When the announcement of the Bracket Buster weekend games was released a few weeks ago, most college basketball junkies immediately started scouring the list of 51 games to find the best ones. Obviously, there are several unnecessary games. 7-16 Northern Illinois at 3-24 Southeast Missouri State? Or 4-21 Toledo at 7-19 Indiana State? What about 8-18 Georgia State at 4-21 Eastern Michigan – and that’s just three of the relatively uninteresting games this coming weekend. However, there is also 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 also a few 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 No. 1 and No. 2, but the rest are debatable.
1. Butler at Davidson (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): Two of the best mid-majors in the country all season long are both heading into this game on a sour note. Butler has lost two in a row, to Loyola (Chicago) and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, while Davidson has lost two of its last four, as well as the country’s leading scorer, Stephen Curry, to an ankle injury. Curry might be back for this game. Butler is led by the inside-outside duo of freshman shooter Gordon Heyward and sophomore forward Matt Howard. Heyward is a terrific three-point gunner, while Howard is tough to defend down low. Shelvin Mack and Willie Veasley form a very solid backcourt. Davidson is obviously a different team without Curry. With him, though, the Wildcats are tough. Curry can score from anywhere on the court and the offense functions through him. The second option is big man Andrew Lovedale, who is a double-double threat every night out. Will Archambault and Bryant Barr can shoot, and Max Paulus-Gosselin is a defensive stopper.
2. Utah State at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 5:00 PM, ESPN2): Two teams that will be sweating on Selection Sunday should they not win their respective conference tournaments. Saint Mary’s will be sweating more, as the Gaels are just 2-4 without leading scorer Patty Mills, who is likely out until the West Coast Conference Tournament. Utah State lost its first WAC game of the season last weekend against Boise State, and can’t afford too many more slip-ups. Saint Mary’s, without Mills, is centered around the big man tandem of Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan. Both players are double-double locks nearly every night, while Simpson is a better defender and has more of a face-up game. Samhan can block shots and is a load to stop. Carlin Hughes runs the show in Mills’ place, and Mickey McConnell has tried to fill Mills’ shoes. Utah State has several key options offensively, chief among them Gary Wilkinson. He is one of the better forwards on the west coast. Tai Wesley starts next to him; he is a very efficient player. Backcourt mates Jared Quayle and Tyler Newbold do a little of everything, including scoring, rebounding, and racking up assists.
3. Northern Iowa at Siena (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPN2): This game was a lot more enticing when it first announced. Northern Iowa has lost three of its last four and is now only a half-game up in the Missouri Valley standings. Siena has clinched the MAAC title. UNI has five players averaging at least nine points per game, indicative of its balanced offense. The Panthers start a three-guard lineup, with Johnny Moran arguably the best all-around backcourt member. On the wings, Kwadzo Ahelegbe is a combo guard who can shoot the ball, while Ali Farokhmanesh is a shooter who is capable of big nights. Up front, Adam Koch is one of the better players in the MVC and 7-1 center Jordan Eglseder is an efficient scorer. Siena is a potential sleeper come March – if the Saints make the Tournament. Their non-conference resume is not all that impressive; they might need the MAAC’s automatic bid. They are talented, though. Kenny Hasbrouck is an outstanding guard who can do it all, while Ronald Moore is a terrific passer who can also score inside and out. Edwin Ubiles is a match-up nightmare on the wing, and Alex Franklin, though undersized at 6-5, is a force down low.
4. George Mason at Creighton (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPNU): Two perennial mid-major powers that won’t get to the NCAA Tournament without the automatic bid from their respective conferences. George Mason is one game out of the CAA lead with just two conference games remaining. The Patriots have balance, depth and experience. The three-guard backcourt of Dre Smith, John Vaughan and Cam Long brings a little of everything. Long is a scorer and a playmaker, Vaughan can shoot and Smith pitches in everywhere. Darryl Monroe is solid down low. Creighton is coming on strong lately, having won its last seven games to move within a half-game of the MVC lead. The Bluejays have 11 guys averaging double-figure minutes and they have plenty of options. Guard Booker Woodfox is their leading scorer; he can really shoot it from deep. P’Allen Stinnett is a very good all-around player, while Josh Dotzler is a solid point guard. Cavel Witter heats up in a hurry off the bench. Kenny Lawson Jr. and Justin Carter anchor the frontcourt.
5. Buffalo at Vermont (Saturday, 1:00 PM, ESPN2): Don’t laugh: you might see both of these teams pop up in your bracket come Selection Sunday. Vermont is the best team in the America East, a game up on Binghamton. The Catamounts have an outstanding inside-outside tandem in guard Mike Trimboli and forward Marquis Blakely. Trimboli is an excellent scorer and playmaker, while Blakely is hands-down one of the best all-around players in all of college basketball. Colin McIntosh is a very good third option, with former Michigan State transfer Maurice Joseph also getting shots. Buffalo took Connecticut to the wire earlier this season, foreshadowing a potential MAC title run. Two straight losses ended a 9-0 start in league play, though. Rodney Pierce is a go-to player who can put the Bulls on his back if necessary. Calvin Betts is a double-figure scorer and the team’s best rebounder, while Greg Gamble does a little bit of everything. Andy Robinson can stroke it.
6. VCU at Nevada (Friday, 9:00 PM, ESPNU): Two teams with high expectations coming into the season, but have disappointed somewhat – more so Nevada. VCU is still tied for the lead in the CAA, although the Rams lost the head-to-head match-up against Northeastern. Eric Maynor is still one of the best point guards in the country, and he can carry this team. Larry Sanders is a shot-blocker down low with a developing offensive game. Joey Rodriguez can shoot and handle the ball, while Bradford Burgess and Brandon Rozell bring quickness. Kiril Pishchalnikov is a banger. Nevada has an excellent inside-outside duo in guard Armon Johnson and freshman forward Luke Babbitt. Johnson is a scorer who can create for his teammates, while Babbitt is a threat to score in a variety of ways. Malik Cooke and Joey Shaw are solid forward, while Brandon Fields is a quality scorer.
7. Illinois State at Niagara (Friday, 7:00 PM, ESPN2): Not much postseason hope for either of these teams, despite their gaudy records. Illinois State started the season 14-0 before going 5-5 in its next 10. It has since won three in a row to get within two games of the league lead. The Redbirds are very solid offensively, with guards Champ Oguchi and Osiris Eldridge leading the way. Lloyd Phillips and Emmanuel Holloway can really shoot the ball, and Phillips is also a distributor. Dinma Odiakosa is a solid scorer and rebounder down low. Niagara is second in the MAAC, behind Siena. The Purple Eagles are fun to watch and have plenty of options offensively. Tyrone Lewis can really fill it up from beyond the arc, and former Villanova transfer Bilal Benn is one of the best players in the MAAC. Former Connecticut transfer Rob Garrison and Anthony Nelson also start on the perimeter, with big man Benson Egemonye providing scoring and rebounding.
8. Northeastern at Wright State (Saturday, 11:00 AM, ESPN2): The early game on Saturday features the co-leader in the CAA and a potential sleeper in the Horizon. Northeastern is tied atop the CAA with VCU, despite losing three of its last four. The Huskies are led by Matt Janning, one of the best all-around players in the conference. Manny Adako is a solid player up front who does his work inside the arc, while Chaisson Allen is a versatile performer. Eugene Spates can shoot. Wright State is fourth in the Horizon, but the Raiders have some pieces to make a run. Todd Brown can really shoot the three-pointer from the perimeter, while John David Gardner is a solid point guard. Cory Cooperwood is the main man up front.
9. North Dakota State at Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Saturday, 8:00 PM): Probably the best non-TV game of the weekend. North Dakota State has a chance to make some noise come March, thanks to their outstanding three-point shooting ability and ability to take care of the ball. Plus, they have two dynamite go-to players in Ben Woodside and Brett Winkelman. Woodside is one of the most productive players in America, while Winkelman is a scoring and rebounding machine up front. Mike Nelson is an effective three-point shooter who can do a little of everything, and Michael Tveidt has been heating up recently. Wisconsin-Milwaukee is coming off of a huge win over Butler at home on Wednesday night, moving into a tie for fourth in the Horizon. That should give them momentum heading into this game. Tony Boyle is a very good three-point shooter who can also rebound the ball, while Avery Smith is quick and strong with the ball. James Ears is the team’s best rebounder up front, and Ricky Franklin can distribute well.
10. Wisconsin-Green Bay at Long Beach State (Saturday, 5:30 PM, ESPNU): Two potential NCAA Tournament teams, if they pull an upset over the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Both teams are currently in second-place in their respective leagues, but both have also already shown the ability to beat the frontrunner in their league. Green Bay defeated Butler earlier this season in the Horizon, while LBSU knocked off CSU-Northridge in the Big West. Green Bay is led by big-time scorer Ryan Tillema, who averages nearly 17 a game despite not starting once. Troy Cotton is another player who can really bomb away from deep, while Rahmon Fletcher gets the offense going. Mike Schachtner and Terry Evans do the damage up front. LBSU has one of the best players on the west coast in Donovan Morris, a high-volume scorer whose numbers have dropped this year. Larry Anderson and shooter Stephan Gilling also start on the perimeter, with Casper Ware racking up assists. T.J. Robinson leads the way up front.
Others to Watch
Liberty at Old Dominion (Saturday, 11:00 AM, ESPNU): If Stephen Curry doesn’t play this weekend, at least you can see his brother, Seth, lead the way for Big South contender Liberty. Old Dominion is one of seven teams in the CAA with at least nine wins in the league.
Miami (Ohio) at Evansville (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ESPNU): Miami (Ohio) has some very good computer numbers and have moved to within a game of Buffalo in the MAC standings. Evansville started hot but has since fizzled in Missouri Valley play, sitting below .500 in the league.
Hofstra at Fairfield (Saturday, 7:00 PM, ESPN360.com): Hofstra is a dangerous team in the CAA, led by scoring guard Charles Jenkins. The Pride have won four in a row. Fairfield looked like a threat in the MAAC, but the Stags had two separate three-game losing streaks in league play.
Morehead State at Kent State (Saturday, 7:00 PM): Morehead State has the inside track to the automatic bid in the Ohio Valley, but the Eagles are only a half-game up with two league games left. Kent State was the preseason MAC favorite, but struggled early before winning its last seven games.
Boise State at Portland State (Saturday, 7:30 PM, ESPNU): I guess the third-place team in the WAC taking on the third-place team from the Big Sky is worthy of a BracketBusters television game. Boise State defeated Utah State over the weekend, but lost to Idaho Wednesday night. Portland State has disappointed in league play after an impressive non-conference campaign.
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