Barack Obama’s Bracket: Leader of the Free World Joins Bracket Buster Club

President Barack Obama does not have any secret intelligence that we aren’t privy to as far as the 2012 NCAA tournament is concerned.

It turns out that Obama is just a normal guy, after all, well at least when it comes to his bracket. His has been busted right along with the rest of ours.

The leader of the free world can do just about anything he wants. He could take our country to war, raise or lower taxes, amnesty criminals of their crimes and that’s just the exciting stuff. That’s not even counting the hundreds of mundane and seemingly boring, yet important, decisions that he makes every day.

Obama is literally one of the most powerful men on earth right now, but he cannot get his March Madness bracket right.

Don’t you feel much better about yours now?

Almost nobody, including the President, could see No. 15 Lehigh taking down one of the biggest programs in the sport, No. 2 seeded Duke. That’s why it came as a surprise to most of the free world when guard C.J. McCollum dropped 30 on the Blue Devils and led the Mountain Hawks to a five-point win.

That didn’t hurt Obama’s bracket that much, as he had the ‘Dukies going out in the Sweet 16 to Baylor.

What really busted Obama’s bracket was the one that seemed to get us all.

There was no doubting the fact that the Missouri Tigers came into the tournament as one of the best teams in the nation. Many, including the President, had them going very far in “March Madness.”

This is where most of us threw our brackets away, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the President did the same.

The Tigers were upset by the Norfolk State Spartans 86-84. Three Spartans starters dominated the game. Both guard Pendarvis Williams and guard/forward Chris McEachin scored 20 points each, while center Kyle O’Quinn was dominant down low scoring 26 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.

President Obama had Missouri in the Final Four.

Most of us are like Obama in that we didn’t see these upsets coming. If you did, welcome to the new one percent.

The rest of us despise you.

So there ya have it folks. Next time you’re out with your friends you can tell everybody that you and the President of the United States have something in common.

Both of your brackets got busted.

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Lehigh Upsets Duke in Memorable Bracket Buster

Take your bracket and light it on fire. Duke became the second two-seed to fall victim to a massive upset to a 15-seed today, at the hands of a fearless Lehigh squad that refused to back down.

Undaunted by Coach K’s track record and the historic “Duke” name emblazoned on their oppositions jerseys, Lehigh took down the Blue Devils in an unprecedented 75-70 victory. CJ McCollum’s 30 points willed Lehigh to a win, and they survive and advance after this remarkable upset.

Early foul trouble allowed Lehigh to gain an advantage on Duke and despite a 21-point night from Mason Plumlee, the Blue Devils join Missouri in disbelief after a crushing upset.

After taking down Mizzou, Norfolk State may have thought they were a lock to be tournament darlings. They’ll have to share the Cinderella title with Lehigh in the round of 32.

While nobody could have predicted that Duke would crumble this quickly in the tournament, it’s not all that surprising that the over-seeded Blue Devils fell well short of expectations. They were dealt two losses in their last three outings coming into the tournament and stumbled into March Madness with their confidence visibly shaken.

Syracuse narrowly avoided an upset by fighting off UNC-Asheville, but we haven’t had a shortage of upsets in the round of 64. With favorites falling hard, the entire complexion of the tournament has been turned on its ear.

We all saw VCU make a Final Four run as a 12 seed a year ago. With juggernauts being slain in their very first game, it’s clear that there are far more contenders in this tournament than originally anticipated.

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March Madness 2011 Predictions: 5 Teams That Can Play Bracket Buster

With the 2011 NCAA tournament just about underway, sports fans everywhere are beginning to fill out their March Madness brackets. Whether you’re in an office pool, an online pool or are just doing it for fun, everyone wants to make the right picks.

That being said, if you’re like me, teams like Butler in 2010, George Mason in 2006 or Davidson in 2008 tend to ruin your brackets. 

Every year it seems like the upsets you picked don’t happen and the No. 1 seed you had making it to the Final Four doesn’t make it out of the second round.

Now, although it’s “Cinderella Stories” like these that make college basketball special and unique, choosing the team that is capable of making that run can be difficult.

Here’s a look at the five teams that you need to pay attention to when filling out your bracket.

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Ranking All The ESPN Bracket Buster Matchups

Butler surprised everyone by making it to the national title game last year.  

Its overall performance in March Madness certainly wasn’t a surprise, and those who saw them defeat Siena during their Bracket Buster game knew they could play just as well outside of their conference.

Each year, ESPN holds an annual event around the time the NBA All-Star weekend takes place.  It’s called Bracket Busters, 11 games that mix top teams from one- or two-bid conferences that aren’t a part of the BCS.  All these games are broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPNU Friday through Sunday.

It hasn’t received a whole lot of fanfare this year, and that’s because there’s only one team that’s ranked in the AP poll.  That’s Utah State at 25.

That’s what makes this year’s Bracket Busters even more interesting.  There are multiple candidates out there that can make a run to destroy the common man’s bracket everywhere.  

George Mason, Wichita State and Cleveland State are just a few of the teams that could do it.  Some teams in these match-ups are just a win away from becoming a possible at-large candidate.

The question is: which games to watch?  If you’re a fan of a BCS school, obviously you’ll be following them and what the conference is doing.  

Here’s a list ranking all the match-ups from worst to best.  Each preview will give you quick stats on each team and a quick synopsis on the matchup and what it means in the big picture of things.

All games listed will be played this Saturday unless noted.

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Scott Machado Leads Iona Gaels Into Bracket Buster Matchup with Liberty Flames

Scott Machado is developing a reputation as not only the best guard in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but one of the best guards in the east.  The junior point guard scored 20 points against Manhattan Wednesday night in Iona’s 102-65 win, and he is currently the Division I leader in assists with 7.5 per game.

Iona, now 17-10 on the season and 11-5 in the MAAC, is back on a roll with four straight wins over the past two weeks, including road wins at Manhattan and Marist and home victories against the Jaspers and Siena.  Prior to that, the Gaels had lost four straight by a total of 11 points. 

Iona is playing up tempo basketball and often applies full court pressure on its opponents.  This strategy has been backed up by solid shooting, which was on display at Manhattan where the Gaels shot 67 percent from the field, including 16 of 27 three-point shots (59 percent).

Perhaps the difference factor for the Gaels is the confidence Machado projects as he brings the ball up the floor. He is averaging 13.9 points and is constantly looking to set up his teammates for inside cuts or outside jump shots.  If not guarded closely at the top of the key, Machado will take the three-point shot or cut down the lane.

Machado’s favorite targets for passes are backcourt partners Rashon Dwight (8.1 PPG), Kyle Smyth (10.1 PPG including 60 three-pointers) and Jermel Jenkins, who is coming off the bench the second half of the season and providing just under 10 points per game.  

Junior transfer 6’7″ Mike Glover has been making his presence felt under the boards, scoring an average of 18.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.  As many of his shots are dunks or putback shots under the glass, he is averaging 61 percent from the field.  Importantly, Glover has been moving with the ball to the basket, generating fouls and displaying considerable energy on defense.

Sean Armand has continued to provide instant offense for the Gaels, as he provided 13 first-half points for the Gaels Wednesday night, including three of four three-point shots made.  

The Liberty Flames (19-9 overall, 13-3 Big South) come into the Sears Bracket Buster game Saturday off a 79-69 loss at VMI Tuesday night on the Keydets’ Senior Day, giving up 14 three-point baskets.

The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU starting at 3 p.m. The two teams have played once before in New Rochelle on Dec. 20, 1997 when the Gaels won 84-68.  The game will be played at the 8,085-seat Vives Center in Lynchburg, VA where a capacity crowd is expected.

Big South Player of the Week Evan Gordon is at point guard for Liberty. The 6’2″ sophomore leads the Flames in scoring with 15.0 points per game on the year and has 48 steals.  Guard Jess Sanders averages 11.0 points per game and 6’4″ junior guard/forward John Brown averages a double-double on the season with 11.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.  On top of those impressive stats, he has 50 steals on the season.   

The Flames’ inside game is led by 6’6″ Junior David Minaya, who averages 11.0 points per game along with 6’10″ freshman center Joel Vander Pol, who averages 4.1 points and has 21 blocks.

Flames head coach Dale Layer describes Iona as, “Really, really good. Extremely athletic, balanced, coming off four wins in a row, great inside play, great guard play, they are experienced.”

Playing in front of a big road crowd against a 19-9 Liberty team could be considered a tough draw for the Gaels, but it is an opportunity for them to demonstrate to a national audience on ESPNU how good a team it has become playing the fast-tempo style under first-year coach Tim Cluess.

 

Ken Kraetzer covers West Point football and Iona College basketball for WVOX 1460 AM and WVOX.com in New Rochelle, NY and Sons of the American Legion Radio.  He can be reached on kgk914@aol.com   

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Power Conference Teams Following The Bracket Buster Model: How Could It Work?

Two of the more intriguing, and competitive, games of the weekend took place out on the west coast. 

Each game featured two unranked teams, but had the feel and urgency of a first round National College Athletic Association tournament game.

In the first game, UCLA held on to beat St. John’s in a close, and at times ugly, affair.  The second game saw Memphis win by two over Gonzaga, in Spokane.

For UCLA, the win was a huge boost to their NCAA tournament resume.  At 16-7 overall, and 7-3 in the Pac-10, the Bruins now appear to have the inside track to returning to the NCAA tournament after missing out last year.  Their win over Steve Lavin’s Red Storm, combined with a win over BYU in December gives them a strong overall profile.

For Memphis, the win in Spokane keeps their tournament at-large hopes alive.  This game may have been an at large elimination game, with both teams struggling (by their standards) at 5-3 in conference play.

These two games make up half of the number of non-conference tilts played this February involving teams from high major conferences. 

One of the others will be played on Tuesday, when Xavier plays at Georgia.  That game could wind up being crucial for Georgia in particular, who has been around .500 in the South East Conference East.  The other game is on February 23, when Temple will take on Duke in Durham.

That’s it—four high-profile, non-Bracket Buster, non-conference games the entire month of February.

Should more power conference and high-major (Atlantic 10, Mountain West, etc) teams attempt to schedule non-conference games in February?

The success of the annual Bracket Busters event and the now annual meetings between Memphis and Gonzaga provide strong evidence that there should be.

Bracket Busters debuted in 2003, featuring inter-conference matchups between mid-major teams around the country.  Butler, Gonzaga, Southern Illinois and many others were given the opportunity to showcase themselves and against comparably successful teams from other mid-major conferences.

That same year, both Butler and Southern Illinois won their Bracket Buster contests, and went on to earn at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.  Butler, who made it in as a No. 12 seed, ultimately went on to the Sweet Sixteen.

Three years later, George Mason won a tough Bracket Buster matchup at Wichita State.  Both team s earned at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.  Wichita State went to the Sweet Sixteen.  George Mason, of course, made their historical run all the way to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

It is tough to dispute that the Bracket Busters event has been very important to quality mid-major conferences and teams.  This year will be its ninth, and there will be several games which will draw the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee.

If quality mid-major teams can be matched up against each other, and used by the tournament committee as a point of reference for at-large selection, or for seeding, why can’t the same be applied to the high-major and power conferences?

Here are five various examples to think about.

 

Richmond vs. Virginia Tech

Both are heading straight for the bubble come March.  This game would be a great opportunity for both, considering the ACC is not as strong as previous years.  Also, this particular matchup would be less travel than a normal conference game.

 

Marquette vs. Michigan State

A Big Ten-Big East matchup would give the winner a nice leg up on the other bubble teams in the conference.  It may also provide a refreshing change of pace from their respective challenging Big Ten and Big East schedules.

 

Washington vs. Missouri

How much fun would this be to watch?  Two teams flying up and down the court, maybe scoring close to 100 points each.  It would resemble a 4-5 second round matchup.  The winner could see a significant boost in seeding.

 

Temple vs. BYU

How about a matchup between two of the best teams from the top two non-BCS conferences?   This game could also enhance tournament seeding for the winner.

 

UTEP vs. UNLV

Each could really use a quality non-conference win to improve their NCAA at-large hopes.  UTEP in particular won’t get too many chances for a key win in Conference USA.

How could these types of matchups become a reality? 

Perhaps conferences could agree to earmark one particular weekend in February where all its teams have an open date.  They would then be free to schedule, either before the season or in January (like Bracket Busters) against teams from other conferences who also have open dates.

Another possibility is to have the conference challenges—the Big Ten-ACC challenge and Big 12-Pac 10 Hardwood Series—moved from late November/early December, to February.  The matchups could then be determined in mid-season, based on where the teams are situated in the standings.    

The trick to getting these matchups would be convincing power conference schools such games in February would be beneficial to them.  They may not want to schedule these games a year or more in advance, but they may want to in December or January if they suddenly realize their teams may really need a quality win against a solid out-of-conference opponent.

Hopefully we will begin to see more schools follow the examples of St. John’s, Temple and Xavier in the near future.  They’ve been willing to travel outside of their conference and challenge themselves later in the season, when the rigors of conference play are starting to take its toll.

If these teams do well in March, more teams just may follow.

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Wichita State or Missouri State: Who Will Be Missouri Valley’s Bracket Buster?

Last season, it was the Northern Iowa Panthers that turned out to be the Missouri Valley Team that stunned the college basketball world and broke everyone’s brackets with their massive 69-67 upset of the No. 1 ranked Kansas Jayhawks in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The victory was a landmark for the conference, which has had teams such as Southern Illinois, Bradley and Creighton experience a marginal level of tournament success in the past.

The Valley is a conference whose name has been growing and gaining respect around many college basketball circles over the last few years for their take on all comers scheduling approach and their fundamentally sound teams.

As last year’s shining star Northern Iowa, a team that finished 30-5, tries to replace three key starters and five senior leaders, it would seem the balance of power in the MVS has now shifted to two other intriguing teams—the Wichita State Shockers and the Missouri State Bears.

Wichita State, who finished with a 25-10 overall record and second in conference play to the Panthers with a 12-6 mark, has already started picking up some steam around the country and garnering some preseason attention from voters. Even though the Shockers were left out of the initial preseason AP Top 25 and the USA Today Coach’s Poll, they did receive a fair amount of points from the voters in both polls.

Coach Gregg Marshall’s crew was the near unanimous pick as the top team in the preseason MVC Poll, receiving 33 of a possible 39 first place votes.

They are considered to be a potentially elite mid-major team this season, and one that is capable of making a run similar to what we saw out of conference counterpart Northern Iowa this past March.

The Shockers will have to figure out a way to replace last year’s leading scorer, point guard Clevin Hannah, who averaged 12 points a game last season. Hannah was a First Team All MVC performer and his floor leadership and ability to make things happen on the offensive end will be missed.

Luckily for Wichita State, they return every other key player from last year’s NIT team including senior power forward J.T. Durley, who looks to be one of the conference’s true impact players this year.

The 6’8″ Durley, who averaged 11 points and nearly five rebounds a game last season, is an effective scorer inside and has the ability to get to the free throw line and convert when needed.

The other player to keep an eye on for the Shockers is valuable 6’4″ shooting guard Toure’ Murry. The junior is the team’s top returning scorer and was honored as a preseason MVC All Conference pick.

Durley and Murry will be joined by a cast of solid veteran players such as 6’4″ swingman Graham Hatch, big 7’0″ center Garrett Stutz and senior forward Aaron Ellis to form a solid nucleus.

They also welcome in intriguing junior college transfers, 7’0″ center Ehimen Orukpe and undersized forward Ben Smith, to help strengthen their depth.

Even though they return so much firepower, Wichita State will likely be tested for the MVC crown by that talented team across the border, Missouri State.

The Bears, who were ranked second in the preseason MVC poll, return their top seven scorers from a team that won 24 games a year ago and took home the CollegeInsider.com tournament title.

Cuonzo Martin’s team welcomes back four starters led by leading returning scorer, junior Kyle Weems, who averaged 13 points a game a year ago.

The 6’6″ forward was honored with a spot on the MVC preseason All Conference Team and looks to once again be the face of this talented bunch.

Weems will be joined by center Will Creekmore, who won tournament MVP honors, as well as ’09-10 conference newcomer of the year Adam Leonard, a skilled three point shooter.

Senior Jermaine Mallett will join Leonard in the backcourt to give the Bears one of the best guard duos in the conference.

Both of these squads look to be trending upwards, and both have what it takes to get to the “Big Dance” and make some noise once they get there. But to do that, they both will have to get through one of the strongest mid-major conferences in the country.

Creighton will have something to say with preseason conference player of the year Kenny Lawson and you can bet Northern Iowa still has a little bit of magic up their sleeve.

Nothing is going to come easy for Wichita State and Missouri State this season, but if they both play up to their potential, the Mountain Valley Conference will send two teams to the NCAA Tournament that have the potential to shake up things up once again this year.

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No. 24 Northern Iowa takes out Old Dominion in Bracket Buster tilt

Ali Farokhmanesh scored 23 points as No. 24 Northern Iowa defeated Old Dominion 71-62 in a Bracket Buster game Friday night, …



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