The first thing to understand about ESPN's annual BracketBuster series is that it has virtually nothing to do with the NCAA Tournament brackets. No one will play themselves any closer to an at-large bid when mid-majors are pitted against mid-majors later this month as part of a 114-team monstrosity announced Monday night.
However, teams can play themselves further away with a loss, which thereby maintains a degree of truth in advertising since many will see their hopes of making the tournament bracket further diminished in defeat.
So what do the mid-majors get out of this? A few will make it onto an ESPN broadcast. Most get nothing more than one less scheduling headache for next season since the home teams in the BracketBuster turn around and play a road game against the same opponent next year.
Given that it's become so difficult for mid-majors to schedule, particularly home games, the BracketBuster concept continues to fly even though the games come at a time when conference schedules are getting down to the nitty-gritty.
The University at Buffalo will be at home against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Niagara will be home to Central Michigan while Canisius will play at Boston U. in Feb. 19 BracketBuster games announced Monday. Game times are to be announced.
If the BracketBuster idea was to have any substantial meaning then teams on the "bubble" in the BCS conferences with an automatic football bid would be pitted against the country's more accomplished mid-majors. Those games would lend far more impact to the NCAA Tournament selection process. And that's why we'll never see them. Why would teams in the major conferences place at risk the benefit of the doubt (and then some) they already receive on Selection Sunday?
*On the Week: How times have changed in the Atlantic 10. Bona (11-9, 3-4) heads to Dayton on Wednesday with a realistic chance to knock off the Flyers, who have lost three of four and fallen into the middle of the Atlantic 10 pack. Then the Bonnies return home at 7 p.m. Saturday to face a Duquesne team that's 15-5 overall and tied with Xavier for the conference lead at 7-0. Remember that the Bonnies beat the Dukes twice in the Reilly Center last year, including in the on-campus round of the A-10 tournament. The key to Duquesne's ascent has been freshman point guard T.J. McConnell from Oakdale, Pa. McConnell is averaging 11.5 points and has 94 assists and 58 steals against just 35 turnovers.
Canisius and Niagara will both be home for weekend games against Marist (at Canisius on Friday, at Niagara on Sunday) and Saint Peter's (the Niagara-Marist game will go off at 3 p.m. Sunday to accommodate television). Saint Peter's holds down sole possession of second in the MAAC at 8-3.
UB (13-6, 5-2) continues its Mid-American Conference divisional crossovers this week. Toledo (4-17, 1-6) will visit Alumni Arena on Wednesday. The Bulls then visit West leader Ball State on Saturday afternoon.
*Stat Watch: Why has UB won five in a row and emerged as a serious Mid-American Conference favorite? Consider: The Bulls are 16th in the nation in fied goal percentage (48.4) and 35th in three-point field goal percentage (38.5). Zach Filzen is second in the country in three-point field goals per game (3.4) and seventh in three-pointers made (67). Forward Javon McCrea ranks third in the nation in field goal percentage (66.9) and Byron Mulkey is eighth in steals (2.84). Can anyone remember another Big Four team having such a widespread presence among the nation's leaders? Niagara's Anthony Nelson continues to lead the country in steals at 3.3 per game. Bona's Andrew Nicholson has slipped to 30th in scoring (19.6).
*Nationwide: There will be no immediate reprieve for Syracuse, which hauls its four-game losing streak to Connecticut on Wednesday. Orange coach Jim Boeheim benched reserves James Sutherland and Dion Waiters during Saturday's loss to Marquette a game after starting Sutherland in place of Fab Melo in a humiliating 22-point home loss to Seton Hall. John Beilein and Michigan get their second crack at Ohio State on Thursday in Columbus. The Buckeyes won the first meeting, 68-64. Could this be an ambush game for Ohio State? The Buckeyes play four of their next five against ranked opponents, three of them on the road.