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Weekend Preview: Proving time in the Atlantic 10

Big games ahead for St. Bonaventure and UMass

NCAA Basketball: George Mason at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday, friends! You’ve made it through your first full week back at work and as a reward, you get a weekend full of great conference matchups. The Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, and Mountain West all have huge games on Saturday, but don’t forget about leagues like the West Coast Conference and the Sun Belt, which will have several opportunities to shine.

Here’s what to watch for…

5 Games to Watch

Massachusetts at VCU, Sat., 1 p.m., NBC Sports Network

VCU has won six in a row, with wins at Old Dominion and George Mason, and a home victory over Middle Tennessee. UMass is 0-2 in Atlantic 10 play and in desperate need of a key victory. This should be a good one, and even if it’s not, JeQuan Lewis makes the Rams a fun watch anyway.

Illinois State at Indiana State, Sat., 2 p.m., FOX Sports Midwest

Indiana State is only 6-9, but all three of its Missouri Valley losses are by single digits, two came in overtime, and all three were to teams who should do well in the conference. The Redbirds will be another challenge. They’ve won all three of their conference games, including a statement, dominating victory at Loyola Chicago.

George Mason at St. Bonaventure, Sat., 5 p.m., NBC Sports Network

The third A-10 game of the day on NBC Sports figures to be appointment viewing. More on Bonna below, but the Patriots have won 10 of 11 since starting the season 1-3 and own wins over UMass, Penn State, and Northern Iowa. It’s not the greatest resume, but one that would get a huge boost with a win.

Saint Mary’s at San Francisco, Sat., 11 p.m., Campus Insiders

The Dons’ luster has dulled slightly since their wins over Utah and Illinois State. They’ve lost three out of four, though two of those losses were to San Diego State and Gonzaga. They’ll have a chance to rebound with a huge win over Saint Mary’s. It’d be one that could have serious ramifications in the WCC standings.

San Diego State at Boise State, Sat., 11 p.m., ESPNU

Like George Mason, Boise State has flown under the radar over the last few weeks. That would change Saturday with a win over San Diego State. The Aztecs are 0-2 in the Mountain West but still the de facto favorites. Perhaps we should have known Boise State would be good when the Broncos beat a solid SMU team back in November.

4 Players to Watch

Braxton Huggins, New Mexico State

New Mexico State coach Paul Weir pays attention to advanced stats, and one thing they told him is that Huggins needs to get the ball more. He ranks among the nation’s leaders in true shooting and effective field goal percentage, and is, somehow, shooting 47 percent from three.

Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

Landale is the best player in the country that the average college basketball fan has never heard of. If it’s possible to have still never heard of him by now. The numbers themselves are staggering — 18.2 points per game, 9.6 rebounds per game, 66 percent from the field, 74 percent from the line. He is the Gaels’ leader in every facet of the game, from scoring, to interior defense, to rebounding.

Erick Neal, UT Arlington

First, a quick plug for our podcast: UT Arlington head coach Scott Cross joins us for an interview. You can catch it this weekend. While on the podcast, Cross mentioned just how exciting Neal is to watch. He is among the nation’s leaders in assists, can score when needed, and is as smart a player as a coach can ask for.

Justin Tuoyo, Chattanooga

The second-best shot-blocker in the country (3.7 per game) will get a guard-heavy Furman team on Saturday. The Paladins don’t have anyone who can match up with Tuoyo, who is a consistent double-double threat, 63 percent shooter, and a brick wall on defense.

3 Storylines to Follow

Someone’s gotta win, probably

There are only two winless teams left in college basketball, and they’re playing each other on Saturday. Mississippi Valley State and Alabama A&M are a combined 0-27 and rank No. 349 and 351 out of 351 in KenPom respectively. In 12 of those 27 losses, opponents have scored 90 or more points — 80 or more points in 17 of them. They are also among the worst teams in the nation on offense. Alabama A&M averages 58.6 points per game (349/351), while Mississippi Valley State is the third-worst shooting team in the country from inside the arc.

Clarity in the middle of the A-10

Dayton blew out St. Bonaventure this week as the Bonnies missed a great opportunity to pad their resume. They’ll get a shot at a surprise George Mason team on Saturday while UMass visits VCU. The Minutemen can enter the conversation among A-10 contenders with a win, while the Bonnies could be in a lot of trouble with another loss, given that a trip to Richmond looms.

Ivy League Tip-Off

Half of the Ivy League opens conference play on Saturday, with Dartmouth hosting Harvard and Princeton hosting Penn. These aren’t the sexiest matchups, but they are welcome nevertheless. With the introduction of a postseason tournament this year, there is more to play for now in the Ivy than ever. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are all expected to make the four-team field, but that fourth spot is wide open.

2 Questions We Have

Can Monmouth right the ship?

Well, the good news is that we can throw away all the “can Monmouth get an at-large” talk early. The Hawks have dropped three in a row (though their loss at North Carolina was expected) and are 2-2 in MAAC play. Monmouth gets a nationally televised date with Iona on Friday, then hosts a bad Marist team on Sunday. A weekend sweep would go a long way toward restoring order in West Long Branch.

Marcus Marshall or Elijah Brown?

Nevada-New Mexico is an 11:15 p.m. ET tip, but stay up late (if you don’t have a social life) and watch a matchup of two tremendous guards. Sure, Brown’s numbers are down a little bit this year, and he has struggled from the field, he’s still averaging 16.7 points per game and gets to the foul line about as regularly as you can ask. Then there’s Marshall, who’s posting better than 20 points per game, shooting 40 percent from three, and has scored 25 or more points three times in his last four games.

1 More Unbeaten

Gonzaga is now 15-0 overall and 3-0 in conference play after beating San Francisco by 15 on Thursday. Next up: at Portland, Saturday, 10 p.m. ET.

KenPom unbeaten probability: 12.6%