As the calendar turns to February, the intensity is cranked up in those conferences where at-large bids are not guaranteed. Here are a few games to keep an eye on this week:
Youngstown State (11-9,6-4) at Milwaukee (14-9, 7-4) 8:00PM-The Penguins defeated Milwaukee in Youngstown 68-66 on Jan. 20th. In that game Youngstown got a season-high 27 points from Blake Allen and the Panthers shot a crippling 48% from the free throw line. This is one of only two games remaining in which Youngstown plays someone above them in the Horizon standings (Feb.11th vs.Valparaiso). The Penguins could use a key road win to keep pace in the Horizon.
Memphis (15-6, 6-1) at Southern Mississippi (19-3, 6-1) 8:00PM-In a showdown showcasing the top two teams in Conference USA, Memphis travels to Hattiesburg looking to sweep the Golden Eagles after they squeaked out a 2-point win in Memphis despite blowing a 12-point lead with 12 minutes to play. Chris Crawford knocked down two free throws with 32 seconds left to give the Tigers the win. Southern Miss is out to prove that their balanced 10-man attack is ready to knock off the kings of C-USA.
Texas-San Antonio (14-7, 6-1) at Texas-Arlington (15-5, 7-0) 9:00PM-The top two teams in the West division of the Southland Conference (and the conference overall) meet up for the first time in Arlington. The two conclude the season in San Antonio on Mar. 3rd. UTSA’s lone conference loss came at the hands of 4-win Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Texas-Arlington is riding an 11-game winning streak heading into Wednesday’s match up. The Mavericks made 4 free throws in the last 15 seconds to defeat Texas State 82-79 in their last game.
Oral Roberts (20-4, 12-0) at South Dakota State (17-6, 9-2)-In the most underrated contest of the week, the class of the Summit League hit the floor in Brookings, South Dakota. The Jackrabbits will be looking to avenge a 20-point loss suffered at Oral Roberts on Jan.7th.
In that game two of the best players in the country,South Dakota State’s Junior guard Nate Wolters who had 22 points and Oral Roberts’ Senior forward Dominique Morrison who had a career-high 38 in the victory. For some background on Morrison take a look at this feature done on him by the guys at Ballinisahabit.net who say its time to stop overlooking Dominique Morrison. His battle with Wolters may be the least publicized battle between two top teams and two fantastic players, but based on their first meeting, could be the most exciting.
Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1) at Brigham Young (18-6, 6-3) 11:00PM-Both of these teams have something in common, they both have been beaten handily by conference-leader St. Mary’s (21-2, 10-0). They also believe they are the second best team in the West Coast Conference. The question is, who is it? Both teams have 9 players averaging at least 12 minutes per game, so depth is not an issue. The Cougars have a formidable duo inside in Nate Hartsock and Brandon Davies who average 32 points and 13 rebounds a game, while Gonzaga’s versatile 6’713.7 forward Elias Harris leads them in scoring (13.7) and rebounding (8.0). This battle is critical because the top 2 teams in the WCC receive byes to the semifinals of the conference tournament. If Gonzaga prevails they could lock up that second bye.
Iona (16-5, 8-2) at Manhattan (15-7, 8-2) 7:00PM-Michael Glover, Lamont Jones and Scott Machado get their chance to avenge a home loss to Manhattan and break the logjam at the top of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, both teams are tied with Loyola (MD) at 8-2, with whom they each have a game remaining. The Iona trio throwdown an average 47.6 points a game while grabbing 17.5 and dishing out 13.8 assists. In the first meeting Jones and Machado combined for just 15 points, although Machado did hand out 16 assists. Iona must figure out a way to contain George Beamon who has averaged 24 points and 6 rebounds for Manhattan since the first meeting with the Gaels.