Big Monday was always one of the best days of the college basketball season. This was especially true in the Old WAC when BYU and Utah played the late night game on ESPN. Or perhaps it was BYU-San Diego State or Utah-New Mexico. Arena’s filled to capacity after dark in a nationally broadcast game.
Well, Big Monday is back in the WAC. Sort of.
Seattle U hosts New Mexico State in a battle for first place at the Redhawk Center. The game is to be broadcast on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. MT. So, it’s a Big Monday in the sense that it is a massive game for both squads. At 11-2, both Seattle U and New Mexico State are tied atop the WAC standings. A win for either side gives them a leg up in the regular season crown race with three games to play.
So, in that sense, it is Big Monday all over again in the Western Athletic Conference. Let’s take a look at each team and what to watch for on Big Monday.
Aggies Lead Wire-to-Wire in First Meeting
In the first meeting between the two league-leaders, there was no drama. Teddy Allen scored four of the first eight points for the Aggies who led 8-0 two and half minutes into the contest. And Seattle never recovered. Allen went off for 33 points and pulled down 11 boards in the 79-64 win in which Seattle U never held a lead. In fact, the game was never tied either. Johnny McCants also had a double-double in the win for the Aggies.
New Mexico State held Seattle to 18.8 percent from beyond on the arc. Darrion Trammell had 26 points and Riley Grigsby had 10 but no other Redhawk was in double figures. Cameron Tyson was just 2-7 from the floor and 0-3 from 3-point land to finish with four points.
New Mexico State actually made more free throws (24) than Seattle did field goals (23) in the dominating win.
For Seattle U…
Which Redhawks team do we get on Monday at the Redhawk Center? Is it the same team that hit 21 3-pointers at UTRGV on Wednesday? Or the Redhawk squad that had to hit a 3-pointer with three seconds to play to fend off California Baptist on Saturday? Against UTRGV on Wednesday, Cameron Tyson tied the program-record for 3-pointers in a game with nine. On Saturday against CBU, Tyson hit three more 3-pointers giving him 94 on the season. The Houston transfer has been a key component as the Redhawks have won 21 games for the first time since 2008-09. And a lot of that is due to Tyson. But preseason Player of the Year selection Darrion Trammell has played well. Riley Grigsby has been reliable for the most part. And the Redhawks have some size with Brandton Chatfield who transferred over from Washington State in the offseason.
The biggest question of the night for Seattle is which role player steps up on Big Monday? Kobe Williamson has shown glimpses. Vaz Pandža has had moments. Viktor Rajković had shown moments where he can go off. Emeka Udenyi plays a vital role for interim head coach Chris Victor. So, which one of the role players steps up tonight?
Seattle averages 76.5 points per game while holding opponents to 66.2 points. The Redhawks are 8-0 at the Redhawk Center and a combined 16-1 between the Redhawk Center and Climate Pledge Arena. Something has to give, right?
Key Player – Cameron Tyson
There is no ignoring it. When Cameron Tyson shoots it well or gets loose, Seattle can beat anybody. Tyson is averaging 15.7 points and shooting just under 40 percent from distance. In Seattle’s two conference losses, Tyson averaged 9.0 points and hit just two 3-pointers. And in three of his last five games, Tyson has failed to reach double figures. That has to change on Big Monday if Seattle is to have a chance to knock off New Mexico State.
For New Mexico State…
Okay, the Aggies got the dominant win over GCU on Saturday. Revenge is a dish best served and Teddy Allen made sure that was the case playing in his hometown for the first time in his career. Allen went for 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists to lead the Aggies to a dominating win over the Lopes. It is the third straight double-double for Allen. And at 20.0 points per game, Allen leads the WAC in scoring and now has eight straight games with 20-plus points.
But the Aggies are not one-dimensional. Sir’Jabari Rice can light it up at any given moment. Johnny McCants has been really good of late. Donnie Tillman went for 10 points against GCU on Saturday. And Mike Peake has been phenomenal coming off the bench for Chris Jans. According to Jans, Saturday night may have been the most complete game the Aggies have played all season.
So, at 11-2 in WAC play and in control of its own destiny, what does New Mexico State do for an encore on Big Monday? When the Aggies lost to Sam Houston by 25 on Jan. 20, the Aggies reeled off five straight wins before falling at Utah Valley on Feb. 12. Now, after that second conference loss, New Mexico State has won two straight. Will the Aggies make it three straight on Big Monday? A win gives the Aggies a big leg up in the regular season race with three games left on the schedule.
Key Player – Sir’Jabari Rice
Rice will get the assignment of guarding Darrion Trammell. There is no which way around that. Rice has drawn Trammell, Jovan Blacksher Jr. twice, and Taran Armstrong among others recently. With his length, competitiveness, preparation and high I.Q., Rice has the trust of his head coach when it comes to defending some of the best guards in the WAC. But, Rice also has to score the ball a little bit on Big Monday. Rice had six points, seven assists and four rebounds in the first meeting. And on Saturday, Rice had 14 points against GCU. If Rice gets to double figures tonight, the Aggies should have no problem leaving the Pacific Northwest with a win.
Line per Draftkings Sportsbook
New Mexico State -3, Over/Under 144
ESPN+ at 8 p.m. MT.
For NMSU fans – listen on Zia Country 99.5 FM
For Seattle U fans – listen on KXSU 102.1 FM