While they're likely a long shot to get back into contention for the WCC regular season title, Dave Rose's BYU (18-6, 6-3) need to make sure they at the very least finish no worse than fourth in the conference. With the setup for the WCC Tournament being what it is the top two seeds receive byes to the semifinals while the third and fourth seeds get a bye to the quarterfinals.
Thursday night presents the challenge of dealing with the program that's set the standard in the WCC for more than a decade. Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1) needs a win to make sure they at least remain a game behind Saint Mary's in the loss column to ensure that their meeting with the Gaels on February 9th truly means something in the standings.
Mark Few has led the Gonzaga program to eleven straight WCC regular season titles, and despite their current place in the standings this is the matchup that many looked forward two when it was announced that BYU would be joining the league. BYU will need solid guard play if they're to defend the Marriott Center, and that's been an issue of late.
UCLA transfer Matt Carlino (12.4 ppg, 4.4 apg) is third on the team in scoring but shot selection has been an issue at times, and he shooting just 25.0% from the field over the last four games. Craig Cusick and Anson Winder will also see time on the perimeter as both have the ability to run the show, but they aren't the offensive threats that Carlino can be when on.
Gonzaga counters with a first-year player of their own in Canadian Kevin Pangos (13.3 ppg, 3.6 apg), who leads the Bulldogs in minutes and assists while also ranking second in scoring. But while he shoots 42.5% from the field on the season Pangos has made 33.3% of his shots over the last four games, and even more importantly he's turned the ball over four times in three of those contests. The Bulldogs have won four straight anyway, and their depth on the perimeter has been a reason why.
In addition to Pangos Gonzaga can call on classmate Gary Bell Jr., sophomore David Stockton and senior Marquise Carter, who all bring something different to the table. Bell, who is averaging 9.9 points per game, has been one of Gonzaga's best perimeter defenders for much of the season. Stockton, whose father was a pretty good point guard for the Utah Jazz, averages just 4.7 points per game but is second on the team in assist-to-turnover margin while Carter is third on the team in assists.
The matchups inside are the ones that will garner the most attention and rightfully so, as both teams call on interior tandems for scoring. BYU brings Brandon Davies (14.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Noah Hartsock (17.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) to the table, and Gonzaga will counter with Elias Harris (13.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and Robert Sacre (11.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg). BYU also has a wing in senior Charles Abouo who has a pro build and can score either inside or on the perimeter. Michael Hart and Guy Landry Edi aren't called on to score much but they'll need to perform well defensively and keep Abouo in check.
Gonzaga also has a reserve in Sam Dower who is averaging nearly nine points per game off the bench. Gonzaga's big men are a big reason why the Bulldogs rebound 35.9% of their missed shots, but with BYU limiting opponents to an offensive rebound percentage of 25.5% this is one area to keep an eye on. BYU averages five more possessions per game and has the better efficiency margin, and if they can do this against Gonzaga the Cougars will have a good shot of handing the Bulldogs their second league loss of the season.
In the ACC, Seth Greenberg's Virginia Tech squad looks to breathe some life into NCAA tournament hopes that are practically gone at this point with a win over #5 Duke. Erick Green's been banged up in recent weeks and Dorenzo Hudson hasn't been the most consistent player for the Hokies, but playing Duke in Blacksburg tends to fire up both the players and fans at Cassell Coliseum.
Duke didn't play particularly well in the second half of their win over St. John's, so expect a spirited effort from the Blue Devils. Mason Plumlee has played very well inside, and that could continue on Thursday night. Duke needs consistent play from their guards to both win the ACC and possibly win a national title, objectives that are still on the table at this point.
Undefeated #9 Murray State hosts Southeast Missouri State in a matchup of the top two teams in the OVC, with the Redhawks two games up on the pack for second place. Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole have been one of the country's best perimeter tandems and the return of Ivan Aska was an important development for the Racers. Also of note are matchups in the NEC (Robert Morris visits Wagner), Pac-12 (Arizona looks to rebound from losing Kevin Parrom for the season in Berkeley against California) and WAC (Utah State visits Nevada with the hope of avenging their loss in Logan last month).
Top 25 Games
7:00 PM (5) Duke at Virginia Tech (ESPN)
8:00 PM Southeast Missouri State at (9) Murray State (ESPNU)
9:00 PM South Carolina at (11) Florida (ESPN2)
10:00 PM San Diego at (16) Saint Mary's
NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Nebraska at Northwestern (ESPN2)
7:00 PM St. Francis (PA) at Mount St. Mary's
7:00 PM Quinnipiac at Fairleigh Dickinson
7:00 PM James Madison at Old Dominion
7:00 PM Canisius at Iona (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Samford at Appalachian State
7:00 PM Wright State at Butler
7:00 PM Charleston Southern at Campbell
7:00 PM Charleston at Elon
7:00 PM Presbyterian at High Point (MASN)
7:00 PM Gardner-Webb at Liberty
7:00 PM Bryant at LIU Brooklyn
7:00 PM Southern Virginia at Longwood
7:00 PM Sacred Heart at Monmouth
7:00 PM Citadel at UNC Greensboro
7:00 PM Winthrop at Radford
7:00 PM Central Connecticut State at St. Francis (NY)
7:00 PM UNC-Asheville at VMI
7:00 PM Robert Morris at Wagner (MSG)
7:00 PM Chattanooga at Western Carolina (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Detroit at Valparaiso (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Youngstown State at Illinois-Chicago
8:00 PM Middle Tennessee at North Texas
8:00 PM Utah Valley at Texas-Pan American
8:00 PM Tennessee Tech at Austin Peay
8:00 PM Eastern Kentucky at Eastern Illinois
8:00 PM Marist at Manhattan
8:00 PM Southern Utah at North Dakota State (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Morehead State at SIU-Edwardsville
8:00 PM Oral Roberts at South Dakota State
8:00 PM Jacksonville State at Tennessee-Martin
8:00 PM IPFW at Western Illinois
8:05 PM Florida Atlantic at South Alabama
8:05 PM Denver at Louisiana-Lafayette
8:05 PM North Dakota at Houston Baptist
8:30 PM Florida International at Troy
8:35 PM Eastern Washington at Northern Arizona (FCS)
9:00 PM Oregon State at Colorado
9:00 PM Idaho State at Montana State
9:00 PM Oregon at Utah
9:00 PM UCLA at Washington (ESPN)
9:00 PM Louisiana-Monroe at Arkansas State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Portland State at Weber State
9:05 PM Sacramento State at Northern Colorado
10:00 PM Arizona State at Stanford
10:00 PM Idaho at Fresno State
10:00 PM Portland at Santa Clara (ESPNU)
10:05 PM USC at Washington State
10:05 PM Cal Poly at Cal State Fullerton
10:05 PM Utah State at Nevada
10:05 PM UC Santa Barbara at Cal State Northridge
10:30 PM UC Davis at UC Irvine
10:30 PM Pepperdine at Loyola Marymount (FSN PT)
11:00 PM Arizona at California (FSN)
11:00 PM Pacific at UC Riverside
11:00 PM Gonzaga at BYU (ESPN2)