College Basketball Nation: MEAC

For 33 years, LeVelle Moton wouldn’t touch the light blue bike that eventually turned rusty brown, a symbol of his pride and heartache.

To ride that bike would suggest that he’d accepted his father’s absence in his life. It was the last gift he’d given “Puffy” months after he’d abandoned the family.

Moton, the coach who led his alma mater North Carolina Central to its first NCAA tourney berth last season, was 5 when the bike reached his doorstep.

He kept it in a garage for decades until his wife finally convinced him to part with the tangible link between a fractured childhood and an improbable dream.

[+] EnlargeLeVelle Moton
Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina Central basketball coach LeVelle Moton highlighted his emergence from a tough childhood upbringing in his book "The Worst Times Are The Best Times."
Moton discussed the significance of that bike and other events in his life in a book titled “The Worst Times Are The Best Times,” co-written with journalist Edward G. Robinson III and available at theworsttimesarethebesttimes.com.

An excerpt from the book:

On my fifth birthday, my father left a bike at my door. For weeks I had talked about getting a bike for my birthday. I believe my mother communicated this to my father. ...

Without knocking or checking in, my father left this beautiful bike with a bow attached and a note with my nickname, Puffy.

I wanted to hop on that bike and ride around the neighborhood. But I resented my father for once again playing me for a fool -- coming to our door but leaving again. I couldn’t remember what he looked like. I thought if I rode that bike I would be accepting him leaving the way he had. So I never rode it. Believe me, it took a lot of willpower to stay off it, because I didn’t have another bike.

Resilience helped Moton, 40, navigate Raleigh, North Carolina's toughest streets and evolve into one of the college game’s top young coaches.

He recently signed an eight-year extension that elevated his original base salary from $100,000 to $250,000.

“Yeah, it’s official,” he told ESPN.com.

He said he wrote the book with some reluctance but eventually decided to share his tales of hardship so that others might be able to see what they can overcome.

Before he became the 1996 CIAA player of the year and the school’s head coach 13 years later, he was a kid trapped in the drug game. He and his friends robbed convenience stores and engaged in petty crime. They also helped local dealers -- although they were too naÔve to know exactly what they were involved with -- move their product through the neighborhood:

“I’d walk a package across the street to a parking lot for 10 dollars. I’d take a stroll down the block for 10 dollars. Eventually, after a few times walking across the street, I realized that I wasn’t delivering cookies.”

But everything changed the night police came to his home to question him about a murder that his buddies had committed during a burglary. Moton said he could have easily gone with that group that day but decided to stay home and watch “Good Times.”

That choice probably saved his life.

Today, he said he uses the lessons that he details in his book to teach his players about the value of good decisions. He said his background helps him reach young men (and their families) who’ve endured fatherless upbringings.

“People just want you to be real, especially when they’re giving you their most prized and precious possessions,” he said.

The light blue bike he held onto all those years was more of a message than a possession.

It drove him.

One day, Moton’s daughter, Brooke, was upset that she couldn’t ride the bike that his father had purchased for him when he was child.

So he told her the story in a way that only a 3-year-old would understand it.

“I had to bend down and tell my daughter that no Moton will ever be able to ride that bike,” he said. “Your father’s Daddy wasn’t there for me the way your father is for you. ... I just really told her my father left me and that’s why I’ll never leave you.”
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MEAC

Video: NC Central gets tourney bid

March, 15, 2014
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ESPN's Tom Hart and Stan Lewter break down NC Central's 71-62 win over Morgan State in the MEAC title game. Eagles G Jeremy Ingram led the team in scoring with 29 points
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MEAC

Ugly start for the expanded ACC

November, 21, 2013
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Well, this wasn’t the plan for the ACC.

The, um, new king of college basketball.

The early hits continued for the league on Tuesday night when NC State suffered an 82-72 home loss to North Carolina Central in overtime and Dayton topped Georgia Tech 82-72 in regulation.

The Flyers over the Yellow Jackets wasn’t a crazy outcome. Both teams are second-tier programs in their respective leagues. But NCCU beat a NC State team whose newest players were ranked the 13th best recruiting class coming into the season.

[+] EnlargeMark Gottfried
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/Getty ImagesA loss to North Carolina Central at home is a huge blow to NC State and Mark Gottfried.
We all knew NC State was a mess after Mark Gottfried lost his top four scorers and top freshman Rodney Purvis transferred to Connecticut following last season.

But NCCU completed its transition from Division II two seasons ago. A loss to NCCU -- at home -- is a big loss for a program that continues to fall from last season’s preseason perch as the favorite to win the 2013 ACC crown.

Kudos to both Dayton’s Archie Miller and NCCU’s Levelle Moton. That’s a pair of big wins for two young coaches.

But they’re a problem (potentially) for the ACC.

When Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Syracuse all announced that they were joining the ACC in 2013, it was easy to envision the ACC superseding the Big Ten as the top conference in college basketball, especially with Louisville coming in 2014.

And it’s far too early to dismiss that possibility. But it’s not the top league right now. Not even close.

The NCAA selection committee doesn’t care about conference rankings. But the Twitterverse does.

And many folks assumed the ACC would top the game’s hierarchy this year.

OK, I assumed the ACC would top college basketball in 2013-14.

But the entire conference has failed to justify the early buzz. There are far more questions than answers in the ACC right now.

Those losses by a pair of middle-of-the-pack-at-best ACC teams extended a troubling start for a league that should be on the rise. And there’s still time to get there. Plenty of time.

But the Big Ten has been praised as the nation’s best league in recent years because it has possessed both powerhouses and tough second-tier squads. Iowa won 25 games last year and went 9-9 in the Big Ten but failed to reach the NCAA tournament.

It wasn’t easy to get a win in Iowa City last year. Or Minneapolis. Or Champaign.

And when NC State, a Sweet 16 squad in 2011-12, loses to a team that competed at the Division II level a few years ago, it affects the overall reputation of the conference.

Miami losing to Saint Francis (New York) didn’t help, either. USC-Upstate beat Virginia Tech. Belmont beat North Carolina over the weekend. Boston College is 1-3. Maryland is 1-2.

The league’s top is shaky. The middle is even rougher. And the latter is really the most critical factor in the way that a conference is judged. How many teams will compete for an NCAA tournament slot?

That’s difficult to determine in the ACC right now, but these early nonconference upsets will only make it tougher for the ACC to maximize its potential in the postseason.

So far, the ACC hype has not equaled the substance we’ve witnessed from the conference in the first few weeks of the season.

I think Duke, which is led by superstar freshman Jabari Parker, is really good.

What else do I think about the ACC at this point?

Not much.



MEAC team previews

October, 17, 2013
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From Sept. 30 through Oct. 25, Insider will be rolling out its college basketball preview, including breakdowns on every Division I team, projected order of finish for every conference and essays from Insider’s hoops experts.

Here are previews for each team in the MEAC:

North Carolina Central Eagles
Norfolk State Spartans
Morgan State Bears
Hampton Pirates
Savannah State Tigers
Delaware State Hornets
Coppin State Eagles
Florida A&M Rattlers
North Carolina A&T Aggies
Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (FREE)
Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks
Howard Bison
South Carolina State Bulldogs

You Gotta See This: MEAC

October, 17, 2013
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Pendarvis Williams, Phil PresseyPeter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsPendarvis Williams leads a veteran returning cast this season for Norfolk State.

It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season -- from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: Norfolk State didn't go anywhere.

Norfolk State's story was supposed to end. That's what happens when tiny Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference schools make unlikely runs to the NCAA tournament and then upset the No. 2-seed that was supposed to crush them: The story ends. The round of 32 (or 16, or whatever) loss finishes it. The star player goes pro. The coach leaves for a vacant job elsewhere. We all kindly thank Cinderella for the memories, take a picture for the scrapbook and move on.

A good portion of that archetype held true for the Spartans. After their upset of No. 2 Missouri in the 2012 NCAA tournament -- which came on the same afternoon as Lehigh's upset of No. 2 Duke; that was a really fun day -- breakout star forward Kyle O'Quinn graduated and entered the NBA draft. (O'Quinn currently plays for the Orlando Magic.) But coach Anthony Evans didn't leave. He returned, and one year after Norfolk's moment in the sun, he led the Spartans to an accomplishment few teams in any league can boast: an undefeated conference record.

You may not have heard about this, and there are some obvious reasons why. For one, the MEAC is among the least-monied conferences in all of college basketball. If the term "low-major" is still workable, it certainly applies. But the main reason you probably don't remember hearing about this is Norfolk State didn't make the NCAA tournament. Instead, it suffered a surprise loss in the first round of the MEAC tournament, a 70-68 overtime heartbreaker to Bethune-Cookman.

This summer, Evans capitalized on his success at Norfolk, replacing former Florida International coach Richard Pitino when he left for Minnesota. Interim coach Robert Jones was placed in charge of the transition, and the upshot is immensely bullish.

The Spartans return four starters from last season, all seniors, including star Pendarvis Williams -- a 6-foot-6 wing who shot 50.0 percent from 2, 40.6 percent from 3 and 81.4 percent from the free throw line last season.

In other words, there is every reason to expect Norfolk State to win the MEAC in tidy fashion again this season and just as much reason to expect it to get back to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years. Standing in its way are North Carolina Central, Morgan State and Savannah State, which defended at a top-30 rate (per adjusted efficiency rankings) last season, an unusual height for a MEAC team to reach.

Then there is the risk of the conference tournament. In the MEAC, there is no such thing as an automatic bid. All it takes is one weird night in March. After all, Norfolk would know.

Nonconference analysis: Best of the rest

September, 11, 2013
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This week, ESPN.com has been breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation's top leagues. Now let's take a look at the slates of a dozen of the top teams outside of those conferences.

BYU

Toughest: Iowa State (Nov. 20), CBE Hall of Fame Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Kansas City, Mo.)
Next toughest: at Stanford (Nov. 11), vs. UMass (Dec. 7 in Springfield, Mass.), at Oregon (Dec. 21)
The rest: Weber State (Nov. 8), Mount St. Mary's (Nov. 15), vs. Utah State (Nov. 30 in Salt Lake City), North Texas (Dec. 3), Prairie View A&M (Dec. 11), Utah (Dec. 14)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- With Tyler Haws back, BYU could steal the WCC crown from Gonzaga. The Cougars certainly will be prepared for the task. A home game against the Cyclones will be an early test for the program. The pot of gold in the Hall of Fame Classic could be a matchup against Final Four participant Wichita State (if BYU gets past Texas). Games against UMass and Oregon in December could be the kind of matchups that pull Dave Rose's team off the bubble on Selection Sunday, if they're successful.

FLORIDA GULF COAST

Toughest: at North Carolina State (Nov. 26)
Next toughest: at Nebraska (Nov. 8), Iona (Dec. 1)
The rest: Hartford (Nov. 12), at Furman (Nov. 15), Eckerd (Nov. 18), Ave Maria (Nov. 23), at FIU (Dec. 7), Samford (Dec. 14), at South Florida (Dec. 17), at Mississippi State (Dec. 19), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)

Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Florida Gulf Coast's athleticism and acrobatics enhanced the NCAA tournament experience for everyone, as "Dunk City" became a national slogan. Well, FGCU's nonconference slate belies its playmaking ability. The Eagles' toughest matchups should be road games against a Nebraska team that finished at the bottom of the Big Ten last season and an NC State squad that lost most of its impact players. The trip to Vegas yields games against Florida A&M and either Radford or Sacred Heart. And it gets worse. You'll have to Google "Eckerd" and "Ave Maria." The dunks can't make up for this disappointing schedule.

GONZAGA

Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), at West Virginia (Dec. 10), at Memphis (Feb. 8)
Next toughest: vs. Kansas State (Dec. 21 in Wichita, Kan.)
The rest: Bryant (Nov. 9), Colorado State (Nov. 11), Oakland (Nov. 17), Washington State (Nov. 21), Coppin State (Dec. 1), New Mexico State (Dec. 7), vs. South Alabama (Dec. 14 in Seattle)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Zags must recover from the loss of talented frontcourt duo Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk. But they're still talented enough to maintain their reign in the WCC. There will be little doubt if they succeed in the Maui Invitational. Matchups against Baylor and Syracuse could follow Gonzaga's opening round game against Dayton. A loaded Memphis squad could be a problem for the Bulldogs in February. Kansas State is less interesting because Angel Rodriguez and others transferred this offseason. The potential at the Maui Invite boosts this slate, however, especially because there's a strong chance we'll see those matchups.

HARVARD

Toughest: at Colorado (Nov. 24), at UConn (Jan. 8)
Next toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 28-30), Boston College (Jan. 1)
The rest: vs. Holy Cross (Nov. 10 in Boston), MIT (Nov. 12), Howard (Nov. 15), Bryant (Nov. 20), at Northeastern (Dec. 4), at Boston University (Dec. 7), Vermont (Dec. 21), at Fordham (Dec. 28), at Rice (Jan. 4), at Florida Atlantic (Jan. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Tommy Amaker has one of the best rosters in Harvard history. He has the key players from last season's NCAA tourney squad. Plus, Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey are returning from last season's suspensions. We'll know more about the program's ceiling after it travels to Boulder to face Tad Boyle's talented Colorado squad. Harvard will encounter one of America's best backcourts when it goes to UConn in January. Not much beyond that. The Great Alaska Shootout features one of the weakest holiday tournament fields in the country. Nothing else in this lineup that would really interest the selection committee.

INDIANA STATE

Toughest: at Notre Dame (Nov. 17), at Saint Louis (Dec. 18)
Next toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 27-30)
The rest: Ball State (Nov. 9), at Belmont (Nov. 14), Truman State (Nov. 22), at Eastern Illinois (Dec. 7), at Missouri-Kansas City (Dec. 14), IUPUI (Dec. 21), Belmont (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Sycamores are Wichita State's biggest challenger in the Missouri Valley Conference now that Creighton has moved on to the new Big East. Jake Odum and three other starters return. They'll have to get comfortable off campus. Road matchups against Notre Dame and Saint Louis will be their toughest nonconference games. The Sycamores play five true road games before MVC play begins, and that does not include the Great Alaska Shootout. The latter features a subpar field, but Indiana State could get Harvard in the title game at least. The program might regret two nonconference meetings with Belmont once Selection Sunday arrives.

IONA

Toughest: at Kansas (Nov. 19)
Next toughest: at Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 1), at Dayton (Dec. 19)
The rest: at Cleveland State (Nov. 9), Wofford (Nov. 16), George Mason (Nov. 23), St. Bonaventure (Dec. 14), at Nevada (Dec. 22), at Northern Iowa (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Tim Cluess' program has reached the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons. And despite losing Momo Jones, the Gaels could return. Most of their starters from last season are back. Their nonconference slate, however, features few opportunities to boost their at-large resume. They'll play Andrew Wiggins and Kansas in Lawrence in November. George Mason, Florida Gulf Coast and Northern Iowa are all matchups they could lose. But even if they win all three, they'll probably need more quality wins to get some help on Selection Sunday.

LONG BEACH STATE

Toughest: at Arizona (Nov. 11), Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24), Creighton (Dec. 3)
Next toughest: at Kansas State (Nov. 17), at Washington (Nov. 30), at NC State (Dec. 7), at Missouri (Jan. 4)
The rest: Hawaii-Pacific (Nov. 9), Loyola Marymount (Nov. 14), USC (Dec. 19), Montana State-Billings (Dec. 21), at Nevada (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Dan Monson's program dismissed standouts Kaela King and Tony Freeland in the offseason. But the 49ers still can win the Big West, especially with former UCLA guard Tyler Lamb becoming eligible after the first semester. They'll need everyone to step up to deal with this strenuous nonconference schedule. The program will face national title contender Arizona on the road in early November. The 49ers open the Puerto Rico Tip-Off with a matchup against Michigan, another national title contender. The tourney also includes VCU and Georgetown. Big East title favorite Creighton travels to the West Coast for a matchup in early December. The slate ends with a matchup against Missouri in Columbia. Now that is a nonconference schedule.

LOUISIANA TECH

Toughest: vs. Oklahoma State (Dec. 14 in Oklahoma City)
Next toughest: at Saint Mary's (Nov. 8), at Oklahoma (Dec. 30)
The rest: Centenary (Nov. 13), Central Arkansas (Nov. 20), Gulf Coast Showcase in Naples, Fla. (Nov. 25-27), at Jackson State (Dec. 1), UL-Lafayette (Dec. 4), Southern (Dec. 7), Northwestern State (Dec. 11), McNeese State (Dec. 17), at UL-Monroe (Dec. 22), Longwood (Jan. 4)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Last season, Louisiana Tech won 27 games and cracked the AP's top 25 poll. The Bulldogs didn't reach the tournament, but they're still a potential favorite to win Conference USA in their inaugural season in the league. But they'll probably enter conference play with an inflated record. Their mid-December game against national title contender Oklahoma State is the only one that stands out. Road games against Saint Mary's and Oklahoma could be factors if Louisiana Tech is on the bubble at the end of the season. The Bulldogs' lack of quality nonconference wins hurt them last season. They at least have a shot at a few decent ones this season.

MERCER

Toughest: at Ole Miss (Dec. 22)
Next toughest: at Texas (Nov. 8), at Oklahoma (Dec. 2)
The rest: Reinhardt (Nov. 13), Seton Hall (Nov. 16), at Evansville (Nov. 18), Johnson & Wales (North Carolina) (Nov. 20), Yale (Nov. 23), at Ohio (Nov. 26), at Valparaiso (Nov. 29), Denver (Dec. 7), Alcorn St. (Dec. 16), St. Andrews (Dec. 27)

Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Mercer brings back four starters from a team that won the Atlantic Sun's regular-season crown in 2012-13. That's the good news. But it's usually a bad sign when you have to Google some of the names featured on a team's nonconference slate. Yes, Johnson & Wales is a real school. Yes, Mercer is playing a bunch of high majors, too. But they're only high majors in name as 2013-14 approaches. Ole Miss should be its toughest game and the Bears have had success against the SEC in recent years. Texas has lost everyone, and Oklahoma has to replenish, too. Those three teams are not expected to contend for the title in their respective conferences. And then, there's Johnson & Wales.

SAINT MARY'S

Toughest: at Boise State (Dec. 14), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next toughest: Louisiana Tech (Nov. 8)
The rest: Akron (Nov. 12), North Dakota State (Nov. 14), Drake (Nov. 16), Alcorn State (Nov. 24), Murray State (Nov. 30), Eastern Washington (Dec. 8), American University (Dec. 19)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- This is actually better than some recent Saint Mary's nonconference lineups. But it's still so-so, even for a Gaels program that must reboot after losing star Matthew Dellavedova. A road game against Mountain West title contender Boise State is probably Saint Mary's toughest game. The Gaels could see the Broncos again if they beat South Carolina in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic. Iowa State might be waiting in the championship game. Louisiana Tech could win the Conference USA crown in its first season, so that November matchup should be meaningful. But the Gaels have just one true road game.

SOUTHERN

Toughest: at Florida (Nov. 18), at Arizona (Dec. 19)
Next toughest: at Marquette (Nov. 8), at Baylor (Dec. 22)
The rest:, at Middle Tennessee State (Nov. 10), Tulane (Nov. 13), at North Florida (Nov. 16), Arkansas-Little Rock (Nov. 22), Blue Mountain College (Nov. 25), at Denver (Dec. 3), at Louisiana Tech (Dec. 7), Dillard (Dec. 14), Champion Baptist College (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- The squad that nearly upset No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament last season is ready to play the role of David again. Southern, a team that returns star Malcolm Miller, could ruin a few nonconference seasons for some of the country's best teams. The Jaguars kick off the year at Marquette. They'll face Florida in Gainesville a few weeks later. Then, they have back-to-back road matchups against Arizona and Baylor in December. That November game against Blue Mountain College is actually an anomaly on this challenging nonconference schedule. You taking notes, SEC?

WICHITA STATE

Toughest: at Saint Louis (Dec. 1), vs. Tennessee (Dec. 14 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan.)
Next toughest: CBE Hall of Fame Classic (Nov. 25-26), at Alabama (Dec. 17)
The rest: Emporia State (Nov. 9), Western Kentucky (Nov. 12), at Tulsa (Nov. 20), Oral Roberts (Dec. 7), North Carolina Central (Dec. 22), Davidson (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Shockers have elevated expectations after last season's Final Four run. With so much talent returning, a trip to Arlington in April seems feasible. Wichita State will get an early test against reigning Atlantic 10 champ Saint Louis, and then it will host SEC sleeper Tennessee a few weeks later. The Vols beat the Shockers in Knoxville last season. They could face BYU if they beat DePaul in the first round of the Hall of Fame Classic. Games against Bama and Davidson shouldn't be overlooked, either. But this slate lacks the power players you'd like to see a Final Four team encounter prior to conference play.
Every new coach hopes to start strong. But that’s rarely an easy task. The transition is usually difficult. New system, new staff, new players and new rules. Sometimes, however, it works immediately, in the right situation. The following coaches have a chance to orchestrate impressive debuts at their new schools.

  1. Craig Neal (New Mexico): The Lobos should be the favorites to retain their Mountain West crowns. Neal, a former assistant for Steve Alford, guaranteed continuity and stability for a squad that brings back conference player of the year Kendall Williams and center Alex Kirk. The Lobos lost Tony Snell, a first-round draft pick by the Chicago Bulls, but they’ve added a recruiting class that includes top-100 prospect Cullen Neal (the coach's son), who should be available at some point next season after a recent health scare during the team’s trip to Australia.
  2. Joe Dooley (Florida Gulf Coast): “Dunk City” lost its maestro when Andy Enfield switched coasts to take the USC gig. But Dooley, a former Kansas assistant, inherits a roster that features four of the top five scorers from last season. That returning crew includes point guard Brett Comer (8.0 PPG, 6.6 APG), a star throughout FGCU’s Sweet 16 run in March. Plus, transfers Jamil Jones (Marquette) and Nate Hicks (Georgia Tech) will be available in 2013-14. Dooley’s program is in good shape as it prepares for the upcoming season.
  3. [+] EnlargeDan Guerrero, Steve Alford
    AP Photo/Damian DovarganesUCLA has enough high-level talent to make Steve Alford's first year in Westwood a success.
  4. Steve Alford (UCLA): His messy exit from New Mexico only compounded the surprise surrounding the hire. But he’s the Bruins’ $18.2 million leader now. And even though he seized a roster that features just six scholarship players from last season, Alford commands a UCLA squad that could compete for the Pac-12 title it won in 2012-13. Kyle Anderson, David Wear, Travis Wear, a slimmer Tony Parker (he’s lost 20 pounds this offseason) and top-100 point guard Zach LaVine will anchor Alford’s first UCLA squad. There’s plenty of talent to utilize in his first season.
  5. Robert Jones (Norfolk State): Jones was given the interim coaching title hours after Anthony Evans left to fill the opening at Florida International. That “interim” label, however, shouldn’t stick. Norfolk State, the reigning MEAC regular-season champion, is stacked entering next season. Pendarvis Williams, last season’s conference player of the year, is one of four starters from last season returning in 2013-14. Jones’ rise from assistant to interim head coach was unexpected, but he has the pieces to be successful in his first season. Norfolk State didn't lose a game in conference play last season. That streak could continue under Jones.
  6. Bobby Hurley (Buffalo): The former Duke star left his brother Danny’s staff at Rhode Island to take his first head-coaching job. Buffalo finished 7-9 in the MAC and 14-20 overall last season. But six of the Bulls’ top seven scorers from last season are back. And with Javon McCrea (18.0 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.6 BPG) and Will Regan (11.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG) inside, Hurley’s squad will boast one of the league’s top frontcourts. Last year wasn’t a great one for the program, but Hurley has the building blocks to make immediate improvements.
  7. Ron Verlin (Pacific): Verlin, a longtime assistant under Bob Thomason, will guide Pacific as it returns to the West Coast Conference. Three of his top five scorers return, including Sama Taku (8.1 PPG, 38 percent from the 3-point line). Brazilian center Gabriel Aguirre could help, too. Pacific finished second to Long Beach State in the Big West last season, and the Tigers could make noise in the WCC, too. The league’s hierarchy is undefined, with Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s losing key players. So there’s a chance for multiple teams to rise. Pacific could be one of them.
  8. Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin): The new Lumberjacks coach took a hit when he lost three of his top five scorers and four seniors total. But the reigning Southland champions can build around senior Desmond Haymon (10.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 37 percent from beyond the arc) and junior Jacob Parker (7.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 41 percent from the 3-point line). Junior college transfers Tanner Clayton and Sharife Sergeant, a pair of 6-foot-9 athletes, will give Underwood some size inside. If the Lumberjacks are tough on defense again (12th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy, last season), they should be a threat to win the Southland again.
  9. G.G. Smith (Loyola-Md.): Tubby Smith’s son took over when former coach Jimmy Patsos accepted the Siena job. In the program’s first season as a member of the Patriot League, the Greyhounds should be players in their new conference. Dylan Cormier (16.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 SPG) is the obvious star for a squad that lost three senior standouts. Plus, Jordan Latham (1.2 BPG) and freshman Nick Gorski should help the Greyhounds fill the gaps. Smith is in a solid place for a first-year head coach.
  10. Matthew Graves (South Alabama): Augustine Rubit (All-American honorable mention by The Associated Press last season), Mychal Ammons and Antoine Allen combined to average nearly 40 points per game in 2012-13. Graves, a former Butler assistant, will rely on the trio as the Jaguars make a push in the Sun Belt. In his first news conference, Graves told team supporters that he intends to compete for a league championship in his first season. And with the talent his team returns and Sun Belt powerhouse Middle Tennessee’s move to Conference USA, it’s not a crazy thought.
  11. Chris Casey (Niagara): The bad news is that Juan'ya Green and Ameen Tanksley followed former Niagara coach Joe Mihalich to Hofstra, and T.J. Cline transferred to Richmond. The good news is that top scorer Antoine Mason is back. And that’s a big return. Mason averaged 18.7 PPG last season. He’ll face even more pressure to score now that three of the team’s top five scorers from last season are gone. But Marvin Jordan (8.2 PPG) and a number of new faces will have to back Mason in Casey’s first season. He could do worse, however, than coaching a team that’s led by the MAAC’s top returning scorer.
It’s not my job to second-guess the decisions the following players made when they entered the NBA draft without exhausting their collective collegiate eligibility. There are often personal situations tied to these calls.

But the reality is that these athletes were not selected during Thursday night’s draft. So perhaps another year in school would have been beneficial. It’s also important to note that many undrafted players will earn a slot on an NBA summer league squad or sign a free-agent contract soon, so this doesn’t mean that their NBA dreams are finished.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Leslie
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesDespite having another stellar season at NC State, C.J. Leslie got passed over in Thursday's draft.
C.J. Leslie (NC State) -- After leading his team to the Sweet 16 in 2012, Leslie appeared to be a lock for the first round of that summer’s NBA draft. He decided to return for his junior season, and his numbers were similar to his stats from 2011-12 (15.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.0 SPG). He scored 20 points (8-for-12) in NC State’s round-of-64 loss to Temple in the NCAA tournament in March. Maybe another year would have allowed Leslie to add some muscle to his 6-foot-9, 200-pound frame, squash concerns about his leadership ability and prove that he can be a high-energy guy every night. Still, many players who were drafted lack his upside. This is stunning.

Phil Pressey (Missouri) -- Pressey was both brilliant and frustrating in three years at Missouri. On his best days, he was a 6-foot dynamic playmaker who could get to the rim and create offense for the Tigers. On his worst days, he was a turnover machine who made poor choices. His decision to turn pro was certainly surprising. He averaged 3.5 turnovers per game and only made 32 percent of his 3-pointers last season. Both were declines from the season prior. For an undersized point guard with turnover issues and limited shooting ability, one more year in Columbia could have enhanced his pro future.

Adonis Thomas (Memphis) -- Everyone wants a LeBron James clone. In recent years, the value of the 6-7 wing has skyrocketed. If you’re big and you can play on the perimeter a little bit, then the general assumption now is that you have “pro potential.” Thomas has pro potential, but his sophomore season was not an affirmation of that. He shot just 40.5 percent from the field and made 29.2 percent of his 3-pointers. It was his first full season after an ankle injury interrupted his freshman campaign, and even though he has all of the physical tools to compete in the NBA, he apparently didn’t wow execs in Year 2.

Vander Blue (Marquette) -- This was a classic case of “instant draft buzz,” I think. Blue had a stellar postseason and led Marquette to the Elite Eight. That effort included a 29-point barrage against Butler in the round of 32, but also included a 3-for-15 performance in a 55-39 loss to Syracuse in the regional final. But the perception about his NBA future had shifted dramatically during Marquette's run in the Big Dance. Blue could have entered 2013-14 as a preseason All-American. I wasn’t surprised when he entered the draft. I was surprised when he stayed in the draft. The 6-4 wing will have to find another way into the league.

Myck Kabongo (Texas) -- Well, this wasn’t the plan. Kabongo, a former McDonald’s All American, turned pro following a tumultuous season with the Longhorns. He was suspended for 23 games as a result of an NCAA investigation, but was a standout in the limited time he was available. He averaged 14.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.5 APG and 2.0 SPG in 2012-13. Pro execs, however, might have had concerns about his character; Kabongo was suspended after he lied to investigators about receiving impermissible benefits. His brief appearances last season did not help his cause. Looking at the current mess in Texas, however, returning might not have been the best move, either.

Dewayne Dedmon (USC) -- Dedmon had an unconventional journey to Division I basketball. He was a gray shirt and redshirt at Antelope Valley College before joining USC’s program. And he redshirted in 2010-11 with the Trojans. The 7-footer is a project. And that’s probably why he went undrafted. He hasn’t played a lot of organized basketball, so he’s still raw. He averaged 6.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.1 BPG and 1.1 SPG in 2012-13. Solid numbers, but not enough to convince NBA teams to draft him. His size and upside, however, suggest that he’ll get a shot somewhere.

B.J. Young (Arkansas) -- During the 2012-13 season, Young scored 29 points against Arizona State, 25 against Syracuse, 25 against Tennessee and 27 against Missouri. The 6-3 combo guard was an offensive catalyst for the Razorbacks. But shooting concerns only magnified questions about the position he’d play at the next level. He was a 23 percent shooter from beyond the arc last season, and he made just 67 percent of his free throws. Those numbers were probably more significant for NBA execs than his 15.2 PPG average and offensive explosions.

C.J. Aiken (Saint Joseph’s) -- Aiken is an explosive athlete who tortured Atlantic 10 squads with his ability to alter and block shots. But can a 6-9, 201-pound post presence duplicate that in the NBA? And if he can’t, can he defend NBA wings? Those were the immediate questions after he decided to enter the draft. Plus, his offense is raw and limited; he shot 25.3 percent from the 3-point line last season, but also averaged 10.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 2.6 BPG. He’s the kind of young man some NBA team will sign this offseason. He’ll get a chance to prove that he’s equipped to be an effective defender and offensive contributor at the next level.

Tahj Tate (Delaware State) -- This might be a case of a player who went undrafted because of the competition he faced and where he played. Or maybe it’s a talent thing. Tate earned second-team All-MEAC honors in 2012-13 after averaging 12.8 points a game. Now, the YouTube clips suggest that the 6-4 guard is a great athlete. But he wasn’t a great shooter (29 percent from 3-point range), and he actually was a better scorer in 2011-12. Still a head-scratcher on the surface. Again, we don’t know his thought process prior to this decision. But he seems like a long shot to crack a pro roster in the near future.

John Taylor (Fresno Pacific) -- Taylor would not have been the first player drafted from the Division II ranks. But it certainly would have been a surprise, even though Taylor had a phenomenal junior season at Fresno Pacific. The guard led Division II with an average of 27.5 points a game and his team to a 21-9 record. He also earned a national title in junior college. This would not be a shock if Taylor had put up similar numbers at a Division I school, but it’s difficult to project a player’s ability when he hasn’t faced the top competition at the collegiate level. Still, he probably did as much as he could within Division II basketball.

Editor's Note: For Dana O'Neil's piece on the search for Renardo Sidney and the perils of basketball talent gone awry, click here.
Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. On Tuesday, it's the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.

No. 16 North Carolina A&T vs. No. 16 Liberty, 6:40 p.m. ET, truTV

Here’s the bad news. The winner of this First Four matchup will face Louisville, the top overall seed in the tournament, on Thursday in Lexington, Ky. So it’s like, “Hey, you win!” quickly followed by, “And you kind of lose, too.” But a win is a win. And both teams can snap their lengthy droughts in the NCAA tournament.

Neither team has ever won an NCAA tournament game. So tonight will be a first for one of these squads. North Carolina A&T has been to the Big Dance nine times but not since 1995. Liberty has gone twice (1994, 2004).

So history is certainly on the line.

Liberty will represent the Big South even though the Flames finished the regular season with a 6-10 conference record. They’ve lost 20 games. But they won the conference tourney. And that’s what matters. John Caleb Sanders has one of the best names in the entire tournament, and he leads the Flames with 14.2 PPG.

The Aggies of North Carolina A&T are on a four-game winning streak. They’ve forced turnovers on 23.7 percent of their opponents’ possessions per Ken Pomeroy, 20th in the country. But that number is inflated by the level of competition the Aggies have faced in the MEAC. But their defensive aggression could be the difference in this matchup.

No. 11 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 11 Middle Tennessee, 9:10 p.m. ET, truTV

Some people questioned the Blue Raiders’ inclusion in the field of 68. They lost two games in the weak Sun Belt conference and they failed to win their conference tournament. But they’ve also won 28 games. That includes a win over SEC tourney champion Ole Miss.

They’re ranked 20th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy.

And the Blue Raiders have the poise, experience and talent to pull off a VCU-like run in the NCAAs. Plus, they’re going to play with a chip on their shoulder because so many folks have doubted them.

But advancing past Saint Mary’s won’t be easy. If Gonzaga were in a different league, the Gaels would be the undisputed kings of the West Coast Conference. The Zags have defeated Saint Mary’s three times this season. The Gaels also have losses to Pacific, Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa. A BracketBusters win over Creighton was impressive.

The jury is still out, however, on the Gaels. Is this a program that’s just been misjudged based on its losses to the No. 1 team in America? Or is this a squad that’s as average as its nonconference losses suggest that it is?

We’ll find out soon. Matthew Dellavedova (15.8 PPG, 6.4 APG) is a magician with a basketball. But the Blue Raiders’ pressure could make the Australian star and his teammates disappear.

Yes, that was corny. I know. Enjoy the tournament.

Video: N. Carolina A&T 57, Morgan State 54

March, 16, 2013
3/16/13
9:10
PM ET

North Carolina A&T defeats Morgan State in the MEAC tourney final and advances to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995.
Tags:

MEAC

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
10:24
AM ET
Here are the latest mid-major power rankings for ESPN.com as voted upon by our national panel. I also vote in this poll, which does not include teams from the Atlantic 10, Conference USA or Mountain West.

A quick look at the panel:

Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) covers Horizon League basketball for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Richard Kilwien (@smcgaels) is the associate athletic director for external affairs at Saint Mary's College.

Leslie Wilhite (@Leslie_Wilhite, @MT_MBB) is in her second season as an assistant director of athletic communications at Middle Tennessee.

Dusty Luthy Shull (@DustyLuthyShull) covers Murray State athletics for The Paducah (Ky.) Sun.

John Templon (@nybuckets) writes about New York City and East Coast mid-major college basketball for his website, nycbuckets.com.

Thomas Chen (@thomasmchen) is in his third year as director of athletic communications at Stony Brook University.

Terry Vandrovec (@terryvandrovec) covers South Dakota State basketball for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Mid-Major Power Rankings: Week 10
  1. Gonzaga (27-2, 14-0 WCC). Future NBA big man Kelly Olynyk has led the Zags to the top of the WCC.
  2. Middle Tennessee (25-4, 17-1 Sun Belt). The Blue Raiders have defeated their past two opponents by 35 points and 41 points, respectively.
  3. Akron (23-4, 13-0 MAC). The Zips cracked the latest coaches’ poll. They haven’t lost since Dec. 15.
  4. Saint Mary’s (25-5, 13-2 WCC). Saturday’s win over Creighton enhanced the Gaels’ at-large profile.
  5. Belmont (23-6, 13-2 Ohio Valley). The Bruins’ three-game winning streak includes a lopsided win over Ohio last weekend.
  6. Bucknell (24-5, 11-2 Patriot League). The Bison sealed the Patriot League regular-season crown with their three-game winning streak.
  7. Creighton (23-7, 12-5 MVC). Wednesday night's victory over Bradley sets up a huge showdown with Wichita State on Saturday.
  8. Wichita State (24-6, 12-5 MVC). Shockers can secure a No. 1 seed in the MVC tourney with a win over Creighton.
  9. Louisiana Tech (24-3, 14-0 WAC). The Bulldogs, who haven’t lost since Dec. 12, earned the No. 25 slot in the latest AP poll.
  10. Stephen F. Austin (23-3, 13-2 Southland). The Lumberjacks control the Southland but they’ll need a league tourney title to get an NCAA bid.
  11. Valparaiso (23-7, 12-3 Horizon). The Crusaders are a game ahead of Detroit with one regular-season contest to play.
  12. Davidson (22-7, 16-1 Southern). The Wildcats have won 13 in a row and they defeated Montana in overtime on Saturday.
  13. Stony Brook (21-6, 12-2 America East). The Seawolves have four players who are averaging at least 8.8 points per game.
  14. BYU (20-9, 9-5 WCC). The Cougars have lost three of their past five games.
  15. Ohio (20-8, 11-2 MAC). The Bobcats have lost two in a row, including a heartbreaker in overtime against Akron Wednesday night.
Team of the Week: Prior to its recent success, Evansville had lost four of its past five games. But the Aces have finished strong. They won their third consecutive game 59-56 Wednesday night at Wichita State. The victory also ensures they’ll end the regular season with a .500 record (or better) in conference play. That’s a solid turnaround for this program.

Player of the Week: Delaware’s Devon Saddler, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, has led the Fightin’ Blue Hens to a top-three finish in the CAA with his efforts in their past three games, all close contests. Last week, he scored 31 points in a 73-71 double-overtime win against Drexel. He followed that performance with 24 points (10-for-20 from the field) in a 79-78 win at UNC-Wilmington on Saturday. And Wednesday night, he scored 19 points in a 57-56 victory at Hofstra.

Notes
  • Montana’s Big Sky tourney plans may have changed with recent injuries to top contributors Mathias Ward and Will Cherry. Cherry re-injured the foot he broke prior to the start of the season in last weekend’s BracketBusters loss to Davidson. And Ward suffered a sprained arch in his left foot in a win over Idaho State during the previous weekend. Both could be unavailable or limited in the postseason.
  • North Dakota State’s Taylor Braun, the program’s top scorer, was rusty Tuesday night, going 0-for-4 in 18 minutes of a 63-56 win over Utah Valley State. It was his first game back after missing 10 games with a foot injury. The Bison are a game behind South Dakota State for first place in the Summit League. If the Jackrabbits get past Omaha-Nebraska on Thursday night, they’ll win the league title. But North Dakota State, with the conference’s best defensive unit (34th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy) could be the favorite to win the conference tourney now that Braun has returned.
  • Dan Monson has done it again. Long Beach State (13-2 in conference play) is in command of the Big West with three games to play (Pacific is 3.5 games behind the 49ers). This team is not as fluid as last season's veteran crew. But with transfers Keala King (Arizona State) and James Ennis (17.1 ppg), the 49ers are certainly skilled as they prepare for another run at the Big West tournament title and the league’s automatic bid.

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
10:20
AM ET
Here are the latest mid-major power rankings for ESPN.com as voted upon by our national panel. I also vote in this poll, which does not include teams from the Atlantic 10, Conference USA or Mountain West.

A quick look at the panel:

Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) covers Horizon League basketball for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Richard Kilwien (@smcgaels) is the associate athletic director for external affairs at Saint Mary's College.

Leslie Wilhite (@Leslie_Wilhite, @MT_MBB) is in her second season as an assistant director of athletic communications at Middle Tennessee.

Dusty Luthy Shull (@DustyLuthyShull) covers Murray State athletics for The Paducah (Ky.) Sun.

John Templon (@nybuckets) writes about New York City and East Coast mid-major college basketball for his website, nycbuckets.com.

Thomas Chen (@thomasmchen) is in his third year as director of athletic communications at Stony Brook University.

Terry Vandrovec (@terryvandrovec) covers South Dakota State basketball for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Mid-Major Power Rankings: Week 9
  1. Gonzaga (26-2, 13-0 WCC). The Zags don’t have an equal in the WCC, and now they’re in contention for a No. 1 seed.
  2. Middle Tennessee (23-4, 15-1 Sun Belt). The Blue Raiders can do more harm than good to their at-large status in the Sun Belt, but they’ve won 12 in a row.
  3. Akron (21-4, 12-0 MAC). The Zips own the nation’s longest winning streak (17 in a row) entering a BracketBusters matchup against North Dakota State on Friday.
  4. Wichita State (23-5, 12-4 MVC). The Shockers are back on top of the Missouri Valley Conference after winning four in a row.
  5. Saint Mary’s (22-5, 11-2 WCC). The Gaels need a win Saturday against Creighton in BracketBusters because it’s probably their last opportunity for a quality win in the regular season.
  6. Bucknell (22-5, 9-2 Patriot). The Bison took control of the Patriot League with Monday’s road win over rival Lehigh.
  7. Creighton (22-6, 11-5 MVC). The Bluejays might be safe in the eyes of the selection committee for now, but their recent struggles -- losing three of their past five -- suggest that might not last.
  8. Belmont (21-6, 12-2 OVC). The Bruins were rolling in the OVC until they hit their four-game road stretch.
  9. Louisiana Tech (24-3, 14-0 WAC). The Bulldogs are still winning (16 consecutive victories), and they’re still hard to gauge due to the limited competition they’re facing in the WAC.
  10. Stephen F. Austin (22-3, 13-2 Southland). The Lumberjacks are ranked fourth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, and they’ve won six of seven.
  11. Ohio (20-6, 11-1 MAC). The Bobcats are one game behind an Akron team (in the MAC’s East Division) that they’ll face again Feb. 27. This time, Ohio will get the Zips on its home floor.
  12. Valparaiso (21-7, 11-3 Horizon). The Crusaders are still on top of the Horizon League despite losing a war with Detroit over the weekend.
  13. Montana (19-5, 15-1 Big Sky). The Grizzlies’ 14-game winning streak was snapped by rival Weber State on Valentine’s Day.
  14. Detroit (18-9, 10-4 Horizon). With Saturday’s come-from-behind road victory over Valpo, the athletic Titans are just a game behind the Crusaders.
  15. BYU (20-8, 9-4 WCC). The Cougars have an RPI of 62, but they don’t have any quality wins. They’ll face Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga in the next week, so that could change.
Team of the Week: Gonzaga continues to roll through the West Coast Conference. The Zags have won nine consecutive games, a run that includes a 17-point win over Saint Mary’s on Valentine’s Day. They don’t have the week-to-week competition that their top-10 counterparts face each week, but if they continue to win -- and the No. 3 Zags might not lose again until March Madness begins -- the selection committee might have to give the program a No. 1 seed.

Player of the Week: Longwood’s Tristan Carey put up video game numbers during his team’s last two games, both wins. In a 76-61 victory over Radford on Saturday, he finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 36 minutes. The 6-foot-4 guard recorded 40 points, 12 rebounds and two steals while going 8-for-15 from the 3-point line in his team’s 102-101 win over Liberty on Tuesday.

Notes
  • Indiana State is probably the most vulnerable bubble team playing in BracketBusters on Saturday. The Sycamores have wins over Miami, Ole Miss, Creighton and Wichita State, yet they’ve also lost to the worst teams in the Missouri Valley Conference and jeopardized their bubble status. Iona is one of the top offensive squads in the country (81.5 ppg), and their 9-7 record in the MAAC is deceiving since they’ve lost five games by three points or fewer since Jan. 31. The Sycamores cannot afford to take a loss in this one.
  • Let’s talk about Siyani Chambers. Harvard’s freshman point guard is averaging 13.0 points, 6.0 assists and 1.4 steals a game for a Crimson squad that’s on top of the Ivy League. The latter was not a given after former standouts Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry left the program before the season following an academic scandal. But the young catalyst could lead Tommy Amaker’s program back to the NCAA tournament. It would be a surprising turn for a program that lost its best players before 2012-13 began.
  • Taylor Braun (15.2 ppg) will probably miss North Dakota State’s matchup at Akron on Friday. But the Bison’s leading scorer could return as early as next week from a foot injury. That’s significant for the entire Summit League, and not just because the Bison are a game behind conference leader South Dakota State with one more league game to play. The winner of the conference tourney will be the only team representing this league in the NCAA tournament. Add Braun to a Bison team that’s ranked 36th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy and this squad might be the favorite to win it.

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

February, 14, 2013
2/14/13
11:15
AM ET
Here are the latest mid-major power rankings for ESPN.com as voted upon by our national panel. I also vote in this poll, which does not include any teams from the Atlantic 10, Conference USA or Mountain West.

Another quick look at the panel:

Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) covers Horizon League basketball for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Richard Kilwien (@smcgaels) is the associate athletic director for external affairs at Saint Mary's College.

Leslie Wilhite (@Leslie_Wilhite, @MT_MBB) is in her second season as an assistant director of athletic communications at Middle Tennessee State University.

Dusty Luthy Shull (@DustyLuthyShull) covers Murray State athletics for The Paducah (Ky.) Sun.

John Templon (@nybuckets) writes about New York City and East Coast mid-major college basketball for his website, nycbuckets.com.

Thomas Chen (@thomasmchen) is in his third year as director of athletic communications at Stony Brook University.

Terry Vandrovec (@terryvandrovec) covers South Dakota State basketball for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Mid-Major Power Rankings: Week 8
  1. Gonzaga (23-2, 10-0 WCC) – Zags face their last true conference test in a road matchup at Saint Mary’s on Thursday night.
  2. Saint Mary’s (21-4, 10-1 WCC) – The Gaels will have a lot to prove when they face the WCC kings tonight.
  3. Middle Tennessee State (22-4, 14-1 Sun Belt) – The Blue Raiders are ranked 21st in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy, and they’ve won 11 in a row.
  4. Belmont (20-5, 11-1 OVC) – Saturday loss at Murray State damaged Bruins’ (RPI: 24) at-large potential.
  5. Akron (20-4, 11-0 MAC) – The Zips are still winning. Their 16-game winning streak is the nation’s longest.
  6. Bucknell (21-4, 8-1 Patriot League) – The Bison’s 46.1 percent clip from the field is 47th nationally.
  7. Wichita State (21-5, 10-4 MVC) – The Shockers’ dreams of an at-large bid have certainly been affected by a stretch that has included three losses in five games.
  8. Creighton (20-6, 9-5 MVC) – The Bluejays are a mystery. Just a few weeks ago, they were the kings of the conference, but they’re riding a three-game losing streak right now.
  9. Stephen F. Austin (20-2, 11-1 Southland) – The Lumberjacks are ranked third in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy.
  10. Louisiana Tech (21-3, 12-0 WAC) – The Bulldogs have not lost a game since Dec. 12.
  11. Lehigh (18-5, 8-1 Patriot League) – On Monday, the Mountain Hawks will host Bucknell in a matchup that could determine the Patriot League’s regular-season title.
  12. Murray State (18-5, 9-2 OVC) – The Racers have won three in a row, a stretch that includes a five-point win against Belmont. Isaiah Canaan is averaging 21.0 PPG.
  13. Ohio (18-6, 9-1 MAC) – The Bobcats have won three in a row since suffering a Feb. 2 loss at Akron.
  14. Valparaiso (20-6, 10-2 Horizon League) – The Crusaders have gradually separated themselves from the rest of the league with four consecutive wins. They’ll host Detroit (second place in the Horizon League) on Saturday.
  15. BYU (18-8, 8-4 WCC) – After losing three of their past six, the Cougars have probably played their way out of the WCC title chase.
Team of the Week: Murray State enters Thursday night’s game at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville riding a three-game winning streak. That run includes a 79-74 victory against Belmont on Feb. 7. The Racers possess the Ohio Valley Conference’s top scoring defense (61.5 PPG allowed in conference play). And Canaan (21.0 PPG) is ninth nationally in scoring. Although Belmont has a better record, Murray State’s win against the Bruins suggests that the Racers are not only the kings of the West Division, but also kings of the entire league.

Player of the Week: Illinois State forward Jackie Carmichael is the catalyst for the Redbirds’ surge up the Missouri Valley Conference standings. He finished with 27 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks in a 79-59 win against Bradley on Wednesday night. He had 16 points, 6 rebounds and a pair of steals when Illinois State upset Creighton in Omaha, Neb., on Saturday with a 75-72 win. The Redbirds have won seven of their past eight. With Carmichael playing like this, Illinois State can outplay any team in the league.

Notes
  • The Summit League title chase added another contender over the weekend when Oakland defeated South Dakota State 88-83 on Saturday. It was the fifth consecutive with for the Golden Grizzlies (8-4), who are two games behind first-place Western Illinois (10-2) with five games remaining on their conference slate.
  • Remember when the Missouri Valley Conference looked like a three-bid league? Doesn’t look that way right now. The recent chaos at the top of the league has threatened its status as a potential multiple-bid conference. Based on RPI and their shaky resumes, Wichita State (41), Creighton (55) and Indiana State (58) are all bubble teams right now.
  • Montana established a Big Sky record by earning its 25th consecutive conference win, a 78-58 victory against North Dakota on Saturday. The Grizzlies have won 14 consecutive games. Now let’s look at the top upcoming mid-major matchup: Saturday's game between Wichita State and Illinois State.

 

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
9:00
AM ET

Here are the latest mid-major power rankings for ESPN.com as voted upon by our national panel. I also vote in this poll, which does not include any teams from the Atlantic 10, Conference USA or Mountain West.

Another quick look at the panel:

Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) covers Horizon League basketball for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Richard Kilwien (@smcgaels) is the associate athletic director for external affairs at Saint Mary's College.

Leslie Wilhite (@Leslie_Wilhite, @MT_MBB) is in her second season as an assistant director of athletic communications at Middle Tennessee State University.

Dusty Luthy Shull (@DustyLuthyShull) covers Murray State athletics for The Paducah (Ky.) Sun.

John Templon (@nybuckets) writes about New York City and East Coast mid-major college basketball for his website, nycbuckets.com.

Thomas Chen (@thomasmchen) is in his third year as director of athletic communications at Stony Brook University.

Terry Vandrovec (@terryvandrovec) covers South Dakota State basketball for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Mid-Major Power Rankings: Week 8
  1. Gonzaga (21-2, 8-0 WCC) – Can the Zags earn a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance if they run the table in the WCC?
  2. Belmont (19-4, 10-0 OVC) – The Bruins have scored 80 or more points in six of the last 10 games, all victories.
  3. Middle Tennessee (20-4, 12-1 Sun Belt) – The Blue Raiders are ranked 25th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings.
  4. Creighton (20-4, 9-3 MVC) – Wednesday’s loss to Indiana State only added to the confusion in the Missouri Valley Conference.
  5. Saint Mary’s (19-4, 8-1 WCC) – The Gaels’ seven-game winning streak has been overshadowed by Gonzaga’s dominance.
  6. Akron (18-4, 9-0 MAC) – The Zips have the nation’s longest winning streak (14 games).
  7. Bucknell (19-4, 6-1 Patriot) – Tell your friends about Mike Muscala (19.0 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 2.8 bpg).
  8. BYU (18-6, 8-2 WCC) – The Cougars can prove that they’re more than just the third-best team in the WCC when they face Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in late February.
  9. Wichita State (19-5, 8-4 MVC) – Snapped Southern Illinois’ six-game losing streak on Tuesday night. Huh?
  10. Louisiana Tech (19-3, 10-0 WAC) – Still undefeated in conference play; still under the radar.
  11. Indiana State (15-8, 8-4 MVC) – The Sycamores’ 19-point win over Creighton on Wednesday night created more havoc in the MVC.
  12. Stephen F. Austin (18-2, 9-1 Southland) – The Lumberjacks have lost just one game since Dec. 5.
  13. Lehigh (16-5, 6-1 Patriot) – The Mountain Hawks are still fighting for the Patriot League crown without C.J. McCollum.
  14. Murray State (16-5, 7-2 OVC) – Racers can make a statement about their standing in the OVC with a win over Belmont Thursday night.
  15. Valparaiso (18-6, 8-2 Horizon) – Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk combine to average 29.4 ppg.
Team of the Week: Indiana State’s 76-57 win over No. 16 Creighton Thursday was significant for a Sycamores program that is just one game behind the Bluejays in the Missouri Valley Conference race now. All-American Doug McDermott was just 3-for-10 (eight points) in the game. Jake Odum led the Sycamores with 22 points.

Player of the Week: Southern’s Derick Beltran finished with 35 points (8-for-14 from beyond the arc), seven rebounds and three blocks in a 78-58 win over Jackson State on Monday. The 6-foot-4 guard was 12-for-21 from the field.

Notes
  • Montana’s defense (62.8 ppg allowed, No. 1 in the Big Sky) has carried the Grizzlies to a 12-0 start in conference play. Most surprising fact of the run? Big Sky standout Will Cherry is the third-leading scorer on the team.
  • All signs point to another Big West championship for Long Beach State. Dan Monson’s perennially challenging nonconference slate clearly prepared the 49ers for conference play. But they’ve also benefited from the addition of transfers Keala King (Arizona State), Tony Freeland (DePaul) and Dan Jennings (West Virginia). The trio has combined to average 28.4 ppg.
  • Western Illinois, North Dakota State and South Dakota State are tied atop the Summit League with 9-2 records. This will be a great race to track down the stretch. Nate Wolters has led the Jackrabbits to seven consecutive wins. He’s 9-for-18 from the 3-point line in the team’s last three games. If he continues to play this way, he’ll carry SDSU back to the top of the conference again. He’s that good.

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

January, 31, 2013
1/31/13
9:00
AM ET
Here are the latest mid-major power rankings for ESPN.com as voted upon by our national panel. I also vote in this poll, which does not include any teams from the Atlantic 10, Conference USA or Mountain West.

Another quick look at the panel:

Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) covers Horizon League basketball for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Richard Kilwien (@smcgaels) is the associate athletic director for external affairs at Saint Mary's College.

Leslie Wilhite (@Leslie_Wilhite, @MT_MBB) is in her second season as an assistant director of athletic communications at Middle Tennessee State University.

Dusty Luthy Shull (@DustyLuthyShull) covers Murray State athletics for The Paducah (Ky.) Sun.

John Templon (@nybuckets) writes about New York City and East Coast mid-major college basketball for his website, nycbuckets.com.

Thomas Chen (@thomasmchen) is in his third year as director of athletic communications at Stony Brook University.

Terry Vandrovec (@terryvandrovec) covers South Dakota State basketball for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Mid-Major Power Rankings: Week 7
  1. Gonzaga (19-2, 6-0 WCC) -- Can any team in the West Coast Conference stop the Zags right now?
  2. Creighton (19-3, 8-2 MVC) -- The Bluejays are locked into a three-team battle for the MVC title.
  3. Belmont (17-4, 8-0 OVC) -- The Bruins are the best in the OVC, and they’re undefeated in 2013.
  4. Wichita State (19-3, 8-2 MVC) -- Tuesday home loss to Indiana State was proof that MVC is legit.
  5. Saint Mary’s (18-4, 7-1 WCC) -- The Gaels have won six consecutive games.
  6. Middle Tennessee (18-4, 10-1 Sun Belt) -- The Blue Raiders are 28th in the nation in defensive efficiency.
  7. Bucknell (18-4, 5-1 Patriot) -- Hit a shot with 0.8 of a second to go to beat American on Wednesday.
  8. BYU (16-6, 6-2 WCC) -- Tyler Haws (20.5 ppg) is one of the best players in the country right now.
  9. Akron (16-4, 6-0 MAC) -- The Zips have won 12 consecutive games and will face Ohio on Saturday.
  10. Indiana State (14-7, 7-3 MVC) -- The Sycamores crashed the MVC race with upset at Wichita State.
  11. Lehigh (15-5, 5-1 Patriot) -- The same team that won at Bucknell lost to Lafayette by 21 at home?
  12. Ohio (15-5, 6-0 MAC) -- Undefeated Ohio at undefeated Akron on Saturday. You should watch.
  13. Stephen F. Austin (17-2, 8-1 Southland) -- Suffered first loss in nearly two months on Saturday.
  14. Louisiana Tech (18-3, 9-0 WAC) -- The Bulldogs are the dominant team in the WAC these days.
  15. Murray State (15-5, 6-2 OVC) -- The Racers hit 22 percent of their 3s in a loss to Jacksonville State.
Team of the Week: Indiana State changed the Missouri Valley Conference championship race with its 68-55 win at No. 15 Wichita State on Tuesday night. Consider the odds that were against the Sycamores. They hadn’t defeated the Shockers on the road in nearly a decade. Wichita State had won 19 in a row at home. Creighton couldn’t win there. But the Sycamores played tough in a hostile venue. They limited the Shockers to 27 percent shooting from the field. They attacked Carl Hall, who dealt with foul trouble all night. The bottom line is that Indiana State enhanced its at-large hopes and changed the MVC title hunt with one thrilling performance.

Player of the Week: Eastern Washington freshman Venky Jois scored 20 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, recorded 5 assists and blocked 3 shots in his team’s 76-65 win over Portland State on Monday. It was the 6-foot-7 Australian’s ninth double-double this season, the top mark for all freshmen.

Notes
  • Montana’s Will Cherry missed the start of the season with a foot injury. He needed a few games to shake the rust off, but he’s been a critical leader for a Montana team that’s 10-0 in the Big Sky Conference. Against Weber State on Saturday, Cherry finished with 28 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals in a 76-74 victory for the Grizzlies.
  • Wright State won its first four Horizon League games. But the Raiders have gone 1-4 since. The good news for the program is that the other Horizon League contenders have failed to separate themselves from the rest of the field. Valpo lost at Youngstown State on Wednesday. Detroit has won two in a row but just three of its past six. Both UW-Green Bay and Youngstown State have won five league games. This race is far from over.
  • What happened to Bucknell? Once C.J. McCollum of Lehigh suffered a serious foot injury, most figured the Bison would dominate the Patriot League. But that hasn’t happened. Last week, they lost to Lehigh (without McCollum) at home. And on Wednesday night, Mike Muscala’s bucket with 0.8 of a second to play saved them against American. Is this the same team that beat Purdue on the road and nearly upset Missouri in Columbia? Doesn’t seem like it.
  • If I had to pick the Summit League champ right now, I’d probably go with Western Illinois. The Leathernecks lead the conference with a 38.4 percent mark from the 3-point line. But watch out for South Dakota State. After a few shaky weeks, the Jackrabbits finally look like the team that beat New Mexico on the road last month. Nate Wolters has scored 23 points or more in six of the team’s past nine games. Unless Taylor Braun makes an early return from a foot injury, I don’t see North Dakota State finishing higher than third. This is a good race to track in the coming weeks.

Now let’s look at the top upcoming mid-major matchup: Saturday's matchup between Akron and Ohio.

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