There will be plenty of time — and reason —to get snarky about the BracketBusters matchups in the final season of ESPN’s resume-building exercise.
That time is next month, when games against Eastern Kentucky, Belmont and South Dakota State populate Missouri Valley Conference schedules. And those are the good games.
Entering this weekend, the pool of 122 BracketBusters teams included four in the top 50 of the power rankings (RPI). Three are members of the Missouri Valley Conference. Fifteen more are ranked from No. 51-100, two from the Valley. While the names are not flashy, the top of the Valley should get games that will help their NCAA Tournament at-large chances in small ways. WSU and Creighton may be in such strong positions that the game won’t matter much, unless they lose. Should another MVC team emerge as an at-large contender (Indiana State has the best shot), it may suffer the most from the lack of difference-making opponents
For Wichita State, it won’t be like 2011, when No. 31 VCU came to Koch Arena on its way to the Final Four. The Shockers are a home team and enter the weekend No. 20 in the RPI, tops among the home teams.
Some options for an opponent on Feb. 22 or 23:
• North Dakota State (No. 57) is a member of the Summit League with a 1-2 record against the top 100, including losses to Indiana and Minnesota. Its best win is over No. 64 South Dakota State, also a Summit member.
• Stephen F. Austin (No. 60), of the Southland Conference, won at Tulsa and Oklahoma and entered the weekend 11-1 with its loss at Texas A&M.
• South Dakota State (No. 64) is also a road team. It offers senior guard Nate Wolters, projected as a second-round NBA Draft pick, who averages 21.2 points. The Jackrabbits scrimmaged WSU before the season and Wolters received strong reviews from those who watched. South Dakota State owns a win at New Mexico, ranked No. 8 in the RPI.
• Ohio Valley Conference member Eastern Kentucky (No. 82) started the season 9-0 before losing at Illinois. It also lost at West Virginia.
• Detroit (No. 99), of the Horizon League, played an ambitious non-conference schedule — losing at St. John’s, Miami (Fla.), Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The Titans defeated Drake 85-79 in November at home.
Creighton, a road team, may earn the weekend’s best matchup. Belmont (No. 24) is the highest-ranked home team not from the MVC. The Bruins won at Stanford and beat South Dakota State 76-49. Losses to Kansas and VCU won’t hurt. Saint Mary’s (No. 67) is one of the few remaining BracketBusters schools with any sort of name brand. It is a home team and could work its way into a matchup with Creighton.
The weeks between the pairings (announced Feb. 4) and the games will be nervous ones. Getting locked in against Summit or OVC schools is risky because those conferences are loaded with teams sporting sub-200 and 300 power rankings. The RPIs could slide dramatically with one bad loss.
ESPN ended BracketBusters after it booted the Colonial Athletic Association (which signed with NBC Sports). This season, however, the CAA would add less than usual. With VCU gone to the Atlantic-10, the CAA is left with no schools in the top 100 and five ranked No. 250 or lower.
Block out — On Jan. 9, WSU center Ehimen Orukpe blocked seven shots against Southern Illinois. A day later, he blocked nine.
WSU director of media relations Larry Rankin is used to adjusting blocks because it is one of the most difficult statistic to record accurately. WSU coach Gregg Marshall doesn’t worry about stats; Rankin often checks on his own. After the SIU game, he added two to Orukpe’s total.
“That’s the one thing I go back to look at the most,” he said.
The SIU game provided a good example of why blocks sometimes need a second look. Orukpe nearly received credit for another block. Rankin determined that teammate Cleanthony Early first altered the shot, although not by much. Orukpe then hit the ball and from some angles it appeared he made first contact. Early deserved credit for the block.
Line of sight can be a problem for the stat crew when judging blocks. Blocks are also one of the most cumbersome entries into the computer that WSU uses to record all plays. Two callers sit beside a typist to call out stats. For a made jump shot, the call is “J23Q,” meaning a made jumper by Fred VanVleet.
It’s not so simple when an offensive player emerges from a thicket of defenders and several hands go up to obstruct the ball. The nature of the play can also mislead. Stat crews must determine if the offensive player was shooting, passing or — most problematic — faking a shot.
The calls are more complicated for a block, which means a string of instructions — “J14” followed by “K21” (K is the abbreviation for block) and “R5” for the rebound to credit the rebounder and “RD5” to credit it as a defensive rebound.
“I think it’s especially difficult for the modern stat crew,” Rankin said.
Modern love — WSU’s record and appearances in the national rankings are good for publicity.
• Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News named Marshall his top coach at the season’s halfway point.
“Marshall had to replace his top five scorers from last season, and injuries have claimed three of this season’s top seven,” he wrote. “They’re halfway to a 30-win season. Shocking.”
• Four ESPN voters (Jason King, Andy Katz, Dana O’Neil and Fran Fraschilla) voted Koch Arena the nation’s No. 10 best home-court advantage. The list included No. 1 Allen Fieldhouse (Kansas), No. 2 Cameron Indoor Stadium (Duke) and No. 3 Assembly Hall (Indiana).