Commentary

A weekly look at the mid-major scene

Originally Published: January 17, 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

Gonzaga is heating up in the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs dominated Pepperdine 92-75 on Thursday. The Zags shot 62.5 percent from the floor for their best shooting performance in a conference game in three seasons. Robert Sacre was dynamic with a career-high 24 points, including an efficient 8-for-8 from the field and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line. The Bulldogs followed up that win with a 79-59 rout of Loyola Marymount on Saturday. They are getting better week by week.

[+] EnlargeRobert Sacre
James Snook/US PresswireRobert Sacre and Gonzaga are heating things up in the WCC.
It took three overtimes, but Tennessee Tech finally defeated Tennessee-Martin 109-105 on Thursday. Zac Swansey, the former Georgia guard, finished with a career-high 19 points. He also drained a clutch 3-pointer in the third overtime and added 11 assists, five rebounds and five steals in his 50 minutes of action.

Speaking of Ohio Valley Conference overtimes, Tennessee State defeated Austin Peay 76-74 in overtime on Saturday. Wil Peters was a walk-on two years ago but has since earned a scholarship. That investment has paid off as the walk-on warrior hit the game-winner with less than three seconds to go to knock off Austin Peay, which was previously undefeated in the OVC.

Old Dominion senior forward Frank Hassell scored 18 points and hauled in 13 rebounds as the Monarchs handed Hofstra its first Colonial Athletic Association loss. The win was much-needed after a road loss at Drexel earlier in the week.

UNC Greensboro took its 0-15 record on the road against Appalachian State. The backcourt didn't make a shot, but the Spartans still found a way in a 75-74 win. Their top three scorers combined for only eight points, but Aaron Brackett led UNC Greensboro with 28 points and 15 rebounds. He entered the game averaging only 5.5 ppg and 4.3 rpg, but hit on 14-of-20 field goal attempts.

UCF: The good news for UCF is that its next victory will equal its entire win total for last season (15). Last season, the Knights did not win their 15th game until March 11 at the Conference USA tournament. The bad news is that their 15th win has proven to be elusive lately after back-to-back road losses at Houston and Southern Miss. Marcus Jordan (yes, Michael Jordan's son) is averaging 20.4 points per game in his past four outings, including back-to-back 26-point games against Princeton and Marshall.

Belmont beat Lipscomb 88-52 on Thursday in the latest Battle of the Boulevard contest. Belmont is 8-0 in the Atlantic Sun for the first time in school history.

Quietly, Ball State is now 3-0 in the MAC (West Division), and the Cardinals have won five in a row and eight of their past nine games. Jarrod Jones is carrying Ball State, averaging 16.1 ppg and grabbing 8.8 rpg.

Harvard won at George Washington for its fifth straight win on Saturday. Oliver McNally led the Crimson with 16 points.

Utah State is 16-2 (5-0 WAC) after winning at Nevada, at Boise State and at Fresno State. The Western Athletic Conference is a race for second place as the Aggies have ripped off 11 in a row.

What you shouldn't miss

Monday -- Charleston at Chattanooga: A Southern Conference classic as Andrew Goudelock and Omar Wattad are two of the SoCon's best players.

Monday -- Fairfield at Rider: League leader Iona and contender St Peter's have their eyes on this matchup of championship contenders in the MAAC.

[+] Enlarge Kyle Weems
AP Photo/Wade PayneKyle Weems and Missouri State have won nine in a row and visit Indiana State on Wednesday.

Wednesday -- Missouri State at Indiana State: This is the biggest game in Terre Haute, Ind., in a long, long time. Kyle Weems and Will Creekmore will be a tough matchup for the Sycamores. Jake Odum is an exciting freshman point guard for Indiana State, and he will have to play smart against the best defense in the Valley.

Wednesday -- Lafayette at Bucknell: The Bison have won six in a row and 10 of their past 11 and are the hottest team in the Patriot League.

Thursday -- Long Island at Robert Morris: These two Northeast Conference titans match up in a dandy. The Colonials (of Moon Township in western Pennsylvania) are the reigning NEC champions, while the upstart Blackbirds (Brookville, N.Y.) can begin to separate themselves from the rest of the conference with a win.

Saturday -- Montana State at Montana: With Northern Colorado playing a tough Weber State squad in two of its next three games, this one in Missoula could be for first place in the Big Sky.

Saturday -- Morgan State at Delaware State: Morgan State is once again on top of the MEAC, but Delaware State can defend and control tempo.

Saturday -- McNeese State at Northwestern State: McNeese State is the Southland's last unbeaten and has won five of its past six games, with Patrick Richard leading the way.

Saturday -- Saint Mary's at Vanderbilt : Upset alert -- I'm picking the Gaels to give the non-power six mid-majors their collective 111th win over the power six conferences this season.

Sunday -- Belmont at East Tennessee State: A battle for first place in the Atlantic Sun.

Sunday -- Miami (Ohio) at Kent State: This one always has MAC championship implications. Julian Mavungaand Justin Greene will be a matchup to watch as these are two of the best bigs in the MAC.

Two conferences dish up multiple games worth watching: The CAA:
Wednesday: James Madison at ODU
Saturday: VCU at ODU
Saturday: George Mason at James Madison

C-USA:
Wednesday -- Memphis at Southern Miss: Southern Miss is coming off of an emotional 86-69 win over UCF. The Tigers visit the Golden Eagles and UAB this week. Tough road trip.

Wednesday -- Tulsa at Houston: This is a huge game as the top-half teams begin to weed each other out.

Saturday -- UTEP at Houston: Check out Randy Culpepper for the Miners against the Cougars, who have won four of their past five.

Who's hot

Indiana State:
Terre Haute is all abuzz about their Sycamores after a heart-stopping, buzzer-beating tip-in by Carl Richard in a 61-59 win over Creighton on Sunday. It marked their fifth straight victory. The real key to their surprising run has been the all-around dynamic play of Odum, who is Adam Emmenecker with a 3-point shot (Emmenecker was the former walk-on at Drake who raised his game to Missouri Valley MVP status). Between Odum and Creighton freshman Doug McDermott, the Valley's future looks extremely bright.

Missouri State:
Missouri State has won at Northern Iowa, at Wichita State and at Creighton, and topped that off with a well-earned win at Bradley on Sunday to improve to 7-0 in Missouri Valley play. Missouri State was 0-9 on the road two seasons ago and 1-8 on the road last season. Those numbers are now ancient history as Weems, Creekmore, Jermaine Mallett, Nafis Ricks and Adam Leonard have all bought into the system.

Maine:
Maine sits atop the America East with a 4-1 mark. The Black Bears have never been to the NCAA tournament. They might get there this season.

Ohio:
D.J. Cooper put on a show at Akron last week. Cooper had 13 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds in a 79-70 win on the Zips' home court Wednesday. The last player with at least eight rebounds and a 15-assist game was Maryland's Greivis Vasquez in 2008. Cooper has developed into one of the best guards in the country, and in his past eight games he's averaged 19.5 ppg, 9.75 apg, 5.1 rpg and 2.4 spg.

Long Beach State:
Long Beach State (11-8, 6-0 Big West) is riding a six-game winning streak. Casper Ware leads the way with 14.8 ppg and 5.7 apg.

Florida Atlantic:
Florida Atlantic has won six straight and eight of its past nine games. FAU and Denver, which is 5-0 in the Sun Belt West, will meet on Feb. 10 in Denver.

Coastal Carolina:
Coastal Carolina has won 14 in a row but now faces a daunting four-game road trip in the Big South.

Valparaiso:
Who is in first in the Horizon League? It's not Butler or Cleveland State or Detroit or Wright State. Coach Homer Drew's Valparaiso team is poised to threaten all of the above for the Horizon championship. Cory Johnson and Brandon Wood give the Crusaders two top scorers who are highly skilled and have learned the value of team defense.

Texas Southern:
Texas Southern is 4-0 in the SWAC after opening the season 2-9 in nonconference play. The Tigers beat Jackson State 66-62 in a battle of SWAC unbeatens on Saturday. Travele Jones is putting up player-of-the-year numbers.

Oakland:
Keith Benson continues to dominate with a steady diet of double-doubles.

Who's not

Centenary: Centenary is the only team in the country without a win. The Gentlemen play at Louisiana Lafayette on Wednesday.

Tussle at the top

Tuesday -- Maine at Vermont: -- This is a huge game in the America East. Maine (10-7, 4-1 AE) won 19 games last season and has won 10 games so far this season; the Black Bears are led by senior forward Troy Barnies. The Catamounts (12-4, 3-1 AE) need to hold serve at home.

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