Mid-Major Games of the Week: December 4, 2005
Newsflash for all college basketball fans: the NCAA Tournament field is already filled with parity. Don’t believe me? Just ask Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski if his team deserved to beat Virginia Tech at home. While the VaTech game was an ACC matchup, we’ve seen a number of games already where the favored major team has lost to a lesser-conference foe, a number of them at home. Look no further than Syracuse, NY, where the Orangemen have survived very close battles against Cornell and Manhattan, and have lost to the Bison of Bucknell. On the West Coast, California, Stanford, Arizona, and Oregon have all suffered losses to teams whose heart overshadows their ability. Michigan State eked out a nailbiter against a University of Arkansas team. And it wasn’t the one from Fayetteville.Games against mid-majors are now a scary proposition for large conference teams merely looking for a hapless victim to boost their total. Here are a few entertaining mid-major matchups this week that provide opportunities for upsets.
Tuesday December 6th
Villanova (4-0) at Bucknell (5-0) – How on God’s Green Earth is this game not on national television? Those boys up in Bristol are missing the boat by not making the four-hour trip to Lewisburg, Pa. This is the biggest game in the history of Sojka Pavilion and the next chance for the Bison to prove they belong with the East Coast big boys. Bucknell returns all five starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament miracle team but has already beaten two Big East foes (DePaul and Syracuse) on the road. (Full Season Preview Here) Those whispers you hear around the Philadelphia area are basketball fans in the know that are picking an upset in this game. Villanova will have an athletic advantage and is coming off a huge win against No. 5 Oklahoma. Wildcats’ head coach Jay Wright will need similar performances out of guards Allen Ray (averaging 21 points per game) and Randy Foye (32 points, 14-21 from the field in 38 minutes vs. Sooners). Wright’s major problem is with his four-guard offense: Villanova actually has no solid matchup for Bucknell center Chris McNaughton.
Indiana (4-1) at Indiana State (3-0) – This is the game that the country finds out two things. Is Indiana State for real and capable of challenging for the Missouri Valley title and can Indiana bounce back from a loss? After putting up a gallant effort at home against top-ranked Duke, the Hoosiers look to rebound as they enter the Hulman Center. Indiana State hasn’t played a quality team yet but boasts a solid matchup problem for any team in forward David Moss (averaging 24 points per game). After being part of Chicago Thornwood High School’s state championship team with Eddie Curry, Moss has come out of the shadows to put up gaudy numbers in Terre Haute. If the Sycamores can stop Marco Killingsworth, an upset in the Hoosier state is not out of the question.
Iowa (7-1) at Northern Iowa (4-1) – Like Indiana’s Mike Davis, Iowa head coach Steve Alford can not lose this type of game. The problem for the Hawkeyes is even after playing teams like Kentucky, Texas and N.C. State, they may not see a team more disciplined than the preseason favorite in the Missouri Valley. If Alford loses the Iowa state title game, he will be placed on the hottest of seats entering the Big Ten season. MVC preseason player of the year Ben Jacobsen is only hitting 28% of his threes this season, so logic says he’s due for a breakout game.
Wednesday December 7th
Valparaiso (3-1) at Marquette (5-2) – After the Warriors/Golden Eagles/Gold/whatever won the Alaska Tournament, they followed it up by losing to perennial Cinderella contender Winthrop. I’m only sure of two things about Tom Crean’s crew: Steve Novak is not capable of leading a team unless the situation calls for an outside shot and this seems like a game they would lose at the less-than-raucous Bradley Center. Homer Drew always gets his teams ready in prime games and this will be a test for the blue and gold.
Missouri (2-2) at Davidson (3-2) – Write it down. If Tigers’ head coach Quinn Snyder loses both games of this two-year home and home to Davidson (and there’s a serious chance he might), he will not be in Columbia much longer. Major problem facing the road team in this contest is Mizzou can’t score (70 ppg) and Davidson can defend (average 77 points allowed against teams not named Duke).
Thursday December 8th
Eastern Kentucky at Murray State – Winner of this game takes an early lead in the race for the Ohio Valley Conference title. The Racers actually have a team capable of running the table in a down year for this league.
Saturday December 10th
Wichita State (6-1) at Michigan State (5-2) – First of all, how loaded is the Missouri Valley again? Second of all, the Spartans are failing to impress against lower-tier teams let alone teams already with big game experience (Illini fans should remember the 1-point nail bitter in South Padre Island to the Shockers). Forwards Maurice Ager and Paul Davis are both averaging 21 points per game and WSU had problems with Illini’s Augustine in its only loss this season. Izzo should have Spartans prepared for the televised contest at The Palace in Auburn Hills but the Shockers could impress the Selection Committee with another solid performance versus a Big Ten foe.