Commentary

A weekly look at the mid-major scene

Originally Published: January 3, 2011
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

Colonial Athletic Association: CAA teams put up some pretty impressive numbers during the nonconference slate. In nonconference games, the CAA went 3-4 against the ACC and 9-7 versus the A-10. The Colonial collectively earned six victories against the power-six schools. It has 23 nonconference road victories, which is the most for any Division I conference in America. Drexel leads the charge with five road wins, and the conference is on track to post one of its best nonconference records in 20 years.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Goudelock
AP Photo/Wade PayneCharleston's Andrew Goudelock scored 31 points in a win at Tennessee on New Year's Eve.
College of Charleston and Andrew Goudelock bury Tennessee: Goudelock scored 31 points on New Year's Eve, leading the Cougars to a convincing 91-78 win at Tennessee. Charleston ran its record to 9-4, while Goudelock had a pretty good-looking line: 10-of-15 on field goals, 6-of-7 on 3-pointers, six assists, four rebounds and two steals. I volunteer Goudelock as a legitimate All-American candidate. He was so good that Vols coach Bruce Pearl couldn't stand to watch him anymore and got tossed with 5:25 to go. Does that count toward his suspension?

The RPI and selection process are simply unfair: The RPI is based on wins, but it does not factor in the lopsided scheduling of the power-six teams. Eighty-four percent of all power-six nonconference games are played either at home or at a neutral site. They visit the non-power-six schools only 9 percent of the time based on a review of all power-six conference schedules. The other 7 percent is played versus other power-six opponents. How can the mid-majors possibly earn better rankings and NCAA tourney seeding with an unfair scheduling environment? The NCAA should mandate that power-six schools play a minimum of two games at mid-major sites each season.

What you shouldn't miss

Monday -- Iona at Siena: I want a ticket for this one. Iona's Michael Glover (21.2 ppg, 10.5 rpg) versus Siena's Ryan Rossiter (18.0 ppg, 13.2 rpg) is certainly worth the price of admission.

Tuesday -- Missouri State at Creighton: The Bears gutted out a great road win at Northern Iowa on Kyle Weems' buzzer-beating 3-pointer to open their Valley schedule. Creighton has one of the best front lines in mid-major basketball led by Kenny Lawson Jr., Greg Echenique and Doug McDermott.

Wednesday -- Drexel at Virginia Commonwealth: Drexel is a great road team because it is stingy and devours rebounds, led by double-double man Samme Givens. VCU's Joey Rodriguez is one tough little point guard who makes the offense roll. The winner takes a big step in the CAA title chase.

Wednesday -- UAB at Duke: C-USA has a great opportunity to send a message, and UAB could be that messenger. Duke is the undisputed No. 1 team in the land, but don't look past these Blazers. Aaron Johnson is a premier passer and press breaker and Jamarr Sanders and Cameron Moore give Johnson two great targets to feed.

Wednesday -- Harvard at Boston College: BC lost last week at Rhode Island but it returns home to face the Crimson. The Ivy could use one more eye-popping win to solidify its lofty No. 12 RPI conference ranking. By the way, Harvard beat MIT last week by the score of 84-58. That's 26 points for the lesser academicians who read my column each week.

Thursday -- College of Charleston at Furman: We all know how good Goudelock and the Cougars are, but what about Furman? The Paladins are 9-3 overall and 2-0 in the conference. They're a serious SoCon contender.

[+] EnlargeNorris Cole
AP Photo/David RichardNorris Cole and Cleveland State take on Butler in a premier Horizon League matchup on Friday.

Friday -- Cleveland State at Butler: The Vikings' Norris Cole will match up with Butler's Shelvin Mack. Also, check out Matt Howard mixing it up inside against 6-foot-9 Aaron Pogue. This is a premier early Horizon League contest.

Saturday -- Jacksonville at Lipscomb: The Atlantic Sun features two of its best in this one. Ayron Hardy leads the Dolphins in points, rebounds and assists, while Adnan Hodzic gives the Bison a deluxe scorer.

Saturday -- Lehigh at American: Coach Jeff Jones has a great 1-2 punch with Vlad Moldoveanu and Stephen Lumpkins for American. Lehigh counters with super sophomore C.J. McCollum. I like American in the Patriot League.

Saturday -- Portland at Gonzaga: Luke Sikma is one of the top rebounders in the country for Portland. Robert Sacre will need to be physical and smart for Gonzaga. This is a good WCC matchup as the Pilots have won five in a row, and the Zags have won six straight, including victories over then-No. 9 Baylor, Xavier and Oklahoma State.

Saturday -- Kent State at Akron:The MAC battle for northeast Ohio is one of those rivalries worth seeing every year. And lately it's determined the league's regular-season champion.

Who's hot

Best passing teams:
Saint Mary's, 18.4 assists per game versus 12.1 turnovers per game: Matthew Dellavedova and Mickey McConnell both see the floor as well as any 1-2 perimeter combo in the country. The Aussie and American combo join forces for more than 11 assists per game.

Iona, 18.5 assists per game and 13.8 turnovers per game: The Gaels' Scott Machado (8.3 apg) is a magician with the ball. He and UAB's Aaron Johnson (8.3 assists per game) continue to battle for the nation's assists lead.

Most efficient teams:
Saint Mary's, 50.3 field goal percentage: Six of the Gaels' top nine players shoot over 49 percent from the floor, and they knock down nearly 75 percent of their free throw attempts as a team, while shooting 39 percent from long range.

UCF (13-0), 50.0 percent: Keith Clanton (54.7 percent) and Marcus Jordan (50.4 percent) are both efficient as the Knights' leading scorers.

Best long-range threats:
Portland, 44.4 percent: The Pilots are coached by a former Stanford post man, but somewhere along the line Eric Reveno learned the value of skilled shooters. Jared Stohl (45.6 percent) and Nemanja Mitrovic (54.8 percent) are both locked and loaded as two of the best long-range shooters in the nation.

Northern Arizona, 44.1 percent: The Lumberjacks have three top scorers with amazing range. Cameron Jones, Gabe Rogers and Eric Platt all shoot between 44 percent and 51 percent on 3-pointers. The Big Sky has to stretch even bigger to guard these guys.

Best band of thieves:
Northwestern State, 12.9 steals per game: The Demons are more than willing to steal, and they do it better than anyone else in the country. Will Pratt and Devon Baker will pick your pocket and then dish and score. This is a fun team to watch.

Ron Burks
AP Photo/Jeff GentnerTeams better know how to protect the ball around VMI's Ron Burks.

Virginia Military, 11.1 steals per game: The Keydets not only lead the country in scoring at 93.3 points per game, but they are fourth in steals. If you have never seen VMI play, you are missing one of the best offensive shows in the country. Ron Burks and Keith Gabriel combine for more than five steals per game.

Charleston Southern, 10.8 steals per game: The Buccaneers have six different players who average between one and two steals a game.

Stingiest defensive teams: Welcome to Conference USA, where UCF (36.2 opponents' field goal percentage) and Southern Miss (36.3 percent) know how to clamp down on opponents.

Best rebounding teams:
Morehead State, led by rebounding machine Kenneth Faried, averages 37.0 boards per game, and Utah State (37.6), with Tai Wesley and Brady Jardine, knows how to rebound as well.

Most intimidating defensive teams::
Northwestern State's William Mosley is the nation's leading shot-blocker (4.0 blocks per game), and that doesn't count the number of shots he changes with his wingspan and defensive anticipation.

UCF's Keith Clanton (2.8 bpg) and Tom Herzog (2.1 bpg) give coach Donnie Jones an intimidating twosome in the paint.

Two guys worth watching some more:
Charles Jenkins, Hofstra: He is the nation's No. 7 scorer and will probably end his career as one of the top three scorers in CAA history. He combines strength with finesse and a feathery touch. His is also a rare combination of a scorer and distributor.

Justin Hurtt, Tulsa: This kid has been putting a major Hurtt on opponents lately, including dropping 36 points in a win over Weber State on Dec. 16. He then followed that up with 30 points in a loss at Wichita State and 33 in a win over UTSA. Tulsa beat TCU at home last weekend as Hurtt had a pedestrian 23 points.

Two teams worth watching some more:
Montana and Montana State are both 2-0 in the Big Sky. Both held serve at home against preseason favorite Weber State and preseason contender Northern Arizona. Montana now looks like the favorite in the league, while its cross-state rival is a legitimate dark horse.

Who's not

Centenary is 0-15: The once-proud home of Robert Parrish has fallen on hard times. The Gentlemen have played 11 true road games with a roster of 12 players, including no seniors, two juniors and six freshmen. Their best chance for a win comes on Jan. 13 and 15 as UMKC and Southern Utah travel to Shreveport, La., for rare back-to-back home dates.

Tussle at the top

Saturday -- Austin Peay at Murray State (ESPNU, noon ET): In 16 of the last 24 seasons in the Ohio Valley, either Murray State (12) or Austin Peay (4) has won the OVC crown. Let the battle for the title begin anew. The Govs have won four of their last five games and their only loss was in overtime at Memphis. Murray State made a mini-NCAA tournament run with a win over Vandy and a two-point loss to Final Four runner-up Butler last season. I'll see you on the tube from Murray, Ky.

Spotlight: Evansville coach Marty Simmons

Normally coaches do not want to be associated with losing, but there is one coach who is proud of his big loss.

Evansville coach Marty Simmons was challenged by his wife Angie to lose weight together. Their motivation was to be around for their children and future grandchildren.

Well, Simmons has dropped 155 pounds since last March. "I got tired in a big way of being the way I was. I never felt bad until I looked in the mirror," Simmons explained.

He was willing to be coached, so his wife and a local nutritionist, Jan Shenk, became his coaches. Shenk has motivated Simmons throughout the process and has established the game plan for exercise, diet and positive motivation.

Angie became the catalyst for change. "My wife deserves all of the credit. No way I would have done it without her," said Simmons.

He started out walking and then worked up to jogging two to three miles a day with his wife each morning at 4:30 a.m. in the first eight months.

Angie has become quite an accomplished health-conscious chef, and her core dishes include baked chicken, lots of fish, turkey and fruits and vegetables.

The results are positively stunning.

Angie has already met her goal of losing 70 pounds. She looks terrific.

Simmons' first goal was to lose 50 pounds, then 100 and then 150. He looks like he has dropped 15-20 years off his age and has become a role model for every person in Evansville -- and everywhere else -- who wants to drop a pound or two or 155. "The letters that come in blow me away," Simmons said, in reacting to the support he has received from family friends and the community. The letters also come from many who are inspired to follow the coach's lead and overcome their own weight challenges.

On Saturday, Jan. 1, Simmons and his Purple Aces won at home over Indiana State 64-59 in a tough MVC matchup. Simmons walked off the court with a big smile, a big win and a noticeable hop in his step.

But the real victory is the one he and Angie have accomplished together.

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