Neither Oakland nor Iona are likely to win the regular season championship in their respective conferences. It also should surprise just about no one if either or both are in the NCAA Tournament a month from now.
The Golden Grizzlies and Gaels are two of the prime candidates to either a) displace their league champion from the NCAA tourney field or b) turn their conferences into surprising two-bid winners. Both were in action on Monday and continued late-season surges with impressive wins reminding us of just how potent they are.
Oakland pulled away from Wright State in the second half for an 89-73 win on the road, winning for the seventh time in eight games and completing a sweep of a team that Horizon League favorite Valparaiso was unable to beat in two matchups this regular season. Texas transfer Martez Walker scored a career-high 22 points off the bench. In fact, 50 of the Golden Grizzlies’ 89 points came from the bench, while superstar Kahlil Felder scored “only” 15 points but dished out 12 assists.
Wright State is a far more comfortable matchup for Oakland than Valparaiso is, which was evidenced by OU’s victory margins of 26 and 16 points and the Raiders as well as the Crusaders’ 17-point win in their first matchup at the O’rena in January. Regardless, Oakland has any number of individuals who can be a load, whether it be Jalen Hayes, massive Percy Gibson, sniper Max Hooper or-most of all-Felder. Even if Valpo takes care of the Golden Grizzlies in their second meeting on Friday, any team even thinking of an at-large bid in the NCAAs will be sweating out Oakland, well aware of the capabilities of Greg Kampe’s team.
Iona also has picked up its play of late, winning five of its last six after a 78-59 roll past Quinnipiac on Monday. The Gaels were at their slick-passing best, with all sorts of superb ball movement to keep the heat on Monmouth in the Metro Atlantic, staying two games behind the Hawks, who defeated Manhattan 79-70.
Iona’s early season was plundered by injuries, but it has rounded into form in the MAAC and continues to get better. The Gaels play a similar up-tempo style to Oakland and also have an individual star in A.J. English. What the Gaels also have is experience, having played in the last three MAAC tourney finals and winning in 2013 before falling to Manhattan the last two years, as well as trips to the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and 2013.
On paper, it almost would be a surprise if the MAAC has only one bid to the NCAAs. The Gaels would be a scary team just on the merits of their own talent and experience, but they-as well as MAAC tourney host Siena plus always-pesky Manhattan-bear even more watching after league favorite Monmouth got bad news Monday night.
Senior all-conference guard Deon Jones injured his wrist in the first half of Monday’s game, and it was announced later he has a broken right hand. Jones averages 10.4 points and 6.2 rebounds and at 6-6 has the size to match up with guards at any level, and his loss will undoubtedly be felt, even on a deep team where his scoring has diminished slightly from a year ago.
- The only ranked teams in action were Virginia and Kansas, both at home. The Cavaliers dumped North Carolina State 73-53, outscoring the Wolfpack 42-22 in the second half. Perhaps UVA’s greatest feat in this one was limiting Cat Barber to just 14 points. The Jayhawks pulled away from Oklahoma State for a 94-67 win, with six scoring in double figures.
- Wichita State thumped WAC leader New Mexico State 71-41, committing just three turnovers as a team and forcing 20 by the Aggies in getting a non-conference win in a game rescheduled from December.
- Stephen F. Austin is on a roll again. The Lumberjacks have now won 12 straight after routing Incarnate Word 84-46. The dominant program in the Southland, this is the fourth straight year SFA has posted a double-digit winning streak in a season.
- Hampton continues to lead the MEAC after an 87-79 win over Morgan State. Also, Texas Southern remains atop the SWAC after defeating Grambling 79-72 in the battle of Tigers.
- Monday also included a few early Presidents Day tips. In addition to Oakland’s win at Wright State, LIU went down the street and defeated Brooklyn rival St. Francis (N.Y.) 82-67, with Martin Hermannsson filling the stat sheet with 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals and the Blackbirds shooting a pristine 22 of 25 from the foul line.
- Maryland freshman center Diamond Stone has been suspended for one game after an incident Saturday in which he shoved the head of Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown into the ground on a play. Stone, who is averaging 12.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, will miss the Terrapins’ game against Minnesota.
- Louisville center Anas Mahmoud will miss the rest of the season after stepping on a teammate’s foot in practice on Monday. Mahmoud was averaging 3.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks this year.
- The Big Ten continues to get exactly what it deserves from its ill-conceived decision to add Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have been a mess in every way from the time they were announced as a new member of the conference in 2012, and more bad news came on Monday as it was announced freshman guard Corey Sanders has been suspended for four games for an unspecified violation of team rules. Sanders had been a revelation on the court for Rutgers, averaging more than 16 points, three rebounds and four assists per game.
- West Virginia and Texas meet for the second time, this one in Austin (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2). The Longhorns won a grinder the first time, but will be interesting to see if they can dictate tempo again so effectively against a team that is used to doing the dictating. Then, follow that up with
- Iowa State at Baylor (9 p.m., ESPN2), as the Bears try to sweep the series with the Cyclones.
- Michigan has made a living this year winning the games it should. Not sure if playing a rival on the road qualifies as one of those games, but it would be no surprise if the Wolverines do win at Ohio State (7 p.m., ESPN).
- Creighton continues to surge, and suddenly its game at Butler Tuesday night is a critical game for both teams (7 p.m., FS1). The Bulldogs need a good showing, and preferably a win, after getting drilled by Xavier at home on Saturday.
- Florida is still a safe NCAA tourney team-for now. The Gators probably can’t afford too many slip-ups to teams below them, including a tough trip to Georgia (9 p.m., ESPN). Also in the SEC, Texas A&M needs to stop the bleeding-four straight losses-and has a prime chance at home against Mississippi (9 p.m., ESPNU).
- Another Tuesday night of MAC play has East leader Akron hosting Buffalo, plus Ohio at home against Eastern Michigan. The Bobcats may be the flavor of the moment in the league, having won five of six.
Enjoy your Tuesday.