BracketBuster Week is finally here, and while many mid-majors have already sealed their post-season fates, some still have high hopes for the near-future.
Most of the participants won’t receive at-large bids, but this is as good a time as any to get to know some of the teams we will see during the first week of March Madness. By now, even the casual fan should know about teams like Creighton, Iona, and Murray State. But there are a host of mid-majors that could pose a threat come tournament time.
You can view the entire schedule here
No. 10 – South Dakota State (20-7, 12-3 Summit)
BB Opponent: 2/18 vs. Buffalo, 1 p.m. on ESPNU
The Jackrabbits are led by Nate Wolters, one of the most prolific scorers in the country. The junior guard averages 21.5ppg and has logged four 30-point performances this season. Four players on the team average double-figures, and what they lack in size, they make up for in offensive fire-power.
No. 9 – UNC-Asheville (19-8, 14-2 Big South)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Ohio, 7 p.m. on ESPN3
The Bulldogs were the first team this season to clinch a regular season championship, and are therefore guaranteed a birth in the N.I.T. at the very minimum. Led by the Big South’s top two guards – Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm – the Bulldogs are statistically a top-10 team in points-per-game, assists-per-game and field goal percentage. Asheville defeat Arkansas-Little Rock last year in the Opening Round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to Pittsburgh in the First Round.
No. 8 – UT-Arlington (19-5, 11-0 Southland)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Weber State, 8 p.m. on ESPN3
The Mavericks are in their final season as members of the Southland Conference, and look to leave with a bang. They are currently riding a 15-game unbeaten streak and are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Led by guard LaMarcus Reed and his 16.7ppg, the Mavericks will have have their hands full with Weber State and the Wildcats superstar scoring machine Damian Lillard.
No. 7 – Weber State (20-4, 12-1 Big Sky)
BB Opponent: 2/18 vs. UT-Arlington, 8 p.m. on ESPN3
Weber State is home to Damian Lillard, the nation’s top scorer. The junior guard averages 25.1ppg and is capable of taking over a game at any time. But he is not alone. Scott Bamforth, Lillard’s backcourt mate, averages 15.3ppg and is one of the top free-throw shooters in the country. The Wildcats have represented the Big Sky Conference in the NCAA Tournament twice since 2002 and are the favorites in the conference to return to the Big Dance.
No. 6 – Akron (18-7, 10-1 MAC)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Oral Roberts, 2 p.m. on ESPN or ESPN2
The Zips started the season off with a huge road-win at Mississippi State, and while they were only 8-6 in non-conference play, they suffered only one loss to a team with non post-season aspirations (81-76 loss vs. Duquesne). But in Conference-play, the Zips have been down-right impressive, and are led by Zeke Marshall, one of the most unappreciated big-men in the country. They are one of the top-75 teams in the country when it comes to scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage. They face a talented Oral Roberts team in search of a resume-boosting win.
No. 5 – Valparaiso (19-9, 12-4 Horizon)
BB Opponent: 2/17 @ Loyola-Marymount, 9 p.m. on ESPNU
The Crusaders are coached by Valpo legend Bryce Drew, famous for his March Madness-defining buzzer-beater against Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA Tournament. The 2012 Crusaders are atop the Horizon League standings, but may have to finish the season without their best player, Kevin Van Wijk, who suffered a knee injury earlier in the month. But Australian import Kevin Broekhoff anchors an experienced bunch looking to win the school’s first Horizon League title.
No. 4 – Drexel (22-5, 14-2 CAA)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Cleveland State, 11 a.m. on ESPNU
You know about the other two top teams in the CAA, George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth. But what about Drexel? Did you know this team was the pre-season favorite to win the conference? Did you know that the Dragons have won 14-straight, including wins over both GMU and VCU? Did you know that they have only given up 60-points twice since the New Year? You really should brush up on your Drexel knowledge. They could be around for awhile.
No. 3 – Nevada (22-4, 10-1 WAC)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Iona, 4 p.m. on ESPN or ESPN2
Nevada has lost just once since the beginning of December, and the Wolfpack seemingly get better as the season progresses. While they might be out of at-large contention, this team has the talent and size to pick up a win or two in the tournament. They have four All-Conference-caliber players in Deonte Burton, Malik Story, Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt, and will match-up very well with Iona’s “Big-3” of Scott Machado, MoMo Jones and Michael Glover.
No. 2 – Long Beach State (19-6, 12-0 Big West)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Creighton, 10 p.m. on ESPN2
If you aren’t familiar with this team, shame on you. The 49ers played one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country, which included a road-win against Pittsburgh. They are led by Casper Ware and Larry Anderson, both of whom could walk away with the Big West PoY award. Dan Monson’s squad has rolled through conference play, winning be an average of 13.3ppg. But the 49ers need this win to bolster their at-large status. They faltered in the Big West tournament last season after a similar conference season and don’t want to suffer the same fate.
No. 1 – Wichita State (22-4, 13-2 MVC)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Davidson, Noon on ESPN or ESPN2
The Shockers enter BracketBusters Week surging, having just beaten Creighton on the road by 21. They hold non-conference wins over Colorado and UNLV, and have lost just once since the New Year. A win against Davidson won’t do much to help their at-large hopes, but it will help to continue their momentum heading into “Arch Madness”. Big-man Garrett Stutz is coming on strong and this team is starting to peak at the right time.