Finals week for many schools is approaching its end, meaning that the matchups will get a little better with the best coming on Saturday. Thursday's game of import is Oral Roberts (7-3) visiting Gonzaga (5-2) in hopes of winning in front of one of the best student sections in the country. Thursday marks the 100th game that Gonzaga has played in the McCarthey Athletic Center and they've gone 92-7 in the 99 games prior, so winning will be a tough task for Dominique Morrison (16.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and company. Mark Few's team will be looking to get back on the right track at home following their loss to Michigan State on Saturday, and in order to do so Elias Harris needs to be at his best.
Harris (12.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg) was held in check by the Spartans, shooting just 2-for-11 from the field and scoring six points in the 74-67 defeat. Harris also grabbed just five rebounds and despite playing 32 minutes his impact on the game was minimal at best. With the size advantage that both he and Robert Sacre (16.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg) will have against the Golden Eagles this should be a bounce-back game for Harris. The good news for ORU is the recent return of forward/center Damen Bell-Holter, who missed five games with back spasms, and he made news Monday night with a half-court heave to beat Arkansas-Little Rock. Bell-Holter's posted a double-double in two of the last three games, and that's quite the boost to receive from a top reserve if you're head coach Scott Sutton.
ORU has six players averaging at least 7.8 points per game, with Summit League Player of the Year candidate Dominique Morrison leading the way. In the frontcourt Michael Craion (11.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Steven Roundtree (11.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg) are the team's top two rebounders, and as a team ORU out-rebounds opponents by 5.2 rebounds per game. That margin is better than what Gonzaga's put forth this season (plus-3.9), and ORU's offensive rebounding percentage (41.0%) could be a concern for the Bulldogs despite their size advantage. Gonzaga will need their guards to be effective in making plays in order to avoid the upset, beginning with point guard Marquise Carter.
Carter (7.0 ppg, 2.3 apg) is tied with David Stockton (8.4 ppg, 2.3 apg) for second on the team in assists but averages more turnovers (2.7) per game than anyone on the team. Freshmen Kevin Pangos (13.3 ppg, 2.6 apg) and Gary Bell Jr. (9.1 ppg, 47.8% 3PT) also have prominent roles in the Bulldog attack, with Pangos being the kind of shooter who can get hot at any time as Washington State found out earlier this season. The three-point line could ultimately be the difference, as ORU shoots just 30% from deep while the Zags are ten percentage points better. At the least ORU has done a good job of defending the shot as opponents shoot 33% from distance, but that's much easier said than done against a team of Gonzaga's caliber.
Also of note on Thursday's schedule are a pair of games involving ranked teams, with Missouri hosting Kennesaw State and Savannah State visiting Wisconsin. Lewis Preston, who is in his first season at the Atlantic Sun school, will look to recreate what last year's KSU team was able to do in knocking off Georgia Tech at home but this is a major test for them. As for Savannah State the goal should be to remain competent offensively, as the Badgers have flat-out embarrassed the overmatched teams they've run into this season. And if Wisconsin can get Jordan Taylor back on the right track in terms of his field goal percentage, things could get ugly at the Kohl Center in a hurry.
Top 25 Games
8:00 PM Kennesaw State at (8) Missouri (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Savannah State at (15) Wisconsin (BTN)
NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Bradley at George Washington
7:00 PM Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Akron
7:00 PM Montreat College at UNC Asheville
7:00 PM Wesley at William & Mary
7:30 PM Winthrop at Jacksonville
8:00 PM Texas Southern at Northwestern
8:00 PM Lipscomb at Murray State
8:00 PM UC Irvine at LSU (CST)
8:00 PM South Dakota State at North Dakota
8:00 PM Wentworth at Texas-Pan American
8:00 PM South Alabama at Texas A&M-CC
8:00 PM Troy at Belmont
8:00 PM Northwestern State at Louisiana-Monroe
8:00 PM Saint Mary at Nebraska-Omaha
8:30 PM Jackson State vs. SMU*
9:00 PM Oral Roberts at Gonzaga (Root NW)
10:00 PM Howard at Oregon State
10:00 PM North Carolina A&T at Saint Mary's
10:05 PM Cal State Bakersfield at Portland State