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RECAP: Northern Iowa dominates, Davidson and Valpo sneak away and mid-majors falter out West

Saturday action provided an early preview of what mid-majors are legit and which are not this season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-2nd Round-Maryland vs Valparaiso
Alec Peters helped Valpo sneak away with a win against an NAIA team.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Games yesterday provided a window into the mid-major pretenders and contenders.

Among the many schools on the mend, one of the most notable looked to be Central Connecticut, which already has a solid win under its belt thanks to new coach and former NBA player Donyell Marshall.

Here are some other notable results:

  • Northern Iowa turns over a new leaf. To the casual fan, this may seem to be a year in which Northern Iowa loses its superpowers and retreats to the mid-major underworld, since the Panthers lost two stars in Wes Washpun and Paul Jesperson. UNI did just the opposite yesterday, beating Coe College 74-37. The score gives too much credit to Coe, as it started the game down 17-0 and only got to the line once. Upperclassmen Bennett Koch and Jeremy Morgan led the Panthers each with 11 points, and the bench added in a whopping 45 points.
  • Established powers get a wake-up call. Both Davidson and Valparaiso were expected to start the season with easy wins, but each barely slipped away. Davidson - playing without an injured Jack Gibbs - was down 37-33 to Appalachian St. at half, but found its rhythm behind Peyton Aldridge’s 31 points. Juniors Rusty Reigel and Nathan Ekwu each brought in 8 rebounds to help the Wildcats survive without their star. Valpo, on the other hand, almost lost to NAIA Trinity College (Il.) but came back to win by 14. It’s no surprise that Alec Peters was the star. He finished the game with 36 points off 14-of-29 shooting, and guard Lexus Williams pitched in 7 steals. Valpo will need to get their game-plan together before a tough matchup with No. 5 Oregon in two weeks.
  • West coast majors slip-up. Two solid teams with March potential added losses to their resumes. Herb Sendek and Santa Clara returned several starters this year, including senior guard Jared Brownridge, but he couldn’t lead the Broncos to victory over UC-Davis. The Aggies got 17 points off 60 percent shooting from Brynton Lemar, who might be emerging as a star. UCSB also put up a lackluster performance against Omaha, losing by 14 at home. Guards Gabe Vincent and Eric Childress were - at least last night - not steady enough with their shots to make up for the loss of Michael Bryson.
  • NBA prospects making quiet cases in rough settings. Hofstra’s Rokas Gustys may not be on many NBA big boards , but without him and his 23 rebounds the Pride wouldn’t have edged out Coppin State. Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene (32 points) and Dayton’s Charles Cooke (31 points) are both becoming superstars in their respective conferences. Look to see how Keene reacts to other strong mid-majors on the schedule, like Eastern Michigan and Little Rock. Cooke faces an immediate challenge at Alabama next week, and will be counted on if the Flyers want to take a home a win.