As pre-conference play comes to a close, most Mid-Major attention has been focused on teams like Murray St., Creighton and Harvard, and deservedly so. These teams have been impressive during the early part of the season.
However, as the college basketball season turns towards conference play, let’s take a moment and give a shout out to some teams outside the Big Six power conferences that have quietly put together quality non-conference resumes, but haven’t garnered much press.
Although these teams have put themselves in good position heading into their respective conference schedules, there is still a long way to go before they can be considered any kind of “lock” for the NCAA tournament.
Note: RPI and SOS numbers from cbssports.com
Southern Mississippi (12-2, RPI: 4, SOS: 11)
Entering his eighth season at Southern Miss, Larry Eustachy has put together a solid team in Hattiesburg. The Golden Eagles are winners of eight straight, including a trio of mid-December wins over Mississippi, Arizona St. and South Florida.
The Golden Eagles have been led by the backcourt of LaShay Page (13.3 ppg) and Angelo Johnson (12.2 ppg). However, the recent eligibility of swingman Darnell Dodson, a transfer from Kentucky, gives this team a bona fide scorer that can keep them atop C-USA.
St. Joseph’s (10-3, RPI: 30, SOS: 48)
Unfortunately for Coach Phil Martelli, his team’s success has been overshadowed by the scholarship release battle between Martelli and former Hawk player Todd O’Brien. The Hawk basketball team however, has been battling opponents to the tune of a 10-3 record.
With wins over cross town rival and Big East player Villanova, as well as nationally ranked Creighton, St. Joe’s has A-10 coaches second guessing themselves about voting the Hawks seventh during the preseason conference poll.
The Hawks are led by junior Carl Jones (18.5 ppg) and sophomore Langston Galloway (16.0 ppg) and feature a relatively young team without a senior on the roster.
A New Year’s Eve matchup with 24th ranked Harvard will tell a lot more about the Hawks.
Denver (10-2, RPI: 29, SOS: 67)
To the common basketball fan, the University of Denver isn’t a school you think of when basketball season rolls around. However, Coach Joe Scott and the Pioneers have been warming up the hard court and cooling down opponents.
After coaching stops at Princeton and Air Force, Scott has brought some attention to Denver. The Pioneers upended perennial Mid-Major power St. Mary’s, along with Utah St. and Southern Mississippi earlier this season.
Brian Stafford (14.1 ppg) and Chris Udofia (13.9 ppg) will lead Denver into a relatively weak Sun Belt conference. Remember this team when March rolls around. Nobody will want to see this Princeton style offense come tournament time.
You can follow T.R. Peterson on twitter at @trpeters21.