Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Top Ten Countdown: Bracket Buster Games

With the announcement of the Bracket Buster weekend games, most college basketball junkies immediately started scouring the list of 50 games to find the best. Obviously, there are several unnecessary games (1-17 Morehead State vs. 2-15 Central Michigan), but there is an abundance of quality contests--and not just the televised games. Nearly every "TV game" is a match-up of competitive teams, but there are plenty of games outside of the viewing arena that should be followed closely. So, what are the Top Ten Bracket Buster Games? Most won't be surprised at the #1, but the rest are debatable.

Honorable Mention:

Marist at Old Dominion: When a casual fans looks at this game, they would immediately think that Old Dominion wins in a walk. That is not the case, however. Marist has won 8 in a row and has moved into third place in the MAAC. They are led by the backcourt duo of Jared Jordan and Will Whittington. Ryan Stilphen and James Smith anchor the frontcourt. ODU, on the other hand, has lost 2 of their last 4 to drop to third place in the CAA. Alex Loughton is the main man inside, while Arnaud Dahi is another very good frontcourt player. Isaiah Hunter is a scorer in the backcourt.

Buffalo at Iona: Both of these teams started off very hot (Iona at 7-0 and Buffalo at 10-1), but they each have cooled down considerably. Buffalo has lost two in a row to drop to 5-5 in the MAC, but Yassin Idbihi can carry the Bulls on the inside. Iona lost three of four after their undefeated start, but at now 9-2 in the MAAC. Steve Burtt and Ricky Soliver form an outstanding backcourt.

Samford at Ohio: What happened to Ohio? The preseason favorite in the MAC has struggled all season and have lost four of their last six, including three in a row. Leon Williams is a talented but inconsistent inside player, while Jermey Fears and Mychal Green form a good backcourt. Samford has bounced back from a 2-4 start to become the second-place team in the OVC. The underrated Bulldogs are led by the inside duo of J. Robert Merritt and Travis Peterson. Randall Gulina is a solid perimeter player.

10. Northern Arizona at Western Kentucky: An underrated game between two teams at the top of their conferences. Northern Arizona is 7-0 in the Big Sky and has won their last 9 games. They are a balanced group led by the backcourt trio of Steve Sir, Tyrone Bazy, and Kelly Golob. Ruben Boykin is one of the best inside players in the Big Sky. Western Kentucky is 8-1 in the Sun Belt and has won 10 of their last 11 contests. They might have the best backcourt in the entire Bracket Buster in Anthony Winchester and Courtney Lee. Elgrace Wilborn is solid on the inside.

9. Tennessee Tech at Bradley: Most people think that Bradley got the shaft because they did not get a televised game nor a marquee team. However, don't sleep on Tennessee Tech. The Golden Eagles are very deep and already own wins over Oregon State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The guard trio of Anthony Fisher, Belton Rivers, and Milone Clark is outstanding. Bradley has won their last 4 games to move back into at-large contention. The duo of Marcellus Sommerville and Patrick O'Bryant might be the most talented frontcourt combo in mid-major country. Tony Bennett is the main producer on the perimeter.

8. Oral Roberts at Montana: One of the better non-televised games. Oral Roberts has been somewhat of a disappointment to some, but are still 7-2 in the conference. Caleb Green is one of the better post players in the country, while Larry Owens is an excellent rebounder. If Ken Tutt returns from injury, he gives the Golden Eagles an outstanding perimeter scorer. Montana has been very impressive all season long, and are 6-1 in the Big Sky, 14-3 overall. Kevin Criswell and Virgil Matthews are a very good backcourt, while Andrew Strait is one of the best frontcourt players in the conference.

7. Northern Illinois at Winthrop: Possibly the best game not in the TV package. Northern Illinois has dominated the MAC West and are atop the divison at 7-4. James Hughes and Todd Peterson form a very good frontcourt combo, and Mike McKinney is a solid perimeter player. Nothing jumps out at you about the Huskies, but they win. Winthrop was expected to run through the Big South, and they have not disappointed, as they are currently 8-1 in the league. 6-5 Torrell Martin and 6-5 James Shuler comprise a backcourt that can create mismatches due to size. Craig Bradshaw is an excellent player in the post.

6. Missouri State at Wisconsin-Milwaukee: An excellent game between two teams that would be on the outside looking in should they not win their conference tournaments. Missouri State has lost 4 of 8 to drop to fifth in the MVC. However, they have won two straight and could be getting back on the right track. Blake Ahearn is a phenomenal scorer from the perimeter who can shoot from anywhere. Deke Thompson and Tyler Chaney lead a host of wing players that average at least nine points per game. Wisconsin-Milwaukee started the season slowly but have won 12 of 13 games and have a 3-game lead in the Horizon. Joah Tucker and Boo Davis are an excellent scoring tandem on the wings, while Adrian Tigert is a bruiser down low.

5. Northwestern State at Utah State: An interesting matchup between two teams not getting nearly enough exposure. Northwestern State owns wins over Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, and Oregon State, and have won 6 of their last 7. The Demons are very deep, but are led by the duo of Clifton Lee and Luke Rogers. Utah State has flown under the radar all season yet are only one game out of first place in the WAC. They have 11 of their last 12. Jaycee Carroll and Nate Harris form one of the best inside-outside duos in the West. Cass Matheus is a solid big man.

4. Louisiana Tech at Southern Illinois: Another intriguing battle between the best team in the WAC and the current MVC leader. Lousiana Tech has won 7 of 8, and are standing at 7-1 atop the conference. Paul Millsap is a bonafide star and the best rebounder the college game has seen for awhile. He can also dominate on the offensive end. Marcus Elliot and Corey Dean are the main producers on the perimeter. Southern Illinois had won 14 of 16 until losing tonight at home to Indiana State, snapping the nation's longest home winning streak. Jamaal Tatum is one of the best all-around guards in the conference, while Tony Young is an excellent defender. Matt Shaw is a solid player up front.

3. Akron at Nevada: This should be an exciting matchup between one of the hottest teams in the country and a team that has been a major disappointment. Akron has won 11 of their last 12 to move into first place in the MAC at 9-1. Romeo Travis is a load to stop down low, while Nick Dials and Dru Joyce III form a very good backcourt. Nevada has lost 2 of their last 4 games and are only 5-3 in the WAC. They were expected to be one of the best teams in the country from the mid-major conferences. That hasn't happened. Nick Fazekas is one of the best players in the nation, while Marcellus Kemp and Mo Charlo also provide production on offense.

2. George Mason at Wichita State: Two teams not expected to be in the mix for NCAA bids at this point in the season go at it. Wichita State has won 6 of 7 and, at 8-3, are a half-game back of the logjam atop the MVC. Paul Miller and Kyle Wilson form a very good frontcourt duo, while P.J. Couisnard creates matchup problems at the forward spot. Sean Ogirri is a scorer in the backcourt. George Mason is tied at the top of the CAA standings at 9-2, and have won 8 of their past 9 games. They were the conference's best bet for an at-large bid but they needed to win nearly every game the rest of the way. That dream ended with last week's loss to UNC-Wilmington. Five players average in double-figures, including Jai Lewis and the backcourt duo of Lamar Butler and Tony Skinn.

1. Bucknell at Northern Iowa: By far the best game of the entire weekend of Bracket Buster games. Ever since these two teams were announced on opposite sides of the home/away column, everyone began talking about this potential matchup. Well, it is finally here. Both teams could use a win to help boost their at-large resume, although Bucknell needs it a lot more than does Northern Iowa. The Bison are 8-0 in the conference and 16-3 overall. Wins over Syracuse, DePaul, and St. Joseph's highlight the season. They are currently riding an eight-game win streak. Chris McNaughton is a very good center, while Charles Lee is an undersized forward. Kevin Bettencourt is the main backcourt man for Bucknell and Abe Badmus is a solid point guard. Northern Iowa has won 9 of their last 11 to move into a tie atop the MVC at 9-2 in the league, 17-4 overall. Wins over Iowa and LSU highlight the non-conference portion of the schedule, while victories against future NCAA participants Southern Illinois and Wichita State have been impressive within the conference. Ben Jacobson might be the best player in the league, while Erik Crawford will be an excellent defender and solid scorer when he comes back from injury. Grant Stout is an outstanding rebounder and Eric Coleman is a very good option down in the low post.

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