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Friday, February 18, 2011

Bracket Buster Weekend

This weekend is quite possibly the most important weekend for many mid-major programs as it is the last chance for several programs to pick up a quality win. Unfortunately it can also break schools that have nothing much to gain and everything to lose. That being said, it's an exciting time that should feature lots of close games and helps set the tone for the final month of the season before March Madness begins. Below I've offered a quick synopsis of the five match-ups I'm really excited about.

1. Utah St. (24-3) @ St. Mary's (22-5)
Two of the three best mid-major programs go head to head here. Utah St. has no quality wins although they lost at BYU in a close one and Georgetown won on a very controversial call in December. St. Mary's is this year's Gonzaga but recently lost to San Diego who is one of the worst teams in Division I.  I think this game could turn into a classic.
Who gains more with win: Utah St. - A win here secures an at-large bid even if they don't win their conference tournament.
Who loses most with loss: Utah St.- They really needed to run the table in conference and although they'll probably finish 15-1, many on the committee will point at no quality wins and knock them down a few pegs.
Who wins: I really think St. Mary's gets it done at home. I'm pulling for the Aggies though.

2. VCU (20-8) @ Wichita St. (22-5)
VCU is currently second in the CAA (behind George Mason) but is only 1-3 when facing quality non-conference opponents. They even have a bad loss to Georgia State.  Wichita St. has a decent enough resume but has lost 3 home games in conference--not a sign of a strong mid-major. They're currently 0-2 against quality non-conference opponents.
Who gains more with win: VCU - That bad loss to Georgia St. may haunt them to the end
Who loses most with loss: Wichita St. may fall out of favor for bubble consideration if they lose this one
Who wins: Wichita St. is a great rebounding team and that will be the difference in this one.

3. Cleveland St. (23-5) @ Old Dominion (21-6)
Cleveland St. is in a dog fight for the automatic bid in the Horizon league. Old Dominion is starting to really roll. It's funny how a bad loss affects some teams and not others, right? ODU lost to Delaware early on but also has quality wins over Clemson and Xavier. An at-large bid seems probable.
Who gains more with win: Cleveland St. - A big road win is just what this team needs
Who loses most with loss: Cleveland St. - Their best non-conference win is Iona so, yeah, this is important.
Who wins: As what often happens in tournament games, take the team with the best player. Cleveland St. in a nail biter.

4. George Mason (22-5) @ Northern Iowa (19-9)
How UNI landed such a quality opponent at home baffles me.  George Mason is playing some of the best ball in the country with twelve straight wins.  They even spanked Duquesne in their one quality non-conference game.  UNI on the other hand is really struggling and isn't nearly the same team they were last year.
Who gains more with win: UNI - Brings some credibility to the MVC
Who loses most with loss: UNI - The committee puts a fair amount of emphasis on how team's close the season and a loss here would drop UNI to 1-4 in their last 5.
Who wins:  George Mason by double digits.

5. Missouri St. (21-6) @ Valparaiso (19-8)
Two teams that weren't expected to be serious conference title contenders meet in Indiana.  This will likely be the premiere game on ESPN since Dickie V announced he'll be calling the game, baby!
Who gains more with win: Valparaiso. - A win here locks up an at-large bid.
Who loses most with loss: Missouri St. - The win over Wichita St. is nice but they've got nothing else on their profile.
Who wins: Valpo.
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