A lot of people are lamenting that this will be the final Bracketbusters event, most likely ever. And I understand why.
And then I take a look at the slate of 12-games today. While the event has had it moments, I find it hard to get excited about this overall slate of games. There are a few good matchups here and there, but in all honesty the storylines don’t begin to compare to the ones being written in conference play right now.
So while the prospect of not seeing another St. Mary’s at Murray State type of game in February is sad, I’d be much more psyched for six Ohio Valley Conference games mostly full of meaning today, instead of twelve games that means almost nothing.
Game of the Day
Ohio 20-6 (11-1 MAC) at Belmont 21-6 (12-2)
9:00 p.m. CST – ESPN2
If Belmont is the OVC representative in the NCAA tournament, the Bruins could use one more good win to help boost their seed. And while they didn’t get a household mid-major name traveling to Nashville, they got a very good mid-major program with a Cousy Award finalist in their backcourt named D.J. Cooper.
Cooper is best described a combination of Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark. He’s third in the nation in assists, and a solid jump shooter. He’s also could become the only player in the history of Division I college basketball to collect 2,000 points, 900 assists, 500 rebounds and 300 steals. That’s ever.
The Bruins biggest consistent weakness this year has been their rebounding. Ohio…is worse. 323rd in the nation in rebounding percentage, well behind Belmont. The Bobcats don’t shoot the ball as well as Belmont from deep (few teams do) but are more solid defensively. That’s not to say that both teams can’t score. They can, as both are in the top-15 in the nation in field goal percentage, and top-6 nationally in two-point percentage.
Whether Ohio can win a big game is a big question mark. The Bobcats are just 1-4 against the RPI top 100, and haven’t beaten a team in the top-50. Belmont is still 25th in the RPI.
The Rest Of The TV Games
South Dakota State 21-8 (12-3 Summit) at Murray State 19-7 (10-4)
7:00 p.m. CST – ESPN2
This game is billed as Nate Wolters vs Isaiah Canaan, two of the top-ten scorers in the nation going head to head. The difference is how they get their points. Canaan is known for his trademark pull-up three, and while Wolters has range, he tends to be more of a slasher, getting to the rim and often the free-throw line.
Outside the headline, there should be an interesting battle underneath the basket as well, with Ed Daniel matched up against 6’8″ forward Jordan Dykstra. The junior averages 12 points and 7 rebounds per game, but has the range to pull Daniel out of the lane. Another shooter the Racers have to pay attention to is Chad White. He scores just under 10-points a game, but leads the team in three-point shots made this season, ahead of Wolters.
South Dakota State’s undoing this season has been their defense, which is borderline woeful. They don’t create turnovers, and opposing teams are shooting 44% against the Jackrabbits defense this season, in the bottom 1/3 of the nation. They’ll challenge the Racers on defense, but could give Murray State enough opportunities on the other end to stay in a shootout.
Don’t expect South Dakota State to be intimidated by the CFSB Center. The Jackrabbits won at New Mexico, a top-3 RPI team this season.
Eastern Kentucky 22-6 (11-3) at Valpariso 21-7 (11-3 Horizon)
Noon CST – ESPNU
Valpariso has one OVC win on their schedule this year, a 66-64 win at Murray State in late December. They’ll look for number two today against Eastern Kentucky, looking to become the winningest team in school history.
The Crusaders are in a way the anti-Colonels. They do their damage with a pair of forwards, 6’7″ Ryan Broekhoff and 6’8″ Kevin Van Wijk. Broekhoff is a dynamite three-point shooter, but Van Wijk does almost all of his damage from five feet and in. That could provide a serious challenge to an Eastern Kentucky defense that’s been somewhat soft in the middle this season, and that’s struggled to get rebounds.
One thing that plays into EKU’s hand is ball handling. The Colonels remain in the top-15 in the nation in forced turnovers, and the Crusaders guards can be sloppy with the basketball.
This is yet another game that has high scoring written all over it. Both teams are in the top-20 nationwide in field goal percentage, and the top 8 in two-point percentage. (With EKU leading the nation. They can score in the paint. Defending it? That’s a bit trickier.)