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Five key BracketBuster matchups …

January 31, 2011

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Looking through this year’s BracketBuster matchups, five games could have bracket implications.  Here’s a look at those five games in order of importance, and what the matchups mean for the teams involved …

1) Utah State at St. Mary’s – These teams have combined to win 36 games and yet neither is a lock to make the NCAAs.  All of USU’s 20 wins have come outside the RPI Top 100.  No such profile has ever earned an at-large bid.  The Aggies are very capable of winning a game if they make the Dance, and a win at St. Mary’s would help validate their chances.  USU missed opportunities at BYU and Georgetown.  St. Mary’s is in better shape with an early win over St. John’s and a victory at Gonzaga.  But those are the Gaels’ only two Top 100 wins.  A regular season WCC title could be enough for St. Mary’s, but every good win helps.

2) VCU at  Wichita State – VCU currently leads the Colonial, and the Rams’ best non-conference win was on a neutral court over UCLA. VCU has also won at Old Dominion.  Wichita State has a very similar profile.  The Shockers failed in several early chances – most notably losing a second-half lead to Connecticut in Maui. WSU is tied atop the Missouri Valley with Missouri State.  What the Shockers lack is a Top 50 RPI win.  If these teams both remain on the cutline, a head-to-head victory could make a difference.

3) Cleveland State at Old Dominion – Cleveland State’s best wins are Kent State and Wright State.  That doesn’t bode well for at-large consideration.  CSU has lost its highest rated RPI games (West Virgina, Valpo, Butler).  So a road win against a potential NCAA team in Old Dominion would really help.  With wins over Xavier, Clemson, and Richmond, ODU may have the best at-large profile of the BracketBuster contenders – especially with Xavier playing better.  Still, beating the Horizon League’s top team would be an added boost. ODU currently trails VCU and George Mason in the Colonial.  Catching those teams would help, too.

4) Missouri State at Valparaiso – The Bears co-lead the Missouri Valley with Wichita State and beat the Shockers in their only meeting to date.  MSU also won at Northern Iowa, but the rest of its resume is light – reflected in a No. 223 non-conference SOS.  Not a great matchup for the Bears as an outright MVC title would mean more.  A loss would hurt MSU’s chances.  The game has less impact impact for Valparaiso, as the Crusaders were non-competitve in matchups with Kansas and Purdue.  That said, Valpo has beaten Cleveland State and Butler at home and remains in the hunt for the Horizon League title.

5) George Mason at Northern Iowa – GMU is currently second in the Colonial, squeezed between VCU and Old Dominion.  It’s unlikely the CAA will earn three bids, so how will teams separate?  The Patriots have good computer numbers, but their best RPI wins are Harvard, Drexel, and Duquesne.  Still, the CAA is a respected league and should GMU win the regular-season title, a road win over Northern Iowa could be helpful if GMU were to lose in the CAA title game.  As for UNI, this isn’t the same team that knocked off Kansas, but the Panthers remain in the thick of the MVC race.  UNI’s best non-conference win is over New Mexico, so beating a top-flight CAA team would add a little heft.

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