Watch out for
Northwestern State,
if good to Dance

Feb 21, 2006 9:48 AM

BY MARK MAYER

ESPN, the global leader in promoting itself, created bracket busters a couple of years ago to give smaller school contenders one televised game nationwide to strut their stuff before the oft-maligned NCAA Tournament Committee.

The wiseguys here in Vegas are familiar with these teams because all that matters here is winning (and losing) consistently against the spread or with the posted total.

In betting circles, Albany and Samford may be better than UConn and Duke. That’s the beauty of studying numbers and wagering games. Featured TV matchups this past weekend were ones you should remember in terms of who might steal bids from the major conferences when the Big Dance begins with the play-in game (No. 65 vs 64) Tuesday, March 14.

Actually there were 34 bracket busters played, but the 12 shown on one of ESPN’s "1,000 networks" represent a nice collection of would-be haves. The final breakdown was visitors 7-5 ATS with three upset victories.

Scoreboard:

Albany +8 at VCU (final: VCU 70-67); Akron +7 at Nevada (final: NV 88-61); Bucknell +7 at N. Iowa (final UNI 65-61); Buffalo +8 at Iona (final: Iona 93-75); Butler +5½ at Kent St (final: Kent 80-76); Missouri State +3 at UW-Milwaukee (MoSt 72-63)

N. Ariz +12½ at W.Kentucky (final: WKy 79-58); Marist +9 at Old Dominion (final: ODU 84-71); George Mason +2½ at Wichita State (final: GM 70-67); Samford +7½ at Ohio U (final: Ohio 64-52); NW State +11 at Utah State (final NWSt 66-63); Fresno State +12 at Creighton (final: Creighton 67-62).

Home teams 9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS.

Catching my eye was George Mason at Wichita State, a clash of teams from two underrated conferences — The Colonial and Missouri Valley. Four MVC teams (Wichita St, Northern Iowa, Creighton and Missouri St) were all part of the 12 televised games.

The school that may have gained the most from the exposure is Southland Conference member Northwestern State, improving to 18-7 SU and 4-0 ATS in board games after winning at Utah State. If NW State wins the Southland and gains an NCAA bid, this could be a No. 15 seed set to explode.

Last week’s 2-7-1 mark was brutal. I need to be bracketed.

Evansville +13½ at So. Illinois (Tue): The Salukis are home but are 1-4 ATS in last five. Though 7-18 SU, Evansville is 14-9 ATS, including a four-point home loss in the first matchup. EVANSVILLE.

Penn St +8½ at Indiana (Wed): Mike Davis should leave now. Indiana has dropped five straight, including a recent three-pointer at Happy Valley. PENN STATE.

George Mason -1½ at Hofstra (Thu): The Pirates are off a big win at Wichita State in Bracket Buster. At 19-5, the Flying Dutchman will go all out to beat the best in the Colonial. HOFSTRA.

Dartmouth +8 at Princeton (Fri): The Tigers are off a five-game roadie and can’t afford any more losses in chasing Penn. PRINCETON.

Louisville +7 at W. Virginia (Sat): The Cards are on life support in Big East. Look for big effort in a dilly with Pittsnogles. LOUISVILLE.

Maryland +6½ at UNC (Sun): Tar Heels won by 15 at College Park. UNC.

2005-06 season: 28-21-1