College Basketball Nation: WAC

You Gotta See This: Mountain West

October, 2, 2013
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Utah State fans AP Photo/Jim UrquhartUtah State fans bring their version of home-court advantage to the Mountain West.

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: Who believes that they will win?

There are no shortage of interesting storylines in the Mountain West this season. Boise State's breakout. The post-Steve Alford era at New Mexico. The intriguing talent at UNLV. Wyoming's emergence under Larry Shyatt. Another Larry, Larry Eustachy, and his first real rebuilding year at Colorado State. When a league has been this good, pound for pound, in recent years, it is bound to offer plenty to talk about.

And yet, despite the bevy of options at hand, Utah State's arrival is my favorite -- for all the reasons you expect, and one you might not.

First, the basics: This season marks the Aggies' first in the MWC, the product of a realignment move away from the decimated WAC. The Mountain West spent a solid portion of the past few years sweating out realignment in the Pac-12, Big 12 and Big East; there were some scary moments here and there. But it emerged relatively intact, and with a couple of traditionally strong hoops newcomers to boot. The first, Nevada, joined the league last season. The second, and by far the most exciting, was Utah State. (San Jose State arrives this season too, but that's a slightly different discussion.)

Why? Because Utah State has, in 15 seasons under Stew Morrill, become one of the country's most reliable, least heralded mid-major attractions. The past two seasons have been tough, pockmarked by personnel transitions and injuries, but before that the Aggies rattled off four straight WAC regular season crowns (in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011). Utah State went to the NCAA tournament six times in the past 10 years, and that number would probably be higher if Morrill's teams (and the WAC's RPI) didn't scare away so many putative high-major scheduling partners. That's a big part of why Utah State's move is so exciting: The Mountain West will give Morrill a full slate of quality opponents for the final two months of each season, sunsetting his scheduling woes once and for all. It's a major development.

It also sets up what might become the best pure student-section rivalry in all of college basketball. Let me explain. At Utah State, fans chant "I … I believe … I believe that we will win." It's genuinely rousing. For a minute there, it was sort of the Aggies' thing. But then The Show, San Diego State's famously raucous student section, appropriated it. Or maybe they had it first. Either way, the Aztecs' higher profile has made the chant synonymous with SDSU, and I've had both fan bases email me claiming to own the thing.

Never mind that the chant actually began at Navy. (Womp womp.) At some point this season, San Diego State fans and Utah State fans are going to be in the same building. At some point, whether it's in Logan, Utah, or Viejas Arena, one fan will start with "I … I believe … " I have no idea what will happen after that. I just know there's going to be a showdown, and I bet it will be really funny when it happens.

So, yes: Utah State's move is exciting on pure basketball terms. But it is also exciting because two shouting groups of people supporting different sports teams will now be forced to confront their shared use of a really cool chant. Chaos is bound to ensue.

You Gotta See This: Big Sky

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
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Kyle TresnakJames Snook/USA TODAY SportsBig man Kyle Tresnak averaged 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for Weber State in 2012-13.
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. Today: Weber State, and Damian who?

The 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year went from Weber State to the National Basketball Association for very good reasons. In 2011-12, Damian Lillard, to that point a relatively unheralded senior redshirt junior playing for a small mid-major program in Ogden, Utah, touched the ball on nearly a third of his team's possessions. Despite that burden, he posted a 124.4 offensive rating, the highest of any player with a usage rate above 28 percent, per Ken Pomeroy -- higher even than All-American Doug McDermott, who consumed fewer of his team's trips. Lillard's late-blooming offensive brilliance canceled out every concern NBA scouts had about Big Sky competition. That summer, the Portland Trail Blazers made him the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Back in Ogden, it was fair to expect Weber State to fade away. Frankly, the Wildcats were never in collective focus anyway -- they lost to all three (at Saint Mary's, at BYU, at Cal) of their significant nonconference opponents, fell short in OT in the Big Sky title game, and finished ranked No. 148 in the country in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency. For a team with a future NBA Rookie of the Year running the show, Weber State flew way under the radar. And with Lillard gone, surely the opportunity was lost.

Which brings us to the big, predictably introduced reveal: Weber State didn't get worse. It got better. Randy Rahe's team won four more games (30-7) than in 2011-12. Its defense got drastically better, zooming from 258th in the country to 99th. That would have been the biggest surprise, but for this: The Wildcats' offense didn't regress a bit. Weber State posted the fourth-highest effective field goal percentage in the country (56.0), thanks in large part to lights-out, 45.6 percent-from-3 shooting from senior guard Scott Bamforth. The Wildcats finished No. 76 in Pomeroy's efficiency rankings. They weren't just better. They were much better.

They also missed the tournament. Again. Thanks to another close Big Sky loss, and no nonconference results, again.

Which is precisely why Weber State offers such an interesting watch for the season to come. Just as the Wildcats had to overcome the loss of their ball-dominating, NBA-ready point guard a year prior, this summer they're reconfiguring without Bamforth, one of the best pure shooters in the college game, and reliable senior forward Frank Otis, arguably the team's best rebounder. But Davion Berry, who shot 41.4 percent from 3 last season in his own right, and center Kyle Tresnak, a shot-blocker and rebounder who by now has a well-rounded interior game, are both back. So is freshman Joel Bolomboy, the 2012-13 Big Sky Newcomer of the Year.

In other words, this is the season Weber State might finally break through -- just 17 months after waving farewell to one of the best young players in the NBA. I'm pretty sure that's not how it's supposed to work. But Weber State just keeps getting better.

You Gotta See This: WAC

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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Terrel de Rouen AP Photo/Jeff ChiuNew Mexico State's decision to stay in the WAC when everyone else was leaving gives the tattered conference at least one name team to build its future around.

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. Next up: trickle-down realignment in the Western Athletic Conference.

Inequality is a defining characteristic of college basketball. Heck, it might be the defining quality. Without the massive gulf between college basketball's haves and have-nots, the NCAA tournament wouldn't be so captivating. Inequality gave us Cinderella. It has its pluses.

It also skews every discussion about the sport. We forget just how many of Division I's basketball schools have less in common with Kentucky than Division II. We forget how diverse the landscape really is. We forget about the little guys -- at least until 160 of them defeat a landmark stipend proposal, to name just one example.

It should be no surprise, then, that the conference-realignment headlines had the same selective focus. For the past two years, the Division I elite have jockeyed and clamored for spots in bigger, better leagues, each new development breathlessly covered on a hourly basis. Less well-known is the way realignment has trickled down to even the smallest, least monied leagues. No mid-major league offers a more instructive example than the Western Athletic Conference.

The WAC you'll see in 2013-14 looks almost nothing like the WAC of last season or years prior. The Mountain West vacuumed up Utah State (the WAC hoops standard-bearer for much of the past decade, featuring one of the best home crowds in the country) and San Jose State. Denver took off for the Summit League. Louisiana Tech and UTSA joined a hollowed-out Conference USA. Texas State and UT Arlington found a home in the Sun Belt. That's -- count 'em -- seven teams from a previously 10-team league that will no longer be in the conference in 2013-14. And next summer, when Idaho makes its official move to the Big Sky, that'll be eight. "Decimation" is the word that comes to mind. Nothing but the bones of the carcass remain.

But there is some good news. Marvin Menzies' New Mexico State program -- the WAC's NCAA tournament representative for three of the past four seasons -- stayed put. And while there's no question the WAC's quality has taken a significant hit, it has re-established itself as a home for programs that desperately needed a conference. Chicago State is a perfect example: After years spent as a guarantee-game punching bag in the loosely affiliated Great West, Chicago State finally has a league it can sell to lower-tier local prospects. Cal State Bakersfield was an independent; Grand Canyon is graduating from Division II.

There are dozens of stories here, stories of players and programs previously relegated to the sport's lowest caste finding their footing in a league that needs them every bit as much as the reverse. It might not make a whole lot of geographical sense, and it might not always offer the best basketball. But it is a fascinating realignment case study worth checking in on throughout the season.

Nonconference analysis: Best of the rest

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

BYU

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

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

FLORIDA GULF COAST

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

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

GONZAGA

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

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

HARVARD

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

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

INDIANA STATE

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

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

IONA

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

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

LONG BEACH STATE

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

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

LOUISIANA TECH

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

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

MERCER

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

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

SAINT MARY'S

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

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

SOUTHERN

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

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

WICHITA STATE

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

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Shockers have elevated expectations after last season's Final Four run. With so much talent returning, a trip to Arlington in April seems feasible. Wichita State will get an early test against reigning Atlantic 10 champ Saint Louis, and then it will host SEC sleeper Tennessee a few weeks later. The Vols beat the Shockers in Knoxville last season. They could face BYU if they beat DePaul in the first round of the Hall of Fame Classic. Games against Bama and Davidson shouldn't be overlooked, either. But this slate lacks the power players you'd like to see a Final Four team encounter prior to conference play.


The best thing about the college basketball offseason is that it ends. The second best thing about the college basketball offseason is that when it ends, it ends so quickly and so exhaustively that within a few days you have to remind yourself that there was ever an offseason in the first place. By mid-November, it's impossible to imagine life without basketball.

We have the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon to thank for that. Hey, it might still be warm outside and the campus dorms are mostly empty here in the dog days of August. But exactly three months from now, college hoops will be back in full force with the Marathon, which will include more than a dozen games in more than 24 consecutive hours of basketball in what has become a great annual excuse to call into work sick.

At 7 p.m. ET on Nov. 11, the Marathon begins with an ESPN2 women's doubleheader (Stanford-UConn; then Tennessee-North Carolina) and an ESPNU men's doubleheader (Kent State-Temple; then Colorado State-Gonzaga). At 7:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 12, the Marathon ends with a Champions Classic doubleheader that very well might match up four of the nation's top five teams (Kentucky-Michigan State; Kansas-Duke).

In between, starting at 11 p.m. ET on the 11th, there's a run of men's games that will keep the hardcore fans up all night and morning and begging for caffeine by lunchtime. Who will be participating in those games? Well, stick with us here in the Nation blog. We'll be revealing each of the Marathon matchups at the corresponding time they'll be taking place three months from now. Keep this page open and refresh every two hours and you'll get a new game, along with an early analysis of the matchup. Starting with ...

BYU at Stanford, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Cougars and Cardinal will not only get the Marathon party started late on Nov. 11, they also provide a handy reminder that the earliest parts of the season mean just as much as what happens in February and March. In recent years, the NCAA tournament selection committee has de-emphasized recent results in its selection, instead emphasizing performance in the nonconference as much (or more) than any other single selection criterion. What happens on Nov. 11 matters, in other words, and that's especially true for both BYU and Stanford. The Cougars have quality players in Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws; Stanford is a quality defensive team with solid guard play from Chasson Randle. Neither team looks like a top-25 group, but they do look like they could be in the mix on Selection Sunday. So both will need as many quality nonconference wins as they can get to avoid languishing on the tournament bubble for months at a time. That process will begin immediately.

[+] EnlargeGregg Marshall
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsComing off a Final Four appearance in April, coach Gregg Marshall and the Wichita State Shockers are riding high entering this season.
Western Kentucky at Wichita State, 1 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Just two years ago, Western Kentucky, a proud, historically successful program, appeared to be in deep decline. In January 2012, a 5-10 team lost to six players (true, and long, story), then fired its coach. Since then, Ray Harper has managed to get WKU into the tournament twice, which is as much a testament to his coaching as it is to the wacky power of automatic bids and mid-major conference tournaments. But really, this fixture is about the Wichita State Shockers and their fans, who, in the wake of a surprise Final Four visit, are no doubt eager to showcase the strength of their program and their fan base to a national audience. Charles Koch Arena is always bumping. Imagine what they'll have cooking for a midnight local tip. Oh my.

Akron at Saint Mary’s, 3 a.m. ET, ESPN2: This midnight local tip -- you know, were it not for time zones, this whole Marathon thing would be a lot harder to pull off -- features two of the best mid-major programs of the past decade. You're likely already familiar with Saint Mary's, which has crept up on (and even briefly unseated) Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference in recent years. But Akron coach Keith Dambrot has taken the Zips to the tournament in three of the past five seasons, including as a 12-seed in 2012-13. Recovering from the loss of super-efficient center Zeke Marshall won't be easy (to say nothing of the Alex Abreu ordeal), but Akron has almost everyone else back and is ready to push toward another postseason berth, and then some.

New Mexico State at Hawaii, 5 a.m. ET, ESPN2: There are many, many benefits to being in Hawaii and its time zone is typically not high on that list. But the Warriors' unique geography also makes them a yearly inclusion in the Marathon. At this point, 5 a.m. ET might as well be called the "Hawaii Slot." This year's edition of the Hawaii Slot features one of the more consistently successful and frequently slept-on mid-majors in New Mexico State, where Marvin Menzies has won 50 games over the past two seasons (and has been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments). Expect to hear a lot about Sim Bhullar, who is not your average NMSU player: He's a 7-foot-5 Canadian-born son of Indian parents whose unique background (and sheer size) won him cross-cultural hype from the New York Times before he played a minute of college ball. The good news? Bhullar was good as a freshman, when he shot 62.1 percent from the field and grabbed 12.8 percent of available offensive rebounds. The dude can play, and you can see him do so live -- as long as you can get up early (or stay up that late).

Hartford at Florida Gulf Coast, 7 a.m. ET, ESPN2: There's something immensely fun about the early-morning Marathon entries. The schools involved are typically small enough that the very idea of being included in the event (and on ESPN) is enough to draw a raucous A.M. crowd, especially in the student section. Expect things to go up a notch or two in 2013. The folks at Florida Gulf Coast are riding as high as the sport allows these days. March's "Dunk City"-defined run to the Sweet 16 put the tiny 22-year-old school and its pristine beach dorms in front of every sports fan in the country. Merchandise flew off the shelves; enrollment (almost certainly, given precedent) spiked. It's safe to assume the party will be still be raging come November.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Garland
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesThe Explorers lost only one contributor from a team that won three NCAA tourney games in March.
Quinnipiac at La Salle, 9 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Are you sensing a theme? La Salle, like Florida Gulf Coast and Wichita State above, are likewise coming off one of the best seasons in program history. The 1954 NCAA champs saw the last vestiges of ongoing relevance dry up by the mid-1990s, but their return to the tournament in 2013 -- which required a stopover at the "first round" in Dayton -- took them all the way to the Sweet 16 before they fell to Wichita State. The Explorers lose senior leader Ramon Galloway, but everyone else is back, including a great group of guards led by Tyrone "Southwest Philly Floater" Garland, who is entertaining and frustrating in equally perfect measure.

LSU at Massachusetts, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Typically, LSU fans devote more time to the mechanics of Les Miles' grass-chew habit than they do basketball, and in recent seasons it's been hard to argue with that order of priorities. The Tigers simply have not been very good. That may be changing. Johnny Jones' team returns four starters from a better-than-you-remember 19-12, 2012-13 group. But the biggest piece of news is the arrival of Jarrell Martin, the No. 11-ranked overall player in a stacked incoming recruiting class. The Baton Rouge native took to basketball later than most, but he's already developed into an imposing (if somewhat raw) presence. If his development curve continues to do its best hockey stick impression throughout the rest of the summer, look out for the Tigers. Oh, and don't sleep on UMass -- one of the most stylistically entertaining teams in the country, with a solid returning core -- either. This could be one of those games that looks huge once bubble talk ramps up.

West Virginia at Virginia Tech, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN: Virginia Tech got off to a great start last season, its first under new coach James Johnson. But by the end of the year, about the only thing the Hokies had going for them was senior guard Erick Green, who managed to post a 120.0 offensive rating on 31.7 percent usage, which ranked him behind only Nate Wolters, Kelly Olynyk, Doug McDermott and Trey Burke on the list of players who managed to be efficient despite using so many of their team's possessions. Green was great, but now he's gone, which leaves Johnson facing a classic, long-haul rebuilding scenario. West Virginia isn't quite there, but Bob Huggins' team had a decidedly un-Huggins season in 2012-13, when they played some of the ugliest, most disjointed offense the college game had to offer (which, last season, was saying something). After essentially sending talented, but troubled, forward Aaric Murray away, Huggins will have to cull some semblance of a rotation from a smattering of pieces that never congealed last year. Incoming four-star power forwards Devin Williams and Elijah Mason should help.

South Carolina at Baylor, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN: Despite taking a massive L.J. Peak-induced recruiting gut-punch this summer, Frank Martin's Gamecocks have already made more progress in his one year at the school than in the 10 before it. Martin has a six-player class arriving this fall, led by No. 7-ranked shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell. A few years down the road, the talent level in Columbia is going to be unrecognizably high. Baylor fans could lend some experience on this front. Now entering his 11th season, Scott Drew has taken the Bears from the untouchable site of shocking scandal into one of the most consistently talented programs in the country. This season, the Bears are adding two top-100 talents (Ishmail Wainright, Allerik Freeman) to a group that already includes 7-footer Isaiah Austin and a score of rising youngsters and/or reliable veterans, including forwards Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers and guards Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin -- the list goes on and on. After an NIT title in March, Baylor should be after much more this season.

[+] EnlargeMick Cronin
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesSean Kilpatrick and Mick Cronin are looking to for a fourth straight NCAA tournament bid.
NC State at Cincinnati, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN: When everything was clicking, there were few sights in the college game as thrilling as NC State's offense last season -- Lorenzo Brown leading the break, T.J. Warren running to the block, Scott Wood spotting up on the wing. The problem, of course, was defense, or more precisely a lack of defense. Some of that had to do with personnel, but much of it was related to attitude. With Wood, Brown, guard Rodney Purvis (transfer to UConn) and forwards C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell all gone, coach Mark Gottfried won't have as much tantalizing talent on the court this time around. But he will have a pared-down group that actually wants to be in Raleigh, and he can build the additions of top-100 recruits Anthony Barber, BeeJay Anya and Kyle Washington around Warren, the Pack's most dynamic and promising player a season ago. A trip to Cincinnati will be a crucial early test of Gottfried's mini-rebuild, as a Sean Kilpatrick-led Bearcats group hopes the addition of power forward Jermaine Lawrence will push the program past the "solid NCAA tournament inclusion" hump into ever more rarefied air.

"College GameDay" from Chicago, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: I don't need to preview College Gameday for you, do I? You already know how awesome College Gameday is. Let's move on.

VCU at Virginia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: It's almost unfair to pit the ESPN2 primetime games against the Champions Classic. They're bound to look pale by comparison. But on any other night of the season, VCU-Virginia (and its 9 p.m. ET follow-up, about which more below) would be must-see stuff. The basketball is good in and of itself. Under Shaka Smart, Virginia Commonwealth has morphed 2011's shock Final Four run into a burgeoning outfit that plays one of the most recognizable systems -- a constantly turnover-hawking pressing style -- in the country. UVa, meanwhile, has steadily improved under fifth-year coach Tony Bennett, who has adopted many of the pack-line defensive principles that his father Dick Bennett developed long ago at Wisconsin-Green Bay. The contrast of speed and style couldn't be more pronounced here, and if a hearty quasi-cultural, in-state rivalry doesn't exist between these two very different schools already, it shouldn't take long.

Michigan State vs. Kentucky in Chicago, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: And so we arrive at the jewel of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon: The Champions Classic. In its first two years, the Champions Classic has done exactly what it set out to do -- provide mutually beneficial marquee college hoops scheduling at the start of the season -- and then some. It even offered an early national title preview (Kentucky vs. Kansas) in 2011-12.

This year's edition might be the best yet, and that starts with Michigan State-Kentucky. The Spartans are the prohibitive Big Ten favorite (or co-favorite with Michigan, your mileage may vary), and bring back about as solid and imposing a core -- senior guard Keith Appling, still-improving senior forward Adreian Payne, Big Ten freshman of the year Gary Harris -- and will begin the season in the top 5 because of it.

After the 2012 national title, Kentucky coach John Calipari probably didn't expect to be on the losing side of a first-round NIT game a year later (and in his hometown, no less), but even as Robert Morris fans stormed the court in March, Calipari could take solace knowing he assembled what is by all accounts the best recruiting class since the Fab Five, and maybe ever. With Julius Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, James Young and Marcus Lee, Calipari landed five of the top nine players in the class and six of the top 25. Oh, and he'll have Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein -- clearly talented players who struggled as freshmen, but should be more effective with more experience and more minimized roles -- back, too. The whole prospect is terrifying: For as good as UK was in 2011-12, this team might be better. What better early test than a veteran, Tom Izzo-coached Michigan State?

Florida at Wisconsin, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: See? This is another really good college basketball game that most people probably won't watch live, because you're not going to miss the beginning of what I have already imagined will be a Bird-Magic-esque Wiggins-Parker rivalry in Duke-Kansas. But the doubleheader on ESPN2 isn't too far behind. No coach in the country is as consistent as Bo Ryan, and this year very little should change. The only exception is the star power offered by sophomore forward Sam Dekker, a rare top-20 recruit for the Badgers who shined in an introductory role as a freshman, and will be asked to do loads more as a sophomore. Speaking of consistency, Florida has participated in the last three Elite Eights, and the Gators appear to be as capable of that feat as ever in 2013-14. No. 2-ranked freshman point guard Kasey Hill should start and star immediately alongside forward Patric Young, and if the Gators can get equally touted freshman power forward Chris Walker academically eligible, they'll have plenty of firepower to bring to the Kohl Center.

Kansas vs. Duke, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN: Yes, UK-MSU is awfully good, and the teams are probably better overall. But for sheer intrigue, it's hard to top Duke versus Kansas. On one side is the No. 1 player in the class, Andrew Wiggins, who is not merely your average top-ranked recruit but considered by pretty much every scout you talk to as the best prospect since Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, if not LeBron James. Which is funny, considering that's the same thing Sports Illustrated once plastered on its cover next to a photo of four-time Illinois state champion, No. 2-ranked Jabari Parker. There is already a bit of a LeBron James-Carmelo Anthony thing going on here. Wiggins is the world-destroying athletic freak with the intuitive all-court game; Parker is the smooth, natural scorer. In 2003, Anthony and James entered their rookie seasons having only ever met on the AAU circuit. In 2013, Parker and Wiggins will meet each other on one of the first nights of the season, following Kentucky's Julius Randle, who is good enough to steal the eventual No. 1 overall pick out from under both.

In other words, the three reasons why you'll hear so much about NBA teams tanking in the next 12 months are all playing on the same United Center night in mid-November, and two of them are playing each other. Man, the Champions Classic is awesome. Did I mention that already? We covered that part, right?

So get your remote control handy; get your DVR game tight. That's good advice for the primetime doubleheader, but it works for the whole Marathon, too. By the time it's over, you won't even remember the offseason existed. I can't wait.
1. Commissioner Mike Aresco pulled off a shrewd but intelligent move when he made sure the new American Athletic Conference offices stayed in Providence, R.I. -- where the Big East staff has been based. The majority of the staffers are family people and didn't want to leave Providence. If the league office were to move, the staff might be more apt to look elsewhere or be plucked away by the new Big East. That hasn't happened, and the new Big East is still without a commissioner or staff. Meanwhile, the American has the same people running its operation. The American released its logo Thursday and it has a chance to catch on. The league is taking care of its business. Its basketball tournament sites should be announced in the next few weeks and the favorites are Memphis, Tenn., for the men and either Hartford, Conn., or Uncasville, Conn. (at the Mohegan Sun Arena), for the women.

2. Two Wisconsin-Green Bay players released statements through the school Thursday after spending the past month wondering if head coach Brian Wardle would be dismissed due to verbal-abuse allegations. Keifer Sykes and Alec Brown said: “We are really happy that the investigation is over, and we are excited about playing together next season for Coach Wardle and our other coaches. This has not been an easy couple of months for our team and coaches to go through and we are ready to move forward. The character and communication in our locker room is really good right now, and we are focused on getting better this offseason and contending for a championship next year.” Lost amid these investigations are the players who were held hostage by uncertainty. Wardle was cleared of mostly everything, though he must have an adviser with the team next season to watch what occurs. UWGB has a legit shot to win the Horizon League.

3. New Mexico State will be the last team standing from the traditional WAC in 2014. The Aggies aren't 100 percent certain where they will be in basketball in two years. New Mexico State can't get in the Mountain West, and needs to find a way to get into Conference USA. That's the perfect fit for the Aggies, who have a historical rivalry with UTEP. If they can't move, coach Marvin Menzies' squad should get an NCAA bid or compete for a berth every season. There really is no excuse in such a weakened WAC.
We’ve had a few hours to analyze the bracket. So many tough calls to make. No need to waste time, though. Here are a few bold predictions for the 2013 installment of the NCAA tournament.
  1. Kansas will not reach Atlanta -- The Jayhawks are certainly a No. 1 seed. I’m not sure they’re the second overall No. 1 after Louisville, but they’ve earned that slot. Their path to Atlanta is not that imposing. But I have bad news for Kansas fans: Don’t book those trips for the Final Four because the Jayhawks will not be there. I have the Jayhawks losing to a Georgetown team that will wear them down in the Elite Eight. But they could fall earlier to either VCU or Michigan. Florida might be the most complete team in the South Region, and they could give Kansas a fight, too. KU is hot right now. But at some point in the Big Dance, the Jayhawks will need their star, Ben McLemore, to shine in a big moment. And I’m not sure the redshirt freshman is ready for that. The bottom line is that KU’s NCAA tourney experience will end prior to the festivities in the Peach State.
  2. Big Ten national title drought will continue -- To date, the Big Ten has won the “best conference in America” argument. That league was a gauntlet in the regular season. Proof? Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan State are all in the field. That’s seven of 12 teams. The volume, however, puts more pressure on the league’s participants to win their first national title since 2000. Won’t happen. I think three or four Big Ten squads in the field could make a run to the Final Four. Indiana will probably be listed as the national champion in many brackets. The Hoosiers are certainly capable of that, but Louisville is so strong right now. Georgetown, Miami, Duke and Kansas are, too. The Atlantic 10’s best are also tough. The Big Ten’s physicality will prove beneficial when its members face squads from leagues that don’t play that rugged style. But they’re also going to encounter teams with more athleticism, speed and star power, too. The drought will continue.
  3. [+] EnlargeMarshall Henderson
    Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsOle Miss' Marshall Henderson is a charismatic guard who isn't afraid to show his emotions.
    Marshall Henderson's performance won’t match his mouth -- In the days leading up to Ole Miss’ opening-round matchup against Wisconsin, Rebels star Henderson will be the subject of TV packages, front-page stories and web columns. He’s going to be who he is, and that’s great for the media. I can’t wait for the quotes and sound bites. Wisconsin will say little because that's just not the Badgers’ style. Their “style” involves quieting critics and silencing playmakers. They’re not only equipped to beat Ole Miss, they’ll pressure Henderson (20.0 PPG) into one of the worst performances of his career. Henderson's theatrics will be the story as the matchup approaches, but don’t believe the hype. That talk won’t lead to much action against the Badgers.
  4. Middle Tennessee will prove that it’s the best team in Tennessee, reach Sweet 16 -- The Blue Raiders remind me of the VCU team that made a run to the Final Four in 2011. Their inclusion in the field of 68 has been questioned by some, mostly because of their conference (Sun Belt) and lack of big wins. But they’ll be prepared for March Madness because they played one of the toughest nonconference slates in America (sixth in nonconference SOS, per Daily RPI on ESPN.com). The Blue Raiders are a veteran group that crashes the glass (30th in offensive rebounding rate, per Ken Pomeroy) and defends for 40 minutes (21st in adjusted defensive efficiency). I think MTSU will beat Saint Mary’s in the First Four to set up a meeting with Memphis in the next round. Vandy and Tennessee missed the tournament and I think Belmont has a tough draw in Salt Lake City. So bragging rights will be on the line when the Tigers and Blue Raiders meet. And with wins over Saint Mary’s, Memphis and the Michigan State/Valpo winner in the round of 32, the Blue Raiders will not only prove that they belong, they’ll also earn “best in the state of Tennessee” honors and a trip to the Sweet 16.
  5. Bill Self versus Roy Williams won’t happen -- The second-round matchup possibility between North Carolina and Kansas is intriguing. Williams against his former team. Again. I’m sure TV execs are salivating over the possibility. But I think Villanova will spoil those blue-blood plans with a round of 64 win over the Tar Heels. The Wildcats have defeated better teams within the past month (Georgetown, Marquette). Plus, they have a 6-foot-7, 260-pound bruiser named JayVaughn Pinkston who could be a problem for North Carolina’s small (quick) lineup. It’s a great storyline, Williams versus Self, given the history. Too bad we won’t see it.
  6. The Pac-12 will go 0-5 in the first (second) round -- Immediately after the 68 teams were announced, the Twitterverse was filled with chatter about the Pac-12’s seeding. Oregon’s slot as a 12-seed, despite its second-place finish in the Pac-12 and a tourney title, was the most puzzling placement. The league can prove its worth with a strong showing in the NCAA tournament. But I think it’ll do the opposite and struggle throughout its brief stay in March Madness. I could see the Pac-12 losing its five first-round matchups. Yep. Sounds crazy, I know. But Minnesota has the athleticism and strength inside to upset UCLA. I don’t think Oregon is better than Oklahoma State. I think Anthony Bennett will lead UNLV to a win over Cal, even though the game will be played in San Jose. Illinois will get hot and torch Colorado. And Belmont is a tough mid-major that won’t be intimidated in its upset over Arizona. That’s an 0-5 tally for that league.
  7. [+] EnlargeTrey Burke
    Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsJohn Beilein, guard Trey Burke and the rest of the Wolverines will have their hands full in the South.
    Michigan won’t reach the Sweet 16 -- What a daunting path for the Wolverines. They open the NCAA tournament with a matchup against a dangerous South Dakota State squad that’s led by NBA prospect Nate Wolters. And then they have to go against a VCU team (assuming the Rams beat Akron) that forces turnovers on 28.7 percent of its opponents’ possessions (first in the nation, per Pomeroy). That’s a rough path for the Wolverines. Trey Burke is a very talented athlete. And he’s surrounded by young standouts. But that Michigan defense has been a concern all season. It’s going to be magnified as the Wolverines struggle in the opening weekend.
  8. Florida Gulf Coast will push Georgetown to the brink of an upset -- I’m not saying the Eagles will win the game. Save the emails. But they’ll come close. I think the Eagles have the talent, including guard Sherwood Brown, to contend with the Hoyas in the first round. They’ve played some of the top teams in the country, so they won’t be concerned with Georgetown’s seeding or the NBA scouts tracking Otto Porter Jr. They have a win over Miami, too. Again, the Eagles won’t win. Georgetown, however, should be very concerned about this game.
  9. Indiana will win every game, prior to the Final Four, by double digits -- I think the Hoosiers are a Final Four team. I also think they deserved the second No. 1 seed. But they were rewarded with a favorable path, in my opinion, to the national championship. Miami, Syracuse and Marquette could be their toughest tests in the East Region. But I think the Hoosiers will have few problems with their opposition. They’re talented enough to beat every team in the East Region by double digits. The Final Four will not be as easy, but I think Indiana will breeze through its region on its way to Atlanta.
  10. We’ll see multiple 40-point performances in the opening rounds -- We have so many players who are capable of just “going off” in the first two rounds. Doug McDermott, Wolters, James Southerland, Porter, Shane Larkin, Ryan Kelly, McLemore and more. Usually, the game slows down in the NCAA tournament because possessions are so precious. So teams are more cautious. But there’s so much parity that star power could be the separator in the early matchups. Get your popcorn ready. I think we’ll see multiple 40-point individual performances in the first weekend.
Well, well, well. Apparently, a few teams want to go to the tournament after all.

OK, so of course everyone wants to play in the NCAA tournament. But watching the past week or so of college hoops, you could have been convinced otherwise. Why, it was just last Saturday that basically every SEC bubble team lost a bad game, while Arizona State, St. John's, Iowa State, Indiana State and Akron, just to name a few, suffered the kind of losses that can cost you a bid in the tournament.

The weekdays since haven't been much better. Virginia spent all week undoing the résumé boost earned with its victory over Duke. Kentucky lost at Georgia. Baylor flopped against Texas. It got so bad we had to begin considering the fringiest of the fringe -- Southern Miss, Iowa, Providence, Maryland -- even though it was almost physically painful to imagine most of those teams in the tournament.

And then, finally, mercifully, some of these teams started acting like they wanted to play meaningful basketball in March. Kentucky, Tennessee, Boise State and Baylor all got huge wins at home. Iowa State held on at West Virginia. Even Cincinnati, which had been quietly slipping toward the bubble in recent weeks, avoided a brutal loss to South Florida.

It wasn't all good news. Oklahoma lost at TCU. Arizona State fell flat at Arizona. Xavier, Providence and St. John's all missed chances to get somewhere near reality in this thing. There were, as there always are, a handful of head-scratchers -- how Louisiana Tech goes three months without losing once and then drops back-to-back games in the matter of two days is beyond this humble bubbleologist.

But the end effect is clear: The bubble is just a little more firm than it was at the start of the day, a little tougher to crack. Good things happen when players play like they actually care about making the tournament. Who knew?

WINNERS

Kentucky: The biggest bubble story of the day, and almost certainly the most impactful, Kentucky's win over Florida put the Wildcats back on the right side of the bubble in their final regular-season opportunity. Considering where Kentucky was after its loss at Georgia this week -- all self-recrimination and disbelief -- it was a bit remarkable to stand up at the last possible moment, once and for all.

I won't spend a whole lot of time here, because you can read my reaction from this afternoon here. Long story short: UK is no lock to make the tournament, and it still has to navigate a tangle of prospective bad losses in the SEC tournament, but right now, compared to much of the rest of the bubble, the Wildcats are closer to being in than not.

Baylor: I am not above making a tired and dumb bodysnatchers joke -- see pretty much anything I've tweeted about Keith Appling for the past three weeks -- but rare is the opportunity to do so in regards to a team that plays inexplicably well. Today, Baylor is that team.

I mean, how else do you explain the Bears not just beating Kansas in Waco, Texas, but blowing Kansas out? When in the past seven days we've seen a) Baylor lose at home to K-State on one of the most heartbreaking (and poorly executed) final seconds of the season and b) lose 79-70 at Texas? That team -- a team that was admittedly still playing hard but looking utterly lost in doing so -- turned around and beat the Jayhawks by 23 points in the penultimate game of the regular season. How does that happen?

Complete shock aside, the bad news for the Bears (sorry) is that they're just 2-10 against the RPI top 50, 5-10 against the top 100, and still have a prohibitively high RPI (No. 73 entering Saturday). As nice as Saturday's win was, and for as much as it helped the Bears, the damage they did in recent weeks isn't so easy to overcome in one fell swoop. They still need more -- and a first-round Big 12 tourney shot against Oklahoma State is an awfully good place to start.

Boise State: In case you're not up to speed on the Broncos -- and no, they don't play their home games on blue hardwood -- they established their potential tournament case all the way back on Nov. 28, when they shocked Creighton (then the No. 11 team in the country) on its home floor. (Eight days earlier, they had pushed Michigan State 74-70, and we all wondered what was wrong with the Spartans. Go figure.) Since then, they've trucked along in the Mountain West in almost exactly the fashion you'd expect: They've beaten some of the league's toughest teams (UNLV, Colorado State) at home and fallen to some of the league's lesser squads (Air Force isn't a bad loss; Nevada is) on the road. In other words, today's win over San Diego State wasn't exactly revolutionary; it was a realistic get, and the Broncos got it. The one thing really setting Jeff Elorriaga & Co. apart from the rest of the bubble dregs is their quality wins. Add one more.

Tennessee: What is it with Tennessee and late-season boosts? The Volunteers did this last season, too, when they turned a brutal first two months into a 10-6 SEC performance and a late desperate push to get into the NCAA tournament. It didn't happen then, but after Saturday's home win over Missouri -- a thank-you card addressed to Phil Pressey is currently in the mail - it looks very much like it's happening now.

I'm not saying that a home win over Missouri is this huge bubble landmark. It's at least a degree or four below a win over Florida. Missouri's only true road wins all season came at Mississippi State and South Carolina. Road warriors these Tigers are not, but combined with UT's other work -- eight wins in its past nine games, including a 30-point demolition of Kentucky and its own victory over Florida -- the résumé is now right in the middle of the bubble picture. Like Kentucky, or really any of these SEC teams, anything can happen going away. But for now, the news is good.

Iowa State: Of any of these bubble winners, Iowa State should be in the best shape. For one, the Cyclones are easily the best team in this group; even a cursory glance at their efficiency numbers (especially when contrasted with the rest of these teams) reveals one of the best offenses in the country and a top-35-ish team overall. I also happen to think the committee will go outside its nitty-gritty sheets and delve into Iowa State's two losses to Kansas, both of which came in overtime, the latter of which was ripped from them thanks to some truly diabolical officiating. Anyway, I wouldn't be able to say any of this had Iowa State lost at West Virginia on Saturday. It didn't, and so I can.

Ole Miss: The Rebels won by 14 at LSU. Were they in better position to start the day -- had they not lost to Mississippi State last week, perhaps -- I might have stuck them down in the "Survivors" category. As it is, they remain in the picture, but have a ton of work to do in the SEC tournament. One win won't get it done.

LOSERS

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are basically done. It's not just a loss at Arizona -- that is obviously forgivable, even if the Wildcats aren't nearly as good as we thought they'd be this season -- it's the four losses in a row (to Washington, UCLA and USC, the latter two of which were on the road, before today's loss at Arizona) as well as an RPI in the 90s, the 283rd-hardest schedule, and so on. Credit Herb Sendek and Jahii Carson for getting this program back in the mix in short order, but it's hard to see an at-large here.

La Salle: The Explorers aren't in bad shape, relatively speaking, and you can hardly fault any team for taking one on the chin at Saint Louis, which they did today. But La Salle has been sort of quietly sliding toward the bubble in the past couple of weeks, and losing 78-54 at this point in the season is hardly the best way to impress the committee. Definitely worth keeping an eye on right now.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma has been in great tournament shape for the majority of the past month -- the Sooners have been playing solid hoops, and their RPI and SOS figures are great -- but it nonetheless entered Saturday outside the comfort of lockdom. And then the Sooners lost to TCU. That probably isn't enough to put Oklahoma below a score of the teams you see here, but when you really dig in to its résumé, there's not much about it that screams "lock." A first-round loss to Iowa State next week could have the Sooners wavering by Selection Sunday.

Colorado: This week's Bubble Watch included a little homily on how the Buffaloes' résumé wasn't all that much different from UCLA's, but Colorado was frequently a No. 10 seed while the Bruins were most often placed on the No. 6 line. That was wrong, I wrote. Naturally, Colorado proceeded to lose at home to Oregon State. Like Oklahoma, the Buffaloes are still in better shape than, say, Baylor, but their regular-season finale was enough to introduce some serious questions going forward.

[+] EnlargeKerron Johnson
AP Photo/Wade PayneAfter forcing OT, Kerron Johnson won the OVC title and an NCAA bid for Belmont by hitting this shot.
Louisiana Tech: Before this week, La. Tech's last loss was at McNeese State all the way back on Dec. 12. This week, the Bulldogs lost two in a row, and whatever slim chance they had of getting an at-large look is now officially gone.

Minnesota: How do you follow up a win against Indiana? If you're Minnesota, you lose at Nebraska and Purdue. I don't really understand how that works, but I don't understand anything about this Gophers team. I don't think Tubby Smith does, either. The good news is Minnesota is still in much better shape than almost anyone on this list, thanks to its batch of top-50 wins and some pretty peerless computer numbers (RPI: 20; SOS: 2). But the Gophers did just finish the Big Ten season at 8-10, and what if they fall in the first round of the Big Ten tournament? You have to at least consider them to be on the bubble right now, right?

SURVIVORS

Alabama: The Crimson Tide scraped out a three-point home win over Georgia on Saturday. That is the definition of bubble survival: A loss probably would have knocked Anthony Grant's team totally out of the conversation. As it is, it's still a bit of a long shot -- the Tide were Joe Lunardi's last team among the first four out Saturday evening -- with absolutely zero good wins on its docket. Just a totally uninspiring résumé.

Southern Miss: Speaking of totally uninspiring résumés: the Golden Eagles, everyone! To be honest, it sort of baffles me that Southern Miss is even in the conversation; its best wins are at Denver and a sweep of East Carolina. But the Golden Eagles are hanging around the very fringes of the bubble, and Saturday's home victory over UCF preserved that ungainly status.

Iowa: If Iowa doesn't make the tournament -- and right now it looks very much like Iowa is not going to make the tournament -- Fran McCaffery will really only have himself to blame. The Hawkeyes' nonconference schedule was that of a team still in rebuilding mode, looking for some forgiving opponents and early-season wins. It didn't help that Northern Iowa wasn't as good as advertised, but still, the overall nonconference schedule rank of 308 looks like it is going to keep this .500 Big Ten team -- which would normally be a worthy distinction -- from serious bubble consideration, barring a big push in Chicago next week.

Cincinnati: What if Cincinnati had lost to South Florida on Saturday? That would have been the Bearcats' seventh loss in their past nine games, would have put them at 8-10 in Big East play and, worst of all, would have been a loss to South Florida, which has been just flat-out bad all season long. Fortunately, Cincinnati didn't lose to South Florida. Mick Cronin's team held on 61-53 and should be in solid shape moving forward.

Belmont: This sort-of-kind-of doesn't count, because Belmont won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in thrilling fashion Saturday, and its Dance status is now of the automatic variety. But had they lost, it's entirely possible the Bruins would have missed the tournament altogether.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Xavier: Two weeks ago, despite the young Musketeers' growing pains, it was impossible to look at Xavier's schedule and not have your saliva glands start working a little overdrive. Chris Mack's kids would get VCU, Memphis, UMass and Saint Louis all at home, and then they'd finish the season with a trip to Butler. The Cintas Center is a difficult place to play; a 4-1 record was entirely believable, and could have been a season-changing stretch. Instead, Xavier went 2-3 -- it lost at Butler on Saturday 67-62 -- and its tournament credentials look about as so-so as they did back in mid-February. Alas.

Providence: An even bigger long shot than better-than-you-think brothers-in-arms Iowa at this point, at least Providence, which would close the season at Connecticut, had the best chance of notching an impressive road victory on the final weekend of the season. Instead, UConn held on 63-59. Keep an eye on the Friars going forward; like McCaffery at Iowa, Ed Cooley has them playing better basketball than anyone expected this early in his tenure. But a tournament bid will have to wait.

St. John's: After suspending D'Angelo Harrison, sitting Sir'Dominic Pointer for a one-game fighting suspension and losing three in a row, St. John's looked totally cooked coming in to the weekend, both on the bubble and on the court. But the Red Storm didn't roll over. Instead, they gave Marquette a genuine test, forcing guard Vander Blue to make a last-second running layup to win and secure Buzz Williams a share of the Big East title. It was an impressive showing by the Red Storm, albeit one that came up just short. No chance this team gets in the tournament now.

Saturday's conference-clinching scenarios

March, 2, 2013
3/02/13
11:25
AM ET
Here are the scenarios today for teams that have a chance to clinch their regular-season conference title outright. For conferences with two divisions, we use the terminology “will clinch best record” instead of “will clinch conference outright.”

Akron: Will clinch best record in MAC with win at Buffalo and Ohio loss at Bowling Green
Belmont: Will clinch best record in Ohio Valley with win vs. Jacksonville State or Eastern Kentucky loss at Tennessee State
Charleston Southern: Will clinch best record in Big South South Division with win vs. Coastal Carolina
High Point: Will clinch best record in Big South North division with win vs. Campbell
Long Beach State: Will clinch Big West outright with win at UC Irvine or Pacific loss at UC Riverside
Louisiana Tech: Will clinch WAC outright with win vs. San Jose State and Denver loss vs. New Mexico State
Memphis: Will clinch Conference USA outright with win at UCF or Southern Miss loss vs. East Carolina
Mercer: Will clinch Atlantic Sun outright with win at Stetson or Florida Gulf Coast loss vs. Kennesaw State
Miami: Will clinch ACC outright with win at Duke
New Mexico: Will clinch Mountain West outright with win vs. Wyoming and Colorado State loss at Boise State
Niagara: Will clinch MAAC outright with win vs. St. Peter's
South Dakota State: Will clinch Summit League outright with Western Illinois loss vs. South Dakota
Texas Southern: Will clinch SWAC outright with win vs. Alcorn State
Valparaiso: Will clinch Horizon League outright with win at Green Bay or Detroit loss at Illinois-Chicago
Wichita State at Creighton: Winner clinches Missouri Valley outright

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

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

A quick look at the panel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

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

A quick look at the panel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

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

Another quick look at the panel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mid-Major Report: Power Rankings

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

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

Another quick look at the panel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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