As the 2010-2011 NCAA men’s basketball season winds to a close, the 2011 NCAA Tournament bubble gets filled with more and more teams. A few years back ESPN developed a February feature they call Bracketbuster Saturday. Although every team is nearing the end of conference play, the day features inter-conference matchups between teams that are potentially sitting on the NCAA tournament bubble. The matchups were announced in late January and this year’s matchups include the No. 23 St. Mary’s Gaels hosting the No. 24 Utah State Aggies.
Saint Mary’s is coming off a tough road loss at the San Diego Toreros, who are in last place in the WCC. The loss dropped St. Mary’s from No. 30 to No. 40 in the RPI, which is a key component in at-large selections. The Gaels face a Utah State team that is No. 23 in the RPI but lacks a marque win. While they’ve lost to No. 2 (RPI) BYU and No. 5 (RPI) Georgetown, their best win is over Long Beach State who is No. 102 in the RPI.
On the other hand, St. Mary’s has a home win over No. 17 St. John’s and at No. 70 Gonzaga. The St. John’s win has only grown in value as the Red Storm have recently knocked off #3 Duke, #4 Pitt, and #9 UConn. At the same time, conference road losses to Portland and San Diego have moved the Gaels from lock to bubble. The Gaels will be favored to win the WCC tournament, but a win over Utah State would give them at least a little wiggle room.
Senior forward Tai Wesley leads three Aggies in double-figures with 14.3 points per game. He is also the team’s rebounding leader, averaging 7.9 per game – just ahead of junior forward Brady Jardine’s 7.8. Junior guard Brockeith Pane is the team’s assist leader and his 24 steals paces the Aggies as well. Wesley and senior guard Tyler Newbold are the only two players on the team to have started all 27 games. Pand and senior guard/forward Pooh Williams have started 26 of 27 games.
Bracketbuster Saturday features eight matchups, with two additional matchups having taken place yesterday and one set for tomorrow. Yesterday, VCU knocked off Wichita State 68-67 and Drexel held serve at home against Kent State, winning 73-66. Of the 22 teams participating this weekend, today’s St. Mary’s-Utah State matchup features two of the top five RPI teams amongst those teams.
8 a.m. – Hofstra at Wright State – ESPNU
10 a.m. – Austin Peay at Fairfield – ESPNU
12 p.m. – Iona at Liberty – ESPNU
2 p.m. – Missouri State at Valparaiso – ESPN2
2 p.m. – Vermont at College of Charleston – ESPNU
4 p.m. – George Mason at Northern Iowa – ESPN2
6 p.m. – Utah State at St. Mary’s (CA) – ESPN2
8 p.m. – Montana at Long Beach State – ESPN2
10 a.m. – Cleveland State at Old Dominion – ESPN or ESPN2