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BracketBuster Weekend: Previewing and Predicting Friday Night's Games

Ari KramerSenior Analyst IIFebruary 20, 2009

Mid-major programs have the stage this weekend as they will try to improve their tournament chances and resumes. For some of these teams, a win against their opponent could more or less lock up an at-large bid.

For others, a loss could put the team up against the wall, forcing them to win their conference tournament in order to be called on Selection Sunday. 

Without further ado, here are previews to the two significant BracketBuster games on Friday night.

Illinois State (22-5, 11-5 MVC) @ Niagara (21-7, 12-4 MAAC) 7 PM TV: ESPN2

After starting 14-0, Illinois State has posted a mediocre 8-5 record over its last 13 games. Niagara had won seven games in a row before succumbing to Rider on Wednesday.

Neither team has a chance of an at-large bid, but this game will affect seeding if either of these teams win their respective conference championship. 

Both teams are efficient on offense—the Redbirds score 1.32 points per shot while the Purple Eagles score 1.25 points per shot—but the difference in this game will be defense. Niagara has been a better defensive team all year, averaging 37.8 rebounds, 10.5 steals, and five blocks per game. Joe Mihalich's club pushes the ball off of turnovers and has the ability to put teams away with its defense. 

The combination of strong defense and playing at home, where they are 8-2, will propel the Purple Eagles to victory.

Prediction: Niagara wins 76-68

Virginia Commonwealth (19-8, 12-4 CAA) @ Nevada (15-10, 8-5 WAC)

TV: ESPNU

There are two key factors that will allow the Rams to win this game—three-point shooting and containing Luke Babbitt.

The Rams shoot 36.9 percent from long range and you can bet they'll be successful from deep tonight—the Wolf Pack allow opponents to convert on 35.3 percent of their three-point attempts. Eric Maynor, Joey Rodriguez, and Bradford Burgess are all threats from beyond the arc and should see multiple open looks against Nevada's shoddy perimeter defense. 

Luke Babbitt is one of the nation's most overlooked freshmen. He is 6'9", averages 16.2 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game, and shoots 46.6 percent from the floor, 82.3 percent from the line, and 43.3 percent from deep. He's talented enough to play with the big boys—he dropped 22 on UNC. 

VCU's standout sophomore, Larry Sanders, will have his hands full, but he is capable of restraining Babbitt's offensive game. 

Homecourt advantage has been a non-factor for the Wolpack this year—they are a middling 8-6 at the Lawlor Events Center. VCU is 6-5 on the road, but they should be able to leave Reno with a win.

Prediction: VCU wins 76-68

I will try to have predictions for the rest of BracketBuster Weekend up by tomorrow's games.

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