By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
Eastern Kentucky University will be getting some national television exposure Saturday, Feb. 23 when the Colonels play at Valparaiso University in the 2013 ESPN Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters event.
For the third straight year, every OVC team will participate in BracketBusters games, with three, the Colonels, Belmont and Murray State playing in games that will be televised on one of the three ESPN networks.
The EKU-Valpo matchup is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will be shown on ESPNU.
Eastern has played in BracketBusters games seven previous times but this will be the first time the Colonels are playing in one of the TV matchups.
EKU is 4-3 in those games and has won four of its last five BracketBusters games, including a 78-69 victory over IPFW last season.
Coach Jeff Neubauer said the BracketBusters games can be a blessing if you are one of the teams playing on TV, or not such a great thing if you play in the non-televised contests.
“The way I’ve always said it is, if you have an opportunity to play on national TV, then it’s 100 percent worth it. If you are one of the teams like we are, then it’s a great opportunity,” Neubauer said. “Now for the nine teams in the OVC that are not playing TV games, then the BracketBusters is a nuisance. It’s stuck at the worst time of the year and some teams in our league have to travel half-way across the country. So it doesn’t fit.”
Neubauer said having the opportunity to play in the nationally televised game is a compliment to the program and the players and something he feels the team has earned with its play this season.
“This is the eighth year of the Bracketbusters and there has never been any possibility of EKU being on TV in eight years,” Neubauer said. “The fact that we have an RPI in the top 80 and we are 18-6. The fact that we have gone on the road and won big games has allowed our guys to have this opportunity to play in a nationally televised game in the BracketBusters and it’s tremendous.”
EKU and Valparaiso have very similar records this season. Both are currently 18-6 on the year.
The Colonels are 7-3 in the OVC and are in second place in the East Division, with an RPI of 83, while Valparaiso is 8-2 and leads the Horizon League and has an RPI of 93.
Both teams own road wins over Murray State. The Crusaders defeated the Racers 66-64 on Dec. 29, while the Colonels beat Murray 77-65 on Jan. 9.
While EKU has only one senior on the team in Mike DiNunno, the Crusaders squad is mostly upperclassmen with seven seniors and four juniors on the roster.
Neubauer said the BracketBusters exposure is great for his team, but it will have its hands full with the veteran Crusaders.
“It’s a double edged sword. It’s a great compliment to our players to get that opportunity to go play in this TV game,” Neubauer said. “The other part of it is that we’ve drawn the best team in the Horizon. They are very well coached and they’re all seniors with a couple of juniors sprinkled in. We are absolutely going to play a talented and experienced team, but it really is a great opportunity.”
The BracketBusters is a two-day event Feb. 22-23 that features 13 nationally televised games on ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3.
The participating teams are selected from a pool of 122 teams from 15 conferences with the parings taking place three weeks prior to the event.
The matchups are determined on the basis of regular season play. The evaluation and pairings of teams for the ESPN television package are made by the ESPN staff in consultation with participating conference commissioners.
Each team that participates in any given year agrees to enter into a home-and-home series with its opponent.
The return game is the second game of the two-game series contract and is not part of the BracketBusters event in the second year.
That means that Valparaiso will play the Colonels again next season in McBrayer Arena.
ESPN announced in December that this, the 11th made-for-tv event, will be the final year of the BracketBusters, but Neubauer said he thinks it will return in the future in a different format.
“I do think it will definitely be back in place, maybe as early as next year,” Neubauer said. “But it will be really scaled down. It will be much smaller and fewer teams will participate.”