Matt Fargo NCAA Weekly Dish
Author: Matt Fargo - Saturday, February 18, 2006
With the college basketball season in full swing, Matt Fargo takes a look at three big games on tap that you cannot miss this Saturday. Saturday is BracketBuster day and while there are a lot of matchups that have absolutely no appeal, there is a handful that will not only be fun to watch but also have an impact on some bubble teams heading into the Big Dance. Fargo takes a look at three such matchups.
George Mason Patriots at Wichita St. Shockers 8:00 PM ET
The Patriots have reeled off seven straight wins and only one of their five losses has been by more than six points. Four of those losses came on the road, all by six points or less including an overtime defeat at Wake Forest. Three of their seven road wins have come against teams ranked 76th or better in the RPI so they are no strangers to winning big games away from home.
The Shockers were supposed to be in a rebuilding year but don?t tell that to the players. Wichita St. has only six losses on the season all against teams with an RPI of 30 or better. That might say something about playing big games but it also has four wins against teams in that same category, all coming at home. The Shockers have just one loss at Charles Koch Arena and that came against Northern Iowa back in early January.
George Mason has a tough defense that can handle the tough offense of the Shockers. The Patriots are allowing only 57.6 ppg on the season on 37.7 percent shooting which is 5th best in the entire country. The offense is not getting overshadowed however as it is ranked 14th, shooting 48.6 percent from the floor. Their +10.6 percent in shooting margin ranks fifth in the country behind Florida, Connecticut, Kansas and Texas.
Wichita St. is outscoring opponents by 10.6 ppg on its home floor while outshooting them by 6.6 percent. The defense only allows 38 percent shooting from the field so something will have to give against the Patriots excellent offense. Both teams come into this game ranked 25th in the latest RPI so only a complete debacle would keep them out of the big dance. A win for each would still go a long way.
Bucknell Bison at Northern Iowa Panthers 12:05 PM ET
Bucknell is no longer going to sneak up on anyone as the Bison have made a name for themselves with some huge wins over the last couple years. This team has reeled off 12 straight wins and two of their three losses on the season came against the likely #1 and #2 teams in next week?s poll, Duke and Villanova. Wins over Syracuse, DePaul and St. Joe?s look very good on the resume.
Northern Iowa certainly won?t be taking this team lightly as it saw what it did to Kansas in last years opening round on the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers are a hungry bunch right now as they have dropped two straight games by a combined four points including a road loss at Indiana St. by a point last time out. They have only two games left to try and catch Wichita St. and clinch the top spot in the MVC Tournament.
Bucknell snuck into the top 25 last week for the first time ever as it has rolled through the Patriot League without much resistance. With an RPI of 40, this is a team that could crash the Dance if it failed to win the conference tournament. A win against Northern Iowa, who has a current RPI of 32, would go a long way in that possibility. This will be the first Bison?s game of the season with a line.
Northern Iowa is 11-2 at home with both losses coming by three points against conference foes. The Panthers aren?t without their own collection of solid wins including victories over Iowa and LSU, the latter coming on the road. Both of these teams have faced the punches of the major conferences and are still standing so expect another battle on Saturday.
Northwestern St. Demons at Utah St. Aggies 10:00 PM ET
Utah St. rebounded from a home loss to New Mexico St., its first of the season, by blasting Idaho by 38 points on Wednesday. The Aggies have just three losses over their last 16 games, two of which came against New Mexico St. They are 11-1 at home while outscoring opponents by nearly 15 ppg. While no game is meaningless, Utah St. is more concerned about the WAC, where it sits a game out of first place.
Northwestern St. does not hail from the Big 10 as some might initially think as the Demons from Louisiana are the class of the Southland Conference. They have only one loss in conference action on the season, a seven-point setback at 2nd place Sam Houston St. While not many people have heard of this team since they are an off the board squad, seven major teams certainly know who they are.
The Demons played three lines games this season, going 3-0 against the number with an outright win against Oregon St. and losses to Iowa St. and Hawaii by a combined eight points. Northwestern St. also faced Missouri, Wichita St., Mississippi St. and Oklahoma St., winning the latter two outright while losing the former two by a combined 11 points. This team can play with the big boys.
Even with an RPI of 68, the Demons likely will not get an NCAA bid without winning the Southland Conference tournament so even another win over a top team won?t do it. A solid game could turn some heads but it won?t be enough to get them in. They will likely be more focused in this game but playing in Logan will be a tough challenge where Utah St. does not fold to anyone.
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