For the third consecutive year, ESPN has expanded the number of teams and number of conferences for its Bracket Buster Saturday basketball event.
And, for the third straight year, Nevada has been designated as a home team. The Pack has hosted two previous Bracket Buster games against Toledo and Vermont, winning both of them. The Pack was given an unprecedented third home game in part because it was having problems filling out its home schedule this year.
One hundred teams, up from 64 a year ago, and 18 conferences, up from 14 a year ago, will comprise the field for the Feb. 18 one-day college basketball extravaganza now in its fourth year.
The 22 teams (11 games) involved in the televised games are in the official Bracket Buster field. The other 39 games are considered nonconference games. ESPN will announce the television matchups on Jan. 29, and Nevada has a good chance to be in the mix once again.
The conferences participating for the first time are the Big South, Northeast, Patriot and Southland. Five other conferences - Western Athletic, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Mid-American and Horizon - have all of their teams participating in the event.
Coaches and organizers alike believe that the Bracket Buster event is helpful to teams striving to make the NCAA Tournament.
"I think the Bracket Buster has been great for Nevada," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "It's the last opportunity to get a high-profile (nonconference) game at a key time in the season and get national exposure. It's been a benefit in completing our home schedule, too. It's a great creation, and we've really benefitted."
"The first two years we had good clubs," said Creighton coach Dana Altman. "We were trying to make a statement in those games. We had a good game against Fresno State that first year. Last year we played Tennessee-Chattanooga and that kind of jump-started us."
National exposure is critical, according to Burke Magnus, ESPNU vice president and general manager, and WAC commissioner Karl Benson.
"Saint Mary's a is a perfect example," Mangus said. "They are the kind of team that fits the mold.
"Gonzaga has carried the flag two of the past three years. If you talk to the folks from Saint Mary's they have confidence in their team's performance. What he (head coach X) would tell you is that it gives you a chance to get TV exposure prior to the NCAA Tournament or conference tournament. That is what he's after."
Benson is on the NCAA men's basketball selection committee, and he emphasized that committee members deem them important.
"I know committee members tune into those games," Benson said. "They (the teams) end up on everybody's list that the committee looks at. It is about who you play and who you beat. Those 11 games (on TV) all end up being top-50 type opponents.
"It (Bracket Buster) has been very beneficial to the WAC. It has helped Nevada be recognized from a national standpoint. They got to the NCAA and won games in the NCAAs."
By decision day (Jan. 29), the bulk of the teams that will play on television is pretty evident, according to Mangus.
"The top 50 percent of TV games are pretty easy to put together," Mangus said. "Teams have separated.
"We as a group try to put together the best games (for TV) like we did last year. The Nevada-Vermont game just jumps out at you. It was a game that probably wouldn't have happened any other way or at any other time."
One of the conferences Benson and Magnus would love to see get more involved is the West Coast Conference. Gonzaga has played in past events, and Saint Mary's and Santa Clara are in this year's field.
"It's a great basketball conference," Magnus said. "We talked with Brad Walker (associate commissioner) and Michael Gilleran (commissioner). It's not easy to make their teams available the second week of February for a nonconference game."
"Obviously I'd love to see all the WCC teams play," Benson said. "Hopefully they will see the benefit it provides."
It would also make for easier scheduling for the nontelevised games where geography plays a big role in how matchups are determined.
Indeed. The nontelevised matchups would be much easier if there were more WCC teams in the pool that you could match up with teams from the Big Sky and Big West.
Notes: Teams that host Bracket Buster games this year must play that same team on the road the following year ... Eighteen teams entered in this year's event made the NCAA Tournament last season. University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin beat Alabama and Boston College to reach the Sweet 16, and Vermont upset Syracuse. Nevada edged Texas in the first round before falling to Illinois in the second round.
By the Numbers
2 - The number of West Coast Conference teams in the field
4 - The number of years the Bracket Buster has been in existence
5 - The number of games the WAC will host
11 - The amount of games to be televised by ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU
18 - The number of conferences represented
100 - The number of teams in the Bracket Buster pool