College hoops takes a bit of a backseat the week before Christmas, with Bowl Games, NFL Playoff pushes, and the NBA Christmas Day feast, but for those of us jonesing for some quality college hoops, there are a few decent games hidden (well) off the radar tonight.
The Diamondhead Classic semifinals are today, and while the tourney lacks the star power of a few years ago when it had defending National Runner-Up Butler and a Klay Thompson-led Washington State team, there are a few pretty good matchups worth tuning in to watch. Let’s focus on the first semifinal, a nice high-major/mid-major matchup that would mean a good quality win for each team’s tourney resume.
Akron Zips vs. Iowa State Cyclones (Total: 152.5)
Iowa State is off to one of the best starts in school history at 9-0 and ranked #13 in the country. They have a few quality wins under their belt, so it isn’t just an inflated ‘beat up on a bunch of patsies’ 9-0 that you occasionally see from big conference schools without elite pedigrees. They have wins over Michigan, Iowa, @BYU, George Mason and Northern Iowa.
Meanwhile, Akron is off to a good 6-2 start, but there isn’t a ton on the slate to get excited about. They have losses to Middle Tennessee and St. Mary’s by 7 and 22 points respectively, and their best wins are all decent at best: Oregon State, Detroit, Coastal Carolina, Oral Roberts. Those are decent wins, but it is unlikely any will be Top 50 wins at the end of the year. If Akron wants to have a shot at being better than a #15 seed should they win the MAC, this is the type of game they need to win.
It is a neutral floor, so they dodge the frantic fever of playing in Ames, but I still think Iowa State is way too talented for them. This is a legit Top 4 seed come March, and a team that can legitimately challenge Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor in an underrated Big 12 conference. I would still give the nod to the ACC and Big Ten, but the Big 12 isn’t far behind this season and could put just as many teams in the NCAA Tourney as the two aforementioned big boys.
Iowa State has a diverse offensive attack, getting double-figures scoring from all five starters, including 18 a game from Melvin Ejim and 15.3 from the tough do-everything Gorges Niang. They sputtered a little yesterday against George Mason, but I expect their Hawaii jet-lag to have worn off today and for them to put it on an overwhelmed Akron squad. Give me the Cyclones notching their 10th straight win to open the season for the first time in school history, and doing so convincingly.