The eighth annual BracketBusters begins in 18 days and the matchups of the 11 nationally televised games were just announced on ESPNU. Should make for a fun slate of games on Feb. 19-20. Of the 22 teams, 19 are ranked in the top 100 of the RPI.
Here’s my quick first take on the lineup:
Friday, Feb. 19
Old Dominion at Northern Iowa (ESPN2, 7 ET)
My take: Northern Iowa had limited opponents because Siena already played the Panthers this season. UNI needed the best opponent it could get and ODU will suffice. This is, after all, a Monarchs team that won at Georgetown and still has at-large hopes of its own. Don’t expect many points in this one -- these are two of the three teams leading the country in scoring defense.
William & Mary at Iona (ESPNU, 9 ET)
My take: Iona has been coming on strong in the MAAC, surprisingly winning seven straight. But I would have liked to have seen the Tribe get a better opponent. William & Mary has a real chance to get an at-large if it can get hot again. The nonconference wins at Wake and Maryland have shelf life. This, at the very least, would be another road win on file for the Tribe.
Saturday, Feb. 20
Siena at Butler (ESPN2, 11 a.m. ET)
My take: This is by far the best game of the event. Siena, owner of the nation’s longest winning streak (13), may not have the numbers now to get an at-large bid, but a road win over Butler would certainly help the cause. Butler used a road win at Davidson last season as a jumping off point for a bid. The Bulldogs have been tested in the Horizon and keeps on winning -- 10 straight in fact. This will be a tournament-like game in late February.
Morgan State at Murray State (ESPNU, Noon)
My take: Morgan State is the class of the MEAC (7-0) and should win the automatic bid. The Bears won at Arkansas earlier this season. Murray is the best of the Ohio Valley. The 20-3 Racers have won 11 in a row and have a shot to give a team some trouble in the first round.
Louisiana Tech at Northeastern (ESPN2, 1 ET)
My take: Even with a recent home loss to Drexel, the Huskies are still one of the hottest teams in the country, going 12-1 since a 2-7 start. Louisiana Tech is tied for the lead in the WAC, so this game should provide a power-rating pop for both teams in possible seeding. It won't get either in the field, but the win will look good.
Nevada at Missouri State (ESPN2, 3 ET)
My take: Well, neither team is making the NCAAs unless it wins its conference tournament. Missouri State is just 5-7 since a hot 10-0 start. But either of these squads could be in the NIT or CBI. Nevada's Luke Babbitt is the main reason to watch this one.
Akron at Virginia Commonwealth (ESPNU, 4 ET)
My take: VCU has played better lately and Larry Sanders is still an intriguing watch. The Rams are led by first-year coach Shaka Smart, who used to be on the staff of Akron coach Keith Dambrot. The Zips are one of the better teams in the MAC.
College of Charleston at George Mason (ESPN2, 8 ET)
My take: Well, Mason is leading the CAA (10-1) and has a real shot to represent the league. Charleston beat North Carolina and could easily take the Southern Conference tournament. Don't be surprised if both teams are in the field of 65. Seeing Bobby Cremins against Jim Larranaga also adds some national pop.
Western Carolina at Kent State (ESPNU, 8 ET)
My take: Western Carolina, which will make its BracketBusters debut, is in a competition against Appalachian State and Charleston for the Southern title. WCU did beat Louisville on the road so you know this team can play. Kent State crushed Akron and could be the favorite in the MAC. Former Ohio coach Larry Hunter coaches Western and goes back to his old stomping grounds against Kent.
New Mexico State at Pacific (ESPNU, 10 ET)
My take: NMSU and Pacific used to be in the Big West together, so there is a natural familiarity with the programs even if the players are new to each other. NMSU has been erratic but is talented enough to win the WAC tourney. Pacific has emerged as the Big West's best. The Tigers could be a dangerous out if they make the tourney.
Wichita State at Utah State (ESPN2, 11:59 ET)
My take: Wichita has proven to be the most consistent team in the Valley outside of UNI. I could easily see the Shockers winning the conference tourney in St. Louis. A win in Logan -- a place where BYU couldn’t win earlier this season -- would be quite a statement and could go a long way in getting Wichita an at-large berth if needed. Utah State is one of the favorites in the WAC and can never be counted out.