The matchups for the 2010 ESPN Bracketbusters were announced earlier this week. All 10 Missouri Valley teams are participating, with three teams earning a game on ESPN2. The pool of participants this season is deep, and the Valley drew several good matchups.
Here are the pairings, a quick look at the Valley opponents and the official Bradley Braves Examiner predictions for all the Missouri Valley members: (All statistics are as of 1/31/10)
Old Dominion @ #22 Northern Iowa (ESPN2 – 2/19 at 6pm CST): The Monarchs should be taken seriously, given their excellent 9-2 record in a competitive Colonial Athletic Association this season. ODU has a road win at Georgetown on their resume, and at 55.6 points allowed per game, their scoring defense is bested by only two teams in the country, one of which is their opponent. The 17-6 Monarchs aren't a perimeter threat at all, but keep opponents to just 29.4% from three-point land. The Panthers will have their hands full on the boards attempting to neutralize 6-10 Gerald Lee and 6-8 Frank Hassell, who combine for 11.2 rebounds and 53.3% from the floor.
Prediction: There is no doubt this will be a defensive battle, and could come down to a free-throw contest in the final minutes. UNI has the edge from the charity stripe, and pulls this game out 58-56.
Nevada @ Missouri State (ESPN2 – 2/20 at 2pm CST): The Wolfpack are 2-6 in road games this season, but can light up the scoreboard regardless of the venue. They average 81.0 points per game, and their 48.8% team field-goal percentage is 14th best in the country. 6-9 forward Luke Babbitt is averaging 21.4 points and 9.9 rebounds, and is one of the best free-throw shooters in the country. The Wolfpack have three other players averaging better than 10 points per game, and have started the same lineup in all 21 of their games. If the Bears can protect the ball and slow down Nevada's up-tempo offense, they could escape with a victory.
Prediction: Babbitt and his supporting cast will be too amped for a chance to show their skills on national television - the Wolfpack prevail 80-71.
Wichita State @ Utah State (ESPN2 – 2/20 at 11pm CST): This could be one of the most entertaining games of the entire Bracketbusters series. The teams seem evenly matched, and both are well coached. The Aggies rank 6th in the nation by hitting 41.5% of their three-point attempts, and their team 76.5% mark from the free-throw line ranks in the top-10 in the country, just above Wichita State. Utah State is 11-1 at home this season, including a 10-point win over #12 BYU. 6-1 guard Jared Quayle is the best all-around player on the team, and the Aggies go nine deep with solid contributors. The Shockers need to find a way to pound the ball inside against the smaller Aggies if they are to win.
Prediction: The Dee Glen Smith Spectrum will be rocking as the last television game in the Bracketbusters series, and that pushes the Aggies over the edge to a 75-71 win.
Drexel @ Bradley: The Dragons feature a respectable 5-8 record on the road, but rank in the bottom 15% in the country in many offensive categories. Drexel's three-guard offense is similar to Bradley's, and the Dragons bring 6-2 freshman Chris Fouch off the bench as a quality scorer. Bradley will have to not waver from their offensive game plan against the tough half-court defense of the Dragons in order to prevail.
Prediction: The scoreboard operator won't be busy in this one, but Bradley is too deep for Drexel, and will come out on top 67-59.
Drake at CS-Northridge: The Matadors have played the entire season in streaks, including two different three-game winning streaks, and an eight-game losing streak. 12 different players have started a game for CS-Northridge, and they rank within the bottom 20 teams in the nation in turnovers and personal fouls per game. If Drake hits their free-throws and makes a few deep shots, they'll leave with a victory.
Prediction: The Bulldogs have played well as of late, and force enough turnovers to pick up a road win over the Matadors by a 75-68 margin.
Illinois-Chicago @ Evansville: The battle of the bottom feeders in their respective conferences won't provide too much excitement. The Flames have lost eight in a row, and rank in the bottom 20 teams in the nation in scoring offense and field goal percentage. Robo Kreps leads UIC with 14.1 points per game, but is shooting just 33.3% from the field. Evansville isn't much better, but features a deeper lineup than the Flames.
Prediction: UIC hasn't won on the road all season, and that won't change. The Aces take it, 60-49.
Morehead State @ Illinois State: The Eagles have had a good run through the weak Ohio Valley Conference, and rank fourth in the country in rebound margin with a +9.0 rating. 6-8 forward Kenneth Faried is leading the nation in rebounding with 13.7 per game, and adds 17.0 points, 2.0 blocks and 1.7 steals per contest. Redbird Dinma Odiakosa will have his hands full battling Faried in the paint.
Prediction: Faried will get his 18-12, but Osiris Eldridge proves too much and the Redbirds win 67-61.
Indiana State @ Green Bay: The Phoenix play a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act at home, having defeated Wisconsin but dropping games to Long Beach State, Buffalo and Valparaiso. They rank in the top-50 in the country in free throw and three-point percentage, and have a strong interior presence with 6-9 Randy Berry. The Sycs can guard the perimeter, but will need to play a solid interior game to beat the Phoenix.
Prediction: Berry will exploit the rebounding weakness of the Sycamores, and lead Green Bay to a 68-65 victory.
Western Michigan @ Southern Illinois: 6-3 senior David Kool averaged 21.3 points per game for the Broncos, but doesn't have much help around him. Western Michigan isn't a good perimeter team, and they have just two road wins all season. SIU hasn't defended their home floor well this season, and this will be no walk in the park.
Prediction: The Broncos won't be able to stop the backcourt combination of Kevin Dillard and Tony Freeman, and the Salukis emerge victorious, 69-66.
Loyola (Ill.) @ Creighton: The Ramblers rank in the top-50 in three-point percentage, but only convert on 43.2% of their two-point attempts. They commit far too many turnovers, and have no player averaging better than 12 points per game. They do have nice road wins at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Bradley, but they have lost seven of their last eight games, and don't appear to have the firepower to turn it around.
Prediction: Despite a down year for Creighton, they are still one of the nation's best home teams, and win this one 74-62.
Overall MVC record: 7-3