Commentary

A weekly look at the mid-major scene

Originally Published: December 27, 2010
By Mark Adams | Special to ESPN.com

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

What you might've missed

100: Butler claimed win No. 100 for the non-power six teams over the power six conference teams with a 67-64 victory over Florida State last Thursday at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. Congratulations to the Bulldogs and coach Brad Stevens.

Fathers and sons: Three mid-major coaches are leaning heavily on their freshman sons. Trey Zeigler plays for his dad, Ernie, and while Central Michigan is struggling, Trey has been a definite bright spot.

[+] EnlargeTrey Zeigler
John Korduner / Icon SMITrey Zeigler has been a bright spot for Central Michigan.

With the losses piling up (3-9) Trey said, "It can be a chore at times." But he also concedes that it has been fun playing for his dad. Trey is putting up strong numbers with 15.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, while knocking down 36.7 percent from behind the arc. Trey could be the next future NBA prospect out of the MAC.

I watched Detroit's Ray McCallum show maturity beyond his years in a postgame news conference on Dec. 18. He answered questions about his dominating performance (23 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) in a 75-49 road win over his buddy Zeigler and CMU. One writer asked him about the head-to-head competition with Trey, and he deflected the attention back to the Titans' team effort.

I spoke to Ray's mother, Wendy, after the game, and she is just thrilled to be able to watch both Rays, father and son, coach and play in one place every night.

Creighton coach Greg McDermott is coaching his son, and the young McDermott is making his dad look even smarter. Doug McDermott averages 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the 8-4 Blue Jays.

Speaking of Creighton, 6-foot-9 sophomore Greg Echenique just became eligible, and he is a game-changer. The Rutgers transfer is an impact player, who has helped Creighton become bigger, stronger and better. Get ready to rock the Missouri Valley, Omaha.

Seattle is making the big boys sleepless: In November, I visited with Villanova coach Jay Wright at his home, and the Oregon State at Seattle game was on the TV. Seattle, an independent, knocked off the Pac-10's Beavers 83-80 on Nov. 17. I bring this up because the Redhawks pulled off another stunner by beating Virginia 59-53 last Wednesday. Seattle is only 5-10 on the season, but its two wins over power six teams are impressive. Coach Cameron Dollar led the Redhawks to a 17-14 record in their inaugural season in Division I. That winning record was the first ever for a D-I team in its first season.

Siena's Rossiter overcomes sickness and a shot to the face: Former Siena coach Paul Hewitt brought his Georgia Tech team back to Albany, N.Y., to take on his former team. Siena sank Tech 62-57 behind Ryan Rossiter's 19 points and 13 rebounds. Rossiter needed a double dose of IVs before the game due to sickness, and then he took a shot to the face during the game. After returning from the locker room, Rossiter led the Saints to the upset. He's a tough kid.

What you shouldn't miss

Tuesday -- Kent State at Morehead State: Kent's Justin Greene versus Morehead's Kenneth Faried is a battle of two of the best power forwards in mid-major basketball. Check it out.

[+] EnlargeChris Wright
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireA big matchup awaits Chris Wright and Dayton when they host George Mason on Wednesday.

Wednesday -- George Mason at Dayton: A potential NCAA seeding warm-up in front of the best basketball fans in America. Luke Hancock drops 12 points per game on opponents and can rebound (5.0 per game) and dish (4.5 assists per game). Dayton brings energy with Chris Wright, Chris Johnson and impact freshman Juwan Staten.

Wednesday -- Missouri State at Northern Iowa: I wish I was calling this great conference-opening matchup in The Valley. Kyle Weems leads the Bears into Cedar Falls, Iowa, to take on revamped defending MVC champion Northern Iowa. The Panthers lost a lot but have plenty of talented players, led by Kwadzo Ahelegbe.

Wednesday -- Wofford at VCU:These two will meet for bragging rights in a battle of SoCon and CAA contenders. The game features the inside play of the Terriers' Noah Dahlman (19.1 points per game) and the versatile perimeter talents of Jamar Diggs (13.1 points , 3.1 assists and 2.4 steals per game). They will take on VCU's 6-9 Jamie Skeen (15 points per game) and 3-point marksman Bradford Burgess (13.8 points per game) who has shot 55 percent from beyond the arc (23-of-42).

Thursday -- Lipscomb at Memphis: Preseason Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Adnan Hodzic will take on the talented Memphis trio of Wesley Witherspoon, Joe Jackson and Will Barton.

Who's hot

Matt Howard and Butler: The Bulldogs (9-4) have now won five in a row after capturing the Diamond Head Classic with an 84-68 win over Washington State on Christmas night. Howard was named the Most Outstanding Player and Shelvin Mack was on the all-tournament team.
[+] EnlargeMatt Howard
Icon SMIButler has won five straight with Matt Howard leading the way.
Howard is having a player-of-the-year kind of season, averaging 18.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 51 percent from the floor, 83 percent from the free throw line and 45 percent on 3-pointers. Howard is not only a fine player, he's an even better person.
Ryan Rossiter: Siena and Rossiter are aiming for their MAAC record fourth straight conference championship. But Fairfield, Rider, St. Peter's and Iona all look like possible heirs to the MAAC throne. Consistent doesn't even begin to describe Rossiter's production. Dating back to last season, he has 24 double-doubles in 28 games.
Wesley Witherspoon: Memphis' Witherspoon is back. He played 19 minutes and scored three points versus Georgetown in the Tigers' 86-69 loss last Thursday. He's not 100 percent yet (torn meniscus), but once he gets healthy, watch out. Add Joe Jackson and Will Barton, and everyone knows that coach Josh Pastner's team has high-major talent.
C.J. McCollum: This sophomore is special, and he's putting up big numbers for Patriot League contender Lehigh.
Randy Culpepper: UTEP coach Tim Floyd has a weapon in Culpepper, who scores 18.5 points per game. The Miners will need that production -- and then some -- with C-USA action around the corner. They have nice wins over Michigan and Texas Tech already.
Tai Wesley: Utah State's Wesley is a winner who plays for one of the most winning programs in the country. He scores and rebounds, but what you might not know is that, at 6-7, he is an unselfish passer, averaging almost three assists per game. He also relentlessly pursues offensive rebounds. You're looking at the front-runner for player-of-the-year honors in the WAC.
Anatoly Bose: Bose is carrying the load for Nicholls State. The Southland knows all about the 25.0 points-per-game scorer from Kazakhstan, Brooklyn and Sydney, Australia. Check out Diamond Leung's great read on him.
Keith Clanton: Undefeated UCF has won some big games (Florida and Miami), and Marcus Jordan has been very solid, but let's spread the wealth. I cannot overlook Clanton, who leads the Knights in scoring (16.4 per game) and rebounding (8.7 per game).
[+] EnlargeKeith Clanton
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireMarcus Jordan gets the headlines, but don't overlook Keith Clanton at UCF.
Clanton is also a defensive stopper, averaging nearly two blocks per game, and can stretch a defense with his 55 percent shooting from deep range.
Hawaii and San Jose State: Hawaii was way down the past few years and San Jose State was getting WAC'ed pretty regularly every year. The Warriors are now 9-3 and have won without top scorer Bill Amis, who injured his foot and has missed the past eight games after sitting out last season with a foot injury. But Hawaii is competitive even without Amis. It can prove it is a contender on Wednesday at Utah State, where total eclipses are more common than Aggies home losses. Meanwhile, San Jose State has pieced together an impressive 8-3 nonconference record after winning its past three contests behind the outstanding play of Adrian Oliver, who averages 25.8 points per game.
Maine: The Black Bears have won four in a row, including a Big Ten road victory at Penn State 74-64 last Tuesday. Four players average double-figures in scoring, and Maine is skilled and can defend.
North Texas: North Texas is 10-2 with big man George Odufuwa averaging a double-double (11.5 points per game and 10.0 rebounds per game).
Northern Iowa: UNI (9-3) has won five in a row just in time to welcome Missouri State to Cedar Falls to open its Valley schedule on Wednesday. The Panthers earned impressive wins over Indiana and New Mexico to win the Las Vegas Classic. UNI was led by Anthony James, who scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half of a 66-60 victory over the Lobos.
Southern Miss: Gary Flowers is putting up player-of-the-year numbers for the 9-2 Golden Eagles. Flowers is posting 20-plus points per game and is very efficient. C-USA is loaded this year with Memphis, UCF, Southern Miss, UTEP, Marshall and Tulane all with at least eight nonconference wins. The league as a whole has beaten power six schools 11 times so far.
Valpo: After a home loss to Purdue and then another loss at Toledo, the Crusaders (9-4) have bounced back and won three in a row, and one of those wins came at Oakland 103-102. Coach Homer Drew is one of the most positive guys I have ever met, and his team bounces back well because it believes in his message of accountability.
WAC: I thought the WAC would be awful this season, as only 42 percent of its total starters returned from last season. I also thought that the WAC would be a runaway for Utah State as four of its five starters returned. While that still may come to pass, I was wrong about the rest of the WAC, which, as of Sunday, is a combined 63-46 in nonconference action.
Wichita State: The Shockers are possibly one questionable call and one possession away from being 10-1 and having a signature win over UConn. At 9-2, Wichita State has won four in a row and eight of its past nine -- just in time for The Valley tipoff. While the Shockers are my pick to win the league, this conference is setting itself up for possible multiple bids. Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Creighton and Illinois State all are very capable contenders.

Who's not

Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State: After 11 consecutive roads games, the Golden Lions are 0-11 and don't open at home until Jan. 4. Meanwhile, two of their SWAC brethren are also struggling: Alcorn State is 0-9 with all of its games on the road and Mississippi Valley State is 1-10 after 10 road games. The bottom three schools in the SWAC have played 30 of 31 games on the road. I feel bad for the players and coaches who are generating revenue, not by choice in most cases, but by necessity. These historically black universities are fine schools with wonderful basketball histories. Playing these continuous road games for money needs to change.

Tussle at the top

Friday -- Weber State at Montana: This is one of my favorite games of the week. The Wildcats have been picked to win the Big Sky, and will visit Montana in a rematch of the Big Sky championship game from last season, which the Grizzlies won 66-65. This will be one of the most festive crowds ever in the Big Sky, or anywhere else for that matter, on New Year's Eve. As a former assistant at Idaho State, I still fondly remember the days when the students rolled potatoes out on to the floor when we were introduced.

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