NCAA Basketball: Mid-Major Top 20 for the Week of December 3rd
Now that we're a month into the season and most teams have at least five games under their belts, it's time to take a look at some of the teams outside the spotlight of the major conferences.
Teams from the Big Six conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac 12, SEC) as well as Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference are considered major programs and not eligible for these rankings.
This is based on the methodology of The Mid-Majority's "Red Line," which classifies a mid-major conference as a conference whose average member spends less than $20 million on their athletics program in total and $2 million in their men's basketball programs.
C.J. McCollum is still at Lehigh, and you should still be paying attention.
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Last Week: Win at Quinnipiac 77-66, Win vs. Fairleigh Dickinson 102-62
This Week: December 4 vs. Fordham, December 8 at St. Francis (Pa.)
Yes, C.J. McCollum is back for another season after taking out Duke in the NCAA tournament last year. But Lehigh isn't all about McCollum. Three other players are averaging double-figures in points: Gabe Knutson, Holden Greiner and Mackey McKnight.
Granted that the Mountain Hawks prefer to have McCollum producing at a rate of 25.9 points per game, Lehigh's only two losses are at Baylor and Pittsburgh. Nothing to get worried about.
19) St. Louis
Cody Ellis has been the primary threat behind the arc for St. Louis.
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Last Week: Loss at Washington 66-61, Win vs. Valparaiso 62-49
This Week: December 5 vs. North Texas
It's been a tough week for St. Louis as coach Rick Majerus, who had stepped down prior to the season for health concerns, passed away Saturday. Less than 24 hours later, they had to step on the court and face preseason Horizon League favorites Valparaiso. The Billikens kept their emotions in check enough to get a 62-49 win.
Not that this season has been easy for St. Louis from the start.
They have been missing senior guard Kwamain Mitchell since the start of the season with a broken foot. The Billikens have challenged themselves on the court as well, taking on Texas A&M and Kansas in the CBE Classic and travelling out to Washington, so the record is a bit deceiving.
Chris Braswell (35) is currently leading the 49ers in scoring with 15.2 points per game.
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Last Week: Win vs. East Carolina 76-64
This Week: December 5 at Davidson, December 8 vs. Central Michigan
Charlotte is a team sneaking under the radar of many. Predicted to finish 12th in the Atlantic 10 this season, the 49ers are undefeated and captured the Great Alaska Shootout title in Anchorage, beating Oral Roberts and Northeastern along the way.
This week should feature a good test as Charlotte plays their first true road game of the season against local rivals Davidson.
17) Eastern Kentucky
Jeff Neubauer has his Colonels off to a surprising 7-0 start.
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Last Week: Win vs. Delaware State 84-51, Win vs. Western Carolina 72-70
This Week: December 4 at North Carolina Central, December 8 at Chattanoga
If you asked people who currently has the best record in the Ohio Valley Conference right now, most would say Murray State or Belmont, not Eastern Kentucky.
True, the Colonels have yet to leave the confines of McBrayer Arena this season. But they did win their own invitational over Kennesaw State, Towson and Radford.
For a team that finished eighth in the conference last season, any sign of progress is a good thing. Newcomer Glenn Cosey has been on fire, averaging 17.9 points per game and hitting 48.7 percent of his three-point attempts.
Eastern Kentucky will finally leave the city limits when they go on a two-game road swing this week.
16) Middle Tennessee State
Junior Shawn Jones is one of two Blue Raiders averaging double-figures in scoring.
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Record: 5-2 (1-0 Sun Belt)
Last Week: Win at Louisiana-Lafayette 72-58, Loss at Akron 82-77 (OT)
This Week: December 5 vs. UAB, December 8 vs. Mississippi
The Sun Belt is one of the mid-major conferences that elect to get an early jump on conference play, instead of waiting until after Christmas. Middle Tennessee State, the preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt's Eastern Division, cleared their first conference hurdle with a 72-58 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
Marcos Knight has been the key figure for the Blue Raiders. Despite his 6'2" size, he is one of Middle Tennessee's leading rebounders, averaging 6.3 rebounds per game. Knight is also the team's leading scorer with 13.6 points per game.
The Blue Raiders will welcome a couple of big-name programs to Murfreesboro next week as UAB and Mississippi come to town.
15) Louisiana Tech
Sophomore Kenneth Smith is averaging 5.5 assists per game for the Bulldogs.
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Last Week: Win vs. Southeastern Louisiana 99-62, Win at Georgia State 86-68
This Week: December 4 at Northwestern State, December 8 vs. Southern Mississippi
The season may not have ended well for the Louisiana Tech football team, as they missed out on an Independence Bowl bid while looking for better offers. The good news is that the natives of Ruston look to have a solid basketball team to cheer for.
Louisiana Tech is on a seven-game winning streak after a season-opening loss to Texas A&M. Sophomore guard Raheem Appleby has been pouring in the points for the Bulldogs, averaging 20.9 points per game. Coach Michael White has brought in an up-tempo style that uses the bench heavily, as 10 Louisiana Tech players average at least 10 minutes played per game.
14) Saint Joseph's
C.J. Aiken is one of four Hawks averaging double-figures in points this season.
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Last Week: Win vs. American 74-55, Loss at Creighton 80-51
This Week: December 4 at Coppin State
The preseason Atlantic 10 favorites certainly haven't been afraid to challenge themselves this season. Playing in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, St. Joseph's beat Notre Dame before losing to Florida State. Then last Saturday, the Hawks flew out to Omaha, only to be beaten badly by Creighton, 80-51.
Coach Phil Martelli has a lot of balance on his team with four players, Carl Jones, Langston Galloway, C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts, Jr., all averaging between 10-15 points per game.
Coach Phil Martelli and the Hawks will have a bit of recovery time with just a road game at Coppin State before taking on Big Five rival Villanova.
Semaj Christon has been a big reason why Xavier is doing better than expected.
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Last Week: Win at Purdue 63-57
This Week: December 6 vs. Vanderbilt, December 9 vs. Kent State
The rumor of the demise of Xavier, at least for this season, appears to have been greatly exaggerated.
The Musketeers already have quality wins over Butler (in a non-conference game) and Purdue. Their only blemish is a loss to Pacific in the first round of the DirecTV Classic in Anaheim. Sadly for Xavier, that kept them from higher-profile matchups against Saint Mary's and California, instead earning games against Drexel and Drake.
Without superstars like Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons or Dez Wells, Xavier is taking more of a team approach this season. Dee Davis has been joined in the backcourt by freshman Semaj Christon, who leads the team in scoring after missing the first game of the season.
Mike Muscala wants people to realize the Patriot League isn't all about Lehigh.
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Last Week: Win vs Dartmouth 62-49, Win at Columbia 65-57
This Week: December 4 vs. Kent State
Don't concede the Patriot League to C.J. McCollum and Lehigh just yet. Mike Muscala and Bucknell will have plenty to say about that.
Bucknell beat Purdue in the first round of the 2K Sports Classic. Of course, since the 2K Sports Classic predetermines its semifinalists, Bucknell got to play and beat Niagara, New Mexico State and West Alabama. Purdue got to play in Madison Square Garden, losing two more games to Villanova and Oregon State.
The Bison have only lost a close game at Penn State. Muscala, a 6'11" senior, is currently averaging a double-double with 17.8 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.
11) Illinois State
Tyler Brown (1) is leading the Redbirds in scoring with almost 20 points per game.
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Last Week: Loss at Louisville 69-66
This Week: December 4 vs. Wyoming, December 8 vs. Western Michigan
Yes, the Redbirds are on a two-game losing streak after starting the season 5-0. But it's hard to fault Illinois State for losing by three at Top 5-ranked Louisville or an overtime loss at Northwestern.
Illinois State is one of the faster-paced teams in the country, scoring 82.3 points per game. The Redbirds are led in scoring by a pair of seniors Tyler Brown (19.7 ppg) and Jackie Carmichael (16.7 ppg).
The Redbirds haven't made the NCAA tournament since 1998. That's something first-year coach Dan Muller hopes to correct in a Missouri Valley Conference that should be good enough to get at least two teams into the tournament this season.
Senior Daniel Barnes has helped the Flames to a 6-1 start
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Last Week: Win at Northern Illinois 58-46, Win at Northwestern 50-44
This Week: December 5 vs. Roosevelt, December 8 vs. Colorado State
To say nobody expected much out of Howard Moore's UIC squad would be an understatement. The Flames were picked to finish eighth out of nine teams in the Horizon League this season.
But the squad from the south side of Chicago have won five straight, including a win at crosstown rival Northwestern. Senior center Josh Crittle was a Swiss army knife that game, leading the flames in points, rebounds and assists.
UIC's only loss was a 66-59 defeat at The Pit in New Mexico, an environment few visiting teams escape with a win.
9) Murray State
Super senior Isaiah Canaan leads the Racers with 22.5 points per game.
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Last Week: Win at Lipscomb 88-79
This Week: December 4 vs. Bethel (Tenn.), December 8 at Evansville
Perennial-March-Madness-Cinderella Murray State looks primed for another March run. But don't expect Isaiah Canaan and the Racers to have such an easy time getting through the Ohio Valley Conference this season.
Newcomer Belmont will be a factor after moving from the Atlantic Sun Conference, and Eastern Kentucky looks like a team that could cause some trouble.
Murray State almost went 3-for-3 against teams from Big Six conferences in the Charleston Classic. The Racers defeated Auburn and St. John's before falling in the championship game to Colorado.
Rotnei Clarke hasn't wasted any time making an impact for Butler after transferring from Arkansas.
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Last Week: Win vs. Hanover 97-73, Win vs. Ball State 67-53
This Week: December 5 vs. IUPUI, December 8 at Northwestern
Brad Stevens has never been afraid to challenge his team with a daunting non-conference schedule, something he had to do to get some quality wins when Butler played in the Horizon League.
Now in the Atlantic 10 a year earlier than expected, the challenging schedule remains. Butler lost at Xavier in a holdover non-conference game (the conference game comes in March), then went to Maui for the Maui Invitational.
In Maui, Rotnei Clarke announced his presence with a buzzer-beater against Marquette, then scored 17 in the Bulldogs' upset of North Carolina. Clarke leads the Bulldogs with 18 points per game and is shooting 41.2 percent from behind the arc.
Butler's limited depth finally caught up to them in the championship game against Illinois. But the trip to Maui proved that Butler is not a squad you want to face come tournament time.
D.J. Cooper (5), Walter Offutt (3) and Nick Kellogg (15) are all back from last year's Sweet 16 team.
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Last Week: Win vs. St. Bonaventure 69-64, Loss at Robert Morris 84-76
This Week: December 5 at Memphis, December 8 vs. Oakland
Last year's Cinderella Ohio got off to a hot start, winning six straight games before falling on the road to Robert Morris this weekend.
Most of last year's team is back, including all five leading scorers. The senior-laden squad is missing Coach John Groce, who moved on to Illinois. Jim Christian, who is familiar with the Mid-American Conference from his time at Kent State, has taken charge.
Ohio faces a stiff test Wednesday when they travel to Memphis to take on the Tigers.
Kerron Johnson leads the Bruins with over five assists per game.
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Last Week: Loss at VCU 75-65
This Week: December 4 vs. Lipscomb
Rick Byrd's Belmont squad has certainly racked up the frequent-flier miles early i the season. A trip to Stanford proved fruitful, as the Bruins picked up a 70-62 win. Belmont then went to Anchorage for the Great Alaska Shootout, picking up two wins over the hosts Alaska-Anchorage and Oral Roberts.
Ian Clark has picked up his production in his senior season. Consistently a 12-point-per-game scorer, Clark has been averaging 17.9 points this season, and scored 24 in the Bruins' loss to VCU.
Belmont will get to keep the luggage packed up for a bit, as the Bruins host the return leg of the "Battle of the Boulevard" against Lipscomb, whom Belmont beat 89-60 earlier in the season.
Khalif Wyatt has helped the Owls stay undefeated through five games.
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Last Week: Win at Buffalo 54-39, Win vs. Wagner 70-62
This Week: December 5 at Villanova, December 8 vs. Duke (neutral site)
Temple hasn't exactly faced the toughest schedule to start the year, although they do have decent wins against Kent State and Delaware. That will change this week as the Owls take on Big Five rival Villanova and No. 2 ranked Duke.
Khalif Wyatt has been part of a two-man attack with Scottie Randall for Temple. The pair are both averaging 15 points per game.
Temple was picked to finish fourth in a super-competitive Atlantic 10. Overall, seven Atlantic 10 teams are in this week's Mid-Major Top 20, by far the most of any conference. Expect to see at least four teams from the A-10 in the NCAA tournament come March.
Juvonte Reddic has been a force inside the lane for VCU.
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Last Week: Win vs. Stetson 92-56, Win vs. Belmont 75-65
This Week: December 7 at Old Dominion
Atlantic 10 newcomer VCU has faced a very challenging non-conference schedule, highlighted by their appearance at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Although VCU went 1-2 in the event, beating Memphis before losing to Duke and Missouri, it was a showcase that proved the preseason poll having VCU finish second in the A-10 doesn't appear far off.
The Rams have been led by sophomore guard Treveon Graham and junior forward Juvonte Reddic. Graham is averaging 14 points per game and is shooting 39.3 percent from three-point range. Reddic has been the primary inside threat for VCU, scoring 15.3 points per game and snagging 8.6 rebounds per game.
The schedule won't get any easier for the Rams, as they travel to former Colonial Athletic Association rival Old Dominion.
There isn't much Doug McDermott can't do on the court.
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Last Week: Loss vs. Boise State 83-70, Win vs. Saint Joseph's 80-51
This Week: December 6 at Nebraska, December 9 vs. Akron
Although Boise State are off to a good start of their own, the Broncos coming in to Omaha and beating Creighton convincingly was a bit of a shock.
That loss is the only blemish on the Bluejays record that includes good wins over UAB, Wisconsin, Arizona State and Saint Joseph's. Doug McDermott has lived up to his all-everything billing with 21.3 points per games, 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting 46.9 percent from behind the arc.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott will face another tough test when Creighton travel to in-state rival Nebraska, who are off to a 6-1 start of their own.
2) Wichita State
Carl Hall has led Wichita State to an 8-0 start.
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Last Week: Win vs. Tulsa 86-60, Win at Air Force 72-69
This Week: December 8 vs. Northern Colorado
Somewhat surprisingly, it's Wichita State that is the last undefeated team in the Missouri Valley Conference, not Creighton.
Wichita State captured the Cancun Challenge championship, beating DePaul and Iowa. The Shockers also have solid wins against VCU, Tulsa and Air Force.
Wichita State doesn't have a ton of star power. The Shockers are led by senior forward Carl Hall and his 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. It's been a team approach for Coach Gregg Marshall, who has nine players playing at least 10 minutes a game.
Senior Elias Harris is just one of many threats in a loaded Gonzaga team.
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Last Week: Win vs. Lewis-Clark State 104-57, Win vs. Pacific 85-67
This Week: December 5 at Washington State, December 8 vs. Illinois
There really isn't much doubt at the moment who the best mid-major team in the country is as long as you accept Gonzaga as a mid-major.
While the name brand isn't mid-major, the size of the arena (6,000), conference affiliation (West Coast Conference) and athletic budgets certainly are.
That being said, Gonzaga has played like the No. 10 ranked team in the country, winning the Old Spice Invitational in Orlando, beating Clemson, Oklahoma and Davidson. The Bulldogs also own a convincing win against West Virginia.
Ten players are averaging at least 10 minutes a game with five players (Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, Kevin Pangos, Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower) all averaging double-figures in scoring.
This week won't be an easy week for Gonzaga. A trip across the Palouse to Washington State on Wednesday, followed by a visit from No. 13 Illinois await.