BracketBusters Guide: Previews For All 11 TV Games

posted in NCAA Basketball

It’s BracketBusters Weekend in college hoops, which always features an exciting slate of intriguing matchups between some of the best mid-major teams in the country.

The ESPN family of networks will be televising 11 of those contests, starting at 7 p.m. ET Friday with Northern IowaVCU and ending at 10 p.m. ET Saturday with a marquee matchup between Long Beach State and Creighton.

If you tune in for all the games, you’ll no doubt be one step ahead of the competition in March after getting your fill of Zips, Gaels, Shockers and Jackrabbits a few weeks early.

Below you’ll find a tidbit on all of the televised games, sorted by the “hotness score” we’ve given it (the most exciting matchups are at the top). The hotness score is adapted from our college basketball schedule page, while each predicted final score is derived from our similar games prediction model.

No. 39 Long Beach State at No. 25 Creighton, 10 p.m ET Saturday, ESPN2

Hotness Score: 97.1
Spread: Creighton -5
Predicted Score: Creighton 74, Long Beach State 69
What To Watch For: This game features two of the top mid-majors in college basketball — both of which have experience in BracketBusters games. Long Beach State, which enters on a 12-game win streak, could all but lock up an at large bid for the NCAA Tournament with a road win over Creighton. The Bluejays have lost three of four, so a win over the 49ers would go a long way toward rebuilding their confidence for March.

No. 28 Saint Mary’s at No. 37 Murray State, 6 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN/ESPN2

Hotness Score: 97.0
Spread: None (yet)
Predicted Score: Murray State 74, Saint Mary’s 68
What To Watch For: This matchup lost a bit of its luster when the Racers dropped their first game of the season last week, a 72-68 home loss to Tennessee State. Nonetheless, this is still one of the top games on the slate, as both Murray State and St. Mary’s are ranked in the top 25. The Racers have been one of our overrated teams for quite some time now, but it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see either of these schools make a run in March, so it’s probably a good idea to tune in and take some notes.

No. 13 Wichita State at No. 75 Davidson, Noon ET Saturday, ESPN/ESPN2

Hotness Score: 94.3
Spread: Wichita State -2.5
Predicted Score: Wichita State 72, Davidson 71
What To Watch For: The Shockers enter BracketBusters Saturday as the highest-ranked mid-major in our power ratings. This one could turn into a shootout, with Wichita State ranked 12th in offensive efficiency (1.12 points per possession) and Davidson not far behind at 18th (1.10). A win would mean much more to the Wildcats, who need a marquee victory, while the Shockers are essentially a lock to make the tournament.

No. 52 Akron at No. 62 Oral Roberts, 2 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN/ESPN2

Hotness Score: 93.3
Spread: Oral Roberts -5
Predicted Score: Oral Roberts 69, Akron 66
What To Watch For: Both of these teams are sizzling hot, and both are in first place in their respective conferences. Akron has won 16 of 18 and leads the MAC by two full games, while Oral Roberts has won 17 of 18 and holds a 2.5-game lead in the Summit League. The Zips probably have a better chance of earning an at-large berth should they fail to win the conference tournament, though, so this game is huge for them. But the Golden Eagles haven’t lost at home all season, and this is their final game in the Mabee Center this year.

No. 69 Northern Iowa at No. 59 VCU, 7 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN

Hotness Score: 91.8
Spread: VCU -6
Predicted Score: VCU 69, Northern Iowa 61
What To Watch For: The Rams had their 11-game winning streak snapped in a 62-61 loss at George Mason on Tuesday. This could be a grinding game, with the Panthers rated 320th in the country at 63.9 possessions per game, and VCU not much faster at 66.5 possessions (253rd). Both these teams will probably need to win their respective conference tournaments to earn an NCAA Tournament berth.

No. 78 Nevada at No. 53 Iona, 4 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN/ESPN2

Hotness Score: 91.3
Spread: Iona -7
Predicted Score: Iona 72, Nevada 65
What To Watch For: For a pair of 20-win teams leading their respective conferences, this is a matchup of “big vs. small.” Nevada has seven players listed at 6-foot-6 or taller, while the Gaels are a guard-heavy bunch that is tremendously undersized by comparison. Iona has a trio of scorers that are fun to watch, including LaMont “Momo” Jones, a transfer from Arizona who averages 16 points. Interesting nugget: Iona played eight games in December — all of them on the road.

No. 84 Buffalo at No. 79 South Dakota State, 1 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU

Hotness Score: 88.4
Spread: South Dakota State -6.5
Predicted Score: South Dakota State 70, Buffalo 65
What To Watch For: South Dakota State seems destined for a second-place finish in the Summit League, and the Bulls are likely out of the race for the MAC title. So, these teams are good but far from great. That said, the Jackrabbits are 11-0 at home and are putting together their best season since joining Division I as a full-time member in 2007-08. Also, as you might expect, the Jackrabbits logo is pretty awesome.

No. 82 Drexel at No. 86 Cleveland State, 11 a.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU

Hotness Score: 88.0
Spread: Cleveland State -3
Predicted Score: Cleveland State 70, Drexel 67
What To Watch For: Only eight schools in the country have more wins than Drexel, and three of them — Syracuse (26-1), Kentucky (25-1) and Missouri (24-2) — are top 5 teams. But the Dragons, who are 22-5, have gotten the majority of their wins against a schedule that ranks just 144th in the country. The Dragons need a marquee win, and an upset victory over the Vikings would give them a much-needed boost.

No. 124 Old Dominion at No. 64 Missouri State, 5 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU

Hotness Score: 84.8
Spread: Missouri State -4
Predicted Score: Missouri State 73, Old Dominion 67
What To Watch For: Old Dominion is one of the top teams in the country at picking the opponents’ pockets, ranking sixth nationally with 9.2 steals per game. The Monarchs also force 15.7 turnovers per game, but that will be the interesting battle against Missouri State, which turns the ball over only 10.2 times per game (eighth-best in the country). The Bears are led by Kyle Weems, a 6-foot-6 senior swingman who has averaged at least 13.6 points for three straight seasons.

No. 116 Drake at No. 76 New Mexico State, 3 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU

Hotness Score: 84.8
Spread: None (yet)
Predicted Score: New Mexico State 72, Drake 66
What To Watch For: If you’re going to skip one game on BracketBusters Saturday, this is probably your choice. Drake is a disappointing 8-8 in the Missouri Valley Conference. New Mexico State is 7-3 in the WAC, but the Aggies stand virtually no chance (1 percent) in our projected standings of catching first-place Nevada. Forget BracketBusters. This is more like BracketBummers. Barring a conference tournament run, you probably won’t see either of these teams in your bracket in March.

No. 125 Valparaiso at No. 112 Loyola Marymount, 9 p.m. ET Friday, ESPNU

Hotness Score: 79.9
Spread: Loyola Marymount -5
Predicted Score: Loyola Marymount 72, Valparaiso 67
What To Watch For: With a 12-4 conference record in coach Bryce Drew’s first season, the Crusaders are the surprising leaders in the Horizon League. Valparaiso’s Ryan Broekhoff (15.0 points, 8.5 rebounds) and Loyola Marymount’s Drew Viney (16.3 points, 5.3 rebounds) should have an intense battle. Both are about 6-foot-7, 215-pound forwards.