2006 BracketBuster Recap
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Nevada 88, Akron 61
ESPN might want to provide the Nevada Wolfpack with some stronger competition in next year's BracketBuster.
Right from the opening tip, it was clear that the Akron Zips were no match for the Wolfpack in this year's edition, as Nevada ran away with a 27-point victory.
The win gave Nevada its third straight 20-win season, and goes a long way towards locking up an at-large bid, should the Pack fall in the WAC Tournament. A truer "Bracket-busting" matchup would have paired Nevada against Arizona, California, Washington, or San Diego State, and would have saved the Zips a trip across the country...we can only hope the bigger schools agree to join this event in future years.
The story of this game was field goal percentage. The Wolfpack shot 53% from the field and a blistering 63% from long range, while the Zips could only muster 32% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc. Nick Fazekas led all scorers with 24 and all rebounders with 14. Kyle Shiloh, aided by Fazekas' stretching of the Zips D, nailed six three-pointers in just eight attempts and finished with a career-high 22 points.
Ramon Sessions, the sophomore guard for the Wolfpack, stepped down from his normal starting role and gave way to freshman Lyndale Burleson. Coach Mark Fox's strategy worked to perfection, as Sessions dealt 13 dimes and scored eight in 33 minutes off the bench. Mo Charlo added 14 points in 24 minutes in reserve.
Akron just could not get anything going in this game. Junior Romeo Travis could have used his old high school teammate, LeBron James, for some support in this game. Travis led his team in points and rebounds, with 13 and 8 respectively, but no one else on the Zips was in double digits.
Akron Head Coach Keith Dambrot was not pleased with the matchup. "I don't think they should be in it," Dambrot said. "You don't see Gonzaga in it. Didn't they beat Gonzaga by 21 points in the (2004) NCAA Tournament? It's a waste of their time. It's a no-win situation for them.”
That might be true, but few power-conference teams are willing to risk a matchup with Mark Fox's team. UCLA and Kansas are to be commended for including the Pack on their schedule this year.
With the loss, Akron’s slim at-large hopes for the NCAA Tournament were officially “Busted.” The Zips' only NCAA hope is to win the MAC's automatic bid, and to do so, they'll likely need to get past archrival Kent State not once in the next two weeks, but twice. The Golden Flashes will surely be fired up for the matchup with the Zips after their thrilling come-from-behind win over Butler on Saturday. It's more likely that we'll see Akron hosting a first-round NIT game than playing in a first-round NCAA game.
As for Nevada, their stock keeps rising. Now at #31 in the RPI and a projected #10 seed in last week's Bracketography, look for the Wolfpack to move up to the coin-flip game as an #8 or #9 seed on Selection Sunday.
Western Kentucky 79, Northern Arizona 58
Northern Arizona's travel agent may have been the real winner in this game.
The Lumberjacks were coming off of nearly 30 hours of travel in the previous three days, including two wake-up calls prior to 4:30 am. NAU hung with the Hilltoppers in the first half, matching them possession-for-possession, but lost their shooting legs and mental toughness in the second half, and Western Kentucky ran away with the game.
Anthony Winchester and Courtney Lee were sensational for Western Kentucky, combining for 55 of the Hilltoppers' 79 points. Winchester was 3-4 from beyond the arc, while Lee was 2-5. But it was Lee's consistent ability to penetrate the lane which really sealed the game.
Western Kentucky employed a full-court pressure defense for most of the game, which led to a few NAU turnovers, but also led to several easy baskets, of both the lay-up and three-point varieties. Even when WKU was able to get back on defense, the Lumberjacks were able to set up their offense more quickly than Western could adjust.
Western Kentucky's own ballhandling was sloppy, as they committed seven turnovers in the first ten minutes of the game. But their three-point shooting more than made up for it, as they took a three-point halftime lead thanks in part to NAU's soft defense.
The rebounding battle wasn't much of a battle at all and was a significant reason for the home team's victory. The Hilltoppers outrebounded their visitors 39-13.
It's hard to gauge Northern Arizona's chances for a first-round NCAA upset, because they seemed so tired for most of the game. NAU's big men seemed slow, but were fundamentally sound on offense. Guard Kelly Golob greatly impressed on offense, hitting 4-5 from three-point range. It was the defense which worried me, though, and the Lumberjacks just didn't have the energy to contest missed shots. I don't think NAU has enough talent to knock off a #1 or #2 seed in the Big Dance, but should they slide up to that #14 seed line, a win over a small, perimeter-oriented #3 seed (Tennessee, anyone?) isn't out of the question. There will likely be better Cinderellas once the bracket is announced.
Western Kentucky could very well be one of those. Though they rely a bit too much on the three-point shot, if it's falling for the Hilltoppers, they'll be very dangerous. Courtney Lee can put the team on his back, and has the athletic ability to get into the lane in a late-game situation. Their full-court pressure might cause problems for teams that don't value every possession (Kansas?), and their guards crash the glass almost as well as Villanova's. Take a hard look at the Hilltoppers as your Cinderella if they climb to the #12 or #13 seeding line.
Utah State 66, Northwestern State 63
Utah State was staring into a mirror, the word NIT seemingly scribbled in red crayon.
For that would have been the Aggies' fate had they lost their BracketBuster matchup with Northwestern State and failed to win the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. Despite the ominous situation, Utah State rallied behind their star player and iced the game with perfection at the free-throw line down the stretch. With the Aggies' victory, you can be certain the Selection Committee still has Utah State on its radar.
The Aggies trailed by 13 points at halftime and looked like they might lose two straight home games for the first time since 1993 – a span of 199 games. Head coach Stew Morrill's locker room speech ignited his team to the big comeback.
"I don't know if we need to go into that," Morrill told the Herald Journal, Logan's local newspaper, when asked what exactly he said at halftime. "…If nothing else, we needed to come out in the second half
Nate Harris led the way for the Aggies (18-6) with a 27-point, 12-rebound performance – his fifth double-double this season – on 10-for-15 shooting from the field. He scored 19 of his points in the second half and dished out a pair of assists. Jaycee Carroll added 19 points and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line, including four key makes in the final minute.
The Demons (18-7) got 20 points from Clifton Lee and 12 from Jermaine Wallace – both above their respective season averages – but it wasn't enough in a hostile environment that played a big part in Utah State's come-from-behind win.
"I think this is a great place to play," Northwestern State head coach Mike McConathy told the Herald Journal. "They have a great team and did a great job coaching. I thought they executed excellent in the
Utah State quickly erased the 34-21 halftime deficit, scoring the first nine points of the second half. But the Demons fended off the Aggies' first surge, pushing the advantage back to 11 at 49-38 with
"We talked about coming out in the second half and competing and slowing down and executing," said Morrill, whose team held Northwestern State to just nine field goals in the final 20 minutes. "…There is not a 15-point possession."
Northwestern State again pulled ahead, leading 58-52 with just under five minutes to play. Aggies forward Chaz Spicer drained a free throw that capped a 10-3 run which gave Utah State a 62-61 lead – its first since early in the game. Northwestern State's Tyronn Mitchell sunk a pair of foul shots with 57 seconds to play to give the Demons a 63-62. But those would be their final points.
Carroll was fouled on the Aggies next possession, making both free throws. With 11 seconds to play, Lee had a chance to put Northwestern State back ahead but he misfired on both free-throw attempts and then
"That was really a tale of two halves," said Morrill, whose team shot 46.9 percent for the game and 57.7 percent in the second half. "They were so much the aggressor and had us totally out of sorts in the
The Aggies (No. 50 RPI, 138 SOS) might have gotten themselves closer to an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament as well. Despite bad losses at Middle Tennessee St, at Utah and at Fresno State, Utah State is still 3-0 against the other top teams in the WAC. The Aggies have swept Louisiana Tech and have a chance to sweep Nevada when the Wolfpack come to town this week.
On the other hand, Northwestern State (No. 70 RPI, 179 SOS) knows all these regular season games are just a tune-up for the Southland Conference Tournament. Winning the regular season league title is only
In the end, this game was more important to Utah State and the Aggies' furious second-half rally proved it.
Louisiana Tech 54, Southern Illinois 51
The mission for Louisiana Tech should they choose to accept it: Win.
For Southern Illinois: Stop losing.
The goals may sound similar but the difference is more than perspective. LA Tech had endured a .500 record in their last six games prior to the Bracketbuster weekend, while the Salukis stood a good chance of losing their last four regular season games unless they could pick up a key home win.
Southern Illinois jumped out of the gate in Missouri Valley play and maintained their gaudy home-court winning streak of 30+ games. Then a stunning loss to a struggling Indiana State Sycamore squad brought the aura of invincibility crumbling down. Coupled with a loss to the Wichita State Shockers, SIU desperately needed to regain some momentum.
Despite the lengthy streak SIU once held, Millsap's marionettes knew nothing of the toughness of the SIU Arena. Word does not travel over a thousand miles down the Mississippi River.
While Paul Millsap did not entirely belittle the Saluki frontline, he did get 20 second-half points. Only six rebounds dot the box score, but Powerful Paul hauled in four offensive rebounds. That is four extra possessions for his Bulldog teammates. And his rejection of Matt Shaw accompanied by two last-minute free throws broke the spirit of a resolute SIU team.
Chad McKenzie helped the visitors with eight points and eight 'bounds. The Bulldogs' frontline is not the deepest, but its starters rival almost any in size and strength.
Southern Illinois' Randal Falker had a double-double. Again. Falker had a streak earlier in the year where he put four consecutive double-double efforts on the books.
A key stat in this game was that not one Saluki starter shot better than his typical shooting percentage. No player looked like a star but the team did play with a cohesiveness that successful mid-majors require.
Taking a look at the long-term bracket ramifications for each team…
Southern Illinois is still in the Big Dance but slipping dangerously close to the proverbial bubble. Hovering around the 9-10 seed line, the Salukis have to finish strong to avoid being a first round underdog. Starting the month of February with four losses in six games drags the stock of SIU down dramatically. Teams in perceived mid-majors generally need gaudy records to impress the Committee. This year could be an exception with the elevated conference RPI of the ascending Valley.
The game had some relevance but it certainly did not bust any brackets. If anything it helped Louisiana Tech revitalize its at-large hopes. Following an excellent start in the Western Athletic Conference, Tech floundered. The regular season crown will not be the runaway it once appeared it could be.
Nevada has the inside track in the WAC while the Valley will remain jumbled until the end. Either team could guarantee its berth in the 65-team field with a conference tournament victory. More likely, neither team will win the regular season and both will sweat out Selection Sunday in yet two more mid-major rites of passage.
Northern Iowa 65, Bucknell 61 (2OT)
Think about it: all Bucknell had to do with inbound the ball. The Bison didn't, and in failing to do so, probably lost a realistic shot at achieving a quality seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a great game. The kids left it all out there,” Bucknell head coach Pat Flannery said. “It was the kind of game where you thought you had it, and it got away.”
For Northern Iowa, Bucknell's misfortune turned into a huge gift for the Panthers. Northern Iowa had its Tournament hopes go from life support to very much secure by rallying from a nine-point deficit in the final 5:20 of regulation.
“I'm really proud of my team,” Northern Iowa head coach Greg McDermott said. “They didn't quit.” Bucknell (21-4) not only lost its school-record 12-game winning streak, but made it nearly impossible to make the NCAA Tournament without running the table in the Patriot League and making the final of the conference tournament.
“We know we're a good basketball team,” Flannery said. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Selection Committee will come to the same conclusion.
Northern Iowa got a huge lift from its pair of Eric's as Crawford and Coleman combined for 27 points, 12 rebounds and half of the Panthers field goals.Guard Eric Crawford came back from what he thought was a season-ending knee injury to hitting the game-tying fallaway 8-footer with .8 seconds left.
“Just to be on the court is special for me, and to be put in a situation to get a shot like that and make it is something special,” Crawford said.
Both teams played solid fundamental defense the entire afternoon but it's a good bet that Flannery and his Bison will look at the game film and cringe at how they effectively took themselves out of their own offense.
Throughout the first minutes of the game, Bucknell was insistent on grinding out points with its junior center Chris McNaughton. And then they stopped. Northern Iowa shifted into a matchup zon; McNaughton was still open but the Bison stopped feeding their most consistent scorer.
In the 39 minutes, McNaughton ended the game with 8 points and 6 rebounds. Since its German power option was shut down, you'd think the guard duo of Kevin Bettencourt and Charles Lee would have been effective from the perimeter. The answer is yes and no. Lee was solid (15 points, 11 rebounds). Bettencourt went 2 of 10 but had all of Bucknell's five free throws.
In the end, this loss may have served as an educational process for the Bison. At least this revelation didn't happen to Flannery and his crew during the NCAA Tournament when they will face another quality team.
Northern Iowa fans realized two things from Saturday's game: that is their team can fight, and their basketball IQ is very high.
McDermott continued to use his four out-one offense (resembling a slower version of Villanova's) even when Bucknell's disciplined defense held them to 20 first-half points. He nor his team panicked over a possible third straight loss and being placed squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble before heading into the always competitive Missouri Valley Tournament in St. Louis.
“Our defense gave us a chance to win,” McDermott said.
Northern Iowa has now gone from a dangerous first round matchup to a school that you don't want to face in the second or third rounds. This win proved that the Panthers are multi-dimensional. Usually, it's Jacobsen, Crawford or Coleman hitting jump shots, but they also showed the country that on one day, they can as a collective unit play solid defense against most any motion offense.
Neither team played with a sense of urgency like this game made or broke its NCAA Tournament hopes, but the argument can certainly be made that the win helped UNI more than the loss hurt Bucknell.
Missouri State 72, Wisconsin-Milwaukee 63
Early in the first half, he Missouri State Bears grabbed a 7-6 lead that they would not relinquish in their BracketBuster matchup at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Mo State never looked back en route to an important road victory.
Junior guard Blake Ahearn led the Bears with 18 points, and junior Nathan Bilyeu contributed 16 in the winning cause. Ahearn is now the career free-throw percentage leader in NCAA history, hitting 95% of his free throws.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee had five players in double figures, with Joah Tucker leading the team with 12 points.
As a team, Missouri State shot just 40% from the floor and 2 of 11 from three-point range. Furthermore, the Bears were out-rebounded by nine. Hitting 28-38 free throws and playing solid defense would prove to be the major difference, however.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee was held to 33% shooting, 4 of 21 from long distance. The Panthers also had 22 turnovers, as Missouri State was able to take advantage of its multi-guard sets and created mismatch problems for the home team. Mo State has now won six of its past seven games and is heating up at the right time to enter the discussion for a potential NCAA Tournament at-large berth.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee, however, has gone cold lately, losing four of its last six games.
The game itself was not pretty, as both teams' shooting percentages reflect. When six threes find the mark out of thirty two attempts combined, it's not a good sign for the game's excitement level. The crowd of nearly 7,000 was a non-factor throughout much of the contest. It was not until the Panthers made a late run to pull within three points at 63-60 that the fans were encouraged to emit a sustained noise level. It was clear that playing without Adrian Tigert affected the rhythm of the Panthers offensively. His rebounding was also missed, as there were a plethora of missed shots for him and others to gobble up.
In the big picture, not much changed for Wisconsin-Milwaukee. As noted in the preview for this game, the Panthers have turned towards winning the Horizon League regular season crown to earn the top seed in the league tournament. Winning that tournament will be the only way the Panthers qualify for an NCAA berth and a chance to rekindle the magic of its Sweet 16 run from last season. Wright State and Butler will each serve as roadblocks for Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as UWM has split its regular season series with the both teams.
On the other side of the coin, Missouri St was the one Missouri Valley conference team entering the day that seemingly “had” to win its BracketBuster game. In all actuality, the Bears made a dramatic improvement in their resume with a quality late-season road win, and improved their RPI into the "lock" zone of sub-30.
The Bears have climbed out of nowhere in the last four weeks and are now looking pretty good for an at-large bid to the Big Dance. A home game to close of the regular season with Creighton looms before the start of the frenetic MVC tournament known as “Arch Madness.” The Bears certainly have a shot of winning this tournament, which would ease any worry come Selection Sunday. However, playing hot basketball down the stretch, combined with a solid RPI ranking, and the Mo State Bears have made a great argument to dance on the grandest stage come March.