Game of the Night: Saint Louis at No. 15 Butler (7:00 p.m.; ESPNU)
Friday’s schedule may be light, but the battle between the Billikens and Bulldogs more than makes up for it. Jim Crews’ team currently leads the Atlantic 10 and is coming off of an impressive beating of VCU earlier this week. Forward Dwayne Evans leads a balanced offensive attack for SLU, and just as important is their work on defense. Opponents turn the ball over an average of 15.2 times per game, and their turnover margin currently ranks second in the A-10.
Rotnei Clarke leads the way offensively for Butler with an average of 17.1 points per game, and the Bulldogs (9-3 Atlantic 10) trail SLU (9-2) by a game in the loss column entering tonight’s contest. SLU won the first meeting 75-58, forcing a staggering 23 turnovers on the night. Clarke had six of those turnovers, and if Butler is to even the score they have to take care of the basketball.
Who’s Getting Upset? Princeton (-2) at Columbia; 7:00 p.m.
This wouldn’t be a huge upset given the numbers (for entertainment purposes only, of course), but the Lions are more than capable of knocking off Princeton. Columbia handed Harvard its lone Ivy League loss in stunning fashion a few weeks ago, shooting 50.9% from the field and hitting nine three-pointers in the 78-63 victory.
Princeton defends the three well and overall the Tigers allow just 0.95 points per possession, and forwards Ian Hummer and Denton Koon form a quality tandem inside. Columbia will need Brian Barbour and Steve Frankoski to lead the way for a team that’s balanced offensively (five players average between nine and twelve points per game) in order to win.
Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Stephen F. Austin at Long Beach State (9:00 p.m.; ESPNU)
The Lumberjacks, at 22-3 on the season, are faced with a major test but it’s also an opportunity for a team that’s flown under the radar outside of the Southland Conference. The reason why: four non-Division I wins and a strength of schedule that ranks 313th nationally. Danny Kaspar’s team limits teams to 49.7 points per game, and the Lumberjacks have allowed just one opponent to scored 60 points or more in their last seven games.
Doing so against Long Beach State will be a challenge, with the 49ers having five players averaging nine points per game or more. Senior wing James Ennis is averaging 17.3 points per game for Long Beach State, who currently leads the Big West. And keep an eye on SFA’s Taylor Smith, who currently leads the team in both points (15.8) and rebounds (8.9).
Five Things to Watch
1) Harvard looks to retain control of the Ivy League race as they visit Brown, who has a win over Providence on its resume. Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers have been two of the league’s best players and are a big reason why Tommy Amaker’s team is on track to return to the NCAA tournament, and Kenyatta Smith has also played well of late.
2) With Mercer winning last night, Florida Gulf Coast needs a win at Stetson to avoid falling two games behind the Bears in the loss column atop the Atlantic Sun. Two of the league’s best front court players, FGCU’s Chase Fieler and Stetson’s Adam Pegg, will be on display as well guards Sherwood Brown (FGCU) and Chris Perez (Stetson).
3) Akron puts its 17-game win streak on the line as North Dakota State visits the JAR. The Bison are without leading scorer Taylor Braun, who is out with a broken foot.
4) The chances of someone other than Harvard or Princeton winning the Ivy League are slim to say the least. Cornell is 5-3, and with home games against Penn tonight and Princeton tomorrow the Big Red have an opportunity to claw their way into the discussion.
5) Yale has won 21 of the last 25 meetings in its series with Dartmouth, but the Big Green ended a seven-game losing streak to the Bulldogs with a 71-62 win back on February 2. Center Gabas Maldunas led four Dartmouth players in double figures with 16 points in the first meeting.
Other Notable Games
North Dakota State at Akron (7:00 p.m.; ESPN2)
Harvard at Brown (7:00 p.m.)
Florida Gulf Coast at Stetson (7:00 p.m.; ESPN3)