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Tsuj’s Ten: BracketBuster preview

Photo courtesy of Don Nieman from EMU game

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

How valuable is ESPN BracketBuster weekend? The positives are plenty for the mid-major conferences involved: a national television audience for 26 teams, an out-of-conference RPI-boosting match-up in the heat of conference play and a general barometer for where mid-major teams stand in relation to each other. Participation is a no-brainer for most mid-major schools, with Butler’s absence in 2011 in order to play Duke the main exception.

As the 10th ESPN BracketBuster weekend is set to unfold, however, mid-majors may not benefit as much as you’d think. This Washington Post blog does a solid job of presenting the arguments for and against ESPN’s BracketBuster festivities.

—Should you go on a BracketBuster watching spree this weekend? I was startled at the low number of televised BracketBuster teams in 2011 that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Of the 22 competitors, you’d think more than three would still be playing in meaningful games after Selection Sunday. Seven of the 22 televised BracketBuster schools danced in 2010, however, including the memorable runs of Northern Iowa (Farokmanesh forever!) and Butler. If you’re using this weekend to help fill out the “cinderellas” in your March NCAA Tournament Bracket, then be wary—it’s hit-or-miss whether you’ll watch an actual tournament team on BracketBuster weekend.

—UB vs. South Dakota State: The Buffalo News’ Bob DiCesare has already sketched out the UB’s travel plans in a blog two weeks ago:

Try getting there from Buffalo. And try getting a flight out of Sioux Falls on a Saturday (there are no late afternoon or early evening flights). So the Bulls will depart the Thursday before the game, stay in Sioux Falls, bus an hour to the campus in Brookings for practice on Friday, bus back for the game on Saturday and fly out at 6 a.m. on Sunday (they couldn’t get a charter that fit their budget). All this for a non-conference tilt that falls between key MAC games at Kent State and home to Ohio. Is it at all worth it?

: UB assistant coach Jim Kwitchoff thought it was absolutely worth it—just for the national TV exposure (a recruiting tool unto itself!). I imagine ESPNU might face a few problems, as this is the first ever nationally-televised game for South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits’ AD Justin Sell passed along this amusing quote:

“I’m truly excited for our basketball team, our students and our fans to get the opportunity to show the rest of the nation what being a Jackrabbit is all about,” added Sell. “I think our style of play, the quality of our players and our unique Jackrabbit mascot should help us pick up fans from across the country that would like to see us do well and advance to the NCAA Tournament.”

—Beloved Wolters: For some reason—maybe because he’s really good—ESPN is hyping up South Dakota State guard Nate Wolters without restraint. In ESPN’s BracketBuster stats primer—a title that makes sports nerds groan in ecstasy—Wolters is mentioned as today’s leading candidate to break the record for points in a BracketBuster game, currently held by Cleveland State’s Norris Cole, who dropped 35 against Old Dominion last year. Nasty Nate averages 22 points per game, good for sixth in the land, and has posted five games of 30+ this season. He hasn’t topped 35 since Dec. 4, 2010, however, and I don’t see it happening today. A terrific test for Dave Barnett, for sure.

—Breakout game for McCrea?: I hate to make it sound like McCrea is struggling—because he isn’t, really—and it’s easy to get carried away in our expectations, particularly with the image of McCrea’s one-man-show against Kent in the MAC Tournament last year embedded in our minds all off-season. Before the season, I envisioned the Bulls’ sturdy forward to average close to 20 points and 10 rebounds, and when I see a bunch of 12 point, seven rebound games, I wrinkle my nose. I realize that averages of 16 & 7 are still very good in Reggie Witherspoon’s frontcourt rotation, and Mitchell Watt’s breakout season has perhaps dulled McCrea’s numbers. With all those excuses I just made for him, I’d love to see McCrea bust out with a 25 point, 15 rebound line today in front of a national audience. (Additional McCrea note: has anyone else noticed that he’s having a hard time attacking the basket off the dribble this year?)

—A fast start: Looking back at the rather absurd travel schedule in point two, it’s imperative that the Bulls to jump out to a quick start—or at least avoid an early double-digit deficit against the J-rabbits. Road weary legs against a team with quick, aggressive guards that can put up 90 points in any given game? That’s a recipe for trouble. It will be a small victory if the Bulls can keep the game within 10 by halftime.

—Gaels vs. Racers: I can’t speak with authority on either team, so I won’t try. St. Mary’s and Murray State square-off at 6 p.m. on ESPN, and I’m looking forward to seeing Racers’ point guard Isaiah Canaan in action. Murray State’s top three scorers all shoot above 84% from the free-throw line. The UB Bulls’ top trio? 66% from the stripe. The ferocious rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan follows on ESPN at 9 p.m.—let’s see if Tim Hardaway Jr. can get on track in front of the Ann Arbor crowd, because he was a disaster in Ohio.

Okay, we didn’t quite make it to “10” today. I blame it on my upper respiratory infection. Enjoy the weekend of basketball!

TAGGED: college basketball, espn bracketbuster, jackrabbits, mid-major basketball, murray state racers, south dakota state, ub bulls, university at buffalo

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