The first Mid Major Play of the Day takes us to Moscow, Idaho as the Idaho Vandals (1-21) take on the Long Beach State Beach (6-12 last year). Idaho was HORRIBLE last year posting the worst record in school history. This was just one bad year in a weird covid season right? Wrong! The Vandals are actually 14-72 overall in the last 3 years. They are always a bottom feeder in the Big Sky and I don’t expect much to change for them this year. Idaho lost their only two double digit per game scorers in Damen Thacker and Scott Blakney. This is going to force all the scoring pressure to 6’4 Sophomore Guard Gabe Quinnett. Quinnett averaged 9.6 PPG last year and shot 43.9% from 3. The problem here is he appears to be more of a spot up shooter. I am not sure his game will be able to take the next step with all eyes on him, especially not game 1. I know I have pointed out how bad Idaho was last year, but they were 338th in offensive efficiency and 349th in defensive efficiency. This is bad and cannot be corrected easily.
Long Beach State had a weird season last year with many covid cancellations and could never really get on track. With a whole offseason to prepare, I think they will be able to make some noise in the Big West. The Beach lost some great scorers from last year as 3 of their top guys are no longer with the program. However, they do return a very experienced bunch with 5 of their main players being Seniors. Two of these Seniors that are expected to take on a much larger role this year are Forward Joe Hampton and Guard Colin Slater. If the name Joe Hampton sounds familiar, it’s because he was one of the stars of the Last Chance U Netflix documentary featuring ELAC. Hampton last year at Long Beach averaged 10.3 PPG and 4.1 RPG in 21.7 MPG. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he could massively increase these numbers. Slater only played 9 games last year in a backup role, but still managed to average 8.9 PPG, 1.6 RPG, and 1.2 APG in 22 MPG. He will be teamed up in the back court with breakout Sophomore Guard Jadon Jones. As a Freshman off the bench last year, Jones managed 8.4 PPG and 3.6 RPG in 25 MPG. He was a knockdown shooter averaging 50% FG% and a 44.4% 3P%. When you factor in the historic struggles for Idaho, the departures for Idaho, and the experience/talent returning for Long Beach State, I have no choice but to hammer Long Beach State -7.5.
The Pick: Long Beach State -7.5
The second Mid Major Play of the Day takes us to Honolulu, Hawaii with the Northern Colorado Bears (11-11) facing off against the Pacific Tigers (9-9). This is a game that is a part of the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic. After winning 23 games in 2019, Pacific really fell off a cliff last year going 9-9. Now they are going to have to try to bounce back without their leader Coach Damon Stoudamire. He left the program this past offseason to take a job with the Boston Celtics. In his 5 years at Pacific, Stoudamire really turned this program into a solid WCC competitor. Assistant Leonard Perry is set to take over HC duties and there is a little uncertainty on what to expect from him. His last HC job was back in 2006 for Idaho. The Tigers lost two of their 3 top scorers from last year in Daniss Jenkins (12.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG) and Broc Finstuen (11.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG). They do return 2 main players from last year in Forward Jeremiah Bailey and Guard Pierre Crockrell. Bailey averaged 11.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 1.1 APG in a starting role last year. Crockrell started as well averaging 10.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, and 4.1 APG. Some of the missing offensive production will looked to be picked up by 3 transfers from bigger conferences. They have Guard Nick Blake from UNLV, Forward Sam Freeman from Minnesota, and Guard Alphonso Anderson from Utah State all coming in and expected to play major roles. I think this Pacific team has potential, but early in the year with a new coach and players makes me a little skeptical.
Northern Colorado was also a team that disappointed last year. After finishing 2nd in the Big Sky Conference in 2019, they dropped all the way to 7th. Some of the issues were covid stoppages, but the main issue I think was they had a brand new coach. Similar to Pacific’s situation this year, Northern Colorado replaced their successful HC with an Assistant. The good news is now second year HC Steve Smiley has more experience and is returning all 5 starters from last years bunch. With all the transfers in this years college sports, this is extremely rare. The Bears are led by preseason Big Sky Player of the Year Bodie Hume. The 6’8 Guard averaged 15.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, and 1.2 APG, while shooting nearly 40% from 3. Hume will be a matchup nightmare for Pacific. Hume is also joined by 3 other double digit scorers from last year in Guard Daylen Kountz, Guard Matt Johnson, and Forward Kur Jockuch. Kountz averaged 14.1 PPG, Johnson averaged 13.0 PPG to go with 3.0 APG, and Jockuch averaged 10.1 PPG to go with 8.0 RPG. These guys can all dominate a game at any moment and I expect them to only get better in 2021. The Bears also brought in Dru Kuxhausen from McNeese State. He managed to put up 11.8 PPG for them last year. I believe the coaching experience, all the returning guys, and most importantly Bodie Hume will be too much for Pacific to handle tonight.
The Pick: Northern Colorado Pickem