It is Saturday, December 17.
That means, that next Saturday, it is Christmas Eve.
Pretty wild to think that Christmas is upon us.
However, with that being said, the WAC Hoops Saturday slate has some key games. There are a trio of road games, some former conference foes going head-to-head, and a battle of two extremely defensive-minded coaches.
Can Sam Houston keep winning ball games? Will GCU get back in the win column? How will SFA fare in a difficult road trip to South Carolina? How many points will NAU and Southern Utah combine for at the America First Events Center? And will ACU handle the crazy blue court at CSU Bakersfield?
Let’s take a look at each game on the Saturday slate.
Sam Houston at Texas State – 2 p.m. CT ESPN+
The Bearkats come into their Saturday road trip to San Marcos at 8-2 and atop the WAC Hoops power rankings. Currently, Sam Houston sits at 23 in the NET and atop the WAC resume seeding system. The Bearkats are fresh off a 79-53 road win at Lousiana-Monroe on Wednesday night. Cam Huefner had a team-high 18 points in his first start of the season. Three other Bearkats were in double figures in the lopsided win. And Sam Houston finally woke up after halftime in the 26-point win.
Now, the Bearkats get a chance to do something two other WAC schools couldn’t do: beat Texas State. The Bobcats have wins over UT Arlington and Southern Utah. This is a position that Sam Houston has been in before when it faced Nevada on Nov. 28. The Wolfpack had wins over UT Arlington and Grand Canyon. But, the Lawlor Events Center was not good to the Bearkats in a double digit loss.
So, will things change on Saturday? If Huefner shoots it well, the Bearkats are dangerous. Let’s just be real clear…if Sam Houston, as a team, shoots the ball at a high clip, the Bearkats are a tough out. In its three non-conference games against lesser Division I opponents, the Bearkats average margin of victory is 30.3 points. And while Texas State isn’t a sub-300 NET, it is a sub-200 NET.
So, Huefner, Qua Grant, Donte Powers and the Bearkats have an opportunity. Shoot the ball well, continue to defend and get another road win. Sam Houston is already 5-2 away from Huntsville. Why not make it 6-2?
Northern Arizona at Southern Utah – 1 p.m. MT ESPN+
This battle between former Big Sky foes on Saturday at the America First Events Center might come down to who scores 100 points first. SUU averages close to 90 points per game. NAU averages close to 72 points per game. So, what will give on Saturday afternoon in Cedar City?
Tevian Jones is showing that the preseason hype is real. The senior guard is averaging 19.2 points per game and shooting a little over 40 percent from the field. Jones already has five games of 20-plus points including 28 in the season opener at New Mexico and 25 at Kansas on Nov. 18.
Harrison Butler is second on the team in scoring at 12.6 points per game. After that, it is a pretty balanced scoring attack for Todd Simon’s group.
The matchup to watch, though, will be at the point guard position. SUU sophomore Drake Allen vs. NAU junior guard Jalen Cone. Allen has started all 11 games for the T-Birds this season. And Cone is averaging a team-high 15.6 points per game for the Lumberjacks. Considering SUU has the advantage in the paint with Jason Spurgin and Parsa Fallah, the point guard matchup will be the key on Saturday afternoon.
Stephen F. Austin at Furman – 3:30 p.m. CT Field of 68 YouTube Channel
Down, but not out. At least that could be the mantra for the SFA men’s basketball team thus far in the 2022-23 season. Playing with a depleted lineup due to injuries, the Jacks are 6-4 and coming off a thrilling overtime win over Louisiana Tech on Wednesday night in Ruston.
AJ Cajuste hit the game-winning layup in head coach Kyle Keller’s return to his old stomping grounds.
Now, the Jacks will get another shot at a big win on Saturday in Greenville, South Carolina. Playing as part of the Greenville Winter Invitational, the Jacks face the Furman Paladins at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
SFA has labeled its team ‘The Magnificent Seven’. And rightly so. The Jacks are playing with just seven players right now. Jaylin Jackson-Posey is dealing with a broken hand. Jalil Beaubrun is out with a broken foot. Robbie Armbrester is not healthy as the Houston transfer is still dealing with plantar fascia. And Derrick Tezeno is out with an injury, as well.
Depleted doesn’t even begin to describe this SFA squad.
However, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ take after their hard-nosed coach and don’t make excuses. They go out and execute, put points on the board and get a stop when they need to. Cajuste and Kyle Hayman are really good off the bench for the Jacks. Day Day Hall, who is playing with a bad shoulder, is doing the dirty work all over the floor. Latrell Jossell can knock down the three ball. Roti Ware is a veteran presence that is needed during this time. And the big key is that Nana Antwi-Boasiako stays out of foul trouble. The junior forward is the biggest player Kyle Keller can put on the floor. So, if Antwi-Boasiako gets in foul trouble, SFA might be in big trouble.
Will SFA have the legs on Saturday afternoon? That remains to be seen.
Pepperdine at Grand Canyon – 6 p.m. MT ESPN+
If we are being honest, we have yet to see the full Grand Canyon squad that was picked to win the WAC in 2022-23. Inconsistencies on offense have been a problem. And that is the difficult part to swallow considering GCU is pretty darn good defensively. The Lopes are currently 7-4 overall and have lost two straight. Coming off a win on Dec. 3 at Wyoming, many thought GCU had turned the corner. A big road win without the preseason Player of the Year. That is a solid win.
But, a home loss to Loyola Marymount and a loss at the Footprint Center to North Texas squashed that thought just a bit. In both games, GCU was playing catch up. And in both games, down the stretch, GCU simply didn’t make plays. If you watched the end of the North Texas loss, you probably had the same reaction many others did: WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?
So, after a week off for finals, how will GCU respond? Especially against a Pepperdine team that has also lost two straight including a home overtime loss to UC Santa Barbara last Saturday?
Will Jovan Blacksher Jr. be the guy we knew prior to injuring his ankle? Can Rayshon Harrison continue to play at a high level?
This is a big game for GCU simply because of the expectations heading into the 2022-23 season. The Lopes were picked to win the WAC by the media and coaches. But, things have not gone as planned through the non-conference slate. And with only two games remaining, neither of which is a Quad 1 or Quad 2 opportunity, the Lopes have to win in order to head into WAC play with some momentum.
Abilene Christian at Cal State Bakersfield – 9 p.m. CT ESPN+
What is more likely on Saturday at the Icardo Center? That ACU and CSU Bakersfield combine to force 40-plus turnovers? Or that the Wildcats and Roadrunners score a lot of points?
ACU likes to force turnovers. The Wildcats forced around 20 turnovers per game in 2021-22. And thus far in 2022-23, the Wildcats are forcing 19 turnovers per game. And following an 0-3 trip to Las Vegas, ACU has played much better as of late. The Wildcats went to Flagstaff and scored a ton of points in a 10-point win over Northern Arizona. And, in a loss at K-State, ACU head coach Brette Tanner said it might have been his team’s most complete game of the season.
Well, four nights later, ACU beat up on Texas A&M-Commerce at Moody Coliseum.
It was simply a matter of the veterans figuring out that they couldn’t just show up. And the new guys buying into the culture at ACU.
Well, Saturday is the last Division I non-conference game for the Wildcats. And it comes against a physical, defensive-minded CSU Bakersfield squad. A Roadrunner squad that gives up just 58.8 points per game and forces around 14 turnovers per game.
ACU won the lone meeting between the two schools, 69-59, on Dec. 15, 2021 at the Teague Center.
We all know how important road wins are. And while it is a Quad 3 opportunity, it is an opportunity nonetheless for the Wildcats who currently sit at 251 in the NET and 12th in the WAC resume seeding system.
Other Game on the Saturday Slate
The Master’s University at Utah Tech – 7 p.m. MT ESPN+
After a brutal first half of the 2022-23 season, Utah Tech gets a bit of a break in December. The Trailblazers host a non-Division I opponent on Saturday evening at Burns Arena. At 5-5, Utah Tech was on the road nearly the entire month of November and early on in December. So, they have earned the right to finish non-conference play with four straight home games.
The Trailblazers should roll to their sixth win of the season.