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(Link to 2006 Bracket Buster Saturday Schedule Announcement & Commentary article)

ALL 10 MVC Teams to Compete in Bracket Buster

By Shawn A. Akers

The way itís been playing as of late, Southern Illinois doesnít really need any extra national attention. The NCAA Tournament committee certainly recognizes how good the Salukis are.

But then nationally-televised games have never hurt any mid-major conference team such as SIU, coach Matt Painter said, and if the Salukis are thrust into the spotlight, then so be it.

SIU, which beat Southwest Missouri State Tuesday night 59-52 to run its winning streak to eight games and remain unbeaten in the Missouri Valley Conference (11-0), will get an opportunity to show the entire country why itís on the verge of breaking into the Associated Press Top 25 (itís currently ranked 29th) on Saturday, Feb. 21. The Salukis will be part of ESPNís Bracket Buster II Saturday, and will host a strong University of Hawaii team (15-4) at the SIU Arena to be televised on ESPN.

The time of the game is a bit unusual -- a midnight ET start -- but Painter isnít concerned about the late-night tip-off. The Rainbows, from the Western Athletic Conference, have an RPI rating of 37.

"We think weíve got the best game that day," Painter said. "Itís great to be on ESPN and play somebody the caliber of Hawaii. We just have to go out and get ready and not get caught up in the hype."

SIU has more important things than on Hawaii on its mind in the immediate future. The Salukis travel to Creighton for a huge MVC showdown in Omaha on Saturday.

SIU owns a two-game advantage over the Blue Jays heading into that contest, and  the two teams will play again in Carbondale, Ill., on Tuesday, Feb. 24. The Salukis have seven MVC games remaining.

As for Bracket Buster Saturday, SIU hopes to repeat last yearís success in that event, when it beat Milwaukee-Wisconsin on Stetson Hairstonís last-second tip-in. That game, Painter said, helped SIU receive its second consecutive NCAA Tournament at-large berth.

"Beating Milwaukee got us in," Painter said. "Weíve still got some conference games to win this year, but beating Hawaii would certainly be big for us."

Bracket Buster II Saturday will feature all 10 MVC teams. Creighton will play at Kent State in a game to be televised on ESPN2; Southwest Missouri State is at Miami of Ohio; Wichita State will host Austin Peay State; Northern Iowa will travel to Wisconsin-Green Bay; Bradley hosts Northern Illinois; Illinois State plays host to Loyola-Chicago; Drake travels to Akron; Evansville plays at Central Michigan; and Indiana State is at home to face Buffalo.

Creighton will have its hands full on Feb. 21. The Blue Jays (16-2) face a Kent State team thatís tops in the Mid-American Conference and has won 14 of 17 this year.

Should Creighton fail to win the MVC Tournament, a victory over Kent State would go a long way in helping it get an at-large bid as well.

"Thereís no question about that," said Creighton coach Dana Altman. "Kent State is extremely good, well-coached basketball team. Weíve got some conference business to take care of, but weíd certainly like to go into Kent Stateís building a beat a team as good as they are. That looks good on the resume."

Pre-season MVC favorite Wichita State (13-7) may be beyond an at-large tournament berth at this point, but drew a strong opponent in Austin Peay (12-7), unbeaten in the Ohio Valley Conference at 9-0.

"Thatís going to be a great game for us," said Shockers coach Mark Turgeon. "Theyíre (Austin Peay) not unbeaten in the OVC for nothing. Weíre going to have our hands full, but at least weíll be at home."

Drake coach Tom Davis, who has seen his share of NCAA Tournaments at Boston College and Iowa, said even his Bulldogs will benefit from Bracket Buster Saturday, despite being mired in sixth place in the league (8-10, 4-6).

"I really applaud (MVC Commissioner) Doug Elgin for his efforts to get all the league teams on the Bracket Buster schedule," Davis said. "Itís a unique thing, even for those of us struggling to stay above water. Sure, the games will certainly help those teams at the top of the conference, but it will also help those in the middle and on bottom to. Itís a top-to-bottom win-win situation."



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