Pregame Shootaround: Horizon League showdown, No. 16 VCU headline Friday slate

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Valparaiso at Green Bay, 9:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

Depending upon what happens in Cleveland State’s home game against Detroit, this could be for sole possession of first place in the Horizon League. Like the Vikings, both the Crusaders and Phoenix enter Friday with 5-1 league records, and two of the best players in the Horizon League will be on display at the Resch Center. Of course the name Keifer Sykes (Green Bay’s electric point guard) is known by now, but how about Valpo’s Alec Peters? The 6-foot-9 sophomore can score both inside and out and is averaging 17.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for Valparaiso, which is off to an 18-3 start and has won five straight games. Green Bay’s limiting opponents to 58.8 points per game, and they’ll need a similar defensive effort to keep Bryce Drew’s team in check.

THE REST OF FIRDAY’S SCHEDULE 

  • No. 16 VCU is back in action, and they’ll put their 5-0 Atlantic 10 record on the line at Saint Louis (7:00 p.m., ESPN2). Shaka Smart’s Rams have won ten straight games, with their last defeat coming at the hands of the nation’s second-best team in Virginia. Obviously turnovers, especially those of the live-ball variety, are key in games involving VCU as they’re forcing nearly 18 per game. But another area to keep an eye on is the fact that Jim Crews’ Billikens are allowing opponents to shoot nearly 46 percent from the field. If SLU isn’t better in that area, things could open up for the Rams, who have shot no better than 42.5% in five of their last six games.
  • Cleveland State hosts Detroit (7:00 p.m., ESPN3) in the other Horizon League matchup Friday night, with the Vikings having three players averaging double figures led by junior guard Trey Lewis. Detroit will counter with senior Juwan Howard Jr., who averaging 18.5 points per game for the Titans.
  • The most important of the three MAAC games on Friday’s schedule is Manhattan’s trip to Hamden, Connecticut to take on Quinnipiac (7:00 p.m., ESPNU), with the Jaspers just one game behind first-place Iona in the loss column. Keep an eye on the rebounding here, as the Jaspers are allowing opponents to rebound just over 34 percent of their misses and Quinnipiac is a very good offensive rebounding team led by seniors Ousmane Drame and Justin Harris.
  • Monmouth can move into a tie for first in the MAAC with a win over a Niagara (7:00 p.m, ESPN3) team that nearly beat Iona last Friday night. King Rice’s Hawks are limiting opponents to 39.2% shooting from the field, and guards Justin Robinson and Deon Jones combining to average just over 34 points per game.
  • Rivals Marist and Siena meet in Albany (7:00 p.m., ESPN3), with the Red Foxes still in search of their first conference win under new head coach Mike Maker. Siena’s had some issues defensively this season, but the sight of a team that’s averaging 58.2 points per game should help Jimmy Patsos’ team.