Big 12, ACC (and Evansville!) lead ESPN+ weekly viewer’s guide

In the second week of the new season on ESPN+, Auburn survived South Alabama with a last-second shot on the road and Vanderbilt and Richmond played a thrilling, high-scoring overtime game.

Before transitioning to Feast Week and numerous nonconference tournaments, we’ll preview the next seven days of college hoops on ESPN’s streaming service.

On the slate this week is a Missouri Valley Conference squad coming off a massive upset and plenty of high-level guard play.


1. East Tennessee State Buccaneers at No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, Big 12 Now on ESPN+)

With the parity that has seemed to rule the sport early in this campaign, no ranked team is safe — not even in a home arena as difficult to play in as Allen Fieldhouse.

While Kansas is filled with immense talent, East Tennessee State can counter with a roster that features 11 seniors and juniors and uses balance offensively — three scorers in double figures — to complement how well-coached they are under Steve Forbes. The Buccaneers, who have won 24 or more games in every season since Forbes took over in 2015, could pose a serious threat, especially as the Jayhawks seek out their best lineups and continue to get their freshmen seasoned.

It’s always entertaining to watch a national title contender, but add in a sneaky, quality opponent, and this could turn into a tougher-than-expected assignment for Bill Self & Co.


2. Nevada Wolf Pack at Davidson Wildcats (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)

Talented guards will be on display at John M. Belk Arena as Lindsey Drew and Nevada square off against the two-headed combo of Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellan Grady.

After averaging just 8.1 points last season, Drew has really hit his stride under new head coach Steve Alford. The senior has taken the reins of the offense, as he already has produced more games with 20-plus points this season than he’d had throughout his entire collegiate career.

Meanwhile, it’s not a coincidence that Davidson has lacked success early while Gudmundsson and Grady have endured slumps. Gudmundsson, the defending Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and junior guard Grady combined to shoot 4-of-17 in a 10-point loss to Auburn last week. A bounce-back outing from both is certainly expected soon.


3. SMU Mustangs at Evansville Purple Aces (Monday, 7 p.m. ET)

The Purple Aces were picked eighth in the MVC preseason coaches’ poll and have one senior on their roster. That didn’t matter last week in Lexington, though, as Evansville stunned the college hoops world by knocking off then-No. 1 Kentucky.

So what do the Purple Aces do for a follow-up? They face another tall task — this time in their own building — against SMU. DeAndre Williams and Kansas transfer Sam Cunliffe will look to maintain their offense production, but the key to this game will be on the glass.

The Mustangs are a physical rebounding team (39.7 per game) with three players averaging six or more boards, including Feron Hunt’s 9 per outing. The Purple Aces don’t have a player who stands over 6-foot-9, but that didn’t seem to stop them against Kentucky’s long, athletic frontcourt.


4. Western Michigan Broncos at Oklahoma State Cowboys (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, Big 12 Now on ESPN+)

In what could stand as a valuable résumé booster in March, Oklahoma State pounded Charleston 73-54 on the road, sending an early-season shock wave through the Big 12 that the Cowboys are for real. With Thomas Dziagwa’s lights-out shooting, the emergence of Yor Anei and Isaac Likekele, and the experience of Cameron McGriff and Lindy Waters III, the Cowboys are a dangerous sleeper team.

On the flip side, Western Michigan has proved itself to be a scoring machine, as the Broncos are averaging 84.8 points. Michael Flowers (22.5 PPG) and Brandon Johnson (17.3 PPG) lead a roster that was picked to finish fifth in the MAC West Division’s preseason coaches’ poll.

Viewers should be in for an entertaining battle between a Big 12 team and a high-scoring unit with nothing to lose.


5. Nicholls Colonels at Rhode Island Rams (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)

He stands only 5-10, but Fatts Russell is one of the most entertaining players in the A-10 to watch. Rhode Island’s junior guard is capable of popping off for 41 points — as he did against Saint Joseph’s last season — or limiting elite guards with his defensive energy — as he did against Trae Young in the 2018 NCAA tournament.

Russell could have the Rams in the mix at the top of their conference; however, they first must navigate their way through a grueling nonconference schedule.

Rhody’s latest task comes against a dangerous Nicholls squad that took Illinois to overtime and upset Pittsburgh on the road. Although coach Austin Claunch’s group was tabbed to finish 11th in the Southland preseason poll, the Colonels have yet another opportunity to prove they are bound to greatly surpass those expectations.


6. Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs. Davidson Wildcats (Charlotte, Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET)

Yes, it’s Davidson again, but this time the Wildcats will face an ACC school that desperately needs a signature victory. Danny Manning has won only 11 games in each of the past two seasons despite having strong success on the recruiting trail.

Wake has talent once again, with veteran Brandon Childress and four-star talent Chaundee Brown leading the charge, but it has yet to prove it’s bound to rise in the conference standings.

With Olivier Sarr and Isaiah Mucius improving, will Wake Forest finally show its full potential? Although a win over Davidson won’t completely right the Deacs’ ship, it would be a step in the right direction before facing a daunting schedule that includes Charleston, Penn State, NC State and Xavier before Christmas.


7. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles at VCU Rams (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)

It seems as if VCU is on this list every week, but that just shows how entertaining Mike Rhoades’ team is. After sneaking past North Texas, the Siegel Center received another treat of a game as the Rams topped No. 23 LSU behind junior Marcus Santos-Silva, who makes this early-season matchup vs. FGCU a game to watch.

Santos-Silva is averaging 12.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, showing a soft touch around the rim and effective rim protection. The Rams’ offense mainly runs through the scoring of Marcus Evans and De’Riante Jenkins, but Santos-Silva’s presence gives the program a back-to-the-basket big-man cog that has been missing since the graduation of Mo Alie-Cox in 2017.

On the other side, the Eagles are far from their old Dunk City days under Andy Enfield but feature quality sophomore point guard Zach Scott.


8. Southern Illinois Salukis at Murray State Racers (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET)

After winning 28 games and reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament, Murray State lost star guard Ja Morant to the NBA and Shaq Buchanan to graduation. Although the Racers certainly don’t have the upside and talent they had with Morant in the fold, they still were projected to finish second in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason coaches’ poll behind Belmont this offseason.

Future matchups against Evansville and Missouri State might be more revealing for Matt McMahon’s bunch, but this is still a chance to check in on the progress of a program without its dynamic point guard.

Tevin Brown is the player to watch as the sophomore guard is a sharpshooter from the perimeter, an efficient scorer and a developing playmaker. He is flanked by another talented bucket getter in KJ Williams and senior big man Darnell Cowart, who has struggled to start the new season.


9. Rider Broncs at UMass Minutemen (Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET)

Although UMass forward Tre Mitchell is developing into a freshman star, the spotlight of this game should be on a Rider team looking to make amends for 2018-19. The Broncs were one of the favorites in the MAAC — with a veteran roster and a balanced attack — but fell short of expectations, finishing only one game above .500.

Stevie Jordan and Dimencio Vaughn return, giving coach Kevin Baggett an intriguing duo that could help the Broncs rise to their first NCAA tournament since 1994. Before talking Big Dance, though, they must deal with a Minutemen unit anchored by the powerful frontcourt of Mitchell and Vanderbilt transfer Djery Baptiste, plus talented scorers such as T.J. Weeks and Carl Pierre.

How will Rider handle one of its more critical nonconference matchups on the road? It all depends on which team shows up — the one from last season or the one it was expected to be.


10. Siena Saints at Yale Bulldogs (Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET)

After Jalen Pickett’s 46-point outing in a three-OT game vs. Quinnipiac last year, MAAC fans always must keep an eye out for him, as you never know when the Siena guard is about to drop a monster outing again. Pickett will likely bring his A-game in a November litmus test against Yale.

Although the Bulldogs were selected third in the Ivy League preseason poll, don’t be fooled. The conference is very competitive with Penn already having knocked off Alabama, Harvard looming as it awaits the return of its best players and Brown riding the Brandon Anderson show.

If Siena wants to prove its sixth-place ranking in the MAAC preseason poll is underselling the Saints, Pickett will have to rebound from a 4-point outing against Harvard in the first of a three-game road trip.

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