A number of races continue to heat up but on Saturday it switches briefly to a critical non-conference matchup.
Saint Mary’s and Creighton meet in the ESPN Bracketbusters and the Gaels are in a much more desperate situation for a win. Their best RPI win to date is BYU twice but it looks more and more like a solid win as opposed to a “good” win.
Creighton would be a “good” win and boost the resume of Saint Mary’s. Must win? Yes.
Back to the conference slate: Gonzaga could wrap up the top seed with a win. San Francisco, Portland, and Pepperdine are separated by a game. San Diego is trying to keep pace with Santa Clara.
Let’s take a look at the matchups for Saturday:
Creighton (22-6, 11-5 Missouri Valley) at Saint Mary’s (23-5, 12-2), ESPN, 3 p.m.
This game will likely make or break the season for Saint Mary’s. The Gaels are still in a battle for the NCAA Tournament and need to get a quality win over a RPI Top 50 team. This would be that. Although, Creighton will be a handful. The Bluejays are led by All-American candidate Doug McDermott, who is averaging 22.5 points and not only does he score but he is efficient. McDermott is shooting 55 percent from the field, 47 percent from three, and 86 percent from the line. As a team, Creighton is second in the nation in field goal percentage. This All-American will need to be matched by the Cousy Award candidate Matthew Dellavedova. The Gaels will also need a boost from someone else. Brad Waldow, Mitchell Young, or Beau Levesque will need to be that someone else. It is a must win for Saint Mary’s and without it, they may be NIT bound.
Predicted winner: Creighton
Santa Clara (19-9, 7-6) at Portland (11-18, 4-10), CSNCA, ROOT Sports, TWC SN, 2 p.m.
The Broncos could do no worse than Wednesday night at Gonzaga, right? Santa Clara’s 42 points against Gonzaga were the fewest the team had ever scored against the Bulldogs. Maybe the extra day off will help against the eighth place Pilots. But Portland has been playing well of late. They have won three of their last five games and it has been behind the secondary production from guys not named Ryan Nicholas. Portland had four players in double figures in their win over San Diego on Thursday, including a game-high 18 points from Kevin Bailey.
Predicted winner: Portland
San Diego (13-15, 6-7) at Gonzaga (26-2, 13-0), ROOT Sports, 4 p.m.
San Diego needs to keep pace with Santa Clara but the Toreros’ loss at Portland put a wrench in their plans. They now need to play catch-up and they need to do it against a Gonzaga team that might be playing its best basketball right now. The Bulldogs held Santa Clara to 42 points and at one time led 40-11. Mike Hart has been huge for Gonzaga and his impact has come on hustle plays and offensive rebounds. He has given Gonzaga multiple extra possessions in the last couple of weeks and it has broken the backs of Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara. San Diego will need to contain him, among others, to limit the number of looks Gonzaga gets.
Predicted winner: Gonzaga
Pepperdine (12-14, 4-9) at San Francisco (12-15, 5-9), CSNCA, TWC SN, ROOT Sports, 6 p.m.
This game means a lot for both teams. The two are separated by a half a game and only one game separates San Francisco and Portland, who currently sits in eighth place. Mark Tollefsen got his first career start on Thursday and took advantage of the opportunity. The redshirt freshman scored 11 points in the first half and hit his first five shots. But the Dons needed a layup from Cody Doolin with 0.5 seconds to get a win at LMU. Pepperdine has had all week to rest up for this game and should come in prepared for USF. Jordan Baker and Lorne Jackson have continued to carry the Waves offensively and that should be no different on Saturday.
Predicted winner: San Francisco
Loyola Marymount (8-19, 1-13) at Cal Poly (12-12, 8-6 Big West), 7 p.m.
LMU has lost some tough games. San Diego and San Francisco have recently beat LMU at the buzzer in Los Angeles and they are close but just not close enough. Maybe a test outside of the conference will be just what LMU needs. The Lions are 7-6 out of the WCC. Cal Poly’s leading scorer Chris Eversley has not played since Feb. 9 after suffering a leg injury. He is averaging better than 15 points per game and is the only Mustang averaging better than 10 per contest.
Predicted winner: LMU