Bill Trocchi
Monday February 25th, 2008

Hope you were paying attention to BracketBusters weekend, because history says at least one team that participated will survive the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.

In the previous five years, at least one participant has reached the Sweet 16. Last year, Butler and Southern Illinois turned the trick, and in 2006 it was Wichita State and George Mason, with the Patriots ultimately landing in the Final Four. The other Sweet 16 alumni from BracketBusters? Bruce Pearl's Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2005), Nevada (2004) and Butler (2003).

With that in mind, here are five things we learned from an entertaining BracketBusters weekend.

The Wildcats entered the weekend in need of a quality nonconference win, and they were able to pick one up at Big South leader Winthrop. Davidson got next to nothing from Curry -- just two field goals each half and 4-of-14 shooting overall, but the Wildcats were in control throughout thanks to Curry's backcourtmate Jason Richards. The nation's assist leader tallied 21 points (along with five assists) to neutralize Curry's rare off night. Andrew Lovedale grabbed 10 boards and can give Davidson an inside presence. Not saying Davidson can survive without Curry -- the super soph has led the team in scoring all but four games this season -- but it's nice to know he has a strong supporting cast.

It appears for the first time in 10 years, the Valley will only send one team to the NCAA tournament if Drake wins the Arch Madness tourney. The league put together an impressive 8-2 BracketBusters record over the weekend, headlined by Drake's four-point thriller over No. 8 Butler. Southern Illinois has won five of its last six games after pounding Nevada 74-49 on Saturday. If the Salukis can beat Bradley and Illinois State to close the regular season and then reach the MVC final, they will play themselves into the at-large discussion. Creighton's 65-64 win at Oral Roberts was one of the most impressive wins of the event as well as one of the most entertaining. Illinois State picked up an RPI top 100 win over Wright State on Sunday and Bradley won for the ninth time in 11 games by beating Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It may be too little, too late, but some pride was salvaged by a proud conference.

Drake won its first seven close games (five points or less or overtime) and took advantage of a rare off year in the Missouri Valley to clinch its first regular season title since 1971. But two losses in three games prior to BracketBusters gave the feeling Drake's luck was running out. On Saturday, however, Drake introduced itself to a nationwide audience. In an extremely difficult environment against a veteran Butler team, the Bulldogs announced themselves as a true threat come March.'s Stewart Mandel witnessed Drake's coming of age courtside and college hoops fans would be wise to write 'Drake' on a line or two when the office pool hits your desk next month.

After a gutty 65-57 win at No. 23 St. Mary's, the Golden Flashes gained the most in terms of an at-large bid out of any BracketBusters team. Kent State had a gaudy 22-5 mark prior to Saturday, but win No. 23 jumped the Flashes from No. 41 to No. 30 in the RPI. The Golden Flashes held freshman sensation Patrick Mills to five points on 2-of-11 shooting and got 28 points from Al Fisher, including the key hoop of the game, an acrobatic drive in traffic that gave them a 60-55 lead with 52 seconds left. Kent State will be favored to win the MAC tournament, but the committee should forgive a slip-up after Saturday's clutch performance.

VCU showed it is planning on returning to the NCAAs with a grind-it-out victory over Akron, to boost its record to 21-6 on the season. Freshman Larry Sanders had nine blocks, while Jamal Shuler and Eric Maynor chipped in with a combined 33 points. The Rams are shooting for back-to-back NCAA bids for the first time since a three-year run from 1983-85 and will be the favorites in the CAA tournament, which will be held in Richmond. Grant, who nearly was hired by Florida last year when Billy Donovan temporarily went to the NBA, is 49-13 in two years. LSU and South Carolina are already looking for coaches, and more big-time jobs will open up in the next few weeks. Any athletic director looking for a coach that doesn't give Grant a call is not doing his job.

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