Commentary

BracketBusters is crucial for these six

Originally Published: February 20, 2009
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

In mid-sentence, Fran McCaffery offered up this factoid about Siena's postseason chances: The Saints just clinched the MAAC.

"Literally just happened," McCaffery said Wednesday night. "My assistant just walked in and told me Niagara just lost [to Rider]. Now we have a three-game lead with two to play. It's still a big game, but we've got the regular-season championship and the NIT bid."

The big game McCaffery referenced is the road game at Niagara on Feb. 27, after the BracketBusters home game Saturday against Missouri Valley Conference co-leader Northern Iowa.

The most important goal for the Saints (21-6, 15-1) was winning the MAAC regular season to ensure they would have some sort of postseason spot. The NIT guarantees regular-season champs that don't receive an NCAA berth a spot in the field.

"It's a tremendous feeling for us to win the regular season, and it's an example of our body of work," McCaffery said. "We wanted to win a championship; now we want to win another one."

[+] EnlargeKenny Hasbrouck
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackHave Kenny Hasbrouck and the Saints done enough to warrant an at-large bid if they don't win the MAAC tourney?

The other championship is the conference tournament, the only thing that can land the Saints an NCAA berth for certain.

So what does the game against Northern Iowa provide for the Saints? Well, a win can give Siena a better seed if it gets a bid. McCaffery is convinced that the 23-point win at Boise State in last year's BracketBusters helped the Saints improve to a 13-seed. Siena then drew No. 4 Vanderbilt and blew out the Commodores in the first round.

McCaffery said the Saints wanted to land a TV game in this event, which they did with the 3 p.m. ESPN2 slot.

"Then we had to play someone who would enhance our résumé, just like we did last year with the Boise State win; that helped our seed," McCaffery said. "It's hard to say whether a win or not will put you over the top."

What McCaffery doesn't know is if a loss can damage the Saints' NCAA at-large chances. It won't help. A win over Northern Iowa and, let's say, a loss in the semifinals or finals of the MAAC tournament would put the Saints in an interesting quandary. They beat Boise State (which just beat Utah State), Cornell (leaders in the Ivy), Buffalo (the leaders in the MAC) and won at Saint Joseph's (fifth in A-10) and Holy Cross (second in Patriot).

Losing to Tennessee (four-way tie for first in SEC East) and Oklahoma State (seventh in Big 12) in Orlando at the Old Spice Classic, as well as falling to Kansas (second in Big 12) and Pitt (tied for second in Big East) on the road didn't hurt the RPI, but it also didn't prove the Saints were good enough to stand by themselves without an automatic bid.

Or did it?

Siena is No. 29 in the latest RPI, with a strength of schedule at 67.

"We've put ourselves in position to have a discussion," McCaffery said of the Saints. "We did what the committee tells you to do, to play the best teams in conferences and beat a number of them, and then we took care of business in our league. We've put ourselves in position to be discussed as one of the best teams for the NCAA tournament. We're right there."

What other teams playing Saturday share the same claim?

Butler

Butler: The Bulldogs don't need the Davidson game. Butler beat Xavier on the road, and the Bulldogs' only non-Horizon League loss was at Ohio State by three. Or do they? Butler lost again Wednesday night in the league, falling at Milwaukee for its second straight conference loss after falling at home to Loyola of Illinois. Green Bay beat the Bulldogs at home earlier this month. But Butler (21-4, 13-3) still holds a one-game lead over Green Bay atop the Horizon League. The No. 27 RPI is usually a lock for a bid, regardless of an automatic qualifier.

Still, a road win at Davidson wouldn't hurt the cause. This is still a team that has one really good win (at Xavier) and two decent wins (UAB and Northwestern) out of conference … and that's about it.

"It's playing a great team, getting great exposure for us," Butler coach Brad Stevens said before the loss to Milwaukee. "We haven't played well at home the last two years in this event, losing to Southern Illinois and Drake."

Barring a complete collapse for Butler -- say losing to Davidson, one more league game and then falling in the first round of the Horizon League -- it's hard to see the Bulldogs not receiving a bid.

What Butler needs now is to play well against the Wildcats after losing two straight. A three-game losing streak heading into the final two home games won't jive too well with the committee. But it's not something the Bulldogs can't recover from to earn a bid. Beating Davidson, though, would certainly help their seeding.

Davidson

Davidson: The Wildcats lost to The Citadel on Wednesday night without Stephen Curry (left ankle sprain). His status for Saturday's game against Butler (ESPN, noon ET) is still likely to be a game-time decision.

If the Wildcats (21-5, 15-2 Southern) can get a win over the Bulldogs, with or without Curry, it would certainly send a strong message to the selection committee that this team is NCAA-worthy.

They might be already, with a win over West Virginia in New York, a dramatic four-point loss at Oklahoma, a solid five-point win over NC State and the overall strength-of-schedule points that come with playing at Duke and against Purdue in Indianapolis. And there is no shame in losing a game to the second-place team in the league (The Citadel) without your best player, or even losing to the third-place team (College of Charleston) in a two-point home loss.

Davidson coach Bob McKillop said the Wildcats' schedule is better than a year ago, when Davidson was scrutinized for playing "up games" against North Carolina, Duke and UCLA but failing to win any of them. Davidson still won the Southern Conference tournament and earned a No. 10 seed. The No. 10 seed, and the placement in Raleigh, proved vital in helping the Wildcats get to the Elite Eight, where they finally played a No. 1 seed in Kansas.

The No. 56 RPI is still dicey at this juncture, though. The fact is, Davidson has exactly one win against a team in the top 85 of the RPI. So suffice it to say beating Butler would do wonders for the Wildcats' profile.

Creighton

Creighton: The Bluejays were the favorite in the Missouri Valley in the preseason. But a bad week in losing at Arkansas-Little Rock and then to Nebraska pushed Creighton off the front page. Illinois State stole the early headlines by becoming one of the last undefeated teams in the country. Northern Iowa then pushed out in front to take the early lead in the Valley when Creighton lost at Illinois State and at home to UNI.

[+] EnlargeBooker Woodfox
Alan Look/Icon SMIBooker Woodfox and the Bluejays aim for an eighth straight win on Saturday.

But then Creighton finally found its footing. The Bluejays have won 10 of 12 games, including seven in a row heading into the BracketBusters game against George Mason on Saturday (ESPNU, 9:30 ET).

Creighton (22-6, 12-4 MVC) has an RPI of 51, a strength of schedule of 132 and isn't out of the conversation for an at-large berth. It has a quite a chip in Dayton's one nonconference loss in December.

"We popped them good," Creighton coach Dana Altman said. "We also went out and beat Saint Joseph's. We had a bad week in November, and then one again in January, and that's all it takes sometimes. But we've found ways to win games with a young team. I think we're in decent shape."

Altman isn't going to speculate if beating Mason (18-8, 11-5 CAA) will be enough to get the Bluejays a bid if they don't win the Valley tournament. It won't. Beating Missouri State on the road, and taking out Illinois State at home after the Mason game, as well as doing well in the Valley tourney in St. Louis is a must.

"What this does is give us another opportunity for a win," Altman said. "We're going against a team that has the same type of big, round athletes they had in the Final Four year [2006]."

Utah State

Utah State: Don't tell Stew Morrill that losing at Boise State is a bad loss. Don't say it. Boise State was tied for second in the loss column in the WAC (before the Broncos' stunning home loss Wednesday night to Idaho).

"They were in second place, it was on their home court, so that's not exactly a shocker," Morrill said. "Utah State needs to win at Saint Mary's and at Nevada? Really? I just keep telling our kids let's just win the WAC, win it outright."

Utah State (24-2, 12-1 WAC) should do that with a three-game lead in the conference with three to play (Hawaii, at Nevada, San Jose State). That would assure the Aggies of an NIT bid and possibly an at-large berth if they can't win the WAC tournament in Reno. The Aggies' RPI of 34 is pretty hard to ignore at this juncture. A win at Saint Mary's in Saturday's BracketBuster game at 5 p.m. on ESPN2 might be enough.

Morrill said nothing was askew with the Aggies in the road loss to Boise State. The Broncos came out a bit hungrier and won. That's it. There is nothing to fix. Saint Mary's is a quality squad, a team that without Patrick Mills -- as Morrill points out -- took Gonzaga down to the final possession.

Morrill is a bit miffed by the point that the WAC might only get one bid if the Aggies aren't able to win the tournament. He said a year ago he made a similar statement that if that were the case, then USU might as well go back to the Big West. The WAC is supposed to be a multiple-bid league. The problem is this WAC is a bit young and rebuilding, and when Nevada isn't a regional power, the league is down a bit. Morrill fully grasps how difficult it is to get a non-"big six" conference at-large berth. Beating Saint Mary's would likely help his cause.

Saint Mary's

Saint Mary's: The need to beat Utah State wouldn't have been a question had Mills not been injured. The Gaels might have split with Gonzaga by now, and almost certainly wouldn't be 19-5 overall and 8-4 in the West Coast Conference.

But the Gaels have lost four of seven games since Mills went down with a broken right hand in the loss to Gonzaga on Jan. 29. They did manage to beat a decent Portland team this past weekend and squeaked out a win against San Diego late Thursday night.

Impressing the committee without Mills, assuming he is coming back for the WCC tournament, is a must. Saint Mary's must also beat Pepperdine and Loyola-Marymount on the road to close the regular season before the league tourney.

"We could use a win," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said of the Utah State game. "The BracketBuster has worked out well for us. This should help our RPI either way."

The Gaels' RPI stood at 62 heading into the game Thursday night. That's usually outside bubble territory.

"This game won't affect the league standings, but it's an RPI opportunity, a chance for us to play a team that could give us a résumé win," Bennett said. "I know it's easier said than done, but that's what it could do for us."

And ultimately that's what the BracketBuster event is supposed to do: Give a team a résumé boost for possible selection and seeding.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Records used in this article reflect the team's W-L against Division I opponents, the criterion used by the NCAA selection committee.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com