Commentary

A look at BracketBusters weekend

Originally Published: February 17, 2011
By Mark Adams | Special to ESPN.com

Here's a preview of what to expect during BracketBusters weekend.

Friday, Feb. 18 (all times ET)

VCU (20-8, 12-4 CAA) at Wichita State (22-5, 13-3 Missouri Valley), ESPN2, 7 p.m.

This game is a whole lot more important to Wichita State than it is to Virginia Commonwealth. Wichita State has a slugger's chance for an at-large bid with a No. 47 RPI. Typically, if you win the Missouri Valley regular-season title, you get an NCAA bid. The Shockers are tied for the top spot with Missouri State, which has a No. 48 RPI ranking. The MVC has a lot riding on this BracketBusters weekend, and the Shockers can set the tone for the rest of the Valley.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Durley
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireJ.T. Durley and Wichita State look for a big win on Friday against VCU.

J.T. Durley is a back-to-the-basket load in the post for WSU, while VCU counters with Jamie Skeen, who can face, drive and post up. Look for Wichita State to dominate this game unless it has another poor home performance like it did recently in the loss to Southern Illinois on Feb. 8. VCU brings full-court pressure, ranking No. 17 in the nation with 8.9 steals per game.

If the Rams can force turnovers, it will be to their advantage. Wichita State suffers from inconsistent point guard play, especially in late-game situations. However, the Shockers' top eight players compile more assists than turnovers.

Wichita State seems to be peaking, while VCU is headed in the opposite direction after back-to-back home losses to CAA rivals ODU and George Mason. I like Wichita State to win this one.

Kent State (17-8, 8-3 Mid-American) at Drexel (17-9, 9-7 CAA), ESPNU, 9 p.m.

Kent was the hot team in the MAC after winning six straight games, but it lost at Miami (Ohio) in its last outing. And the RedHawks play like the Dragons. Drexel squeezes the life out of a team with its suffocating half-court defense. Coach Bruiser Flint's team allows only 59.2 ppg. If the Dragons can get an early lead, Kent will struggle to score in its half-court sets. If the Golden Flashes can force a few turnovers, get in the open court and play in front, then they'll get the edge.

It's a tough game to call as Kent does have a fine low-post player in Justin Greene, who is in contention for MAC Player of the Year. The Golden Flashes also bring Rodriquez Sherman as a physical perimeter player who can be effective against Drexel's physical defense. Chris Fouch on the perimeter and Samme Givens in the paint provide a solid one-two punch for Drexel, but which team can score enough to win? I'll give the Dragons a very slight edge at home.

Saturday, Feb. 19
Hofstra (18-9, 12-4 CAA) at Wright State (17-12, 10-7 Horizon), ESPNU, 11 a.m.

There are two reasons to watch this game. The first is the Pride's Charles Jenkins (23.5 ppg), who can score against any defense in the country. The other is that the CAA and Horizon League are nip and tuck in the conference RPI rankings, and these two leagues, along with the Missouri Valley, are competing for an extra NCAA bid. Hofstra has won four straight to stay in a tough CAA race.

Vaughn Duggins is the Raiders' gutty go-to guy who helped beat Butler last month in a great Horizon League matchup. N'Gai Evans is also a tough competitor at the other guard spot who can raise his game on the big stage. I'll go with Wright State at home in a bit of an upset. Duggins and Evans will show senior leadership after a tough home loss to Cleveland State on Wednesday.

Austin Peay (17-11, 11-5 Ohio Valley) at Fairfield (21-5, 14-2 MAAC), ESPNU, 1 p.m.

Austin Peay has been on a roller-coaster ride lately. After opening OVC play with six straight wins, the Governors have lost two, then won two, lost one, then won one, lost two, then won two. If that trend holds, APSU will lose at Fairfield. TyShwan Edmondson was a bench jockey earlier in the season until Anthony Campbell went down with an injury. Edmondson has since entered the starting lineup and has quickly become the offensive go-to guy for coach Dave Loos.

MAAC-leading Fairfield counters with Derek Needham and Ryan Olander, who at 6-foot-11 can create some issues for the Govs. I think that the Stags have too much firepower for Austin Peay, especially at home.

Iona (17-10, 11-5 MAAC) at Liberty (19-9, 13-3 Big South), ESPNU, 3 p.m.

My partner Todd Harris and I are calling this game from Lynchburg, Va., and I can't wait. Iona intrigues me with 6-foot-7 Michael Glover (18.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg), who is a double-double guy who simply hasn't gotten the attention he deserves.

Scott Machado has been at or near the top of the nation's assist leaderboard all season long. He currently leads the country with 7.7 apg to go with his 13.9 ppg. I can't wait to see him dish in person. Liberty has been chasing a very good Coastal Carolina team in the Big South, and it's been hard to catch a team that simply doesn't lose. The Flames are coming off a 79-69 loss at VMI and need to regroup at home.

Evan Gordon gives Liberty a guard who has scored consistently. Hybrid John Brown at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds can score, but it's his rebounding numbers that jump off the page (10.8 rpg). Pound for pound and inch for inch, Brown has to be the best rebounder in the country. I won't call a winner in this one. I'll just call the game on ESPNU.

Missouri State (21-6, 13-3 MVC) at Valparaiso (19-8, 11-4 Horizon), ESPN2, 5 p.m.

This is a critical game on a lot of levels. These two conferences have much to gain and lose as both covet a second NCAA bid. This contest is one the NCAA selection committee will look at to possibly determine a second conference bid. Missouri State is tied with Wichita State on top of the Missouri Valley after winning four straight.

Kyle Weems is in the running for the Valley player of the year honors. He combines with Will Creekmore to give the Bears physical defenders and rebounders. Valpo is in second place in the HL, but tied in the loss column with Cleveland State. The Crusaders counter with their own Horizon POY candidate in Brandon Wood.

Cory Johnson gives Valparaiso another scoring threat as well. But when in doubt, go with the better defensive and rebounding team. Missouri State is hell-bent on guarding people, and the Bears have an extra day or two to prepare. I pick Missouri State for a road breakthrough in this crucial MVC versus Horizon League matchup.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Goudelock
Jake Drake/Icon SMIAndrew Goudelock and Charleston will try to end Vermont's 10-game winning streak on Saturday.

Vermont (22-5, 13-2 America East) at Charleston (19-7, 12-2 Southern), ESPNU, 5 p.m.

A great matchup between two great players and two very good teams. Evan Fjeld is a favorite for player of the year honors in the America East, while the Cougars' Andrew Goudelock is an All-American in my book.

The Catamounts have won 10 straight, but this is a tough road game. Charleston has flown below the radar all season, but it leads the SoCon. The Cougars won at Tennessee 91-78 and lost tough road games at Maryland by one point, at North Carolina by five and at home to Clemson by seven. I like Vermont a lot, but I like Charleston a little more in this one.

George Mason (22-5, 14-2 CAA) at Northern Iowa (19-9, 10-6 Missouri Valley), ESPN2, 7 p.m.

I have seen both teams play recently. George Mason, which clinched a share of the CAA title after beating VCU 71-51 on Tuesday, is executing on both sides of the ball as well as any team in the country. The Patriots have weapons in Cam Long and Ryan Pearson who give them a lot of offensive flexibility. Mason has won 12 straight and once again is peaking late in the season.

UNI has a leader in Kwadzo Ahelegbe at the point, and his will to win is strong. The question for the Panthers is can they effectively guard GMU's interior personnel without Lucas O'Rear, who is out for the season with a broken ankle? I never count UNI out because of its coaching and toughness, but it is hard to pick against arguably the best mid-major team in the country right now. This is another crucial CAA versus MVC battle that could determine which conference gets a second NCAA bid.

Utah State (24-3, 12-1 WAC) at Saint Mary's (22-5, 10-2 WCC), ESPN2, 9 p.m.

I wish I could be in multiple places at one time, because this game has classic written all over it. Two of the best coaches in the West in the Aggies' Stew Morrill and the Gaels' Randy Bennett go head-to-head in Moraga, Calif. Saint Mary's and Utah State boast two of the most efficient offenses in the country.

Both teams can really shoot it and are highly skilled offensive units. Utah State has very good balance with Tai Wesley, Brockeith Pane, Brian Green, Pooh Williams, Brady Jardine, Tyler Newbold and Nate Bendall, who all play their roles well and excel. Saint Mary's has an eclectic mix of Aussies and Americans who have meshed the best of Down Under with the best of the red, white and blue. Mickey McConnell leads the team in scoring, but there is plenty of firepower behind him. He and Matthew Dellavedova average nearly 12 assists between them. Rob Jones chips in 13.8 ppg and leads the team in rebounding with 7.7 per game.

This is a huge game for both teams with seeding and bubble issues down the line. The winner is in the tournament. The loser may be teetering on a tenuous wire. On a neutral floor, I like overtime. In Moraga's bandbox with those students, I pick the Gaels.

Montana (19-7, 11-3 Big Sky) at Long Beach State (16-10, 11-2 Big West), ESPN2, 11 p.m.

The last time Montana came to SoCal, it knocked off UCLA 66-57 at Pauley Pavilion in December. Brian Qvale and Derek Selvig are the main reasons why the Grizzlies top the Big Sky standings. Add one of the best pickpockets in college basketball with Will Cherry (2.78 spg) and you give yourself a pretty good chance to win just about anywhere.

Dan Monson won at Gonzaga, but then was tempted by the money and prestige of the Big Ten and Minnesota. It didn't work out, and he now resides in Long Beach as the head man for the 49ers. Monson can coach, and so could his dad. He is a better fit at this level, and his team is a better fit for him. There are a lot of advantages at Long Beach, including the nice weather and a winnable Big West conference. The 49ers are a skilled offensive team, which is led by Casper Ware. I like Ware, but the Grizzlies have a huge size advantage. Montana will get another win in balmy SoCal.

Sunday, Feb. 20
Cleveland St. (23-5, 12-4 Horizon) at Old Dominion (21-6, 12-4 CAA), ESPN2, 1 p.m.

[+] EnlargeNorris Cole
Icon SMINorris Cole and Cleveland State visit Old Dominion in what might be the weekend's best BracketBusters matchup.

Norris Cole is a guy I love to talk about. He grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and became the salutatorian of his high school class at Dunbar HS. He was passed over in the recruiting process as only one Division I school offered him a scholarship. Cleveland State coach Gary Waters saw potential in this high school role player, and the rest is history. That potential has come to fruition.

Cole is now arguably the best basketball player in Cleveland. Yes, that is a shot at the Cavs (despite their victory over the Lakers on Wednesday night), but I can back up that theory.

Cole had 22 points in CSU's win over Wake Forest two seasons ago in the NCAA tournament. He dominated Youngstown State last week with 41 points, 20 rebounds and 9 dimes. He averages over 20 ppg, 6-plus rpg and 5-plus apg and is my choice for Horizon League Player of the Year. He ranks in the top 10 in the Horizon in eight different categories, and Cleveland Magazine listed Norris Cole as one of the 30 most interesting people in the city.

He wears an old-school flat top with a slight angle to honor his dad, who sported a similar coif in his younger days. It's cool to be Cole.

He is a great kid with a great game and now his former high school teammate Aaron Pogue is doing considerable damage in the paint. Pogue was shot in the back in 2007 while sitting in a car, and the bullet is still lodged near his spine. He has recovered nicely, losing 30 pounds and playing at 275 pounds. His improved quickness and stamina are noticeable.

ODU counters with Frank Hassell, who plays hard and produces in the paint. Ben Finney continues to improve as an all-around player, and Kent Bazemore is a gifted wing man with skills.

These are two potential conference champions, but more importantly, if they falter, these are two potential at-large teams with legitimate chances to give their conferences a second bid. The committee will be watching closely, and so will I. Todd Harris and I will pull double duty in what might be the best game of BracketBusters weekend.

Conferences with the most to gain or lose

Missouri Valley (No. 12)
Horizon League (No. 11)
CAA (No. 10)

Note: These three conferences are separated by less than .008 in the RPI conference rankings.

Teams with the most to gain and the most to lose

Utah State: Aggies need to help everyone forget that recent loss at Idaho and a win in Moraga would do just that.

Cleveland State: This is a really good team with a great player. A win on the road over ODU would impress the committee. That's easier said than done versus a high-quality CAA team which has built an impressive résumé with victories over Clemson, Xavier, Richmond, Dayton and at VCU.

Wichita State: Remember Nov. 22 in Maui? Wichita State led the large majority of that game versus UConn until the Huskies caught a break or two in the final five minutes to win 83-79. I hate playing the "what if" game, but it applies here. If the Shockers are to grab one of the final at-large bids, it will be because they keep winning down the stretch to overcome that tough November loss. They have won seven of their past eight games and need to win this one badly or the bubble may burst.

Missouri State: The Valley could squeeze two bids out of this deal, but both Missouri State and Wichita State need wins to make the right impression.

George Mason and Old Dominion: The CAA could get two bids, and Mason and ODU control their own destiny. Both must win to stay out of the bubble discussion.

My top NCAA tournament BracketBusters

Modern era: 1985-2006 (NCAA field of 64-65 teams)

6. The 1986 Navy team led by David Robinson went all the way to the Elite Eight.

5. Kent State, a No. 10 seed, went to the 2002 Elite Eight by knocking off Oklahoma State, Alabama and Pitt before losing to Indiana.

4. Gonzaga started its climb to the upper echelons of college basketball with wins in 1999 over Minnesota, Stanford and Florida en route to the Elite Eight under Monson.

3. The 1990 Loyola Marymount team honored the death of Hank Gathers with an improbable NCAA run to the Elite Eight, led by coach Paul Westhead and Bo Kimble, who shot -- and made -- a left-handed free throw to begin each game to honor his friend.

2. George Mason, with outstanding performances by Jai Lewis and Tony Skinn, reached the 2006 Final Four as the lowest seed ever (No. 11). It fell in the national semis to the eventual national champion Florida Gators.

And my No. 1 BracketBuster team …

The 2010 Butler Bulldogs. Led by coach Brad Stevens and Gordon Hayward, the Bulldogs stunned the college basketball world with a run to the NCAA championship game in Indianapolis. Then they nearly stunned Duke, but lost 61-59 in one of the greatest finals ever. Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored and Zach Hahn remain from that team.

Mark Adams is a contributor to ESPN.com. He is a game analyst on the ESPN family of networks and was a college basketball coach for 17 years, including a head-coaching stint at Central Connecticut State and assistant jobs at Idaho State and Washington State. For more of his insight, check out www.enthusiadams.com.