Tuesday, February 12, 2019 4:02 PM | CBN
Long ago in the year 2003, the college basketball world was introduced to BracketBusters. It was an incredible event showcasing mid-major teams who hung on to their high hopes for the NCAA Tournament. BracketBusters gave mid-major schools many things including the elusive recognition factor. Each game was played on an ESPN Network, allowing the competing schools to get out there and find eyeballs in the college basketball world, including new fans, potential recruits, as well as receiving money to help improve their facilities. Besides this, there was the competition factor as teams found themselves playing against other great mid-major schools allowing you, your opponent, and the CBB world the opportunity to see how you stack up against other NCAA Tournament caliber competition. BracketBusters took place for 11 years, starting with 18 schools in 2003 and ending with 122 schools in 2013.
People didn’t truly appreciate the great basketball that was showcased in BracketBusters as we saw numerous Cinderella runs begin because of a single BracketBusters game. Back in 2006, George Mason at Wichita State. A sold out crowd of 10,478 in Wichita, Kansas for this marquee matchup. George Mason went on to defeat the Shockers, 70-67 thanks to Tony Skinn’s three which gave them the lead with 18 seconds left. Skinn scored 23 points on the road in a very hostile environment showing the college basketball world that George Mason was for real. So, what happened that year after George Mason and Wichita State failed to win their conference tournaments? They both were given at-large bids in the Washington D.C. Regional. Wichita State a 7 seed and George Mason an 11 seed. Subsequently, Wichita State takes down Seton Hall and Tennessee while George Mason beat Michigan State and North Carolina. These two teams who competed in a BracketBusters game a month earlier would meet again in Washington D.C. with a trip to the Elite 8 on the line. GMU would defeat Wichita State again, this time by a score of 63-55. Then George Mason upset 1 seeded UCONN 86-84 in overtime. BracketBusters spawned this legendary run and it helped Wichita State reach their first Sweet 16 since 1981. GMU had made the NCAA Tournament just three times before this run and never won a game. Wichita State has continued it’s mid-major dominance, while both schools were rewarded the opportunity to jump up to better and bigger conferences.
Here we go again, 2011. VCU played at Wichita State in a huge BracketBusters battle. Wichita State took the lead with 4.9 seconds left and then mayhem ensued when Joey Rodriguez of VCU was fouled with 0.8 seconds left, hit both free throws and VCU won 68-67, indeed a historic BracketBusters game. While that Wichita State team fell short of making the NCAA Tournament in due part to losing that game to VCU, the win meant so much for VCU that it helped them make the NCAA Tournament… although they were apart of the First Four. This was the first year that the First Four was used sending four four teams that were left out of the field of 64, to Dayton, Ohio. VCU would play USC in an 11/11 game and the winner would play 6 seeded Georgetown. VCU beat USC, 59-46. They went from Dayton to Denver right after the game, then played and beat Georgetown 74-56 that Thursday. Can we just take a moment to realize how impressive that is? You beat beat USC in Dayton on a Tuesday after having a day and a half to prepare for them and then you fly to Denver and play Georgetown on Thursday and win by 18 after having so little time to prepare. VCU was rewarded with a game against 3 seeded Purdue on Saturday. You already know how that ended, a 94-76 easy win for the Rams. What in the world was happening? VCU then beat 10 seeded Florida State 72-71. Cinderella was dancing into the Elite 8, and eventually the Final Four after they beat the 1 overall seed, Kansas by a score of 71-61. VCU fell to fellow Cinderella, 8 seeded Butler, 70-62. Where did this run by VCU begin? BracketBusters… bring it back. It makes too much sense not to.
Lest we forget that Butler made the National Championship the year before. They beat Siena 70-53 in a BracketBusters game on February 20th, 2010. That 5 seeded team in 2010 beat UTEP, Murray State a fellow BracketBusters participant in 2010. Then they took down Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State. On their run to the National Championship they beat four Top 25 teams with two of them in the top seven. Many of us mid-major enthusiasts have trouble speaking upon the National Championship. Gordon Hayward’s shot should have fallen, it didn’t, and Duke won the National Championship 61-59. So close. So then Butler looked for some sort of redemption despite losing Hayward to the NBA. That 8 seeded Butler team in 2011 beat Old Dominion, Pitt, Wisconsin, Florida, and VCU before falling to UConn, 53-41 in the National Championship. An unreal two-year run from a Horizon League school that started with a BracketBusters game. There are plenty more great stories about teams and players stemming from a BracketBusters game but I’ll just move on to my next point...
Something has to be done to bring BracketBusters back in some way, shape or form. I don’t care if it’s called BracketBusters or something else. It does not have to be an 120+ team event, but an event that highlights mid-majors in late February and gives national recognition to these players, teams, coaches, and schools. So, here is my idea. Next season we find 20 teams to compete in an event on a Saturday in late February. 16 of these teams will be selected by the NCAA Tournament Committee. The same committee that selects our field of 68 should find 20 quality mid-major teams that are good enough to make noise in the NCAA Tournament. You exclude top 10 teams from this event, because we know that a Nevada or Gonzaga is good enough to do damage in the tourney. The 10 home teams will be randomized through a generator. The games will be selected by coaches around the nation. The goal is to make each matchup as tough for one team as it is for another. It would really showcase how good and ready some of these teams, players, and coaches are. If and when this event ends up being successful next year, we’d want to see it again in 2021. Then think about a small expansion in 2022. The goal is to showcase mid-majors who have a great program, fans, and most importantly team. It will help the committee determine which teams actually deserve an At-Large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Our goal should be to find the next Wichita State, George Mason, VCU, or Butler. You saw how beneficial BracketBusters was to these four schools as all were able to upgrade their program, advance to a bigger conference, and become a more recognizable college. Just think of some of the great games we could have this season! How about a clash between Davidson and Wofford, Old Dominion and Northern Kentucky, Murray State against UNCG, Furman faces Belmont, Jacksonville State gets Utah State, Fresno State vs Buffalo, Kent State and ETSU, South Dakota State against Lipscomb. How could you not want this?? Put the games on ESPN, CBS, and Fox networks. That’s my two cents. Make it happen. You’re welcome.