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.