MMR: Rivalries you don't want to miss

Originally Published: February 7, 2012
By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com

The best rivalries between some of the nation's mid-majors rarely receive the same buzz as the perennial duels that feature "power six" programs, but they're equally fascinating. This list doesn't include every noteworthy mid-major rivalry in the country. But for the fans who have come to embrace the following rivalries, they're all significant and worth mentioning. In no particular order …

[+] EnlargeDellavedova
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireMatthew Dellavedova and Saint Mary's have been overshadowed by Gonzaga in the WCC. That's not the case this season.

1. Lipscomb-Belmont (Atlantic Sun): "The Battle of the Boulevard" began in the early 1950s. Their campuses are less than three miles apart, and they sit on the same road (Belmont Boulevard) in Nashville, Tenn. The rivalry between Lipscomb and Belmont began when they were NAIA standouts and continued when both jumped to Division I in the 1990s. They've played 130 times (73 wins for Lipscomb; 57 for Belmont) and draw major local interest whenever they meet. More than 16,000 fans showed up when they faced off at Memorial Gym (Vanderbilt) in Nashville in 1990. Belmont beat Lipscomb 84-58 this past Friday, in the most recent installment of the rivalry.

2. Saint Mary's-Gonzaga (West Coast Conference): The next matchup between these two West Coast powers (Thursday, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN3.com) will be one of the most crucial in the rivalry's recent history. This time, it's the undefeated Gaels (11-0 in WCC) who could pull away from the field with a win over the Bulldogs, who have lost two WCC games. The Gaels beat Gonzaga, which has won at least a share of 11 consecutive regular-season WCC titles, by 21 in the first meeting earlier this season and have a chance to win their second consecutive WCC crown (the Gaels shared the title with Gonzaga last season). But Saint Mary's has been little brother to Gonzaga over the last decade. That, however, could change this season. Expect a battle Thursday.

3. Virginia Commonwealth-Old Dominion (CAA): Because of the teams' recent success, the stature of the rivalry between Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion has grown. The two schools are 90 miles apart -- a straight shot on Interstate 64 in Virginia -- and they draw sellout crowds whenever they meet. Since the 2005-06 campaign, they've split the regular-season series. But ODU has sent VCU home in the past two CAA tourneys. Right now, VCU is in a three-way tie for first place in the CAA with an 11-2 conference record, and Old Dominion is just below the top tier with a 10-3 mark. The Rams won the first matchup of the season, a 61-48 victory on Jan. 21 that increased their overall lead in the series (44-42). But VCU travels to ODU for the second game on Saturday.

4. Austin Peay-Murray State (Ohio Valley): It's not much of a rivalry this season with Austin Peay struggling (9-17 overall, 6-6 in the OVC) and No. 7 Murray State undefeated and ranked in the top 10. But this is one of the better rivalries in the country. From 1987-2010, the two Ohio Valley standouts, whose campuses are 68 miles apart, met five times in the conference tournament finale. At least one of the teams has played for the league's NCAA automatic bid in the conference tournament championship game during that span. The Racers secured an 87-75 victory in the first meeting between these two this season. They will meet again on Saturday. Murray State has a 71-41 edge in the series, which began in the early 1940s.

5. Iona-Manhattan (MAAC): The two teams are separated by one game for first place in the MAAC. Manhattan's surge has been surprising and refreshing for the thriving New York-area, small-school college basketball scene. The two schools are about 10 minutes apart. This rivalry cracks the list because it's been revitalized this season. Manhattan finished last season with a 6-25 record but entered the week with a 17-8 mark under first-year coach Steve Masiello. Iona is one of the top mid-majors in the country because of the potent trio of Scott Machado, Lamont Jones and Michael Glover. The teams have split this season's series (Iona beat Manhattan 85-73 this past Saturday; Manhattan won the Jan. 12 matchup, 75-72). But they could meet again in the MAAC tournament.

6. Penn-Princeton (Ivy League): This isn't just a mid-major rivalry. It's simply one of the best rivalries in college basketball, especially with the Ivy League's NCAA tourney bid going to its regular-season winner and the past implications of this game. The perennial Ivy League powers (Princeton has won 26 conference titles; Penn has won 25) have met 225 times. Penn has a 123-102 advantage in the series after beating the Tigers 82-67 on Jan. 30. The latest win snapped Princeton's five-game winning streak in the series. The two teams end the season with another meeting on March 6.

7. Montana-Montana State (Big Sky): Montana leads this series 147-136, although there's some dispute between the schools about that tally. The Montana-Montana State basketball matchups are televised throughout the state and always draw strong crowds. Locals still talk about the 1986 Big Sky title game. Montana State, a struggling team that found success in the conference tourney that season, beat Montana 82-77 in Reno, Nev. One sports information director described Montana State as a school with "a cowboy" image, a contrast to its liberal arts rival 200 miles away via Interstate 90. The Grizzlies won the first matchup this season, but the two will play again on Feb. 25.

8. Creighton-Wichita State (Missouri Valley): The recent success of both schools has intensified the rivalry. The Bluejays and Shockers are tied atop the Missouri Valley standings with 11-2 records. Creighton has 14 conference titles and Wichita State has six. Creighton, however, had lost three of their past four meetings against the Shockers entering the 2011-12 season. In 2009, Creighton beat the Shockers in the MVC tourney quarterfinals on a last-second shot, another matchup that elevated the rivalry. This season, the Bluejays defeated Wichita State 68-61 on New Year's Eve, and they'll meet for the second time this season on Saturday with first place on the line.

9. LIU-Brooklyn-St. Francis (N.Y.) (NEC): The Battle of Brooklyn started with the 1975-76 season, although the two Brooklyn schools have competed since the late 1920s. LIU leads the series 20-16. The Battle of Brooklyn is a major event for both programs. After each game in the series, an MVP trophy is awarded to the game's top player. The 37th Battle of Brooklyn will be contested on Sunday, but the two schools will play for the first time this season on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. The event could have major implications on the NEC title race. LIU-Brooklyn entered the week in first place (11-1), while St. Francis sits in a tie for second at 10-2.

10. Akron-Kent State (MAC): These two schools are just 15 miles apart. The "neighborhood" rivalry is always exciting and the recent history has added even more fuel to the matchup. Akron snatched the MAC's automatic bid with an overtime win over Kent State in last season's conference tourney title game. The Zips have been to the NCAA tournament in two of the past three seasons, while Kent State is seeking its first bid since 2008. Akron won the first game of the season 84-75 on Jan. 21. But the rivals will meet again on March 3.

Five games you don't want to miss

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Canaan
AP Photo/Stephen Lance DenneeAre Isaiah Canaan and undefeated Murray State vulnerable versus Tennessee State on Thursday?

Tennessee State at No. 7 Murray State (ESPN3.com, 7 p.m. ET, Thursday): The Tigers have won five in a row, and they're the Ohio Valley Conference's top offensive rebounding team. In their past two games, the Racers have been vulnerable. They went 3-for-17 from beyond the arc against Tennessee-Martin and committed 14 turnovers against Southeast Missouri State. It's an interesting matchup between a hot Tigers team and a Racers squad that's very good but not invincible.

No. 13 Saint Mary's at Gonzaga (ESPN2/ESPN3.com, 11 p.m. ET, Thursday ): The WCC race could end Thursday. Saint Mary's has already swept BYU. And now a Gonzaga team that's lost two West Coast Conference games faces an SMC squad that entered the week with an 11-0 record in conference play. The Bulldogs might be the last obstacle standing between Saint Mary's and a WCC title. But the last time the two teams met, the Gaels won by 21 points.

Iona at Loyola (Md.) (ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET, Friday): The top teams in the MAAC entered the week with 11-2 records in conference play and face off for the second time this season. Iona (83.3 ppg, third in the country) has won four in a row. Loyola (Md.) has won six straight. And the Greyhounds possess the league's top scoring defense (58.9 ppg). Can they stall Iona's high-scoring offense? They couldn't in the first meeting.

Arkansas-Little Rock at Middle Tennessee (ESPN2/ESPN3.com, 1 p.m. ET, Saturday): UALR (8-2) entered the week as the Sun Belt's West leader. Middle Tennessee (10-1), which suffered a loss at Denver on Saturday, is on top of the East. This clash features the conference's top two scoring defenses, so this is going to be rugged meeting.

Wichita State at No. 15 Creighton (ESPN2/ESPN3.com, 5 p.m. ET, Saturday): Set the DVR now. The Missouri Valley's top squads clash for the second time this season. The Bluejays won the first meeting. But the Shockers have won 10 of their past 11 games since suffering that New Year's Eve loss. Creighton lost at Northern Iowa this past Saturday on a buzzer-beater. On Jan. 28, the previous Saturday, Wichita State suffered a triple-overtime loss at Drake. Seems like the Missouri Valley always produces fireworks on the weekend. What will happen when its top squads come together in Omaha, Neb., on Saturday?

Five individual performances you might have missed

Kevin Murphy (Tennessee Tech): Murphy, a 6-foot-6 guard, scored 50 points (16-for-21) in Tennessee Tech's 98-80 win over SIU-Edwardsville on Jan. 30. It was a single-game scoring record for the program. He's scored 28 or more seven times this season.

Lamont "MoMo" Jones (Iona): The Arizona transfer recorded 43 points in this past Thursday's 105-86 victory over Canisius. He was 16-for-23 from the field (7-for-12 from beyond the arc). He also finished with three steals. He scored two points on 1-for-7 shooting in Iona's previous outing, a 64-40 win at St. Peter's Jan. 29.

Damian Lillard (Weber State): Lillard, the nation's top scorer, recorded 40 points in a 92-79 win over Portland St. this past Thursday. He was 8-for-10 from the charity stripe and 6-for-8 from the 3-point line. He followed it up with 35 points over the weekend.

Reggie Hamilton (Oakland): The 5-foot-11 guard scored at least 40 for the second time this season during Oakland's 74-70 double-overtime victory over Western Illinois this past Saturday. Hamilton hit nine 3s.

Brandon Davies (BYU): In BYU's 79-60 win at Portland this past Saturday, the 6-foot-9 Davies finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds, eight steals and four assists. His eight steals equaled the tally for the entire Portland team.

Five scores you might have missed

Delaware 65, George Mason 60 (Wednesday): George Mason had won six straight before suffering a 65-60 road loss against Delaware. Paul Hewitt's squad shot just 3-for-16 from the 3-point line. The Blue Hens were fueled by Kyle Anderson's 21 points and a 43-29 edge on the boards.

South Dakota State 75, Oral Roberts 60 (Thursday): The Jackrabbits avoided a season sweep by beating the Summit League's top team. South Dakota State took an early 15-2 lead. Nate Wolters scored 24 points on 8-for-16 shooting as the Jackrabbits snapped Oral Roberts' 13-game winning streak. The Golden Eagles were 3-for-13 from beyond the arc.

BYU 83, Gonzaga 73 (Thursday): BYU recorded a major victory for its West Coast Conference title hopes, despite shooting 25 percent from the 3-point line (3-for-12). The Cougars held Gonzaga to a 3-for-19 clip from beyond the arc and forced 19 turnovers.

Denver 75, Middle Tennessee State 60 (Saturday): The Blue Raiders suffered their first Sun Belt loss when they traveled to Colorado this past Saturday. Denver's Chris Udofia established a career-high with 27 points. The Pioneers shot 50 percent from the field and forced 17 Blue Raiders turnovers.

Northern Iowa 65, Creighton 62 (Saturday): What a fun game. This was one of the best games of the season thus far. With 4.6 seconds to go, Antoine Young nailed a huge 3 to tie the game at 62 apiece. But Northern Iowa's Anthony James stayed calm, dribbled up the floor and hit a step-back 3 over national player of the year candidate Doug McDermott (18 points, 12 rebounds) to win the game at the buzzer. Fans stormed the floor after Creighton's 11-game winning streak was snapped. Fascinating finish.

The Mid-major Power 15

(MWC, A-10 and C-USA are not included)

1. Saint Mary's: The Gaels have a chance to sweep Gonzaga in their matchup this week.
2. Murray State: The Racers haven't been flawless in recent outings, but they're still undefeated.
3. Harvard: Tommy Amaker's squad has won eight in a row.
4. Creighton: Saturday's loss at Northern Iowa snapped Creighton's 11-game winning streak.
5. Long Beach State: The 49ers are 10-0 in league play and are running away with the Big West crown.
6. Wichita State: The Shockers meet Creighton on Saturday in a battle for first in the MVC.
7. BYU: The Cougars kept their WCC title hopes alive with a major victory over Gonzaga last week.
8. Gonzaga: The Bulldogs won't catch the first-place Gaels if they lose to them again this week.
9. Iona: These Gaels clash with Loyola (Md.) Friday for first place in the MAAC.
10. VCU: This year's VCU (a team that could make a run in March) might again end up being VCU (currently in a three-way tie for first in CAA at 11-2).
11. Cleveland State: The Horizon League's top team has won five in a row.
12. George Mason: Paul Hewitt's squad has won seven of its past eight contests.
13. Oral Roberts: The Golden Eagles had won 13 straight before last week's loss to SDSU.
14. Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders' slim at-large hopes took a major hit with loss to Denver.
15. Nevada: Weekend loss to Idaho ruined 16-game winning streak.

Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mmedcalf3030@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN