Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Breaking Down The BracketBusters

All data from kenpom.com

Yesterday, ESPN announced its television matchups for this year’s ESPNU BracketBusters which will take place from Friday, February 22 through Sunday, February 24.

Though the ESPNU BracketBusters have been diluted by the number of teams included, they have been effective in increasing national exposure for schools that are accustomed to local and regional fan bases. Two years ago, George Mason’s away win at Wichita State solidified a controversial at-large bid, which laid the groundwork for a shocking Final Four visit.

When the matchups were announced yesterday, there was no surprise that the showcase game would Drake @ Butler, a Midwest battle for the ages. Despite being declared “barely in” by members of the ESPN GameDay staff ten days ago, Drake is now 11-0 in the 8th-rated conference. By now, anyone who is not familiar with Butler, and more specifically their backcourt combination of Mike Green and AJ Graves, has been sleeping under an enormous rock. As for tempo, you may want to bring the Red Bull. Both Drake and Butler are among the lower rungs of Division I in terms of possessions per game (287th and 323rd, respectively), but both make it count when they have the ball (12th and 26th in adjusting offensive efficiency – points per 100 possessions). On defense, both are stingy and do not have the propensity to give up uncontested buckets.

Beneath the marquee matchup, there are a series of games that will go a long way in determining at-large bids. Here are the PHSports superlatives.

Best Matchup? Drake @ Butler will take the plaudits, but Kent State @ St. Mary’s is the type of game where a team responds because they are sick and tired of hearing about a specific team or player. That specific team is St. Mary’s and that specific player is Patrick Mills.

Most To Gain? Colonial Athletic Association. When your top two teams have the opportunity to score away wins at the conference which is right above you in the RPI (VCU @ Akron & George Mason @ Ohio), I’d call that an opportunity and a half. Meanwhile, with all 12 teams participating, the lesser-haves (UNC Wilmington and William & Mary) and the have-nots (Georgia State) of the CAA can get back in the conference’s good graces after a disappointing first two months of the season.

Most to Lose? The easy answer is the Missouri Valley Conference. They have the highest RPI of all conferences represented and all schools are involved. There’s also the Horizon League who has its best team (Butler) and a team tied for second (Cleveland State) playing at home who are fully capable of pulling off the upset.

Shafted? Illinois State. You have a top 50 RPI (for now) and you are standing alone in second place of the Missouri Valley. Not only is your opponent (Wright State) 30 spots beneath you in the RPI, but they also have a giant-killing mentality to them in a game which no one expects them to win. Lose this and one more in conference, and it’s automatic bid or bust.

Players to Watch? For me, it’s a 3-way tie between VCU’s Eric Maynor, Ohio’s Leon Williams and Rider’s Jason Thompson. I don't get to watch Williams and Thompson a ton, so that'll be a treat. Maynor is just plain electrifying.

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