Something called Winter Storm Benji is due to hit the east coast this weekend, which is as sure a sign as any that college basketball season is in full swing. With only a couple weeks left until conference play (unless you’re a Big Ten school), here’s your mid-major preview to help you navigate the next two days:
5 Games to Watch:
Valparaiso at Ball State, Sat., 2 p.m., ESPN3
Reality smacked Valpo hard on Thursday after the Crusaders’ unbeaten run through Cupcake City ended. Purdue beat them by 30 to kick off Valpo’s six-game road swing. Ball State might not be a Top 25 team, but the Cardinals aren’t so bad themselves. They’re coming off a shocker at Notre Dame and are knocking on the door of the KenPom top 100.
VCU at Seton Hall, Sat., 3 p.m., FOX
Mid-Major Madness will be on-hand as the Rams meet the Pirates in the Never Forget Tribute Classic. VCU has played five Major 7 teams so far and has competed in each one, despite a 1-4 record. Mid-Major-Madness-certified Dude Justin Tillman leads five Rams averaging double figures scoring this year.
Gonzaga at Washington, Sun., 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
Coming off their biggest win in the long and storied Mike Hopkins Era, the Huskies return home to host a Gonzaga team looking to rebound from a rough performance against Villanova in the Jimmy V. The Wildcats held Killian Tillie to six points and four rebounds, and Johnathan Williams to a season-low five points.
Murray State at Illinois State, Sat., 4 p.m., ESPN3
Murray State fans have been in our menchies for a while now, and rightfully so. The Racers are good, and maybe a little under-appreciated. That would change with a win at Illinois State. KenPom has Murray State as the underdog just four more times, and this game is one of them. After a strong start, the Redbirds have stumbled, though Milik Yarbrough remains one of the best players in the Valley.
New Mexico State at New Mexico, Sat., 9 p.m., ESPN3
College basketball’s greatest rivalry between teams located in New Mexico goes for round two as the Lobos look to avenge a November embarrassment in Las Cruces. New Mexico is just 3-6, but if I didn’t include this game as one to watch, resident WACspert Greg Mitchell probably would have quit.
And four more to watch:
Yale at St. Bonaventure, Sat., 2 p.m., ESPNU
Ole Miss at Middle Tennessee, Sat., 6 p.m., Facebook
Saint Joesph’s at Temple, Sat., 2:30 p.m., CBS Sports
Florida Gulf Coast at UT Arlington, Sat., 3 p.m., ESPN3
4 Players to Watch:
Kevin Hervey, UT Arlington
Tillman isn’t the only MMM-certified Dude playing this weekend. Hervey has set mid-major basketball Twitter (ok, like four people, but still) aflame each time he’s been on TV, and he’ll have another opportunity against Dunk City on Saturday. He has scored in double-figures in every game this season and seems to have real NBA potential.
Jonathan Stark, Murray State
YOU HAPPY, MURRAY STATE FANS? Here, watch this video of him that he appears to have uploaded himself.
Zach Lofton, New Mexico State
We’ve talked plenty about the grad transfer from Texas Southern, but he comes into this weekend on a bit of a skid. In the Aggies’ loss to San Diego on Wednesday, he shot just 2-12 and is one for his last 11 from three. If he gets back on track, New Mexico State should coast to victory.
Nathan Knight, William & Mary
NMTC member William & Mary wasn’t supposed to be that good, but the Tribe are 6-2 with a win over Old Dominion. Knight is scoring over 20 per game and shoots at a 52 percent clip to lead one of the best shooting teams in the country. He’ll have his work cut out for him Saturday, however, at Ohio State.
3 Storylines to Follow:
More regional rivalries:
Last week, we highlighted some of the best regional games happening around the country. Well, there’s more fun this week, ranging from the Big Five (Saint Joseph’s at Temple, La Salle at Villanova) to the Beehive Classic (Utah State at Utah), to the ones mentioned above. On the high-major side, Nebraska plays Creighton and Pitt renews its rivalry with West Virginia.
Delaware brings in a big name:
Here’s one you’re not used to seeing: Delaware will actually host Notre Dame on Saturday. It’s strange, but it makes sense — Blue Hens coach Martin Inglesby was an assistant under Mike Brey for years before taking the job prior to last season. Brey himself coached the Blue Hens before heading to South Bend in 2000-01.
Best in the WCC:
Saint Mary’s started off as the team to beat in the WCC, then stumbled early. Gonzaga performed well above expectations in November, but fell flat against Villanova on the national stage. This weekend, the Bulldogs take on Washington with a chance to solidify itself as the new favorite out west. The Gaels, meanwhile, host Seattle and, well, we certainly hope they’re capable of holding serve at home.
2 Questions we Have:
Can Yale get a big win?
The Bulldogs will be without Makai Mason for a little while longer, and they have certainly suffered in his absence. Yale is 6-5 overall, but has yet to beat anyone ranked better than 198 in KenPom (Lehigh). Next up is a trip to St. Bonaventure, where the Bonnies are at full strength and have won three in a row.
Is Georgetown the best team in the MEAC?
I kid the Hoyas! (no I don’t). Georgetown will play its third consecutive game against a MEAC opponent on Saturday against North Carolina A&T as it continues its disgraceful non-conference schedule. The Hoyas only beat Coppin State by 16 and Howard by 14 (those are baaaaaaaad teams), so anything is possible for the Aggies, I suppose. After this one, Georgetown hosts Syracuse in a game Patrick Ewing could not avoid, before wrapping up its cowardly non-con con against North Texas (KenPom 283) and Alabama A&M (KenPom 348).
1 Prediction of Brutality:
Lipscomb over Tennessee
Hey, I had to pick one. Tennessee is legit this year, but the Bison aren’t so bad themselves, and maybe this could be a trap game for the Vols. It’s the last game before exams and comes on the heels of a win at Georgia Tech.