Winthrop at UNC-Asheville, 7:00 PM Eastern, ESPNU
New Hampshire at Vermont, 9:00 PM Eastern, ESPNU
It is Rivalry Week on the ESPN networks this week, a week of basketball games that has been built around tonight’s huge doubleheader. Apparently, most people are under the belief that the doubleheader is on ESPN starting at 8:00. We here at HoopsHD know the truth — Rivalry Week was in fact built around tonight’s ESPNU doubleheader, leading off with a key contest in the Big South between Winthrop and UNC-Asheville, followed by the “Team of the People” New Hampshire Wildcats traveling to Burlington to take on America East foe Vermont (and yes, BYU and Pepperdine will make it a tripleheader at 11:00, but the WCC is no longer Under the Radar this year).
The early game could go a long way to deciding which team wins the Big South regular season title and the right to host the conference tournament quarterfinal and semifinal rounds (and the title game if they reach it, as that game will be at the home court of the highest remaining seed). Entering play tonight, Winthrop, UNC-Asheville and Liberty are all tied atop the standings at 10-2 in league play. Winthrop (18-5 overall) has already defeated both Asheville and Liberty once this season and can clinch any two-way tie-breakers against the Bulldogs with a win tonight (as well as move a game ahead of them in the standings). Xavier Cooks was the star of the earlier win over Asheville with 19 points and 13 rebounds. The UNC-Asheville Bulldogs enter play tonight at 18-7 overall and on a 5 game winning streak. Last time out, they snapped High Point’s 6-game win streak with a 74-71 road win behind 19 points from Ahmad Thomas and 18 from Macio Teague. Another effort like that tonight could see the Bulldogs sitting on top of the conference standings by tomorrow morning.
The second game of the big doubleheader features our adopted team, New Hampshire, traveling west to the shores of Lake Champlain to take on the Vermont Catamounts. The UNH Wildcats are in desperate need of a win after dropping their last three consecutive games, including a double overtime loss at UMBC (in which they were robbed), a three point loss at Stony Brook (robbed again) and a 14 point home loss to Albany (robbed again). In fact, as we have pointed out routinely in our Under the Radar video podcasts, they have not legitimately lost a game all season and their 14-10 overall record and 5-5 conference marks should really be 24-0 and 10-0. Tanner Leissner does continue to have an amazing season for the Wildcats, including a 32 point effort in the UMBC game and a 20 point effort in an earlier loss to Vermont (another game they were robbed in!). Tonight, the Wildcats have a chance to set the record straight and pick up a huge road win against a Vermont team that is 11-0 in league play, 21-5 overall and one of our top-rated Under the Radar teams in the nation (keep an eye on Trae Bell-Haynes who scored 22 points in the earlier matchup of these two teams). Of course, the northeast is getting blasted by a snowstorm today, so if somehow the score comes out wrong for the Wildcats, then it will clearly have been the conference’s fault for having made UNH play in such bad weather. We here at HoopsHD know the truth and we will find a way to get the Wildcats dancing this year, or die trying!!!