The five top BracketBuster games

The five most important games — strictly in terms of NCAA

Tournament qualification and seeding — among the BracketBusters matchups

announced Monday night. The games are scheduled between Feb. 17-19.

SAINT MARY’S at MURRAY STATE

The runaway choice as the marquee BracketBuster game is the biggest game in

terms of NCAA seeding implications. Saint Mary’s leads the always-tough West

Coast Conference and has ranked atop the FOXSports.com mid-major rankings the

last two weeks. Murray State is the nation’s last unbeaten team and is eager to

show off Isaiah Canaan on a national stage. He’ll have an outstanding

individual matchup with Gaels point guard Matthew Dellavedova in this matchup.

Murray State is 3-0 against top-35 RPI teams, beating Dayton, Southern Miss and

Memphis. None of those three are guaranteed a tournament berth, though, so this

is the Racers’ best (and last) chance at a quality win that could help them

earn a top-five seed.

LONG BEACH STATE at CREIGHTON

This should be a fast-paced game featuring teams that not only have NCAA

Tournaments hopes, but plan to win once there. Creighton is led by All-American

Doug McDermott and leads the always-tough Missouri Valley Conference. The Blue

Jays rank highly in the national polls and need a win here to eventually land

the kind of tournament seed they’d like. Barring a late-season collapse, you’d

think the committee would reward Long Beach’s ambitious road scheduling if the

49ers don’t end up with an automatic bid; winning in front of a sellout crowd

on a Saturday night at Creighton would assure it. Because it starts four

seniors and has already played at Pitt, Kansas, Louisville and North Carolina,

Long Beach won’t be intimidated.

AKRON at ORAL ROBERTS

Oral Roberts is 20-4 and hasn’t lost since a 67-61 setback at Gonzaga. ORU is

on a 13-game winning streak, which started with a win over a depleted Xavier in

mid-December. ORU very well could win out in the Summit League, but that won’t

get the committee’s attention. Akron is certainly on the wrong side of the

tournament bubble if the Zips can’t win the Mid-American Conference’s automatic

bid. The Zips do have some glimmer of an at-large hope based on road wins at

Mississippi State and Marshall and leading a conference that’s better than it’s

been in recent years. Realistically, both teams will welcome the step up from

their in-conference competition and hope a win can eventually provide a seed

boost should they win their respective conference tournaments. Most of Akron’s

seven losses came at less than full strength, and the Zips won a close one on their

home floor over Oral Roberts a year ago. Two of Oral Roberts’ four losses are

to tournament teams Gonzaga and West Virginia. This is a better — and bigger — game than most might think.

NEVADA at IONA

It really doesn’t get any more cross-country than this — not on the mainland,

anyway — and it doesn’t get any more important for two talented and intriguing

teams, which own thin tournament resumes. Nevada has won 15 in a row, but the

Wolfpack’s biggest win is against an inconsistent Washington team. Iona scores

like crazy and has one of the nation’s best point guards in Scott Machado, but

the Gaels have already dropped two MAAC games and its best win would be chosen

from a rather mediocre group that includes Maryland, Saint Joseph’s  and Richmond. The loser here definitely won’t

get an at-large bid. The winner gets a chance to hang its hat on a quality win

and try to ride that momentum out.

WICHITA STATE at DAVIDSON

The Shockers probably deserved a better opponent; they probably wanted one,

too. Wichita State seems an NCAA Tournament lock in its current form but will

need to finish strong. The Shockers figure to give their full concentration to

this BracketBusters contest after losing by one point to VCU in last season’s

event. Wichita ended up going to the NIT; VCU to the Final Four. Davidson is

having a nice year but doesn’t have a tournament resume. The Wildcats will

welcome the challenge of hosting Wichita and playing on national television.