BracketBusters was a neat idea when it started seven years ago. Mid-majors, always handicapped in scheduling and hungry for TV exposure, were given a prime mid-February opportunity to shine.
But in 2010, this thing ain't working. At least not for the mid-majors.
Old Dominion, William & Mary, Siena and Wichita State all faced road tests this past weekend, and all flunked with various degrees of severity. Now, it's going to be exceedingly difficult for any of them to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
For every George Mason, which helped play its way into the 2006 tournament (and subsequently the Final Four) by winning at Wichita State, there are many William & Mary's, who badly hurt their tourney chances. The net result is more at-large opportunities for big-conference teams -- the exact opposite of what this event was supposed to achieve.
BracketBusters isn't as brazenly distasteful as football's BCS, under which non-BCS teams can earn an eight-figure payday in exchange for not bucking a system that gives them practically no chance to play for the national title. The impact here is more subtle. Win your BracketBusters game and get 70 cents on the dollar worth of value for beating another mid. Lose, and crush your at-large hopes.
Bottom line: For the mids, the risks of these games now outweigh the rewards. The modest TV exposure and return game next season (when mids get a chance to double up on the cannibalization) aren't worth the potential hit to their chances of making the NCAAs, where real money and real exposure are available.
If I were a top mid-major program, I'd refuse to play in BracketBusters again unless the event also involved borderline at-large teams from major conferences. If that won't happen (and it won't), then it makes more sense to play a high-major on the road. Maybe you pull the upset and get a vaunted quality win. Maybe you just cash a decent check.
Either option is better than the BracketBusters status quo.
Duke continues to get things done at home and remains a sneaky possibility for the final No. 1 seed slot, currently occupied by Purdue. After the Blue Devils, the next highest ACC seed this week is a No. 7.
Kansas is establishing itself as the nation's best team and K-State is establishing itself as a legit Final Four threat. Not a bad 1-2 punch at the top, especially since Texas isn't a part of it. This conference is going to get six, and Oklahoma State has every chance to make it seven.
Even at 8-6 in league play, Georgetown remains safe with wins over Villanova, Duke and Temple, to go with the nation's strongest schedule. The Hoyas would have to do something disastrous to miss out, but should they slip at Louisville and then home to Notre Dame this week, we'll take a closer look. Pitt rejoins with impressive wins at Marquette and over Villanova.
This is the major conference with the clearest picture. It stands a good chance of getting five bids, and probably is only getting five bids. In the four-team scrum at the top, Purdue has made its statement, winning at Ohio State and beating Illinois to make it nine in a row and move into a No. 1 seed in this week's bracket. The Buckeyes then bounced back to win at Michigan State and are benefiting from a Wisconsin slide.
Fact of the week from the inimitable
Cal's atrocious performance at Oregon State (I watched it) wasn't just bad, it was utterly indifferent. It is very reasonable to say that the Pac-10 should be treated like a mid-major conference this season and that only the tournament winner will be assured an NCAA bid. If teams like last year's Creighton and New Mexico didn't make it with shares of comparable conference titles in their pocket, a Pac-10 crown shouldn't put Cal in either, despite a weak bubble. Reminder: Eligible Pac-10 teams are 2-24 in nonleague games vs. the RPI top 50.
After the overtime win at Mississippi State, a gutsy last-possession win at Vandy more or less gives the 'Cats the SEC crown and keeps them firmly as a No. 1 seed. Vandy's a pretty good club, too.
Now things are really starting to sift out in the A-10, but not in a great way for overall bids. Now, along with Saint Louis, Duquesne is starting its own bubble body count. These will be treated like bad losses, but in this season's A-10, that's pretty harsh. Things look good for three bids, with the fourth A-10 semifinalist having a very solid chance.
Richmond moves into the lock category as the league leader at 11-2 and A-10 team with the best nonleague profile. Even with three rough games remaining, there doesn't seem to be a way Richmond can miss at this point. (Who
These next three teams remain extremely close ...
BracketBusters was a fiasco for the CAA, which saw four of its top five teams lose, including the two that had legitimate at-large hopes. Old Dominion remains the auto-bid this week. This conference tourney is going to be brutal and may be the only bid this league gets. Fair? Probably not.
Could this league actually get four? It did, barely, this week, but that's unlikely unless there are two semifinal upsets in the league tourney.
UNI grabbed the crown and then polished off Old Dominion in BracketBusters. Count them in and worry about seeding.
UTEP still leads the league, but UAB still plays UTEP and Memphis, so things could change.
Gonzaga remains fine despite a second WCC loss. Butler's more than fine.