Now that my colleague Greg Logan has provided the necessary information regarding the ESPN Bracketbuster, it’s time to break down who will actually benefit from the matchups.
William & Mary (15-6, 7-4 CAA) at Iona (17-6, 9-3 MAAC)
Friday, February 19, 9 p.m. / ESPNU
This is the big stage Iona needs. A win over a good William & Mary squad would certainly improve its current 85 RPI number. But Iona needs to take care of business before this game happens. The Gaels have a huge game Friday at Siena and three more conference games against Marist, Manhattan and Loyola. While they may be too far behind to catch Siena for first place, a win on the road against the Saints followed by a clean sweep in its next three will improve its national profile. William & Mary needs the win to stay within earshot of the at-large conversation. The Tribe has quality wins over Maryland, Richmond and Wake Forest and a 51 RPI mark. But it all starts for them on Wednesday night at Old Dominion.
Old Dominion (17-6, 9-2 CAA) at Northern Iowa (19-2, 10-1 Missouri Valley)
Friday, February 19, 7 p.m. / ESPN2
Northern Iowa, with wins over Boston College, Iowa, and Siena, is probably a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Ranked 24th in the AP Poll, the Panthers have an RPI of 16. As for Old Dominion, the Monarchs need this win a lot more than Northern Iowa. The Monarchs have a respectable RPI of 46 and wins over Georgetown and Charlotte. Assuming the Monarchs finish their regular season on a positive note, a win against a ranked mid-major could keep them on the positive side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Of course they need to win at home Wednesday night against William & Mary.
Siena (19-4, 12-0 MAAC) at Butler (18-4, 11-0 Horizon)
Saturday, Feb 20, 11 a.m. / ESPN2
It’s a shame one of the better matchups is on television at such an inopportune time. Siena made a great impression last year. But the problem this season is Saints don’t have many signature wins. Northeastern and St. Joseph’s is all they have right now. A win at Butler, an elite mid-major program with a NCAA at-large pedigree, would really send a message. Speaking of Butler, the Bulldogs, barring a major collapse down the stretch, don’t have much to gain here. Wins over Ohio State, Xavier and Northwestern have made them all but a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
College of Charleston (14-8, 9-2 Southern) at George Mason (15-7, 10-1 CAA)
Saturday, February 20, 8 p.m. / ESPN2
Charleston thought it set the world on fire after an 82-79 upset of North Carolina. But the Tar Heels freefall all but diminished that victory. Charleston will need to win its conference tournament title for a NCAA berth. A win against the Colonials will at least help with seeding if they win the Southern tournament title. George Mason, although a steady program, has just one signature win (Old Dominion) to speak of and only one decent non-conference win against Indiana. The Colonials also have a ton of close losses –Villanova 69-68, Dayton 56-55, Georgia Tech 70-62–. The lack of a strong non-conference win notwithstanding, a strong CAA record and a win here will keep the Colonials on the NCAA tourney bubble.
Akron (15-7, 5-3 MAAC) at VCU (15-5, 7-4 CAA)
Saturday, February 20, 4 p.m. / ESPNU
VCU, despite having four conference losses, could theoretically be in the best shape of any CAA team because of a strong non-conference slate. Wins over Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Richmond will keep the Rams in the NCAA at-large conversation. This is assuming they finish their season on a positive note. They still have Old Dominion twice, George Mason and Drexel on the schedule. It’s not going to be easy for the Rams. Akron, a NCAA Tournament team last season, has no signature wins and needs to win the MAC to get into the tournament. Winning at VCU will at least help with seeding if the Zips win the MAC tournament.
Morgan State (16-7, 8-0 Mid-Eastern) at Murray State (20-3, 11-0 Ohio Valley)
Saturday, February 20, Noon / ESPNU
Morgan State has several wins (Albany, UMBC, Arkansas, Manhattan, Towson) over teams from superior conferences. But it won’t be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. Todd Bozeman’s crew needs to win the MEAC to get in. But they did it last year and are the class of the MEAC this season. A win at Murray State will more than prove the Golden Bears are a capable team. As for Murray State, this is a must win. Despite not having any big wins, a three-loss season is impressive. If the Racers can win this and finish the rest of its Ohio Valley schedule unblemished, they would’ve earned a spot on the NCAA Tournament bubble.