BracketBusters: Top 10 Games & Predictions
1. No. 16 Saint Mary’s (23-4) at No. 14 Murray State (25-1), 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN: A little of the luster is off the matchup since it was announced on Jan. 30. Since the announcement, Murray State became the last team in the country to lose its first game and the Gaels have lost two in a row. Still, this is a compelling matchup of two serious Sweet 16 contenders. The analysis: It appears that St. Mary’s Stephen Holt will be out with an ankle injury.
That, along with the homecourt advantage, could be enough to give the Racers the win (even though the Gaels are probably the better team in the long run). The Pick: Murray State 78, Saint Mary’s 75.
2. Long Beach State (19-6) at Creighton (22-5), 10 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2: There probably isn’t a game bigger for a single team in the BracketBuster than for Long Beach State. The 49ers already own wins over Pitt and Xavier and lost close games to San Diego State (in overtime), Kansas and North Carolina. A win over Creighton could punch their NCAA ticket, even if they are upset in the Big West Tournament. Until a recent 3-game losing streak, which ended Tuesday with an 88-69 win over Southern Illinois, Creighton’s Doug McDermott (22.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) was a national Player of the Year candidate. The analysis: Long Beach is one of the best of the mid-majors and it should prove it on Saturday. The Pick: Long Beach State 80, Creighton 76.
3. Nevada (22-4) at Iona (21-6), 4 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2: These are two teams that could definitely fill the Cinderella role in March. Iona has two of the nation’s best players in country in PG Scott Machado (13.3 ppg, 9.9 apg) and F Michael Glover (18.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg), plus solid scorers in Lamont Jones (16.1 ppg) and Sean Armand (47.1% 3s) to make up one of the best offenses in the country. Nevada has one of the most talented starting lineups in America. Both will be factors in the NCAA Tournament (if they get in, that is). Analysis: Despite a combined 43-10 record, both teams have been inconsistent at times this season. That means this game could go either way. Iona has shown more toughness, though. Expect a lot of points in a game that could be the day’s most entertaining. The Pick: Iona 89, Nevada 87.
4. No. 25 Wichita State (23-4) at Davidson (20-6), Noon Saturday on ESPN2: Wichita State is rolling with five straight wins and 13 victories in 14 games and the Shockers were recently predicted to go to the Final 4 by Sports Illustrated. Davidson is dominating the SoCon at 14-2 and has proven it can play with the best teams in the country when it beat Kansas 88-80 on Dec. 19. The analysis: Even on the road, the Shockers have too much size and talent for the Wildcats. The Pick: Wichita State 84, Davidson 73.
5. Akron (19-7) at Oral Roberts (24-5), 2 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2: The two teams have two combined conference losses. Behind 7-foot center Zeke Marshall (10.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.1 bpg), Akron has won eight straight. The Eagles have won four straight and 18 of 19 behind the play of Dominique Morrison (20.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg). Both teams have a go-to player, but they also have balanced scoring. The analysis: This one is really, really tough to pick. ORU has been so good in the Summit, but the league may be down a bit. If the Eagles can find a way to keep Marshall off the boards and dominating on the defensive end, they can remain unbeaten at home. The Pick: Oral Roberts 76, Akron 71.
6. Valparaiso (19-9) at Loyola Marymount (17-10), 9 p.m. Friday on ESPN2: These are suddenly two of the hottest teams in the country. Valpo has won eight of its last 10 to move to the top of the Horizon League. The Lions have struggled with injuries all season. They’re healthy now and have won 5-of-6, including a 75-60 win at Saint Mary’s on Wednesday. The analysis: With LMU is healthy and at home. That should be enough to earn a fairly easy victory. The Pick: Loyola Marymount 66, Valparaiso 57.
7. Drexel (22-5) at Cleveland State (20-7), 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPNU: Drexel is another team that has struggled with injuries, but since getting healthy, the Dragons are rolling. They have won 14 in a row and are tied with George Mason atop the Colonial standings. Cleveland State started hot, but has cooled off of late. The Vikings have lost three in a row after a 20-4 start and dropped back-to-back home games to Butler and Valpo last week. The analysis: Drexel will make it very difficult for CSU to score. The streaks will continue. The Pick: Drexel 65, Cleveland State 47.
8. UNC-Asheville (19-8) at Ohio (20-6), 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN3: Asheville clinched the Big South with three league games still to play, but the Bobcats are talented and underrated. Led by junior PG D.J. Cooper (13.9 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4 rpg, 2.3 spg), Ohio 7-of-9 and seven in a row at home. The analysis: The Bulldogs are 14-2 in the Big South, but they are 5-6 outside the league. The Bobcats will slow down UNCA’s potent offense. The Pick: Ohio 73, UNC-Asheville 61.
9. Buffalo (16-7) at South Dakota State (21-7), 1 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU: These are two of the nation’s surprising team. It wouldn’t be a shock to see either in the NCAA Tournament. Led by the talented frontcourt duo of sophomore F Javon McCrea (15.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Senior F Mitchell Watt (15 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Buffalo is one of the best rebounding teams in the country. The Jackrabbits’ explosive offense is led by xx PG Nate Wolters (21.8 ppg, 6 apg), who is coming off a 14-for-18, 30-point performance in an impressive 80-57 win over North Dakota State. The analysis: The homecourt advantage may be just enough for SDSU to continue their stunning rise. The Pick: South Dakota State 83, Buffalo 77.
10. UT-Arlington (20-5) at Weber State (21-4), 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN3: Another head-to-head matchup of conference leaders. Weber State, which is led by the nation’s leading scorer in Damian Lillard (24.8 ppg), has just one loss in the Big Sky. UTA is unbeaten in the Southland, thanks in large part to balance and rebounding. The analysis: The Mavericks have been impressive during their 16-game winning streak, but the Wildcats are better than anything the Southland has to offer. The Pick: Weber State 85, UT-Arlington 66.