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Picking the top BracketBusters games

1/31/2011

Today is BracketBusters selection day, and the people have spoken. Well, to be more specific, the 31 people in my Fundamentals of Bracketology class have spoken. So we interrupt our regular discussion of No. 1 seeds and bubble teams to speculate on matchups for the Feb. 18-20 BracketBusters weekend.

Here's the best of what my "students" would like to see announced at 6:30 p.m. ET tonight on ESPNU:

Utah State Aggies (20-2, 9-0 WAC) at Saint Mary's Gaels (16-4, 6-1 WCC)

Student Brandon Gondeiro (Zurich, Mont.) says: "Matching up the only eligible ranked teams was a no-brainer. Being [that] the schools are both in the same region makes it even more logical. The matchup will add another quality win to the resume of one, although both appear to be in at-large bid contention should they lose in their respective conference tourneys."

Lunardi: A terrific pairing, yes, but the Aggies and Gaels played in the 2009 BracketBusters and had a return game in 2010. The guidelines for such an immediate rematch are unclear, especially because Saint Mary's would again be the home team on television.

Virginia Commonwealth Rams (18-5, 10-1 CAA) at Wichita State Shockers (17-4, 9-2 MVC)

Student Ryan Neises (Dayton, Ohio) says: "In 2006, George Mason (from CAA) went to Wichita State in the BracketBusters event. A month later, they were awarded an at-large bid as a No. 11 seed and went all the way to the Final Four. VCU is in a similar spot as George Mason five years ago, playing tough against quality opponents early in the year and now leading the CAA."

Lunardi: We should expect some serious CAA/Missouri Valley flavor in this year's BracketBusters, as many of the best available teams are in those two conferences. Wichita State is most in need of a quality nonconference win, and this is the last chance for the Shockers to earn one.

Cleveland State Vikings (18-3, 9-2 Horizon) at Old Dominion Monarchs (17-5, 8-3 CAA)

Student Lucas Timmons (Edmonton, Alberta) says: "The matchup I'd most like to see is Old Dominion and Cleveland State. I don't really pay much attention to the Colonial, but looking at this lineup, I might have to start. I think these teams will match up well against each other, and they are the best of the bunch."

Lunardi: These are two BracketBusters participants that will definitely be televised. Whether it's against each other remains to be seen, but this pairing is as good as any on the board.

Hofstra Pride (13-8, 8-3 CAA) at Charleston Cougars (15-7, 8-2 SoCon)

Student Darcy Ireland (University of Oregon senior) says: "Charleston has already beaten Hofstra and the Tennessee Volunteers, and has responded well to its unusual offseason. The side stories notwithstanding, the feast-your-eyes showdown here is that of Andrew Goudelock against Charles Jenkins. I would watch just so I can see these two go at each other. It doesn't hurt that both are contenders in their respective conferences, either."

Lunardi: Agree with Darcy on all counts. This would be must-see TV.

Austin Peay Governors (12-9, 8-3 OVC) at Northern Iowa Panthers (16-6, 8-3 MVC)

Student Brad Balassaitis (New Jersey) says: "I matched up home and away teams by pitting teams with ranked RPIs (Top 68) against teams that were not, giving some of the lower end bubble teams a chance to jump up. I thought about matching the strongest teams against each other, but it would make the rest of the games much weaker. This way, if teams that aren't as strong win, they enter the (at-large) discussion."

Lunardi: Brad's line of thinking is most interesting for RPI purposes but not always great for television. Coaches, players and fans typically want to face the best available competition. In that respect, BracketBusters are more like college football bowl games than they are NCAA tournament showcases.

Missouri State Bears (17-5, 9-2 MVC) at Murray State Racers (13-6, 7-3 OVC)

Student Austin Miller (Ole Miss sophomore) says: "The top teams from the MVC and OVC, and the top two BracketBusters teams in the Midwest. Neither team has a marquee win, especially Murray State.

Lunardi: I have to think Missouri State, with its top-50 RPI, is looking for a better opponent than Murray State (No. 137). This would be a lose-lose for the Bears, as a win wouldn't help them nearly as much as a loss would hurt. And anyone going into Murray knows the latter is more than possible.

Northern Colorado Bears (9-8, 7-1 Big Sky) at Long Beach State 49ers (11-10, 8-2 Big West)

Student Adam Goldsmith (Arlington, Va.) says: "First place in the Big West vs. first place in the Big Sky. I based my matchups primarily on geography, giving special recognition to those teams currently in first place in their conference."

Lunardi: Hard to argue with Adam's logic, especially after the very top pairings are determined. The conference commissions that make the remaining selections try to limit travel time and expense whenever possible.

Drexel Dragons (14-7, 6-5 CAA) at Hawaii Warriors (11-9, 3-6 WAC)

Student (and course director) Art Martin says: "Can you get me on that Hawaii trip?"

Lunardi: Art has spent too much of his winter staring at snow banks in Philadelphia. We forgive his "sunny" forecast for the Dragons. However, you can bet there are any number of BracketBusters participants lobbying for the same assignment.