Usually my Saturdays in the winter are either spent watching Hofstra play (see Litos for today's CAA in action preview) at home or watching a plethora of college basketball on the telly. This Saturday is a little different. I will be heading up to Iona to catch the first half of the women's game as Iona hosts Siena. The game is part of a double header today (men's game is Iona vs Niagara at 3:30 - which should be a pretty good game).
It is also "The Gaels for Haiti" as Iona will be accepting donations of any kind for the Red Cross in supporting the Haitian relief efforts. If you want to see a really good doubleheader and support a good cause come up to New Rochelle today. After I catch the first half, I am heading back home as I am taking my wife out to the city tonight for dinner at Tony D's Midtown then to see Wicked. Hey, man does not live on college basketball alone...though it can sustain us pretty well.
The question for the rest of you is, what are you going to do today? Well, there are one hundred and forty two games on tap today. Some are more important than others. Of course there are some games that are on national TV that will get most of the attention (Syracuse-West Virginia at noon on ESPN and Illinois-Michigan State at 3:30 on CBS come to mind). But there are two games that might be flying under the radar that I would recommend watching.
1) Dayton (13-3, 2-0 A10) vs. Xavier (11-5, 3-0 A10) 11:00 AM ESPN 2- I will try my best to catch the first half of this game before I head up to Iona. I hate when conferences keep their names which used to denote the number of teams in their league, even though the number of teams in the conference have changed. The Big 10 has eleven teams and even worse, the Atlantic 10 has fourteen teams. Why do they keep their old names? It's because it sounds cooler saying "Atlantic 10" instead of "Atlantic 14". Plus "Atlantic 10" has that Rat Pack Feel like "Ocean's Eleven". "Atlantic 14" sounds like an outpost in the arctic. At least the Big 12 had the good sense of changing their name from Big Eight to Big 12.
You can still be having your breakfast as the Flyers and Musketeers start our daily early. Dayton was ranked nationally to start the season on but two close losses to nationally ranked Villanova and Kansas State (now nationally ranked) at the Puerto Rico Tipoff knocked the Flyers out of the Top 25. Their only other loss was by two points at nationally ranked New Mexico. Don't worry Dayton, you may be out of favor by the Sports Bubble as Mr. Whelliston puts it, but we still love you at the College Hardwood.
All of those three losses are very respectable and Dayton has played very solid ball, with wins over Georgia Tech (also at the Puerto Rico Tip off) and Old Dominion. They are led by the Chrisses - Chris Wright (14 ppg, 56.2 FG percentage, 7.2 rebounds per game ) and Chris Johnson (13 ppg, 7.5 rebounds per game). And the Flyers have ten players who average 12 minutes or more per game. I am hearing a lot of talk lately about how depth doesn't matter. Please. In tough conference play as the season wears on, playing teams that know how you play and their defense reflects it, you need guys off the bench that can contribute.
Xavier is an amazing program, whether you consider them a mid major program or in my case a "wannabe" program (a "wannabe" refers to the three conferences - Mountain West, Conference USA and Atlantic 10 that don't consider themselves mid major but aren't in the money range or respectability range of the Power conferences). The Musketeers have only missed the NCAA tournament once in the past seven seasons. They have averaged nearly 25 wins per season over those past eight seasons with two Elite Eight appearances and one Sweet Sixteen appearance.
The Musketeers are led by Jordan Crawford who averages 19 points per game and Terrell Holloway, who averages 10 points per game and nearly 4 assists per game. And of course what's Love got to do with Xavier, as in Jason Love's 10.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game (cmon, had to do the Tina Turner reference). The Musketeers have a win over city rival Cincinnati and have jumped out to a 3-0 record in conference as they try to win their fourth A10 regular season title in a row.
The Flyers have an enormous task ahead of them - be the first Flyers to win in Xavier since the 1980-81 season. But if they can complete the task, it would be a huge win for an at large resume.
A few weeks ago, I watched the Creighton - Wichita State game on ESPNU. It was a very convincing win by the Shockers. Now the Bluejays can get their shot at redemption at home, the Qwest Center, again on national TV ( 5:00 PM on ESPN2). I have seen my share of Bluejays home games on TV (and even streaming video) and Bluejays fans are like no other. In the largest venue of the Valley, 17,000 fans rooting for Dana Altman's club will be an imposing task for the Shockers.
Right now, the Valley is a two team race with Northern Iowa ( 15-1, 6-0 MVC) and Wichita State (16-2, 5-1 MVC) seemingly run away from the rest of the pack. However, a win by Creighton (8-9, 3-3 MVC) today and the Bluejays will only be a game back of the Shockers. To do so, Creighton must defend Wichita State better than they did in the first game. Wichita State shot nearly 52 percent from the field in the first half, allowing the Shockers to jump out to a twelve point lead at halftime.
Creighton also must get P'Allen Stinnett going. Stinnett only has one double digit scoring game in his past eight games on only 19 of 56 shooting from the field (nearly 34 percent). Stinnett is only shooting 39.9 percent from the field on the season as opposed to 44.4 percent last season and is averaging nearly 3.5 points per game less than last season (9.1 as opposed to 12.5).
As for Wichita State, the Shockers have been fantastic, with their only two losses coming at the CBE Classic to Pittsburgh and a road loss at Illinois State. Wichita State might be the most balanced team in the Valley, first in scoring offense at 73 points per game and also second in scoring defense, allowing only 59 points per game. The Shockers are also in first in FG percentage, free throw percentage, FG percentage defense, three point FG percentage defense, excuse me while I rest my fingers a second, rebounding margin, assists and steals. Whew.
For Wichita State, Toure' Murray leads the way averaging nearly 13 points per game, 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game. Here's the scary part for the rest of the Valley. Nine players average 11 or more minutes for the Shockers. Only one of them, guard Clevin Hannah is a senior. Wichita State is only going to get better.
So whether you are heading out to watch college basketball, staying into watch college basketball, or going into the city to catch a show, enjoy your weekend.