I. WKU Ends Nation's Fourth Longest Winning Streak at Denver, 71-70
Denver had won sixteen in a row at home and twenty of their last twenty-one games at Magness Arena before the Toppers came to town last evening. Despite some poor first-half shooting from superstar guards Anthony Winchester and Courtney Lee, the Tops stayed close behind the efforts of Benson Callier, Ty Rogers, and Boris Siakam. WKU used an 8-2 spurt to close the first half to tie the score at 38.
Boris Siakam was a difference-maker in this game. He played only ten minutes but stacked up 7 points on 3-of-3 shooting (including a wicked throwdown in some Pioneer's grill) and 5 reb (4 offensive) without committing a turnover. Despite the offensive efficiency, his greatest contribution was his energy. In both halves, the Toppers got a shot of adrenaline when he entered the game. In fact, the Tops got good minutes from fellow PF's Daniel Emerson and Mike Walker as well. When WKU gets production from the 4-spot, things generally go in the Toppers' favor.
The Tops ended a long home-winning streak and survived a monster night from Denver center and defending Sun Belt POY Yemi Nicholson (28 pts, 17 rebs, 7 blocks). They also survived a fireworks display from Threeland from DaShawn Walker (5-5, 21 total pts). They also survived Denver's collective J.J. Redick impersonation from the FT line (16-17 as a team). They survived being outscored from said FT line by 12 points on the road (16-4). They survived an off shooting night from Courtney Lee on the road (7-20). How? By winning the overall board battle 37-36 and by fetching 19 offensive boards. This allowed the Tops to get up 70 field goal attempts to Denver's 54. That is a sign of good, old-fashioned desire and hustle, most notably from Boris Siakam. And that's what it takes to win tough road games. The Tops take on North Texas tomorrow night while Denver plays at Middle Tennessee.
II. Last night's GOI
--at California 65, Stanford 62. As I said yesterday, Stanford has a long way to go for an at-large. I'm liking the Bears' chances more and more.
--Ohio State 94, at Michigan 85. Buckeyes are one of four Big Ten teams at the top with three losses.
--at Pittsburgh 57, West Virginia 53. Backyard Brawl goes to Panthers.
--George Mason 73, at VCU 61. Patriots are a real at-large contender and in the driver seat by one game in the CAA.
--at Washington 87, Southern Cal 71. Huskies got it done in a game that they needed.
Sun Belt Slate
--FIU 58, at UALR 55. Disaster for the Trojans. WKU wins a tough roadie and they lose at home to FIU. Trojans are done in the East race.
--Western Kentucky 71, at Denver 70. See above.
--Middle Tennessee 62, at North Texas 60. All of the sudden, the Blue Pegasi have won four in a row to claim second place outright in the Belt East.
--UL-Lafayette 59, at South Alabama 51. Cajuns have turned it around a bit and have now ripped off three in a row.
--at Troy 62, New Orleans 58. Troy roared back in the second half, closing on a 21-7 run to end the game. This is after they had executed a 12-0 earlier in the second half only to fall behind by 10 late in the second half before catching fire to close it out at home.
Just for kicks, here is what the Sun Belt Tournament bracket would look like as of today.
III. Weekend Forecast (5 inches of snow predicted in Bowling Green, KY! For you Northerners, that's a big deal for us in southern KY.)
Clashes of the Titans
--LSU at Florida. Gators had a letdown against South Carolina after smacking Kentucky; this one would make amends. This would stake LSU as a major national player.
--Iowa at Indiana. Hoosiers need this one to calm the storm; Iowa is coming off a puzzling loss to Northwestern.
--UConn at Seton Hall. This might be the most intriguing game of the weekend. The SHU has not been in this kind of position for a good while.
Bubble Boys (And you want to be my latex salesman?!)
--Southern Illinois at Creighton. Both are OK at this point, but SIU can't afford too many losses with those ugly sub-100 RPI losses and that (gulp) D-II on their resume.
--Stanford at Gonzaga. The Cardinal wiffed at Cal last night, so an upset is needed here to keep their slim hopes alive.
--Bucknell at Holy Cross. This is a big one. If the Bison are going to be derailed in the Patriot, this is the most likely place for it to happen.
--Wichita State at Indiana State. This is my weekend upset pick.
--Oral Roberts at IUPUI. ORU can pull into a tie for first with IUPUI if they win. An IUPUI win makes them very difficult to reel in.
--Iowa State at Kansas. Who knows what the Cyclones will do. KU is rockin' and chalkin' all over creation right now.
--Duke at Maryland. Always interesting and the Terps are playing for their NCAA lives.
--Alabama at Mississippi. Tide must be careful if they want to stay in the bracket.
--Missouri State at Northern Iowa. We've seen this before: the Bears with a chance to grab a signature win. Rarely happens (only one Top 50 RPI win).
--Wisconsin at Penn State. No more fooling around for the Badgers. They need to win this game convincingly to compound the interest on their win over Indiana.
--George Washington at Saint Joseph's. One of the few real chances for GW to be tripped up. SJU's hopes could be revived with a win here.
--Mississippi State at South Carolina. Gamecocks are trying to climb onto the Bubble.
--Kentucky at Vanderbilt. It has huge implications for both. A Vandy loss probably buries them and a UK loss puts the Cats squarely back on the Bubble.
--Old Dominion at VCU. Lose here and the Monarchs are likely done in the CAA title race.
--UCLA at Washington. Huskies can solidify themselves a bit with a big win over the Bruins.
Sun Belt Slate
--Savannah State at UALR (non-conference). UALR needs a "get healed" game after the home loss to FIU last night.
--FIU at Arkansas State. FIU looking to sweep the Arkansas swing.
--Denver at Middle Tennessee. Denver is 1-10 on the road and MTSU has won 4 straight.
--North Texas at Western Kentucky. NT has lost four in a row, while WKU has won 11 of its last 12.
--UL-Lafayette at Troy. Red hot Cajuns travel into a tough venue.