December 17, 2008 12:47 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
Akron at Virginia Commonwealth
Siegel Center - Richmond, VA
7:30 PM EST
The best thing about BracketBusters, in my opinion, is the BracketBusters return game. Sure, the chance for TV exposure in February is nice, but that only affects the handful of teams angling for NCAA consideration. All 100 or so schools have to play a return game the following season, and this helps resist the urge of going out on the road for a check, or staying home and pounding on Southnorthern Bible Academy. It also helps us in the G!O!T!N! selection process, which gets tough around the holidays.
Tonight in CAA-land, the presumptive league favorite takes on a recent MAC powerhouse in a return of the exciting five-point contest (won by VCU) that kicked off the televised portion of the BB proceedings 10 months ago. Ram fans still contend that a stronger opponent would have helped the team over that hump that separated it and the NCAA Tournament last year, but one could argue that the snub is the reason head coach Anthony Grant isn't off in the SEC. For now, VCU is 6-3 (1-0 CAA), is a much more offensive-minded team than last year's, and still has that Eric Maynor guy, who is good at basketball. But the Rams' season so far has been marked with missed opportunities: a five-point loss at SEC squad Vanderbilt that could have given the league a key Big Six win, and giveaways against Rhode Island and East Carolina. Without a win next week at Oklahoma, there's no question that the Rams will have to get in the Big Dance the old-fashioned way: ehhhhhrn it in March.
Akron is also 6-3, despite being a remarkably young team. Eight underclassmen have suited up for the Zips, and senior scoring and rebounding leader Nate Linhart (11.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is really the only link to the teams that put together a string of seemingly effortless 20-win seasons. But unlike past seasons with notoriously soft schedules that kept them out of serious NCAA consideration, Akron is bulking up against solid competition. They did get blown out at Pitt (and would prefer you forget about the whole Eastern Kentucky thing), but otherwise have carried themselves off well. They took Dayton to within four, beat Niagara in a win that will look better as the season goes on, and have a chance to avenge last year's BB loss tonight.
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