A lot has changed since the first conference games in December, including some major player news that will, in all likelihood, impact what happens when the league teams battle each other again. Here’s how the week’s games shape up. All games ET and on ESPN+.
Thursday, December 28th
Oakland at Cleveland State, 7pm: The Golden Grizzlies didn’t pull out a win against Toledo nor get a chance at upsetting either Michigan State or Dayton as part of their remaining four non-conference games, though they did easily take down Eastern Michigan. The Vikings, on the other hand turned dropped a pair of games against St. Mary’s and Kent State, thanks to flat first halfs in each, then turned around to upset Bradley on the road and defeat Western Michigan at home. This league contest, hosted by CSU this time around, will, in all likelihood, feature a battle between the team’s two stars, Trey Townsend and Tristan Enaruna.
Friday, December 29th
Detroit Mercy at IUPUI, noon: While these two teams took very different paths to get back to the league slate, they’ve ended up in the same spot: Not only at the bottom of the conference standings, but also the bottom of the NET rankings. The Titans’ roster makeup has had the consistency of rice pudding, with new players getting swapped out on a regular basis, with the recent loss of their star player Jayden Stone adding to the mess. The Jags, on the other hand, have had the same personnel in place, but haven’t overcome nagging issues on the glass or with the three-point shot. This is the best chance, though, for Detroit Mercy to finally get into the win column for the first time in 2023-24. Otherwise, there’s no telling when that first win will come.
Wright State at Green Bay, 1pm: The Raiders only played on league game in December, where they scored over 100 points in a win over IUPUI. That level of scoring is not likely to happen against the Phoenix, whose defense has become far stingier in their first year under Sundance Wicks. Green Bay, on the strength of the play of Noah Reynolds, among others, proved to be a much scarier foe this year than in years past. And for Wright State to prevail, it will have to rely on both its superstar backcourt of Trey Calvin and Tanner Holden, as well as the frontcourt dominance of Brandon Noel and AJ Braun to avoid any prospect of an upset.
Northern Kentucky at Purdue Fort Wayne, 7pm: Up until the first half to the Norse’s non-league closer at St. Mary’s, this game against the Mastodons was shaping up to be one the key battles at the top of the conference standings. However, with Sam Vinson going down for the rest of the year due to a knee injury for NKU, this contest has lost a bit of its luster. That’s not to say that there still isn’t plenty of firepower at the Norse’s disposal, with Marques Warrick leading the charge. That said, Purdue Fort Wayne, which spent the non-conference slate snatching the ball away from foes at a furious clip, will look to do the same thing against an NKU squad that has one less capable ball-handler.
Robert Morris at Milwaukee, 8pm: The Panther faithful have been waiting with baited breath for the return of BJ Freeman. Without him, the remaining non-conference wins have been nail-biters. The Colonials have experienced a downturn of their own, with only a non-D1 win and a come-from-behind victory over St. Francis after dropping their first two league contests. This game could very well set the tone for the rest of the league schedule and, in the case of RMU, have serious implications for the future of the program.
Sunday, December 31st
Robert Morris at Green Bay, 1pm: This will be one of the best chances for the Phoenix to show how much they’ve improved over last season, while the Colonials will try and continue to turn around what has already been a rough campaign. Green Bay will look to get Elijah Jones involved in the paint to blunt the impact that Markeese Hastings has had for RMU. Naturally, the key match-up will be between Reynolds and the Colonials’ top dog, Josh Corbin.
Cleveland State at IUPUI, 2pm: With the Jaguars still having problems turning over the ball, the last thing they need is to come up against a foe that’s all too happy to take it from them. And yet, that’s exactly when IUPUI will be facing when it plays the Vikings. Not helping the Jags’ cause is CSU’s ability to expose another IUPUI sore spot, rebounding. The Vikings have improved in wiping the glass, and it’s bound to cause the Jaguars some major headaches.
Detroit Mercy at Purdue Fort Wayne, 2pm: One of the real issues that the Titans have had as they continue to address their volatile rotation issues is who ultimately is running the point. There’s not a lot of hope that they’ll get this question answered before facing a Mastodon squad who’s one of the best in the country at making the other team turn the ball over. To make matters worse, Detroit Mercy has been notorious for its strong first half play that eventually fades away in the second half, while the opposite has been true for PFW.
Oakland at Youngstown State, 2:30pm: The Penguins have been on a tear, winning seven straight and 10 of their last 11, including a pair of dominant league wins. What the Grizz will have to contend with in this tilt is YSU’s rotation, which, during its streaked, has morphed to suit its particular opponent. Oakland will have to find a way to change its approach to suit that approach, but that may prove difficult, particularly when the Penguins send their size in the form of 7-3 Gabe Dynes out on the floor.
Wright State at Milwaukee, 3pm: Rebounding has been a serious issue for the Panthers so far this season, with or without Freeman. So, it’s probably not helpful that they’re facing the Raiders, who will undoubtedly be seeking revenge for being ousted in the quarterfinals of last season’s conference tournament. Noel and Braun are likely to have a field day on the boards in the contest, so Milwaukee will need to figure out how to make the appropriate adjustments in the rotation to compensate in other areas on the floor.