Queens (NC), Lincoln Memorial top the best Saturday of the DII basketball season
This may very well be the most action packed Saturday of DII basketball's regular season. A South Atlantic Conference showdown featuring two, undefeated top five teams, as well as two other Top 25 battles are amongst a bevy of conference rivalries and important games.
While there are plenty of games to watch on Saturday's slate, let's take a look at five that are must-sees.
No. 5 Lincoln Memorial at No. 1 Queens (N.C.)
This will be the second time this season that Lincoln Memorial faces the No. 1 team in DII basketball. The first time was on December 19, facing Northwest Missouri State. The Railsplitters walked away on the losing side, 70-56. Much like that matchup, this will be a rematch from a big 2017 postseason game, where Lincoln Memorial defeated Queens 82-68 in the Southeast Regional final.
Lincoln Memorial is back on track, however, winners of its last three games. The Railsplitters have outscored their opponents by an average of 32 points per game since that December loss. Emanuel Terry has been on fire of late, averaging 21.6 points and 12.3 rebounds per game over that span.
The Royals are cruising so far, winners of their first 16 games of 2017-18. In fact, they are the only school at any level of collegiate basketball to start the past three seasons at least 10-0. For their efforts, they were awarded the first No. 1 ranking in the history of the program.
Queens won't blow you out of the sky with a lot of points, averaging 83.3 per game. But the Royals defense is one of the best in the land, Top 20 in DII with 66.8 points allowed per game, and No. 6 in DII with a 16.4 scoring margin. There is no one person to shut down, as everyone in the starting five can score. Todd Withers leads the way, scoring 14.1 points per game while Mike Davis, Ike Agusi and Jalen Alexander all score double-digit points a game.
Both of these teams are 8-0 in the SAC with good Carson-Newman and Wingate teams right behind them. This game is the first big step in claiming the conference title.
No. 3 West Liberty at Concord
This isn't a matchup of Top 25 teams, but it will be an exciting matchup nonetheless. This Mountain East Conference battle pits the top scoring team in DII against the top scoring player.
West Liberty hasn't missed a beat under new head coach Ben Howlett. The Hilltoppers continue to be a high-tempo, fast-scoring offense, leading DII with 113.4 points per game. They have a deep and balanced attack with All-American Dan Monteroso leading the way, averaging 18.6 points per game. Dalton Bolon has already made his impact felt as a freshman, second on the team in scoring (16.3) and tops in rebounds, pulling down 6.1 boards a night.
The Hilltoppers do let up points, and that's what Tommy Bolte scores by the boatload. Bolte is leading DII in scoring with 32.2 points per game, nearly five better than the next closest shooter. The Mountain Lions nearly upset No. 19 Wheeling Jesuit Thursday, losing in the final seconds by two points. This should be a game of catch-me-if-you-can, with plenty of scoring action to keep you entertained from tip off to the final buzzer.
No. 14 Arkansas-Fort Smith at No. 23 Dallas Baptist
When two Top 25 teams clash, it is easily Game of the Week material. When they are also competing for first place in their conference, the stakes get that much higher.
Dallas Baptist is 13-2, 3-1 in sole possession of first place in the Heartland Conference. The Patriots have the second-best scoring offense in the HC, dropping 86.0 points per game. That's thanks to a balanced attack that sees all five starters scoring in double-digits. Boy Van Vilet leads the way with 15.5 per night, but keep an eye on Chandler Jacobs. The true freshman has been in and out of the starting lineup, and a successful spark in whatever role he plays, second on the team in scoring (14.4) while third on the team in both rebounding (4.8 per game) and assists (3.2).
Arkansas-Fort Smith is 14-2. While not as deep in players that put up points, the Lions can still score, averaging 84.2 per game. They also allow just 70.9 per night. Darrion Strong-Moor is the leader of the Lions offense, putting in 16.1 points per game. Ladarius Coleman (7.8 rebounds per game) and DaVaunta Thomas (7.3) crash the boards to give the Lions a 42 to 34 average rebounding edge on the season, best in the Heartland. Dallas Baptist, however has the best rebounding defense in the HC, so this battle could be won on the glass. The Lions are coming off a loss to St. Edward's and find themselves in a three-way logjam at 3-2 right behind DBU.
This is a nice little rivalry brewing. The two teams split the regular season last year before UAFS won the conference tourney with a 68-59 win over DBU in the championship game. The two meet again on February 3, but this is still a big win for whoever comes out on top.
Valdosta State (RV) at No. 18 Christian Brothers
This Gulf South Conference is tough at the top. West Florida got off to a historic start, but Valdosta State and Christian Brothers are right there with them at the top of the standings. This game has tremendous GSC postseason implications.
Christian Brothers got out to a red-hot start, reeling off 11 wins in a row. Perhaps what was most impressive was that the Bucs started the season 8-0 on the road, earning their first Top 5 ranking since 2004. They have lost a couple of games this month and have fallen down the charts, but this is still very much a team that can make some noise. Jeff Larkin (19.7/5.4/3.8) and Adam Dieball (16.7/5.8/6.4) lead the charge. This is a huge game for the Bucs who host No. 15 West Florida on Monday.
Valdosta State is coming off an inspired 2016-17 season that saw them add nine wins from the season prior and return to the NCAA postseason. Despite losing four senior starters, the Blazers are right back in the mix, sitting at 13-2, 6-1 tied atop the GSC. They are right outside the latest NABC Top 25, receiving 12 votes, and are still a Top 25 team in the D2SIDA poll. A win here can boost them back up the rankings.
Beau Justice is the lone returning starter and he leads the offensive charge scoring 19.9 points per night. Last year's sixth man, Jimmy Kodet has transitioned into full-time starter and scores 8.2 points and grabs 5.0 rebounds per game. You better be ready to run when you play the Blazers. They are seven deep in players averaging at least eight points per game, and are tops in the GSC scoring 95 points per game, fourth-best in all of DII.
Hawaii Pacific at Point Loma
ESPN heads to the west coast in its third installation of the 2017-18 DII Showcase.
Hawaii Pacific is 9-5 overall, sitting at 4-2 in a PacWest Conference that is very crowded at the top. Point Loma is right in front of the Sharks, sitting at 12-6, 6-3 in conference. This game however, features the PacWest's best scoring defense of Point Loma against one of the most prolific players in DII this season.
Those that watch this Saturday's showcase will be introduced to HPU's Niksha Federico. The senior guard is leading the PacWest in scoring, dropping in 24.2 points per game, sixth-best in DII. He's also the conference's top rebounder, ripping down 11.2 rebounds per game, tenth best in DII. He also leads the team in steals, and if he could pass to himself, he'd likely lead in assists as well.
This will be one of the tougher matchups for Federico this season. Point Loma allows just 65.5 points per game, tops in the PacWest and 21st in DII. This matchup alone makes this one of the more intriguing games of Saturday's slate.