Exams are over!
I assume. I’m not in college, but my guess is that this was exam week for most schools, given the light basketball schedule.
Regardless, Saturday’s slate is a good one, even if it’s not quite as jam-packed as the past couple weeks. The mid-major highlights: Wichita State takes on Oklahoma State, Gonzaga plays Tennessee, and Dayton plays Northwestern in a game both teams could use to boost their resumes.
I know you’re just itching to spend Saturday on your couch watching basketball all the live-long day, and I don’t blame you. Here’s everything you need to keep an eye on:
5 Games to Watch
Dayton vs. Northwestern (Chicago), Sat., 7 p.m. BTN
If Northwestern wants to make its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, a win over Dayton would look great on its resume. For Dayton, it’s a shot at a second-straight quality win, after the Flyers topped East Tennessee State last week. Player to watch: Xeyrius Williams, a forward who has been quietly consistent for the Flyers since their frontline was ravaged by injuries.
Middle Tennessee at VCU, Sat., 7 p.m., ASN
Middle Tennessee is closing in on a Top 25 ranking and would probably lock one up by winning at the Siegel Center. But that’s much easier said than done. VCU, as always, is one of the best defensive teams in the country and has one of the biggest home-court advantages. Love guard play? JaQuan Lewis vs. Giddy Potts is the
matchup shootout for you.
Oklahoma State vs. Wichita State (Wichita), Sat., 7 p.m., ESPN3
Oklahoma State has scored 100-plus points six times this year. Wichita State has held opponents to under 60 points six times this year. Something’s gotta give. The Shockers just knocked off Oklahoma last week, but the Cowboys present a unique challenge. They can speed the game up, force mistakes, and score in transition as good as any team in the country, and have the ability to frustrate an inexperienced group to no end. If Wichita State takes an early hit, it will be interesting to see how it responds.
Rice at Pittsburgh, Sat., 7 p.m., ACC Network
We don’t really know yet how good Rice is, but we know Pitt is a quality team. The Panthers have already beaten three KenPom top 100 teams, while the Owls lost their only contest against one (Texas Tech). Pitt has been generally good at defending the three this year, but Egor Koulechov (more on him below) is playing out of his mind right now. Pitt is the favorite, and rightfully so, but the Panthers better come ready to play.
Gonzaga vs. Tennessee (Nashville), Sun., 4 p.m., ESPN2
Tennessee took North Carolina to the wire last week and now has a shot to knock off the unbeaten Bulldogs. In order to do that, the Volunteers will have to figure out how to stop Gonzaga’s dual seven-footers in Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins. It does not appear that the Volunteers have the personnel to do that — they are a guard-oriented team with no player over 6’5 able to contribute consistently.
4 Players to Watch
Giddy Potts, Middle Tennessee
If you’re not downright Giddy to see the Potts Show roll through the Siegel Center, I don’t know what to tell you. The Rams have the unenviable task of slowing down the guard who dropped 27 on Vanderbilt last week and is shooting 43 percent from three.
Egor Koulechov, Rice
Never heard of the Arizona State transfer? You’re not alone. But Koulechov is averaging nearly 20 points per game and is shooting 61 percent from three — you read that right, 61 percent. He’s made his last six attempts from long range and is 15 for his last 17. Pitt might want to find someone who could put a hand in his face.
Evan Bradds, Belmont
It’s a shame that Bradds doesn’t get more attention on the national stage. He’s putting up 21.3 points and 10 rebounds per game, while shooting 61 percent from the field (don’t be impressed, he shot 71 percent last year). He had to sit out of the Bruins’ loss to URI on Nov. 25, but will have a shot to beat another non-conference mid-major when Belmont visits Green Bay.
Dallas Moore, North Florida
Moore has been the lone bright spot to North Florida’s year so far. The Ospreys are just 4-9, and though they’ve played a bunch of high-majors, they’ve also fallen to Wright State, Bakersfield, and UT Rio Grande Valley. Moore has already had five 30-plus-point games this year, including three in a row at Arkansas, Florida, and Syracuse. North Florida visits UConn on Sunday, another guard-reliant team that’s off to a rough start.
3 Storylines to Follow
Neutral court madness
For some reason there are a ton of games happening this weekend on neutral or semi-neutral floors. A lot of people decry these games as a missed opportunity to get a rowdy on-campus crowd for a marquee matchup, and I agree. But here’s the other side: Team A vs. Team B on a neutral floor takes home-court advantage out of the equation and gives us a good look at which team is better. Neutral court games to watch on Saturday:
Charlotte vs. Florida, Orange Bowl Classic (Sunrise, FL)
Chicago State vs. DePaul, AllState Arena (JUST KIDDING DEPAUL FAN
Kansas State vs. Colorado State (Denver CO)
Northern Iowa vs. Iowa, Hy-Vee Big Four Classic (Des Moines, IA)
Davidson vs. Kansas, Jayhawk Shootout (Kansas City, MO)...ok not really neutral, but at least Davidson doesn’t have to go to the Phog.
State bragging rights on the line
One reason there are so many neutral court games this weekend is because a few states are having their in-state challenges this weekend. Iowa’s four Division I teams — Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and Drake — meet in the annual HyVee Classic. A few states east, it’s the Crossroads Classic, which pits Indiana’s four non-mids against each other. While they’re in Indianapolis having fun, Indiana State visits Valparaiso for a Hoosier State rivalry game. Head to the northeast a bit and you get the Big Four classic, where Canisius, Buffalo, St. Bonaventure, and Niagara meet in a clash of upstate New York mids. Overall, it’s just a fun weekend to manufacture some rivalries.
This seems like a good weekend to see some high-majors fall at the hands of the little guy. Teams that could take an L:
Texas Tech (at Richmond)
Iowa (vs. Northern Iowa)
LSU and TCU (vs. Texas Southern)
Oklahoma State (vs. Wichita State)
Kansas (vs. Davidson) Before you laugh at that, remember the Wildcats’ comeback against North Carolina.
Vanderbilt (vs. Chattanooga)
Illinois (vs. BYU)
2 Questions We Have
Can Rice beat a real team?
Rice went 12-20 last year, so we’re not going to poo-poo an 8-2 start. Credit to coach Mike Rhoades and his team. But the best team the Owls have beaten this season is Omaha (KenPom 158). Rice visits Pitt this weekend in a statement opportunity on Saturday. Should the Owls fall short against the Panthers, they also visit Old Dominion on New Year’s Eve.
Who is the next mid-major to beat Oregon State?
Lamar. Nevada. Fresno State. Charlotte. Savannah State. They’ve all taken down the mighty Beavers. Oregon State faces 2-10 Long Beach State on Friday and 5-3 Portland on Sunday. Will one of those teams knock off the other Pac-12 school from Oregon? Probably.
1 More Unbeaten
Gonzaga was off for exams this week, so the Bulldogs remain the final unbeaten mid-major team. Up next for the Bulldogs: A Tennessee team on Sunday that gave North Carolina a scare last week, followed by a home game against South Dakota on Wednesday.