College Hoops Monday Recap: BracketBusters TV Matchups Announced
7 p.m. VCU at Wichita State (ESPN2)
9 p.m. Kent State at Drexel (ESPNU)
11 a.m. Hofstra at Wright State (ESPNU)
1 p.m. Austin Peay at Fairfield (ESPNU)
3 p.m. Iona at Liberty (ESPNU)
5 p.m. Missouri State at Valparaiso (ESPN2)
5 p.m. Vermont at College of Charleston (ESPNU)
7 p.m. George Mason at Northern Iowa (ESPN2)
9 p.m. No. 21 Utah State at Saint Mary's (CA) (ESPN2)
11 p.m. Montana at Long Beach State (ESPN2)
1 p.m. Cleveland State at Old Dominion (ESPN or ESPN2)
The crown jewel of these games has to be Utah State visiting Saint Mary's in a matchup of the conference leaders in the WAC and WCC. Brian Green came up big for the Aggies on Monday night in their win at Hawaii in double overtime, and frontcourt players such as Nate Bendall, Keith Jardine and Tai Wesley make Stew Morrill's team a tough team to match up with. That will be the challenge for Randy Bennett's Gaels, whose frontcourt was solid in the win at Gonzaga on Thursday night. But things went downhill in Portland, where Saint Mary's took their first conference loss in surprising style by the final score of 85-70. The backcourt of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova lead the way for the Gaels, and San Diego transfer Rob Jones has played well also. Also of note is the opening game of the event, featuring VCU heading to the midwest to take on Wichita State.
The sight of a CAA team with slim at-large hopes taking on a team from the Missouri Valley brings back memories of 2006, when George Mason was able to use the momentum gained from a BracketBusters win at Wichita State to squeak into the Big Dance and two weeks later end up in the Final Four. Not to say that Shaka Smart's team is headed on the same path but given their talent (guard Joey Rodriguez and forward Jamie Skeen lead the way) this is a team few will want to see as their first round matchup come March. Gregg Marshall's Shockers can also pose matchup issues, and they missed out on some good opportunities to pick up a resume-building non-conference win. And at this point Wichita State may need to win the MVC Tournament in order to go dance, although a win over the Rams at home would be a bonus.
It's debatable what this event brings to the participating teams since it's almost a form of cannibalism in regards to how many teams can earn an at-large berth (the event would be more "profitable" if they could take on bubble teams from BCS conferences but that will never happen). But with this year's soft bubble and a number of teams on both sides of the BCS line lacking impressive profiles maybe there's a little more to be gained this time around. At the very least these 22 teams get some national television exposure that in most cases they'd miss out on in mid-February. The interesting thing to watch now: which of these teams take care of business in their games leading up to BracketBusters weekend and which ones squander their opportunity before it even arrives.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Texas blows out Texas A&M for the second time in less than two weeks.
The thought of many (myself included) was that the home court advantage would keep Texas A&M around and give them a chance to knock off Texas after getting blown out in Austin on January 19th. What we learned: not only is Texas a bad matchup for the Aggies but Rick Barnes' club could be on their way to a one-seed at this point in the season. Jordan Hamilton scored a game-high 20 points but it was the defense that led Texas to a 69-49 victory in College Station that didn't look as close as the final margin would indicate. A&M shot just 30.9% from the field for the game, shooting even worse in the first half as they fell behind by as many as 27 points before heading into the intermission down 45-20. The Aggies are an efficient offensive team due to their ability to hit the offensive boards, and when they're unable to do that Mark Turgeon's team is in trouble. The taller Longhorns held A&M ten percentage points below their season average in offensive rebounding percentage (31% to their average of 41%) and out-rebounded them 41-33. Defensively Texas was also able to force the Aggies to try to create things on their own and besides B.J. Holmes (19 points) there was little to be had in that department. To say the least it was an impressive performance on the road for Texas, who at this point in the season have the look of a Final Four contender. The question of whether or not they can reach such expectations will be determined in March.
2. Chris Wright comes up big in Georgetown's win over Louisville.
Despite winning at Villanova on Saturday thanks to Austin Freeman's 30 points there was the question of what was going on with Chris Wright. Wright went scoreless on Saturday and accounted for just nine points combined in the Hoyas' last two games. But they'd won four straight going into Monday's matchup with the Cardinals, and it was only a matter of time before the senior point guard regained his shooting form. Out of the rubble of an at times ugly game (22-18 at the half) rose Wright, who finished with 24 points, five rebounds and three assists in the Hoyas' 62-59 win at the Verizon Center. Austin Freeman added 13 and Julian Vaughn 10 while defensively the Hoyas held Louisville to 35.1% shooting from the field and solving the riddle of defending Peyton Siva on ball screens. Unlike Connecticut, John Thompson III's team had the proper rotations defensively and limited him to just five points on the night. Terrence Jennings had another solid game for Louisville with 18 points and seven rebounds while Preston Knowles added 10 in a losing effort. But Monday night was all about they guy so many declared to be the barometer for Georgetown's success, and if Wright is at his best this becomes an even tougher team to beat.
3. Fairfield gains desired separation in the MAAC standings.
At first glance a 70-55 win over a team that's 10-11 overall and 4-7 in MAAC play isn't a big deal. But given some of the losses that other contenders in the conference took over the prior four days Fairfield picked up an important win in their quest for the MAAC regular season crown. Derek Needham led all scorers with 17 points and three other Stags reached double figures in the win, which pushed their league record to 10-1. Now two games ahead of Saint Peter's and three ahead of Iona, Loyola (MD) and Rider, Ed Cooley's team has some breathing room that they may be able to take advantage of in separating themselves from a group that seemed to have a lot in common just two weeks ago. And that's quite important given the fact that Fairfield hosts Iona (Friday) and Rider (Sunday) this week. A sweep of those two games and the Stags will essentially lock up the top seed in the MAAC Tournament, meaning that their first game would come against a team that played the night prior. And with the likes of Needham, freshman Maurice Barrow, Ryan Olander and a host of other contributors this is a deep group that can wear down most opponents. Keep an eye on Fairfield, as they could be a team that gets a low seed but scares the bejeezus out of someone in the NCAA Tournament.
Top Three Games
1. Norfolk State 110, Coppin State 108 (2OT) The run of double-overtime games continues with the Spartans knocking off the Eagles in Baltimore. Kyle O'Quinn was outstanding for Norfolk State, finishing with 37 points, 19 rebounds and six blocks. Michael Harper scored 27 points off the bench to lead Coppin State while Akeem Ellis added 20.
2. (14) Georgetown 62, (13) Louisville 59
3. Howard 70, Delaware State 67 Mike Phillips led five Howard players in double figures with 19 points as the Bisons won consecutive games for the first time this season. Desi Washington led the Hornets with a game-high 20 but lost control of the ball with Delaware State down one with just over a second remaining.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Kyle O'Quinn (Norfolk State) 37 points, 19 rebounds and six blocks in the Spartans' 110-108 double-overtime win over Coppin State.
2. G Kwame Morgan II (Hampton) 30 points, making 8 of 14 three pointers, in the Pirates' 78-66 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore.
3. G Chris Wright (Georgetown) 24 points, five rebounds and three assists in the Hoyas' 62-59 win over Louisville.