The Bracket Buster matchups have finally been announced! Every true college basketball fan loves the small school underdogs, and the Bracket Busters will show us the best they have to offer. The College Court will be going over the T. V. games and rank the best matchups so you know what to watch, as well as what to watch for. The games take place on February 17th and 18th.
1. St. Mary’s @ Murray St.: The obvious favorite matchup has the 21-2 Gaels taking on the undefeated Racers. St. Mary’s has had an impressive season. They have taken out solid opponents like Northern Iowa, Weber St., BYU, and Gonzaga, and have looked impressive in doing so. They are loaded across the board, being in the top 50 in the nation in scoring, rebounding, assists, and field goal percentage. Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones have been the two stars, both having WCC player of the year type seasons. Dellavedova averages 15.4 points and 6.4 assists while Jones is scoring 14.3 points and pulls down 10.8 boards a game. The Gaels will be the best team that Murray St. has played all season, and it will truly test them in their quest to an undefeated season. The Racers have beaten the likes of Southern Miss and Memphis, but will face a huge test in St. Mary’s. Not a very good rebounding team, Murray St. must keep Jones off the glass as much as they can. Their big three, Isaiah Canaan, Donte Poole, and Ivan Aska, will have no trouble scoring, but the key will be playing their game and forcing the Gaels to do the same.
2. Long Beach St. @ Creighton: Doug McDermott, a contender for national player of the year, is leading the Blue Jays to a stellar mid-major season. He averages an outstanding 23.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, while shooting .617 from the field, .831 from the free throw line, and .500 from behind the arc. Those numbers are incredible. With wins over San Diego St., Wichita St., and Northern Iowa, Creighton has put together an impressive resume. However, they face an interesting test in Casper Ware and a talented Long Beach St. squad. Ware and Larry Anderson will be pests for the Blue Jays, but the key for the 49ers is to get T. J. Robinson going. Robinson averages a double double and could be the x-factor in this game. The 49ers have been battle tested, facing Louisville, Kansas, UNC, and Kansas St. already so far. They won’t be fazed when facing Creighton, which could be an upset in the making.
3. Nevada @ Iona: On a 15 game winning streak, the Wolfpack may have finally met their match. Iona is a team that leads the nation in assists, is fifth in scoring, and sixth in field goal percentage. The Gaels receive the majority of their production from a trio of players that could truly be called the big three: Michael Glover, Lamont Jones, and Scott Machado. Glover leads in scoring with 18.8 points and also has 9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Jones is solid across the board with 14.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. Finally, Machado is the player I feel is the most important part to this team. He averages 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 9.9 assists, and 1.5 steals. Machado is a huge reason why the Gaels lead the country in assists. Meanwhile, Nevada is certainly going to put up a fight. Four players average in double figures as Deonte Burton is scoring 15.5 points per game, while Dario Hunt is a beast on the glass, getting 9 rebounds per contest. The Wolfpack is still looking for that signature win, so expect them to being playing extra motivated. In what looks to be an extremely up-tempo and close game, you will not want to miss this one.
4. Drexel @ Cleveland St.: Two of the top mid-major conferences have a representative in this matchup: Drexel of the CAA and Cleveland St. of the Horizon League. The Dragons are the underdogs in this one, as they would receive a nice resume boost by beating the Vikings, who lead the Horizon League. Drexel has two players who average over 7 rebounds per game in Sammie Givens and Daryl McCoy. These two are the best way to beat the Vikings, who have a guard-oriented team that is led by Trevon Harmon (12 ppg), D’Aundray Brown (11.5 ppg), and Jeremy Montgomery (10.6 ppg). Cleveland St. has already beaten Vanderbilt, but could use another big win. However, the game is more crucial for the Dragons, who have a bad loss to Delaware. Drexel will be upset-minded, but I expect Cleveland St. to hold strong.
5. Wichita St. @ Davidson: The Wildcats rely heavily on two of the basic facets of the game: scoring and rebounding. They are 19th in scoring and 47th in rebounding. Losses to Charlotte and Samford hurt, but the road win against Kansas speaks volumes for their resume. Another solid win would be nice, however. The two big men, De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen, are the embodiment of their team, scoring 15.2 and 14.2 points, and 6.4 and 6.1 rebounds respectively. They will have their hands full with a very balanced Wichita St. team. The Shockers hold a win over UNLV and still have another chance to beat Creighton, so they are looking good at the moment. Senior center Garrett Stutz has been a leader both on and off the floor. The seven-footer averages 13.6 points and 7.5 assists. This game pits two similar and evenly matched teams against each other; the winner will be the team who wants it more.
6. Akron @ Oral Roberts: The Zips have rebounded from a tough start to win seven of eight. Like Davidson, they are led by their frontcourt. Nikola Cventinovic averages 10.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, but the true x-factor is Zeke Marshall. Marshall averages 3 blocks a contest and is a complete game changer. When Marshall patrols the paint, the opposing team will think twice about attacking it. Since its first win of the season over Mississippi St., Akron hasn’t really beaten anyone of note, so they have a golden opportunity here. Speaking of golden, the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles have won 13 straight and have already reached the 20 win plateau. Their resume isn’t the best, but the reason for their great success is that they’re shooting .487 from the field as a team. Dominique Morrison averages 20.2 points and is a terror from long range. If the Zips can contain Morrison, they have a shot, but if he is on his game, Oral Roberts will be flying high.
7. Northern Iowa @ VCU: With the daunting task of opening the Bracket Busters, the Panthers of Northern Iowa have a chance to revive their season against the surging Rams. It has been a tale of two halves for both teams. For Northern Iowa, they started the year off 10-1 with wins over Old Dominion and Iowa St. and their only loss to St. Mary’s. Since then, they have lost eight of twelve, two of the losses coming to Evansville and Bradley. VCU has been the opposite. An average start at 3-3, they have gone 15-2 since then. Both teams have two players that are staples to their teams: Anthony James and Jake Koch for Northern Iowa and Bradford Burgess and Juvonte Reddic for VCU. Burgess was key to the final four run for the Rams this year; he could be the difference in this game.
8. UT-Arlington @ Weber St.: Damian Lillard should be in consideration for player of the year, but because he plays for Weber St., he won’t receive any votes. Lillard averages 24.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists for Wildcats, who are most likely tournament bound. Scott Bamforth has also been a key with 15.6 points per game. However, it’s hard to determine just how good Weber St. is because they have lost to every good team they’ve played, so this will be a nice test. Texas-Arlington is in the top 25 in the nation in both scoring and rebounding, so you know they are an impressive ball club. They will do whatever it takes to keep their 11-game winning streak alive. LaMarcus Reed III is a star, scoring at a 16.8 clip. It will be a lot of fun to see Lillard and Reed battle with each other, and whoever has the better game will probably be the one to lead their team to victory.
9. Valparaiso @ Loyola Marymount: Some people may be surprised that the Lions got a home game, but they are battle tested and will try to prove their worth against the Crusaders. Valparaiso has been more impressive, but has also had an easier schedule. Kevin Van Wijk and Ryan Broekhoff are the top performers for the Crusaders. Broekhoff (8.8 rebounds per game) will have to control the glass to keep Valparaiso at their best. They will have to contend with the scoring of Loyola Marymount. Drew Viney, Anthony Ireland, and Ashely Hamilton all average more than 12 points per game. The game is huge for both teams, who have rough paths to winning their conference championship, but it’s bigger for Loyola Marymount. The Lions won’t be able to climb over St. Mary’s and Gonzaga, so they’ll need this win for both a resume builder and momentum.
10. Old Dominion @ Missouri St.: This matchup is very underrated and has a chance to be special. Old Dominion has been a strong rebounding team as usual, and although they are not as good as they were last year, they still have their two seniors Kent Bazemore and Chris Cooper. Bazemore is an offensive threat at 13.6 points per game, while Cooper is averaging a double double. The Monarchs have played some tough teams like Kentucky and Missouri, but have also lost to some teams that they shouldn’t have lost to (Vermont, Fairfield, Richmond). Missouri St. has had a tough season, losing four of six, but their claim to fame is a road win over Creighton. Kyle Weems is a star player for the Bears with stats such as 16 points and 7.5 rebounds. Weems will have his hands full, and Missouri St. desperately needs this win. Sometimes desperation is all a team needs.
11. UNC Asheville @ Ohio: There’s a lot to like about UNC Asheville even though some people may think they don’t belong in the Bracket Busters. They are third in the nation in scoring, and are led by the duo of Matt Dickey and J. P. Primm, who average a combined 33 points per game. Chris Stephenson, Jaron Lane, and Jeremy Atkinson all score in double digits as well. The reason for their high-powered offense is their .494 field goal percentage, good for ninth in the nation. You can talk all you want about the Bulldogs, but Ohio has had a better season. At 17-4 and with two of their losses coming on the road to Louisville and Akron, the Bobcats have been cleaning house. D. J. Cooper is an all around player who averages 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 5.6 assists. Cooper and the Bobcats are still looking for that signature win, and they may find one in UNC Asheville.
12. Drake @ New Mexico St.: The Bulldogs are in the lower tier of Bracket Busters, while the Aggies have already beaten New Mexico and are only two games out of first place in the WAC. New Mexico St. is 4th in the nation in rebounding, a surprising stat. The biggest reason for that is Wendell McKines. The senior forward is averaging 18.3 points and 10.3 rebounds. He’s going to be a terror for Drake, who need this win badly. After just beating Wichita St. in triple overtime, they will look to sustain their momentum. Rayvonte Rice and Ben Simons do the majority of the work for the Bulldogs, but they lack depth. It’s going to be difficult for Drake to hold off New Mexico St., but expect them to enter this game focused.
13. Buffalo @ South Dakota St.: Buffalo is actually a very solid team overall. They are 4th in rebounds and 14th in assists in the nation and are on a four game winning streak. In need of a big win, the Bulls will look towards Javon Mcrea and Mitchell Watt. Both averaging nearly 15 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The duo will try to hold off Nate Wolters and the Jack Rabbits of South Dakota St. Wolters is a star, averaging 20.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. He is certainly one of the best mid-major players out there, and now he will have a chance to shine on a national stage. A win over Washington is all they have to their name, so South Dakota St. will be looking for a key win. It’s Jack Rabbits against Bulls. Who will be the better Bracket Buster?