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Monday Morning Water Cooler: Conference play brings a wild weekend

Now that conference play has begun, every weekend is a chance for madness.

NCAA Basketball: San Diego State at Utah Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Monday morning and welcome to the Water Cooler.

[Let’s out the loudest possible sigh]

It is with a heavy heart that we must announce that we are back in the office and folks, we are struggling this morning. The Water Cooler took a hiatus over the holidays, and two weeks off of work to indulge in as much basketball as humanly possible did wonders for our psyche.

But we’re back and here to break up the monotony of listening to your coworkers drone on about their holiday break. Sure, Sharon from Procurement has some adorable pictures of the grandkids opening gifts on her phone. Jonathan in Financial Reporting is dying to tell you about some of the meals he’s made with his new sous vide cooker.

None of that matters.

Basketball is the only thing that matters. These are your talking points for your first day back on the grind.

San Diego State is now focused on the pursuit of a 1 seed

The Aztecs entered the new year as one of two unbeatens in college basketball, and that record was going to immediately be put to the test. A trip to Logan to take on Utah State was the toughest remaining game on the schedule, and if they could get over that hump, the undefeated season talk was really going to heat up. San Diego State got over that hump, and rather comfortably.

Despite not having starting center Nathan Mensah for the second consecutive game, San Diego State’s stifling defense kept the Aggies in check en route to a 77-68 win. Malachi Flynn turned in another strong performance with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Now the discussion turns to just how high the ceiling is for this team. As of Sunday morning, T-Ranketology had the Aztecs as the last team on the 1-seed line. And the case for the Aztecs is strong at this juncture in the season: They’re the top team in the NET rankings and already have four Quadrant I wins on their resume. KenPom projects them as the favorite in every remaining game on the schedule and currently gives them a 6.2 percent chance of an unbeaten record. The chase for a top seed and the chance to play their regional games in Staples Center is on.

Pacific tops Saint Mary’s in a 4OT thriller

You were probably asleep when it happened, but Pacific and Saint Mary’s played what will likely be one of the wildest games of the season on Saturday night. It took four overtimes, but Pacific ultimately came out on top, 107-99, giving the Tigers their biggest win of their 14-4 campaign thus far. The thriller featured 39 points from Jahlil Tripp before he fouled out and 36 points for Jordan Ford in the loss.

The real hero of the game, however, was Pacific’s Gary Chivichyan. After tying the game up late in regulation with a deep three, he connected on this wild shot to force a third overtime:

He then connected on ANOTHER jumper in the third OT to tie at 87, and Pacific closed the game out at the free throw line in the fourth OT by scoring 13 of its 16 points at the stripe.

The win probability chart is as wild as you’d expect it to be.

The WCC now has four teams with at least 14 wins, and that doesn’t even include a BYU team that’s on the verge of cracking the top 30 of KenPom and is in a good position for an at-large bid. Gonzaga remains the cream of the crop, but the WCC as a whole is as deep as it’s been in recent memory.

Shakeup in the SoCon

A pair of marquee SoCon matchups highlighted the Saturday slate and they did not disappoint.

In Greenville, Furman vaulted to the top of the SoCon standings and staked its claim as the best team in the conference with a stifling defensive performance against ETSU. A surge late in the first half gave the Paladins a seven-point lead at the break, which they extended to as much as 15 late in the second half. The Paladins have now won six straight games and are the only 3-0 team in the SoCon. They’ve climbed up to No. 66 in KenPom are projected to win the league by game. KenPom projects them as favorites in every game until the rematch with the Bucs on Feb. 19.

For ETSU, the last two games have been the worst offensive performances of the season in terms of efficiency. Against Wofford last week, the Bucs failed to crack 50 points in a 49-48 win. Against Furman, ETSU only managed to score 0.85 points per possession, which is the second worst mark of the season aside from the aforementioned Wofford game. The Bucs are still one of the best defensive teams around, but Steve Forbes and Co. need to right the ship offensively to keep pace in conference play.

If it weren’t for Pacific and Saint Mary’s, the most exciting game of the weekend would have probably been Saturday’s matchup between UNC Greensboro and Wofford.

UNC Greensboro came in as one of the hottest teams in the country, but faced a 13-point deficit late in the second half. By the final minute, the Spartans had made it a single possession game, and this three by Keshaun Langley forced overtime.

Faced with a similar situation in the first overtime, Isaiah Miller stepped up to force a second OT.

Ultimately, it was the balanced Terriers that would come out with a 98-92 win after the second extra period. Six different Terriers scored in double figures, and 14-31 showing from deep helped get them over the hump.

William & Mary continues hot CAA road start

Don’t look now (actually, it’s okay to look), but William & Mary is undefeated in CAA play and already has wins over Hofstra and Northeastern in the bag.

Saturday’s win over Northeastern came in thrilling fashion thanks to some late-game heroics by Nathan Knight.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Tribe’s 3-0 start is that all three wins have come on the road. Last Thursday, the Tribe dismantled a Hofstra team that has looked as good as any team in the conference by 27 points. Offensively, the Tribe is getting whatever it wants around the hoop. In CAA play, William & Mary is shooting an absurd 67.3% on two-point attempts.

A lot of that credit goes to Knight, who remains one of the most underrated bigs in the country. The senior is averaging 21 points per game in CAA play and has hit an absurd 70% of his two-point attempts. He and Grant Riller should be the co-favorites for CAA Player of the Year.

The Tribe will host Charleston on Saturday in a matchup that should feature the conference’s two undefeated teams.

Other news, notes, tidbits

  • Here’s your weekly dose of Obi Toppin Doing Things:
  • Jashire Hardnett is establishing himself as one of the best big shot takers in college basketball with yet another clutch bucket:
  • Speaking of big shots, how about Appalachian State’s Justin Forrest from way downtown to beat Georgia Southern:
  • Did you know that Prairie View has the nation’s fourth-longest home winning streak? I did not, until now. The Panthers extended that streak to 18 on Saturday with a win against Alcorn State. They haven’t lost at home since losing to Grambling State on Feb. 10, 2018.
  • Here, have another buzzer beater to force overtime, this time from UMBC’s K.J. Jackson:
  • Aaaaaand another from Daryl Banks for Saint Peter’s:

Side note: it’s likely that we’ll some fresh blood in the NCAA Tournament representing the MAAC. Iona is just 2-7, and Tim Cluess has not coached this season. He is on a leave of absence for health reasons.

On tap this week

All times Eastern.

Also, if you don’t already have ESPN+, you should probably get on that ASAP.

Monday

Georgia Southern at Little Rock, 7:30 p.m., ESPN+
Colgate at Army, 7 p.m., CBSSN
South Alabama at UT Arlington, 8 p.m., ESPN+

Tuesday

Toledo at Kent State, 7 p.m., ESPN+
Fresno State at New Mexico, 11 p.m., ESPNU
Indiana State at Northern Iowa, 8 p.m., ESPN+
Buffalo at Ball State, 7 p.m., ESPN+
Loyola Chicago at Drake, 9 p.m., CBSSN

Wednesday

ETSU at UNC Greensboro, 7 p.m., ESPN+
Davidson at Rhode Island, 7 p.m., CBSSN
St. Bonaventure at George Mason, 7 p.m., Stadium
Stony Brook at Vermont, 7 p.m., ESPN+
San Diego State at Wyoming, 9 p.m., Mountain West Network

Thursday

BYU at Saint Mary’s, 11 p.m., ESPN2/ or ESPNU
Hofstra at Northeastern, 8 p.m., CBSSN
Louisiana Tech at UTSA, 7 p.m., ESPNU
North Dakota State at Oral Roberts, 8 p.m., ESPN3

Friday

Ball State at Akron, 9 p.m., CBSSN
Penn at Princeton, 5 p.m., ESPNU
Iona at Rider, 7 p.m., ESPNU