Small Conference Game of the Day – February 22

In 2003, ESPN came up with the novel idea of having 18 teams leave a weekend in February open in their schedules and letting the network choose the 9 games that would be played between those teams that weekend — an event the network called BracketBusters.  Over the years, the event expanded to include over 100 teams per season, with the top dozen or so games picked for television coverage.  The games proved exciting, and in 2006, the George Mason-Wichita State game actually proved to be a preview of a Sweet 16 matchup between the same two teams.

Unfortunately for the event, the changing landscape of college sports began to take its toll.  Teams such as Butler and Virginia Commonwealth have moved out of conferences that participate in BracketBusters.  Other conferences that annually participated decided they would rather not be involved, most notably the CAA.  As a result, ESPN has announced that the 2013 edition of BracketBusters will be the final one.  (Technically, BracketBusters will still affect next season’s schedule as all participants are required to play a “return game” rematch against their same opponent next season at the road team’s home court).

This year’s BracketBusters event begins tonight with a pair of games.  North Dakota State travels to Akron at 7:00 PM Eastern on ESPN2, and Stephen F Austin travels to Long Beach State at 9:00 PM Eastern on ESPNU.  It is the later of these two games, between a pair of conference leaders, that we are focusing on for today’s SCGD.

Stephen F Austin enters tonight’s game 22-3 overall and tied for first in the Southland at 13-2.  Their RPI is 78 and their KenPom is 58, but a SOS well into the 300s means they will probably need to win the automatic bid to make the NCAA tournament.  They do have a great road win over Oklahoma on their resume, but that is their only top 100 win.  In fact they only have two other top 150 wins, both over Oral Roberts.  Their overall record is also bolstered by four wins over non-Division I competition.

Long Beach State enters the game at 17-9 overall and 13-2 in the Big West.  They need only one more conference win, or one conference loss by Pacific, to clinch the outright regular season Big West title.  They have an RPI of 110 and a KenPom of 131.  While they did challenge themselves in the non-conference season, playing Arizona, North Carolina, UCLA, Ohio State and Syracuse, they lost all of those games, most of them in convincing fashion.  However, the 49ers have rolled through the Big West so far this season and should enter their conference tournament as the heavy favorite to win.




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1 Response to Small Conference Game of the Day – February 22

  1. David Griggs says:

    Great write-up.

    Dan Monson has done a fantastic job with this Long Beach program. Since he didn’t succeed at Minnesota (and he actually didn’t do THAT bad), people have an impression of him as being someone who can’t cut the muster. But, the guy has an outstanding resume. He was the coach when Gonzaga went to their first and only Elite Eight. Mark Few deserves every bit of credit that he has received for what he’s done at Gonzaga, but it was Monson who initially started the building process. When he took over, they were no more accomplished or recognizable than…say…San Diego currently is. Maybe even less than that. Out at Long Beach, he hasn’t won a tournament game, but they did have a very good team the last two years, and although they didn’t need an at-large a year ago, they were seeded better than many teams who did receive them. This year, they’re not quite as good as they were last year, but they’re certainly better than they were the last time the team was this young. So, they are DEFINITELY progressing forward.

    As for the Buster, I will really miss it. I realize that there is a huge business element to college athletics, and sometimes when it comes to the networks, it is the only element. The Buster was great because it allowed for quality match-ups late in the season for good teams that otherwise would not have had them. If anything, I wish there were two or three days set aside for quality match-ups late in the year rather than just one. I think it did help some teams play their way onto, and even inside the bubble over the years.

    However, another element to it is that it was a network showcase. I don’t know if it’s the sheer number of games that are now on TV or on internet stream or what, but what was once a showcase weekend now has a much dimmer spotlight on it. Now that it’s gone, the network is, sadly, pulling the plug. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. I really hope that a lot of these teams and conferences can reach some sort of scheduling agreement where they continue to do it anyway. Even if it isn’t an ESPN showcase event, at least it will continue to allow good teams from weak conferences to get a quality late season match-up. As for now, though, the curtain is closing.

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