Some mid-major teams have been flourishing during their non-conference schedules. Others can’t wait for the conference schedule to begin to play against teams they’re more familiar with.
Not Shocking Anybody
Through the first month of the season, there have been a select few mid-major teams playing exceptionally well. Wichita State, coming off their Final Four appearance, has been on a tear, running through their competition with little troubles. Ron Baker has been playing up to the hype he garnered in last season’s NCAA Tournament, leading the Shockers in scoring and free throw percentage. Most expected Cleanthony Early to be the star for Wichita State, but it’s the combination of Baker and Early that has led them to a perfect 9-0 record through Dec. 12.
Key wins for the Shockers include games against Oral Roberts, BYU and Saint Louis. Wichita State will face another tough test on Saturday when the Tennessee Volunteers come to town. Tennessee features a great scoring combo as well with Jarnell Stokes (15.5 ppg) and Jordan McRae (18.8 points, 10 rebounds per game) leading the way. A win over the Volunteers, who could challenge for the SEC Championship later this season, would be another big boost for the Shockers and a potential at-large bid for the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
The non-conference schedule has been kind to Wichita State, but the same cannot be said for everybody.
Cougars Defensive Collapse
BYU came into the season with a loaded scoring backcourt and high hopes to challenge Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference title. While a 8-3 record and being ranked third in the nation in scoring (90.8 points per game) is nice, it’s their defense that has been the biggest problem for the Cougars.
Through Dec. 8, BYU has allowed 80.4 points per game, ranked 318th in the country. To be fair to the Cougars, they allowed 91 points to Iowa State and 105 points to UMass, both losses to very good teams. Iowa State and UMass are both ranked and in the top 25 in scoring, but there are deeper issues with the Cougars. They cannot guard anybody and that is going to be a huge problem once they start playing their WCC schedule. Aside from Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s is once again reloaded with talent and San Diego has been a surprising success so far this season. The scoring is there for BYU with Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino running the backcourt, but it’s not going to help anything unless they step up their scoring defense.
Wildcats: Get Your Heads In The Game!
What has happened to the Davidson Wildcats? Coming into the season, it was a two-way battle between Davidson and Elon as to who would win the Southern Conference Championship at the end of the season. So far, it looks like Davidson has a lot of kinks to work out in order to still be considered as the conference favorite.
Sitting at 4-6 this season, Davidson has losses to Duke, Milwaukee, Virginia, Clemson, New Mexico and Niagara. Some of them are better losses than others, but the overall feel of the Wildcats is desperation at this point of the season. De’Mon Brooks is averaging career highs in points (16.8) and rebounds (6.4) per game but he’s missed the last five games due to a knee injury and no updates on his condition have been given.
While Davidson is 3-2 in the five games Brooks has missed, the Wildcats face their most difficult stretch of the season now. Starting Sunday, Davidson plays Drexel, North Carolina and Wichita State in the span of two weeks. Drexel is loaded with scorers and playing at a very high level while North Carolina and Wichita State are both ranked in the AP Top 25. Hopefully Brooks can return for at least one of these games and begin to right the sinking ship for Davidson.
Other Mid-Majors Making Noise:
* Harvard has had a stellar campaign thus far, starting 9-1 with a road loss to a good Colorado team on their resume. The thing about the Crimson is that besides the Colorado game, they haven’t played anybody. With the talent they have, Harvard should roll through the Ivy League schedule but the Jan. 8 game against UCONN is very intriguing. Harvard has very balanced scoring up and down their roster but the Huskies feature one of the best players in the country in Shabazz Napier. This one should be an interesting contest.
* Belmont has already made a name for itself this season by going into Raleigh and knocking off North Carolina. At 8-2 with losses to Richmond and VCU, the Bruins look primed for a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and their seventh in nine years. Belmont now has a grueling stretch to end December with four straight road games against the likes of South Dakota State, Denver, Kentucky and Indiana State. With how much the Jackrabbits have been struggling this season, the Bruins should be favored to come away with a win this Saturday, something only Montana can claim they have done in the last three seasons. The rest will be up to the Bruins’ ability to overcome adversity on the road.