Top BracketBuster games to watch
The ODU-Northern Iowa game is probably the weekend's most balanced matchup
A win at Butler would be huge for Siena, which will try to speed up the game
Given its upset of BYU, could Utah St. clinch an NCAA bid by beating WSU?
BracketBusters may have its flaws, but it's never a bad thing when high-quality mid-major teams get some national exposure. This year's event has a little something for everyone -- at-large considerations, interesting clashes of style, terrific players you may not have heard of and, most important, 15 hours of practically wall-to-wall ball on a winter Saturday.
Here's one man's breakdown of the event, ranked in order of overall importance and watchability:
1. Old Dominion (21-7, 13-3 CAA, RPI: 41) at Northern Iowa (23-3, 14-2 MVC, RPI: 23)
When: Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2.
Why to watch: The most balanced, high-quality matchup on the docket, pairing two teams with significant NCAA tournament hopes in the event's opener Friday night. ODU needs the game a lot more than UNI for possible at-large consideration, and is getting an enormous break with UNI center Jordan Eglseder suspended after a weekend DUI arrest.
Who to watch: Without Eglseder, ODU's Gerald Lee could have a big day. He's the Monarchs' only double-digit scorer and also is their most efficient offensive weapon, currently second on the team in field goal percentage and tops at the free throw line despite carrying the bulk of the load. For UNI, Adam Koch will have to carry even more of the scoring and rebounding load sans the Panthers' 7-footer.
What to expect: A game with around 100 points total. Both teams play at extremely slow tempos and defend well. The game could be decided on ODU's offensive glass. The Monarchs are fourth in D-I (42.3 percent OReb rate) while UNI is the fifth-best at denying second-chance opportunities (26.8 percent allowed). The Monarchs are a poor three-point shooting team that also struggles to get to and convert from the free throw line, so they need those put-backs.
2. Siena (22-5, 15-1 MAAC, RPI: 33) at Butler (24-4, 17-0 Horizon, RPI: 22)
When: Saturday, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN2.
Why to watch: The game is hyped as the event's glamour matchup, but it may mean less from a national standpoint than a couple other games on the docket. Siena really needs this win to maintain any realistic at-large hopes, because a loss at home in the MAAC tournament may not be looked at too favorably.
Who to watch: Butler forward Gordon Hayward clearly is the Bulldogs' best player. Averaging 16 points and eight rebounds a game while shooting 49 percent as an inside-out threat, he doesn't just feed on the Horizon League; he had 18 and 12 vs. Clemson, 24 and eight at Georgetown and 22 and 14 vs. Xavier. For Siena, Edwin Ubiles is the scorer and Alex Franklin is the unsung battler, but it's Ronald Moore, who can't shoot a lick but dishes out eight dimes a game, who makes the Saints march.
What to expect: A classic contrast in tempos as Siena desperately tries to push the pace against the stubborn Bulldogs. Also worth watching: how often Butler can get to the free throw line. The Bulldogs get to the line a lot and make 75 percent as a team while Siena is the nation's best team at preventing opponents from getting to the line, allowing barely one free throw attempt for every five shots taken.
3. Wichita State (21-6, 11-5 MVC, RPI: 53) at Utah State (20-6, 11-2 WAC, RPI: 36)
When: Saturday/Sunday, 12 a.m. ET, ESPN2.
Why to watch: This is an important at-large elimination match (although it would have been even better had WSU not lost at Evansville last week). Winning at Utah State is nearly impossible (ask BYU about it), so this would be a high-quality road win for the Shockers. Utah State's leading the WAC and still hosts three of the other top four teams in the league. Win this and run the table until the conference final, and the Aggies' RPI could be very solid. Paired with the BYU upset, would it be enough?
Who to watch: No one, which underscores the beauty of both of these teams -- they're true teams. WSU has four players that average between 9.3 and 12.6 points and five between 4.1 and 5.1 rpg. Utah State has the Tai Wesley-Jared Quayle-Nate Bendell trio that shares the scoring and rebounding burden fairly equally.
What to expect: Another slooooow game. Six of Utah State's last seven games have featured fewer than 60 possessions and Wichita State's fine playing a bump-and-grind. Will the Shockers' perimeter defense hold up against the nation's best three-point shooting team in its own gym?
4. William & Mary (18-7, 11-5 CAA, RPI: 46) at Iona (19-8, 11-5 MAAC, RPI: 96)
When: Friday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU.
Why to watch: Preset home/away designations forced the Tribe into this less glamorous (but not easy) matchup, but the consolation prize is landing in the event's second Friday night spot, in the only game in the nation being played at that time. This is a prime opportunity to make an impression. The Tribe were the first team out of this week's bracket. After winning at George Mason on Tuesday, they probably will get an NCAA bid if they can win out until the CAA final (five more wins in a row).
Who to watch: W&M senior guard David Schneider shoots more than eight threes a game, but sophomore wing Quinn McDowell is the Tribe's best player. He's 41st in D-I in offensive efficiency while chipping in 14.3 points per game, and had 28 in the Tribe's upset win at Maryland in late December.
What to expect: Threes. Lots of them. W&M's slow-motion offense is a three-for-all. The Tribe take almost half of their shots from behind the arc (fifth-highest rate in D-I). The Gaels should be down for that kind of a game. They hoist more than a third of their shot attempts from that range and convert at a crisp 37 percent clip. The key may be the turnover battle, though. Iona forces miscues on one out of every four opponent possessions, but W&M's style makes it very stingy with the rock.
5. Louisiana Tech (20-6, 8-4 WAC, RPI: 73) at Northeastern (18-9, 13-3 CAA, RPI: 59)
When: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN2.
Why to watch: To check out two solid teams with very fringe at-large hopes, with the winner perhaps inadvertently helping its league mate (Utah State or W&M) in its NCAA quest. Also to hear quotes about how freaking cold the Louisiana Tech kids feel in Boston in February. It's like a Spring Break trip to Quebec.
Who to watch: The CAA doesn't have very many athletes like Tech big man (and LSU transfer) Magnum Rolle or lethal scorers like wing Kyle Gibson. It will be interesting to see how the more balanced Huskies, built around the scoring of Matt Janning and Chaisson Allen, handle the step up in individual class.
What to expect: Like Siena-Butler, the road team here wants to run-and-gun and the home team will say, "Eh, no thanks." Northeastern is the more balanced team, is playing better ball at the moment and is at home, so if the Huskies can keep the tempo to their liking, they should be good, especially with Tech coming off a midweek road game at Utah State. That's a lot of travel from Ruston, La.
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