Murray State strengthens NCAA case; more BracketBuster thoughts
With its win over Saint Mary's, Murray State strengthened its case for an NCAA bid
Wichita State took care of Davidson and looked like a potential 4-seed in March
Plus: Creighton's necessary win, Drexel's tournament-worthy offense, and more
With Selection Sunday just three weeks away, the mythical eye test will start rearing its ugly head as experts (and, of course, the NCAA selection committee) determine exactly who the 37 "best" at-large teams are for the NCAA Tournament.
Unlike many seasons, though, where the eye test is used as a replacement for on-paper evidence to support the candidacies of middling high-majors, this season's batch of high-quality mid-majors along with the ongoing carnage in the middle of the BCS leagues means the eye test may have its script flipped.
Saturday's BracketBusters action featured a number of quality games and teams that showed very well in them. These national TV impressions might be enough to provide bid insurance:
No. 16 Murray State 65, No. 21 Saint Mary's 51: [RECAP | BOX] When it seemed like Saint Mary's point guard Matthew Dellavedova would miss this game, it looked like a "we cannot afford to lose" home game for the Racers. Now that he played, the comprehensive win is the chip Murray State needed to absorb another OVC loss (or two) and make it into the NCAAs.
Any mid-major curb appeal starts with a marquee star, and the Racers have that in Isaiah Canaan, who went for a superefficient 23 points on just 13 shots and chipped in four assists as Murray State shot 58 percent from the field. The Racers showed very well against a quality opponent.
Seeding them will be an exercise in subjectivity, with their now four credible nonleague wins offsetting an Ohio Valley schedule that the computers treat very poorly, but as the committee likes to say: You can play your way out of a bad seed, but you can't play your way out of missing the NCAAs.
No. 24 Wichita State 91, Davidson 74: [RECAP | BOX] Folks in Kansas know all about Davidson, as the Wildcats beat the Jayhawks in Kansas City, Mo., earlier this season. This was another in a growing string of really, really good performances from one of the nation's best teams, mid-major or otherwise.
What more does the committee need to see after the Shockers shot almost 64 percent from the field, led by Joe Ragland's 30 points (on 11-14 FG)? The Shockers' offense has been searing hot, scoring at least 1.22 points per possession in their last four games. They defend and rebound, too.
The Shockers are looking more and more like they could be in the 4-seed area come Selection Sunday, and with one or two of the 1-seeds looking relatively vulnerable, they are a very viable pick for an Elite Eight appearance ... or more.
Creighton 81, Long Beach State 79: [RECAP | BOX] Superstar player? Check. Solid supporting cast? Check. Intestinal fortitude to take everything a high-quality opponent throws at you, and then rally from nine down late to win at the buzzer? Check!
The Bluejays really needed this win after a three-game Valley losing streak had started to weaken their potential at-large profile. Now they can assume, especially with all the carnage around them, that their profile will hold up without a Valley auto-bid. CU star forward Doug McDermott was everything and more than advertised, with 36 points and 11 rebounds.
What more could the committee want to see from either of these teams? Long Beach may have significant at-large issues now, with just a win at Pitt (pre-injury/transfer/cave-in) and a neutral-site W over shorthanded Xavier as their nonconference confirmation of an unbeaten Big West run. That's unfortunate, as the 49ers are a very good team with a very questionable at-large profile.
Drexel 69, Cleveland State 49: [RECAP | BOX] The Dragons were poor early in the season, with a loss to Norfolk State in the Paradise Jam costing them a potential shot at Marquette (although they did play fellow upset victim Virginia, and lost). They have no top-50 wins. Thanks in part to the down year in the CAA, they have only played five top-100 games all season. But they have won 16 in a row now and on Saturday at (sagging and short-handed) Cleveland State, they certainly looked like an NCAA Tournament team.
The Dragons are predominantly defensive specialists, and they held the Vikings to 28 percent shooting, but it's the recent surge in Drexel's offense that has them looking Tournament-worthy. This was the seventh game in Drexel's last 10 outings where the Dragons have scored at least 1.10 points per possession, a very good number for any team, and a tremendous one for a team that can defend.
The Dragons have a solid chance at a solo title in the CAA, as co-leader George Mason still must play at VCU. Despite a bad RPI and a fairly empty profile, could 27 wins and a league crown be enough? With VCU, George Mason and ODU also winning their BracketBusters games, this was a good weekend for the league.
Oral Roberts 67, Akron 61: [RECAP | BOX] No one will pay much attention to this result, or credit the Golden Eagles for a good win over the MAC's best team, but quietly, ORU is in the RPI top 50 and played tough at Gonzaga and West Virginia earlier this season. The Golden Eagles likely will rue losing to UT-San Antonio in dramatic fashion in the first round of the Preseason NIT Tip-Off to UT-San Antonio. They would have had a shot at very vulnerable Oklahoma State at Gallagher-Iba, with a shot at two more solid games in NYC at stake.
This could be another 27-win team that loses in the conference championship game. Could they possibly get an at-large? With the way all the major-conference teams keep losing their way down the S-curve, would Oral Roberts still have to "expect a miracle" to be in the discussion for an at-large?