I. Renko is an RTC columnist. You can normally find him kicking off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.
In this special mid-week edition of The Other 26, we take a look at all of the premier (read: televised) Bracketbuster matchups that were announced on Monday and offer a guide to the uninitiated on what to watch for. The annual mid-major hoops feast typically offers a host of compelling contests, and this year is no different. In roughly descending order of interest/excitement:
Main Event — St. Mary’s at Murray State (2/18, 6 PM, ESPN or ESPN2) — I was hoping we would get a double main event with St. Mary’s at Creighton and Wichita State at Murray State. Perhaps the Bracketbuster selection committee didn’t rate Wichita State that highly or was intent on giving the undefeated Racers a ranked opponent against whom they could prove their quality. So they sent top 20, 21-2 St. Mary’s to Murray, Kentucky, to set up the undisputed headliner of this year’s Bracketbuster event. Murray State will have a clear advantage from playing at home, but apart from that, this looks like a very close matchup. Offensively, both teams rely heavily on the two lines — the three-point line and the free throw line. Defensively, both teams are pretty good at not giving up many attempts from either of those lines, with the notable exception of Murray State’s tendency to foul too much. Both teams are also somewhat turnover prone, but only the Racers play the kind of defense that is likely to exploit such a weakness. Finally, the Gaels may look to get easy points off of the offensive glass, as defensive rebounding is a liability for Murray State. Which, if any, of these games within the game will determine the outcome? Only one way to find out: tune in at 6 PM on February 18.
Battle of the Supporting Casts — Long Beach State at Creighton (2/18, 10 PM, ESPN2) — Most eyeballs will be trained to watch Casper Ware and Doug McDermott, two of mid-major hoops’ most recognizable players. But I hope that fans will also tune in to get a glimpse of the extent to which these conference-leading teams depends on their supporting casts. LBSU has three other players who average in double figures — Larry Anderson (who also stuffs the stat sheet with 5.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, while shooting 44% from three-point range), T.J. Robinson (who adds 10.2 rebounds a game), and James Ennis. Creighton, meanwhile, has discovered that they can be just as potent, maybe even moreso, when McDermott scores less than 20 a game. Antoine Young’s dribble penetration, Greg Echinique’s inside banging, and the marksmanship of Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat make the Bluejays a much more multi-dimensional team than they’re often portrayed to be. It’s worth noting, too, that each of these teams will be trying to bolster their at-large bona fides in the event that they don’t win their conference tournaments — an especially distinct possibility for Creighton, who will have to get through three games in the always tough MVC to cinch an auto bid.