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Bracket Bits: 5 opening weekend games with March in mind

Dave2015All games matter, but not all results are equal.

If you’re a team that plays in a power conference you can survive an average (or even below average) non-conference slate and still earn an at-large bid.  Last year’s Purdue team is a good example. The Boilermakers dropped non-conference decisions to Kansas State, North Florida, Vanderbilt, and Gardner-Webb.  What Purdue was able to do, however, was win 8 of 9 Big Ten games during a mid-season stretch and finish 12-6 in league play en-route to a 9-seed in the Midwest Region.

If you’re a team from outside the power conferences, non-conference results become much more critical.  Opportunities for resume-changing wins are more limited. With that thought in mind, here are five opening weekend games with March in mind …

  • UAB at Auburn (Friday, Nov. 13) – The Blazers are hoping for a return trip to the NCAAs, and while Conference USA offers some quality competition – most notably Old Dominion – there is no guarantee of multiple bids (note ODU from a year ago).  Thus, every non-conference victory helps. Auburn will be improved and potentially one of the more athletic teams UAB faces before C-USA plays begins.  The Blazers’ other non-conference games of note include Illinois State, Illinois, and Stephen F. Austin.
  • Stephen F. Austin at Baylor (Friday, Nov. 13) – Speaking of SFA, the Lumberjacks’ hopes of an at-large bid could very well depend on results against the Bears, Northern Iowa, Arizona State, and aforementioned UAB.
  • Belmont at Marquette (Friday, Nov. 13) – All things considered, Belmont plays an aggressive non-league schedule that includes Arizona State, Valparaiso, BYU, and Evansville.  Marquette could very end up being a bubble team, thus a head-to-head victory over the Golden Eagles would be a nice asset on the Bruins’ resume.  In Belmont’s case, almost any win over a power conference team (Marquette is in the Big East) is notable.
  • Illinois State at San Diego State (Friday, Nov. 13) – Illinois State is among the challengers to Wichita State in the Missouri Valley (along with Evansville and Northern Iowa).  Although ISU also plays Maryland and Kentucky, this could be the Redbirds’ best chance for a marquee non-conference victory.  Beating Mountain West favorite SDSU would give ISU a quick, early season boost.
  • Iona at Valparaiso (Sunday, Nov. 15) – Both teams have realistic expectations for March success, so this is much like a former “Bracket-Buster” matchup.  Iona’s other NC games of note include Oregon State, Rhode Island and Tulsa (both of whom are predicted bubble teams).  Valpo also plays Oregon State and Rhode Island, along with Oregon and Belmont.  The winner will have an early edge on some mid-major competition.

Enjoy the opening weekend of college hoops.

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