College Basketball: Big Weekend Starts Early for Mid-Major Conference Races

T.R. PetersonCorrespondent IFebruary 2, 2011

Can Belmont hang on in the Atlantic Sun?
Can Belmont hang on in the Atlantic Sun?Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

With BracketBuster weekend a couple of weeks away and conference tournaments beginning in about a month, it may seem like center stage for many of the mid-major teams is on hold for a little while.

On the contrary, center stage for many teams and conferences will begin Thursday with several crucial matchups that will not only impact BracketBuster weekend, but also conference tournaments as well.

Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting matchups.


Belmont (20-4, 12-1) at Jacksonville (14-6, 8-3): Thursday, 7:15 pm

The Atlantic Sun may come down to Belmont and E. Tennessee St., but Jacksonville will have a say in the race. 

A win by Belmont would put them in great position heading down the stretch, while a Jacksonville win turns this into a very interesting three-team race.

Belmont would have been an interesting BracketBuster matchup but did not participate this year. The Bruins only suffered three losses outside of conference play, two against Tennessee and one to Vanderbilt. Instead they will host ETSU on February 17 in a game that will most likely decide the Atlantic Sun champion.


Liberty (16-7, 10-1) at Coastal Carolina (20-2, 11-0): Thursday, 8:00 pm

Coastal Carolina has had its way in the Big South, but if anyone can beat the Chanticleers, it is probably Liberty. The Flames had a chance to knock off Coastal Carolina in early January but dropped a 70-67 decision at home.

The Chanticleers have been on a roll since dropping back-to-back games to College of Charleston and Georgetown back in mid November. With an RPI in the mid seventies, a good BracketBuster matchup could have helped somewhere down the road.

Unfortunately, like Belmont, Coastal Carolina is not participating in BracketBuster weekend. Liberty, on the other hand, will host Iona.


Valparaiso (16-6, 8-2) at Cleveland St. (20-3, 9-2): Thursday, 7:00 pm

One would like to think that these two teams control their own destiny in terms of a Horizon Conference title and an NCAA at-large bid.

Valpo is coming off an 85-79 overtime win against Butler last weekend. The Crusaders also own a win over Cleveland St. from earlier in the year and host Missouri St. in a key BracketBuster matchup. If the Crusaders take care of business, they would have to be strongly considered as an at-large team.

Cleveland St. has a little rougher road. The Vikings must turn around and host Butler on Saturday and then must go on the road to Old Dominion for BracketBuster weekend.

With an RPI in the high twenties, they can position themselves for at-large consideration regardless of what happens in the Horizon tournament.

Still, the winner of this game will have the advantage when it comes to the Horizon title.


Harvard (15-3, 4-0) at Princeton (14-4, 2-0): Friday, 7:00 pm

No surprise here. The Ivy League once again looks like it will come down to Harvard and Princeton. 

Harvard looks to be the favorite. The Crimson suffered losses to George Mason, Michigan and UConn but have beaten both Boston College and Colorado.

Princeton doesn’t have any eyebrow-raising wins on its résumé, but a win over Harvard would qualify.

Without a conference tournament, this game takes on much more meaning.


Old Dominion (18-5, 9-3) at George Mason (18-5, 10-2): Saturday, 2:00 pm

The CAA got a little more interesting after Wednesday night, when conference leader VCU dropped its game to Northeastern. That, of course, sets the stage for Saturday’s matchup between Old Dominion and George Mason.

After starting conference play with a 2-2 record, the Patriots have reeled off eight wins in a row. The Monarchs have won six of seven and already hold a win over George Mason.

The depth of the CAA this year should help its cause when the selection committee hands out at-large bids. Two bids are very likely, and three wouldn’t be a complete surprise.