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February 16, 2009

Davidson's chances hinge on Curry's health

Friday and Saturday make up "BracketBusters Weekend" on ESPN, but the marquee game Saturday's Butler-Davidson contest might suffer because of Davidson star guard Stephen Curry's ankle injury.

Curry was hurt during the Wildcats' Valentine's Day win at Furman. He went down midway through the second half, but the severity of the injury isn't known. Davidson had no trouble putting away Furman (perhaps the worst team in the Southern Conference) without Curry, but the next two games Wednesday vs. The Citadel and Saturday vs. Butler could be a different story.

Davidson is a solid team with Curry. Without him? It looks as if the Wildcats might have to find out.

The Butler-Davidson game, which will be televised at noon by ESPN, features two of the best mid-majors this season. Davidson had the great NCAA tourney run last season and has played a tough non-conference schedule. Butler has been in the top 25 for the better part of two months.

But the game is far more important to Davidson than it is to Butler. Davidson's RPI was 49th entering Sunday's play, and it has just one win over a team in the RPI top 50. The Wildcats are 2-3 vs. teams in the top 100, and they have 10 wins over teams that are 200th or worse in the RPI. In short, the Wildcats could use another marquee win if they have to get into the field via an at-large bid. And if Curry is out for a while and the Wildcats lose once or twice without him, they may end up having to win the Southern Conference tourney to make the field. Heck, that may be the case anyway.

Butler is in better shape. The Bulldogs' RPI is 13th, and they are 2-1 vs. teams in the RPI top 50. They also have an 8-2 mark vs. teams in the top 100. But a closer look at the wins shows that six of the eight are against teams ranked between 73rd and 100th, and just one of the top-100 wins (over Xavier) is against a team that will make the NCAA field. Eight of Butler's wins are over teams that are 200th or worse in the RPI.

The only other teams involved in the BracketBusters event that have legit shots at an at-large bid should they lose their conference tourneys are Siena and Utah State. Siena plays host to Northern Iowa and Utah State plays at Saint Mary's. Siena has no top-50 wins, while Utah State has one top-50 win and a whopping 20 over teams whose RPI are worse than 100th - including 11 over teams that are 200th or worse in the RPI.

Saint Mary's has slumped without star guard Patrick Mills, whom the Gaels hope is back by the time the West Coast Conference tourney begins. Utah State should win because Mills is out. But should Utah State lose, its at-large hopes will be hurt. The same goes for Siena, which played a murderous non-conference schedule but hasn't beaten anyone of note. Northern Iowa leads the Missouri Valley, but the Panthers' RPI is 84th, and a loss would hurt Siena.

In those scenarios, the Aggies and Saints might be the first teams whose NCAA hopes were dashed by the BracketBusters.

RPI guru Jerry Palm, who runs collegerpi.com, looked over past BracketBuster events (the first was in 2003) and said that he didn't think any team had lost a bid by losing a BracketBuster game. He's also not sure the event has really helped anyone that much.

"I found 17 teams that played in BracketBuster games and later received at-large bids to the tournament," he wrote in an email. "Those teams were 14-3 in their BracketBuster games. I believe and keep in mind that this is subjective that all 14 winners would have made the tournament anyway if they had not played a BracketBuster game."

He said he was struck that a few worthy teams had won their BracketBusters games but still were left out of the NCAA field. He cited Missouri State as a prime example. In 2006, the Bears won their BracketBuster game over Wisconsin-Milwaukee which made the NCAA field as a No. 11 seed and won a first-round game and ended the regular season 21st in the RPI. But they didn't get in the tourney and are the highest-rated RPI team ever left out of the tournament.

Palm said his research showed there have been 12 BracketBuster teams with RPIs in the top 50 that were left out of the tourney, and 10 of those 12 won their BracketBuster games.

"In short," Palm wrote, "the BracketBuster is good TV, but no bracket actually gets harmed in the making of this event."

While there may not be many potential NCAA at-large teams in the event this season, there still are some intriguing games - among them Virginia Commonwealth at Nevada on Friday night and Buffalo at Vermont, Northeastern at Wright State and George Mason at Creighton on Saturday. George Mason, Northeastern and VCU are battling for the Colonial title, and Buffalo and Vermont look to be the best teams in the MAC and America East, respectively.

What's next for Huskies?
It appears Connecticut which plays Pittsburgh tonight has lost starting guard Jerome Dyson for the season with a knee injury. Losing Dyson obviously is a blow to the Huskies' title chances, both in the Big East and nationally. Dyson was the Huskies' third-leading scorer, their leader in steals and one of the best free-throw shooters on a team that can struggle from the stripe.

UConn had been using four guards, but that becomes a trio now, with senior Craig Austrie elevated into the starting lineup and freshman Kemba Walker now the only true backcourt reserve.

It's all enough to make coach Jim Calhoun pine for Nate Miles, who would've been a freshman this season. Instead, Miles is at the College of Southern Idaho, a junior college in Twin Falls, about 2,500 miles from Storrs.

Miles, 20, who is 6 feet 7 and 170 pounds, is an extremely gifted scorer and perimeter shooter. But to say he has issues is to be kind. He attended five high schools, has had academic troubles, doesn't play much defense and was booted out of UConn in October after violating a restraining order given a female student.

Miles is a native of Toledo, Ohio, who basically was raised by his grandmother. He spent his sophomore season at Toledo's Libby High, then briefly attended Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. He returned to Libby but was expelled for off-court trouble. He then went to Cornerstone Christian School in San Antonio, Texas, and played two seasons there. He signed with UConn in November 2006, but didn't qualify academically and moved on to Fitchburg (Mass.) Notre Dame Prep and finally to The Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C.

He eventually met academic requirements and enrolled at UConn last summer. But a restraining order was issued Sept. 22 after a female student filed a complaint. The day the order was issued, he called the complainant, was arrested, then was expelled Oct. 2.

He enrolled at CSI on Oct. 21, but because he transferred after UConn's fall semester had started, he had to serve a 16-week probationary period at CSI. He finally suited up last week and has scored 88 points in his first four games for CSI.

"He's got a great feel for the game," CSI coach Steve Gosar told the Twin Falls Times-News. "As well as he shoots it, I'm not sure he doesn't pass the ball better than he shoots it."

Hoop Talk
Calhoun won his 798th career game Saturday when his Huskies beat Seton Hall. He is trying to become just the seventh Division I men's coach in history to win 800 games. The elite group: Bob Knight (902), Dean Smith (879), Adolph Rupp (876), Jim Phelan (830), Mike Krzyzewski (823) and Eddie Sutton (804).

UCLA has lost two in a row to fall into a three-way tie for second place in the Pac-10, 1.5 games behind league leader Washington. The Bruins' losing streak started with a setback at Arizona State, which swept the Bruins this season. It was the first time a league team had swept the Bruins since Washington in 2005-06.

Dayton will be without starting guard Rob Lowery for the rest of the season because of a knee injury. The Flyers are tied for the Atlantic 10 Conference lead with Xavier. It's the second season in a row the Flyers lost a key player to injury. Last season, forward Chris Wright was lost for the season in early January with a broken right ankle.

Long Beach State has played two double-overtime games in a row and, incredibly, four this season. The 49ers also have played one "regular" overtime game. They are 2-2 in the double-OT affairs, with the latest a loss to UC Riverside that dropped the 49ers into second in the Big West.

Wisconsin has won four in a row to move back above .500 in the Big Ten and put itself back in the discussion for an NCAA at-large berth. The Badgers (16-9 overall, 7-6 in the Big Ten) were not their usual lockdown selves on defense until recently, but in the four-game winning streak they have allowed an average of just 49 points per game. They have five games left, with two against Indiana; the others are against Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota.

Baylor snapped a six-game losing streak by nipping Texas A&M in Waco on Saturday. The Bears, who returned four starters from last season's NCAA tourney team, have been one of the nation's biggest disappointments. Even with the victory over A&M, Baylor has a ton of work to do if it wants to get back to the NCAA tournament. The Bears are 2-7 vs. teams in the RPI top 50, are three games below .500 in the Big 12. They need some road wins if they want to impress the NCAA selection committee. They have road games left against Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State and may need to sweep those. As for A&M, the Aggies appear dead in the water. They have lost three in a row and six of eight and are 3-7 in the Big 12 - which is down this season. Plus, seven of their 16 wins are over teams that are 200th or worse in the RPI.

Grid Bits
For the second season in a row, ESPN will kick off its coverage of the college football season by showing N.C. State-South Carolina. This season, the Wolfpack are the host team, and the game will be Thursday, Sept. 3. And for the first time in three seasons, the Florida State-Miami game will be played on Labor Day night; the game will be televised by ESPN from Tallahassee. And the first Saturday has some televised biggies: BYU vs. Oklahoma in Dallas, Oregon at Boise State, Alabama vs. Virginia Tech in Atlanta and Nevada at Notre Dame.

The NCAA Football Rules Committee has recommended that the clock rules stay the same. Games in 2008 were almost 10 minutes quicker and had almost nine fewer plays than those in 2007. The committee also recommended that players need to be ejected more frequently for helmet-to-helmet hits and said both teams should be allowed to wear colored jerseys as long as there is a clear contrast in color. The NCAA Rules Oversight Panel will rule on the recommendations in March, and the helmet-to-helmet rule is sure to create some discussion. Watch a typical weekend during the season, and a player who gets flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit in, say, an SEC game might go unpunished in, say, a Pac-10 game. In short, there doesn't seem to be a national standard, which leads to a lot of subjective calls. And if there are going to be ejections, there needs to be a one-size-fits-all national standard.

Last week, we saluted former New Mexico linebacker Brian Urlacher for donating $500,000 to his alma mater. This week, let's salute former UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, who will receive his bachelor's degree in sociology on June 12, more than 20 years after he left campus. Also, former North Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers has donated $100,000 to his alma mater to be used in a scholarship program supporting black students.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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