Year ago, Tuesdays during the college basketball season were referred to as Super Tuesday. ESPN had featured games and it was a day that nearly every college basketball fan looked forward to. Well, it’s not quite Super Tuesday for WAC Hoops. But, the leagues top two teams take the floor against underwhelming opponents. Let’s take a look at what to expect from these Tuesday evening games.
New Mexico State vs. Benedictine Mesa – 7:30 p.m. MST on Facebook Live
After securing a place to practice at the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa, New Mexico State played its first game on Sunday. Yes, the Aggies scraped by with an 83-77 win over NAIA foe Arizona Christian. But, a win is a win. Clayton Henry had 20 points and five rebounds in his return from an injury-riddled 2019-20 season. Donnie Tillman chipped in 15 points and four rebounds. And preseason WAC Player of the Year Jabari Rice had 14 points and nine rebounds. Rice also had a career-high six offensive boards in the contest.
“The game unfolded the way it did,” head coach Chris Jans said. “It was choppy at first. We had some silly turnovers. Some bad, poor shot selection. And they just kept fighting, scratching and clawing … and they made some shots and got real confident. And that’s the worst thing that can happen if you’re trying to beat someone is them to feel really good about themselves … I think in the end it’s going to be really good for us. We’ll have so many teachable moments tomorrow and for a long time.”
New Mexico State has a quick turnaround with the Tuesday contest against Benedictine Mesa. And Sunday was going to be a day that Jans said would be spent looking at film and addressing some of the issues the Aggies faced in game one. Some of those issues include making easy shots especially for UNLV transfer Donnie Tillman. In fact, Tillman was pretty critical of himself for missing some ‘bunny shots’ against Arizona Christian. Other issues hampering the Aggies from game one was the lack of depth at times.
Jabari Rice played 36 minutes. Clayton Henry was on the floor for 30 minutes. C.J. Roberts, Donnie Tillman and Johnny McCants all played 20-plus minutes. Evan Gilyard only played 19 minutes due to foul trouble. Jans is hoping other guys can step up and play better on Tuesday night. Wilfried Likayi had nine points and five rebounds in his Aggie debut. Big man Will McNair struggled, finishing with four points and no rebounds in 12 minutes on the floor.
“Depth is not a strong suit for us right now,” Jans said. “Hopefully, it will be later, but it’s not going to be for the next few weeks. We have to understand that and we gotta be careful. We’ve gotta substitute properly. We’ve gotta make sure multiple guys know multiple positions … it (win over ACU) was a great learning experience. I don’t think our guys panicked and that was a good sign.”
Tuesday night is the first matchup between New Mexico State and Benedictine Mesa. The Redhawks have also played GCU and lost 94-63 to the Lopes on Saturday night. In 2019-20, Benedictine Mesa finished 14-15 overall and 6-8 in league play.
New Mexico State is looking for its 21st straight win dating back to the 2019-20 season. One person that Chris Jans says needs to stay out of foul trouble is point guard Evan Gilyard. Since the UTEP transfer took the floor for the Aggies against Arkansas – Pine Bluff on Dec. 18, the Aggies haven’t lost a game. And the win streak won’t be in jeopardy on Tuesday night. Clayton Henry will continue to play well. Donnie Tillman will finish at the rim. And Jabari Rice will keep attacking the glass. Plus, Johnny McCants is a mismatch in the paint. Aggies will win comfortably Tuesday night and improve to 2-0 in this 2020-21 pandemic-crazy season.
Grand Canyon vs. Mississippi Valley State – 7 p.m. MST on ESPN3
The Lopes are 4-0 all-time against perhaps the worst team in Division I. Mississippi Valley State is ranked 357 out of 357 teams on the KenPom rankings. The Delta Devils are 0-3 to start the 2020-21 season and haven’t scored more than 62 points in a game while allowing 118.3 points per game to their opponents.
Big men Alessandro Lever and Asbjørn Midtgaard should have big games as the Delta Devils don’t have the size on the interior to match the Lopes. At 6-9, Donalson Fanord and Quoiren Walden are the tallest players on the Mississippi Valley State roster. Midtgaard and Lever stand at 7-feet and 6-11, respectively.
Both Lever and Midtgaard sit atop the scoring column for the Lopes. Lever is averaging 15.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while Midtgaard is averaging a double-double with 13.0 points and 11.5 points per game.
GCU is off to a 2-0 start under first-year head coach Bryce Drew. The Lopes beat Grambling, 69-53, on opening night and then beat up on Benedictine Mesa, 94-63, on Saturday. Following the win against Benedictine Mesa, Drew had this to say about Midtgaard.
“The last three years of college, he would just run out and ball screen and roll and not get many post-up opportunities,” GCU head coach Bryce Drew said. “I thought he was really on good balance on his shots tonight.”
In the win over Benedictine Mesa, GCU was able to give the freshman trio of Chance McMillian, Liam Lloyd and Jayden Stone a few more minutes. McMillian had the best night of the three, finishing with 11 points on 4-5 shooting including a 3-4 performance from beyond the arc.
“Chance really played well,” Drew said. “He can really shoot the basketball. Once he got that first one to go down, his confidence you could see start to grow. What I liked is that he took good shots … He deserved to get all those minutes and he was a big reason why we were able to pull away in the second half.”
WAC Freshman of the Year Jovan Blacksher Jr. continues to fill the stat sheet. Blacksher JR. is averaging 7.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game. GCU is on a game three of a seven-game home stretch to start the 2020-21 season. And the Lopes should improve to 3-0 under Bryce Drew with a dominating win on Tuesday night at GCU Arena.