“Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.” – Michael Corleone.

RICHMOND, Va. – From its inception, I was drinking the BracketBusters Kool-Aid.

I thought it was a novel idea that would, No. 1, provide “mid-major” schools with an opportunity to boost their at-large resumes. No. 2, I assumed it would showcase some of the more underrated college basketball programs on national TV.

But after the Nevada insane travel fiasco of 2009 and the wildly underwhelming selection of Akron in 2010 (and 2008, if you want to get technical about it), I told myself I had had enough. I had given up on the event being relevant enough to sway NCAA favor, and I doubted that ESPN had VCU’s –or any school’s – best interest at heart.

However, last year’s pitch-perfect selection of Wichita State, and the resume muscle a win over the Shockers provided last year, had me warming to the event again.

On Monday, in front of a pseudo-national audience on ESPNU (“We’re better than the Ocho!”), VCU was handed a matchup with Missouri Valley Conference foe Northern Iowa (14-9) on Friday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Arena, a game that will be televised on ESPN2.

It’s a great draw for VCU for a couple of reasons. No. 1, the Panthers’ RPI of 57 allows the Rams a much-needed shot at a top-100 win. VCU currently has two top 100 victories this year (Akron, South Florida). It had eight last year.  No. 2, the Rams, ranked 84th in RPI, earn a return game in two years with a Northern Iowa program that is on solid footing. VCU can expect a game that won’t damage its RPI in 2013-14.

Andy Katz of ESPN argued that VCU should’ve drawn a more favorable pairing, but I just don’t see how that was possible. Only Nevada (59), ranked slightly below Northern Iowa, was even a remote possibility. Katz expressed concern over Northern Iowa’s 4-7 league record, a perfectly valid complaint, but honestly, this is the best possible RPI matchup available for the Rams. VCU had the 11th-best RPI among BracketBusters home teams this year, while Northern Iowa was ranked fourth among road teams. VCU also had conflicts with Akron (58) and Drexel (87) that made those matchups impossible.

VCU has fared well in this event, but clearly, the Rams’ Final Four run last season made them a desirable TV matchup.

The Panthers are a volatile draw for the Rams. UNI began the season on a 10-1 tear, but is 4-8 in its last 12 games. VCU not only needs to beat Northern Iowa, its needs the Panthers’ RPI to remain strong throughout the end of the season.

Coached by Ben Jacobson, the Panthers are led by junior guard Anthony James (13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and 6-foot-9 junior forward Jake Koch (10.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg). UNI has made five NCAA Tournament appearances since 2004, including a Sweet 16 berth in 2010.

All things considered, this is a great matchup for VCU. The Kool-Aid tastes good again.

VCU: ESPNU BRACKETBUSTERS HISTORY
Feb. 19, 2005: Charleston 85, VCU 75
Feb. 17, 2006: VCU 70, Albany 67 (ESPNU)
Feb. 17, 2007: Bradley 73, VCU 64 (ESPN2)
Feb. 23, 2008: VCU 57, Akron 52 (ESPN2)
Feb. 20, 2009: Nevada 71, VCU 70 (ESPNU)
Feb. 20, 2010: VCU 70, Akron 53 (ESPNU)
Feb. 18, 2011: VCU 68, Wichita State 67 (ESPN2)
Feb. 17, 2012: VCU vs. Northern Iowa (ESPN2)

Home team in BOLD

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