MAC BracketBusters Preview: Gettin' To Know The Opposition

11 MACketBusters game on Saturday and one on Sunday for some reason. No real need to harp on the meaning of BracketBusters as they are in 2012. The MAC is a one-big league again, so these aren't busting anybody's brackets that we know of, but they are compelling basketball games against similarly-performing teams. It's a little midterm exam two weeks before the final. They're fun — provided you can find a feed of the game somewhere.

SATURDAY

1:00 p.m. — Buffalo (16-7, 9-3 MAC) at South Dakota State (21-7, 13-3 Summit) (ESPNU)

What to know about SDSU: The Jackrabbits began the season with a narrow/exciting victory over Western Michigan. Led by the indefatigable Nate Wolters, SDSU has already hit a Division I program record in season wins with three left go play. They've yet to lose in their home Frost Arena, winning by an average of 23 points. They're also the third least prone to turnovers (15.2 TO% behind Purdue and Wisconsin).

It won't be easy for Buffalo. They'll need to bring that trademark defense (not the one seen in Kent State) and keep Wolters and company from getting easy short shots. I don't think they'll win this, but they can. They destroyed Dayton, so they can do this.

2:00 p.m. Southern Illinois (8-19, 5-11 Missouri Valley) at Ball State (12-12, 4-8) (MAC Sports Video Feed)

What to know about SIU: You think you're disappointed in Ball State's freefall? What's gotten into the Salukis in the last couple years? This used to be a perennial Sweet 16 threat and occasional contender! But they haven't had a winning record since the 07-08 season and it sure as heck won't be this year to right the ship. It might be the end of the road for Chris Lowery, their eighth-year coach, if this keeps getting worse.

Remind you of anyone?

Ball State's losing streak might be worse but Southern Illinois is in just as nasty a miasma. Against the MAC this year they've lost at WMU and beaten NIU, which is about right for an eight-win team. They're decent enough at forcing turnovers but they cannot shot well and have trouble defending shots. Not exactly a glowing letter of recommendation. It might finally, FINALLY be a victory for the Cardinals, which would be their first in eight tries.

2:00 p.m. Morehead State (15-13, 8-6 Ohio Valley) at Bowling Green (13-12, 7-5) (MAC Sports Video Feed)

What to know about MSU: When you think Eagles in the MAC, you think Eastern Michigan. Well, the Morehead State Eagles are very similar. Slow-paced offense, low-scoring games, and a winning record despite getting outscored on the whole, even in the OVC. They have no real wins to hang their beaks on — a win over Princeton is kind of nice — but they're the very definition of .500, even if they're record's a tad better than that. Their MAC experience on the year: lost at Kent State badly but topped Ball State at home.

Also, I thought this matchup sounded familiar. So I went into the archives and ... yep, this was the same BracketBusters matchup five years ago. Same city, completely different teams, and even a different building. That Falcons team won 90-72 in Anderson Arena.

But they can put some distance between themselves and the Eagles if they jump out to an early lead. It looks like they're able to be attacked inside, since they don't have many shot-blockers or anybody taller in their rotation than 6'7". Sounds like a potential bounce-back day for Torian Oglesby, A`uston Calhoun and the like.

2:00 p.m. Akron (19-7, 11-1) at Oral Roberts (24-5, 16-1 Summit) (TV: ESPN2/ESPN3)

What to know about ORU: They won't destroy the scoreboard, but they're the 14th most efficient team on offense and have been scoring almost 80 points a game in the conference. Their defense, however, is what's made things interesting. In their 16 Summit League wins, nine times the other guys got to 70 points. They're also a tightly-knit unit, regularly playing just eight people — only a ninth has seen any playing time at all — and while six of those people are upperclassmen, the lone freshmen plays the fewest minutes at just over 10 per game. Dominique Morrison is the name of their scoring leader, getting over 20 points per game, third most in D1 by anyone listed as a forward.

Sounds like a good defensive challenge for Nikola Cvetinovic. Offensively I don't see UA having a problem scoring points, but I'm very curious to see how the Zips try to disrupt the Golden Eagles on the other side. And it may not have seemed it back during the announcement of the games, but this one might be the biggie. You always want your top conference team to have the top BracketBuster. And it applies here too.

2:00 p.m. Eastern Michigan (11-15, 6-6) at Green Bay (11-14, 7-8 Horizon)

What to know about UWGB: This is another very middlin' team but unlike EMU they're a little more average on the offensive/defensive sides, rather than relying on a slow tempo and killer defense. They're centered around a 7'1" man named Alec Brown who is also their team leading scorer (13.8), rebounder (7.7) and shot-blocker (2.9).

Knowing EMU's interior size this could resemble Godzilla-Mothra in the paint if you squint hard enough. It may not be a pretty game but there will be battles. Their lack of defending the three leads me to believe that it might require Darrell Lampley or Antonio Green to start hitting shots early from out there to keep that defense honest. Otherwise it might not be a pleasant showing for the Eagles.

2:00 p.m. Northern Illinois (3-21, 2-10) at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (7-16, 5-9 Ohio Valley)

What to know about SIU-E: They're a team that has difficulty defending, rebounding and not turning it over. A recipe for a bad record. But they are rather proficient at shooting 3-point shots, and that'll keep you in any game. Their team 39.6 3-point percentage is 14th in the country. Hey, stick with your strengths.

Problem is, the Huskies are among the worst at 3-point defense. Their average against? 39.7, which is eighth worst in the country. Youch. By virtue of NIU just having a worse offense overall, I'm giving this one to SIU-E. Although you never know.

3:00 p.m. Toledo (12-14, 4-8) at Sam Houston State (11-15, 5-7 Southland)

What to know about SHSU: First of all, and this is important: Bearkats is misspelled. Secondly this is a team that teeters right around the 60-point mark and if they're sloppy with the ball (which is often), they're not going to hit that mark. Four of their 11 wins came against non-D1 teams and five of them were against Southland teams, perhaps one of the five weakest conferences in the division. They can rebound a little, and we've seen the Rockets' forwards start to fatigue in the second half, so it could be a key component.

And even though this is a home game for SHSU, it might feel right at home for the Rockets. They began the season with a great record thanks to a 3-1 showing in Texas-Pan American's season-opening tournament. Maybe Texas is their Eden away from home.

6:00 p.m. College of Charleston (16-11, 8-8 Southern) at Kent State (19-6, 9-3)

What to know about CC: A slew of solid wins against Clemson, Tennessee and UMass look distant for this team that's just now trying to keep their head above .500 in the conference. I'm actually not sure how a team scores about 70 points despite being one of the poorest shooters in their conference. Maybe everyone in the SoCon has great shooters?

And while this matchup seemed about right given the records at the time of announcement, Kent State had an expected surge back into contention so this may have been unfair from the beginning. The Flashes are the second-hottest team in the MAC, they're playing extraordinary on offense, and here comes a decent-but-not-great team from the SoCon. OK then.

7:00 p.m. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (4-21, 3-9 Southland) at Central Michigan (8-17, 3-9) (MAC Sports Video Feed)

What to know about TAMUCC: They're located on an isthmus. Isn't that neat? That's really about all the team has going for them. Right now they're mired in a six-game losing streak and they also had an 11-game one earlier in the year. To be this bad you gotta be bad at something, and for the Islanders it's mostly on the offensive side. A 43 eFG% is near the bottom of D1, as is their 0.849 PPP.

It's not like CMU has the ability to run the score up much better, but this should be an open-and-shut win against the weakest matchup of the day for the MAC.

7:00 p.m. North Carolina-Asheville (19-8, 14-2 Big South) at OHIO (20-6, 8-4) (ESPN3)

What to know about UNCA: Here's a team that loves to run. One of the fastest paces in the country (36th with 71.2 possessions/game), they shoot well and they routinely get more than 80 per game. The Bulldogs are also fronted by three senior guards who net at least 13 points per game: Matt Dickey, J.P Primm and Chris Stephenson. If they have a downfall, it would be their defense, primarily on the interior. They allow the opposition to make over half their 2-pointers and don't have any shot blockers.

It oughta be a fun matchup with the Bobcats, who are a hot/cold team lately. But the pressure will be on DJ Cooper to make some smart decisions rather than take over the game. Seems like Ivo Baltic will be crucial in this game.

8:00 p.m. Western Michigan (11-15, 5-7) at North Dakota State (16-10, 9-7 Summit)

What to know about NDSU: On offense this team is spectacular. They shoot very well — even at the three, which is not their main weapon of attack — and they make their free throws. They also defend shots with skill, holding teams to about a 42 percent FG%. Their downfall comes in their rebounding and their proclivity to foul the other team.

But with this game being at home, that's a big advantage for WMU. They'll need the guys like Matt Stainbrook and Flenard Whitfield to have large games if they want to keep up with the Bison.

SUNDAY

3:00 p.m. Tennessee State (18-10, 11-4 Ohio Valley) at Miami (8-16, 4-8) (MAC Sports Video Feed)

What to know about TSU: I could mention any number of stats about the team, but: they beat Murray State. That's it! That's my previous of Tennessee State. They beat the last undefeated team in the country and they did it on the road. And this happened but eight days ago. Looking at the team as a whole, they're like the Valkyrie from Gauntlet: good at everything, master of nothing. They can create turnovers rather well, but that's about their best strength.

With the way both of these teams are playing, it wouldn't surprise me at all if Miami struggled and possibly loses this by at least 10 points.

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