Bracket Buster Weekend: Four Best Games
by Robert Ferringo - 02/16/2007
This weekend is one of my favorite college basketball weekends of the entire season. Why? Because it's all about the Little Guy as we hit Bracket Buster Weekend.
That's what's beautiful about college hoops: it's the most democratic of all major sports. Not only does it feature the most teams - by far - of any sport in the nation, but it also gives every single one of them a shot at winning the Ultimate Prize. It's the American Dream being played out in fieldhouses and farmlands across the nation: if you're good enough, smart enough, strong enough and/or talented enough one day you can be President. Or at least cut down the nets after winning the National Title.
Anyways, I've targeted what I believe will be the best four Bracket Buster games of the weekend. Here's the skinny:
Winthrop (+6) at Southwest Missouri State (7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 16)
In my eyes this is the second-best match-up of the weekend. SWMS are coming off a tough, and rare, home loss to Missouri Valley rival Southern Illinois. These not-so-cuddly little Bears are ferocious at home, going 11-3 SU. They've knocked around fellow solid mid-Majors Santa Clara (by 27) and Toledo (by 13).
Guard Blake Ahearn and his 15.5 points per game lead Missouri. His range is pretty much the entire Midwest. In fact, the Bears are kind of like the high school team in Pleasantville. Well, before they started sleeping with girls. SWMS is ranked No. 10 in the country in 3-point shooting at 41.1 percent.
Winthrop is one of my favorite teams in the country, and has been for the past three seasons. They don't play many lined games because the Big South is about as viable as Southern school systems. But they are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 lined games, including a seven-point loss at North Carolina this year that covered an 11-point line. For frame of reference, the Tar Heels will likely be favored by about 12 when they host Duke.
The Eagles have made the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons and have a veteran squad, led by the trio of Terrell Martin, Chris Gaynor and Craig Bradshaw. Trust me, they can play. The X-Factor is Northwestern transfer Michael Jenkins, who leads the team in scoring at 15.8 ppg.
Winthrop has won 11 straight and 15-of-16. Their only four losses this year were in overtime against Wisconsin, by 11 at Maryland, by 20 at Texas A&M, and by seven at North Carolina.
SW Missouri State is 1-1 in Bracket Buster games, winning at Wisconsin-Milwaukee last year and losing at home to Oral Roberts in 2005. Winthrop won in overtime against Northern Illinois in last year's buster.
Cal State-Fullerton at Wright State (Noon, Saturday, Feb. 17)
This Cal State team hails from the Big West and has one of the best four-guard rotations in the country and should be up to the task of taking on Wright State. Fullerton is led by Bobby Brown - no, not the smackhead - and his 19.4 ppg. Brown is a fringe NBA talent and their go-to guy.
What I really like about this CS-F team is that they have five players averaging 11 points per game or more and they can all go off at any time. Not surprisingly, the Titans are No. 4 in the country in scoring (84 ppg). And, naturally, they are a flaky team at times because they sag on defense (74 ppg). CS-F is 7-5 SU and 5-6 ATS on the road this season.
After a terrible start to the season (3-5 SU and 3-6-1 ATS) Wright State has found its groove. They've won 14 of their last 16 games and have been astounding at home. They're 12-1 in their own gym and have taken down some strong mid-Majors like Marist, Samford and Loyola-Chicago. Also, Butler may be the most heralded mid-Major team in college basketball this season but Wright State just hammered the Bulldogs by 12 last Saturday. The Raiders ain't no joke and these Chi-town boys can ball.
The Raiders have covered in eight straight games and won their last nine games at home by an average of 14 points per. Nine of their last 10 wins have come by double-digits.
Drexel at Creighton (Noon, Saturday, Feb. 17)
These two teams sound more like the last names of dock or factory workers than legit mid-Major contenders. But you know what, they can both get it done. This game also pits perhaps the best road team in the nation against a school with a monster home court advantage.
Creighton is 52-11 SU over the past four seasons while Drexel is 10-4 on the road this season. The Dragons have claimed the scalps of their hosts at Villanova, Syracuse, Temple, St. Joe's and Hofstra.
The Blue Jays got off to a shaky start to the season - going 1-4 ATS - as they struggled to work Nate Funk (17.5 ppg) back into the offense. But things are clicking now. They are just 6-4 in their last 10 games at home because they often face monster numbers there. Their most notable nonconference win was at home against Xavier, when the Blue Jays covered a one-point line while winning by six.
Drexel has won 10 of its last 12 road games, recently falling to better-than-they-sound William & Mary. The Dragons have won seven of their past ten games, but are just 4-6 ATS in that stretch.
The key for the Dragons is their most talented player - Dominick Mejia. He's averaging just 11.5 points per game and has failed to reach double-figures in four of his past eight outings. However, Drexel is 11-2 SU (though just 6-6 ATS) when he scores over 10 points.
Southern Illinois at Butler (Noon, Saturday, Feb. 17)
This game can be considered the crown jewel of the Mid-Major Mania that will be sweeping the college basketball landscape. This is the only game matching a pair of Top 25 teams and will take place at the legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse. The winner of this game will be considered the best Middie in the nation and will stay in the running for a possible No. 4 seed.
Butler has been the top moneymaking team in the country this year (17-6 ATS) and possesses a 22-game home winning streak. In fact, the only Division I-A team to stay within 10 points of Butler on its home gym was Kent State, which lost in overtime.
The Bulldogs have already dropped tournament-caliber teams like Notre Dame, Indiana, Purdue and Gonzaga this season. They own the No. 5 scoring defense (56.1 ppg) and No. 24 field goal defense (39.7 percent).
Speaking of defense, the Salukis have made their mark by digging deep and locking opponents down. Southern Illinois has the No. 4 scoring defense in the country (56 ppg) and they hold opponents to just 41.7-percent shooting. After money start to the season (9-3-1 ATS) Southern Illinois is a paltry 5-8 against the number.
I do give an edge here to the Salukis because they do hail from a tougher conference. Also, I think their backcourt of Jamal Tatum and Tony Young is one of the most poised and skilled in the country. That gives them a great chance to win in any venue. In fact, SIU has put together an amazing road run by winning at Missouri State, Wichita State and Creighton over the past three weeks.
Regardless, I wish you the best of luck this weekend. Enjoy the games and hopefully all of your plays are winners!
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