Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:
Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.
Game of the Day: No. 7 Missouri at UCLA (10 PM)
The Bruins have won four straight games since losing to San Diego State on December 1, with three of those wins being by double digits. But there are still questions as to whether or not Ben Howland’s team can be the national contender many expected them to be during the offseason. UCLA has an opportunity to change some minds tonight, as they host No. 7 Missouri at Pauley Pavilion. The key for UCLA: keeping the Tigers off the offensive glass, as Missouri is rebounding 44.4% of its misses according to statsheet.com. In their 82-73 win over Illinois on Saturday Missouri tallied 22 offensive rebounds, with Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi accounting for 12 of those boards.
There’s also the matter of defending Missouri point guard Phil Pressey, who is one of the nation’s best at the position. Don’t worry about his field goal percentage, because its the way in which he runs the team that makes Missouri a title contender. The Bruins will need freshmen Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad to be at their best tonight, and Muhammad scored an average of 24.3 points over the last three games. UCLA may be 9-3 but their resume lacks a “marquee” victory. Tonight is their chance.
Who’s Getting Upset?: Seton Hall (vs. Stony Brook; 7 PM)
The Pirates, whose front court rotation has taken a major hit due to injuries to three players (Patrik Auda, Aaron Geramipoor and Kevin Johnson), should be on upset alert against a solid Stony Brook team. On the season Steve Pikiell’s team is averaging 13.1 offensive rebounds per game, and with Seton Hall’s lack of front court depth that could become an issue if Gene Teague and/or Brandon Mobley get into early foul trouble. Who will make things difficult on Stony Brook: Fuquan Edwin, who has quietly evolved into one of the Big East’s most versatile players. Seven of Stony Brook’s eight wins have come over teams ranked 201 or worse in the RPI (Canisius being the exception), but Anthony Jackson and company are capable of pulling off the upset tonight.
Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Bucknell at Loyola (MD) (7:30 PM)
Next season this will be a conference game as the Greyhounds will join the Patriot League. This season it’s a matchup of two programs expected to contend for their respective league titles, meaning that a win for either team would look nice on their resume should they grab an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Both teams have been very good defensively this season, with the Bison limiting opponents to 37.1% shooting from the field and Loyola not too far off at 38.8% (field goal percentage defense). The individual battle between Bucknell’s Mike Muscala (18.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and Loyola’s Erik Etherly (15.7, 7.4) will be worth the price of admission, and with guards Bryson Johnson (Bucknell) and Dylon Cormier (Loyola) also on display this game will not disappoint.
Five Things to Watch
1) Baylor visits No. 13 Gonzaga, and if the Bears are to win they’ll need to get it done on the defensive end. The Bulldogs are shooting 52% from the field this season, and their offensive work is aided by the fact that they’re grabbing nearly 39% of their own misses. If Pierre Jackson and company can force the Gonzaga guards to have to make plays off the dribble, Baylor can win.
2) Just one afternoon game on the slate, as Rider makes the short drive from Lawrenceville to play Rutgers. David Cox will coach his second game in place of the suspended Mike Rice, and it helps matters that Myles Mack has been on fire of late. Mack has failed to shoot 50% or better from the field in just one game: Rutgers’ season opening loss to Saint Peter’s. Over the last four games the 5-9 guard is shooting 24-of-37 from the field.
3) Another team that needs to wary of a post-Christmas hangover is Memphis, who hosts an Oral Roberts team that’s better than its 5-6 record would indicate. Warren Niles (21.3 ppg) leads the way for Scott Sutton’s Golden Eagles, who have four players averaging at least ten points per game. Memphis can sleepwalk through games on occasion, and that can be a risky proposition.
4) Saint Louis point guard Kwamain Mitchell will play for the first time this season as the Billikens host SIU-Edwardsville. How much Mitchell plays remains to be seen, due to both stamina and the fact that SLU hosts New Mexico on New Year’s Eve.
5) Will he play or won’t he? That’s the question Providence fans have in regards to senior point guard Vincent Council, who hasn’t played since injuring his hamstring against NJIT in the season opener. The Friars will visit Brown (7 PM, NBC Sports Network) for the first time since the 1982 season.
Top 25 Games
Jacksonville at No. 5 Indiana (8 PM)
No. 7 Missouri at UCLA (10 PM)
Baylor at No. 13 Gonzaga (8 PM)
Other Notable Games
Rider at Rutgers (3 PM)
Providence at Brown (7 PM; NBC Sports Network)
Iona at Saint Joseph’s (7 PM)
Southern Miss at Morehead State (7:30 PM)
Oral Roberts at Memphis (8 PM)
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.