BracketBusters pairings are out, and the clear winner is Saint Mary’s

Among the 122 entrants in the final edition of BracketBusters are a handful of mid-major programs with aspirations of landing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament next month.

Only Saint Mary's drew an opponent with enough pop to aid that quest.

[Also: Thrilling stretch ahead as teams vie for tournament seeding]

As expected, a Gaels team in dire need of marquee wins now has a golden opportunity to get one Feb. 23 when 16th-ranked Creighton visits Moraga. The Bluejays, by far the most accomplished of the potential road teams in this year's BracketBusters event, boast a 20-3 record, a top 30 RPI and a national player of the year candidate on their roster.

A soft November and December schedule further damaged by losses to middling Georgia Tech, Pacific and Northern Iowa left Saint Mary's with little margin for error the rest of the season. Even with a road win last month at BYU on Matthew Dellavedova's buzzer-beating 3-pointer, the Gaels probably need to win at least two out of three remaining notable home games against Gonzaga, BYU and now Creighton.

Wichita State, Indiana State, Belmont and Akron are each fellow BracketBusters entrants whose at-large chances would have benefited from victories over noteworthy opponents, but none of them will have the chance.

Of the six top 60 RPI teams in BracketBusters this season, Creighton was the only team playing on the road. When Saint Mary's drew the Bluejays, it guaranteed the other four home teams would draw games in which a victory lacks the sizzle to boost their at-large hopes and a loss is potentially crushing.

Belmont drew the most high-profile opponent, landing a visit from an Ohio team that reached the Sweet 16 last season and is 15-6 this year but also checks in at No. 90 in the current RPI. Though Belmont's RPI is a thoroughly impressive No. 18, it's not clear the Bruins could afford a BracketBusters loss considering their best victories this season were against Stanford, Middle Tennessee and South Dakota State.

Wichita State is safely in the field of 68 for the moment, but a home loss to Detroit would damage the Shockers' seeding and reduce their margin for error to secure an at-large bid. Neither MAC-leading Akron nor Missouri Valley contender Indiana State can afford home losses to North Dakota State or Iona, respectively, if they want to remain in the hunt for at-large NCAA tournament berths.

The draw for Indiana State is particularly dangerous. Not only is run-and-gun Iona a dangerous opponent because of its fast-paced style, the game will tip off at 11 a.m. EST to accommodate TV.

[Video: Is Michigan State a title contender?]

To prove that BracketBusters won't be helpful for many teams this year, consider what Akron volunteered to do. According to, coach Keith Dambrot actually called the MAC office and asked for a BracketBusters road game instead of a home game in hopes of a drawing the strongest possible opponent.

Alas, Dambrot was turned down. And as a result, Akron, like many of its peers, is left with a matchup in which a win will help far less than a loss would hurt.

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