College Basketball Nation: Patriot

Patriot League team previews

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
3:01
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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 Patriot League:

American University Eagles Insider
Army Black Knights Insider
Boston University Terriers Insider
Bucknell Bison Insider
Colgate Raiders Insider
Holy Cross Crusaders Insider
Lafayette Leopards (free)
Lehigh Mountain Hawks Insider
Loyola (MD) Greyhounds Insider
Navy Midshipmen Insider

You Gotta See This: Patriot League

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
9:15
AM ET
Mike Muscala, C.J. McCollumIcon SMI, Getty ImagesWith Mike Muscala (left) and C.J. McCollum gone, the Patriot League is wide open.

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: Filling voids in the Patriot League.

The 2012-13 season could have been a historic one for the Patriot League. Only two teams, Bucknell and Lehigh, have ever won NCAA tournament games as members of the Patriot League (Navy did its David Robinson-inflicted damage back when the Midshipmen were in the Colonial); this is not a conference in the habit of sending multiple teams to the NCAA tournament. But both the Bison and the Mountain Hawks had every reason to expect participation. Lehigh had C.J. McCollum, who returned after decimating No. 2-seeded Duke in the first round of the 2012 NCAA tournament. The Bison had Mike Muscala, one of the best forwards in the country at any level, a dominant interior scorer, rebounder and rim presence at both ends of the court. Two Patriot League All-Americans in the same season? An at-large bid? Bullishness dominated the 2012 offseason, and for good reason.

Bucknell went on to have an excellent season, finishing 28-6 and 12-2 atop the league, with a No. 11 seed in the tournament for their troubles. Lehigh, on the other hand, lost McCollum to an early injury. A noble effort by the remaining Mountain Hawks earned them a 10-4 second-place tie at season's end, but the chance to enjoy McCollum's offensive brilliance -- and unleash it on the NCAA tournament one last time -- was lost.

Now both players are gone -- McCollum to the NBA draft lottery, Muscala to Spanish club Blusens Monbús. The departures leave a massive void not only in terms of star power but in recent obvious preseason favorites, and the most interesting question ahead of the 2013-14 Patriot League is which program emerges to fill the void.

The answer may just come from realignment. The coming season is Boston University's first in the Patriot League; the Terriers officially completed their move from the America East this summer. And despite the new league, BU has the look of the favorite. Coach Joe Jones has every major contributor back in his lineup, and in a league suddenly up for grabs, that might be all the eventual champion really needs.

The answer could also come from an unexpected place: Army. That seems a little crazy, given Army's history; the Black Knights have never won the Patriot League, never earned an NCAA tournament bid. But as Mid-Major Madness's Benjamin Miraski wrote convincingly last month, the Black Knights still have a chance, even without leading scorer Ella Ellis, to surprise everyone -- provided Army can play even halfway-decent defense every now and again.

And what about Bucknell? Muscala was everything for the Bison; the gulf between their records before and after his arrival are a matter of causation, not correlation. Losing senior forward Joe Willman will take a toll, too. But with three starters back from a team that has dominated the league, it seems silly to write Dave Paulsen's team off.

Which is exactly why the Patriot League could be so fun this season. Bucknell could be down; Lehigh could struggle. The overused term "wide open" genuinely applies here. Anything is possible.

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.

Seven things to know from Thursday

March, 22, 2013
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1. Harvard won an NCAA tournament game for the first time in program history. The Crimson defeated No. 3-seed New Mexico. Harvard is the first 14-seed or lower from the Ivy League to win an NCAA tournament game.

2. Since seeding began in 1979, the 46-point victory by 5-seed Virginia Commonwealth over No. 12 Akron was the largest margin of victory ever by any team seeded lower than 2. That record lasted for about an hour. Syracuse, a 4-seed, broke it with a 47-point win over Montana.

3. Southern's six-point loss against Gonzaga was the closest by a No. 16 seed against a No. 1 seed since 1996, when Western Carolina lost by two against Purdue. Southern is only the fifth No. 16 seed in the past 20 years to come within single digits of a 1-seed.

4. Vander Blue's go-ahead layup with one second remaining against Davidson was the first game-tying or go-ahead shot made in the final 10 seconds of a game in the past two NCAA tournaments. Prior to Blue's shot, players missed the previous 22 attempts in those situations, dating back to the 2011 NCAA tournament.

5. With Butler's win over Bucknell, Brad Stevens is now 12-4 in the NCAA tournament. Stevens is the seventh coach to win at least 12 of his first 16 NCAA tournament games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The only coaches with a better record in their first 16 NCAA tournament games are Tom Izzo and Steve Fisher.

6. Russ Smith had eight steals for Louisville in its win over North Carolina A&T, matching the most in any NCAA tournament game (steals became official in 1986). The last player with eight steals in a game was North Carolina's Ty Lawson in the 2009 national championship game.

7. With its loss to No. 12-seed California, UNLV, a No. 5 seed, became the third team ever to lose four consecutive games in the round of 64 as the higher seed, joining Clemson (1998-2010) and BYU (1995-2009).

3-point shot: Xavier's NIT snub

March, 18, 2013
3/18/13
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1.The NIT selection committee snubbed Xavier despite quality the Musketeers' wins over Temple, Butler, La Salle, Memphis and Saint Louis. Xavier coach Chris Mack and outgoing athletic director Mike Bobinski were expecting to get an NIT bid. When one didn’t come Sunday night they both agreed not to pursue the CBI. So, Xavier’s season is over and likely its longtime history in the A-10 has come to a close as well. The Musketeers are expected to be announced, according to multiple sources, with Butler and Creighton, as a member of the new Big East later this week.

2. NIT selection committee chair C.M. Newton said the toughest decision among teams not invited to the NIT was Air Force. He said the injury to Michael Lyons, which occurred during the Mountain West Conference tournament, was a factor in leaving the Falcons out. That’s a shame. Air Force had a terrific season, upsetting league champ New Mexico on the final regular season conference game as well as beating UNLV, San Diego State and Boise State at home. The Falcons weren’t picked to go to the CBI, either. Newton said Wyoming, Murray State, Arkansas, LSU, Richmond and UTEP were all considered as well, but road losses and 10 automatic qualifiers (limiting the at-large pool to 22) were factors in selecting the field.

3. The CBI has some interesting storylines. Texas and Myck Kabongo will continue the season, playing at Houston. Richmond, fresh off that disastrous meltdown to Charlotte in the A-10 quarterfinals, plays at Bryant, which is in its first year of being eligible for the postseason in Division I. Lehigh, which still didn’t have C.J. McCollum healthy for the Patriot League tournament, is at Wyoming, one of the four final unbeaten teams in January. The other games are George Mason at College of Charleston; Vermont at Santa Clara; Tulsa at Wright State; North Dakota State at Western Michigan and Western Illinois at Purdue.

Video: Mid-Major teams to fear

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
8:00
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"College Basketball Live Extra's" Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams talk about the mid-major teams that can win a game in the NCAA tournament.

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
10:24
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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 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, 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.

 

Video: College hoops dream team

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
8:00
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Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams make their selections for their current college dream team.

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.
Every season, there has usually been one. Whether the player has ended up winning the award or comes close, at least one player from a mid-major league usually enters the player-of-the-year conversation by the middle of the season.

Some, such as BYU’s Jimmer Fredette two years ago, have ended up leading the poll at the end of the year and sweeping the four big player-of-the-year awards. Others, such as Stephen Curry from Davidson in 2008-09, come close.

Creighton junior Doug McDermott was in the conversation for player of the year last season, finishing fourth behind Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson and Draymond Green. Now, in the second in-season poll of the 2012-13 basketball season, McDermott has ascended to the top spot of our Player of the Year poll, just ahead of Michigan sophomore Trey Burke.

In the five-year history of the poll, the only season in which a non-BCS candidate did not garner serious consideration was in 2009-10, when Fredette made a late charge and showed up way down on the list during the final poll.

This season, two non-BCS players are receiving major attention in McDermott and UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett; a third, Nate Wolters from South Dakota State, is also receiving a vote.

McDermott, who was third two weeks ago in the initial in-season POY poll, leapt over Burke and the leader of the first poll, Duke senior Mason Plumlee, to take the lead.

There is a long way to go, though, between now and when awards ballots start to come due in March. McDermott and Burke, as you’ll see below, are not separated by much. Plumlee is still hanging around, and the players below them could all make a charge in this balanced race.

A common thread among the non-BCS candidates is usually making some noise the year before -- either in the NCAA tournament, in the case of Curry, or through a high-scoring regular season the year before, in the cases of Fredette and now McDermott.

For those who don’t remember, the poll consists of actual voters from the four major player-of-the-year awards -- the Wooden, Naismith, Associated Press and Robertson -- and each voter is asked to give his top three vote-getters, anonymously. A first-place vote garners three points, a second-place vote two points and a third-place vote one point.

Notes
  • A note on the polling: I poll voters from every region, but the poll is unfortunately at the mercy of those pollsters who respond, hence the lack of response from the Far West region. The majority of potential pollsters from the Far West -- and even Southwest -- regions have not responded at the same clip as those in other regions. Understand, too, that national writers and broadcasters are listed in the states in which they live, not as national writers, which could help explain some of the regions being more populated than others. That said, the poll is going to make a concerted effort for more West Coast pollsters in two weeks when the third poll is released.
  • The nine players are an all-time low for the poll, but that is actually not so surprising considering the way the race has been shaping up. There is no one true breakaway candidate, but rather a logjam of three candidates hanging out at the top. This probably means fewer players will get one or two votes since those top candidates -- with guys such as Carter-Williams, McLemore and Zeller hanging around, too -- are starting to separate themselves.
  • The nine players are from seven different conferences -- the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Missouri Valley, Mountain West and Summit.
  • McDermott and Burke essentially split regions, with the Creighton forward winning the northeastern part of the country, Burke taking the South and the middle of the nation and McDermott seeing an advantage out west. In the first poll, Plumlee led every region but the Far West (McDermott) and Midwest (Burke).
  • A host of players -- Kansas senior Jeff Withey, Santa Clara senior Kevin Foster, Notre Dame senior Jack Cooley, UNC sophomore James Michael McAdoo, UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad and Bucknell senior Mike Muscala all departed from the last poll. The only new addition to the poll was Syracuse sophomore Michael Carter-Williams.
  • Votes were due by 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

So, Wednesday night was wild

January, 24, 2013
1/24/13
8:15
AM ET
Here at the ESPN.com college hoops headquarters, we -- and by "we," I mostly mean our tireless editor, Brett Edgerton -- spend a lot of time trying to plan for a sport that is inherently unpredictable. It's just part of the gig, same as anything else: You want to allocate your resources in the best and most efficient manner possible. You highlight some games and pay only passing attention to others. You dive deep on big nights, those weeknights and Saturdays with loads of top-25 matchups, and you recognize that others probably aren't going to be as exciting.

Throughout my three-plus years here, if there's one thing I've learned about covering this sport on a daily basis -- if there's one motto Edge and the rest of us have had repeatedly drilled into our heads -- it's that the best hoops nights are the ones you never expect.

Wednesday was one of those nights.

Don't get me wrong: There were good games on the docket. We were prepared for a solid night of basketball. But the sheer randomness that ensued last night went far beyond anything we could have imagined as recently as, say, Wednesday afternoon. To wit:
[+] EnlargeJared Swopshire, Austin Hollins
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhNorthwestern's Jared Swopshire drives past Minnesota's Austin Hollins on his way to 16 points.

  • No. 1 Duke not only lost at Miami -- a foreseeable outcome -- but was absolutely thrashed, totally embarrassed, completely run off the court. Miami won 90-63. Its fans stormed the floor. Coach K rubbed his temples. Jim Larranaga winked.
  • Butler, fresh off its miracle buzzer-beating Saturday win over Gonzaga, turned around and lost a one-point game at La Salle, 54-53. Of course, this is not a totally crazy upset; La Salle has been playing some good basketball this season, and in fact the Las Vegas books had the Explorers as a one-point favorite before the game. Plus, Butler was going on the road after Saturday's euphoric finish; this was the very definition of a trap game. And even with all of that said … Butler? Lose a one-possession game? Does. Not. Compute.
  • Iowa State, the same team that pushed Kansas to overtime at Allen Fieldhouse, who entered Wednesday ranked 14th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom, scored a lowly 51 points in a loss at Texas Tech, which entered Wednesday ranked No. 277 nationally in adjusted efficiency defense.
  • The 11-8 Northwestern Wildcats, one of the worst rebounding teams in the country, held No. 12 Minnesota, the nation's best offensive rebounders, to just 48 points in their 55-48 win in Evanston, Ill. It was Minnesota's third loss in a row.
  • The 8-10 Drake Bulldogs upset No. 17 Creighton 74-69 in Des Moines, Iowa. This despite the facts that a) Creighton's offense is among the five best in the country and b) Drake's defense is one of the worst in the Missouri Valley. This loss was even more mysterious before we learned forward Doug McDermott was playing through the flu, and had vomited at halftime (he scored just four points in the second half). But still.
  • Oregon needed nearly all 40 minutes of its home game against a downright bad Washington State team; it held on for a victory, but things were in doubt throughout.
  • Without star C.J. McCollum, Lehigh went to Patriot League favorite Bucknell's house and left the Bisons and Mike Muscala with a 65-62 loss.
  • Southern Miss beat Marshall 102-46. That would be all you needed to know about that, except for this: Early in the game, Marshall led 3-0. Then, Southern Miss went on 47-4 run. 47. To four. There are no words.
  • Oh, and this happened.

So, yeah. We assumed Wednesday night would give us a couple of obviously good games (Duke-Miami, Colorado State-New Mexico) and a bunch of your standard regular-season college hoops games. So much for that.
1. Wednesday was a wild night, but one result may have more significance than any other. And no it wasn't Miami beating Duke by 27 points or La Salle beating Butler at home or Creighton losing to Drake as Wichita State was winning to take first place in the Missouri Valley. Nope, it was Lehigh -- without C.J. McCollum -- going to 4-0 in the Patriot League with a road win at league favorite Bucknell (65-62 as the Bison were 2-of-14 on 3s). The Mountain Hawks have played exceptionally well without McCollum (broken foot). Lehigh coach Brett Reed said late Wednesday night, "Right now our guys are playing with tremendous defensive energy, resiliency and togetherness. I won't say I'm surprised because I think we have talent and togetherness, but I am pleased with the way they have stepped up their defensive focus as a collective unit. When C.J. was healthy, I think, at times, our guys felt they could outscore people, but now that C.J. is out, they are valuing every possession even more."

2. Missouri coach Frank Haith hasn't ruled out Laurence Bowers against Vanderbilt on Saturday. But if he can get away with holding him out one more game to rest his ailing knee that would probably be the best-case scenario. The Tigers are 2-2 without their best big man and have seven more road games, including next Wednesday at LSU. Missouri is also hoping to get back Keion Bell (ankle) for the Vandy game. Bell didn't play in the squeaker against South Carolina on Tuesday. The Tigers were without two starters and haven't had one game this season with the projected starting five (remember Michael Dixon Jr., never made it to the season).

3. Conference USA will play a 16-game schedule next season with 16 teams. That means each team will play one rival twice and play the other 14 schools one time. The set partners will be divided along regional/geographic divisions. The likely pairings could be: Tulane-Louisiana Tech; FAU-FIU; UAB-Southern Miss; Rice-UTEP; North Texas-UTSA; ODU-Marshall; Tulsa-Middle Tennessee State; Charlotte-East Carolina. Of course, you could move a few of these around that might make a bit more sense. Overall, this league is likely going to be 16 teams vying for one bid in 2014. Tulane will move to the Big East in 2014-15 while East Carolina is scheduled to do the same in football only.
At 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU unveiled the 2012-13 Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 Presented by Wendy's (a sponsorship I have no problem citing, because I love me a good spicy chicken sandwich) and, by and large, the list was about what you'd expect.

This is intended as a compliment. The Wooden Award midseason list -- unlike some other awards watches in recent seasons -- doesn't have any obvious or glaring holes. You might take issue with a couple of inclusions here or there, but you'd be hard-pressed to find something totally egregious.

So, instead of critiquing the list item by item, I decided to list five players who could play -- or arguably already have played -- their way onto the Wooden Award radar in the next few weeks. Let's dig in:

Victor Oladipo, guard, Indiana: There are two players on this list who should be on the Wooden watch already. Oladipo is one of them. I know, I know: Cody Zeller is the obvious choice, because Zeller was the consensus preseason player of the year and the favorite to win all the individual awards. And rightfully so. Plus, Zeller has played really well, particularly lately, and he is still totally deserving of some prospective POY attention. It would be a mistake to argue that one should be on the list without the other. Indeed, if I had to take one player off, it would probably be Duke's Seth Curry -- a good but not outstanding guard who is still a defensive liability against quicker guards on the perimeter.

By contrast, Oladipo is his team's, and one of the nation's, best and most important players on both ends of the floor. He averages 5.0 steals per 100 possessions, and the impact of his athletic harassment and near constant deflections goes far beyond that stat. Oladipo almost always guards the opponent's star player, and almost always makes said star's life utterly miserable.

In the past, that was Oladipo's specialty. This season, he has taken his game to a new level on the offensive end, and that is probably the understatement of the day. Oladipo, who takes 20.4 percent of his team's shots, is averaging 72 percent from inside the arc. Oladipo's effective field goal percentage -- which is weighted to factor in the 23 3-pointers he has shot this season -- is 72 percent, the highest in the country.

In other words, Oladipo has been not just good but arguably brilliant on both ends of the floor. It's hard to earn POY honors with stifling defense and purely efficient offense, but it shouldn't be. Oladipo should already be on that list.

[+] EnlargeMike Muscala
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonBucknell's Mike Muscala, center, has the country's third-highest offensive rating, averaging 19.3 points and 10.9 rebounds.
Mike Muscala, forward, Bucknell: So should Mike Muscala. It's not hard to understand why a forward from Bucknell failed to capture the Wooden folks' attention. I mean, I get it. He plays for Bucknell. But Nate Wolters plays for South Dakota State, and with all due respect to Wolters (who is also having an excellent season), Muscala is having a better season for an inarguably better team -- one that nearly beat Missouri on its own floor last weekend.

To date, Muscala is averaging 19.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.7 assists per game. He uses 31.0 percent of his team's possessions but does so very efficiently (his offensive rating is 120.4, which trails only Erick Green and Doug McDermott among players who take a similar number of their team's possessions), he's one of the best shot-blockers and rebounders in the country, and he does all of that without committing too many fouls -- his team needs him, after all.

It may be hard for Muscala to get POY traction in the Patriot League, especially now that fellow contender C.J. McCollum is injured (which could rob us of a really thrilling Lehigh-Bucknell battle). But he is deserving of much greater recognition.

Shabazz Muhammad, guard, UCLA: It's not a surprise to see UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad absent from the midseason list. After all, Muhammad missed the first three games of the season thanks to an eligibility scuffle with the NCAA, and when he did return, he was the first to admit he was still fighting his way back down to his playing weight after an offseason injury. It took him -- and his team -- a while to adjust. But entering Thursday, UCLA has won seven in a row, and Muhammad is a major reason why. His offensive performances since the Dec. 1 loss to San Diego State have been sublime: Muhammad is averaging 22.1 points per game in those contests, with an average offensive efficiency rating of 127.7. The dude is balling. And if he keeps it up, it won't be long before everyone who dismissed the early hype jumps back on the bandwagon.

Kelly Olynyk, center, Gonzaga: When we discussed Gonzaga in the preseason, we talked about point guard Kevin Pangos and forward Elias Harris (also on the list) and freshman center Przemek Karnowski. We did not talk much, if at all, about center Kelly Olynyk. But Olynyk, who redshirted last season, when he worked out and focused on getting his body into shape, has emerged as Gonzaga's best player, its leading scorer and the major reason why this team is a serious Final Four contender. Olynyk's latest outing -- a hard-fought Saturday victory at Santa Clara -- included 33 points on 12-of-15 shooting (including 8-of-9 shooting from the charity stripe).

Cleanthony Early, forward, Wichita State: How is Wichita State, a team that lost five senior starters this offseason, currently 15-1 and a real threat to upset Creighton's predicted waltz through the Missouri Valley Conference? You can start with Cleanthony Early. Early was a two-time NJCAA Division III Player of the Year for Sullivan (N.Y.) County Community College before he arrived in Wichita this fall, and he has taken almost zero time to adapt to the Division I game. Through 16 games, Early is averaging 15.4 points and 5.3 rebounds with a 116.8 offensive rating on 28.9 percent usage. That's impressive, but his latest game -- Wednesday's 39-points-on-19-shots outing that helped save Wichita State from an upset at Southern Illinois -- should help introduce him to a wider audience.

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