It is easily the biggest game of the season for the Old Dominion Monarchs and Northern Iowa Panthers.
This year's edition of Bracketbusters is decidedly without much suspense. Many of the teams vying for at-large berths (mainly from the Mountain West and A-10) don't participate and will wage war in conference to sort things out. The Colonial and the Missouri Valley seem to be the only other non Big Six leagues to even have a remote chance of getting more than one team in the NCAA tourney, making Friday's game that much more important to both teams.
Consider the Monarchs from the CAA. They have a 13-3 conference record and a 21-7 mark overall. They have a good road win at Georgetown. Beating Northern Iowa would give them another good road win over a team with a solid RPI, and, move them much closer to an at-large bid should they fall in the conference tourney.
Northern Iowa faces a similar challenge. Without any big resume-building wins to date, the Panthers need to win this one to have even a remote chance to get in as an at-large if they are upset in the MVC's Arch Madness. They are 23-3, with an RPI ranking of 23 and have had a solid season, but not against the type of competition teams like Dayton and Xavier, or even San Diego State and Old Dominion for that matter, have.
Watching intently will be CAA contenders Northeastern, William and Mary and George Mason. Of the three, William and Mary seems to have at least a shot at getting a bid short of winning the league tourney. Although they have had some bad losses, the 19-7 Tribe have had some terrific road wins, two of which (Maryland and Wake Forest) are looking better each day because of their positions in the ACC. The Tribe also owns a home win over a very good (and likely NCAA tourney-bound) Richmond team. Winning Friday at Iona, who have been a pleasant surprise in the MAAC, would take them a short step further.
The game between ODU and NI should be close. All of the Panthers' games seem to go the distance. These are both defensive-minded teams, or perhaps more complimentary, they are methodical teams - at both ends. That being said, something out of the ordinary could happen due to the importance of the game, however it is unlikely that the score will reach the sixties.
Jordan Eglseder serves the second of three games, after his suspension for DWI. The seven-footer is second on the team in scoring and is Northern Iowa's leading rebounder, despite averaging only 22 minutes per game. This could open up the inside for the Monarchs, who prefer the paint to the perimeter. Frank Hassell and Gerald Lee need to dominate inside as ODU is not a good three-point shooting team.
Knowing that the Panthers have skill, experience and the home-court edge, I still like the Monarchs, 58-52.