As we approach the home stretch in college basketball's regular season, handicappers look more and more at how meaningful a game might be to a particular team. There are conference races taking place, tournament seedings and even RPI ratings at stake for many teams. Of course, there are also meaningless games with nothing at stake. These points are particularly true with Saturday's Bracket Buster games. Several teams are matched up against each other with losing records with pretty much nothing at stake.
The name "Bracket Buster" gives the illusion that every game has an interesting nonconference matchup that should provide some kind of excitement. As George and Ira Gershwin once wrote, "It ain't necessarily so." Here are some meaningless games this weekend featuring teams with losing records: Indiana State/Western Michigan, Wright State/Bowling Green and Delaware/Cleveland State. You couldn't give me a ticket to see those games. Another factor to consider is that these are nonconference games, so the scheduling spot is unusual for all teams.
That is, some teams are in close battles for first place in their respective conferences, and now they have to step OUT of conference play Saturday, and then jump back into conference play the next game sometime next week. Teams that are focused on catching another team in the conference, for instance, have to put that aside for one game and worry about a WIN rather than conference positioning. It's important to keep close tabs on teams that may be looking past their bracket buster battle.
Louisiana Tech plays at Southern Illinois Saturday, as the WAC meets the Missouri Valley Conference. Southern Illinois is not likely to lay down for this game, as they are always tough at home. They recently had a 33-game home win streak end, so they take great pride in defending their home turf. On the other hand, Southern Illinois is currently locked in a wild race in the Missouri Valley Conference.
So to suddenly play a team from the WAC in the middle of this great race is unusual. A handicapper needs to take all these factors into consideration. There are also some interesting games where RPI and power ratings are at stake. Again, Southern Illinois is one of these, with an 18-8 record as they close in on a 20-win season.
Another is George Mason at Wichita State, featuring two powerhouse teams from the MVC and the Colonial. Many sports fans might overlook a game like Bucknell at Northern Iowa at first glance, but it is an interesting battle between two 20-win teams that are looking to improve their RPI rankings. Bucknell is ranked 24th in the nation. Also remember that one team has the home court edge, which means it's critical to check how the opponent plays on the road.
So, Bracket Buster weekend offers some interesting matchups where intangibles can be a big part of the equation. But it also offers duds like Youngstown State/Canisius! Enjoy the weekend.Al McMordie. .
By: Big Al McMordie