Ben Jacobson

Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson, right, directs Northern Iowa's Marc Sonnen, left, in the first half of a Missouri Valley Conference college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (Lee News Service/MATTHEW PUTNEY)


Privately many Missouri Valley Conference basketball coaches express their dislike of BracketBusters, the ESPN-inspired get-together of mid-major schools designed to help NCAA Tournament profiles of certain teams.

The biggest complaint is BracketBusters disrupts the Valley season and causes a pile-up of league games in early January.

Yet as BracketBusters celebrates its 10th anniversary this weekend, some Valley coaches seem to be putting their arms around the event. Good thing, too, because as part of the Valley’s new ESPN agreement through the 2015-16 season, all league teams will continue to participate the next four years.

“I think BracketBusters is a great event from being on the outside looking in the last seven or eight years,” said first-year Missouri State coach Paul Lusk. “I’ve always watched and enjoyed it. It’s a great weekend for college basketball.”

Five Valley teams will participate in a game broadcast on an ESPN platform, beginning with Friday’s opening game that pits Northern Iowa at Virginia Commonwealth on ESPN2. 

UNI coach Ben Jacobson said BracketBusters has been “a very good event” for the Panthers the past couple years with quality opponents such as George Mason, Old Dominion and Siena.

The chance to play VCU, which went to the Final Four last year and is contending for the Colonial Athletic Association title, is just another perk, even if the Panthers have only one day of preparation after facing Evansville on Wednesday.

“We have a tremendous opportunity against a team playing great and that has a national reputation and has been good for a number of years,” said Jacobson. “We’re playing NCAA Tournament-type teams because of this event.”

Jacobson also likes the return game that BracketBusters provides, meaning VCU will come to Cedar Falls in the 2013-14 season in November or December.

Even for Valley teams that don’t get any ESPN exposure, the BracketBusters can provide a welcome relief.

“I don’t think it’s terrible to take the break. Our 18-game league season is a bear,” said Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich, whose team entertains Oakland (Mich.) at 4:05 p.m. Saturday. “To take a breath and play someone who doesn’t know every single thing about you like we all do about each other … to get out of our league, you don’t have that feeling.”

Having to play the first seven league games in 18 days is the tradeoff.

Whether the BracketBusters helps the Valley get any more NCAA tourney teams is debatable, said Jankovich. Only the league tourney champion has advanced to the NCAA the past four years.

Wichita State and Creighton seem to be well positioned this year to gain NCAA tourney at-large berths if they fail to capture the league tourney title. BracketBusters actually could end up hurting if the Shockers lose at Davidson and Creighton gets beat at home by Long Beach State on Saturday.

Simons return up in air

Drake’s Ben Simons, who has been diagnosed with mononucleosis, has been cleared to take part in limited activities during practice.

However, Drake coach Mark Phelps isn’t sure when — or if — Simons will return in games this season. The junior forward is sixth in the Valley with a 16.1 scoring average and still led the league before Wednesday’s action with 57 3-pointers despite missing the last four games.

Tie-breaker system

With the logjam in the middle of the Valley standings with two league games left, there figures to be a couple ties in the standings that could determine who drops down to the play-in round for the bottom four teams at the league tournament March 1.

The Valley instituted a new tiebreaking procedure last year for two-way or multiple ties in the standings. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head results. For more than two teams, the tied teams are grouped in a “round robin” amongst each other.

If head-to-head games don’t break the ties, the second step is nonconference strength of schedule based on the RPI Report the day before the final day of league games on Feb. 25. That could hurt ISU.

The Redbirds’ nonconference strength of schedule was 293 earlier this week, only ahead of Indiana State (298) among teams in the middle. ISU has split with every middle team except Missouri State, sweeping the Bears.

3-point territory


BRADLEY: Senior forward Taylor Brown needs 22 rebounds to become the sixth Bradley player in the last quarter-century with 400 points and 200 rebounds in the same season.

MISSOURI STATE: Kyle Weems became the 26th player in Valley history to reach 1,800 career points last weekend. He also topped 800 career rebounds and 200 career 3-pointers earlier this season, becoming the first player in league history with 1,800 points, 800 rebounds and 200 3-pointers.

WICHITA STATE: Coach Gregg Marshall is one win away from 300 for his career, including a 105-59 record with the Shockers in five seasons. He also was 194-83 at Winthrop in nine seasons, giving him a 299-142 career record.


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