This is the first of several Bracket Buster game previews. I want to thank David Mihm the editor of the great site Bracketography.com for giving me a little encouragement for my bracket buster preview. I am going to do the previews in chronological order as far as the TV coverage.
Game 1 - Friday Night, February 16 7pm ESPN2
Winthrop (21-4, 11-0 Big South) vs. Missouri State (19-8, 10-6 MVC)
This might not be the best time for the Eagles to take on the Bears. The Bears are coming off a tough home loss to Southern Illinois.
Winthrop has played several top ranked teams very closely this year, losing to North Carolina at Chapel Hill by 7, lost at Wisconsin by 3 and lost at Maryland by 11. They also lost to Texas A&M by 20. They do have a signature road win over ODU. However with a RPI of 77, Winthrop would need a big win over Missouri State to enhance their at large chances, but their best bet is to win the Big South tournament.
The Eagles are led by their two guards Michael Jenkins and Torrell Martin, who combine for 30 points a game, while center Craig Bradshaw averages another 12 points a game. But the Eagles are very balanced. Nine players average 13 or more minutes a game for Winthrop and the team field goal percentage averages a solid 47.7 percen, which leads the Big South. Winthrop also leads the Big South in scoring defense, limiting their opponents to 60 points a game.
Missouri State has a RPI of 32, similar to last year when they were hosed out of an at large bid to the NCAA tournament (Missouri State and Hofstra should have gone, Air Force and Utah State should have stayed home). However, it will be difficult to keep the Bears out of the tournament this year should Missouri State stay on pace for a 20 win season. The Bears have a signature win over #3 Wisconsin in the South Padre Invitational 66-64. They also have a win over West Coast Conference leader Santa Clara and a tough loss to Oklahoma State. Plus they play in the Valley, one of the best conferences in the country and certainly no longer a secret with the success of the Bears, Southern Illinois, Bradley, Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Creighton the past few years.
The Bears are led by Blake Ahearn and Tyler Chaney, their only two double digit scorers. However, the Bears are very much like the Eagles in that eight players average 17 or more minutes a game. Despite only two players that average in double figures, the Bears average 75 points per game and shoot 48 percent from the field which leads the Missouri Valley. The Bears are also third in the Valley in Field Goal Defense Percentage at 41.9.
Prediction - This will be a close game. Two good balanced teams who have played their share of the big boys this year. Both teams played Wisconsin closely this year. I will take the team that beat Wisconsin, Missouri State at home 72-67.
Game #2 Friday Night, February 16 9PM ESPNU
Albany vs. Boise State
The Great Danes (18-8 overall, 11-3 America East) are coming off a tough home loss to now first place Vermont in the America East. Boise State (14-10, 7-5 WAC( is holding their own in the WAC having won its last two games in conference, albeit over conference patsies San Jose State and Idaho. Neither team has a shot for an at large, with Albany's RPI 98 and Boise's 117. Albany's biggest non conference win might have been a 6 point win over Bucknell, one of last year's mid major darlings. Other than that, they have been pounded by UConn and VCU. Boise State has one good home win over BYU and tough road losses at Washington State and Nevada, but not much else to write home about.
Albany is led by their star player Jamar Wilson, who scored his 2000th point on Sunday vs. Vermont. Wilson averages 18.8 points per game. Albany plays a lot of close games as they average 68 points a game in conference but give up 66 points a game defensively. They are a solid shooting team, leading the America East in free throw percentage (72.5) and field goal percentage (45.6).
Boise State is led by their trifecta of Coby Karl, Matt Nelson and Reggie Larry who combine for 43 points per game. The Broncos are a deep team with nine players averaging 13 or more minutes a game. The Broncos average 74 points per game and shoot 46 percent from the field. Boise is third in field goal percentage defense and first in rebounding average in the WAC.
Prediction - The Broncos have played better against tougher competition, plus the home factor bodes well for the Broncos. Look for a relatively high scoring game with Boise winning 78-71.
Part 2 of the Bracket Buster Preview will be tomorrow evening.