Pregame Shootaround

Columbia guard Maodo Lo, right, steals the ball from Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Evanston, Ill.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ivy League’s best meet in New Haven

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Columbia at Yale, 5:00 p.m.

The two best teams in the Ivy League, with matching 4-0 league records, meet for the first time this season. The Lions were close to suffering their first loss last weekend, but an Alex Rosenberg jumper as time expired gave the Lions the win at reigning champion Harvard. Rosenberg’s one of four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game for Kyle Smith’s team, with senior guard Maodo Lo leading the way at 15.8 per contest.

They’ll face a Yale rotation led offensively by point guard Makai Mason (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the front court tandem of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod has been outstanding. The winner get a leg up in the Ivy race, with the rematch scheduled for March 5 in New York City (regular season finale).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Central Michigan at Akron, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference meet at the JAR, as Akron looks to extend its win streak to six straight. The Zips’ balanced offensive attack has been led by forward Isaiah Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. As for the visiting Chippewas, guards Braylon Rayson and Chris Fowler combine to average 32.7 points per game, with Fowler also responsible for a MAC-best 6.3 assists per contest. CMU’s had some struggles on the defensive glass in league play, ranking 11th in that category, but they’ve done a better job defensively than they did in non-conference play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • MAAC leader Monmouth is back in action, as they host a Fairfield team led by one of the conference’s best players in senior forward Marcus Gilbert. The Hawks have a deep lineup led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who at this point in time is the likely frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Looking to catch Monmouth is Iona, which is a game behind the Hawks at 9-3. A.J. English and the Gaels visit Canisius in a matchup that should not lack for offense. Iona’s more inclined to run, but Canisius doesn’t lack scorers either with guard Malcolm McMillan leading four players averaging double figures.
  • Given the fact that they’re 1-3 in Ivy League play, Harvard’s essentially in the spoiler role unless some chaos breaks out at the top end of the standings. The Crimson can help in that regard with a win at Princeton, with the Tigers (2-1) a game behind Columbia and Yale in the loss column. Princeton’s been the better offensive team this season, thanks in large part to junior forward Henry Caruso who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.

 

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: VCU looks to retain grip on A-10’s top spot

Virginia Commonwealth's Mo Alie-Cox holds up his uniform in front of the Saint Joseph's student section as Saint Joseph's Isaiah Miles, right, walks off the court following an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Philadelphia. VCU won 85-82. (Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: VCU at Davidson, 6:00 p.m.

There were questions as to how VCU would adjust to life under new head coach Will Wade, and at this point in the season it’s fair to say that the Rams have been just fine. VCU is 7-0 in Atlantic 10 play, and while they’ve been solid defensively throughout the season the Rams have also been the A-10’s most efficient offensive team in league play. They’ll face a significant test in the form of Davidson and its high-scoring guard Jack Gibbs, who scored 40 points or more in three games this season, but the triumvirate of Melvin Johnson, JeQuan Lewis and Korey Billbury has been very productive for the Rams. A win at Davidson keeps VCU in sole possession of first place, with Dayton currently 7-1 and Saint Joseph’s 6-1.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Wright State at Oakland, 8:00 p.m.

Valparaiso has company atop the Horizon League standings, as Billy Donlon’s Raiders are 7-1 in conference games and have won ten of their last 11 games. Friday night they visit one of the nation’s most electrifying guards in junior Kay Felder, whose ability to both score and distribute the basketball makes him a tough matchup for any opponent the Golden Grizzlies encounter. But the key for Oakland will likely be their ability to defend, as Wright State has four players averaging at least 9.6 points per game led by sophomore guard Mark Alstork (12.2 ppg). The Raiders aren’t a prolific scoring team, but their ability to defend makes it imperative that Oakland get stops at a higher rate than it has thus far.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. The final weekend in January bring about the start of Ivy League back-to-backs, with tonight’s schedule including Harvard hosting Cornell. The Crimson have won the last three league titles, and with Columbia and Yale both off to 2-0 starts not losing any more ground is important for Tommy Amaker’s team (1-1 in Ivy League play).

2. One of the northeast’s best rivalries will have its latest installment, as Manhattan visits Iona. The Gaels (7-3 MAAC) are tied for second with Siena, a game behind first-place Monmouth, with the Jaspers a game back in the loss column at 5-4. With A.J. English leading the way one would expect Iona to take care of business due to their offensive firepower, but these match-ups tend to be close affairs.

3. Another key matchup in the Horizon League is Green Bay’s game at rival Milwaukee, with both sporting 5-3 records in league play. The Panthers, who have been the Horizon League’s most efficient offensive team in league play, have five players averaging double figures led by senior forward Matt Tiby (14.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg).

4. Kent State looks to remain atop the MAC East standings as they visit Ohio, with the Bobcats having won two of their last three. The teams have already met once this season, with Xavier Pollard scoring 23 points and Kellon Thomas 20 in the Golden Flashes’ 89-82 win January 16. In conference games only Northern Illinois has been better than Rob Senderoff’s team when it comes to defensive efficiency.

5. Penn looks to avoid an 0-2 start in Ivy League play as they visit undefeated Yale. James Jones’ Bulldogs, who have won six straight games, have a very good guard in leading scorer in Makai Mason and their front court tandem of Brandon Sherrod and Justin Sears combines to average 25.7 points and 14.2 rebounds per game.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Key America East, MAAC battles on the slate

Albany's Peter Hooley, Jr., left, deflects the ball away from Stony Brook's Jameel Warney, Jr., (20) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the America East Conference tournament championship in Albany, N.Y., Saturday, March 14, 2015. At right is Albany's Mike Rowley.  (AP Photo/Tim Roske)
AP Photo/Tim Roske
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GAME OF THE DAY: Albany at Stony Brook, 9:00 p.m.

Stony Brook’s reached the last two America East tournament finals, only to have the Great Danes eliminate them and earn the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid. Friday’s meeting is the first of two this season, and with the higher seed getting home court in each round of the conference tournament these match-ups take on even greater importance. Forward Jameel Warney and guard Carson Puriefoy lead the way for Steve Pikiell’s Seawolves, who are currently 5-0 in conference play. As for the Great Danes, Peter Hooley’s back to lead as a senior with Will Brown’s team boasting a 4-1 league mark.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Saint Peter’s at Iona, 7:00 p.m.

With Monmouth losing at Manhattan Thursday night, John Dunne’s Peacocks enter this matchup in sole possession of first place in the MAAC. As usual Saint Peter’s has been stout defensively, but they’ve also been better offensively in league play than they were during non-conference play. Freshman Antwon Portley has been one of the MAAC’s best newcomers, averaging 15.3 points per game to lead three SPC players averaging in double figures. Scoring isn’t a problem for Iona, which is led by senior guard A.J. English, but being engaged defensively for 40 minutes has been at times. Tempo will be key here; SPC will be best in a half-court game, while the Gaels will look to ramp things up.

OTHER NOTABLE CONTESTS

  • Already two games behind first-place VCU in the loss column, the game between Rhode Island and George Washington (3:00 p.m.) is a critical one with both at 3-2 in Atlantic 10 play. Keep an eye on how often the Colonials head to the foul line. URI hasn’t done the best job of keeping opponents away from there, and those points could prove to be the difference.
  • Valparaiso looks to maintain its lead atop the Horizon League as they visit second-place Wright State (7:00 p.m.). Billy Donlon’s Raiders have done a good job defending the three as well as knocking them down at a solid clip, but they’ll have to be better offensively if they’re to knock off a Valpo team led by forwards Alec Peters and Vashil Fernandez.
  • The top two teams in the MAC West meet in DeKalb as Northern Illinois hosts Toledo (7:00 p.m.). Mark Montgomery’s Huskies are 4-1 in conference play and their defense is a big reason why, with opponents shooting less than 44 percent inside of the arc. Tod Kowalczyk’s Rockets have been good offensively for most of the season, but they’ve had issues stringing together stops at times.

THE REST OF FRIDAY’S SCHEDULE

  • Duquesne at George Mason, 2:00 p.m.
  • UIC at Northern Kentucky, 7:00 p.m.
  • Fairfield at Marist, 7:00 p.m.
  • Yale at Brown, 8:00 p.m.