Commentary

A weekly look at the mid-major scene

Originally Published: February 7, 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

Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/Terry GilliamIs Morehead State's Kenneth Faried a first-team All-American? Mark Adams makes the case for it.
Kenneth Faried is my choice as a first-team All-American. He is the nation's leading rebounder at 14.2 per game and has recently achieved a 20-20 game twice in a three-game stretch. Faried had 23 points and 23 rebounds on Jan. 27 in a 72-65 win over Tennessee State. He followed that up with 21 points and 20 rebounds in Morehead State's 78-72 win over Jacksonville State on Feb. 3. Here's my early list of All-Americans:

Jimmer Fredette, BYU
Kemba Walker, Connecticut
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Nolan Smith, Duke
Faried, Morehead State

Now, before all you power six conference fans start chipping away at me and Faried, consider this:
Against Florida on Nov. 21, he dominated the Gators with a 20-point, 18-rebound performance. He followed that up with 15 points and 12 rebounds against the mighty Buckeyes while holding Sullinger to eight points and eight rebounds.

And this …
Most career rebounds (careers beginning after 1973)
1,570 -- Tim Duncan, Wake Forest (national POY, 1997)
1,537 -- Derrick Coleman, Syracuse (Big East POY and first team All-American, 1990)
1,520 -- Kenneth Faried, Morehead State
1,514 -- Malik Rose, Drexel (two-time America East POY, 1995 and 1996)
1,511 -- Ralph Sampson, Virginia (two-time national POY, 1982 and 1983)

January's rebounding leaders: The mids dominate the glass
1. Faried, Morehead State, 14.9 rebounds per game
2. Ryan Rossiter, Siena, 12.4 rpg
3. Arsalan Kazemi, Rice, 12.0 rpg

Faried is a first team All-American right now. I made my case.

College of Charleston had a productive week, knocking off SoCon South rival Wofford 79-54 behind Andrew Goudelock (25 points, six assists) and defeating Furman 73-54 thanks to Goudelock's 29 points.

Norfolk State won last week 110-108 in double overtime over Coppin State. Kyle O'Quinn, a junior center for Norfolk State, dropped a career-high 37 points on Fang Mitchell's team, including a pair of free throws to break a 108-108 tie. He also tied a career high with 19 rebounds and added six blocks. He followed that up with a double-double, scoring 19 points and hauling in 12 rebounds in an 88-84 loss to Maryland Eastern Shore on Saturday. Over his past four MEAC games, O'Quinn has averaged 26.5 points per game, 13 rebounds per game and shot 67 percent from the field. Can you say "MEAC Player of the Year"?

Houston Baptist was 2-18 going into a matchup with 5-16 Chicago State last week. The Huskies won their third game of the season with a 97-94 victory in overtime over the Cougars, as Andrew Gonzalez scored a career-high 36 points. According to our crack researchers at ESPN, Gonzalez is averaging 25.4 ppg since Jan. 1, which is second only to Fredette (31.7). By the way, in that same game, Chicago State's Carl Montgomery put up monster numbers with 35 points and 16 rebounds -- coming off the bench. In fact, he is the most productive single-game nonstarter in 15 years.

Northern Colorado senior guard Devon Beitzel had a pretty good week. His Bears swept their two Big Sky opponents at home, defeating Eastern Washington 63-53 and Portland State 85-72. Beitzel had 27 points and four rebounds in the win over EWU and 16 points, six assists and two steals versus Portland State. His Bears are now 9-2 and in first place in the Big Sky. Oh yeah, he was also named on Thursday to his third Academic All-District team as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Beitzel is already one of the 10 finalists for this year's Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. He finished the fall semester with a 3.69 GPA in finance and accounting and is the second-leading scorer in the Big Sky Conference.

Congratulations to the Patriot League, which led all NCAA Division I conferences with four men's basketball student-athletes on the Capital One Academic All-District Teams, selected by CoSIDA. Holy Cross senior Andrew Keister and Army senior Nathan Hedgecock were each selected in District 1, with Bucknell sophomore Mike Muscala and Lafayette junior Ryan Willen picked in District 2. The Capital One Academic All-America team members will be announced on Feb. 22.

According to the Indianapolis Star, Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse is scheduled for a facelift. Butler has been awarded $700,000 in preservation funds by the federal Save America's Treasures grant program. The building was built in 1928 for about $1 million. For the record, Hinkle Fieldhouse is my favorite arena in the country. Don't change it too much.

Butler is now 7-5 in the Horizon League. The Bulldogs lost 62-60 at Youngstown State on Thursday. Yes, the Penguins -- who are now 2-11 in the Horizon League and 8-15 overall -- defeated Butler. Just as everyone was kicking dirt on the Bulldogs' Horizon League grave, they pulled it together for an eye-opening 73-61 road win over league-leading Cleveland State on Saturday. Butler has always been perceived as the underdog until this season. Now the Bulldogs take everyone's best shot. But after losing three in a row before Saturday, maybe the pressure is off, and the Bulldogs can become the hunter rather than the hunted.

It's a three-team race in the SWAC. Texas Southern (9-1) is leading the pack, but Jackson State (8-2) and Mississippi Valley State (8-2) are both good teams and capable contenders.

Oakland dropped to 12-1 in the Summit after IUPUI knocked off the Golden Grizzlies from the in-conference undefeated ranks with a 100-88 home victory on Saturday. Oakland plays at IPFW this Saturday in a must-win for the Mastodons if they -- or anyone else in the Summit -- have any chance of catching Oakland.

Arkansas State is making a move in the Sun Belt West Division standings with an impressive 60-35 win over first-place Denver last week. Florida Atlantic is the class of the conference and leads the Sun Belt East with a 10-1 record.

What you shouldn't miss

As a self-described mid-major junky, I challenge every national TV home team to sell out their arenas for BracketBusters weekend. Mark down these dates and get ready for a mid-major hoops party courtesy of ESPN in less than two weeks. I'll be watching and covering this great event.

Friday, Feb. 18 (all times are Eastern)
7 p.m. -- VCU at Wichita State (ESPN2/ESPN3.com)
9 p.m. -- Kent State at Drexel (ESPNU)

Saturday, Feb. 19
11 a.m. -- Hofstra at Wright State (ESPNU)
1 p.m. -- Austin Peay at Fairfield (ESPNU)
3 p.m. -- Iona at Liberty (ESPNU)
5 p.m. -- Missouri State at Valparaiso (ESPN2/ESPN3.com)
5 p.m. -- Vermont at Charleston (ESPNU)
7 p.m. -- George Mason at Northern Iowa (ESPN2/ESPN3.com)
9 p.m. -- Utah State at Saint Mary's (ESPN2/ESPN3.com)
11 p.m. -- Montana at Long Beach State (ESPN2/ESPN3.com)

[+] EnlargeHassell
Dave Martin/Getty ImagesOld Dominion's Frank Hassell has a date with Cleveland State on BracketBusters weekend.

Sunday, Feb. 20
1 p.m. -- Cleveland State at Old Dominion (ESPN or ESPN2)

I'm working the Cleveland State at Old Dominion matchup, and it appears that the old Adams jinx is in full effect as both teams lost on Saturday.

This game has the potential to have the two best combined RPI-rated teams match up in the BracketBuster field. Cleveland State is currently rated No. 26 and ODU is at No. 33. I can't wait to see Norris Cole and the Vikings take on Frank Hassell and the Monarchs at the Ted in Norfolk, Va.

This Week's Games
Tuesday: Penn at Princeton -- Princeton (4-0 in Ivy) knocked off Harvard on Saturday. It doesn't get any easier for the Tigers, who now host 3-1 Penn.

Wednesday: American at Bucknell -- The top two teams in the Patriot meet in a crucial game with championship implications. Bucknell has won 10 of 11, with its only loss coming to Army in that stretch. American has claimed five victories in its past six contests, with the only loss coming at Navy on Jan. 26. Two top conference player-of-the-year candidates will face off in this one as Vlad Moldoveanu, who has range on his jumper, will lead American against Mike Muscala, who combines size with scoring ability and rebounding prowess. Muscala continues to improve defensively, as he averages nearly two blocks per game.

Thursday: Florida Atlantic at Denver -- The Sun Belt's best matchup in what could be a preview of the conference championship game. FAU has notched wins in 10 of its past 11 games and has the best record in the Sun Belt at 10-1, while Denver is 7-3.

Thursday and Saturday: Saint Mary's can all but salt away the WCC regular-season title with two road wins at third-place Santa Clara on Thursday and second-place USF on Saturday. The Gaels continue to impress, but they've lost two of their past five contests -- at Vanderbilt and at Portland.

Saturday: Northern Colorado at Montana -- UNC has a one-game lead over the Grizzlies in the Big Sky. Will Cherry can score and guard on the perimeter, and so can Brian Qvale. Dahlberg Arena will be rockin'.

Saturday: Long Beach State at CS Northridge -- If Northridge is going to make a move on first-place LBSU, it better happen now. Casper Ware is worth watching for the 49ers.

Saturday: Old Dominion at VCU -- ODU needs to win this one to stay in the CAA hunt. Frank Hassell and Kent Bazemore give the Monarchs fire power, but VCU counters with Jamie Skeen and Bradford Burgess.

Saturday: Southern Miss at Memphis -- Southern Miss opens the week at 7-3 in a wild C-USA race, while Memphis stands at 5-3. Both are chasing 6-2 UTEP in conference play.

Saturday: Texas Southern at Jackson State -- Texas Southern has won nine of its past 10 games, including a 66-62 win over Jackson State last month. The Tigers will play at home after winning eight of their past 10, and they have defended their court successfully with seven consecutive victories.

Who's hot

Andre Cornelius had 22 points to lead George Mason to an 87-68 win over Hofstra on Feb. 2 in Fairfax, Va. Mason then knocked off CAA rival Old Dominion 62-45 on Saturday for its ninth straight win behind Ryan Pearson's 18 points and 11 rebounds.

The last of the undefeated mid-majors in conference play:
Coastal Carolina, Big South, 13-0
Utah State, WAC, 11-0
Princeton, Ivy, 4-0

Speaking of Coastal Carolina, what do the Chanticleers need to do to get ranked? They've now reached consecutive 20-win sasons and delivered the knockout punch to Liberty last week in a 77-71 win, all but clinching the regular-season Big South race. Only undefeated Ohio State has a longer winning streak in the nation. Desmond Holloway is my choice for player of the year in the Big South.

Will Utah State run the table in the WAC? The Aggies are currently 11-0 in the league (22-2 overall) and have won 17 straight. I like their chances.

Is Creighton's Doug McDermott the second-best freshman in the country? He may not be Jared Sullinger good, but he is good. Over the past six games, McDermott is averaging: 18.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 50.7 percent on field goals, 46 percent on 3-pointers. Not only is he my rookie of the year in the Valley, but he also deserves serious consideration for the league's player of the year honors.

[+] EnlargeDerek Needham
Mark L. Baer/US Presswire Derek Needham leads Fairfield with 13.8 points and five assists per game.

Fairfield has won 17 of its past 19 games but lost at home to Rider 96-87 on Sunday afternoon to make the MAAC race a lot more interesting. Fairfield is now 11-2, and Rider improved to 9-4. The Stags' Derek Needham continues to score, and Ryan Olander has been a steady inside performer. He can also block a few shots each night. Rider is led by Justin Robinson, who scored 26 points in the big win at Fairfield, the Broncs' fifth victory in the past six games.

Princeton has won six in a row and 14 of its past 15 games. Ian Hummer scored 17 points and hit two free throws with four seconds remaining to help Princeton preserve a 65-61 win over Harvard on Friday night.

Northern Arizona beat Northern Colorado 65-54 on Jan. 31. It wasn't exactly a classic, as the Lumberjacks shot just 26.7 percent from 3-point range, but a win is a win. NAU came into the game as the nation's leading 3-point team at 44.7 percent. It followed up that win with a sweep over Montana State and Montana and has now won four straight games. With a player the caliber of Cameron Jones, the Lumberjacks have the ability to win the league.

Murray State showed its championship mettle last week, winning on the road at upstart Tennessee State and at archrival Austin Peay. Leading scorer Isaiah Canaan is now coming off the bench, and Jewuan Long is starting. Long provides a little more size at 6-foot-1 and is a defensive stopper. How is Canaan adjusting to his new role as a reserve? The selfless sophomore came off the bench and dropped 21 points on Austin Peay to help the Racers ascend to first place in the OVC.

Vermont has won seven straight and is 10-2 in the America East. Mark Feb. 16 on your calendar as Vermont travels to Maine for an America East showdown of No. 1 versus No. 2. Maine won the earlier matchup 72-58 in Burlington last month. Vermont's Brian Voelkel has a fascinating stat line. He averages only 6.3 ppg, but his contributions are an eclectic mix of talents. He leads his team in rebounding with 9.8 rpg. As a forward, he also leads his team in assists with 4.8 dimes per game and has a team-best 1.7 steals per game. Finally, Voelkel sports a 2.2/1 assist to turnover ratio. I gotta see this guy play.

Belmont is 14-1 in the Atlantic Sun. Eleven players average between 10 and 24 minutes per game, and no player averages more than 12 points per game. Share the wealth, Bruins.

C-USA has seven members ranked in the top 100 of the RPI. UAB, Southern Miss, Memphis and Marshall are all top-60, followed by UTEP, Central Florida and Tulsa.

Utah Valley has now won eight of its past nine games and is 14-9 overall and 6-1 in the Great West. The Great West does not have an NCAA bid, but let's give the Wolverines some love. Life in a no-bid league is quite a challenge, but Isiah Williams is doing just fine, averaging 18 points per game.

Kent State is back on top of the MAC East and has the best record in the balanced MAC at 6-2. The Golden Flashes rely on ball-hawking defense and opportunistic offensive rebounding. Justin Greene is putting up player-of-the-year numbers. Stay tuned, as a showdown with a good Buffalo team is coming up Feb. 24.

Long Island has won 12 of its past 13 games and leads Central Connecticut by one game. This race will go down to the wire as CCSU has won six straight and seven of its past eight games. These are exciting times in the NEC.

Hampton leads the MEAC at 8-2 after winning six of its past seven games. Darrion Pellum creates matchup problems, while Kwame Morgan II gives the Pirates another scoring guard. That tandem gives opposing head coaches headaches in the MEAC.

Northwestern State has wrestled away the top spot in the Southland after winning four of its past five. At one point, the Demons lost five in a row but they have bounced back. Will Pratt is a forward who can score, and William Mosley intimidates everyone who ventures into the paint by rejecting or changing every shot. He leads the nation with 4.8 blocks per game.

Texas Southern opened the season at 2-9, but since that tough stretch it is 9-1. Quite a turnaround.

Who's not

Lopsided is the only way to describe the WAC this season. Why? In a review of Blue Ribbon's preseason publication, Utah State was returning four of five starters going into the season. The rest of the conference combined was returning less than 40 percent of its starters. Everyone else is rebuilding, while the Aggies simply reload.
Results: Utah State is 11-0. The rest of the conference is 6-4 or worse.

Tussle at the top

Saturday: Wichita State at Northern Iowa -- I love going to UNI, as the students are always fun to visit with before the game. The Valley race is as exciting as it can get. My preseason pick was Wichita State, and the Shockers (11-2) are on top of the Valley and are led by David Kyles, J.T. Durley and Toure' Murry. UNI had won eight straight before losing at rival Drake on Saturday. Kwadzo Ahelegbe is a true senior leader for the Panthers, and Anthony James gives them a dynamic one-two punch on the perimeter. Check this one out on ESPN2 at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday night.

Spotlight on Kent State's Justin Greene

At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds in eighth grade, Justin Greene saw himself as a baseball player.

[+] EnlargeGreen
Jeanine Leech/Icon SMIJustin Greene wanted to be a baseball player, but his basketball gig is working out pretty well.

He played first base in his native South Carolina, but personal circumstances would bring him to Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y., to live with his father, Chris.

There wasn't much baseball being played on the streets of Brooklyn, so he decided to join a local basketball league mainly to keep busy. He had never played organized basketball, but a junior varsity player from Lincoln High School saw him play and encouraged Justin to try out for the team.

Justin had never heard of Sebastian Telfair, Stephon Marbury or Lance Stephenson. He had also never heard of coach Tiny Morton. Greene showed up at tryouts with low-top sneakers because he didn't have basketball shoes and never really needed them. Despite his "uncool look," he made the junior varsity team.

In his first JV game at Lincoln, Morton pulled Greene aside and told him, "You could be pretty good if you leave the cookies alone at night," Greene remembers with a laugh.

He trimmed down by running, then running some more and then running a little longer. "I almost quit because I had never done that much running in my whole life. Coach Morton stayed on me because he believed in me and between him and my dad, they wouldn't let me quit."

Good thing.

Greene is now 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, and the best low post player in the Mid-American Conference. He is the only player in the MAC to be listed among the top-5 in scoring, rebounds and blocked shots.

When he arrived at Kent State, he met the probable returning starter, Brandon Parks, and promptly told Parks he was going to win the job. Greene kept his word and, according to Kent State coach Geno Ford, Parks now brags, "Hey, I got beat out by the best big man in the MAC." Parks and Greene are very good friends, despite the fact they competed for playing time. But Greene has a way about him that makes him easy to admire.

He is simply devoid of ego. When he plays poorly, he takes the blame. "If he plays poorly, he stops by my office to review video. Justin texts me after games when he struggles, to take responsibility for his lack of production," Ford explains. "He is not afraid to take responsibility and self-analyze."

His dedication to improving and understanding his own shortcomings has served Greene well. He has improved his scoring numbers over the past two seasons and is averaging 15.7 ppg and 7.6 rpg and shooting 78 percent from the free throw line after shooting 25 percent on free throws just two seasons ago.

His coach puts it this way: "Justin Greene is not a selfish guy. He is fun to be around. He really wants to be a good player."

In my view, Greene is putting up player-of-the-year numbers in the MAC while leading Kent State to the top of the MAC East standings.

The baseball team at Kent is preparing for its season. I wonder if they need a 6-foot-8, 230-pound first baseman. I know a guy who still loves baseball and knows how to improve.

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