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My big weekend preview: Regional rivalries highlight the Saturday slate

St. Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s, and Old Dominion all get local challenges.

NCAA Basketball: St. Joseph at Villanova Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, it’s Friday! Time to preview what’s to come in a LOADED weekend, highlighted by regional rivalries and opportunities for some of the best mids in the country to prove themselves.

Here’s what to watch for:

5 Games to Watch:

Vermont at Bucknell, Sat., 7 p.m., Stadium

We need to complain to the basketball powers-that-be that this game isn’t on national TV. Bucknell has gotten off to a rough start this year, sure, but there’s no question that the Bison are legit behind Zach Thomas and Nana Foulland. All five of their losses have been to KenPom top-150 teams, and they get another one in Vermont, this time at home. The Catamounts have just one loss and are coming off back-to-back wins against Yale and Richmond.

Middle Tennessee at Florida Gulf Coast, Sat., 7 p.m., ESPN3

That in-season home-and-home hits Fort Myers and the Eagles need a good win — no ASUN team is going to be in the at-large conversation, but some quality Ws in November and December can bump them up a seed-line or two in March. Middle Tennessee took the first game in the series behind 25 points from Nick King. The Blue Raiders come into the game at 4-1 and after this will face three straight teams from the SEC.

Saint Mary’s at California, Sat., 11 p.m., Pac-12 Network

Saint Mary’s blew a major opportunity at the Wooden Legacy to secure some non-conference wins, and the talk has already started about the Gaels’ dwindling at-large hopes. They can stop the bleeding with a win over Cal. The Bears are down this year, for sure, but they’re still a Pac-12 school with name recognition. This game is also the Gaels’ last shot at a big non-conference win away from home.

Bradley at San Diego State, Sun., 6 p.m., Mountain West Network

The Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge ends with an intriguing game in San Diego. The Braves have been one of the best defensive teams in the country this season — they still have not allowed more than 69 (nice) points in a game — and are probably underrated on a national scale. As for the Aztecs, their losses to Arizona State and Washington State aren’t so bad, but they can use a few more solid non-conference wins. This kicks off a three-game stretch where they also get Cal and Gonzaga. Needless to say they want this one.

Dayton at Mississippi State, Sun., 8 p.m., SEC Network

The new-look Flyers are looking for some traction after alternating wins and losses through November. Mississippi State presents a tough challenge, but Dayton is the best team it will have faced so far this year. Darrell Davis has scored in double-figures in every game so far for Dayton and has hit 20 points three times.

4 Regional Rivalries:

Usually this section is reserved for players to watch, but we bumped that down a spot to highlight some regional rivalries on the schedule this weekend. Watch them all.

Providence at Rhode Island, Sat., 4 p.m., CBS Sports

On paper, this is probably the most evenly matched rivalry game of the weekend. The Friars have already won the 2K Classic and beaten Belmont and Boston College, while the Rams boast wins over UNC Asheville and Seton Hall. Edge to the Friars, if only because EC Matthews is still out. Please get back soon, EC. The Atlantic 10 is so much more fun when you’re playing.

Villanova at Saint Joseph’s, Sat., 5:30 p.m., ESPN2

Yeah, Villanova is the king of the Big 5 and that won’t change no matter what happens in this game. But the Hawks are a dangerous team, especially at Hagan Arena. They’re efficient and take care of the ball, and are led by seniors Shavar Newkirk and James Demery. They won’t be intimidated by an albeit more talented team.

Old Dominion at VCU, Sat., 7 p.m., MASN

Old Dominion’s absurd buzzer-beating loss to William & Mary still stings, but a win at VCU would do a lot to ease the pain. The Monarchs have beaten Towson, Indiana State, and Dayton already, and will go into Siegel Center to face a Rams team still trying to find itself. They just beat Appalachian State after a brutal four-game stretch that included a 1-2 mark in Maui.

Saint Bonaventure at Buffalo, Sat., 2 p.m., ESPN3

/whispers Hey so Buffalo is actually really good and St. Bonaventure needs to be careful.

You know the deal with the Bonnies. Jaylen Adams, Matt Mobley, great guard play, well-coached, etc. As for Buffalo, it has scored at least 80 points in five of its first six games. That tends to happen when you have five players averaging double-figures in scoring, led by CJ Massinburg (18.8 points, 5.8 rebounds) and Nick Perkins (17.2 pig, 5.3 rpg).

Of note:

3 Players to Watch:

Yuta Watanabe, George Washington

I feel like with all the individual talents in the Atlantic 10, we’ve neglected Watanabe so far this year. Let’s change that. Give GW a look this weekend and watch the Colonials’ leader, who’s routinely posting 15-and-7 with 2.3 blocks per game.

Che Bob, Colorado State

OK Bob gets the nod partly because he’s a 6’6 double-double machine and partly because of his name. Che Bob is a great name. And I’ll just get ahead of this now: Be Chob. Anyway, Colorado State gets Colorado this weekend, so tune in.

Shakur Juiston, UNLV

With all the hype that Brandon McCoy has (rightfully) received, we seem to have ignored Juiston, who is averaging 13.1 points and 13.0 rebounds per game. He’s coming off a 13-and-13 performance against Northern Iowa, but will have his hands full against an Arizona team absolutely desperate for a good win. Of course the key matchup will be DeAndre Ayton vs. McCoy, so look out for that too.

2 Questions We Have

What do we make of Saint Louis?

The Billikens took down Virginia Tech at the 2K Classic, then got throttled by Providence the next day. Since then, Saint Louis has also fallen to Detroit and Western Michigan. With Jordan Goodwin, Javon Bess, Davell Roby, and more, the talent is certainly there if the Billikens can put it together. Hinkle Fieldhouse isn’t the ideal place to have to figure it out, but a win at Butler would be huge if they want to get back on track.

Daum or Johnson?


The preseason Large Adult Son of the Year vs. one of the best players in the Missouri Valley. Johnson, however, is coming off a scoreless performance against Colorado State that he is looking to put out of his mind. This is a concept entirely foreign to Daum, who went for 26-and-seven in an overtime win at Ole Miss on Tuesday.

1 Prediction of Brutality

Mercer over Memphis

Mercer is a top-100 team and Memphis is all kinds of bad. KenPom actually picks the Bears in this one behind Ria’n Holland’s (20.2 ppg) hot hand. He is 21 for 37 from three so far this season, and for you non-math majors, that’s 57 percent. For you math majors who don’t know basketball, that’s very good.