Commentary

A weekly look at the mid-major scene

Originally Published: January 10, 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

Butler's record 22-game Horizon League winning streak came to an end in convincing fashion at Milwaukee on Jan. 3. The Panthers blitzed the Bulldogs 76-52.

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AP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoLed by Charles Jenkins, Hofstra is off to a 4-0 start in the CAA.
Hofstra senior guard Charles Jenkins scored 32 points on 9-of-13 shooting in an 87-74 win over George Mason at home on Wednesday. The Pride then went on the road and knocked off Northeastern 76-67 on Saturday as Jenkins tallied 20 points, seven rebounds and three steals to lead Hofstra to a perfect 4-0 CAA mark.

Lamar's Mike James is a JC transfer from Eastern Arizona College, who came off the bench to score a career-high and school-record 52 points in 28 minutes in a 114-62 rout of Division III Louisiana College.

Congratulations to Belmont head coach Rick Byrd. He doesn't get the national publicity, but those in the profession know his abilities quite well. Byrd earned his 500th career win at Belmont -- and 592nd for his career -- against Stetson last Wednesday. Only four other active head coaches have reached that mark (Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun and Sacred Heart's Dave Bike).

C-USA lost two high-profile, nationally televised games last Wednesday. UAB fell at Duke 85-64, and Memphis dropped a 104-84 decision at Tennessee. They were tough nights for two really good teams, but C-USA can still brag about 12 wins this season over power-six programs.

Injury-plagued New Mexico State was the WAC tournament champion last season, but injuries are carving out a much different scenario this season. The Aggies announced last Tuesday that their top rebounder and double-double threat, Wendell McKines, would redshirt in 2010-11 following preseason surgery on a broken foot.

Liberty's Jesse Sanders was a perfect 10 in a win over Charleston Southern 68-54 last Thursday. The 6-foot-3 guard did it all with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Alabama State defeated SWAC brethren Grambling State 50-47, despite ASU starters scoring a paltry 15 points. Talk about the value of depth and bench production.

What you shouldn't miss

Monday -- Jacksonville at Belmont: It's early in the conference season, but the Atlantic Sun has a battle for first place. Belmont brings a four-game winning streak into the game and boasts balanced scoring as nine players average between five and 11 points per game. Jacksonville owns wins over Auburn and Florida and has also won four straight. It's an Atlantic Sun matchup at its January best.

Monday -- Hampton at Morgan State: Hampton has caught my attention, but the road to a league championship runs through Morgan State. The Pirates' Darrion Pellum (18 points per game) can play, but he will see the full force of Morgan State's defense on Monday. Dewayne Jackson leads the Bears with 16.8 points per game.

Wednesday -- Ohio at Akron: The Bobcats are the defending MAC champs led by lefty D.J. Cooper, one of the most electrifying players in the conference. Akron is a blue-collar, grind-it-out team. This game will be physical and emotional, and the winner gets a leg up in the tough MAC East.

Wednesday -- UTEP at Tulane: UTEP had won four straight before falling at UAB 100-97 in triple overtime on Saturday. Randy Culpepper can really play for UTEP, while Tulane is as hot as the crawfish on Bourbon Street -- it has won six straight and nine of its past 10 games.

Wednesday -- Bucknell at American: I like 6-10 Mike Muscala's efficient inside game for the Bison. American counters with skilled 6-9 Vlad Moldoveanu in a Patriot League matchup of two of the better bigs in mid-major hoops.

Friday -- Butler at Detroit: Both teams feature star power with Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard for Butler versus Ray McCallum and Eli Holman for Detroit.

Saturday -- Wagner at Long Island: Wagner's Tyler Murray is a tough matchup, averaging 17.7 points and five rebounds a game, while shooting nearly 53 percent from long range. There is a lot of excitement for LIU, which has won five straight games.

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Chris Williams/Icon SMILong Beach State's T.J. Robinson will face another double-double machine in Pacific's Sam Willard on Saturday.

Saturday -- Pacific at Long Beach State: This is a battle of double-double guys. T.J. Robinson averages a double-double (14.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg) for the 49ers, while Pacific counters with its own double-double man in Sam Willard (15.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg). Long Beach State is threatening to run away from the Big West pack. Pacific is always in the hunt and needs to keep Long Beach in its sites.

Saturday -- Old Dominion at Hofstra: At 4-0, Hofstra is the hot team in the CAA. The Pride's Charles Jenkins looks like the CAA player of the year, while ODU counters with Frank Hassell and Kent Bazemore.

Saturday -- Austin Peay at Tennessee State: The Governors are on a roll. They knocked off Murray State 66-64 on Saturday and ended the Racers' 25-game home winning streak. Ohio Valley teams will try to get APSU back to the pack, and TSU might be just the team to do it with Kenny Moore and Robert Covington.

Saturday -- Jackson State at Texas Southern: They're the top two teams in the SWAC. Jackson State has won five of its past six games, while TSU is led by sharpshooter Travele Jones. JSU also has a good shooter in Jenirro Bush, who hits 38 percent from beyond the arc.

Saturday -- Oakland at IPFW: Oakland played one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country, which includes a win at then-No. 7 Tennessee in mid-December. Keith Benson continues to play like an all-American for the Grizzlies, while the Mastodons' Ben Botts is a key player to watch on offense.

Who's hot

Missouri State:
Missouri State has won seven in a row and 11 of its past 12 games. The Bears are on top of The Valley after defeating Wichita State 59-56 on Sunday night to snap the Shockers' eight-game winning streak. MSU has now won at Northern Iowa, at Creighton and at Wichita State. That is an impressive trifecta. Missouri State is led by Kyle Weems, who has been a consistent scorer and rebounder all season. Will Creekmore is another inside weapon who ripped down 10 rebounds in the win at Wichita State.

Saint Mary's:
Saint Mary's has won eight straight, while WCC rival Gonzaga has reeled off seven in a row. It's a two-team race so mark Jan. 27 down on your calendar. That is when Mickey McConnell, Matthew Dellavedova and the Gaels invade the Dog Pound in Spokane.

William Mosley, Northwestern State:
Mosley recorded the fourth triple-double in school history in the 86-83 loss to NAIA LSU-Shreveport last Tuesday. The nation's leading shot-blocker (4.8 blocks per game) finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 11 blocks. It was Mosley's second 11-block game of the season.

Kaylon Williams, Milwaukee:
His first triple-double led Milwaukee to its stunning win over Butler last Monday. Williams hit the magic number of 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Boise State:
The Broncos have already beaten Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State and Hawaii in the WAC. Their next opponent is Utah State in Boise on Thursday. That matchup is my choice for this week's Tussle at the Top (see below).

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Marc Sanchez/Icon SMIRobert Arnold and Boise State host Utah State in a WAC matchup on Thursday.

Austin Peay:
Austin Peay stopped Murray State's 25-game home winning streak and now has a two-game lead in the early OVC race. Caleb Brown is the senior leader at the point, while TyShwan Edmondson scores 18.9 points per game.

Akron:
The Zips held serve at home in their MAC opener, a 65-62 win over Kent State on Saturday which gave them bragging rights in northeast Ohio. Akron is a balanced team which has won six of its past seven games and is led by Nik Cvetinovic.

Coastal Carolina:
Coastal Carolina won a huge road game at Liberty 70-67 on Saturday. The Chanticleers were plus-7 points on the road from the free throw line and used a balanced scoring attack with four players in double figures led by Kierre Greenwood's 15 points.

Cameron Jones:
Jones had only six points at the half last week versus Idaho State, but he scored 31 points in the second half as Northern Arizona knocked off the Bengals 82-80 in OT. Another strange statistical anomaly transpired in that game as NAU's Stallon Saldivar finished with 13 assists but no points or turnovers.

Harvard:
The Crimson knocked off Boston College 78-69 last Wednesday, and there wasn't much debate as to which was the superior free throw shooting team. Harvard went 23-of-24 from the charity stripe and, with intelligent play and aggression, outscored BC by 19 points from the line. Laurent Rivard dropped 23 points on the Eagles. The Crimson then defeated Dartmouth on the road to complete the week's road sweep.

Princeton:
The Tigers have won nine of their past 10 games, and it looks like the Ivy will be a two-horse race as Harvard and Princeton appear to be on a collision course.

Northern Colorado:
The Bears have found the winning combination after sweeping the Montana schools in Greeley.

Tulane:
The Green Wave have been rolling with six straight wins and nine of their past 10. While everyone, including myself, has been talking about Memphis, UCF, Southern Miss, UTEP and UAB, Tulane is on top of C-USA. Who are these guys? Let's start with Kendall Timmons, who is as good as the service and dinner at Galatoire's on Bourbon Street.

Wright State:
Under first-year coach Billy Donlon, Wright State has won eight of its past nine games. Vaughn Duggins is as tough as they come and is a legitimate candidate for HL player-of-the-year honors if he stays healthy. He's playing with a stress fracture in his back. Tough kid.

Fairfield:
After a 1-3 start the Stags are one of the hottest teams in the country thanks to an 11-game winning streak. Hard-to-guard Derek Needham runs the show with 12.9 points and 5.1 assists per game.

Who's not

Colgate: The Raiders are now 1-13 and lost to Maryland 95-40 last week. They have lost three games at Duke, Syracuse and Maryland by a combined 169 points. Tough road trips.

Tussle at the top

Thursday -- Utah State at Boise State: Utah State has dominated the WAC since Stew Morrill arrived at Logan, Utah, and Morrill has led the Aggies to the fourth-best winning percentage (.746) in the country over the past 11 seasons. Tai Wesley is the "go-to guy" for Utah State, while Boise State counters with Robert Arnold, who has scored in double figures in 13 of 16 games this season. La'Shard Anderson is also a Bronco to watch.

Spotlight: SEMO coach Dickey Nutt wins No. 200

Leon Powell scored 36 points for Southeast Missouri State to give coach Dickey Nutt his 200th career victory, an 82-75 decision over UT-Martin last Monday. This is a team that lost its first 10 games but has bounced back to win five of its past six games.

Nutt comes from a true coaching family.

His dad, Houston Nutt Sr., was born into a family of nine who were all hearing impaired. Houston Sr. learned to sign as soon as he could move his hands. He carried on that family tradition with his own sons, as Houston Jr., Dickey, Dennis and Danny were all born without a hearing impairment to Houston Nutt Sr. and his wife Emogene.

They all signed as they grew from diapers to sports uniforms to coach's sweats. All are certified to sign for hearing-impaired audiences and all sign to each other to this day.

In fact, the Nutt brothers all saw signing as a great competitive advantage in sports. They were close enough in age to compete together and used sign language on the field of competition. They signed to indicate a basketball play or communicate a game strategy while on the field or court together.

Houston Sr. set the career path for his four sons as he served as the coach and athletic director at the Arkansas School for the Deaf for 25 years. His sons all decided to follow their dad into the coaching profession as Houston Jr. is now the head football coach at Ole Miss, Danny is Houston's assistant, Dennis was a scout for the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats and now is an assistant at Coker College and of course Dickey is the head man at SEMO.

When Dickey became the head coach at Arkansas State, his dad regularly attended games. But the secret signing with family members that was once such a competitive advantage became a nuisance with his dad in the stands, according to Dickey.

"Dad would sign to me, 'Why aren't you playing No. 25?' from the stands as I was coaching the game," Dickey said, laughing with delight recalling the father-son memories.

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