Butler-Davidson headlines BracketBusters; will Curry play?
Davidson has a rare shot at a big home win against sliding Butler
Expect VCU's Eric Maynor to rise to the bright television spotlight against Nevada
Siena may get a quality nonconference win that could relieve bubble pressure
When the BracketBusters pairings came out on Feb. 2, Butler and Davidson were a combined 36-4 and easy choices for the top slot in the weekend's made-for-TV matchups. Since then, the two powerful mid-major programs have a combined 7-5 record, and Davidson's Player of the Year candidate Stephen Curry sprained his ankle.
So while some of the shine is off the headliner game (Saturday, noon, ESPN), it still should be the best of the weekend, especially if Curry returns. The junior missed Davidson's 64-46 loss to the Citadel on Wednesday and his status is day-to-day. Butler, which is coming off a 63-60 loss to UW-Milwaukee on Wednesday, is preparing for Curry to play.
"It's more fun watching him play as a fan than preparing for him," said Butler coach Brad Stevens, who is trying to bounce back from his first two-game losing streak in two years as the Bulldogs' head coach. "He's special. You can guard him well and he can score. There are very few guys in college basketball that are like that."
Butler is fifth in the nation in scoring defense, so if Curry does return, the nation's leading scorer will have his work cut out for him.
"I'm always up for a challenge," Curry said when the matchup was announced. "I'm excited. This is first time since I've been here where we've had a top program coming to Belk Arena. We've always had to go on the road, so I'm definitely excited."
Butler starts three freshmen and a sophomore, leading to speculation that the young team has hit a wall after winning 21 of its first 23 games. Stevens says that is not true.
"We haven't played well in one game -- at home to Loyola," he said. "Milwaukee has been a bear to everyone at home. They are 11-2 there, and we had a shot to win."
Butler is still solidly inside the NCAA tournament bubble and is playing for seeding, while Davidson is probably on the outside peering in. A win over the Bulldogs, who have an RPI of 27, would be a big boost for Davidson (RPI: 56).
"There is a lot of hype surrounding (BracketBusters) and you want to play well," Stevens said. "It is going to be a great challenge at their place. We know it is going to be rocking."
Here is a breakdown of four other BracketBusters games of note:
Northern Iowa (17-9, RPI 87) at Siena (21-6, RPI 28)
Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN2
Siena is a bubble team that is searching for a quality non-conference win that can take the pressure off winning the MAAC tournament. The Saints are 0-4 vs. RPI top 50, but 6-0 vs. RPI 51-100. This is a chance to up that mark to 7-0, but it won't be easy as the Panthers have a big frontcourt, led by 6-foot-8 Valley Player of the Year candidate Adam Koch and 7-footer Jordan Eglseder, who averages 10 points and 6 rebounds off the bench. Siena is led by Kenny Hasbrouck (15 ppg) and Edwin Ubiles, who has nine 20-point games this year.
Utah State (25-2, RPI 34) at St. Mary's (20-5, RPI 62)
Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN2
The Aggies are more in the at-large discussion than St. Mary's, although an impressive close to the regular season, plus the return of guard Patrick Mills may get the Gaels a bid even if Gonzaga wins the West Coast Conference tournament. Utah State has a gaudy record, but is just 3-2 vs. the RPI top 100. A loss here would reinforce just how weak its schedule has been. This is the nation's chance to see Gary Wilkinson, a 6-9 forward who is leading the Aggies with 17.3 points per game after dropping out of high school, attending junior college, going on a two-year Mormon mission and attending a community college. To put it in perspective, Wilkinson, 26, is two years older than six-year NBA veteran LeBron James.
George Mason (18-8, RPI 54) at Creighton (22-6, RPI 51)
Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPNU
Neither of these teams really has a shot at an at-large, but this game will be good preparation for two traditionally tough conference tournaments. George Mason is one of three teams in the Colonial Athletic Association batting for the regular season crown, while Creighton has a shot at the Missouri Valley title. Mason, which starts three seniors, has struggled on the road, losing five straight and is 5-8 overall. Creighton has shaken off a slow Valley start and has won seven straight. The teams have one common opponent: Creighton beat Dayton 77-59 at home, while George Mason lost 66-62 at Dayton.
VCU (19-8, RPI 66) at Nevada (14-10, RPI 104)
Friday, 9 p.m., ESPNU
VCU will take on a Nevada team that appears headed for its worst season since 2003 -- the last time it failed to win 20 games. The Rams should be the favorite against the Wolf Pack -- who have already lost six times at home -- but the schedule will be difficult. VCU beat Delaware on Wednesday at home, then had to travel to Reno for a game less than 48 hours later. Nevada, meanwhile, will be coming off five off-days. VCU guard Eric Maynor usually plays his best in the big games, and a BracketBusters game on TV qualifies.