A week from now, we will know the matchups in the third annual Bracket Buster, where mid-majors pool their collective RPI chips to bargain for an extra bid or two into the big dance.

The Bracket Buster takes place on Saturday, February 19th, with ESPN2 televising the best games in a marathon. Starting times are every two hours from noon until midnight eastern, with the exception of 10 pm. The midnight game is on ESPN. From my semi-handy Bracket Buster page (it would be nice to have the teams on that page sorted by RPI Rank, but my limited database skills lack the time to pull this off), here are the top rated teams heading into Monday’s action, with record and RPI Rank in parenthesis:

Home                        Away 
Pacific (14-2, 30)          Southern Illinois (15-4, 14) 
Kent State (13-6, 35)       Vermont (13-3, 17) 
Nevada (14-4, 37)           Wichita State (13-2, 22) 
Rice (10-5, 45)             Western Michigan (13-4, 32) 
Ball State (9-5, 50)        Bradley (11-5, 41) 
Northern Iowa (13-5, 56)    Arkansas Little Rock (12-6, 49) 
Miami Ohio (10-5, 73)       Texas El Paso (16-3, 57) 
Bowling Green (11-4, 79)    Buffalo (10-5, 68)

So now I’ll play ESPN program director, or whatever it’s called. Here are the matchups I would choose (all times eastern):

The must-see games

8 pm – Vermont at Nevada. The most attractive team among the away group is Vermont, simply because they have the most recognizable player, Taylor Coppenrath, the second leading scorer in the nation.

The marquee player on the home side is Nick Fazekas of Nevada. A Vermont at Nevada game would provide a compelling matchup that might suck in even the staunchest of mid-major naysayers. The travel would be hell on UVM, but ESPN wasn’t afraid to send East Tennessee State to Fresno last year (where the Bucs won, by the way). It’s all in the name of prime-time TV.

Midnight – Wichita State at Pacific or Hawaii. If Pacific were the opponent, it would pit the only two-loss (for now) teams in the field. The Shockers have four toss-up road games between now and the BB, so their record might not be so sparkling on the 19th. Pacific should be no worse than 19-4. Hawaii (10-5, 92) could snag the midnight slot for the second year in a row with a strong showing in their two-game homestand this Thursday/Saturday.

The rest

Noon: let’s kick things off with Southern Illinois at Kent State. SIU is like Tulsa was in the 90s – it doesn’t matter who coaches them, they just keep on rolling.

2 pm: Bradley at Rice. Two teams lingering in the background of their respective conferences, but both are capable of receiving at-large notice with February runs.

4 pm: UTEP at Northern Iowa. Hmmm. Probably too much MVC for ESPN’s taste.

6 pm: Arkansas Little Rock at Ball State. I’m counting on a rocking atmosphere at Worthen Arena to provide the proper lead-in to my prime-time blockbuster.

As a final note, it shouldn’t be forgotten that under the new RPI, road teams have a lot more to gain with the road-enhanced weighting. Games where the road team wins will have much more impact on the RPI than if the home team wins.