O26 Game of the Week: Hawkeye State Showdown, Harvard-Virginia & SDSU-Cincy…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 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.

Northern Iowa (9-1) vs. Iowa (8-3) – 7:30 PM ET, Big Ten Network, Saturday.

Northern Iowa has a knack for playing in really good basketball games this season. The Panthers upended Stephen F. Austin by two in overtime during last month’s Tip-Off Marathon, ending the Lumberjacks’ 33-game home winning streak; they squandered a big second-half lead against George Mason earlier this month before escaping in overtime; and on Saturday, Ben Jacobson’s group lost its first game in one of the best games of the season, a double-overtime thriller at VCU. So what does UNI have in store this week, bumping up against intrastate foe Iowa in Des Moines? Probably another barnburner.

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

KenPom currently ranks the Hawkeyes and Panthers 29th and 31st overall, respectively, which – on a neutral floor – results in a virtual coin-flip projection. Iowa is one of the nation’s top-30 fastest teams offensively (15.9 seconds per possession), while Northern Iowa is among the 30 slowest (20.4 seconds), yet the Hawkeyes’ strong suit has been its defense thus far this season, while the latter unit has been more offensively proficient. The Panthers, despite their preferred snail’s pace of play, demonstrated an ability to get out and run against VCU, so they should have no problem adjusting if Iowa’s uptempo pace wins out. The Hawkeyes’ most notable strength is its frontcourt, which provides much of the team’s scoring and prevents easy looks on the interior – which might actually suit Northern Iowa just fine, considering the majority of its points come from behind the arc and at the free throw line. This match-up may come down to Jacobson’s guys hitting perimeter shots – they went just 3-of-16 from distance in the game two years ago – and whether Fran McCaffery can get quality production from his backcourt. This should be a really good, really close contest either way.

More to Watch

  1. Harvard (7-1) at Virginia (9-0) – 12:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Sunday. This is a huge opportunity for Harvard, which has reeled off six in a row and could vastly improve its NCAA Tournament profile with a victory here. It’s only too bad that the game is in Charlottesville. Fact is, Virginia has been near-perfect this season, using its impenetrable pack-line defense and opportunistic offense to blow out every opponent it’s faced to this point. On top of that, the Cavaliers have not lost at John Paul Jones Arena in over a year. The Crimson boasts an excellent defense in its own right (19th in defensive efficiency), but will need Wesley Saunders (20.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 4.5 APG) to be as aggressive as he’s been all season offensively. Both teams lock down and play slow, so don’t expect a winning score above the 50s.
  2. San Diego State (7-2) at Cincinnati (6-2) – 9:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Wednesday. Speaking of grinders, you might want to put your kids to bed before the Aztecs and Bearcats square off – this one could get scary. Their profiles are eerily similar – excellent defensive units that simply cannot shoot the basketball – and it wouldn’t be surprising if the winner fails to score under 0.9 (or even 0.8?) points per possession. It should be an ugly path to an attractive resume victory for one of these teams.
  3. Georgia State (6-2) at Old Dominion (7-1) – 8:00 PM ET, Wednesday. Old Dominion has already notched wins over VCU, LSU and Richmond, while Georgia State looked incredibly impressive in its last outing against Green Bay two weeks ago, pounding the Phoenix by 24. Both teams are among this season’s better mid-majors. The Panthers will have the best player on court, 6’6’’ wing R.J. Hunter (23.3 PPG), but the best match-up might be at point guard: Old Dominion’s Trey Freeman (16.6 PPG) and Georgia State’s Ryan Harrow (19.9 PPG, 5.9 APG) are a pair of quick, attacking floor-generals.
  4. Saint Mary’s (6-2) at St. John’s (8-1) – 7:00 PM ET, FOXS1, Friday. Can the Gaels pull off two huge road victories in one week’s time? After stunning Creighton in Omaha last Saturday, they themselves were stunned by Northern Arizona on Tuesday – an unexpected and severe blow to their at-large changes. But Randy Bennett’s crew will have another big opportunity against an athletic, defensive-minded St. John’s team on Friday night. The match-up to watch is Saint Mary’s big man Brad Waldow (21.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG) against 6’10’’ Chris Obekpa, the Johnnies’ long, premier shot-blocker. Waldow needs to play like he did against the Lumberjacks (25 points, 15 rebounds, six assists) and hope for a better result.
  5. Arizona (11-0) at UTEP (6-3) – 11:00 PM ET, FOXS1, Friday. Arizona is one of the best teams in college basketball this season, a deep and talented unit that should contend for a national title. But Friday night’s trip to El Paso will be the Wildcats’ first road game of 2014-15, and it comes in a sold out arena against a UTEP squad with size – if not skill – to match. The Miners’ frontcourt contains three players 6’10’’ or taller (including 7’1’’ Matt Willms) and a versatile, athletic forward in 6’8’’ sophomore Vince Hunter (15 PPG, 10.5 RPG). If he can stay out of foul trouble, the bigs can bang with Kaleb Tarczewski and the guards can make some shots, watch out. Remember: Arizona has lost three of its last seven road contests.

Other Notables

  • Yale (8-3) at Vermont (5-4) – 7:00 PM ET, Thursday.
  • Coastal Carolina (8-2) at Ole Miss (6-3) – 8:00 PM ET, SEC Network, Thursday.
  • Colorado State (10-0) at Denver (4-5) – 9:00 PM ET, Friday.
  • VCU (7-3) at Cincinnati (6-2) – 12:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.
  • Massachusetts (6-4) at Providence (8-3) – 1:00 PM ET, CBSSN, Saturday.
  • Illinois State (5-3) at Murray State (6-4) – 4:00 PM ET, Saturday.
  • Stanford (5-2) at Brigham Young (8-3) – 11:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.

Upset Special

Eastern Washington beat Indiana and nearly beat Washington. Can the Eagles upset Cal? (David Riley)

Eastern Washington beat Indiana and nearly knocked off Washington. Can the Eagles upset Cal? (David Riley)

Eastern Washington (8-3) at California (9-1) – 10:00 PM ET, Friday. Sure, Eastern Washington was blown out at Sam Houston State on Tuesday, but keep in mind that Jim Hayford’s club had played – and nearly beaten – Washington just two nights earlier. The Eagles have already proven capable of pulling off road upsets over power-conference opponents this season [see: Indiana], and California seems due for a slip after winning all-too-close games against Montana, Wyoming and Princeton in the past two weeks. The Eagles’ three-heavy offense is among the 40 most efficient nationally, with big man Venky Jois (20.3 PPG, 8.4 RPG) having emerged as a dominant interior complement – or, counterpart – to Tyler Harvey (20.5 PPG) on the perimeter. Cal’s defense is second only to Arizona in the Pac-12, but Montana and Princeton did manage surprising success inside the arc (51% and 58% 2FG, respectively), so a big game from Jois might be key for Eastern Washington. With fifth-ranked Wisconsin looming on Monday night, this game has all the markings of a look-ahead spot for the Bears. Expect Hayford’s Eagles to attack Cal from the outset and finish in Berkeley what they could not finish in Seattle – a sizable road upset over a Pac-12 contender.

Stars Aligned: Great Individual Match-Ups

  • Furman’s Stephen Croone vs. Florida Gulf Coast’s Bernard Thompson – 7:30 PM ET, Friday. Both guards are capable of erupting for 30-plus points on any given night, and both have done so this season: Croone dropped 33 against Samford, Thompson poured in 34 against Ohio. If each player gets hot on Friday, it could turn into a fun game of one-upmanship, even if FGCU ultimately wins big.
  • Detroit’s Juwan Howard Jr. vs. Rhode Island’s E.C. Matthews – 4:00 PM ET, Saturday. Matthews is from Detroit; Howard plays for Detroit. Matthews is a future NBA first-rounder; Howard is the son of a former NBA first-rounder. Matthews is a high-scoring (17.1 PPG), 6’5” sophomore; Howard, an even higher-scoring (19.5 PPG) 6’5” senior. There’s all sorts of intrigue in this game (both teams also happen to be pretty good), and this match-up is at the top of the list.
  • Hofstra’s three-point shooting vs. Columbia’s three-point defense – 7:00 ET, Saturday. The Lions have done an excellent job of taking away the three-point line this season, not yet allowing more than five triples in a game and holding opponents to 21.9% 3FG (second best in NCAA). Hofstra, meanwhile, is the third-best three-point shooting team in America (43.8% 3FG), having made nine or more shots from behind the arc in seven of its nine contests this season. What gives on Saturday?
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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