Yes, the glorious time of year has finally arrived. It's a time when hearts are broken, hopes are lost, and confidences are destroyed.
These games are make or break for most teams that need a final resume builder before selection Sunday, because otherwise, it means win the conference tournament or else.
Tonight, there are two huge match-ups, both of which are aired on television, and both are must-wins if any of the four teams is looking for an at-large bid.
First, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2, Illinois State heads to Niagara. Both teams are trying to inch closer to first place in their respective conferences and it will surely be a battle of the defenses.
They each outscore their opponents by about nine points per game, giving up about 65 points per game while scoring in the seventies. And both have valuable senior leadership and strong guard play, key components that will make this game interesting.
Although Siena does have a strong case for a potential at-large bid, if they lose here, their chances are essentially gone. This is arguably the most important game for either team to win as we near conference tournaments and the season-ending losses.
Players to Watch: Tyrone Lewis #2 G (Niagara, 16.4 PPG), Osiris Eldrige #0 G (Illinois State, 14.0 PPG)
My Prediction: In what will be a closely fought game, I like Illinois State to come through on the road. It will be a battle of will and in my opinion, Illinois State needs it more.
Then, at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU, Virginia Commonwealth faces Nevada. The Wolfpack, although talented, lack senior leadership on a team that is primarily led by freshman forward Luke Babbitt, who averages 16.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
They currently stand at 15-10 and 8-4 in the WAC, but they really do not have a strong case for an at-large bid. Their only hope is to win the conference tournament, and that would likely mean upsetting Utah State, but the future is bright for this team. VCU on the other hand, has had some minor slip ups in the unpredictable CAA, but now sit in first place, alone.
They have an overall 19-8 record led by point guard Eric Maynor, who scores 22.9 a game, which ranks tenth nationally. But, due to the lack of a RPI top 50 win, don’t present a strong case for an at-large bid either.
Winning the conference tournament is essentially a must for both of these teams, but a win here could give either team a much needed boost before the final push.
Players to Watch: Luke Babbitt #5 F (16.2 PPG), Eric Maynor #3 G (VCU, 22.9 PPG)
My prediction: VCU comes through in yet another close game because of Maynor’s hot shooting.
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