College Basketball Nation: Northeast

NEC team previews

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
6:00
PM ET
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 NEC:

Bryant Bulldogs Insider
Central Connecticut State Blue Devils Insider
Fairleigh Dickinson Knights Insider
LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds Insider
Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers Insider
Robert Morris Colonials Insider
Sacred Heart Pioneers (free)
St. Francis (NY) Terriers Insider
St. Francis (PA) Red Flash Insider
Wagner Seahawks Insider

You Gotta See This: NEC

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
9:15
AM ET
Andrew Toole Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesAndrew Toole has built a winner at Robert Morris but is still looking for a tournament run.

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: Robert Morris's least-favorite weekend.

The bad vibes began in 2010-11. The funny part is Robert Morris was still gestating. Mostly freshmen and sophomores, the Colonials went 18-14 that season thanks to a tough schedule and a rough start, but by the time the NEC tournament came around -- by the time the first weekend in March hit the calendar -- they were ready. Robert Morris' loss to LIU Brooklyn in that 2010-11 NEC tournament was a heartbreaker; the Blackbirds, who went 16-2 in league play that season, edged the Colonials 86-83 in overtime. Bummer, sure, but the future was bright. All those young players would be around for years.

Two seasons later, the Colonials are still waiting for their turn.

Robert Morris improved by leaps and bounds the next season, 2011-12, finishing 26-11 overall and 13-5 in league play. But LIU Brooklyn won the league again (with 16 wins, again) and again held off the Colonials in the NEC final (this time 90-73). Last season, Andrew Toole's team broke through and won the regular-season conference crown, but it was held out of the tournament by a Saturday NEC tourney loss to Mount St. Mary's. Instead, LIU Brooklyn, all of 12-6 in the NEC regular season, attended for the third consecutive season.

Now, finally, Robert Morris' long-deserved payoff looks imminent. Russell Johnson was the lone contributor the Colonials graduated this spring; everyone else, including five rising seniors, are back for one last crack. Even better, LIU Brooklyn lost a host of four-year players, the core of its recent run of success.

The problem? For an NEC team to make the NCAA tournament, it has to win the automatic bid. There is no other way. And so Robert Morris can be just as good in 2013-14 as it was in 2012-13, and can carry a No. 1 seed into that competition, and if it doesn’t win three games in a row, none of it matters.

There's a long season ahead. But as the Colonials know better than anyone, one weekend means more than the rest combined.


I know, I know.

More Kentucky hype. Enough is enough already, right?

Well ... no.

John Calipari has signed five of the top-9 prospects in America (Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson and James Young), according to RecruitingNation. And Marcus Lee is one of six McDonald’s All-Americans in that class. Plus, Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer and Willie Cauley-Stein will return.

That’s just ridiculous. And consensus No. 1 prep talent Andrew Wiggins ... gulp ... might choose the Wildcats, too.

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJohn Calipari's Wildcats face a nonconference schedule that includes Michigan State, North Carolina and defending champion Louisville.
Yes, Kentucky will be the No. 1 team in America once preseason rankings are released in the coming months. I don’t understand any arguments against that.

But, we won’t have to wait too long to see if these Wildcats will justify the preseason buzz.

On Wednesday afternoon, the school released its nonconference schedule through its Twitter feed.

John Calipari teased the slate with this tweet: “It's once again an elite schedule, but that's the standard here. It looks like we'll play several top teams.”

That’s no overstatement.

Here are the highlights (Yes, we knew about some of these games months ago):

Kentucky vs. Michigan State (Chicago), Nov. 12: Whoa. So, we might see the top two squads in the country compete against one another in the State Farm Champions Classic in Chicago, huh? We know what Kentucky has. But the Spartans are going to be a force, too. With Adreian Payne and Gary Harris returning, Tom Izzo has a team with Final Four potential. How will the Big Ten contenders handle this young Kentucky crew that’s packed with NBA talent? We’ll see.

Kentucky vs. Robert Morris (Lexington), Nov. 17: The Wildcats clearly want payback for last year’s embarrassing NIT loss. The Wildcats commenced last season with a national ranking. They ended last season with a first-round NIT loss against Robert Morris. It was a fitting conclusion for last year’s disaster. But this is not last year’s team. Pay attention to the pregame buzz. Calipari and Co. will say that this is “just another game.” And then they’ll go out there and try to beat the Colonials by 50.

Kentucky vs. Baylor (Arlington), Dec. 6: I’ve been pumped about this one since it was announced last year. It will be held at Cowboys Stadium. That helps. Projections for Baylor changed recently when both Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin announced that they will return for another season. That makes this matchup more intriguing. The venue has fueled most of the hype. But Kentucky should be on upset alert entering this matchup.

Kentucky at North Carolina (Chapel Hill), Dec. 14: Wiggins could be a factor in this matchup. The Canadian standout could choose either school. But even if he doesn’t, this is still a high-profile battle. Last season, the Tar Heels failed to achieve the results that the program has historically produced under Roy Williams. They had matchup problems throughout the season because they didn’t have the inside-outside balance they’ll possess in 2013-14. But incoming freshmen Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks should give Williams such much-needed size and enhance their chances of defeating the Wildcats. And Chapel Hill will be on fire with anticipation for this game.

Kentucky vs. Louisville (Lexington), Dec. 28: You don’t really need an introduction for this one. We all know about the rivalry. But right now, the Cardinals are kings. They’re the national champs. And they’re returning some of the key players who fueled that title run. But the game returns to Lexington in 2013-14. The Wildcats just weren’t on Louisville’s level last season. This, however, should be a more competitive matchup than last season’s meeting. And again, we’re talking about a pair of squads that might be ranked first and second in the preseason rankings. Get your popcorn ready.
1. The NIT gets criticized for being the junior varsity. But the importance of the games can have a lasting effect. The Robert Morris home game against Kentucky will do more for RMU than had the Colonials been a 16 seed and lost in Dayton. The Robert Morris-Kentucky game was the game to watch Tuesday night. Those highlights will be something for the program to build off of and use for a year. The NIT did the right thing in rewarding conference champs that didn’t get an automatic bid. The quirk in Kentucky hosting the NCAA tournament meant the Colonials and the NEC got a home game for the ages. You can’t put a price tag on what this means for RMU.

2. One of the most interesting storylines in the next few weeks will be with the Kentucky underclassmen who aren’t ready for the NBA but could still be drafted on potential. The Wildcats would likely have a scholarship issue if they all returned. But that could easily take care of itself through natural attrition. Some of the current players simply may want more playing time somewhere else if they lose their playing time to the younger crew coming to Lexington next season.

3. Here’s something for inside baseball guys like me. The Big East was prepared to do an 18-team Big East tournament in 2014 had no one left early this season. And the tournament would have started on Monday. How about that. Also, one odd thing that has occurred is the Big East was helping St. John’s in hosting the NCAA tournament at Madison Square Garden in 2014. But now the Big East isn’t the Big East anymore so the conference office that used to be the Big East that is now looking for a name can’t really help St. John’s since the Red Storm aren’t in the conference starting in the fall. Got it? So if St. John’s wants help in hosting it will need to get it from the new Big East employees who haven’t been hired yet.

Twenty years ago, I covered Rider in its first-round NCAA tournament game against Kentucky. The Broncs of the Northeast Conference were naturally a 16-seed; the Wildcats of the soon-to-be NBA were a No. 1 seed.

Rider’s best player, Darrick Suber, agreed to do a blog for our newspaper, The Trentonian, detailing the experience. His entry from the game day in Nashville included his memories of walking onto the Vanderbilt court for the first time, into the throng of the Big Blue Nation and hearing one distinct voice yell in a female Southern drawl:

"Here come the lambs," she said.

As in to the slaughter.

She was right, of course. Kentucky won that game 96-52, as is scripted in those sorts of matchups.

Which takes me to what happened Tuesday night on the small campus of Robert Morris University in Moon Township, Pa., hometown of one John Calipari.

The Colonials beat the Wildcats 59-57.

Let me retype that.

[+] EnlargeRobert Morris' Andy Toole
AP Photo/Don WrightAndy Toole's Robert Morris team earned a 59-57 victory over Kentucky in the NIT first round.
Robert Morris University, whose best postseason appearance before Tuesday night was an almost-win against Kansas in 1990, beat the University of Kentucky, whose latest best postseason appearance came 350 days ago, when the Wildcats won their eighth national championship. A program with more losses than wins in its history beat the program with more wins than anyone in college basketball history.

So feel free to say that this was "only" an NIT game and mock the fact that Robert Morris fans stormed the court.

Then understand the absolute impossibility of what just happened.

After the brackets came out Sunday night, players and head coach Andy Toole understandably reacted as if they’d been punk’d.

"I feel like Rocky in 'Rocky I' who just got his shot against the champions in our home city," he said.

Guard Velton Jones tweeted, "Really? Why can’t I breathe right now?"

Well, Velton, because the Robert Morris Universities of the world are supposed to be the sacrificial lambs, not hosts -- and that was only from an ironic twist of NCAA hosting fate -- and certainly not winners.

According to the Department of Education’s latest equity in athletics numbers, the Colonials men's basketball operating expenses are $307,670. Kentucky spent $212,242 … per participant.

Robert Morris’ gym includes a track circling the court and lines on the court for volleyball games. Kentucky’s newly upgraded locker room is one step below the Plaza.

Calipari makes $5.2 million. Toole? Well, Toole does not.

Money, apparently, can buy you neither love nor basketball victories.

The Colonials didn’t just win this game, they deserved to win it. They outplayed the Cats. That says as much about Kentucky as it does about Robert Morris, but I’m not going to ruin the Colonials’ moment by bogging it down with UK's myriad of issues. Calipari covered that in his postgame news conference.

As starry-eyed as the Colonials might have been on Twitter, they never played like deer in headlights, not even after Lucky Jones headed to the showers after a foolish -- and dangerous -- flagrant foul on Archie Goodwin.

They looked as calm as their baby-faced coach. Toole, by the way, might be the only Division I coach who could challenge Brad Stevens in the head-coach-most-likely-to-get-carded-at-a-bar competition.

Given his first head-coaching gig at the age of 29, after Mike Rice moved on to Rutgers, Toole was nonchalant about being the youngest coach in Division I tag. He told me dryly in 2009 that he could very easily become "the youngest head coach to be fired," so why get hung up on it?

Toole comes by his sane outlook and bright hoops mind naturally. He played for Fran Dunphy at Penn, helping the Quakers to two NCAA tournament berths. What he lacked in physical skills he made up for with basketball smarts, a talent he has brought with him to his coaching job.

His team did exactly what it needed to do on both ends of the court, draining available 3-pointers and picking smart spots to drive.

Now Toole and his players have given Robert Morris its most significant moment, certainly in basketball history and maybe in the school’s history altogether.

For one day at least, the lambs pushed back and refused to be silenced.

For the vast majority of the college hoops world, the NCAA tournament is the only thing worth getting excited about. The NIT, on the other hand, is at best boring, and at worst depressing. Almost any way you look at it for many of its teams it constitutes one week-long reminder of some degree of failure. No one wants to be in the NIT.

Kentucky fans know this pain. A year after riding one of the most dominant teams of the past decade to a national title, the Wildcats find themselves in the NIT. It isn't too hard to find UK fans who would prefer the season just end now, thank you very much. They've seen enough.

That said, Kentucky's first-round NIT game is about as intriguing an NIT game can be. Rupp Arena is an NCAA tournament site, so UK can't host its first-round opponent. The No. 1-seeded Wildcats will have to travel to No. 8-seed Robert Morris' 3,000-seat gym in Moon Township, Pa. … hometown of UK coach John Calipari.

Not only does Moon Township just sound like an awesome place to be from -- it would be cooler if it were actually a township on the Moon, but it's close enough -- it plays a major role in understanding what makes Calipari tick. Calipari may wear bespoke suits and Gucci loafers now, but he grew up sleeping in the hallway of a two-bedroom home. His father was a steelworker and gas station attendant, and his mother was a cafeteria worker at the local junior high school. My favorite detail from S.L. Price's 2011 feature on Calipari in Sports Illustrated has nothing to do with basketball: "[Calipari's father] Vince took any overtime he could get, yet made sure on every warm day to cut the grass: front, side or back. 'The yard was magnificent,' John says. 'A grinder is what he was.'" If Calipari is looking for an anecdote with which he can motivate his squad to finish out the end of a disappointing season, he could do worse than that.

And even if none of this gets you even remotely excited about the NIT, guess what? Robert Morris doesn't care. Because Robert Morris is actually incredibly excited about this whole NIT thing:
“I feel like Rocky in Rocky 1 who just got his shot against the champions in our home city,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “We're extremely excited.”
“It's incredible,” Toole said. “It shouldn't be hard to get the team prepared. It's going to be a crazy, crazy event.”
Robert Morris junior guard Karvel Anderson tweeted: “This can't be real. Wow, this game bout to be crazy.” Velton Jones tweeted: “Really? Why can't I breathe right now?”

I'm not sure the Moon Township Department of Parks and Recreation has a Leslie Knope in their ranks, but if they do, perhaps they can very quickly whip up some sort of city-wide celebration for the native Calipari. A ceremonial street? A tasteful statuette, perhaps?

In the meantime, UK fans and the general populace now have at least one reason to be moderately interested in the NIT.

Video: LIU Brooklyn 91, Mt. St. Mary's 70

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
11:14
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LIU advances to the NCAA tournament for the third straight year with the 91-70 win over Mount St. Mary's. C.J. Garner had 31 points for the Blackbirds.

Big Ten still tops; Big 12 improves

March, 4, 2013
3/04/13
7:08
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The Big Ten continues to control the top spot of ESPN Stats & Info’s weekly college basketball rankings, while the Big 12 has the second-highest bonus from the human polls as the final week of conference play begins. The rankings include a human element from the Top 25 polls and a computer portion, which is comprised entirely of the BPI.

The BPI is ESPN’s College Basketball Power Index. The BPI team rating takes into account the game score, where the game was played, the pace of the game and whether any of the team’s top five players was missing. For a complete explanation on the College BPI, click here. The complete BPI rankings can be found here.

The Big Ten has been atop the conference rankings throughout the season and continues to use a strong boost from the Top 25 polls. Indiana dropped out of the number one spot in this week’s poll after losing to Minnesota. However, the Big Ten’s three teams in the top 10 of the AP Poll are the most of any conference. Ohio State joins Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State in the top 15, and Wisconsin checks in at number 22 in the AP Poll to give the Big Ten a total of five ranked teams.

The Big East continues to have the highest bonus from the BPI, with eight teams in the top 40 this week. Louisville is currently the highest-rated team from the Big East, sitting in the No. 2 spot of the BPI. The conference’s eight teams in the top 40 of the BPI are more than the SEC and Pac-12 have combined.

Despite only having three teams ranked in the AP Poll, the Big 12 controls the second-highest bonus from the Top 25 polls in this week’s rankings. There are three Big 12 teams in the top 13 of the AP Poll, tied with the Big Ten for the most of any conference. Kansas is the highest-rated Big 12 team at number four in the AP Poll, while Kansas State has continued to rise up the rankings. The Wildcats are ranked ninth in the AP poll this week, their highest ranking in any AP poll this season.

Gonzaga reached the top spot in both Top 25 polls for the first time in school history this week, but it has not necessarily helped the West Coast Conference’s ranking. The conference continues to be in the No. 10 spot in the rankings and controls the fifth-highest bonus from the polls, ahead of the SEC and Pac-12.

The MAAC and Northeast Conference were the two biggest movers in this week’s rankings, and Iona is the highest-rated team in the BPI from either of those conferences, checking in at No. 102.

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
10:20
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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.

Video: College basketball's best passers

January, 29, 2013
1/29/13
1:00
PM ET

In his Weekly Report, Jay Bilas counts down the six best passers in college basketball.

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

January, 24, 2013
1/24/13
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 No. 6:
  1. Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0 WCC) -- Zags will face BYU Thursday after tough loss at Butler last weekend.
  2. Wichita State (18-2, 7-1 MVC) -- Carl Hall's return elevates the Shockers’ ceiling.
  3. Creighton (17-3, 6-2 MVC) -- The Bluejays have lost two consecutive tough games.
  4. Belmont (15-4, 6-0 OVC) -- The Bruins are ranked 34th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
  5. Saint Mary’s (15-4, 4-1 WCC) -- The Gaels have won seven of their past eight games.
  6. Bucknell (16-4, 3-1 Patriot League) -- Suffered a three-point loss to rival Lehigh on Wednesday.
  7. BYU (15-5, 5-1 WCC) -- A win at Gonzaga would change the WCC title conversation.
  8. Middle Tennessee (16-4, 8-1 Sun Belt) -- The Blue Raiders are 31st in the nation in defensive efficiency (among nearly 350 schools).
  9. Lehigh (14-4, 4-0 Patriot) -- Without star senior C.J. McCollum, Lehigh beat Bucknell to ascend to first place in the conference.
  10. Stephen F. Austin (16-1, 7-0 Southland) -- The Lumberjacks haven’t lost since Dec. 5.
  11. Murray State (14-4, 5-1 OVC) -- Defensive gaps could prove to be problematic going forward.
  12. Akron (14-4, 5-0 MAC) -- Zips have four players averaging 9.0 points per game or more.
  13. North Dakota State (16-4, 7-1 Summit) -- Bison still fighting without injured star Taylor Braun.
  14. Valparaiso (16-5, 6-1 Horizon) -- The Crusaders are in first place after winning six in a row.
  15. Utah State (14-3, 5-2 WAC) -- Crucial injuries will make Aggies’ pursuit of a WAC title difficult.
Team of the Week: So many possibilities. Wichita State knocked off Creighton in a major Missouri Valley Conference showdown. And Drake, a squad that hasn’t even amassed a .500 record, dropped the Bluejays on Wednesday night. But I’ll go with Lehigh, which proved that it’s still a contender in the Patriot League by knocking off Bucknell 65-62 on Wednesday night. A few weeks ago, the Mountain Hawks lost talented guard C.J. McCollum, a serious NBA prospect who led the program to an upset over Duke in last season’s NCAA tournament, to a broken foot. Early reports suggest that the program would be lucky to have him back in late February/early March. McCollum, however, may also decide to enter the draft without playing another minute for Lehigh. The bottom line is that Lehigh won’t have its star in Patriot League play. So a road win over its top threat in the conference was a major victory for a program that is still fighting for the title. B.J. Bailey led Lehigh (10-for-18 from beyond the arc) with 18 points. Mike Muscala finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and six blocks for Bucknell (2-for-14 from beyond the arc). The Mountain Hawks have won five in a row without McCollum.

Player of the Week: Corey Hawkins, a sophomore guard at UC-Davis, registered 40 points (8-for-9 from beyond the arc), 12 rebounds, two assists and a steal in a 93-82 win at Hawaii on Sunday. He recorded 17 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals and a block during a 74-71 victory at CS Northridge on Jan. 17.

Notes
  • The WAC race has changed. Recent injuries to Preston Medlin (fractured wrist) and Kyisean Reed (torn ACL) were serious blows to a Utah State program that looked like the league favorite entering league play. Reed is out for the season but Medlin might return. By then, however, New Mexico State or Louisiana Tech may have control of the conference.
  • Give Drake full credit for Wednesday night’s win over No. 17 Creighton. Yes, Creighton star Doug McDermott got sick at halftime and struggled in the second half. But he scored 17 points in the first half, which ended with Drake leading 44-28.
  • On Saturday, two teams that represent statistical extremes will battle in the Southland. Stephen F. Austin, which owns the nation’s top scoring defense in the country at 49.4 PPG allowed, will travel to face Northwestern State, No. 1 nationally in scoring offense (85.0 PPG).

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
10:25
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.

This week’s poll (team’s listed without conference records have not commenced league play):
  1. Gonzaga (15-1, 2-0 WCC) – There’s a big gap between the Zags and the rest of the WCC.
  2. Creighton (15-1, 4-0 MVC) – Wichita State is its only real competition in the MVC, it seems.
  3. Wichita State (15-1, 4-0 MVC) – The Shockers have won six in a row without injured senior Carl Hall.
  4. Bucknell (13-3) – The Bison went down fighting in a weekend loss at No. 10 Missouri.
  5. Saint Mary’s (12-3, 1-0 WCC) – Gaels can make a huge statement with a Thursday win at Gonzaga.
  6. Utah State (13-1, 4-0 WAC) – Aggies haven’t lost since Nov. 15 (67-58 vs. Saint Mary’s).
  7. Belmont (11-4, 2-0 OVC) – Belmont continues to assert itself in its new league.
  8. BYU (12-4, 2-0 WCC) – Cougars anxious to prove that Zags, Gaels not only contenders.
  9. Middle Tennessee (12-4, 4-1 Sun Belt) – Arkansas State handed MTSU first league loss last week.
  10. North Dakota State (13-3, 4-0 Summit) – The Bison have won five in a row.
  11. (Tie) Murray State (11-4, 2-1 OVC) – Racers suffered home loss to Eastern Kentucky Wednesday. Stephen F. Austin (12-1, 3-0 Southland) – Seven-game winning streak includes ‘W’ over Oklahoma.
  12. Lehigh (10-4) – This squad can only hope that C.J. McCollum is ready for Patriot League tourney.
  13. Santa Clara (12-4, 1-1 WCC) – The Broncos have won seven of their last nine games.
  14. (Tie) Eastern Kentucky (13-3, 3-0 OVC) – The Colonels crashed the OVC race with an upset at Murray State. Akron (10-4, 1-0 MAC) – The Zips, who’ve won six straight, will battle Ohio for MAC’s east title.
Player (s) of the Week: That honor goes to two players this week. Holy Cross guard Justin Burrell and forward Dave Dudzinski scored a total of 60 points in the Crusaders’ 78-69 win against Columbia Tuesday. Burrell finished with 29 points and Dudzinski led the program with 31 points. They combined to go 19-for-27 from the field. And their collective effort established a high mark for a duo in 2012-13.

Team of the Week: Eastern Kentucky is 13-3 overall and 3-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference after picking up a tough 77-65 road win at Murray State Wednesday night. Corey Walden and Mike DiNunno finished with 20 points apiece in a victory that changes the conversation about the OVC’s race in the East division. The Colonels have won four of their last five games.

Notes

-- C.J. McCollum’s foot injury is obviously a devastating blow for the Mountain Hawks. But there’s a chance that McCollum, an NBA prospect, will return in time for the Patriot League tournament. Until then, however, Lehigh will need its entire roster to step up as it deals with the void. Junior Mackey McKnight scored 25 points for Lehigh in a win over North Texas last month. But the guard has been inconsistent this season. He’s certainly a player that Dr. Brett Reed will identify as someone who has to give the Mountain Hawks a more consistent contribution.

-- Please help me figure out the Horizon League. Wright State is 3-0 in league play. Valparaiso has started 2-1 (loss to Loyola-Illinois) and my pick to win the conference, Illinois-Chicago, is 1-2. Detroit, however, is 2-0. The Titans have won four consecutive games, a streak that followed a four-point loss at Syracuse Dec. 17. That effort clearly boosted their confidence.

-- Kudos to Gregg Marshall and Wichita State for returning to the Associated Press poll this week. The Shockers deserve the honor. They’ve won six consecutive games without senior Carl Hall, who suffered a thumb injury last month. I still say that the Shockers will need Hall to compete with Creighton for the Missouri Valley title. But they’ve handled the early portion of their conference slate well, while anticipating his return.

Now let’s take a look at the top upcoming mid-major matchup: Thursday night’s tussle between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga (11 ET, ESPN2):

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