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Bracket Bits: Weekend’s Top 10 UTR Bracket Games

Dave2015With a backdrop of Happy Holidays! resonating in the background, we welcome back Bracket Bits and a festive weekend of college hoops  – highlighted by Gonzaga vs. Tennessee at the Talking Sticks Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Zags are in the middle of a four game stretch that includes wins over Creighton and Washington, and features Sunday’s tip against the Volunteers, followed by a cross-country trip to North Carolina on December 15.  Somewhere, the NET is smiling.

While Zags-Vols may be the talk of the town, so to speak, it takes 36 at-large teams to complete a bracket.  With that in mind, here are my picks for the under-the-radar Top 10 Bracket Games this weekend …

10) Dayton at Auburn – A non-conference “splash” opportunity for the Flyers who knocked off Butler at the Battle for Atlantis before losing three straight – all close games to good opponents: Virginia (7 points), Oklahoma (11 points), and Mississippi State (7 points).  With the Atlantic 10’s resume-building power very much in question, the talented Tigers present a huge opportunity for UD.

9) Wichita State vs. Oklahoma (Oklahoma City) – The retooled Shockers are a work in progress.  Their early resume features wins over Providence and Baylor to go along with losses to Louisiana Tech, Davidson and Alabama.  Without a strong run in the American race, an at-large berth seems unlikely, regardless, but a victory over the surprising Sooners would be a nice boost heading into a matchup with VCU on December 22.

8) Houston at Oklahoma State – The first of an important four-game stretch for the Cougars, who have an early win at BYU and last weekend’s home victory over Oregon to boast about.  Worth noting: the trip into Stillwater is the Cougars’ only road game during their aforementioned quadruple header that includes LSU, Saint Louis, and Utah State.

7) Notre Dame at UCLA – The Bruins are 0-2 vs. Power 5 competition, losing lopsided affairs to both Michigan State and North Carolina in Las Vegas.  The Irish haven’t fared much better, their best win being either DePaul or Illinois at home.  Consider this, too: UCLA travels to Cincinnati and plays Ohio State in Chicago before Christmas.  With the Pac-12 struggling, the Bruins need all the help they can get.  As for Notre Dame, the Irish play Purdue next weekend in Indianapolis before gearing up for ACC play – and we know how daunting that figures to be.

6) Florida State vs. Connecticut (New Jersey) – Are the Huskies a legitimate NCAA team? As the Magic 8 Ball might say, please check back later.  Later includes this weekend’s matchup with the Seminoles.  UConn topped Syracuse (minus Frank Howard) in New York, but has since dropped top-tier games against Iowa (neutral) and Arizona (home).  If there’s an escape clause, Connecticut still gets a shot at Villanova ahead of its AAC slate.  It would really help the Huskies to at least split with FSU and ‘Nova.

5) Michigan State at Florida – The Gators are coming off a victory over ailing West Virginia at the Jimmy V classic, but are 0-3 vs. other top competition to date: Florida State, Oklahoma, and Butler.  Due to a quirky schedule, Florida gets a rematch with Butler on December 29, but the Spartans are the last high-level opponent left before conference play.  Going 0-4 or 0-5 might not look so good in a couple of months.

4) VCU at Virginia – The Rams are coming off a road win at Texas, setting up an even bigger resume-building opportunity against the rival Cavaliers.  A victory against UVA would do wonders for VCU, and to a certain extent, the A10 conference by default.  In other words, Dayton, Davidson, and a host of other A10 members will be rooting for VCU in this one.

3) Pittsburgh at West Virginia – It’s been a rough start for the Mountaineers, with losses to Buffalo, Western Kentucky, and Florida already on their docket.  And with little else remaining before Big 12 play, time is of the essence.  As for Pitt, the Panthers were riding high after a one-point loss at Iowa.  Then Monday happened, when the Panthers lost at home to Niagara.  With both teams’ futures very much in doubt, this border war becomes that much more intriguing.

2) Purdue at Texas – The Longhorns are reeling after back-to-back home losses to Radford and VCU, taking some of the luster off their early wins against Arkansas and North Carolina. Enter Purdue, which snapped its own two-game losing streak on Thursday thanks to a two-point victory over Maryland in West Lafayette.  All things considered, the outcome is probably more critical for Texas, but Purdue would love to add a Power 6 non-conference road win to its profile.

1) Creighton at Nebraska – Taking into account the preseason transitions at Creighton, this game was a bit of an afterthought back in November.  Then the Bluejays beat Clemson and challenged Gonzaga.  Game on.  A victory would give Creighton non-conference wins over Clemson and Nebraska (going 2-2 vs. top competition) heading  into its date with Oklahoma on December 18.  For a team with questionable NCAA aspirations in October, an opportunity to establish some solid footing before Big East play would be a most welcome Christmas gift.

Enjoy your weekend!

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