ESPN BracketBusters: St. Mary's vs. Murray State Headlines Matchups for Feb. 18
A long awaited moment for any mid-major fan finally arrived.
On Monday night, ESPN announced the pairings for the annual BracketBusters, with the two headlining games set to be St. Mary's vs. Murray State and Long Beach State vs. Creighton.
Here are some initial reactions to the televised matchups.
*Follow Jesse Kramer on Twitter @Jesse_Kramer for more college basketball news and information.
Most Intriguing Televised Matchup—St. Mary's @ Murray State
The Long Beach State vs. Creighton matchup should certainly be entertaining, but it finishes second to St. Mary's vs. Murray State.
The Racers will most likely enter this game without a loss, considering that the combined record of their opponents from now until February 18 is 47-61. Meanwhile, St. Mary's will be traveling all the way from the west coast to Kentucky with the hopes of ending Murray State's run for a perfect season.
No matter what the final outcome of this game is, it will provide a great story.
Murray State desperately needs one more impressive win. Playing in the OVC, this game will be the Racers' last chance. They beat Southern Miss, Dayton, and Memphis early in the season, but the most recent of those wins came on December 11.
It is always favorable to get a marquee win late in the season.
For those interested in the individual players, there will be plenty of mid-major talent in this one.
Murray State has a pair of dynamic guards in Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole. The two have combined for 33.4 ppg this season and a 44.4 three-point percentage. Both are capable of catching fire on any given night.
In addition, the Racers have 6'7" forward Ivan Aska, who missed six games during January with a hand injury. However, Aska returned to the rotation last Saturday with 21 minutes of action against Eastern Illinois. By BracketBuster weekend, he should be at full strength.
St. Mary's Matthew Dellavedova is one of the best point guards on the mid-major level, averaging 15.4 ppg and a WCC best 6.4 apg.
The Gaels also have forward Rob Jones, the only WCC player averaging a double-double this season. The San Diego transfer is averaging 14.3 ppg and 10.8 rpg, including a season-high 31 points against his former team.
Most to Gain—St. Mary's and Long Beach State
St. Mary's has dominated the WCC through 10 games to make its way into the top 20. However, the Gaels do not have any marquee, non-conference wins. Their only respectable wins are over Northern Iowa, Weber State and Missouri State. In their one game against a top 25 club, they lost to Baylor.
Now, not only does St. Mary's get to play a premier mid-major, but it also receives a matchup with a team ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Since Murray State's recent competition has not been as good as St. Mary's, the Gaels might also be able to catch the Racers off guard to balance out the home court advantage.
If the Gaels can upset Murray State, they will be in great shape for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament if they lose in the WCC tourney, and they will also most likely receive a single-digit seed in March.
And of course, a win to the only undefeated team in the nation would not look too bad on their résumé.
Second, Long Beach State's high RPI and wins over Pittsburgh and Xavier provide the 49ers with a good résumé. However, Pittsburgh is clearly not the top 10 team that everyone thought Long Beach beat back in November. Also, Mark Lyons and Dezmine Wells were suspended during the Diamond Head Classic.
Although Long Beach State's record against top 15 teams stands strong at 2-3, there is reason to question the legitimacy of those wins.
If the 49ers can get a win at Creighton, they will have a win over a top 15 team that is undoubtedly one of the better teams in college basketball.
Most to Lose—Murray State and Iona
There is no doubt that Murray State has a lot to lose on BracketBuster weekend.
Barring a major collapse, Murray State is a lock for the NCAA tournament. But despite the Racers' three over thee potential tournament teams in non-conference play, none of those wins are good enough to necessarily give them a high seed.
With a win over St. Mary's, Murray State could even end up as high as a No. 2 seed, but a loss could drop them down to a No. 7 or even No. 8 seed. A 29-0 record looks much prettier than a 28-1 record.
A lot will be on the line for the Racers on February 18—this will be their last chance to silence the doubters.
Also, the Iona Gaels do not have any wins that can get them consideration for an at-large bid if they lose in the MAAC tournament. Their best win is over St. Joseph's (No. 55 RPI).
Although Nevada does not provide the opportunity for an outstanding win, a win against the Wolfpack would pad Iona's résumé late in the season, which the selection committee likes to see.
However, a loss would kill all chances for an at-large bid.
Biggest Snubs—Loyola (MD) and George Mason
Loyola (MD) did not do much in non-conference play, but the Greyhounds deserve a televised game more than the likes of Buffalo and Texas-Arlington. Their RPI is 15 spots higher than the Bulls' and 53 spots higher than the Mavericks'.
At least Buffalo beat Dayton back in November, but Texas-Arlington has had no impressive wins this year. Give Jimmy Patsos' club a break—it deserves some more exposure.
George Mason's RPI is just outside the top 100 thanks to the Patriots' slow start to the season. They started 2-2 with losses to Florida International and Florida Atlantic, but since then they are 16-3.
Also, don't forget that George Mason played its first 10 games without senior guard Andre Cornelius. Since he returned to the lineup, the Patriots are 11-2.
If all three second place teams in the CAA get to play on national television, first place George Mason should get that opportunity, too.
Most Intriguing Non-Televised Matchups
Charleston at Kent State
Just a few weeks ago, Charleston and Kent State were both among the top mid-majors in the nation, and this game would most likely be played on national television. However, both teams slumped in January.
Charleston went just 3-6 this month. Tonight, the Cougars finally ended a four-game losing streak with a win at Samford. They have recently been playing without head coach Bobby Cremins, who is on a leave of absence for health reasons.
Kent State is 4-3 in January, and the Golden Flashes also lost a pair of games in mid-December at the Athletes in Action Classic.
Both squads will have to win their respective conference tournaments to go to the NCAA tournament, but a BracketBuster win could put them in range of a NIT bid.
UC Santa Barbara at Utah State
Utah State has been one of the dominant mid-majors over the last number of years with Stew Morrill at the helm, but the Aggies are in the midst or a rare down-year. Regardless, they get an intriguing matchup with UC Santa Barbara.
The Gauchos have two dynamic players in Orlando Johnson (19.3 ppg) and James Nunnally (14.9 ppg), and they are just 2.5 games behind Long Beach State in the Big West.
BracketBusters Television Schedule
Friday, Feb. 17
Northern Iowa at VCU, 7 PM, ESPN
Valparaiso at Loyola Marymount, 9 PM, ESPNU
Saturday, Feb. 18
Drexel at Cleveland State, 11 AM, ESPNU
Wichita State at Davidson, 12 PM, ESPN or ESPN2
Buffalo at South Dakota State, 1 PM, ESPNU
Akron at Oral Roberts, 2 PM, ESPN or ESPN2
Drake at New Mexico State, 3 PM, ESPNU
Nevada at Iona, 4 PM, ESPN or ESPN2
Old Dominion at Missouri State, 5 PM, ESPNU
St. Mary's at Murray State, 6 PM, ESPN or ESPN2
UNC-Asheville at Ohio, 7 PM, ESPN3
Texas-Arlington at Weber State, 8 PM, ESPN3
Long Beach State at Creighton, 10 PM, ESPN2