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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 11:35 PM

It wasn’t that long ago that the Big West was part of ESPN’s Big Monday TV showcase. The conference wasn’t nearly in the same class as the Big East or Big 12. But…you might as well keep the momentum going with a third game. What else would basketball fans be watching?

Well, it turned out basketball fans had no problem finding better alternatives than two random Big West teams playing undisciplined basketball in tiny gyms. The conference was phased out of the listings, and largely fell off the radar in terms of national basketball interest.

Long Beach State just might put the Big West back on the radar, at least temporarily, this season. They had some very good results early in the season against a killer non-conference schedule (as we outlined for you in our Bracket Buster previews last week). They’re currently projected to make the Big Dance even if they don’t win their conference tournament (though, it could be tight). Tonight, they get a chance to make a statement in a rare national TV spot in a big home game against Cal-Santa Barbara that will be on ESPN2 at 11 p.m. ET (prime time in Las Vegas and on the West Coast).

Some quick notes on the 49ers heading into this game…

*Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology currently has Long Beach projected as an 11th seed. If the season ended today, that would be good enough for an at-large bid. The at-larges generally drift down to #12 in the brackets, though Lunardi usually has some at #13. Long Beach can stub it’s toe and still make the Dance according to Lunardi.

The other 11th seeds in the most recent projection are Xavier, Connecticut, and Washington. Those teams all have a tougher path the rest of the way, and are likely to stub their toes at least once. Connecticut’s foot is so bruised at the moment they may be worse off than Lunardi has them anyway. We can’t say Long Beach is a LOCK for the Dance yet. But, they are getting national respect, and clearly look to be the best Big West team in years

*The computer ratings we’ve been devoting a lot of space to this year both ALSO have Long Beach in the Dance at the moment. Jeff Sagarin has them as the 41st team in the nation. Ken Pomeroy ranks them 44th. That’s right on the cusp…but on the right side of the cusp given the way the selection process usually goes.

*Long Beach probably would have locked in a bid if they could have won on the road at Creighton in Saturday’s Bracket Buster game. They lost a heartbreaker at the buzzer 81-79, in a game they led at the half 46-41. That’s certainly a quality showing at a tough road site. Though, we have to admit that Creighton hadn’t been in great form recently…and the selection committee prefers wins to losses. A coin flip game when stepping up in class is a virtual win. Note that Creighton has better computer ratings than Long Beach State. Home court advantage is worth something, particularly with a long trip from the Pacific Ocean to Omaha, Nebraska. Maybe Long Beach locked in a bid with this close loss!

*Tonight’s game with Cal Santa Barbara is far from automatic. UCSB isn’t a tournament team by any means. But, they are 9-3 in Big West play, currently tied for second place. The computers have this as a one versus two game in the league. That’s why ESPN tabbed it for a rare Big West national telecast. The bad news if you’re looking for drama is that Long Beach won the first meeting on the road 71-48!

*It’s hard to overstate how dominant the 49ers have been in conference action this year. They’re not just undefeated…but the victory margins have been impressive. From low to high, Long Beach has won by 5, 7, 8, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 14, 20, 23, 28. That’s a lot of comfortable margins. The seven was actually a tie game at the end of regulation. That’s the only game Long Beach really had to sweat, on the road at Cal-Irvine.

There’s a chance that Long Beach will play nervous under the spotlight, giving UCSB a chance to hang tough the whole night. The best expectation is that this will be another audition game for the eyes of the selection committee. A tough loss at Creighton followed by a big win here would be a strong enough TV presentation to impress the committee. Long Beach will fall back off the listings until championship night in the tournament should they dodge bullets in the preliminaries. They need to perform TONIGHT!

We have some time…so let’s take a quick look at who performed well last weekend in the Bracket Buster games we outlined. Many of the teams in those matchups are back in action Wednesday and Thursday.

ST. MARY’S AT MURRAY STATE

Huge win for Murray State, as they passed every test imaginable in a comfortable win. St. Mary’s didn’t seem very well prepared for the game. And, they may be so confident of their Dance ticket that they didn’t give the game a large enough priority. Murray State knew they had something to prove…and they made a strong case for at-large inclusion in the Dance should they suffer a major upset during the Ohio Valley tournament. The West Coast Conference hopes this result doesn’t set the tone for another disappointing postseason. St. Mary’s is on the road at Portland Thursday Night. Murray State visits Tennessee State.

WICHITA STATE AT DAVIDSON

We suggested that this would be like a top 15 power visiting Davidson rather than a traditional Bracket Buster game. That’s how it played out Wichita State was in command the whole way, and truly looked like a team who would compete this year in ANY conference. The Shockers are the best choice at the moment for a mid-major to reach the Final Four in our view. That’s not a particularly bold statement any more because they’re playing such dominant basketball. Wichita State needs to avoid a potential letdown spot at Illinois State Wednesday Night. Davidson hosts Elon Thursday Night.

DREXEL AT CLEVELAND STATE

Wow, this gave the committee something to think about. Drexel won by 20 on the road…in the first TV game of the day. That’s the way to grab hold of the narrative! The computers just don’t justify two teams from the Colonial Conference at the moment. But, VCU supposedly wasn’t justified last year and they reached the Final Four. Whoever represents the Colonial is going to be a threat…and this conference is shown in recent years that the committee should stop inviting also-rans from the power conferences and give more chances to mid majors. Drexel hosts James Madison Wednesday Night. Cleveland State hosts Detroit Thursday Night as they try to chase down Valparaiso in the Horizon League.

Note that VCU of the Colonial Conference won their Bracket Buster game fairly easily at Northern Iowa. Not quite a good enough opponent for that to be a headline grabber. VCU visits NC Wilmington Wednesday Night.

AKRON AT ORAL ROBERTS

Oral Roberts won at home in a game that landed close to the number. No harm no foul here. Oral Roberts still probably has to win their conference tournament to get in. But, they won’t have an embarrassing seed thanks to this result. Akron needed a breakthrough win to feel safe, and didn’t get it. The MAC is probably a one-bid league once again…with the tourney champ getting that bid. Akron hosts Bowling Green Wednesday Night. Oral Roberts is off until Saturday, when they finish Summit League play against Southern Utah.

We already talked about Long Beach-Creighton, with Long Beach getting a moral victory…while Creighton’s full season resume is so strong that their recent slump probably won’t put them in much danger of missing the Dance. The Blue Jays took the court Tuesday Night against Evansville in their first post-Bracket Buster date. Hopefully you’ll spend some time tonight scouting Long Beach State against UCSB on ESPN2.

Odds are, JIM HURLEY probably won’t have a major release in UCSB-Long Beach. There’s a HUGE Wednesday card with a monster college schedule and 13 more games in the NBA. It is a possibility for a TV Parlay, along with the likes of West Virginia-Notre Dame, Kansas-Texas A&M, and Michigan State-Minnesota.

When the schedule is this big…the top plays usually represent some of the best options of the whole week, and even whole month! NETWORK is cherry-picking a small handful of virtual locks on a night where oddsmakers are bound to make some big mistakes. You can purchase our Wednesday slate here at the website with your credit card a few hours before first tip. If you have any questions about our service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you Thursday to preview Duke-Florida State and talk about the ACC. You probably know that Florida State beat Duke at Duke! And, the Seminoles crushed North Carolina in Tallahassee. Big game in the ACC…and in the seeding picture for the Dance.

See you Thursday. Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY in the NOTEBOOK so you know what’s REALLY happening in the world of sports!

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