Friday night in college basketball tends to be seen as ho-hum at this time of the year, especially since Saturday is such a busy day. But this one was far from that, as there were three matchups of the top two teams in their respective conferences and all of them were important.
The first one of the evening was an Ivy League showdown that saw Yale visit Princeton. On the strength of a solid first half and 46 percent shooting for the game, Princeton made it tie in the loss column with a 75-63 win over the Bulldogs. Yale never quite got going offensively, shooting 38 percent from the field, and they couldn’t take advantage of a 38-25 edge on the glass. Justin Sears had a double-double with 15 points and ten rebounds, and Makai Mason had 18 points, but the perimeter players struggled to shoot on the evening.
The Bulldogs saw a 12-game winning streak snapped. With Columbia beating Harvard 90-76 in New York behind 23 points from Alex Rosenberg and 22 from Maodo Lo, just one game separates first from third heading into Saturday’s contests.
The second one was in the Horizon League as Valparaiso hosted Oakland. The first meeting went to the Crusaders, and for a while it looked like the second one was definitely going that way as the Crusaders led by eight at the half. But Greg Kampe’s teams don’t go away quietly, and this one is no different. Kay Felder (26 points) rallied his team back, but it was Alec Peters (16 points, 14 rebounds) and Valparaiso that made enough plays late to hold off the Golden Grizzlies 86-84. With the win, Valparaiso clinches a share of the Horizon League regular season title.
The final game of the night seemed an odd one for that distinction given that it was a 10 p.m. tip on the east coast, a MAAC showdown with Iona visiting Monmouth. The first meeting between these two teams famously ended with a brawl after the game, and there was already no love lost between the two teams. Monmouth took the first one, ending Iona’s home winning streak.
On Friday night, Iona came out more than ready to play and appeared to take the jeers from the crowd in West Long Branch to heart. After Monmouth had an early lead, Iona went on a 19-0 run and never looked back, eventually leading by as many as 21 in the first half. They responded to every charge Monmouth had in the second half en route to a convincing 83-67 win. While several Gaels had a nice night, none outshined A.J. English, who had 31 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Monmouth shot below 31 percent from the field.
The loss doesn’t change the standings, as the Hawks had a two-game lead coming into the night. But it certainly hurts the Hawks’ NCAA Tournament at-large chances, although it’s anyone’s guess how much. The Gaels’ non-conference struggles left them coming into Friday’s game with an RPI of around 150, and this was a pretty convincing win. The Gaels might be a better team than that number indicates, but that doesn’t say much, and Monmouth’s room for error is not large. The Hawks have had a few other close calls lately, but they still won those games. Considering how large the bubble is and how flawed so many of the teams on it are, though, the committee should give the Hawks a long look should they win out save for the MAAC championship game. Their wins – at UCLA, Notre Dame (neutral), USC (neutral) and at Georgetown – are pretty good, and they almost beat Dayton in Orlando as well. Right now, only Notre Dame is close to a lock NCAA Tournament team, but USC is looking better and UCLA and Georgetown are tough to figure, but those are true road wins.
Fortunately, there was less drama on the court after this meeting between the two teams. And it capped off a great night of showdowns to start off the weekend.
Our latest installment of Talking Hoops with Ted Sarandis can be found right here.
Duke will not have Matt Jones for Saturday’s game at Louisville, so the Blue Devils will be down in numbers once again. The good news is that Jones’ injury is indeed a sprain, and nothing more serious, so there is hope that he can return soon. Jones suffered the injury in the first half of Wednesday night’s win, and as the Blue Devils’ best perimeter defender, he’s a big key to this team, in addition to his intangibles. Duke will have three scholarship guards for the game, which is not a plus against Louisville with its press.
Staying in the ACC, Wake Forest took some disciplinary action on Friday, suspending Devin Thomas for two games and dismissing Cornelius Hudson for what was described as a violation of athletic department policy. Thomas is their best player, as the senior big man averages a double-double of 15.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, so his loss is not a small one. Hudson, a sophomore, had his moments, including a 22-point outing at Pittsburgh in their last game, hitting six three-pointers.
Illinois has had a tough season, but it got worse on Friday as sophomore forward Leron Black was arrested during the overnight after allegedly threatening a bouncer at a campus bar with a knife. Later in the day, he pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault, a plea entered by video. Black has missed most of the season due to injury and is now suspended indefinitely. The Illini are 12-14, including a 4-9 mark in Big Ten play, and it comes in a season after former athletic director Mike Thomas was fired in November.
As usual, a big slate of games is in front of us, and many with big implications.
- The ACC has a couple of great ones on tap, starting with Duke finishing up their gauntlet at Louisville and continuing with Miami at North Carolina. Also, Clemson heads to NC State in search of a road win.
- In the American, Cincinnati hosts UConn in a game with standings and bubble implications.
- A key Atlantic 10 game is on tap early as Dayton hosts St. Bonaventure.
- In Big 12 action, Texas hosts Baylor in a rematch of a game the Longhorns would surely love to have back. Oklahoma visits West Virginia in a terrific matchup, while arch rivals clash as Kansas State hosts Kansas.
- Xavier travels to Georgetown to lead off the Big East slate.
- The Big South has a showdown with Winthrop hosting UNC Asheville.
- The Big Ten slate is a bit lighter, but a noteworthy matchup has arch rivals Purdue and Indiana battling in Bloomington.
- Late at night, UC Irvine hosts Hawaii in a first place Big West showdown.
- In the Missouri Valley, Evansville hosts Southern Illinois in a battle of the first two teams in the conference to reach 20 wins on the season. In another sneaky-good matchup, Northern Iowa hosts Illinois State.
- A showdown in the Ohio Valley is on tap as Belmont hosts Tennessee Tech.
- Oregon hosts arch-rival Oregon State in Pac-12 action, while UCLA hosts Colorado.
- The SEC has a couple of bubble games early as Florida travels to South Carolina and Vanderbilt hosts Georgia. Later, Texas A&M hosts Kentucky in the best matchup of the day.
- The West Coast Conference has a big first place showdown with Gonzaga hosting Saint Mary’s.