Thursday night scouting report
St. Mary's and Gonzaga each feature WCC Player of the Year candidates
Butler and Cleveland State staged three tight battles last season in the Horizon
Big South leader Coastal Carolina tackles Radford big man Arisiom Parakhouski
Giving you a rundown on the top three games on tonight's college basketball slate:
1. No. 17 Gonzaga (12-3, 1-0 WCC) at St. Mary's (15-2, 2-0), 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Welcome to the mid-major edition of the scouting report, where three compelling matchups trump those from the power conferences this evening. St. Mary's was expected to take a step back after the departure of point guard Patrick Mills and three other starters from last year's NIT team, but the Gaels have done anything but thanks to big man Omar Samhan. The 6-11 senior is the co-favorite for WCC player of the year with Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin. Samhan is averaging 20.8 points and 10.9 rebounds for St. Mary's, whose only two losses are to Vanderbilt and USC. Gonzaga also lost four starters, but the Zags keep rolling along and enter with an RPI of 18 thanks to wins over Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Illinois and Oklahoma. This is only Gonzaga's third road game after playing seven neutral-site non-conference games.
2. Cleveland State (7-10, 3-2 Horizon) at Butler (12-4, 5-0), 7 p.m.
The coaches and AP voters differ widely on their perception of Butler, with the coaches having Butler No. 22 and the AP voters placing Butler 14th in the 'Also Receiving Votes' category (essentially 39th). As SI's Seth Davis pointed out Monday, Matt Howard has struggled this season for Butler and is a big reason why the Bulldogs were not able to put together more impressive non-conference wins. Gordon Hayward has picked up some of the slack, but if Butler wants to win its fourth straight Horizon, Howard will need to start playing like the league player of the year he was projected to be. Cleveland State gave Butler fits last year, losing by two twice and winning the Horizon final by three. Look for another tight one tonight. Norris Cole has averaged 16.7 points per game during the Vikings' current three-game win streak.
3. Radford (8-6, 4-1 Big South) at Coastal Carolina (16-2, 6-0), 7 p.m. ET
The Big South conference tournament is held on the higher seed's homecourt, so the regular season standings are pivotal for NCAA tournament hopes. Radford features big man Artsiom Parakhouski, a 6-foot-11 native of Belarus who is among the top three in the country in points, rebounds and field goal percentage. He has held his own in matchups with Duke and Kansas this year and has scored 28.7 points in his last three Big South games. Joseph Harris (6-foot-5) and Chad Gray (6-7) will be charged with slowing down the big man for Coastal. The Chanticleers have excelled against a very soft schedule, but they do have four conference road wins in the books. If Coastal can get a win over league favorite Radford, it will take a step towards bringing the Big South tournament to Conway, S.C.
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