College Basketball Nation: Southland

You Gotta See This: Southland

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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Shawn GloverJoe Murphy/Getty ImagesShawn Glover is a big reason Oral Roberts is expected to challenge for the Southland conference crown.

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: The top-heavy Southland.

Our ongoing theme of conference realignment doing weird things to small leagues continues today with the Southland, which is now a 14-team league (would-be super conferences of the world, eat your heart out) that scrapped together the likes of Houston Baptist, New Orleans, Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word (OK, maybe not). The latter two in that that group were actually Division II teams last season, and, as an aside, it is this writer's humble opinion that Incarnate Word is an awesome name for a school. So there's that.

In truth, the really interesting realignment shake-up in the Southland happened last summer, when Oral Roberts completed its move from the Summit League. The Golden Eagles had been among the Summit League's most consistent competitors before their move; it was generally assumed the same would be true in their new digs. Not so. Oral Roberts finished third behind Stephen F. Austin and Northwestern State last season. The former was one of the country's best defensive teams at any level; the latter finished 15-3 in league play and won the Southland automatic bid with a 68-66 win over SFA at the conference tournament in March.

Scott Sutton's team is even younger this season, but it is still talented: Former Utah transfer Shawn Glover is back for his senior season, Western Illinois transfer Obi Emegano has been earning Sutton's raves, and freshman forward Corbin Byford (who had a stellar prep career but took a medical redshirt last season) is ready to jump in, too. Stephen F. Austin lost three seniors -- including star forward Taylor Smith, who shot 69.4 percent from the field last season -- that could be most difficult to replace on the defensive end.

Only Northwestern State seems to have the combination of returning personnel and previous success to edge ahead in the search for a new Southland favorite. The Southland may not be the toughest pound-for-pound mid-major league in the country; it may have needed to add something called Incarnate Word to boost its membership this offseason. But at its highest levels, among conference contenders, the basketball is better than ever -- and more than good enough to challenge your favorite high-major team come March.

Southland team previews

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
2:00
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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 Southland:

Abilene Christian Wildcats Insider
Central Arkansas Bears Insider
Houston Baptist Huskies Insider
Incarnate Word Cardinals Insider
Lamar Cardinals (free)
McNeese State Cowboys Insider
New Orleans Privateers Insider
Nicholls State Colonels Insider
Northwestern State Demons Insider
Oral Roberts Golden Eagles Insider
Sam Houston State Bearkats Insider
Southeastern Louisiana Lions Insider
Stephen F. Austin Lumberbacks Insider
Texas A&M-CC Islanders Insider

You Gotta See This: SoCon

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
10:00
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Davidson BasketballAP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtDe'Mon Brooks, who averaged 13.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in 2012-13, returns this season for Davidson.
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: One more mid-major case study in the SoCon.

Earlier this morning, we talked about Belmont. More specifically, we talked about the rather wide gulf between what Belmont has accomplished on the court and its recognition among casual fans. The difference, of course, is success in the NCAA tournament.

Such is the curse of the mid-major in a 345-team Division I landscape. You can fight with everything you have all season long, wage a grueling conference campaign, and emerge victorious. Blood and tears are typically involved. A 35-game college hoops season is hard. And after all of that, many worthy mid-majors' best and only hope is that a) they don't go cold at the wrong time in the conference tournament and b) they can spring an upset in the first round. It doesn't matter how convincing your regular-season was. Everything comes down to a few plays on an early March weekend, for better and for worse.

If Belmont understands this lesson, so too does Davidson. Indeed, few mid-majors in the country could provide a more accurate case study in the difference a few plays in March can make.

It was just 2008, after all, that Davidson was led to the brink of the Final Four by a shockingly entertaining unknown named Stephen Curry. The 2012-13 season was the Wildcats' best since Curry was on campus, and was billed as such; it was a team molded around star center Jake Cohen and the efficient contributions of the guards around him. Davidson was good enough to make a deep tournament run. Instead? Marquette 59, Davidson 58 happened. Just like that.

And then there are the stakes. It will be difficult for Davidson to match last season's effort. Cohen is gone, as are guards Nik Cochran (a 49 percent 3-point shooter) and JP Kuhlman (the team's leader in assist rate). Bob McKillop still has a few arrows in his quiver; forward De'Mon Brooks and swingman Chris Czerapowicz top the list. But now, after years of baking a Jake Cohen-flavored pie at just the right temperature -- years scraping to get back to that blissful Curry level -- Davidson must go right back to the drawing board with a new wave of personnel and a host of conference foes nipping at their heels.

In case you were wondering: No, being a mid-major coach is not the easiest job in the world. I'm glad we got that settled.
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.
AUSTIN, Texas -- A quick look at third-seeded Florida's 79-47 victory over 14th-seeded Northwestern State:

On a day filled with double-take, bracket-wrecking scores, Florida -- while not exactly doing things at a breakneck pace -- at least managed to more than comfortably slide past Northwestern State. And, this time of year, that is all that matters.

While the Demons (23-9) were able to hang closer than many expected for the first 25 minutes by getting solid looks near the rim, Florida stepped up its defense in the second half, controlled the glass and started to hit 3-pointers. Florida shot 33.3 percent from beyond the arc to 18.8 percent for the Demons.

The Gators (27-7) had four players in double figures and were led by Erik Murphy with 18. Northwestern State, which substituted five players at a time, had nine players score but only one, DeQuan Hicks with 12, hit double figures.

Turning point: After keeping within arm's reach for the better part of 25 minutes, Northwestern State finally allowed Florida to slip to a double-digit lead. It started, as most things do when it comes to the Gators, with Kenny Boynton keeping the offense moving and getting to the line. Boynton's two free throws with 14:20 remaining gave Florida its first double-digit lead of the game. Murphy followed with a 3, and soon the Gators were able to build a comfortable margin against a team that could not produce the jump shots to keep up.

Key player: Murphy proved too difficult on the inside and out for Northwestern State. The 6-foot-10 senior went inside in the first half and followed that with a 3 in the second that keyed a 13-0 Florida run. Murphy finished 8-of-11 and had eight rebounds.

Key stat: Florida was able to dominate the offensive glass and, as a result, outscored Northwestern State 21-5 on second-chance points. The Gators' 13 offensive rebounds also forced the Demons to reach and foul on second-shot attempts, leading to 23 free throw attempts by Florida to 11 for the Demons.

Up next: Florida will play the winner of the No. 6 UCLA-No. 11 Minnesota game Sunday at the Erwin Center.

Video: NW State 68, Stephen F. Austin 66

March, 17, 2013
3/17/13
12:08
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Shamir Davis scored 19 points as Northwestern State grabbed the Southland Conference's NCAA bid with a 68-66 victory over Stephen F. Austin

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

A quick look at the panel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

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

Another quick look at the panel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

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

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

Another quick look at the panel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BracketBusters matchups, TV schedule

February, 4, 2013
2/04/13
7:25
PM ET
The matchups for the final BracketBusters event aired on ESPNU tonight. See below for the television schedule and click here for Andy Katz's analysis and a wide range of insight from the head coaches involved.

Friday, Feb. 22

North Dakota State at Akron, ESPN2, 7 ET

Stephen F. Austin at Long Beach State, ESPNU, 9 ET

Saturday, Feb. 23

Iona at Indiana State, ESPNU, 11 a.m. ET

Eastern Kentucky at Valparaiso, ESPNU, 1 ET

Canisius at Vermont, ESPN3, 1 ET

Pacific at Western Michigan, ESPN3, 2 ET

Montana at Davidson, ESPNU, 3 ET

Northwestern State at Niagara, ESPN3, 3 ET

Detroit at Wichita State, ESPN/2, 4 ET

Creighton at Saint Mary's, ESPN/2, 6 ET

South Dakota State at Murray State, ESPN2, 8 ET

Denver at Northern Iowa, ESPN3, 8 ET

Ohio at Belmont, ESPN2, 10 ET

The matchups for the BracketBusters games not on television can be found here.

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.

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):

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
10:10
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. 3

1. Gonzaga (13-1) -- A 69-68 win at No. 22 Oklahoma State was the fourth in a row for the Zags, who are 5-0 against the Big 12 and finished in a first-place tie in this week's poll.

1. Creighton (13-1) -- The Missouri Valley won’t be easy for Creighton, which squeezed by Illinois State on Wednesday and has a stiff challenge from Indiana State next.

3. Wichita State (13-1) -- Down three starters, this team still rocked Northern Iowa. The Shockers will compete for the MVC title if Carl Hall gets healthy soon.

4. Bucknell (13-2) -- The Bison have won eight of nine and face No. 12 Missouri on Saturday, a real chance for Mike Muscala to shine in the national spotlight.

5. Middle Tennessee (11-3) -- The Blue Raiders have beaten Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Central Florida and certainly have to be considered the favorites in the Sun Belt.

6. Saint Mary’s (11-3) -- The Gaels, who have won three straight after rallying against Harvard, are the only WCC team that might challenge the Zags.

7. Belmont (9-4) -- The Bruins have won four of their past six and look like the Ohio Valley's best team, although the next team will have something to say about that.

8. Murray State (9-3) -- The Racers might disagree, but two consecutive losses after six straight wins has brought them back to earth a bit.

9. Lehigh (9-3) -- A stunning 80-79 loss to Bryant on Saturday was the team’s first since mid-November. Not something you'd expect from a team with the nation's leading scorer.

10. Utah State (11-1) -- Hard to tell with USU. The Aggies have faced a mediocre nonconference schedule, so the WAC will be the real test.

11. BYU (10-4) -- Tyler Haws (20.9 ppg) has led BYU to five wins in their past six games and scored 41 against Virginia Tech.

12. North Dakota State (11-3) -- NDSU earned credibility with Saturday's win versus rival South Dakota State. The Summit League race with the Jackrabbits will be a dog fight.

13. Stephen F. Austin (10-1) -- After a strong start, the Lumberjacks (who own a win at Oklahoma) are the favorites to win the Southland.

13. Indiana State (9-4) -- Three-game winning streak includes a Christmas Day win against Miami at the Diamond Head Classic. That came after a victory over Ole Miss.

15. Santa Clara (12-3) -- The Broncos have won seven of their past eight and gave Duke all they could handle over the weekend.

Now that we've gone over the best of the best, here's my take on the top game this weekend involving mid-major teams ...

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