The college basketball season is quickly flying by. Some of the conference tournaments are only six weeks away and we’ll be filling out the Big Dance brackets in about eight. With some of the not so power conferences nearing the halfway point, it’s time to start looking at some key games. These games will appeal to the die hard basketball fans and are important in the conference battles. Worst case scenario, the conference champions are guaranteed a trip to the NIT. Here are the games you don’t want to miss this week, Jan. 19 thru Jan. 23.
UNI @ Wichita St. Northern Iowa moved into the national rankings for the first time this season this week. The Panthers are 7-0 in Missouri Valley play, lead the 2nd place Shockers by two games, and haven’t lost since Nov 20. UNI relies on an experienced team that prides itself on the defensive side. Senior center Jordan Eglseder looks like the early favorite for Player of the Year. Wichita St. is no slouch at 16-3 on the season. The Shockers are looking to stay unbeaten at home. The game is being televised on ESPNU and should have some comedy moments also, as UNI features some great names that only the late, great Harry Carey would appreciate.
Xavier @ Temple. This game features the final unbeatens from the A-10 conference fighting it out. Both teams are building Big Dance caliber resumes and this is another quality win for the victor. Xavier comes in at 12-5 and #17 Temple is 15-3. The Musketeers face another conference contender later in the week when they play against Rhode Island, they could be tempted to overlook the Owls but POY candidate Jordan Crawford won’t let that happen. Remember Crawford? He dunked on Lebron and then the video mysteriously disappeared. The game isn’t televised nationally; Comcast is carrying it locally, so you’ll have to use your internet weapons to see this game. It will be worth it.
#14 Georgetown @ #11 Pittsburgh. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Pitt. I guess not. The Panthers are unbeaten in the Big East. Georgetown is in the next cluster. The Big East has six teams ranked so the conference crown is far from won yet. The Hoyas will lean on big time NBA prospect Greg Monroe and he has continued to develop this season. ESPNU will carry this game.
Stony Brook @ Vermont. Vermont leads the conference and is the last unbeaten standing. Stony Brook is half a game back. The player to watch in this game is the Catamount’s Marques Blakely. Blakely has been named the conference POY and Defensive POY the past two seasons. Stony Book needs their guard tandem of El-Amin and Dougher to keep them in the game. American East action at its best, folks.
Pepperdine @ #10 Gonzaga. This is a matchup of the final unbeatens in the West Coast Conference. I almost fell for it. Pepperdine started the season with the conference bottom feeders while the Bulldogs knocked off the teams that were picked to challenge them. The Zags win this in a blowout with the Bulldog faithful chanting PU (Pepperdine Univ.)
Robert Morris @ Monmouth. The game will help sort out the top of the Northeast Conference. This is a rematch from last week when Robert Morris defeated the Hawks by eleven. The Colonels sent reserve guard Khalif Foster to the shelf by suspending him indefinitely. Rumors focus on alleged public nudity. Foster didn’t see much floor time anyway, so it’s a minimal loss.
Campbell @ Lipscomb. An Atlantic Sun showdown between the top two teams in the standings, currently. Five teams are within a game in the standings. The Fighting Camels, yes you heard that correct, the Campbell Fighting Camels visit the league's leading scorer Adnan Hodzic and the rest of the Bison. Hodzic has scored in double figures 44 consecutive games which is the nation’s longest current streak and an A-Sun record.
Alabama-Birmingham @ Marshall. Two undefeated teams from Conference USA. UAB and Marshall are both 15-2 on the season. The Blazers sniffed the rankings earlier this season and have only lost to Kent St. and Virginia. The Herd’s only blemishes come from Old Dominion and North Carolina. Marshall tends to put up lots of points. We’ll see how UAB reacts days after coming back from a 24 point second half deficit and winning. Will the Blazers have anything left?
Morehead St @ Eastern Kentucky. These teams are part of what looks like a three team race for the Ohio Valley crown. Morehead St is looking for a return trip to March Madness. Morehead (ha-ha) is lead by big man Kenneth Faried. He has Big East/ACC talent but an OVC brain. Just saying grades kept him from playing elsewhere. The Eagles are riding an eight game win streak into Eastern Kentucky were the Colonels are 10-0 this season. Something has to give. Eastern Kentucky has a modern looking Col. Sanders logo, kinda sweet.
Old Dominion @ William & Mary. The Colonial Athletic Conference has a log jam with four teams tied for the conference lead. These are two of them. ODU returned every starter from last years 25 win team included co-POY Gerald Lee. The Tribe is one of this season's surprises, having lost only three games, and are playing their way into a Bracket Buster game later this year.
#6 Duke @ #16 Clemson. Duke is 15-2. Clemson is 15-3. John Scheyer vs. Trevor Booker. An ACC battle on ESPN in primetime. Enough said.
Enjoy the games everyone and we’ll see you next week.