Saturday, February 24, 2007

Reactions to the Bracket Buster

The Bracket Buster games yielded some interesting results. Some teams really boasted their tournament resumes, while others faultered down the stretch. All in all, the Bracket Buster was a huge success because it broadcasted teams that are not normally in the public spotlight. There are countless midmajor squads that play with such intensity night in and night out. We were able to see some of this fire last weekend.

Specifically, several teams really put themselves on the map as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned.

Winthrop is the biggest Bracket Buster winner of them all. They defeated Missouri St., a team that had a secured a bid already. Winthrop pulled away in the second half and really proved that they can contend in a tournament setting. If they remain undefeated in their conference and make it to the Big South championship game, they could conceivably earn an at large bid. Because of this win, Winthrop is firmly on the bubble and is one step closer to fulfilling their tournament aspirations.

Fresno St. earned bubble consideration because of their win against Sam Houston St. SM St. really hurt its seeding by losing this contest handedly.

Appalachian St. was another Bracket Buster winner. They defeated a rising MVC team- Wichita St.- on a buzzer beating shot. Donte Minter played extremely well inside and led his team to victory. Kyle Wilson tied the game, but DJ Thompson's runner sunk before the horn and gave Appalachian St. the victory. With wins against Vanderbilt, Davidson, VCU, and Virginia on the road, Appalachian St. is one step closer to a bid.

Hofstra added to their resume by defeating Holy Cross in a close contest.

Southern Illinois's victory against Butler was extremely impressive. Both teams played the way basketball ought to be played- they were extremely tough on defense, corralling the ball on several occasions for fast break points. The fundamentals present in this game made it a thing of beauty. Both of these teams, although undersized up front, played with intensity in the paint, attacked the rim and- most of all-shot unbelievably well from long range. Pete Campbell and Brandon Crone knocked down some clutch three point shots to bring Butler back from a double digit deficit. Tatum had an excellent game as I predicted. His quickness broke through Butler's defense and opened up the game for his teammates. Before the half ended, he hit a three pointer to put Southern Illinois up by five points. Then, when Butler started to come back, he hit several fade away shots from near the three point line with a defender in his face. The biggest surprise was AJ Graves's disappearing act. He had one of his worst games of the season and connected on only one three point attempt. Mike Green elevated his Butler squad by attacking the rim and thus getting Randal Faulker into foul trouble. Both of these teams demonstrated basketball fundamentals that- in some cases- are not even present on the next level. The chemistry that both teams exhibit is going to them deep into the tournament in March.

Nevada crushed Northern Iowa, but did not really earn a quality win. It did- however- further appeal to the committee as far as seeding is concerned.

Old Dominion has been on a tear recently and their victory over Toledo only added to their resume. Although they have not secured a bid, they are closer to receiving an at large than most midmajor bubble teams.

Wright St. helped its potential seeding by defeating Cal St. Fullerton by a large margin. This only demonstrates the extent as to which the Big West has declined; they are no longer a threat to upset major squads as they were during Pacific's heyday.

Bradley really boasted their resume with a win over VCU. Commonwealth will have to advance far in the Colonial Athletic tournament if they want any shot at an at large.

New Mexico St.'s victory over Ohio was quite an intriguing game. They were down by 18 points at the half and nothing was falling from the field. They made careless turnovers and could not seem to contain Walther from beyond the three point line. Ohio made few mistakes in the first half and looked like they were on pace for a nice road win. But, New Mexico St. had another result in mind. They came out strong at the start of the second half and slowly crept back into the game. New Mexico St. employed several techniques in order to come back. First, they moved away from the three point line. In the first half, they kept trying to match Walther's long range bombs with outside shots of their own. This strategy clearly was not working; so, New Mexico St. went back to their bread and butter- attacking the paint whenever they got the opportunity. Also, New Mexico St. drove at Ohio's big men. Because Ohio did not possess the frontcourt depth of New Mexico St., Theus's players attacked the opposition's big men and got them into foul trouble. The main cogs in Ohio's frontcourt- Jerome Tillman and Leon Williams- played sporatically throughout the second half due to foul trouble. New Mexico St. continued to feed their big men in order to take advantage of their size and depth advantages inside; thereby, Tyrone Nelson and Hatila Passos were a valuable part of this comeback. Suddenly, Fred Peete began making midrange shots and Elijah Ingram was hitting some clutch three pointers. Although the aforementioned players made some significant contributions, Martin Iti's performance played the paramount role in New Mexico St.'s comeback victory. His impeccable frontcourt defense coupled with his thundering dunks at key junctures in the game motivated his team and got them back in the contest. Ultimately, a series of key plays by Passos- including a steal and a dunk on the other end- gave New Mexico St. the lead. Overall, I was impressed by New Mexico St.'s pressure defense and its composure to come back from such a deficit. They will still need to win out in their conference tournament in order to make the Big Dance, but this win had major seeding implications.

Drexel's win at Creighton has put them into tournament discussions. Creighton was in control the vast majority of the game. During the first half of play, Anthony Tolliver was a dominant force in the paint. But, midway into the second half, he received his fourth foul. Suddenly Drexel was firing on all cylinders. They ran several screen plays to free up Dominick Meija and he took advantage of this, finishing with twenty points. Meija's counterpart inside- Frank Elegar- also elevated his game in the second half. He outrebounded Creighton's frontcourt and effectively altered the momentum in the game with a putback dunk on the fastbreak. Ultimately, Funk missed a few late opportunities to tie the game from beyond the three point line. Overall, Drexel displayed a valient effort, continuing a nice road win streak. Because of this game, Creighton is very close to the bubble- while they may be secure, they cannot afford a bad loss early in the MVC tournament.

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