Tahj Small and Utah Valley go on the road to face Northern Arizona Saturday. Courtesy UVU Athletics.

MBB: Saturday’s Slate is ‘Scintillating Sensational, Baby!’

“Super, scintillating sensational, baby!”

College basketball fans around the country have heard the phrase numerous times in their lives. And if you haven’t heard Dickie V ever use the phrase ‘super, scintillating sensation, baby’ then you are living under a rock.

But, ‘super, scintillating sensational, baby’ is a great phrase to use for the Saturday’s WAC Hoops slate of games.

Eight games are on the slate. And all eight games are against Division I opponents. The best part is each opponent is another mid-major. Two games are against Southland Conference foes. There is a big game against a Conference USA foe. Another game against a WCC foe. One game is a neutral site contest against an NCAA Tournament team. There is a Summit League foe and a Big Sky foe. And then an in-state battle against a Sun Belt opponent.

‘Super scintillating sensational, baby!’

Texas A&M-Commerce at Abilene Christian, Noon CT ESPN+

In a rare Noon tip-off, ACU hosts Texas A&M-Commerce in the Christmas Slam game at Moody Coliseum. This is a must-win for the Wildcats. ACU sits at 5-5 after Tuesday night’s loss at Kansas State. The Wildcats have two wins over Division I opponents. ACU beat Jackson State, 65-56, on opening night. And then the Wildcats beat Northern Arizona in Flagstaff on Nov. 27.

Currently sitting at 313 in the NET, the Wildcats don’t have a ton of opportunities to move the needle a great deal. At least not until WAC play. And a win over the Lions won’t necessarily move the needle too much. The Lions sit at 221 so it would be considered a Quad 4 game.

ACU’s only other Division I non-conference game is at CSU Bakersfield on Dec. 17. And that would be a Quad 3 game. So, Saturday is a must-win for Tobias Cameron, Cam Steele, Airion Simmons and company. The Lions are 4-6 overall with wins at Air Force, over Eastern Kentucky and a road win at Hawaii. A&M-Commerce is coming off a loss at Wyoming on Tuesday night.

Seattle U at North Dakota, 1 p.m. PT ESPN+

Saturday marks the first time in 10 days that Seattle U will play a basketball game. Following the Nov. 30 win over Cal State Fullerton at Climate Pledge Arena, the Redhawks got some rest. And they will need it. Dec. 10 starts arguably the most difficult stretch of its non-conference slate with a trip to Grand Forks to take on the Fighting Hawks.

North Dakota already has a win over one WAC team. The Fighting Hawks shot their way to a 67-52 win over Utah Tech on Nov. 25. So, how will Cam Tyson, Riley Grigsby, Alex Schumacher and company handle things in their first game in 10 days?

Tyson is averaging 23.6 points per game and knocking down 43 percent of his 3-point attempts. Seattle U, as a team, shoots 37 percent from distance while holding opponents to just under 28 percent.

The Redhawks are 6-1. And following the trip to Grand Forks, the Redhawks then have Oregon State (Dec. 15) and Alcorn State (Dec. 18). Following those two games, Seattle U heads to the Diamond Head Classic to face Utah State on Dec. 22.

So, getting a win to start the most difficult stretch of the non-conference slate on Saturday would be a good place to start.

Utah Valley at Northern Arizona, 2 p.m. MT ESPN+

What will Utah Valley do for an encore after Wednesday night? Justin Harmon, Blaze Nield, Aziz Bandaogo and the Wolverines beat crosstown rival BYU pretty handily. Will that go to their head? Or will they use it as a stepping stone to finish the non-conference slate in a strong way?

Saturday’s game at Northern Arizona is the second leg of a home-and-home series between the Wolverines and Lumberjacks. Utah Valley won the first matchup, 73-69, in Orem on Nov. 12. Trey Woodbury had 22 points in the win while GCU transfer led NAU with 14 points. Utah Valley also had trouble stopping Jack Wistrcill who had a career-high 14 points in the loss.

Here is something interesting. In the first meeting, Utah Valley shot 48 percent from the field in the win. NAU shot 37 percent. Utah Valley hit 10 3-pointers. NAU hit 11 3-pointers. But NAU won the rebounding battle, which led to more opportunities on the offensive side of the floor. NAU took 67 shots while Utah Valley took just 52.

Keep an eye on that Saturday. And keep an eye on Utah Valley’s focus. Coming off a big rivalry win, sometimes teams have a let down.

North Texas vs. Grand Canyon, 3:30 p.m. MT ESPN+

The Jerry Colangelo Classic at the Footprint Center features a really enticing matchup. Conference USA regular season champ North Texas comes to Phoenix to take on the WAC preseason favorite GCU on Saturday afternoon.

And for GCU, this is a must-win situation. Especially if the Lopes want to move the needle in the NET rankings. North Texas is 5-2 overall and has a NET ranking of 69. GCU is coming off a home loss to Loyola Marymount on Wednesday night and sits at 130 in the NET.

Will Jovan Blacksher Jr. return for the Lopes? Blacksher Jr. has missed the past two games. GCU beat Wyoming in Laramie without Blacksher. And then on Wednesday, the Lopes fell behind and couldn’t quite get over the hump in the loss to Loyola Marymount.

So, that is the big question on the minds of everyone. Rayshon Harrison has been really good of late for the Lopes. So, if Bryce Drew can get his dynamic duo back, the Lopes have a shot at a really good win on Saturday.

scintillating sensational
Can GCU bounce back in a big way on Saturday against North Texas at the Footprint Center? Courtesy GCU Athletics.

Cal State Fullerton vs. Southern Utah, 5 p.m. MT at Michelob Ultra Arena

Southern Utah is an interesting team. And I am not sure we have seen the best of the T-Birds in 2022-23. SUU lost on Opening Night at New Mexico. And then went toe-to-toe with Kansas on Nov. 18. At the North Shore Classic, the T-Birds loss by double digits to Texas State. And the following day, SUU beat former Big Sky foe Sacramento State in overtime. In one of its few Division I non-conference home games, a bad turnover with just under 10 seconds to play cost the T-Birds in an 86-83 loss to Montana State.

Back-to-back wins at Idaho State and then at home against West Coast Baptist have the T-Birds back in the win column. Now, on Saturday in at the Jack Jones Hoopfest in Las Vegas, the T-Birds have a chance at arguably their best win of the non-conference slate.

But Saturday might be the most scintillating sensational game of the season for the T-Birds.

Cal State Fullerton won the Big West Tournament in 2021-22. But the Titans haven’t quite been the same in 2022-23. Cal State Fullerton is 3-5 and sits at 212 in the NET rankings. Either way, this is almost a must-win for Todd Simon’s group. Okay, being honest with ourselves, every game is a must-win.

But, with just two non-conference games remaining after Saturday, the T-Birds will look to finish off the slate strong considering they start WAC play at New Mexico State on Dec. 28.

 Texas State at UT Arlington, 6:30 p.m. CT at Dickies Arena

In-state games are super, scintillating sensational, baby! And here is the first of three in-state games on Saturday’s slate.

People may doubt the UT Arlington men’s basketball team. Sure, there are a lot of new faces. And sure, they haven’t beat many of the Division I opponents on their non-conference slate. But, there is going to come a time when the Mavericks will figure out how to win close games.

And I think that time is going to come sooner rather than later.

Greg Young’s squad went toe-to-toe against North Texas on Tuesday night but just couldn’t get over the hump. At LSU a week ago, it was the same thing. Perhaps playing right down the road at Dickies Arena on Saturday evening could be the trick.

Aaron Cash, Kyron Gibson, Shemar Wilson and the Mavericks host Texas State in another in-state game. It is part of the Simmons Bank Showdown and will be played in Fort Worth at Dickies Arena.

With a West Coast road trip looming in 10 days, a win over an in-state foe would be a great way to go into the trip. But, the Mavericks are going to have to be more efficient on offense. UTA has scored 60-plus points in just three Division I games. Sure, UTA has been solid defensively. But, if they can score at a higher rate, this Mavericks squad will win a lot of games.

UTRGV at Houston Christian, 7 p.m. CT ESPN+

Another ‘scintillating sensational’ in-state game.

Justin Johnson and UTRGV are looking to finish out the non-conference slate on a high note. Courtesy UTRGV Athletics.

Is it crazy to think that UTRGV could go into its WAC opener on Dec. 29 at Utah Tech with a winning record? Well, the Vaqueros have that opportunity. At 5-4 overall, UTRGV has three games remaining on the non-conference slate. Two of those come against Southland Conference foe Houston Christian. The other contest is against non-Division I opponent Houston Christian during finals week next week.

The Vaqueros currently sit at 277 in the NET rankings. And while Houston Christian sits in the sub-300 range, we have seen that road wins can have a significant impact on the WAC seeding system. So, winning on the road on Saturday evening is vital for UTRGV to stay in the hunt to be eligible for the WAC Tournament in March.

Justin Johnson and Will Johnston have been really good for the Vaqueros. It’s simply a matter of other Vaqueros stepping up in order for UTRGV to have success. Ahren Freeman has been good at times. Dima Zdor has done some good things. But, it’s about consistency and UTRGV will need that playing in a true road game on Saturday night.

California Baptist at San Diego, 7 p.m. PT Fox Sports AM 1350

Here is the third ‘scintillating sensational’ in-state game of the slate.

It’s kind of wild that the CBU Lancers have left or will leave the state of California just one time in the non-conference slate. That is the benefit of having a ton of college basketball teams in the same state. One thing that has to happen on Saturday night at Jenny Craig Pavilion is the Lancers have to score.

If you have been paying attention, CBU has struggled offensively thus far in 2022-23. CBU has scored 70-plus points just twice in its first 10 games in 2022-23. The Lancers beat Washington, 73-64. And CBU got a 77-61 win over Central Michigan on Nov. 26.

And on Saturday night, if the Lancers don’t score 70-plus points, it might be a challenging night. The San Diego Toreros can score the basketball. San Diego averages nearly 80 points per game and shoots over 45 percent from the field.

Sure, CBU has been solid defensively in 2022-23. The Lancers hold opponents to 60 points per game and just 27 percent from 3-point land. But, they have to score the basketball. CBU is coming off a 64-52 win over Weber Sate. And it was redshirt freshman Scotty Washington who provided a spark offensively in the second half. But, CBU was shot just 29 percent from distance in the win. That has to be better on Saturday night if the Lancers are to improve to 7-4 with two non-conference games remaining.

The slate is ‘super, scintillating sensational, baby!’

About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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