There are multitudes of mid-major games this weekend, but three matchups have the potential to make or break some teams' chances of winning their conference.
Virginia Commonwealth (15-6, 8-2 CAA) @ Hofstra (14-7, 6-4 CAA)
After losing to Northeastern on Tuesday night, Virginia Commonwealth travels to Hofstra for a must-win game on Saturday. The Rams are still 8-2 and in second place in the CAA, but a loss at Hofstra and a Northeastern victory over Delaware would put Anthony Grant's team in a hole that they don't want to be in at this point in the season.
VCU is definitely the superior team in this game, but Hofstra is not a guaranteed win for any team in the CAA—especially when the match is in Hempstead, where the Pride are 6-2 this season.
Hofstra is one of the best rebounding teams in the whole country, averaging 42 boards per game, while VCU is relatively weak in that part of the game. Other than Larry Sanders and Kirill Pishchanilkov, the Rams don't have any reputable rebounders. You can definitely expect the rebounding edge to be in Hofstra's favor, but rebounding won't be the deciding factor.
The difference in this game will be shooting.
VCU only has one player who shoots under 40 percent from the field, but he is not one of the key Rams.
Compare that to the Pride, whose top three scorers all shoot beneath 40 percent. Leading scorer Charles Jenkins is able to put points on the board, but his 38.9 percent field goal percentage really defines how he plays. He takes the bulk of Hofstra's shots, a lot of which would be categorized as ill-advised, but that's the way the Hofstra offense—which scores 65 points per game—runs.
Hofstra has been plagued by poor foul shooting throughout the season. A free-throw percentage of 66.4 percent leaves room for loads of improvement. Jenkins, who connects on 79.3 percent of his foul shots, is the only member of Tom Pecora's team who shoots over 65 percent.
Don't be surprised if Eric Maynor doesn't put up his average of 22 points. The senior point guard doesn't like playing against Hofstra. It took him six games to crack 20 against the Pride—he scored 21 in VCU's eight point victory earlier in January—and he has a career average near 16 points per game against Hofstra.
However, Maynor has been on a hot streak. He's averaging 28 points per game over the last three games.
Expect the margin of victory to be similar to their last meeting. VCU wins, 70-59.
Bradley (13-8, 7-3 MVC) @ Illinois State (17-4, 6-4 MVC)
Bradley handed Illinois State its first loss on Jan. 6 en route to a 4-0 start to conference play. Since then, the Braves are 3-3 and Illinois State, who once had everything going their way, has lost to some weak opponents.
If either team wants to keep up with a red hot Northern Iowa crew, this game comes as a must-win. Obviously, there can only be one winner.
The two reasons that the Redbirds lost the first match of the season series were three-point shooting and foul-shooting. Shooting 6-26 from long range is unacceptable, but the majority of the blame can be attributed to the Redbirds for taking bad shots.
The foul-shooting was not totally their fault because Bradley only committed a total of eight team fouls, which led to a meager four Illinois State foul shots. One thing you can expect tomorrow is that the Redbirds will make more of an attempt to get into the lane and get fouled.
Also, look for Osiris Eldridge to break out of his little slump. It's been seven games since the MVC's preseason Player of the Year totaled 20 points, but his best game in that span was his 17 point performance in the loss at Bradley.
The Redbirds are a perfect 12-0 at home, while Bradley is 4-5 on the road.
Illinois State will avenge their loss with a 66-56 victory.
Saint Mary's (18-2, 5-1 WCC) @ Portland (14-7, 5-1 WCC)
Saint Mary's suffered a huge blow when Patty Mills broke his hand in last night's loss at Gonzaga. The Gaels' leading scorer will be out for a month, and Randy Bennett needs all of his players to step up—the Gaels have 18.7 points per game to make up.
Bennett would have liked to have an easier first game without Mills—maybe a game against San Francisco or Loyola Marymount. Portland is not an easy win, especially without Mills.
You've got to think that Portland, at home and on a five game winning streak, has the advantage against the Mill-less Gaels, but don't expect the Gaels to go down without a fight.
Nonetheless, the Pilots will be able to navigate to victory while the Gaels try to figure out how to replace Mills' role.
Final score: Portland 72, Saint Mary's 66