Mid-Major Weekly: Butler Bulldogs Percolating Entering Horizon League Play
This week of college basketball, as usual, put mid-majors on the back-burner while elite schools took center stage. The following is my first mid-major weekly update, which should fill you in on the latest mid-major news.
Team of the Week: Butler
After stumbling to a 4-4 start, the Bulldogs won five games in a row, including three this week. Butler made the most of its appearance in the Diamond Head Classic, knocking off Utah, Florida State and Washington State, who brought a 10-1 record to the tournament's championship.
As usual, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard played essential roles in each of the Bulldogs' three games. Mack averaged 16.6 points while Howard scored 18.6 points and collected 8.6 rebounds per game.
Because of its run to the NCAA Championship last season, Butler entered 2010-11 with high expectations even though Gordon Hayward and other instrumental players had graduated. Therefore, the Bulldogs' humbling start shocked many.
However, this team clearly isn't the same without Hayward, Willie Veasley, and Avery Jukes. It takes time to mold into a cohesive unit after three crucial players leave the system, so losing to teams like Louisville, Duke and Xavier early shouldn't be used as evidence that the Bulldogs can no longer compete with top teams.
This week was vital to Butler's resume and confidence entering Horizon League play. The Bulldogs needed a 3-0 week, and they got it, beating two potential tournament teams along the way.
Team of the Week Runner-Up: Northern Iowa
Northern Iowa improved its record to 9-3 with two wins in the Las Vegas Classic this week. The Panthers, whose best win had been a defeat of Iowa State, capitalized on its resume-building opportunities, beating Indiana and New Mexico.
Although Ben Jacobson graduated three of his best players, he still has a team that will compete for the MVC title.
Player of the Week: Denzel Bowles, Sr., James Madison
Against an 8-3 Marshall team, Bowles led James Madison to an 80-73 victory with 34 points and 13 rebounds in the Duke's only game of the week. The senior power forward converted 13 of 21 field goals and eight of 10 free throws.
Mid-Major Battle of the Week: Austin Peay 86, Morehead State 85 OT
When choosing the game of the week, it's hard to argue against this one, which featured 30 lead changes, 11 ties, a buzzer-beating three at the end of regulation, and a buzzer-beating, game-winning layup in overtime.
The Governors of Austin Peay improved to 4-0 in the OVC while sending Kenneth Faried and the Eagles of Morehead State home with a 2-2 record.
Perhaps the OVC will be a three-team race?
Upset of the Week: Jacksonville 71, No. 20 Florida 68 OT
On Monday, Jacksonville defeated No. 20 Florida in Gainesville. Jacksonville is off to a 7-3 start, with two wins against Big-Six schools.
Other Important Things from the Week
Devin Gibson of Texas-San Antonio notched a triple-double against Samford on Monday. The senior guard scored 17 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and dished 12 assists.
Gonzaga bounced back from its three-game skid with three consecutive wins. After beating Baylor a week ago, the Bulldogs downed Xavier this week.
All six winless teams took the floor this week; all six will hit the hardwood without a win next week. UMBC, Colgate, Centenary, Alcorn State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and UNC Greensboro will hope Christmas comes late. Not too late, though.
From the Web
Hofstra's Charles Jenkins graduated last Sunday. Diploma, not ball, comes first for Jenkins, writes ESPN New York's Kieran Darcy.
Elton Alexander reports that Bob Huggins was impressed by Cleveland State in the Vikings' loss to West Virginia.
Butler hopes to reap benefits from its early season challenges, writes David Woods.
Northern Illinois' DeMarcus Grady gets a second chance at pursuing his first love, writes Steve Nitz.
Kevin Winters Morriss raises the issue of how recruiting budgets determine coaches' options.
Joe Lunardi "redefines" the term "mid-major," and I agree (for the most part) with his argument.
For more mid-major basketball, follow me on Twitter.
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