Cleveland State Vikings at Butler Bulldogs (-6, 132)
Can the Bulldogs rebound against one of the most surprising teams in the country? Not if Vikings guard Norris Cole has anything to say about it.
The senior guard is doing just about everything for the Vikings this season, averaging 20.9 points, 4.9 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. In two games against Butler last season, he averaged just 14 points and shot a meager 8-of-24 from the field. But this summer he spent dozens of hours shooting jumpers to up his scoring average nearly four points per game more than last year.
"We go as Norris goes," CSU head coach Gary Waters said.
And Butler has done little to recapture last season’s magic. The team is just 10-5 and is coming off an absurd, 76-52 loss at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, snapping the team’s 22-game Horizon League win streak. In the loss, Panthers sophomore guard Kaylon Williams posted a triple-double – 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists – as Butler had no answer for him.
If Butler can’t shut down Williams, how will it have any answer for Cole? It won’t.
Pick: Cleveland State
Evansville Purple Aces at Missouri State Bears (-16)
The Bears have a pretty simple key to maintaining momentum after a 24-12 season last year: better communication on screens.
Missouri State demonstrated their improved defensive ability earlier this week when the underdogs rallied from a 29-20 halftime deficit at Creighton to post a 67-55 win over the Blue Jays. Coach Cuonzo Martin credited the team’s halftime adjustments and commitment to call out and switch on screens as the team’s biggest reason for picking up the big road win. Not a bad accomplishment for a team that went 1-17 in Missouri Valley League action the past two years.
"In years past, we had never gotten over the hump in road games," center Will Creekmore said. "We had defensive breakdowns and little things that killed us.
Today we were solid with key stops and executing on plays down the stretch."
Overall, the Bears are ranked 53rd nationally by allowing an average of just 62.3 points per game.