Beyond the Scoreboard: College picks – WCU’s Hunter goes after milestone win

Beyond the Scoreboard: College picks – WCU’s Hunter goes after milestone win
Larry Hunter has won 699 games as a college basketball coach. (Photo courtesy of Western Carolina).

Saturday night could be historic in Cullowhee, as veteran coach Larry Hunter goes after his 700th victory when the Catamounts (10-13, 5-5) host Samford (4-7, 8-17) in a 7:30 p.m. start on ESPN3.

Now 68, Hunter started his career with a bang in 1976 at Division III Wittenberg (Ohio), becoming the first coach in the history of the NCAA to win a national championship in his first season.

He was very successful there (305-76, .801 in 13 seasons) and then made the jump to Division I at Ohio University (204-148, .579 from 1989-2001), where he won a Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament title and took a team to the NCAA tournament.

He came to Cullowhee in 2005 and brought stability to a program that had employed seven coaches in 19 seasons prior to his arrival.

Hunter would be the first to tell you that he would have liked to have won more with the Cats (190-223 in his 13th year), but he has produced four winning seasons, a pair of Southern Conference division titles and reached the SoCon tournament title game twice, a play or two away from going to the NCAA tourney.

For a program that finished over .500 just twice in 24 years before he showed up, Hunter has been a solid figure in WCU athletics and ranks second on the school’s all-time list of wins behind Jim Gudger (311-222, .583 from 1950-69).

So here’s a toast to a job very well done to Larry, whether he gets the win Saturday night or later this season. Western by 4.

Presbyterian (3-8, 10-14) at UNC Asheville (15-9, 8-3), 4:30 p.m. – Here come the Bulldogs, who have roared into a tie for first place in the Big South Conference race with Radford with four straight wins.

The latest victory came thanks to a career effort from MaCio Teague, who drilled seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 36 points in a 64-57 win at Campbell.

The Bulldogs are going after their 20th straight win at Kimmel Arena against the Blue Hose, a perennial second-division team in the league. Asheville by 11.

Notre Dame (13-9, 3-6) at N.C. State (15-7, 5-4), noon on ESPN – Some bracket prognosticators have penciled the Wolfpack into the Big Dance after wins against Arizona, Duke and North Carolina, but the program’s history has been to follow up big wins like last Saturday in Chapel Hill with flat efforts in the next game or two.

Since a 30-point blowout loss at Notre Dame a month ago, N.C. State has won five of seven.

The fighting Irish have gone in the other direction, losing six straight after some significant injuries to their two best players. N.C. State by 5.

Pittsburgh (8-15, 0-10) at No. 19 North Carolina (16-7, 5-5), 8 p.m. on MY 40 - Looking for a soft place to land after a skid of three straight losses, it doesn’t get any easier in ACC play than a home game against the worst team in the league.

The Tar Heels rank as one of the worst defenses in the country against 3-pointers, a number that blew up after allowing a total of 30 long-range bombs in the last two games vs.N.C. State and Clemson.

The white flag is waving in Pittsburgh, where a 10-game losing streak includes an offense that has scored 57 points or less seven times. North Carolina by 13.

No. 20 Clemson (18-4, 7-3) at Wake Forest (9-13, 2-8), 2 p.m. on Fox Sports Carolinas - Tied for second in the ACC race with Duke, the Tigers are on pace to make the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2011, coach Brad Brownell’s first season in Clemson.

The Demon Deacons, buried in 14th place in the conference, snapped a seven-game losing streak

Wednesday with a 76-72 win vs. Florida State. Clemson by 6.

No. 4 Duke (19-3) at St. John’s (10-13), noon on Fox – The Blue Devils tune up for Tuesday’s rivalry showdown at North Carolina with their final non-conference matchup of the regular season.

How good have the Duke freshmen been? Their 30 double-doubles this season have already set a school record and Marvin Bagley III is on track to become the first first-year player ever to lead the ACC in scoring and rebounding.

St. John’s is 0-11 in Big East Conference play but has been playing tough against a rugged schedule, with eight losses by seven points or less. Duke by 7.

Last week 3-2 overall and against the spread. For the season 23-6 overall, 18-11 against the spread.

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