Saturday’s hot college-basketball menu item locally will be the Washington-Arizona game, with implications for the regular-season Pac-12 title chase, but after that, I’m going to be paying attention to some of ESPN’s BracketBuster event.
Kind of cool that there’s a day to see some of the less-visible teams – the sort you might want to know something about as potential sleepers in your NCAA bracket.
Topping the list is Saint Mary’s at Murray State (3 p.m. PST). Ironically, even as the game’s luster has dimmed in recent days with Murray State’s first loss last week and the Gaels’ two-defeats-in-three-games slide, it’s actually taken on more importance because the loser could be sliding from what seemed to be a certain NCAA berth toward the bubble.
Then there’s Dan Monson’s Long Beach State team at Creighton (which itself has hit a bit of a lull lately). The 49ers strike me as a team that might be one of those mid-March surprises, with a fast-paced up-and-down style excellent point guard play from Casper Ware.
LBSU is 19-6, has won 12 straight, and played the nation’s most wicked pre-conference schedule, beating Pitt and Xavier and playing Kansas and North Carolina to single-digit losses.
Creighton is 22-5, and it’s another chance to see their standout sophomore forward, Doug McDermott, who averages 22.7 points.
Murray State, meanwhile, is 25-1, and I caught up with its first-year coach, Steve Prohm, earlier this week. He obviously doesn’t take kindly to the idea that the Racers could fumble away an NCAA bid with another loss here and a third one in the Ohio Valley tournament.
“I hear all of it,” he said, a little wearily. “I probably listen to to too much of that stuff. We’ve done an unbelievable job so far. We’ve got some great non-conference wins.”
The OVC is relatively cushy, but there’s no doubt the Racers have some non-league cred. They beat Southern Mississippi (RPI No. 10) in Alaska, won at Memphis (19th in the RPI) and blew away Dayton (No. 66).
Still, Prohm doesn’t minimize what a victory over Saint Mary’s could do.
“It’s a big game, no question,” he said. “I’m not going to shy away and say it’s not a big game.”
The Gaels (23-4) will be trying to get back on track after a bad eight days in which they’ve slid back into a tie in the loss column in the WCC race with Gonzaga. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top in a matchup of point guards between the Gaels’ Matt Dellavedova and Murray’s Isaiah Canaan.
But Saint Mary’s is hurting. Guard Stephen Holt injured a knee in the Loyola loss Wednesday night and could be out for the season, and Dellavedova turned an ankle. So a victory at Murray will be an uphill struggle.