Now that final exams are done for the term up here in Canada, the weekly edition of Sleeper Saturday is back in full force, bringing three under-the-radar games to the attention of college basketball fans everywhere.
These games aren't the games that feature the marquee programs in the country (if you're looking for a big-time match-up, Kentucky and North Carolina should satisfy your appetite). Below, there are three games from around the NCAA landscape that are sure to provide fans with excitement all throughout their Saturday.
2:00pm: St. Bonaventure Bonnies (6-1) @ Pittsburgh Panthers (5-3)
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies take their talents, and their five-game winning streak, on the road to Pittsburgh for their toughest test of the season. The Bonnies have scored wins over all of the other teams from the Big 4 in New York this season (Canisius, Niagara, and Buffalo), en route to a 6-1 record on the season. The Bonnies haven't been in contention in the Atlantic 10 since the Andrew Nicholson days, but this year may be the year they get back into contention.
Leading the way is another big man, Youssou Ndoye, and talented guards in Dion Wright, Marcus Posley, and Andell Cumberbatch. Ndoye averages a double-double per contest (11.2 points, 11.0 rebounds), and the guards all average at least 13.0 points per contest. With these four players at the helm, there's no reason why St. Bonaventure can't move to 7-1 on the year with a win over the Panthers.
The Panthers won't make things easy for the Bonnies, and they always seem to be a thorn in people's sides in the ACC. This year should be no different. While the Panthers enter the weekend with three losses on their resume, they have performed rather well on their home floor. All of their losses have either been on a neutral floor (San Diego State) or on the road (at Indiana, at Hawaii).
This isn't the most talented roster that the Panthers have had in a few years, but they will still be a tough team to take down. Led by Michael Young (12.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and James Robinson (12.6 ppg, 5.6 apg), the Panthers will still be a handful for the Bonnies. With so much talent on either side of the floor, this is a game that is worth looking.
2:05pm: Murray State Racers (5-4) @ Evansville Purple Aces (7-1)
This game is a battle of talented mid-major programs who are both well on their way to strong seasons in their respective conferences.
The visiting Murray State Racers are still one of the favorites to win the Ohio Valley Conference, despite their 5 - 4 record. They overcame a three game losing streak at the start of the season, and now find themselves mired in a three-game winning streak to push them back over the .500 mark. They are coming off a strong win over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, which will give them confidence heading into their game against the Purple Aces.
With Bob Cousy Award candidate Cameron Payne leading the way from the point, and Jarvis Williams controlling things in the paint, the Racers are capable of winning on any given night. Payne leads the way with 17.8 points and 4.9 assists per contest, while Williams averages 15.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest. Don't count out the Racers when they take on the Purple Aces.
The hometown Evansville Purple Aces are one of the more underrated mid-major programs in the entire NCAA, and they have shown that they are a team to be reckoned with. They enter the game against the Racers on a four-game winning streak of their own. They have taken down talented mid-major programs throughout their great run this season, including perennial Ohio Valley powerhouse Belmont.
Led by big man Egidijus Mockevicius and guard D.J. Balentine, the match-ups between Payne / Balentine and Williams / Mockevicius will be a ton of fun to look. Balentine leads the team in scoring, averaging 20.5 points to go along with 3.5 assists per contest. While his stats have dropped a bit from last year, he has the Purple Aces soaring to new heights. Add in Mockevicius' 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, and the Purple Aces have one of the top duos in the country.
Tune into this game for some great mid-major basketball action!
7:30pm: Navy Midshipmen (3-7) @ Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks (4-7)
This game makes the list because of the run that the Hawks are on over the past couple of weeks, and because of Navy's recent performance against VMI and their opening game performance against the Michigan State Spartans. Don't expect this game to be a high-scoring affair, as Navy (59.4 ppg) and Maryland-Eastern Shore (58.3 ppg) both rank in the 300s in terms of points scored per game in the NCAA.
The Midshipmen are coming off an impressive home win over the high-powered VMI Keydets, 84-66, for their third win of the season. In their opening game, they gave the Michigan State Spartans everything they could handle, but ultimately fell in the end. Navy has the potential to score a win over the Hawks, but it'll all depend on which team shows up. If we get the Navy team that showed up against Michigan State, they should win. But if they play the way they did against Saint Francis and Penn, the Hawks have a great chance to win.
UMES finds themselves in a nice streak of strong play after going 1-6 through their first 7 games. The Hawks are winners of three of their last four contests, but they could have easily won all four, if it wasn't for a five-point loss to North Carolina Central.
After a dismal start, the Hawks have turned things around, and now look like a team that has a realistic chance of winning the MEAC title. The Hawks are on a bit of a roll, so look for them to keep it up on their home floor against the Midshipmen.
With 91 games on tap for Saturday, basketball fans everywhere are likely to find something that will satisfy their appetite for some good basketball. There are talented, mid-major games on tap that will provide just as much excitement and provide viewers everywhere with closely contested games for a Saturday of looking basketball.