Nevada 74, Vermont 64 (story)
- You can either contain Taylor Coppenrath or not (18 points here), but the real key to beating Vermont (19-5, 14-1 AEast) is stopping sharpshooter and former MMBOW
T.J. Sorrentine. T.J. had 24 total, but only nine of those were in the second half. Nevada's (20-5, 11-2 WAC) Nick Fazekas had a very Tournament-like game, scoring 31 and grabbing 14 boards. Pacific 73, Texas-El Paso 66 (story)
- The Tigers (22-2, 15-0 BWC) broke off a 15-4 run in the first half, then fought off foul trouble and a hungry crew of UTEP Miners (20-7, 10-4 WAC) to defend the lead to the wire, as a packed Spanos Center looked on. It was the little guy who pulled it out of the fire - 6'2" David Doubley led UOP with 21 points and made 9-of-10 free throws. It was Pacific's 18th win in a row.Bustaround!
A few people wrote in yesterday to vehemently oppose my Friday contention that the Bubble won't be stuffed with lots of upstart at-largers, no matter what were to happen on Bracket Buster Saturday. Some even questioned my loyalty to Mid-Major Nation when I said that the first round should be wiped out in order to clear the way for a true Tournament of conference champions (like that
would ever happen). But what about that new RPI stuff? And this is the Year Of The Mid-Major
after all, right?
It depends on your criteria. If you're looking for a lot of at-large bids from south of the Atlantic 10, you will probably be sadly disappointed (again). If you want to see good, solid mid-major squads strike deep into the bracket (as I do), then you're probably on the right track. It matters very little how many mids make it to the Field O' 65 - the Sweet Sixteen is where we want to stick the flag.
I noticed from the timestamps on the invective-laced e-mails that they slowed to a trickle after the games started. Indeed, what Bracket Buster did was to clarify the picture, but it mostly determined who was sent packing from Bubbleland (the most nervewracking theme park on earth!), not who's on their way there. It also put some great mid-major basketball on satellite teevee, and that's always a good thing. A few teams even got on the Four-Letter Networks, but those skids were greased if you were a decent mid-level football school too. ESPN has brands to sell, after all.
So let's review the potential multi-bid mid-major conferences:America East:
Vermont cannot slip up; they must rip their way through the conference tourney. Because the title game will probably be played at their cozy, noisy Patrick Gym again - presumably against Boston University
(19-5, 13-2 AEast, split with UVM) - they'd have a definite advantage. Those two meeting in the final and BU winning is the only realistic two-bid scenario.Big West:
Pacific is pretty much in now, barring an early-round embarrassing exit in the conference tourney - there's really not much else they can do to convince people that they're great. But if you're still not convinced, you can catch them again in their final tuneup for Anaheim, next Saturday against stingy Cal State Northridge
on ESPN2. Utah State
(19-7, 10-5, 0-2 against UOP) badly wants a rematch with the Tigers - if this happens in the BWC title game and USU prevails, there's your two bids right there.Mid-American: Miami (Oh.)
(17-6, 11-3 MAC) is very close to being bulletproof after shocking Wichita State
65-58, but the conference's multi-bid cause wasn't helped by two convincing losses in the MVC-MAC Challenge: Southern Illinois
came into Kent State
and won 65-54, and Western Michigan
lost at Northern Iowa
's UNIDome 86-75.Missouri Valley:
Even though you can find all sorts of NIT-picky reasons to exclude Southern Illinois (22-6, 12-3 MVC) and Wichita State (18-6, 11-4 MVC), they're probably both in. Remaining projected three-bid scenario: SIU makes Arch Madess semifinals, WSU makes finals, someone else (Northern Iowa? Creighton
?) wins.West Coast: St. Mary's
(22-7, 9-3 WCC) could make it to the Dance through the back door if they take it all the way to the WCC title game - since they all but have the two-seed locked up, it's very likely. UMPFN
is, of course and as always, in.Western Athletic:
Nevada is in like Slim, and having the WAC conference tournament on their floor will lessen the chances that UTEP or Rice
manages a full-length run.
So I heartily recommend filling out your bracket projections with as many borderline power-conference teams as you can. But it's okay, Southeastern Louisiana
and Old Dominion
will need soft teams to pull upsets on.
There it is - Bracket Buster Saturday has come and gone for another year, and it's once again been a practice of exclusion more than one of inclusion. But in my opinion, the best thing about Bracket Buster is that new contractual obligation that was added this year: yesterday's games serve as the front end of a home-and-home series, and AD's now have two seasons to schedule reverse visits. But if ESPN really and truly wanted to help mid-major basketball, they might consider forcing a four
-game home and home each BBS, played out in alternating venues over the following five years. Filling out a 28-game card is the primary obstacle for most of these schools, and increased partnerships would certainly brighten up early-season game slates.
Most importantly, that might begin to slowly rub out the scourge of November and December "guarantee games," those horrid $50,000-for-a-win exchanges that power-conference teams make. Athletic departments that manipulate the system, that don't care about winning, and use hoops as a financial loss-leader, might then be forced out of D1 basketball for good. I'd like to see that particular practice busted.
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