge victories against Miami (FL) and Ole Miss, and another against MVC leader Wichita State, but they’ve dropped 3 in a row. The Sycamores need this more to help that at-large chances.
Eastern Kentucky at Valparaiso, ESPNU, 1 ET
Valpo leads Detroit in the Horizon, splitting their games against the Titans, but has less formidable resume so they need to win the conference title. EKU is one of three OVC teams in bracketbusters. This game will be a good measuring stick for two solid teams, but both are likely to need to win their conference tournaments to dance this year.
Canisius at Vermont, ESPN3, 1 ET
The Golden Griffins took on a good out of conference slate, but did so without much success. They are currently 3rd in the MAAC and better win the conference tournament to dance. Same goes for the Catamounts, 2nd in the American East.
Pacific at Western Michigan, ESPN3, 2 ET
The Broncos lead the less competitive West division of the MAC. Pacific really challenged itself out of conference, but didn’t accomplish much and are a distant second in the Big West to Long Beach State. Fun game, not much on the line.
Montana at Davidson, ESPNU, 3 ET
The Big Sky leaders against the Southern leaders. Both good teams, but neither is considered an at-large candidate.
Northwestern State at Niagara, ESPN3, 3 ET
Antoine Mason and Juan’ya Green lead the high scoring Purple Eagles who are first in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but they’ll need a big, big game at home to compete with the visiting Demons who lead the country in scoring at 84ppg and are 10th in the nation in rebounding. Neither team is an at-large candidate, but if you like offense, it will be fun.
Detroit at Wichita State, ESPN/2, 4 ET
Great offense against great defense. The Titans are very athletic, and the 6th highest scoring team in the country and have challenged themselves out of conference with games against Miami, Syracuse, Pitt, and St. Johns. The Shockers beat VCU and Iowa out of conference and play in, and currently lead, the powerful Missouri Valley Conference. I think a win for them helps cement their at-large status.
Creighton at Saint Mary’s, ESPN/2, 6 ET
The Blue Jays boast preseason all-American Doug McDermott. They’ve hit a lull, but are still 47th in the RPI and they have great wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State, Indiana State and Cal. Unless they collapse, they’ll be in. The Gaels just scored a big win against BYU, and are lead by PG Matt Dellavedova, but probably need this game and a strong finish to feel comfortable about an at-large bid.
South Dakota State at Murray State, ESPN2, 8 ET
Nate Wolters (22.8ppg) versus Isaiah Canaan (20.6ppg) makes this one worth the price of admission. Both teams danced last year, but both probably need to win their conference tournaments to return.
Denver at Northern Iowa, ESPN3, 8 ET
Denver is 2nd in the radically different looking WAC this year. Of their 8 losses, 6 were before Christmas against pretty good competition. The Pioneers are a good passing and shooting team. The Panthers are best remembered for their shocking 2nd round upset of top seeded Kansas 3 seasons ago, but remain relevant, currently third place in the ultra-competitive MVC. They failed to score a big win, but have losses to Louisville, Memphis, Stanford, UNLV, and Iowa. Of the two, they need the resume boosting win more.
Ohio at Belmont, ESPN2, 10 ET
Two really good, exciting basketball teams. The Bobcats went to the Sweet 16 last year led by G DJ Cooper, and are a game behind Akron in the MAC this year. The Bruins lead the East division of the Ohio Valley conference and have a surprisingly high RPI (#30) that will keep them in the discussion for an at-large. Both teams could really use this win, but even with it, would be weak bubble teams.