O26 Games of the Week: Utah-BYU, Northern Iowa-VCU, Gonzaga-UCLA…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 10th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on. 

Utah (6-1) at Brigham Young (7-2) – 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Wednesday.

Perhaps a look-ahead spot for Utah, with Kansas looming on Saturday? Not a chance. Basketball matters in the Beehive State, and these intrastate rivals – who have continued playing each other annually, despite both leaving the Mountain West in 2011 – might be its top two programs. The Cougars boast the 11th-most efficient offense in America, led by arguably the nation’s premier scorer, Tyler Haws, who comes in having scored 30-plus points in three of his past four outings. Joining him is versatile point guard Kyle Collinsworth (13.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.8 APG) and a cast of shooters capable of lighting up the scoreboard in bunches. Guard Anson Winder (50% 3FG) has been a perimeter-shooting X-factor in the early-going, reaching double-figures in eight of the team’s first nine games. Scoring shouldn’t be an issue for Dave Rose’s uptempo bunch.

Utah-BYU should be a battle tonight. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

Utah-BYU should be a battle tonight. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

Stopping Utah, however, might be cause for concern. Everyone knows that Delon Wright, the Utes’ 6’5’’ point guard, is really good – he might be more versatile than Collinsworth – but the bigger match-up issue could be seven-foot freshman Jakob Poeltl. The Aussie has been a revelation for Larry Krystkowiak, flashing an advanced offensive skill set (10-of-10 FG against North Dakota), muscle on the glass (leads the nation in OReb%) and strong interior defense (15th in block percentage). If he plays like he did against Wichita State (12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks), the big man will be tough for BYU’s foul-prone frontcourt to handle. Utah is the more balanced team – a top 50 squad in both offensive and defensive efficiency – and might be the better team, but the Marriott Center should be louder than ever with the rival Utes coming to town. You’ll want to flip over to ESPNU tonight.

More to Watch

  1. Northern Iowa (8-0) at VCU (5-3) – 7:00 PM ET, NBCSN, Saturday.  Will VCU lose twice in a row at the Siegel Center? The Rams’ 22-game home winning streak was broken last Saturday in a loss to Virginia, and they will certainly have their hands full against a Northern Iowa unit that just cracked the Top 25. Believe it or not, these teams are very familiar with each other – this will be their third meeting in the last four years – and the Panthers upset VCU in Cedar Falls last December. The Rams forced 16 turnovers in that game and nailed 10 three-pointers, but their interior defense was lackluster (UNI shot 67% 2FG) and they allowed Northern Iowa too many trips to the free throw line. Similar problems have plagued Shaka Smart’s bunch so far in 2014-15, which could be a problem against a team with lots of shooters and a newfound attack-first mentality (Panthers rank 22nd in FTA/FGA). Of course, VCU has capable shooters of its own and will amp up HAVOC in front of its always-raucous home crowd.
  2. Gonzaga (7-1) at UCLA (7-2) – 10:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday. On the one hand, Gonzaga backed up its top-10 ranking by playing really well at Arizona last Saturday; on the other hand, it lost – despite how close the game was – and missed a huge opportunity for a marquee road win. The Bulldogs will get another shot this weekend, however, when they travel to Los Angeles to take on UCLA. Steve Alford’s team is young but talented, with freshman forward Kevon Looney already accounting for seven double-doubles and Alford’s point guard son, Bryce, leading the team in scoring (tied with shooting guard Norman Powell at 17.7 PPG) and assists (7.0 APG). The Bruins have the personnel to hang with Gonzaga, no doubt, but we expect Mark Few’s bunch – with a better point guard, a bigger frontcourt, and more depth – to take charge in this one. Pauley Pavilion is no McKale Center (in terms of hostility), and UCLA is no Arizona. Still, expect a very good game out west.
  3. Colorado State (8-0) at Colorado (5-2) – 9:00 PM ET, Pac-12 Network, Wednesday. Colorado State is off to its best start in school history, while Colorado is struggling to find its footing after a couple of tough early losses. This game – which pits the 69th and 70th ranked teams in KenPom against each other – presents a resume-bolstering opportunity for the Rams, a winnable true road game against a team likely to improve as the season progresses. Expect a very good, very passionate rivalry contest in Boulder.
  4. Wyoming (8-1) at California (7-1) – 11:00 PM ET, Pac-12 Network, Wednesday. A week after Montana nearly clipped California, Wyoming gets its shot in Berkeley. The Cowboys faded down the stretch against SMU on Friday – despite its usual barrage of dunks – and Cal should present an equally difficult test, especially defensively. Cuonzo Martin’s team boasts one of the best field goal defenses in the country (both 2FG% and 3FG%), while Larry Shyatt’s group holds the nation’s fourth-best effective field goal percentage (60.1%) and second-best two-point percentage (64.5%). It will be interesting to see how Wyoming’s shot-clock-draining, best-shot-or-no-shot offense fares against Cal.
  5. Dayton (7-1) at Arkansas (6-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday. The Flyers remain a mystery at this point in the season. They found some success in Puerto Rico last month, beating Texas A&M and Boston College (losing to Connecticut), but nearly lost at home to Bowling Green (albeit a good defensive unit) on Tuesday night. Archie Miller’s bunch now heads to Bud Walton Arena to battle the high-pressure Razorbacks – never an easy task. Arkansas loves to press and thrives off turnovers, a style of play that Dayton struggled with in its tilts with VCU the past two seasons (26 turnovers in 2012-13; 18 turnovers last season). But the Flyers are an offensively versatile bunch that’s highly adept at getting to the free throw line, which was an important factor in Iowa State’s recent win over Arkansas. The A-10 could use a few big non-conference wins, and this is a good place to start.

Other Notables

  • Rhode Island  (5-2) at Providence (6-3) – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday.
  • Wichita State (6-1) at Detroit (6-3) – 12:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday
  • Saint Mary’s (5-1) at Creighton (8-2) – 2:00 PM ET, Saturday.
  • George Washington (5-2) at Penn State (8-1) – 12:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Sunday.

Upset Special

Will Louisiana Tech be celebrating in Syracuse on Sunday? (Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports)

Will Louisiana Tech be celebrating in Syracuse on Sunday? (Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports)

Louisiana Tech (7-1) at Syracuse (5-3) – 4:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Sunday. Syracuse comes in having lost two in a row, and I have a funny feeling Louisiana Tech makes it three’s a crowd come Sunday evening. The Bulldogs feature a trio of excellent guards – Speedy Smith, Alex Hamilton and Raheem Appleby – capable of opening gaps with ball-reversal and using their quickness and athleticism to exploit the Orange’s 2-3 zone. As a team, Louisiana Tech is also much improved from behind the arc (35%) this season – an important skill set to have against Syracuse. On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs’ pressure defense should give freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph problems, and the Orange big men (who have been the team’s strength) will be challenged in the paint by Louisiana Tech center Michale Kyser, one of the best shot-blockers in college basketball (4.1 BPG). Finally, considering this game is on a Sunday afternoon near Christmas break, it’s doubtful the Carrier Dome will be at its best. Don’t be surprised if the Conference USA favorites leave upstate New York victorious.

Stars Aligned: Great Individual Match-Ups

  • Long Beach State’s Mike Caffey at San Diego State’s Trey Kell – 10:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Wednesday. I’m interested anytime Caffey (17.6 PPG) takes the court – seriously, he’s freakin’ awesome – but especially against Kell. The freshman had been playing well for SDSU up until its game against Washington last Sunday, in which he scored zero points and his team (without Aqeel Quinn) mustered just 36 as a total. If the scoring woes continue and Caffey somehow gets hot against the stingy Aztecs, watch out.
  • Murray State’s Cam Payne & Jarvis Williams at Evansville’s D.J. Balentine & Egidijus Mockevicius – 2:05 PM ET, Saturday. These are two of the best inside-out combinations in the mid-major ranks, with Payne (17.8 PPG) and Balentine (19.9 PPG) filling up stat sheets at the guard spot, and Williams (15.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG) and Mockevicius (13.1 PPG, 9.7 RPG) doing work down low. Evansville just knocked off Belmont in Nashville – can the Aces make it two in a row against Ohio Valley contenders? Either way, it should be fun watching these guys go at it.
  • Eastern Washington’s Venky Jois at Washington’s frontcourt – 8:00 PM ET, Pac-12 Network, Sunday. Tyler Harvey and Eastern Washington’s three-point-heavy offense is fun to watch, but I’m more interested in how Jois (Ken Pomeroy’s new favorite player?) fares against Robert Upshaw and Washington’s talented frontcourt. If he plays well and the Eagles hit their threes… Jim Hayford’s squad could be in line for another stunner.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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