Saturday Nonconference Blowout

We’ll soon be playing each other.

The uniform schedule will provide rhythm, and get us writing more regularly. Everyone will enter conference play with a clean slate, and that second set of parenthesized numbers (9-3, 0-0) will become the important one. The teams that have gotten off to ugly starts will once again be on level footing with the ones garnering the big wins. 

I thought we’d bust out the game day previews in January, but we just can’t wait any longer.

This monumental day seems like a perfect one to get ’em going.

Michigan State (11-0) at Northeastern (7-3) — 12:30 — NBC Sports Network

I’m not ready to talk about the marquee game of the day just yet…

UNC Greensboro (4-6) at Elon (7-3) — 1:00 — Video Stream

UNC Greensboro received bad news when former Delaware star Devon Saddler’s little brother Tevon Saddler opted to leave the program one week before the season began. But despite losing one of its lead guards at a less than optimal time, UNCG still boasts an impressive turnover margin (+3.1, 39th in D-I). It’ll be interesting to see if the young Phoenix guards can keep pace.

But Elon’s won four in a row, and sports a 5-1 record at home. Matt Matheny’s group is playing well, and I expect Tanner Samson and Co. to keep it rolling on Saturday.

Phoenix 83, Spartans 74

College of Charleston (7-2) at Miami (FL (8-1) — 2:00 — Fox Sports Net 

It’s unfortunate that Northeastern’s win at Coral Gables probably decreased the likelihood of another CAA upset. Even so, Charleston comes into this one with a five-game winning streak, and gets a Miami team that hasn’t played in a week and a half.

Charleston and Miami are on opposite ends of the experience spectrum, with Earl Grant’s Cougars slotting in as the 310th most experienced team in D-I, and Jim Larrañaga’s Hurricanes the 41st most experienced.

I like what the Cougars are doing, but am admittedly skeptical about their chances on Saturday. The good news, though, is that the Hurricanes are likely the worst matchup they’ll see this season.

Canes 81, Cats 72

UNCW (5-2) at Radford (6-5) — 4:00 — Video Stream

My Radford friends are expressing legitimate interest in their hoops team for the first time since 2009. That’ll happen when your alma mater triumphs at Power Seven programs Georgetown and Penn State in the season’s first 11 days.

UNCW’s string of road games continues with another tough one. But this one sets up well for the Seahawks. More than 20% of Radford’s offensive possessions end in a turnover, and the Highlanders don’t appear to be capable of winning with outside shooting.

That’s a decent combination for a UNCW team that leads D-I in turnover margin (+8.1 turnovers per game), and also struggles with outside shooting.

It might be ugly at times, but I like UNCW’s chances to get it done in Virginia.

Seahawks 72, Highlanders 69

Delaware (5-3) at Boston College (4-6) — 7:00 — ESPN 3 

Delaware suffered as many key personnel losses (Chivarsky Corbett, Devonne Pinkard) as actual defeats in its first four games. We know this team had depth issues coming into the season, so it’s impressive that the Hens have managed to snag wins in three of four since Corbett went down.

A road game at Boston College, one of the youngest teams in the country, actually looks winnable. If Marvin King-Davis and the like continue to get easy points at the foul line to compensate for their shooting woes, there’s reason to believe Monté Ross’ squad has a shot in Chestnut Hill.

The optimism in the City of Boston extends to this prediction. The Hens come through with late magic on a second consecutive Saturday.

Hens 74, Eagles 73 

Penn State (7-3) vs. Drexel (1-7) — 7:00 – Video Stream

Penn State’s won five of its last six games, but that has little bearing on Saturday night’s bout at The Palestra. Five of Drexel’s seven losses have come by single-digit margins, and you can bet the Dragons will be itching to take it to the biggest brand-name school in the state.

The Dragons got off to a good start at South Carolina, but came unglued in the second half versus the undefeated Gamecocks. Drexel was (once again) doubled up in free-throw attempts, and that could be a problem against a Penn State team that’s in the top third of D-I teams in free-throw rate (39.6%, 113th).

Pat Chambers team embraces the rock fight, and this one will probably be ugly. I can’t bet on a Drexel win, but stranger things have happened. We’ll say Penn State by a field goal.

Nitty Lions 17, Dragons 14

#1 Michigan State (11-0) at Northeastern (7-3) — 12:30 — NBC Sports Network

Saturday’s headliner will be played in Beantown, where the illustrious Tom Izzo will lead his Michigan State Spartans into historic Mathews Arena. There isn’t a power conference basketball coach who impresses me more annually than Izzo, who’s led this program to seven Final Fours in his first 20 years, including six times this century. 

It’s highly commendable that Izzo agreed to play his team’s first road game at Northeastern. It’s a move K, Cal, and Self would never consider, and one that reportedly stunned former Northeastern and UConn coach Jim Calhoun. 

But Izzo is the kind of badass who goes onto The LeBatard Show and plays Christmas carols on the accordion. He doesn’t live off five-star recruits (though he’s had more success with them recently), instead taking guys a notch below the top tier who’re versatile and privied with high basketball IQs. 

Izzo’s got a Wooden Award frontrunner in senior wing DJ Valentine, a guy who can play positions one through four, and would get minutes at the five if coached by Kevin Keatts. Valentine’s per game season averages (18.6 points, 8.5 boards, and 7.2 assists) are insane enough to make Juan’ya Green jealous. 

Valentine will get his, and the key for Northeastern will be to prevent Michigan State’s secondary offensive options from winning the game.

We’ve thoroughly hyped Michigan State, but Northeastern possesses perhaps the nation’s most underrated coach-player combo in Bill Coen and David Walker.

After spending an exam-less week preparing for the Spartans, the Huskies will be anxious to get back on the floor. Fortunately, Coen has guys in Walker, Quincy Ford, and Zach Stahl who knows what it’s like to play in big games. They’ve defeated Miami, Florida State, and Georgetown away from Mathews over the last two-plus seasons, and showed well on a neutral floor versus Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament.

The Huskies will finally be rewarded with a home game against a top-notch nonconference foe.

Coen has undoubtedly preached that this one game will not define Northeastern’s year. We’re about a third of the way through the season, and it could be argued that 90% of the remaining games have more importance than this one.

A quick glance at Michigan State’s KenPom profile reveals many shades of green. The Spartans pose problems on both ends of the court, ranking ninth in offensive efficiency and 16th in defensive efficiency. You’re truly grasping for straws to find an area where the Spartans don’t excel. 

A positive for Northeastern is that Michigan State’s elite defense doesn’t force a high percentage of turnovers. That’s good news for a Northeastern bunch that’s coughing it up on 20% of its possessions so far this season.

Getting offensive production from guards other than Walker is a necessity for Northeastern.

TJ Williams is still struggling from the field, but has found other ways to contribute of late. Devon Begley has been a non factor the past three games, and this could provide the perfect platform for the sophomore to get off the schneid. And you know a few Caleb Donnelly 3-pointers would get the crowd at Mathews roaring.

We praised freshman Jeremy Miller in our most recent post, and he responded by pouring in a career-high 18 points in 27 minutes last Saturday. He’s averaging 11.5 points over his last four games, but it’s his rebounding that will be needed most today.

The Spartans have eight guys averaging double-digit minutes and a ninth, Marvin Clark Jr., gaining steam while recovering from a preseason injury. I am worried that one of the non starters — be it Clark Jr., Eron Harris, or Deyonta Davis — will come off the bench to spark a run that gets the Spartans going.

This hoops-hoops-hockey triple header is a praiseworthy event conjured up by ADs Peter Roby and Mark Hollis. It would take a lot of faith to pick an upset.

What kind of blogger would I be to throw a wet blanket on it?

The pundits have seen Walker’s prolific box scores, and witnessed Ford’s game winners after the fact. After Saturday, they’ll have a much better understanding that Coen’s Huskies are for real.

Huskies 77, Spartans 76