2007 BracketBuster Preview


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by Matthew Stevens and David Mihm
February 11, 2007


2007 BRACKETBUSTER COVERAGE

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16
Winthrop vs. Missouri State
7:00 pm ET, ESPN2

Albany vs. Boise State
9:00 pm ET, ESPNU

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 17
App. State vs. Wichita State
1:00 pm ET, ESPNU

Holy Cross vs. Hofstra
3:00 pm ET, ESPNU

Southern Illinois vs. Butler
4:00pm ET, ESPN2

Northern Iowa vs. Nevada
6:00 pm ET, ESPN2

Old Dominion vs. Toledo
6:00 pm ET, ESPN360

Utah State vs. Oral Roberts
7:00 pm ET, ESPNU

CSU-Fullerton vs. Wright State
8:00 pm ET, ESPN360

Bradley vs. VCU
8:00 pm ET, ESPN2

Drexel vs. Creighton
10:00 pm ET, ESPN2

Ohio vs. New Mexico State
11:59 pm ET, ESPN2


And from the Archive:
Kyle Winchester analyzes the impact of the BracketBuster on the actual bracket. (2006)

 


FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16

Winthrop vs. Missouri State
7:00 pm ET, ESPN2

Albany vs. Boise State

9:00 pm ET, ESPNU

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 17

App. State vs. Wichita State
1:00 pm ET, ESPNU

Holy Cross vs. Hofstra

3:00 pm ET, ESPNU

Southern Illinois vs. Butler

4:00pm ET, ESPN2

Northern Iowa vs. Nevada

6:00 pm ET, ESPN2


SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 17 (CONT'D)

Old Dominion vs. Toledo
6:00 pm ET, ESPN360

Utah State vs. Oral Roberts
7:00 pm ET, ESPNU

CSU-Fullerton vs. Wright State

8:00 pm ET, ESPN360

Bradley vs. VCU

8:00 pm ET, ESPN2

Drexel vs. Creighton

10:00 pm ET, ESPN2

Ohio vs. New Mexico State

11:59 pm ET, ESPN2

And from the Archive:
Kyle Winchester analyzes the impact of the BracketBuster on the actual bracket. (2006)


Winthrop at Missouri State

The opening matchup of the 2007 BracketBuster is exactly what the founders of the event had in mind when they came up with the idea for the event back in 2003: two highly-rated, highly-respected mid-majors battling on national television for a major, major win in the eyes of the NCAA Selection Committee. Given where these two teams stand right now, this February non-conference game represents the most important 40 minutes of each team’s season.

Missouri State (19-7, 10-5) is one of five Missouri Valley teams fighting for what are likely three or four NCAA Tournament bids. A win in this contest would make it awfully difficult for the Selection Committee to snub the Bears for a second consecutive year.

"This has got all the makings of a heck of a game," Missouri State head coach Barry Hinson said in the Feb. 6 media teleconference. "We think Winthrop is a great test and great game."

Winthrop's NCAA at-large case is even more intriguing. Let's assume for argument's sake that Greg Marshall's squad (currently undefeated in the Big South Conference) doesn't win the Big South Tournament (sorry, Eagles fans, but remember this is a hypothetical). Winthrop (20-4, 10-0) is not a slam dunk as an at large team because the Eagles’ Strength of Schedule is at best mediocre (254), and they whiffed on all four of their previous chances against RPI Top 50 competition.

OK, they actually fouled off two of them, losing by seven at North Carolina and by three at Wisconsin. But a road win in the fifth and final Top 50 opportunity just might be enough to push them over to the “good” side of the bubble. A loss virtually eliminates them from at-large contention.

Key Matchup: MoState's Blake Ahearn vs. Winthrop’s Torrell Martin
Will Winthrop’s perimeter defense be able to contain the nation’s most prolific outside shooter, Blake Ahearn? Ahearn shoots 49 percent of the field, 49 percent from three-point range, and 94 percent from the free throw line. Torrell Martin is considered Winthrop’s best player, but its leading scorer is actually Martin’s backcourt mate, Michael Jenkins. Both are more athletic than Ahearn, but Blake’s range extends all the way to Joplin, MO. If the Bears can free Ahearn for some open looks, Winthrop’s long road trip will become that much longer.

On the other side of the ball, watch for Michael Jenkins from behind the arc (44% on the season) and for Martin to penetrate the lane. Neither team is particularly strong inside, but Winthrop’s 6’10” F/C Craig Bradshaw probably holds the edge over any of MoState’s post players.

Prediction: Winthrop 72, Missouri State 69
Normally we wouldn't bet against a Barry Hinson-coached team in Springfield, Mo., but Missouri State hosts Valley behemoth Southern Illinois two days prior to this game. Against Marshall’s up-tempo, 94-foot style, the Bears may not have enough energy late in the game after being worn down by SIU’s suffocating defense earlier in the week.

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Albany at Boise State

Though there aren’t any major NCAA Tournament implications at stake in this game, a road win would certainly give Albany (18-7, 11-2) an injection of confidence as they try to the win the America East regular season title for the second consecutive season. It might also be enough to keep the Great Danes out of the dreaded 1-16 game. Let's hope the Albany athletic department can get this squad on a plane for this 2,500 mile road trip, the longest facing any team in the event.

A win for Boise State (13-11, 7-5) would increase the Broncos’ chances for an NIT bid, but they’re an awfully long shot to win the WAC Tournament with the likes of Nevada, New Mexico State, Utah State, and Hawaii to get through. The Broncos are trying to restore pride to the BSU program and the dominance they used to have at Taco Bell Arena.

Key Matchup: BSU’s Coby Karl vs. Albany's Jamar Wilson
George Karl's son will showcase his talent to a national television audience. The senior guard is scoring a team-high 15.5 ppg and shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc. Wilson, at 6-foot-1, scores 18 ppg, grabs 6.5 rebounds and dishes out 5 assists for the Danes.

Prediction: Boise State 75, Albany 65
A game featuring two teams with contrasting styles usually goes to the one with more weapons. In this case, that’s also the team playing at home. Boise State has four players averaging double figures in scoring and has also played better against quality teams, beating BYU and losing battles at Washington State and Nevada by a combined six points.

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Appalachian State at Wichita State

With its limited market saturation, “The U” may as well be “The Ocho.” And that’s unfortunate, because this could be one of the BracketBuster’s best games, and it certainly has bubble and seeding implications.

With neutral-court wins over Virginia and Vanderbilt, and road wins at Davidson and VCU, the Mountaineers (19-6, 11-3) could make a strong case for an at-large bid with a win in Wichita.

The Shockers (17-9, 8-7) are one of the country’s most difficult teams to figure out, peaking as a Top 10 team after wins at Syracuse and LSU before sliding to six losses in seven games after the start of Christmas vacation. A sweep of the final three games of the season is now critical to earning an at large bid. After App State, the Shockers face Missouri State at home and Creighton in Omaha.

"I don't look at standings and RPI numbers. If we [had] won three or four more games maybe we'd be paying attention to [them], but we didn't," Wichita State head coach Mark Turgeon said in the Feb. 6 MVC teleconference. It’s a good thing Turgeon doesn’t pay attention to those numbers, because they’re not in Wichita’s favor (72 in both the conference and non-conference formulas).

Key Matchup:App State’s Nathan Cranford vs. Wichita’s Sean Ogirri
Neither of these players is his team’s first option, but both need a strong showing if their teams are going to win. Cranford is one of three seniors that plays more than 25 minutes and has scored in double figures in eight of the last 10 games. Of the Mountaineers that earn significant minutes, the 6’2” guard is the team’s best three-point shooter, knocking down triples at a 41% clip. A 24-point performance against Virginia proves he can play with the big boys.

Kyle Wilson steals the headlines for the Shockers but he needs fellow wing player Couisnard (12.0 ppg, 50% FG) to shoulder some of the load in a big game like this. Couisnard is an excellent free-throw shooter, so the more he gets to the basket (11 times in Wichita’s last game, against Illinois State), the better. His penetration will also be critical in order to leave Wilson and G Sean Ogirri open for some outside shots.

Prediction: Wichita State 64, Appalachian State 57
Appalachian State’s best wins are away from home this year, so they’ll certainly be ready for the tough environment of Koch Arena. But we sense Wichita State will play with a sense of urgency not yet seen this year. And if Wilson and Ogirri can finally get hot from outside (and keep App State’s trio of three-point shooters from doing so), we won’t be “shocked” by a WSU victory.

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Holy Cross at Hofstra

We could easily see both of these teams in the NCAA Tournament, despite the fact that neither has a powerful enough resume to make it as an at-large. Hofstra was the hot preseason pick in the Colonial Athletic Association, but fizzled early, starting the season 0-3. Holy Cross, meanwhile, was always expected to challenge Bucknell for the Patriot League title, but few thought they’d keep pace with the Bison so closely. A three-point loss in Lewisburg is the only thing between the Crusaders and a perfect conference season.

The outcome of this game might be defined by which team is able to establish its preferred tempo, but unfortunately for Holy Cross, Hofstra (19-7, 12-3) proved it can win a half-court game in the 60s at George Mason last Saturday. The Crusaders (19-7, 10-1) could be in for a long day against Hofstra’s three-headed perimeter monster of Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio, and Carlos Rivera, no matter the tempo.

Key Matchup: Holy Cross’ Tim Clifford vs. Hofstra’s Chris Gadley
The biggest matchup problem for the Pride and Hofstra head coach Tom Pecora is a big man that can score. If Clifford can establish dominance in the paint early, Pecora’s man-to-man defense may be forced to double down low, opening up the outside for HC’s guards. Hofstra is shallow inside, with Gadley and Arminas Urbutis being the only post players with significant experience. Foul trouble for either one could be big trouble for the Pride.

Prediction: Hofstra 72, Holy Cross 58
Hofstra is just going to be too quick for Holy Cross, particularly on the perimeter. The Pride are also 8-1 at home this season, having defeated Old Dominion and VCU, among others.

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Southern Illinois at Butler

We’re already salivating, Pavlov-style, over this game of canine superiority (a Saluki is a kind of racing dog for the uninitiated), and the game doesn’t take place for another six days. In a Saturday laden with a ridiculous number of terrific matchups (Florida @ Vandy, UCLA @ Arizona, UNC @ BC, Washington @ Pittsburgh, Memphis @ Gonzaga, Oregon @ Stanford, Georgetown @ Villanova) the best game of the day may very well be this one.

Barring a shocking meltdown by Butler to end the season, both of these teams will be playing in the NCAA Tournament. So unlike every other BracketBuster matchup, it’s not an at-large bid, but a protected seed that these two teams are playing for. An all-time high #3 seed (for both programs) is there for the taking.

Butler's Todd Lickliter and SIU's Chris Lowery are the clear favorites for their respective conferences’ coach of the year award, and Lickliter has a chance to win it nationally.

SIU (21-5, 12-3) will likely end up with a Top 10 RPI ranking by the end of the year and a regular-season title in the #4 or #5 RPI conference. But without a late-season win against Butler, that still might not be good enough for a top-four seed.

On the other side of the floor, Butler (22-3 Div I, 11-2) would not host its conference tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse – Wright State is the new Horizon front runner by virtue of a 77-65 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday. Butler also doesn’t really need to worry about its next opponent (Div II Florida Gulf Coast), so Lickliter and his staff have a week to prepare for the Salukis. SIU may be catching Butler at the wrong time.

Key Matchup: Butler’s A.J. Graves vs. SIU’s Jamaal Tatum
SIU brings in a pair of 6-7 frontcourt players in Randal Falker and Matt Shaw that Butler may not be able to contain. Falker is an absolute beast inside, and Shaw can extend defenses with his Pittsnoglesque ability to shoot the three. But Butler’s mish-mash of interior defenders did hold D.J. White and Josh Heytvelt to sub-par games earlier this year, Falker and Shaw may not put up big numbers.

SIU runs a very patient motion offense, rarely shooting with more than 10 seconds left on the shot clock, and invariably getting a good look as the clock winds down. So if the Bulldogs are going to win, it’s got to be A.J. Graves maximizing Butler’s limited number of offensive possessions. Jamaal Tatum might be the best perimeter defender in the Valley, and will no doubt be called upon to shut down one of the nation’s best perimeter shooters.

Prediction: Butler 64, Southern Illinois 62
Southern Illinois does struggle to score at times, and if Falker cannot establish himself inside, the outside shots may not fall on the road. Butler will be looking to erase the Wright State loss (which, incidentally, does not go in the “bad” column, as the Raiders currently sport a #85 RPI ranking). There’s probably more pressure on Butler to win this game, given the extended gap between its last marquee win (Purdue on 12/16) and the NCAA Tournament. But the atmosphere in Hinkle Fieldhouse will be magical. Watch for A.J. Graves to channel Jimmy Chitwood and rise above Tatum to hit a baseline jumper as time expires to give Butler the important W.

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Northern Iowa at Nevada

When the BracketBuster matchups were announced last month, this looked like the second- or third-best behind Butler-SIU. But with UNI’s recent slide in Valley play (four of five L’s, including three at home), the This very last thing Northern Iowa (16-10, 7-8) needs is a cross-country road trip. But they now travel to Reno, Nevada, to face the best All-American candidate Nick Fazekas, and one of the best backcourts west of the Rockies. This game for Nevada (22-2, 10-1) does help its SOS but will hurt its seed should the Wolf Pack fail to win at home.

Key Matchup: Nevada's Nick Fazekas vs. UNI's Eric Coleman
Eric Coleman is the toughest player in the Missouri Valley Conference and the fact that a 6-foot-6 center can nearly average a double-double is a tribute to the junior's heart. But Coleman gives up five inches to the best power forward in the country. Coleman has the responsibility to contain Fazekas while scoring at the other end. Not many have enough energy for both jobs (particularly at Reno’s altitude, 4500 feet) and UNI's zone isn't going to work when the Wolf Pack’s underrated outside shooters Marcellus Kemp, Ramon Sessions, and Kyle Shiloh step back and hit threes. The only question mark for Nevada might be its chemistry, as announcer Steven Bardo alluded to during the Hawaii telecast earlier in the month, but it looks like Nevada has worked through that, blowing out Fresno State on the road last week.

Prediction: Nevada 85, Northern Iowa 65
Normally, we don’t predict blowouts, but Nevada is THAT good. UNI might be playing its worst basketball of the past three years and Lawlor Events Center is not a likely place for Ben Jacobson & Co. to right the ship.

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Old Dominion at Toledo

Fans of Old Dominion could not have asked for a worse draw. ODU is playing its best basketball of the year, blowing out VCU at home over the weekend, and with its non-conference win at Georgetown, is squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

But Toledo is not an at-large threat, despite a gaudy 9-2 MAC record, thanks to a 4-8 non-conference season. Surprisingly, the Rockets did pull off a 60-59 upset of ODU’s recent victim, VCU.

A road win doesn’t do much good for ODU because the caliber of opponent simply isn’t high enough for any Committee bonus points, and a loss would be devastating to any at-large hopes.

Key Matchup:ODU's frontcourt vs. Toledo’s frontcourt
The Monarchs simply have too much raw strength and powerful talent inside for Toledo to match. Arnaud Dahi made 13-16 free throws in ODU’s most recent win, along with snagging ten boards. Frontcourt mate Valdas Vasylius was also a beast, scoring 16 points and grabbing six offensive rebounds in only 22 minutes.

The tallest player on Toledo’s active roster is 6’7” Jerrah Young, who only averages 13 minutes a game. 6’5” Florentino Valencia is the tallest mainstay, which is probably the end of the story.

Prediction: Old Dominion 81, Toledo 68
Staying motivated will be absolutely critical for Old Dominion, both in coming out of the gate, and in putting the Rockets away. But the Monarchs are riding a seven-game win streak, and confidence is at a season-high.

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Utah State at Oral Roberts

The Mid-Con’s current leader and overwhelming favorite to win the conference is looking for a program-defining win against a consistent NCAA Tournament team.

USU is hoping for two consecutive at-large bids this year, but are significantly hindered by a cupcake non-conference schedule (we don’t blame them; the Committee sent the wrong message last year). USU’s RPI number is in the high 60s, and its resume is devoid of any marquee W (at home against New Mexico State is the best one to date).

Trivia question: which coach named Sutton has a win in Allen Fieldhouse this year? No, it’s not Sean, whose Oklahoma State Cowboys were waxed by 30 in their visit to Kansas. It’s Scott, Sean’s brother. Scott Sutton led ORU to what has to be considered the most shocking victory of the year in the non-conference season. A win over a quality Utah State team added to the Kansas victory would put the Golden Eagles in line for a 13-seed and would set up a realistic chance for a first-round NCAA Tournament upset.

Key Matchup: USU's Jaycee Carroll vs. ORU's Caleb Green
They won’t be guarding each other, but it should be fun watching these two, both of whom can flat out score. Carroll is a 6-foot-2 guard that can bury you on the perimeter (45 3PT%) and makes you pay at the charity stripe (91 FT%). Green is a double-double waiting to happen. The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the best athletes in the country. He almost always starts and often finishes the Golden Eagles’ fast break. Sit back and watch these two fill it up.

Prediction: Oral Roberts 87, Utah State 82
This is probably ORU’s most important home game in several years, and the Golden Eagles simply have more to play for.

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Bradley at Virginia Commonwealth

Right now the Braves (17-10, 8-7) are looking eerily similar to the 2006 Missouri State Bears. Jim Les’ team is well-liked by the computers, but is just 1-7 against the RPI’s Top 50 teams, the one win coming against SIU at home. A road win to improve that record to 2-7 this late in the year would be a huge boost to Bradley’s at-large profile.

Virginia Commonwealth (21-5, 13-2), like fellow CAA members Drexel and Old Dominion, is squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. A regular-season CAA championship should be good enough to earn the Rams an at-large bid, were they to stumble in the CAA Tournament, but a win over a quality Missouri Valley team might turn out to be a desperately-needed insurance policy.

Key Matchup: BU's trio of guards vs. VCU's trio of guards
These teams are mirror images of each other: both have three guards averaging double figures, all of whom can handle the ball. PG Daniel Ruffin is the undisputed leader for Bradley, dishing out over five assists per game, while scoring nearly 14 points. But Will Franklin and Jeremy Crouch complete the three-headed backcourt monster admirably, both averaging better than 44% from three-point range.

For VCU, it’s Eric Maynor who leads the way with over 14 ppg and 6 apg. Maynor’s gaudy 3.1 Assist:Turnover ratio compares favorably with any guard in the country. On the receiving end of a number of those assists are backcourt mates B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa, both of whom average double-figures for Anthony Grant’s Rams.

Prediction: Bradley 75, Virginia Commonwealth 70
This is probably the game we’re least sure about, but we’ll give the nod to Bradley in a huge road test. The Braves’ odd computer numbers have to be borne out on the court at some point, right? Right? Maybe not…

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Cal-State Fullerton at Wright State

Normally Fullerton (18-5, 8-3) fans can't help but already concentrate on their nationally-ranked baseball program. However, with Fullerton standing just ½ game back in the Big West Conference, more people are making their way into Titan Gym.

Wright State had been an afterthought for much of the season, but woke up everyone around the country by knocking off Butler handily on Saturday evening. Brad Brownell’s team had been beaten by 31 at Hinkle Fieldhouse earlier in the year, so it was an impressive turnaround for the Raiders.

Key Matchup: WSU's Dashaun Woods vs. CSU-F's Bobby Brown
Wood is coming off a 30-point effort against Butler and has scored in double figures in every game this season.

"(DaShaun) is too good of a player to hold down for 40 minutes most nights," Brownell said in the post game press conference following the Butler win. "He might not always score 30 points, but there are nights when he has 10 or 12 and has six or seven assists and he has played just as well."

Brown, a local Southern California product, leads his team with 19 ppg and 47 FG%. The 6-foot-2 guard quite simply makes the Titans offense go.

Prediction: Wright State 66, Cal State Fullerton 63
Even for a team made up predominantly of junior and senior talent, winning in a place where Butler couldn’t is not going to be easy. But the Big West is a stronger league than its national reputation, and this game should be pretty close.

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Drexel at Creighton

Bruiser Flint brings his full-court, up-tempo, high scoring squad to Omaha’s undoubtedly sold-out Qwest Center in this marquee clash, one of the two or three best in this year’s event. A fourth marquee road win of the year (in addition to Syracuse, Villanova, and St. Joseph’s) would put Drexel on the cusp of an NCAA bid. Creighton’s non-conference profile is currently a little weak, and a second prominent win (the Bluejays also won at Xavier) would make Selection Sunday a little less stressful for Dana Altman & Co.

Drexel scored 95 points against Hofstra this past week, but Creighton’s halfcourt offense is a bit more methodical than the Pride’s, and CU’s defense is ranked second in the Valley, allowing just 61.6 ppg.

Creighton is finally healthy and is finally playing like the team everyone predicted before the season began. Nate Funk leads the conference in scoring, as expected, coming off of last year’s injury-shortened season.

Key Matchup: Drexel's Frank Elegar vs. CU's Anthony Tolliver
This should be a down-and-dirty battle for the full 40 minutes as both 6-foot-9 post players look to establish an inside presence so their teams’ fabled perimeter shooters can find open looks. Whichever one can stay out of foul trouble will go a long way towards determining the outcome of this pivotal contest.

Prediction: Creighton 75, Drexel 73
Definitely worth staying up late into the night to see the end of this one, because it will almost certainly come down to the wire. Creighton is nearly impossible to beat in Omaha (ranked 20 th in attendance nationwide last year), and Funk and Tolliver will relish the opportunity to seal an at-large bid at home.

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Ohio at New Mexico State

Much like Old Dominion, New Mexico State couldn’t have asked for a worse matchup. Ohio isn’t even ranked in the RPI’s Top 100, and the Bobcats just suffered a brutal home loss to previously 4-17 Northern Illinois.

Rick Pitino disciple Reggie Theus has done a remarkable job turning this program around after the somewhat disappointing tenure of legendary coach Lou Henson. NMSU had been on track for a potential at-large bid until this past week, when they lost games to Utah State and Fresno State. A win at Nevada in the final game of the year is now critical for any at-large hopes, but a loss to Ohio Saturday night would render even that game meaningless.

Key Matchup: Backcourt vs. Backcourt
St. John’s transfer Elijah Ingram and Kansas State transfer Fred Peete run the backcourt for Theus, and although NMSU gets out in transition with great effectiveness, they also turn the ball over a ton. Ohio’s backcourt of Sonny Troutman, Bubba Walther, and Whitney Davis will own a significant size advantage, and could certainly force a number of those TO’s.

Prediction: New Mexico State 85, Ohio 70
NMSU is just too explosive for the Bobcats to handle, particularly after a long trip to Las Cruces. If NMSU’s transition points outnumber their turnovers, the Aggies will win.

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