CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- BracketBusters VII is safely in the history books now. It was more fulfilling than a Dave & Buster's appetizer (six chips do not qualify as "nachos"), and fell somewhere between Buster
the crash-test dummy and Buster Bluth
on the entertainment scale. Longtime readers will recognize the wrapup format here, and might know that I've already used this reference
twice in previous years.BracketBusted
: As a pall descended over Belk Arena at the final media timeout on Saturday on the way to a 12-point Butler road win
, there came the sad realization in the stands that Davidson 2009 isn't exactly Davidson 2008. Stephen Curry's
jello-wristed 6-for-23 shooting performance notwithstanding (the result of not practicing for a week, and his status as a game-time decision in the wake of his week-old ankle injury), the Wildcats were just plain manhandled by Butler. When the Bulldogs wanted better floor positioning on offense, they took it. When the white-clads stood in their way, the black and blue crew pushed them out. They didn't even ask nicely.
A lot's been made of how much the Wildcats miss playmaking point guard Jason Richards. And that's true, they do. But I'd have to say that the team probably misses Boris Meno and Thomas Sander more, two post players who steadfastly disallowed NCAA Tournament opponents to use them as doormats. A year from now, Frank Ben-Eze
will have the control to match his power, and Ben Allison
will better know what to do with his physical tools. For now, they're freshman bit players, full of promise, and Davidson has lost three straight home games.BracketButler
: No team got more out of the weekend showcase than the Bulldogs from Indianapolis. After a pair of drops to Loyola and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, there were questions as to whether the young team had hit the wall
. After more than rising to the challenge on national TV in a hostile environment, it's logical to chalk up recent sloppy and uninspired play to focus issues -- it's easier to know what's on the line when the cameras are on. Butler has proved it will get up for big games, of which there are many coming. While we urge all strong mid-majors to win their conference tournaments and get in the old-fashioned way, the Bulldogs are the only BB participant that can feel any sort of safe... but that's just inviting more complacency issues and compounding an earlier problem.BracketBoosted
: Saint Mary's emerged victorious over Utah State in a battle of high-ceilinged, low strength-of-schedule teams (SMC: 140, USU: 143). While Patty Mills honed his TV skills in the sideline booth, replacement Mickey McConnell
(22 points on 6-for-6 shooting) was igniting the late-first half run that proved to be the difference, and Omar Samhan
was rolling a 17-and-12 double-double. Hopefully the conventional wisdom that's persisted since Mills' hand injury has been, well, busted... this is a team with an incredible frontcourt and solid role players that just needed a couple of weeks to absorb the loss of its marquee name and primary playmaker. While we hope Mills comes back in time for the WCC tournament in two weeks as scheduled, the Gaels aren't exactly falling on their swords without him.BracketBrutal
: The Vermont-Buffalo matchup at noon Saturday on ESPN2 likely had the most exciting first half of any game, with the Catamounts erasing a wide early deficit to lead by two at the half. Vermont went on to win 78-70
after building a large lead of their own in the second, and it was a portent of the awful day the Mid-American Conference had in store. All 12 MAC teams were in action, and only four -- Ball State
, Central Michigan
, Kent State
and Northern Illinois
pulled out victories. And three of those are from the Western division, the group that Eastern teams like Kent have been beating on all season. Perhaps the most heartbreaking of all was the complete collapse of Miami down the stretch, falling out of a second-half tie against Evansville and being outscored 26-11 in the game's final 11:32. The conference is now 16-22 all-time in the Busters.BracketBlasters
: Siena is definitely a mid-major household name by now, thanks to that whole Vanderbilt thing last year, but this weekend gave the nation at-large a chance to see what the 2008-09 version is made of. Visiting Northern Iowa, tentative leaders of the Bizarro Valley, received the mammoth performance from 7-1 junior Jordan Eglseder
Panther fans have been waiting for (16 points, 14 boards), but the Saints are one of those few teams at this level that can compensate for a thwacking on the boards. Siena used ball control (eight turnovers!) and hot shooting (49 percent, and four Saints in double figures) to build a big lead that couldn't be overcome by UNI's desperation 3-fest at the end.BracketBraggadocio
: Sure, this is all about getting on TV and slotting in an evenly-matched 2009-10 opponent, but conference pride is on the line too. The CAA, the league with the best overall all-time record in the event, went 8-4 over the weekend and is now 16-6 (.727). The Missouri Valley, taking a couple of days away from its Bizarro regular season, was a sparkling 7-3 despite falling on the losing end of the Siena-Northern Iowa clash. The MVC climbed slightly to 25-11 all time (.694), and is now three percentage points behind the CAA instead of 11. The battle will be rejoined next February.BracketBluster
: We still like this event after all these years. Its time has not come and gone, it doesn't "eliminate" at-large teams, and it gets casual fans who don't pay attention to our world a quick and easy primer of what's going on down here. The only real losers were the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, who had to cross two time zones to blow a late lead at Cal Poly
. If there were more teams participating and a bigger school pool to draw from, travel nightmares like that would be completely eliminated.
But now on to the topic of actual bracket busting. You've heard about how mid-majors are "down" this year, about how 2006 seems so far away in the rear-view, how disappointing and depressing it all is. Teams in the other 23 are beating the richest eight conferences 13 percent of the time instead of 11 last year (despite fewer chances
), but that's not the metric people outside these walls use. But let's take a step back and consider what a "Year of the Mid-Major" really looks like.
Let's go apples-to-apples with this. In 2005, five teams below the current Red Line made it to the Round of 32; one (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) went to the Sweet 16. The following year, a total of eight advanced one game, three took it to the regionals, and one (George Mason) went to the Final Four. Then, in 2007, a supposed "down year" after that huge shock to the system, six made it a round in and a pair (Butler and Southern Illinois) survived to the Sweet 16. There were six of us in the 32 last year, three in the Sweet 16, and one in the Elite 8 (Davidson).
I don't think I'm stretching to say that there are at least five teams on our side of the Line that all have very real shots of striking into the second weekend. You tell me why Butler, Xavier, Dayton, Siena or Saint Mary's aren't talented or well-rounded enough to win a pair of NCAA contests, especially with the historically weak middle that the S-curve is destined to have. And barring a complete surprise by someone we're not talking about yet (and you can count on that happening), you have solid squads like Creighton, Utah State or Temple who could easily manage a win given that they stay off and above the 13-line. That's at least eight teams with solid power, and even if you take out the A-14'ers, we have a handful that could mess up the regionals. Don't believe the hype... or rather, the lack of it.U'useless Stat of the Day
If BracketBusters conference records aren't too obscure for you, consider this: In Southeast Missouri State's (OVC) loss to Northern Illinois (MAC), Redhawks senior guard Kenard Moore
had the game of his collegiate career. Moore, who transferred in from Marshalltown Community College last year, scored a career-high 36 points on 12-for-22 shooting and made all seven of his free throws. His nine turnovers helped his team blow its 17th straight game, but that's not what we're here to talk about. The 36 points stands as an all-time BracketBusters record. The previous high had been Ball State's Chris Williams, who scored 33 against Western Kentucky back in 2003.