Commentary

A weekly look at the mid-major scene

Originally Published: November 29, 2010
By Mark Adams | Special to ESPN.com

Here's a look around the mid-major scene and the teams and players you might not know much about (but should):

What you might've missed

Although everyone else is talking about Butler, Cleveland State and Loyola (Chicago) are a combined 14-0. CSU coach Gary Waters teaches a leadership class to his team before each season. Led by Norris Cole (20.4 points per game), the leadership lessons are paying off handsomely, as the Vikings are off to a school-record start that includes sneaky-good wins over Iona, Kent State and Akron. Meanwhile, Loyola is 7-0 after winning at San Francisco on the same court where Colorado had lost just days before. The Ramblers were picked to finish eighth in the Horizon preseason poll. So much for that.

What you shouldn't miss

1. Monday: Maine at Quinnipiac -- My preseason pick in the America East versus my preseason pick in the Northeast. Remember the name Justin Rutty for Quinnipiac.

2. Wednesday: BYU at Creighton -- Jimmer Fredette and the 6-0 Cougars invade one of the most frenzied and hostile environments in the Valley. It's not every day that an All-American and a ranked nonconference foe come to Omaha's Qwest Center. This matchup should be a whole lot of fun.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Taylor
Icon SMIBlaine Taylor and ODU are coming off a Paradise Jam title.

3. Wednesday: Richmond at Old Dominion -- The Spiders are coming off a win over No. 8 Purdue, and the Monarchs are coming off a Paradise Jam title. Chris Mooney versus Blaine Taylor is one of the best coaching matchups most fans won't know about or completely understand. Trust me and check this one out.

4. Wednesday: Temple at Central Michigan -- This is CMU's home opener in the newly refurbished CMU Events Center, as freshman Trey Zeigler tests Juan Fernandez and the suddenly struggling Owls.

5. Saturday: Wichita State at San Diego State -- These are two of the most intriguing teams from two of the best non-power six conferences. The Shockers had UConn beat in Maui, but a few bad calls and Kemba Walker shot down their upset hopes. Still, Gregg Marshall regrouped his troops and pounded Virginia. All San Diego State did recently was take down Gonzaga in Spokane and then travel to Ohio and win three games in three days. You've got to love this matchup.

Who's hot: Hawaii and Boise State (both 5-0)

Hawaii is coming off a 10-20 season, but new coach Gib Arnold has the Warriors and their fans believing again. The opening five games haven't been killer, but they already beat a good Central Michigan team during the Tip-Off Marathon. Hiram Thompson (14.2 ppg, 64 percent from 3) and Bill Amis (15.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg) give Hawaii an outside and inside duo that should elevate the team to the top half of the WAC.

Speaking of the WAC, don't sleep on Boise State. The football Broncos are no longer undefeated, but the basketball version is a surprising 5-0. Robert Arnold really stretches the defense by shooting 53 percent from deep and averaging 20.0 ppg.

Who's hot: Part 2

South Dakota State (5-0): The Jackrabbits can run (80.0 ppg) and dish (15.4 apg). Many people, including myself, picked Oakland to win the Summit League. Frankly, the Jackrabbits were not even in my sights. They are now. Nate Wolters averages 16 ppg and dishes out 4.8 apg while shooting 89 percent from 3. That's right, 89 percent (8-of-9).

Kent State (6-1): Justin Greene was one of the most improved players in the country last season, and his numbers keep rising (19.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 60 percent FG). Rodriquez Sherman is a do-everything point guard who distributes first (4.3 apg). Kent State's only loss was to rival Cleveland State, but since that loss, the Golden Flashes have won four in a row.

Illinois State (5-1): Everyone in the Valley is talking Wichita State, and for good reason, but the Redbirds are a surprising 5-1. Coach Tim Jankovich lost the inside scoring and rebounding of Dinma Odiakosa and the dynamic offense of Osiris Eldridge from last season, but Jackie Carmichael is filling the scoring void nicely with 14.2 ppg. Although the schedule has been a bit soft, UNLV is the next foe for the Redbirds on Wednesday, so we'll get a good measure of this team very soon.

VMI (5-1): Duggar Baucom's Keydets are turning heads in the Big South, as they reeled off five in a row before losing at West Virginia. Keith Gabriel and Stan Okoye both average more than 19 points per game in Baucom's all-out offensive attack. The Keydets are the most entertaining mid-major offensive show in the country (91 ppg) and are quickly becoming a Big South contender.

[+] EnlargeRob Jones
AP Photo/Paul ChouyTransfer Rob Jones has been a big help on the boards for the Gaels.

Saint Mary's (6-1): Randy Bennett led the Gaels to the Sweet 16 last season with wins over Richmond and Villanova. This season's version has shown the ability to defend and rebound (plus-10.3 rebound differential). Combine that with the all-around game and deadly range of Mickey McConnell (14.4 ppg, 57 percent 3-point, 4.9 apg), and the Gaels will challenge Gonzaga in the WCC. They've beaten St. John's and crushed Texas Tech, with their only blemish a 73-72 loss to 6-0 BYU.

James Madison (5-1): After a respectable season-opening loss at Kansas State (75-61), JMU has won five in a row. Although everyone has focused on ODU, GMU and VCU in the CAA, add JMU to the alphabet soup of contenders. The dynamic duo of Denzel Bowles (17.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.0 apg) and Rayshawn Goins (16.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg) make the Dukes a legitimate contender.

American (5-1): Vlad Moldoveanu is a Romanian who plays for American University. Coach Jeff Jones won't care as long as Moldoveanu scores 21.8 ppg. The first-team All-Patriot selection is picking up where he left off last season (18.1 ppg) and then some. The Eagles will invade Morgantown, W.Va., on Wednesday, when they'll face Turkish native Deniz Kilicli in the battle for supremacy of the former Ottoman Empire.

VCU (4-1): The Rams drilled Wake Forest 90-69 two weeks ago in the NIT Season Tip-Off. VCU then lost to Tennessee 77-72 in the semis at Madison Square Garden, but the Rams rebounded to knock off UCLA 89-81 in the consolation game. Joey Rodriguez (14.8 ppg, 7.6 apg) gets my vote for the best mid-major point guard of the early season. Coach Shaka Smart is young and smart and is putting his stamp on this program. With VCU, George Mason, ODU and James Madison, expect a wildly entertaining late-season run in the CAA.

Jacksonville (4-1): After losing their opener, the Dolphins have won four in a row, including a 69-55 drubbing of Auburn. Jacksonville is efficient offensively, shooting 46 percent as a team. Ayron Hardy leads the Dolphins as the top scorer (13.6 ppg), rebounder (6.4 rpg), distributer (4.4 apg) and defender (4.2 spg).

Harvard (4-1): Tommy Amaker's Crimson have the best record in the Ivy League. Harvard just knocked off Colorado 82-66, and on Saturday, Amaker will return to Michigan, where he once coached the Wolverines. Keith Wright came up big again in the win over the Buffaloes. Check out this stat line: 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks and 1 steal.

Tussle at the top

Wednesday: Butler at Loyola (Chicago) -- Horizon Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs (2-2) are the defending Horizon League champions and last season's national runners-up as they invade the Gentile Center for the Horizon League opener for both teams. The surprising Loyola Ramblers (7-0) boast balance with five players, led by Geoff McCammon (14.4 ppg), scoring in double figures. There is some history with this program. The Ramblers won the national title in 1963 and went back to the Final Four the next season. Butler has shown the way to all of its Horizon League brethren, and now Loyola has a chance to slowly get back on the national stage if it beats the Bulldogs on Wednesday.

Saturday: Murray State at Morehead State -- Ohio Valley This will be an early Ohio Valley championship-type matchup, as the two best teams square off in an extra-early conference tilt. Check out Morehead State's Kenneth Faried, who averages 17.8 ppg and 12.8 rpg. I truly believe Faried is the best rebounder in the country. Morehead State, which won the league crown in 2009, is 3-3 with competitive losses at Florida and Ohio State. Murray State, which won the league crown in 2010, is also at 3-3 after a weekend in Anaheim that included a win over Stanford and losses to Oklahoma State and UNLV. The balanced Racers are led by the guard triumvirate of Isaiah Canaan (10.8 ppg), B.J. Jenkins (10.4 ppg) and Isaac Miles (6.4 ppg).

Knocking off the big boys

Each week we will track which mid-majors (23 conferences) knock off power six schools. Here is the mid-major totem board: (37 total wins through Sunday)

Conference USA (7), Atlantic Sun (4), CAA (3), Southern (3), West Coast (3), Big West (2), Ivy (2), Big South (2), MAAC (2), Missouri Valley: (2), Southland (1), Summit (1), Sun Belt (1), SWAC (1), WAC (1), Independents (1), Ohio Valley (1)

Mark Adams is a contributor to ESPN.com. He is a game analyst on the ESPN family of networks and was a college basketball coach for 17 years, including a head-coaching stint at Central Connecticut State and assistant jobs at Idaho State and Washington State. For more of his insight, check out www.enthusiadams.com