Wednesday’s schedule of college basketball features some intriguing matchups across many conferences.
The action all begins in the Big Ten when the Northwestern Wildcats try to keep their bubble from popping in Assembly Hall against the 20th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers.
After that, the Big East gets started and is headlined by the 25th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish hosting the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Two ranked teams on the road tip off at 8 p.m. ET as the seventh-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels travel to South Beach to take on the Miami Hurricanes and the 14th -ranked Murray State Racers take on the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks.
The third-ranked Missouri Tigers will look to avenge one of their few losses as they welcome the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
And finally, two ranked west coast ranked teams will tip off later in the night, as the 15th -ranked San Diego State Aztecs host the New Mexico Lobos and the 16th -ranked Saint Mary’s Gaels will take on the Loyola Marymount Lions.
Seven ranked teams are going tonight so without wasting any more time, let’s preview some of the matchups!
Two to Focus On
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12-13, 4-8) @ No. 25 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-8, 9-3) – 7 p.m. ET ESPNU
Key to the Game: Free-throw shooting
Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey has done an incredible job coaching the Fighting Irish this season after losing Tim Abromaitis very early in the season. However, they do have a January blemish on their record, as they lost to Rutgers on the road.
Notre Dame is riding a six-game winning streak, which includes victories over the likes of Syracuse, Marquette, West Virginia and Connecticut. The last time they lost?
Rutgers on January 16th .
In that game, Rutgers shot 53.6 percent and hit five three-pointers in the first half. Notre Dame didn’t help their cause on offense as they missed more free throws than they made for an abysmal 38.5 percent from the charity strike.
Overall, it was a lackadaisical performance from an Irish team that still stands third in the Big East despite that miserable game.
Rutgers has only really done one thing right this season and that’s play good defense. The Scarlet Knights play tough and contest shots. Against a Notre Dame team that struggles to consistently score points, they have the recipe to end this winning streak.
The Fighting Irish are one of the best at home, posting a 13-1 record and their margin of victory is more than 15 points per game.
Though against a tough Scarlet Knights team that is better than their recent slump suggests (three-game losing streak, 2-6 in their last eight), Notre Dame is going to need a lot more than just the luck of the Irish to get out of this one.
If Notre Dame wants to avoid another upset to Rutgers, they need to hit their free throws in this one.
Rutgers comes into this game averaging 20.8 fouls per game, dead last in the Big East. Notre Dame on the other hand is fourth in the nation at only 14 fouls per game. Notre Dame only went to the line thirteen times the last time these two faced and as previously noted, they couldn’t hit their free throws whatsoever.
The Fighting Irish can’t afford to have another letdown like they did in January against the Scarlet Knights. I don’t expect Notre Dame to win by the ridiculous margin of victory they are averaging at home, but I don’t see the Fighting Irish repeating their lackluster free-throw shooting the last time these two faced.
Final Score Prediction: Rutgers 62, Notre Dame 68
Oklahoma State Cowboys (12-13, 5-7) @ No. 3 Missouri Tigers (23-2, 10-2) – 9 p.m. ET ESPN2
Key to the Game: Three-point shooting
Missouri would like to forget the last time these two faced.
One of the staples to this Tigers team has been the three-pointer. They are averaging eight per game and shooting 38.7 percent from distance, good for twenty-eighth in the nation.
Against the Cowboys on January 25th , they only hit four—all of which came in the first half—and shot 21.1 percent in the game.
This is yet again a dangerous matchup for Missouri because Oklahoma State is 32nd in the nation in three-point defense, only allowing opposing teams to make it 30.4 percent of the time.
During both of the Tigers' losses this season (the other coming at Kansas State) they shot below 30 percent. For a team that plays a guard heavy rotation and best big man is only 6'8", they rely on the three heavily.
Oklahoma State has shown the ability all season to keep teams in check from downtown. Offense has been a problem for the Cowboys, and they like the last time these two met, they need a big game from freshman Le’Bryan Nash.
Nash has an NBA skill set that is a nightmare of a matchup for the Tigers. Nash has the rare combination of size and quickness, standing 6'7" yet with the athletic ability of a guard.
Missouri is going to have to stick Kim English on him, who is also Missouri’s second leading scorer. Having to guard Nash the majority of the game is going to be tasking for English (who is 6'6" but not nearly as strong as Nash) and could affect him at the other end of the court.
If Oklahoma State can do what they’ve been doing all season in terms of shutting down the three, this will be a close game. If Le’Bryan Nash can have his way with the undersized Missouri Tigers, then they should win this one.
I’m going to predict Missouri to win this one because they have been so good at home—but expect a very tight game.
Final Score Prediction: Oklahoma State 69, Missouri 73
Three to See
Northwestern Wildcats (15-9, 5-7) @ No. 20 Indiana Hoosiers (19-6, 7-6) – 6:30 p.m. ET BTN
Indiana has been very impressive this season at home and is currently riding a two game winning streak.
Northwestern, on the other hand, has been rocky as of late, pulling off upsets of Michigan State and Illinois, but are 4-8 in their last twelve.
Indiana has some marquee wins this season, but has had some disturbing losses that make you question whether or not this team shows up every game. However, this has mainly been on the road and at Assembly Hall against a Big Ten rival—I don’t expect a letdown here.
John Shurna is a great player for Northwestern, but won’t be enough. Indiana has been great from three this season whereas Northwestern has struggled to defend it. Expect to see a lopsided affair.
No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels (21-4, 8-2) @ Miami Hurricanes (15-8, 6-4) – 8 p.m. ET ESPN
I still view North Carolina as the cream of the crop in the ACC. The loss to Duke was more fluke than anything, as Duke lived and died by the three in the game and was ultimately able to escape with the win.
Miami managed to hold off Duke, but unfortunately for Miami, the transitive relation doesn’t apply to college basketball. The Hurricanes are very good at home and have a talented squad poised to make the tournament, but the Tar Heels are the most balanced attack in the nation.
Despite what the naysayers have many believing, North Carolina is still in a great position to get a one seed. Don’t lose games like this, beat Duke and win the ACC Tournament, and the Tar Heels will get a one seed.
Expect the Tar Heels to overwhelm the Hurricanes with their array of talent.
New Mexico Lobos (20-4, 6-2) @ No. 15 San Diego State Aztecs (20-4, 6-2) – 10:15 p.m. ET CBSSN
The Mountain West has a lot of talented teams this year, and here is a great matchup of two on top of the standings right now.
I would’ve made this one of my games “Two to Focus On,” but I understand not many people will be able to see this game. For anybody who can see this game, it should be eventful.
The Lobos are a high-flying, athletic bunch that can really run the court and score the basketball. While they lack a true inside presence, they play to their strengths.
New Mexico also features one of the nation’s best defenses that uses its great length on the perimeter to its advantage. I’m sure the legendary Steve Fisher knows all about this already, though.
The Aztecs are strong at home (15-1) but the Lobos are strong on the road (6-1) which makes this game even more intriguing. The Aztecs are a fairly similar team, not as athletic, though.
New Mexico let this game slip away last time in the second half with poor field-goal shooting. I don’t expect the Lobos—winners of five straight—to allow that to happen again.
Expect another tight game between two very good teams, but don’t be surprised if New Mexico is on top of the Mountain West after tonight.
Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (23-5, 15-1) @ IPFW Mastodons (10-15, 4-11)
Not really a great slate of mid-major games to choose from tonight, so I’m going to shed some light on Oral Roberts, who is dominating the Summit League.
ORU has dominated recently, winning sixteen of their last seventeen. IPFW, on the other hand, is 1-9 in their last ten. However, the last time these two played, IPFW was actually winning at halftime until they let the Golden Eagles dominate the second half.
The Mastodons are desperate to get a key win to end the season. This game features two of the leading scorers in the nation in Oral Roberts' Dominique Morrison and IPFW’s Frank Gaines. It should be a good battle between these two, as it was last time.
Oral Roberts should win it in the end, as they are a well-rounded group.
Tonight, I won’t be on Twitter while all these games happen like I was last night, as I have to work the Western Illinois Leathernecks game versus the UMKC Kangaroos. Feel free to leave any questions or comments here or on my Twitter (@MisterSideline), and I will reply as soon as I get the chance!
Enjoy the night of basketball!