BracketBusters celebrates its sixth birthday this weekend, but will anybody notice?
The annual mid-major national TV festival, which features six high-profile mid-major games broadcast on ESPN2, has two factors working against it this season. One, the weekend happens to coincide with the Memphis-Tennessee showdown, a unique No. 1-vs.-2 matchup that has the national hoops media in a legit frenzy. The other is that there are not as many mid-majors in contention for at-large bids this year as in recent years, so not as many of the BracketBusters matchups carry NCAA tournament implications.
In fact, two mid-major teams who have worked themselves into the tournament discussion are not scheduled to participate. Western Kentucky and South Alabama, two under-the-radar Sun Belt teams who are in a virtual tie for the conference lead, are both fighting to get in position for at-large consideration. Western Kentucky (20-6) has an RPI of 52, while South Alabama (20-5) has an RPI of 35. If both go unbeaten until the Sun Belt final, they will both have a good chance of getting into the NCAAs. An extra resume win for either team this weekend would have helped enormously.
Here are four BracketBusters matchups to keep an eye on:
Why It's Big: Davidson is very much in the bubble discussion these days, and a road win against Winthrop will boost its cause. The Wildcats are heavy favorites to win the Southern Conference tournament and earn an automatic bid since they are 18-0 and only four games have been decided by less than 10 points. But if they somehow slip in the conference tournament, their resume will be examined very closely. Respectable losses to Duke, N.C. State, UCLA and North Carolina should help, but a loss to Winthrop on top of earlier defeats at Western Michigan and Charlotte will leave Davidson with an ugly 2-7 non-conference record.
Who To Watch: Davidson's Stephen Curry is a high-major talent who has flourished at Davidson for two years. He is in the top five in the nation in scoring (25.8 ppg) and three-pointers made (111) and has scored at least 30 points eight times this season. And don't forget about Jason Richards, Curry's backcourt mate who leads the nation with 8.1 assists per game.
The Winner: This should be an entertaining matchup between two schools that have not met in 16 years despite being just 45 miles apart. Winthrop has won nine of its last 11 to move to the top of the Big South and is looking to build momentum heading into the Big South tournament. Davidson needs the game more, however, and should win a tight one.
Why It's Big: A strong run in Summit League play has Oral Roberts on the bubble for an at-large bid. Scott Sutton's club is 15-1 in league play and has worked its RPI up to No. 44. Creighton will be the highest RPI opponent for the Golden Eagles since a December loss at Texas. A loss ends all discussion. Creighton will try to salvage some respect for the Missouri Valley in a down season.
Who To Watch: Junior college transfer Robert Jarvis is having a big impact in his first season with Oral Roberts. The 5-foot-11 guard is averaging 15.7 points and is shooting 42 percent from three-point range. Eleven Creighton players average at least nine minutes a game, including freshman Kaleb Korver, the third of four basketball-playing brothers (Kyle, Klayton and high schooler Kirk are the others). Freshman P'Allen Stinnett leads the Bluejays in scoring.
The Winner: Oral Roberts carries some big momentum and is 12-0 at home this season. Creighton is used to playing in hostile environments, but ORU will pull it out.
Why It's Big: The battle of the Bulldogs will give the nation a glimpse at two teams that have already done enough to earn an NCAA bid. No. 16 Drake has lost two of its last three, but fear not -- Drake has already clinched the Missouri Valley title, and the regular season MVC champion has made 14 straight NCAA tournaments. Drake, picked to finish ninth in the conference in the preseason, has been the national mid-major darling this season, while No. 8 Butler has performed up to lofty expectations, compiling a 25-2 record with four senior starters under first-year coach Brad Stevens.
Who To Watch: Butler's backcourt duo of A.J. Graves and Mike Green are the faces of a program that has been a regular in the Top 25 for the last two years. Graves has had some off shooting nights this season, but when he is on the senior can light it up from three, while Green is a Bob Cousy finalist. Drake's Josh Young leads a balanced attack with 16.2 points per game.
The Winner: Neither team comes in with much momentum. Five of Butler's last six wins have been by five points or fewer or in overtime, and Drake has lost two of three. With ESPN2's bright lights and a tournament-like atmosphere, look for the more experienced Bulldogs -- Butler -- to prevail.
Why It's Big: St. Mary's is in very good shape for at-large consideration and can enhance an already solid resume with a win over the Mid-American Conference leaders. Kent State (22-5, RPI of 41) is on the fringe of the bubble, but will open some eyes if it can record a road win over a team with an RPI of 26. St. Mary's, which is undefeated at home, has already beaten Drake, Oregon and Gonzaga at McKeon Pavilion.
Who To Watch: For St. Mary's, it is Australian sensation Patty Mills. The freshman guard, one of four Australians on the Gaels' roster, is averaging 15.2 points and 3.6 assists and had a 37-point breakout performance in a win over Oregon. Kent State's Al Fisher, who played at Siena as a freshman before spending two years at a junior college, leads the way with 13.9 points and 4.4 assists in his first year with the Flashes.
The Winner: This game is what BracketBusters is all about -- two teams that would not normally meet get a chance to knock each other off the bubble in late February. This will be an interesting matchup of West Coast tempo against a slower-minded Kent State squad. With Kent State's long trip in mind, go with the home team.
Robert Morris guard Tony Lee recorded back-to-back triple doubles last week. Lee had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists against Long Island, then followed that up with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists at Central Connecticut. ... Maryland-Baltimore County picked up a big win Wednesday night in overtime at Albany. The Retrievers solidified their hold on first place in the America East and took a big step toward its first regular season title in the 22-year history of the program. The winner of the regular season hosts the America East championship game if it advances that far. ... Savannah State beat Stetson 63-60 in overtime Tuesday and improved to 13-17. The 13 wins is the most in the six-year history of the program and gives coach Horace Broadnax 25 wins in two years after the Tigers recorded only nine wins in their first four years of Division 1 play. ... UNC Greensboro's Kyle Hines became the sixth player in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 300 blocks in a career. The others on the list: David Robinson, Pervis Ellison, Alonzo Mourning, Tim Duncan and Derrick Coleman, all of whom were drafted No. 1 or 2 overall in the NBA Draft. Blocked shots were not kept as an NCAA stat until 1985.