ESPN is scheduled to announce its 11 televised "Bracketbuster" games this evening at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU, and as reported here last Friday, Iona will get a nationally televised game. But instead of facing an East Coast team, as expected, it appears the Gaels (16-6, 8-3 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) are going to host an intersectional game on Feb. 19 or 20 in New Rochelle.
Nothing is official, but well-informed speculation suggests the opponent will be New Mexico State (13-8, 6-2 Western Athletic Conference). Officials at Iona were eyeing potential games last week against either Western Carolina or College of Charleston from the Southern Conference, but the Gaels' win over dismal 1-21 Marist actually dropped their RPI ranking from 71st to 85th. That lines up more closely with the 82nd-ranked Aggies, who are tied for the WAC lead with Utah State and Louisiana Tech but have beaten both of those schools.
The Aggies are not to be confused with the University of New Mexico, which is in the Mountain West Conference and ranks 12th in the RPI, but New Mexico State has a great basketball tradition, including a Final Four appearance back in 1968. The Aggies also have a connection with Iona. Gaels head coach Kevin Willard and NMSU head coach Marvin Menzies worked together on the staff of Louisville coach Rick Pitino. So, their game will mark a reunion of sorts.
The purpose of the "Bracketbuster" games is to give mid-major schools a chance to improve their RPI ranking late in the season with an extra game against a relatively strong mid-major. It could help with an at-large bid or with seeding in the NCAA tournament for a conference tourney winner. A total of 98 schools are taking part, but only the top 11 games are televised. MAAC leader Siena also will get a televised game.
But Hofstra (11-12, 4-7 Colonial Athletic Association) was matched against Rider (13-11, 6-6 MAAC) in a non-televised game between Tri-State area teams from different conferences. Stony Brook and Maine, the top two teams in the America East conference are not taking part, but America East contender Vermont (15-8, 6-3) will host Fairfield (15-7, 8-4 MAAC) in one of the more attractive non-televised games.
Here's the rundown of other MAAC participants in non-televised games:
James Madison (10-12, 3-8 CAA) at Canisius (11-11, 6-5 MAAC)
New Hampshire (7-11, 3-5 AE) at Loyola-Md. (10-12, 3-9 MAAC)
Towson (5-16, 2-9 CAA) at Manhattan (7-14, 2-9 MAAC)
Marist (1-21, 1-11 MAAC) at Cal-Irvine (7-13, 3-7 Big West)
Niagara (12-12, 5-7 MAAC) at Wis.-Milwaukee (11-10, 5-6 Horizon)
Buffalo (10-7, 4-2 Mid-American Conference) at St. Peter's (12-9, 7-4 MAAC)