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My big weekend preview: Princeton, BYU, and hidden mid-major gems

Feast Week edition!

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at Butler Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Feast Week, friends, and that means we’re all about to be treated to the best non-conference matchups outside of March. There’s a lot going on this week, so the Big Weekend Preview returns, outlining everything you need to watch for over the next few days.

5 Games to Watch:

Harvard at Manhattan, Sat., 1 p.m., ESPN3

I didn’t expect to have to follow this one, but the Crimson had a big-time hiccup against Holy Cross on Thursday and I’m suddenly curious. They also only beat MIT by nine and struggled against UMass. Then there’s Manhattan, expected to be one of the top teams in the MAAC, who was pushed to overtime in its season opener by St. Francis Brooklyn.

La Salle vs. Northwestern, Hall of Fame Tip-Off, Sat., 2:30 p.m., ESPN3

It hasn’t always been pretty for La Salle, but the Explorers are 3-0. Dr. John Giannini’s group entered the season with expectations of rebounding after what had been a rough few years, and they’ll have their first shot at a big win on Saturday. Northwestern has been underwhelming in its first three games, which were all at home.

Princeton at Saint Joseph’s, Sat., 7 p.m., Atlantic 10 Live

This game stays on the list despite the Lamarr Kimble news that broke today. It’s a crushing blow for the Hawks, but lucky for them, Shavar Newkirk and James Demery still exist. Princeton has missed two chances early at statement wins, and while that isn’t a huge deal (no Ivy team is getting an at-large bid, sorry), the Tigers want to prove they’re good enough to compete with the best mid-majors in the game, because on paper, they are.

UT Arlington at BYU, Sat., 9:30 p.m., ESPN3

As a rule, I’ll watch UT Arlington any time they’re on my TV. We’ve talked enough about how great Erick Neal and Kevin Hervey are, so now watch them go up against Elijah Bryant and BYU. The Cougars want to prove they belong in the top tier of the West Coast Conference along with Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, and a win over the Mavericks will help some. A loss, however, and the Cougars are already worrying about at-large chances. It’s not fair, but such is the life of the mid-major.

Monmouth vs. Virginia, Sun., 1:30 p.m., ACCN

Monmouth has already beaten Bucknell and played Seton Hall tough. Is it possible that the Hawks haven’t taken as much of a step back as we thought they would? Micah Seaborn is the star, which we all expected, but freshman Deion Hammond is averaging 12 points and shooting 44 percent from three over his first three collegiate games. They may not beat Virginia, but don’t be surprised if they compete...

4 Players to Watch:

Jair Bolden, George Washington

If the first two games of the season are any indication, Bolden had made quite a leap from this freshman to sophomore years. His first game, a 17-point outing against Howard, could have been chalked up to weak competition, but then he poured 18 on Florida State. Yuta Watanabe is usually the name people circle on the Colonials, but maybe Bolden is emerging as a smaller, more perimeter-oriented threat.

Dylan Windler, Belmont

Windler is another guy who appears to have taken on a much bigger role this year, and he’s had to with Evan Bradds having graduated. Over the first three games — all against either Power 5 or Mid-Major Power Ranked competition — he has posted three double-doubles. That includes a 24-and-11 performance in the Bruins’ win over Vanderbilt.

Patrick Benzan, Holy Cross

Benzan played 38 minutes in the Crusaders’ win over Harvard and scored 18 points to go with seven rebounds. Carmody admitted in this year’s Blue Ribbon preview that he overlooked Benzan as a freshman, but his emergence last year has made the the 5’11 guard an integral part of the team. Holy Cross visits Rhode Island on Sunday — a team that has an advantage over most teams in backcourt play.

Ryan Taylor, Evansville

In a conference that has featured Final-Four-caliber Wichita State teams and tournament-level squads from Northern Iowa and Illinois State, the Missouri Valley’s scoring champion has come from Evansville each of the last four years. If the first three games of the season are any indication, that streak could run to five. He’s posted 23.2 points per game so far against inferior competition.

3 Storylines to Follow:

Feast Week

It’s the best part of the non-conference season, and the schedule is especially mid-major friendly this year. Check out the Island of the Bahamas Showcase, which features eight mid-majors, including Vermont, Iona, and Northern Kentucky. We’re also guaranteed a mid-major participant in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title game.

Dayton’s identity

When you have so much roster (and coaching) turnover from one season to the next, there are going to be some bumps in the early going. We saw that on Thursday when the Flyers fell to Hofstra in the Charleston Classic. The upside to these tournaments, however, is a quick turnaround and a quick opportunity to figure yourselves out. Darrell Davis and Josh Cunningham have been early positives.

The Texas Southern Road Show continues

It seems like the Tigers do this every year. This season, it’s 13 straight buy games on the road before finally opening their home season on New Year’s Day. This weekend, Texas Southern travels to Syracuse, who is expected to have a down year. I’m not saying Texas Southern is going to win, but the Tigers usually find a way to pull one or two of these out...

2 Questions we Have:

Can BYU hold serve at home?

As noted above, the Cougars have to win their home games if they’re going to contend for a tournament bid. They’ve had good teams in the last couple years, but have had a few too many slip-ups against teams they should beat. On paper, BYU is probably better than UT Arlington, but the Mavericks are experienced and the favorites in the Sun Belt. This is a dangerous game if the Cougars aren’t ready.

Can the Ivy get on track?

I still believe the Ivy League is going to be good, but this has not been the best start. Yale and Princeton’s losses are excusable because they were against high-major competition, but four losses between them, plus Harvard’s defeat at Holy Cross, hurts. So does the Bulldogs losing Makai Mason and Jordan Bruner. If Harvard and Princeton emerge from the weekend unscathed, maybe order will be restored. Yale faces a non-D-I team at home, so if the Bulldogs lose that, sound the alarms.

1 Prediction of Brutality

Furman over Butler, Sat., 2 p.m., FS2

To be clear, there’s no buy game in which I’d actually pick the mid-major to win — at least not one happening this weekend. But odds are one will happen somewhere, and the Palladins have a decent shot. They’re a senior-laden team, led by Devin Sibley, one of the best players in the SoCon. KenPom has them as 12-point dogs, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Keep up with our Brutality Standings here.