Remember how loaded last Saturday was? We had the Mountain West – Missouri Valley Challenge, a West Coast Conference doubleheader at Staples Center, plus big games for powers Dayton and Rhode Island.
If it’s even possible, this weekend is just as good.
Now, guess who won’t see one minute of the action because his best friend from college is getting married tomorrow.
If you guessed me, you are, sadly, correct. Please let the record show that I will attend the wedding, but I am not happy about it. I wish my friend had consulted the college basketball schedule beforehand, but hey, no one’s perfect.
Anyway, here’s what you should look out for while I miss all the fun. All times Eastern:
5 Games to Watch:
UAB at Memphis, Sat., 1 p.m., WatchESPN
The Blazers have alternated wins and losses all year so far, with wins over Stephen F. Austin and George Washington countered by losses to Furman and Auburn. UAB will look to win consecutive games for the first time when it visits old conference rival Memphis on Saturday afternoon. Back when they played together in Conference USA, the Blazers were the final CUSA team to beat Memphis in 2006, before the Tigers reeled off 64 consecutive conference wins. The two teams have not faced each other since 2013.
Wichita State vs. Oklahoma (Oklahoma City), Sat., 4 p.m., ESPN2
It’s time to learn a little bit about the Sooners and the Shockers. Wichita State missed opportunities for statement wins in the Bahamas by losing to Louisville and Michigan State. Oklahoma missed its chance by getting blown out at Wisconsin. Neither team is expected to be as strong as it was last year, but one will come away with a victory that will look good in March.
Utah State at Utah Valley, Sat., 6 p.m., UVU TV
Utah Valley went from the forgotten school in Utah to must-see-TV (or in this case must-stream) in a matter of weeks. The Wovlerines’ 114-101 shootout win at BYU put the nation on notice, then narrow losses at Washington State and Utah proved the point: you can’t take Utah Valley lightly. Utah State hasn’t beaten a Division I team in almost a month and will have its hands full on the road.
UNC Wilmington at St. Bonaventure, Sat, 6 p.m., ASN (Regional)
As of Friday afternoon, UNC Wilmington is ranked 65th in KenPom. St. Bonaventure is 66th. Both teams come into the game on winning streaks, though neither has beaten a top-70 opponent. Both teams are led by guards, Chris Flemmings (19.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) for the Seahawks and Jaylen Adams (23.4 ppg, 6.0 apg) for the Bonnies, who don’t get the attention they deserve. Something’s gotta give.
Valparaiso at Missouri State, Sat., 8 p.m., WatchESPN
Thing I’m looking forward to: Valparaiso picking up a big road win, then all the Oakland fans getting upset when we move the Crusaders up in the Power Rankings. Then again, the Bears aren’t so bad. KenPom projects this one to go in Missouri State’s favor, 70-69.
Nine more to watch because this weekend is that loaded:
Rhode Island at Houston, Sat., 1:30 p.m., ESPNU
East Tennessee State at Dayton, Sat., 2 p.m., FOX Sports (Regional)
Duke vs. UNLV (Las Vegas), Sat., 5:15 p.m., ESPN
Rutgers at Stony Brook, Sat., 7 p.m., WatchESPN
Arizona State at San Diego State, Sat., 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network
VCU at Old Dominion, Sat., 8 p.m., American Sports Network (Regional)
New Mexico at New Mexico State, Sat., 9:30 p.m., WatchESPN
Colorado at BYU, Sat., 10 p.m., ESPN2
Nevada at Washington, Sun., 8 p.m., Pac-12 Network
4 Players to Watch:
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure
Point totals this season: 31, 29, 27, 22, 17, 18, 20, and 23. The NCAA’s ninth-leading scorer has been a consistent star for the Bonnies, playing nearly every minute of every game and leading the team in both points and assists. The junior is also 9 for his last 16 from three and makes just over three per game from long range.
TJ Cromer, East Tennessee State
ETSU’s only player averaging double-figures in scoring is putting up 19.1 per night as the unquestioned leader of a Buccaneers team off to a hot start. The smart and deadly shooter can put up points in a hurry and might have the #onions to help take down Dayton on the road. For good measure, here’s a video of him hitting a game-winning three last year.
Brandon Randolph, Utah Valley
Randolph isn’t the leading scorer for the Wolverines. Or even the second- or third-leading scorer. But the junior guard has put up some crazy all-around stats. Against BYU, he scored 21 pints, handed out 14 (14!) assists, and notched nine rebounds to narrowly miss out on a triple-double. He’s inconsistent, but when he isn’t scoring, he distributes well. He also doesn’t turn it over often, considering he touches the ball pretty much every trip down the court.
DeWayne Russell, Grand Canyon
Over the last three games, the nation’s second-leading scorer has played all but one minute of game action. He poured on 42 of his team’s 70 points in a single-digit loss to Louisville last week, attempting 27 field goals and 16 free throws. He also posted 30 points and 10 assists against Albany in his first game of the season.
3 Storylines to Follow:
Pikiell returns to Stony Brook
A Big Ten school visiting an America East school is rare, for sure, but there’s a reason Rutgers is playing at Stony Brook on Saturday: The Scarlet Knights are led by former Seawolves coach Steve Pikiell. In 11 season at Stony Brook, Pikiell won 192 games, captured four America East regular season titles, brought his team to the NIT three times, and ended his run by leading the Seawolves to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. That was enough to woo Rutgers, a program that has played in four different conferences since its last trip to the dance.
Critical game for San Diego State and Arizona State
San Diego State has lost back-to-back games to Loyola-Illinois and Grand Canyon. Arizona State just got whacked at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic, forcing coach Bobby Hurley to say this about his team:
Bobby Hurley calls his team's effort 'embarrassing' vs Purdue. pic.twitter.com/FUCW1yrjC7— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) December 7, 2016
So yes, both teams could really use a win.
The Aztecs’ victory over Cal earlier in the year is nice, but with its recent bad losses and a missed opportunity against Gonzaga, they are in desperate need of a good non-conference victory. While the Sun Devils might not qualify as “good,” it’s the closest San Diego State can hope to get at this point.
Rhode Island’s road gets tougher without Hassan Martin
With Martin out indefinitely with an injury, the onus was put on E.C. Matthews to snap out of his recent slump. He had a strong game against Old Dominion earlier in the week in what was an ugly, but much-needed win. It will get tougher when the Rams visit Hoffheinz Pavilion this weekend. Let’s see who steps up alongside Matthews and Jared Terrell to contribute.
2 Questions we Have:
Who is the best team in New Mexico?
In recent years, this has been a legit question. The Lobos have owned the head-to-head series lately, but the Aggies have put together the stronger overall resume. That includes four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament from 2012-15 and an NIT trip last year. They’ve also finished ahead of the Lobos in KenPom the last two seasons. These two teams play a rare out-of-conference home-and-home every season, and New Mexico won the first meeting of 2016-17. The two meet again in Las Cruces this weekend.
What is VCU’s identity?
Mid-major basketball is more fun when VCU is playing swarming, pressing, annoying-as-hell defense. The Rams led the nation in steal percentage from 2012 to 2014 and were third in 2015. That number has slipped, though VCU still ranks highly (19th overall), and is definitely an above-average defensive team. But overall? Meh. That havoc-style defense doesn’t have the same magic when VCU is also turning the ball over at an alarming rate (20.6 percent of possessions). Is this just a team looking for its footing or are the Rams changing under Will Wade?
1 More Unbeaten:
Gonzaga. That’s it. They’re the only mid-major unbeaten left, now the Saint Mary’s has fallen. The Bulldogs should be the unanimous No. 1 team in next week’s Mid-Major Madness Power Rankings, assuming they don’t stumble this weekend. Their game against Akron on Saturday is their last before the exam break.