Will Creighton get a showcase game for Doug McDermott? Will Murray State draw a team capable of ending its unbeaten run? Will Long Beach State or Iona get one last chance for a resume-boosting win?
Those questions will be answered Sunday when the pairings for this year's BracketBusters games are announced.
Each of the BracketBusters matchups will take place Feb. 17, 18 or 19 and will be selected by the conferences in association with ESPN programming. Here's a look at my projections for the five biggest matchups:
1. Saint Mary's (19-2, 8-0) at Creighton (18-2, 8-1)
Why it should happen: Creighton and Murray State cannot face each-other because they're guaranteed home BracketBusters games, so organizers must find other attractive potential opponents. The best options appear to be WCC leader Saint Mary's, Valley contender Wichita State and Big West favorite Long Beach State, all of whom have at-large aspirations. Saint Mary's is probably the most likely team to make the trip to Creighton since Wichita State is a fellow Missouri Valley team and the Gaels boast a higher profile and national ranking than Long Beach State.
2. Wichita State (17-3, 8-1) at Murray State (20-0, 8-0)
Why it should happen: ESPN will want a marquee opponent capable of putting Murray State's unbeaten record to the test, and Wichita State appears to be the most attractive option besides perhaps Saint Mary's. The Shockers are tied with Creighton atop the Valley standings and boast a non-league victory over UNLV, making them perhaps the best team Murray State would play this season. Memphis, Dayton and Southern Mississippi would be the ones who could argue that point.
3. Long Beach State (14-6, 7-0) at Iona (15-5, 5-2)
Why it should happen: Pittsburgh's nosedive and Xavier's post-brawl decline have hurt Long Beach State's at-large chances, so the 49ers should want the strongest possible opponent here to boost their resume. If they don't get either Creighton or Murray State, the next best options are MAAC favorite Iona, Summit leader Oral Roberts, Southern Conference leader Davidson and Horizon contender Cleveland State. The first three of those teams are in the top 50 in the RPI and all four harbor slim at-large hopes, but Iona is the most attractive matchup because it would pit point guards Casper Ware and Scott Machado against one-another.
4. Nevada (16-3, 5-0) at George Mason (16-5, 8-1)
Why it should happen: Thanks to a 13-game win streak highlighted by wins over Washington and Utah State, the Wolf Pack have assumed the role of favorites in the WAC. An at-large bid is probably a stretch unless Nevada runs the table the rest of the regular season, but the Wolf Pack are still one of the best available road teams in BracketBusters this season. Cleveland State, Oral Roberts, Davidson and Iona are all potential opponents for Nevada. The hunch here, however, is that Nevada gets a bigger-name opponent from the CAA with either first-place George Mason or second-place VCU being the most likely options.
5. Northern Iowa (14-7, 4-5) at Oral Roberts (18-4, 10-0)
Why it should happen: If there's a third team in the Valley capable of earning an at-large bid, Northern Iowa is the most likely option. The Panthers have struggled in conference but still boast strong computer numbers thanks to wins over Iowa, Iowa State, Colorado State and Providence. There are a myriad of potential matchups for Northern Iowa, but Oral Roberts seems to make the most sense. The Golden Eagles are a fellow Midwest team with a Top 50 RPI, slim at-large hopes and one of the nation's top scorers in Dominique Morrison.
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