The schedule for the BracketBusters weekend was announced Feb. 2. The mid-major matchups will include a few high-profile games and a dozen others that will interest only guys like Joe Lunardi and small East Coast campuses.
No. 22 Utah State (21-1) will play St. Mary's (18-3). WAC member Utah State has played two quality opponents and beaten one. Nineteen other wins over garbage have given the Aggies a national ranking. The WCC's St. Mary's has wins over Oregon, Southern Illinois, and Providence. However, the Gaels have lost two straight (though both on the road.) St. Mary's College has faced a much stiffer schedule and has experience from previous successful seasons.
The Butler Bulldogs (19-2) will take on the Davidson Wildcats (18-3). Though No. 11 Butler lost just as the schedule was announced, this will still be the highlight of the event, as ESPN nary misses an opportunity to televise Stephen Curry. Butler has already beaten Xavier, while this will be the Wildcats' last opportunity for a quality win and to earn a national ranking again. Butler's third-ranked defense will shut down Davidson's one-dimensional attack.
Virginia Commonwealth (16-6) will play at Nevada (13-8). VCU's largest loss of the season came against Oklahoma by 11 points. The Commonwealth is nine points from an unblemished CAA record. The Wolf Pack has been up and down this season. They have lost more than one would expect from recent Nevada teams and are nearly out of the WAC race.
Illinois State (18-4) challenges Niagara (17-6). The Redbirds began the season 14-0 but have played .500 basketball in the eight games since. The MVC is the toughest mid-major conference from top to bottom. The top tier of the MAAC has fared well recently; Niagara and Siena have been in this situation before.
Northern Iowa (16-6) plays at MAAC-leading Siena (18-5). Northern Iowa has won 10 straight and owns one of the nation's longest winning streaks. However, in non-conference play, the Panthers lost to Iowa State, Iowa, UIC, Wyoming, and Marquette by 30. Siena is the real deal. The Saints have lost just five games to five blue-chip opponents. They are undefeated in conference play. This is the most compelling matchup of unranked teams.
George Mason (15-6) visits Creighton (17-6). This is a classic matchup of NCAA Cinderellas from years past. It also pits teams from two of the best mid-major conferences, the Colonial and Missouri Valley. During this inconsistent season, the Bluejays knocked off the Dayton Flyers.
Green Bay (18-6) will travel to the Pacific coast to challenge Long Beach State (11-9). Green Bay knocked off Butler and holds second in the deep Horizon League. However, the Phoenix let a home game slip away against Oakland and overall played poorly in a weak non-conference schedule. Additionally, Green Bay will not be accustomed to playing so far from home.
Northeastern (15-6) takes a trip to Wright State (13-9). The Raiders are one of the hottest teams included in BracketBusters. They have won 13 of their last 16. WSU has lost just twice at home and not since Nov. 24. Northeastern, surprisingly, is leading the CAA, besting squads like VCU and George Mason. WSU and Northeastern have a common opponent: South Florida. The Raiders won by 17 and the Huskies lost by 18. Northeastern also has losses to Rhode Island and Boston U. The Huskies are frauds.
Boise State (15-6) will travel to Portland State (15-7). This matchup features two third-place teams from West Coast(-ish) conferences. Portland has lost to some bad teams, like Hampton and Cal Poly, but the Vikings defeated Gonzaga and Portland. The Pilots then blew out the St. Mary's Gaels. Are the Vikings a better team than the Zags, or did Gonzaga play an awful game amidst a grueling schedule?
Miami (12-7) will make the short drive to Evansville (14-7). Evansville is the fourth squad representing the powerful MVC. The MAC is clearly down this season, but Miami has a very respectable RPI and a stingy defense. Evansville is a good team, but not nearly the class of the Missouri Valley.
The Liberty Flames (16-7) will be hosted at Old Dominion (13-8). Liberty hopes to duplicate the moderate success that fellow Big South member Winthrop had last season. The Monarchs fared well in a below-average non-conference schedule but have struggled in the CAA. This might be the least exciting of all the games.
Hofstra (14-8) at Fairfield (14-9). A CAA victory over Northeastern is the only bright spot for Hofstra. The Pride was blown out in its two biggest games early this season. Fairfield has struggled against MAAC bottom dwellers Canisius (three points), Marist (five), and Loyola (three).
Buffalo (14-5) travels across New York to Vermont (16-6.) It has been a banner year for Buffalo athletics. Perennially doormats, the football team won the conference and the basketball team is currently first. Vermont is currently tied for first in the traditionally single-bid America East Conference. A-East plus MAC equals snooze.
Expect the high-profile Missouri Valley to win half its contests, the Horizon to go 3-0, the Metro Atlantic 2-1, and the Colonial to struggle with just one win in five opportunities.
The BracketBusters games will take place on Feb. 20 and 21.