Virginia Commonwealth, Others Lead Surprising Group of Mid-Majors

Ari KramerSenior Analyst IIDecember 4, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 19:  Joey Rodriguez #12, Larry Sanders #1 and Bradford Burgess #20 of the VCU Rams walk off the court after being defeated 65-64 by the UCLA Bruins during the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Wachovia Center on March 19, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As the first month of college basketball nears its end, the mid-major world has witnessed its share of surprises. Siena has faltered, Butler has struggled with Top 25 competition, and Portland cracked the AP Top 25 before falling to Portland State.

Rather than focusing on the negatives, though, let's examine three mid-majors that have unexpectedly built strong resumes in out-of-conference play.

Virginia Commonwealth

Record: 5-1

Key wins: Oklahoma, Nevada, and Rhode Island

You read correctly. The Virginia Commonwealth Rams have been more than fine following the graduation of stud point guard Eric Maynor.

Formerly a shooting guard, Joey Rodgriguez has filled Maynor's void. His 2.8 turnovers per game detract from the value of his five dimes each outing, but he's capable of running the Rams' upbeat offense.

Larry Sanders is still a beast, and the improved offensive game of Bradford Burgess has been essential.

Averaging 76 points per game, VCU also rebounds well (37 per game) and, led by Sanders, has an imposing defense (8.8 steals and 4.5 blocks per game).

The Colonial Athletic Association coaches ranked the Rams No. 3 in the preseason. Considering Old Dominion and Northeastern have struggled against decent competition, VCU might have changed coaches' minds.

Missouri State

Record: 6-0

Key wins: Auburn, Tulsa

After being slated as the Missouri Valley's ninth best team, the Bears have been extremely impressive. An opening night win over Auburn was considered an anomaly until Missouri State upset the C-USA favorite Tulsa by eight points.

How do they do it? Coach Cuonzo Martin has implemented an 11-man rotation that shares the ball very well (16 assists per game). Led by Kyle Weems, the offense has been very efficient. The Bears have shot 49.5 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from long range, good for a whopping 1.38 points per shot.

A win at Arkansas on Dec. 22 could really legitimize this hot start.

William & Mary

Record: 5-2

Key wins: Richmond, @ Wake Forest

Led by the sharpshooting David Schneider, William & Mary might be the real deal. The Tribe has lost two games—a nine-point defeat at the hands of UConn and a nail-biting, two-point overtime loss at Harvard.

Many assumed William & Mary had merely gotten lucky in their first two games of the season. However, a win against Richmond in their third contest and then a 10-point victory at Wake Forest cemented the Tribe as a team capable of competing.

Their core of Schneider, Quinn McDowell, and Danny Sumner can shoot—they've combined for 50 treys on 40 percent shooting through the first seven games.

Their defense is mediocre, but their ball movement (15.4 assists per game) and shooting (41.3 percent from deep) are exceptional.

Next big game: tomorrow at VCU. It's clear that the Rams are the real deal. A Tribe victory could mean the same for William & Mary, who was picked 10th heading into the season by CAA coaches.