OMAHA, Neb. -- When anthropologists of the distant future pass judgment on BracketBusters IV, they'll have to place it in its proper context among the great Busters of all-time. It will likely be ranked well above Buster Douglas or Phil Collins' questionable star turn in the movie "Buster," but could end up there with Dairy Queen's Peanut Buster Parfait or Busta Rhymes. For now, we can take away some short-term history lessons from this weekend's BracketBusters action.
BracketBoosted: After George Mason's huge 70-67 win in Wichita State's (RPI No. 17) Koch Center, there's a team in the Colonial Athletic Association that features virtually indestructible Tournament credentials. The Patriots (20-5, 14-2) avenged their only double-digit loss of the year, 72-52 to Wichita's Valley cohort Creighton. As long as GMU can handle Hofstra and James Madison over the final two games of the regular season, their NCAA résumé will likely be as bulletproof as any mid-major's could ever be heading into the CAA tourney in Richmond.
BracketBlasters: Nevada dominated Mid-American leader Akron at home on Friday night, led by a positively freaky performance by Nick Fazekas. The 6-foot-11 Wolf Pack wonder towered over the undersized Zips with 24 points and 14 rebounds. But don't look at the 88-61 final as a reflection of a weakness on the part of the visitors; Akron still shares the MAC East lead (with Butler-busting Kent State, which won 80-76 in overtime on Saturday) at 12-2, and hasn't lost to an opponent outside the RPI's top 100. Nevada -- which seems to be oversized by two to three inches at every position and features an array of scoring options from 6-3 to 6-11 -- is really just that good. And what I mean by that is that they're Sweet 16-good.
BracketBusted: Of all the busted stuff on Saturday, nothing was quite as shattered as the collective heart of Northwestern State. After building a formidable 34-21 halftime lead and holding off Utah State's tough inside-outside game for 35 minutes, NSU let an upset slip away in the final stages and lost 66-63. The scoreboard read 58-52 in favor of the road-warrior Demons with four minutes left, but USU went on a 10-3 run to pull ahead. With 11 ticks remaining and USU up 64-63, high-Afroed Clifton Lee missed two free throws; Jaycee Carroll knocked his two down moments later to help ice the Aggies' win.
BracketBangin': Increase the peace, yo. Long Beach State's 108-94 shootout win at Manhattan (yes, in regulation) sent a positive message to America's hip-hop culture: We can settle this whole East Coast-West Coast thing on the court instead of in the streets. There were 177.5 possessions in this game, which amounts to a possession change every 13.5 seconds. When you're clockin' shots like that, no need for a shot clock.
BracketBust-outs: Louisiana Tech has been dismissed as little more than the Paul Millsap Show, but it's time to take the Bulldogs seriously. They went into SIU Arena -- the site of a recently concluded nation's-best 33-game home win streak -- and won. What's more remarkable is that the Salukis kept the nation's leading rebounder to six boards and still lost. It was good practice for when the Bulldogs have to go to Reno next month and play on Nevada's floor in the WAC tourney. So imagine this: LaTech wins its conference tourney on Nevada's home floor in a title game against Utah State, and the Wolf Pack stumble early for the second straight year (they were eliminated in the quarters in 2005 and still were invited to the Dance). How does a three-bid WAC sound to you?
BracketBlistered: Northern Arizona had built a solid little season in the Big Sky, excelling at both ends of the floor on its way to a 11-1 league record, but its trip out to visit Western Kentucky (and its globular mascot, Big Red) gave the Lumberjacks a harsh lesson in conference Darwinism. NAU was outrebounded 39-13 on the afternoon and fell victim to a 21-2 run out of the halftime break. We here at The Mid Life appreciate all the great things NAU has done and will do in March, but it's unlikely that it'll ever face anyone like explosive 6-5 sophomore swingman Courtney Lee (24 points, 10 rebounds on Saturday) in its conference.
BracketBluster: The Missouri Valley's 3-2 record in Saturday's televised games (and 5-5 mark overall) put a serious crimp in the conference's aspirations to send four teams to the NCAA Tournament (or five or six ... did I even hear seven at one point?). And since the two toughest home courts in the conference yielded happy visitors (Louisiana Tech over Southern Illinois and GMU over Wichita), a cottage industry in back-tracking punditry likely will crop up, with claims that the league was getting a little too overrated. It's just like last year, when cynical whispers circulated after none of the three Valley teams made it out of the round of 32 and two went down in the first game.
Nothing that happened Saturday diminishes the fact that these elite Valley teams that have gone out of conference and beaten all different types of squads -- experience that will serve them well in March. So instead of a Seven-Bid Valley, perhaps we can shift our focus to the very realistic goal of sending two MVC teams into the Sweet 16 and one into the Elite Eight. That would strike a bigger blow for mid-majordom than any other theoretical scenario on the table right now, because it's not how many teams you get in, it's how far they go.
BracketBest: You likely already know the story. Last March, 14-seed Bucknell had to head to its Oklahoma City regional for a Tournament matchup opposite Kansas without a pep band -- the student body was on spring break that week. So Northern Iowa's band, who was working the Panthers' game against Wisconsin on the same day, stepped in -- they learned "Ray Bucknell," dressed in orange, did everything but send transfer applications to Lewisburg. UNI lost its game, but Bucknell ... like I said, you know the story.
So at halftime of Saturday's Bucknell-UNI "instant classic," Bucknell's band extended its most heartfelt thanks. From a corner-pocket position in the cavernous multi-use UNI-Dome, the Bison bandies launched into a well-rehearsed version of Northern Iowa's fight song, drawing an extended standing ovation from the 8,442-strong home crowd; the only time the Panther faithful were louder was after their team had clinched the 65-61 win in double-overtime.
In honor of Hoops Nation's national holiday, here's a special two-days-early edition of everybody's second-favorite Mid Life segment.
Saturday night's final game, shown on ESPN (a/k/a "The Uno") at midnight Eastern/11 p.m. Central, saw the Fresno State Bulldogs of the WAC take on the Creighton Bluejays of the MVC. There's nothing quite like midnight basketball, and the citizens of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metroplex agreed: The 15,700 who packed the Qwest Center to see the homestanding Jays complete a 67-62 win at 1:20 a.m. local time was the largest home crowd in Creighton history. It was well also the largest-ever congregation to witness a basketball game in the 139-year history of the state of Nebraska.
Another thing about late-night hoops is that things get a little, um, strange. Take Creighton's notoriously jubilant fan base, a couple of extra hours to spend at local establishments, and the basic human desire to get on national TV, and you had a potent recipe for nocturnal weirdness. Here are the top five "ESPN" signs held up in the arena on Saturday night/Sunday morning, not necessarily in order of adherence to acronym standards or taste.
5. Extra Special Pajama Night
4. SlEeping ISn't Permitted ToNight
3. FrEsno State ImPoses SaNctions
2. CrEighton EatS Puppies ToNight
1. FrEsno State Picks Nose
K-Dub's krazy fact of the day
Bucknell and Northern Iowa didn't play the only double-overtime Buster on Saturday. The most exciting team not to be included in the television lineup -- Winthrop of the Big South -- squeezed by MAC West leader Northern Illinois 98-97 in two extra frames.
It was a close game, all right: The two teams' free-throw percentages and three-point averages were equal. Visiting NIU outrebounded the Eagles (38-33) and turned the ball over less (12-16), but Winthrop's slight edge in field goal percentage (51 percent to 48) helped even those Huskie advantages.
Digging deeper into the discrepancies, Winthrop held a razor-thin efficiency margin edge of 1.2; the Eagles' offense scored at a rate of 113.6 points per 100 possessions (they ended up with 98 points because they had 86.3 possessions) and the Huskies' high-powered attack ended the evening with a 112.4 rating. This stood as the closest game in EM of the day, and since the BracketBusters is all about providing even matchups, it's important.
So was this game, the one you weren't able to see, more exciting than Bucknell and Northern Iowa?
On a visceral level, not bloody likely. There was a whole lot more on the line at the UNI-Dome: at-large credentials, national rankings, that sort of stuff. But from a pure basketball perspective, NIU-Winthrop was the closest and most thrilling tilt of the day: it provided edge-of-your-seat action and lots of scoring. Northern Iowa won a hard slog, one that featured only 138.6 total possessions between the two teams; that's as many possessions in 50 minutes that the average game has in 40. UNI ended up with an efficiency edge of +5.9 (95.3-89.4) over the Bison.
Let's look at some of the other premier TV games from Saturday, and how the teams matched up efficiency-wise. George Mason (+4.5 over Wichita State), Utah State (+4.9 over Northwestern State), Louisiana Tech (+4.9 over Southern Illinois) and Kent State (+5.8 over Butler) got the job done in close games. Missouri State (+11.8 over Milwaukee) and Creighton (+7.3 over Fresno State) stretched it out a little in the name of Valley pride.
Other than Western Kentucky's romp (+33.4 over NAU) on ESPNU, the only real Saturday blowouts were Iona (+22.8 over Buffalo) and Ohio (+22.5 over Samford) -- those two were only available via pay-per-view broadband on ESPN360. No, you can't get your money back.
So the ESPN networks missed out on (arguably) the most exciting game of the day, but they did pretty well otherwise in picking what went where. Don't you think?
Kyle Whelliston is the founder of midmajority.com and is a daily contributor to ESPN.com.