Valley teams will take center stage this week as ESPNU presents the annual BracketBuster Event, where teams from non-BCS conferences face off against one another in an attempt to bolster their tournament resumes. The Valley is arguably the best non-BCS league in the nation and with its third best non-conference record ever at 82-27, the MVC has shown it can play with the best in the country. Valley teams have posted numerous quality wins this season, including Missouri State’s win over Wisconsin, Indiana States knocking off nationally ranked Butler and Wichita State beating Syracuse on the road. This weekend’s games will give teams hoping to make the post season a chance to pick up a marquee win as the Valley continues to prove it is one of the top conferences in all of college basketball.
Here’s a closer look at the 10 Valley BracketBuster match ups with predictions.
Friday February 16th
Winthrop at Missouri State
The Bears have a chance to add to a resume that includes a win over #4 Wisconsin when they face a very solid Winthrop team from the Big South Friday night in Springfield. Winthrop, who lost to Wisconsin in overtime in Madison, is currently 10-0 entering this week’s action in the Big South and looks to be the favorite to win their conference tourney. Should they slip up, a win at Missouri State could help them out in their quest for an at-large bid. Missouri State will have its hands full with the Eagle’s leading scorer Michael Jenkins who is averaging almost 16 points a game. The Bears know what’s at stake and a win here will move them even closer to the Big Dance. The Bears don’t want a repeat of last year’s Selection Sunday when they were left out of the tourney and this game will have Missouri State stepping up to the challenge and beating the Eagles behind a huge game from seniors Blake Ahearn and Tyler Chaney.
Prediction – Missouri State 75-70
Saturday February 17th
Appalachian State at Wichita State
Both teams will probably need to win their respective conference tournaments to get into the NCAA Tournament but both teams enter this match up as two of the best non-BCS teams in the nation. The Shockers, who looked to be a lock to make the Big Dance a few weeks ago desperately needs this win if they want to even find themselves on the “bubble” come Selection Sunday. Both squads own numerous quality wins this season with Appalachian State beating Virginia, Vanderbilt and VCU but it might be the winner of this game that keeps its NCAA Tournament dreams alive. The Mountaineers, currently first in the Southern Conference’s North Division, likely hasn’t encountered an atmosphere like Wichita State’s Koch Arena. The home crowd will be a huge factor and the Shockers led by Kyle Wilson and Sean Ogirri will pick up yet another quality win, but will the win be enough to help them come Selection Sunday?
Prediction – Wichita State 80-70
Evansville at Samford
Neither team has a shot at the NCAA Tournament but it’s the Evansville Purple Aces who will look to continue their season with a shot at the NIT still within reach. Sitting at just one game under .500, the Aces need to pick up as many wins as possible over the course of the last three weeks if they want to make the postseason. The Aces will travel to Samford Saturday to take on a very strong Bulldog team, which is currently second in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Bulldogs are led by Randall Gulina who is averaging just over 18 points a game for a very solid Bulldog team. The Aces have been good this season at home but they are just 3-9 on the road. The Aces are 3-0 against the OVC this season with wins over Austin Peay, SE Missouri State and Tennessee-Martin. The Aces, despite their road struggles, will pull out a very close win over Samford, running the table against OVC teams.
Prediction – Evansville 62-61
UW-Milwaukee at Drake
The Drake Bulldogs were off to one of their best starts in school history at 9-2 but they have since hit a lull and have struggled in the MVC. The Panthers of UW-Milwaukee have historically been one of the top teams in the Horizon league but they are having a down year. Both teams have no shot at the post season but they both will be playing for the pride of their conferences. The difference in this game will be Drakes full-court pressure as it will give the Panthers fits all game long. The Panthers have yet to win a road game this season as they are currently 0-13 away from home. UW-Milwaukee is lead by Avery Smith, one of two Panthers averaging double figures in scoring with 15 points per game. Drake will get a huge game out of senior Ajay Calvin and the Bulldogs should have no trouble handing the Panthers their 14 consecutive road loss of the season.
Prediction – Drake 68-55
Miami (OH) at Indiana State
The Redbirds of Miami, Ohio will travel to Indiana State Saturday to take on the Sycamores in a game both teams need badly if either one hopes to make the NIT. Both teams are hovering around the .500 mark thus far and in order to quality for the NIT, teams must finish above .500. The Sycamores will struggle despite this game being on their home floor as the forward duo of Tim Pollitz and Nathan Peavy has been huge for the Redhawks as each play over 34 minutes and average 14 points per game. The Sycamores have struggled recently with their shooting and if they want to stay close they’ll have to play much better on the offensive side of the ball. This game will be close throughout but the Redhawks will steal one on the road and inch even closer to a possible postseason berth.
Prediction – Miami (OH) 62-55
#15 Southern Illinois at #12 Butler
The highlight game on this year’s BracketBuster schedule features two nationally ranked teams clashing head on when Southern Illinois visits Butler. Both teams are in the running for a top 4 seed in the Big Dance and whichever team wins here will add to their already very solid tournament resume. The Bulldogs have been the surprise team in the country this season as they have been almost unbeatable behind AJ Graves’ stellar play. Graves keeps this team together, averaging 17 points a game, but this team is very solid from beyond the arc as they hit 20 threes a week ago in a win over Cleveland State. One of the Bulldogs only two losses came to Valley member Indiana State, a team SIU has already beaten during conference action. SIU will once again rely on their smothering defense to try and stop the Bulldogs. Regardless of the outcome both teams will be seeded very high in the NCAA Tournament and both, at this point, are locks to make the Big Dance. This game should be an outstanding college basketball game, but Butler playing at home has the edge and will escape with a narrow win.
Prediction – Butler 68-66
Ball State at Illinois State
Another Missouri Valley verse Mid-American match up has the Ball State Cardinals traveling to Normal, Illinois to take on the Illinois State Redbirds. Neither team has a shot at the post season unless they get hot and run the table in their conference tournament, which most likely won’t happen. Both teams, however, will be looking to step outside conference play and pick up a win on a national stage. The advantage goes to the Redbirds in this game as they are a much better team than the Cardinals and they are playing at home. The Cardinals are led by Skip Mills, averaging 13 points per game, but after him they are not very deep. Illinois State will play one of its more complete games this season and beat Ball State handily.
Prediction – Illinois State 75-62
Northern Iowa at #11 Nevada
Just a couple weeks back, the Northern Iowa Panthers looked primed for another tournament run and a possible MVC Championship. But the Panthers have struggled as of late and now their tournament chances are in serious jeopardy. One simple way to revive those chances is to beat nationally ranked Nevada on the road. But that is easier said than done and the Panthers will have their hands full with an extremely talented Wolfpack team lead by Player of the Year Candidate Nick Fazekas. Fazekas is averaging over 20 points and 11 rebounds per game for the Wolfpack who have only tasted defeat twice this season. The Panthers will have to hope that both Grant Stout and Eric Coleman can stay out of foul trouble and they will have to do anything possible to contain Fazekas. Nevada has the edge in guard play, both Marcelus Kemp and Ramon Sessions average in double figures, and since this game is away from Cedar Falls, the Panthers will be trouble from the opening tip. Nevada wins and all but knocks UNI out of NCAA Tournament at-large talk.
Prediction – Nevada 80-70
Bradley at Virginia Commonwealth
Both teams are hoping to hear their names called on Selection Sunday but both still have work to do and the winner of this game will certainly enhance their chances. The Braves have slipped as of late and VCU is looking to pad its resume in case it doesn’t win the automatic bid for the CAA. VCU currently sits atop the CAA and is primed to be the next surprise team to make some noise in the Big Dance after George Mason did so next year. However, they must first beat a solid Bradley team at home and they should have no trouble doing so. VCU is lead by a trio of guards, B.A. Walker, Eric Maynor and Jesse Pellot-Rosa, all who are averaging in double figures. The Braves live and die by the three point shot and lately that shot hasn’t been falling. It won’t be easy for the Braves, as they’ll head into a gym where VCU has only lost twice all season. The Rams will keep their tourney hopes alive with a victory of a solid Bradley team.
Prediction – Virginia Commonwealth 75-65
Drexel at Creighton
The last game to be played by a Valley member in this year’s BracketBuster event will feature the Drexel Dragons going on the road to take on the Creighton Bluejays. Both teams appear to be in good shape to make the Big Dance but the Dragons need this game badly as they are sitting on the “bubble” for at-large consideration. The Bluejays appear to be a lock to make this year’s tournament but a win over a Drexel team who has wins at Syracuse, St. Joseph’s and Villanova, will certainly enhance their seed. When the Dragons walk out onto the floor at the Quest Center they’ll be in for quite a surprise as no atmosphere in the CAA is like that of the one in Omaha. The Bluejays must stop Drexel’s force in the middle, center Frank Elegar, who is averaging 15 points and 7 boards per game. Anthony Tolliver will be up to the challenge and Nate Funk will continue to make the “big shot,” and the Bluejyas will win a very close game over the Dragons of Drexel.
Prediction – Creighton 77-73