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My big weekend wrapup: Rise of the little guys

Bucknell is on fire. UMBC is pulling off crazy buzzer beaters. Stephen F. Austin is on its way back.

NCAA Basketball: Bucknell at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

How can you actually start your week without reading the weekend wrapup? That’s a serious question. We didn’t do one of these last week and we don’t know how you all managed.

Anyway, Gonzaga is now the No. 1 team in the country and we’re all celebrating that, but a lot more has happened around mid-major basketball. Let’s dive right in:

Stock Rising:

Bucknell: More on Bucknell below, but suffice it to say the Bison’s stock is rising and the Patriot League has taken notice.

Furman: We see you over there, Furman. We know the SoCon is more than just ETSU and UNC Greensboro. The Palladins are winners of seven out of nine, and in that time, junior Devin Sibley is averaging 20 points per game. In conference play, he leads the league in two-point field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, and true shooting percentage.

Richmond: Barring a scorching finish to the season, the Spiders won’t be looking at an at-large bid, but they can still put themselves in a great position heading into the A-10 Tournament in Pittsburgh. They’ve beaten the teams they should beat, and have sprinkled n victories over Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure. Next up: a rivalry game at VCU.

Stephen F. Austin: Welcome back to our radar, Lumberjacks! Since their 6-9 (nice) start, Stephen F. Austin has won five out of seven and beat conference front-runner New Orleans over the weekend. The Southland is a bad conference and SFA still has a ways to go, but at this point, another trip to the NCAA Tournament is definitely in play.

UNC Asheville: Speaking of bad conferences, the Big South is horrible. But UNC Asheville is not. The Bulldogs are 8-2 in league play and own only one truly bad loss this season. KenPom currently has them favored in each of their remaining games.

Stock Falling:

Green Bay: So it turns out Oakland is bad, which made Green Bay the team in the Horizon with the best shot at taking down Valparaiso. It’s not working out well for the Phoenix so far. Their 7-3 conference record isn’t bad, but their inexplicable loss over the weekend to Detroit does not bode well.

La Salle: The Explorers were looking good for a while. A 5-1 start in the A-10 with wins over Rhode Island, Davidson, and George Washington even had me thinking they could be the third-best team in the conference. Then VCU came out and beat them by 38. Then they lost to Penn. Then they lost to Saint Joseph’s. La Salle still has a chance to pick up some key wins, but the last three games have been discouraging.

Team of the Weekend (by GameScore):

G Gian Clavell, Colorado State: GmSc 30.0 | 37 pts | 8 rbds | 2 blk | 14-23 FG
F Noah Allen, Hawaii: GmSc 29.7 | 34 pts | 8 rbds | 1 ast | 9-9 FT
F Zachary Moore, Seattle: GmSc 32.3 | 33 pts | 6 rbds | 2 ast | 2 steals | 8-10 3PT
F Tanner Leissner, New Hampshire: GmSc 30.2 | 36 pts | 9 rbds | 2 ast | 10-10 FT
F T.J. Cline, Richmond: GmSc 37.7 | 34 pts | 12 rbds | 11 ast | 1 turnover | 11-15 FG

Shoot your shot, especially if it’s on a ¾-court baseball pass to tie the game at the end of OT

That’s what happened here. Check out this beautiful play from UMBC’s Will Darley, as he tied the game against New Hampshire to send it into double OT. The Retrievers eventually won 105-103.

What the Buck:

Buck yeah, Bucknell! The Bison have won nine of their last 10, all in conference, and have emerged as the clear team to beat in the Patriot League. Winners of their last seven true road games, the Bison lead the conference in both offensive and defensive efficiency. With a good draw in March (assuming Bucknell keeps this up), Nana Foulland and Zach Thomas can both become household names in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Foulland is an inside force on both ends, while Thomas can light it up from the perimeter. Bucknell’s lone conference loss was at home to Lehigh, and the Mountain Hawks appear to be the only challenge standing between the Bison and Selection Sunday.

Keene’s court:

We’re going to have something longer on Marcus Keene coming tomorrow, but we’ll give you the TL;DR of it right now: he’s 5’9 and really, really, really good. Kent State was his latest victim. In the Chippewas’ win (their third-straight), he scored 41 points. Somehow, that’s only his third-best scoring output of the year; the best came nine days ago when he dropped 50 on Miami-Ohio. He’s the nation’s leading scorer at 30.3 points per game and has now scored 40-or-more four times this year, matching Jimmer Fredette and Steph Curry for the most 40-point games in a season in the last decade.

Mid-major at-large hopes diminishing:

We’re hearing a lot of crazy things about the number of bids that power conferences could get this year. Some say the ACC deserves 10. The SEC, which is its usual top-heavy, mediocre self, could get as many as five. Why? Because there don’t seem to be many mid-majors that can make a strong case.

Any slight chance that UNC Wilmington had disappeared on Saturday with a loss at William & Mary. The Atlantic 10 continues to beat itself up. BYU has fallen off the bubble with some bad losses.

There’s no way to spin this that makes it a non-terrible thing for mid-major basketball, but there is one silver lining: Championship Week is going to be outstanding. Imagine the A-10 Tournament with really just two teams (VCU and Dayton) in good shape for bids. Imagine the Missouri Valley Tournament, where Wichita State and Illinois State both need to win three games, but other quality teams sprinkle the bracket. Imagine the bracketing chaos when a Vermont or a UNC Wilmington gets upset.

It’s somewhat of a consolation for what could be a disappointing Selection Sunday.

What we learned:

Every week, I ask two questions in our weekend preview that I hope are answered with Saturday and Sunday’s games. Here they are for this week:

Can Stephen F. Austin challenge in the Southland?

We were firmly in wait-and-see mode on the Lumberjacks until this weekend. Their start in the Southland gave us hope, but because there aren’t many quality teams, we didn’t know quite what to make of it. Then Stephen F. Austin beat New Orleans by 10 at home behind a balanced scoring attack. Make no mistake, SFA is nowhere near as good as it has been in the past, but we’d be willing to bet you can’t find a single Southland coach who wants to face them in the postseason.

VERDICT: Yes! Keep it up, Lumberjacks. The Southland Tournament should be another one to keep an eye on.

Can Fordham continue to cause chaos in the Atlantic 10?

Over the last few weeks, Fordham has won three games — against Davidson, VCU, and UMass — that it has had no business winning. The result was a further blow to the league’s at-large resumes and some minor chaos in the conference standings. The Rams had a chance to do it again at home against Davidson, but the Wildcats avenged the prior loss with an 18-point win. Fordham gets another shot against Dayton on Tuesday but … don’t get your hopes up.

VERDICT: Nope, it was fun while it lasted.

Unbeaten watch:

Gonzaga is creeping closer to an undefeated regular season. We’ll have more analysis on how they got here later today, so for now, please note this deal I made with noted Villanova supporter and mid-major h8er Ryan:

This week: at BYU (Thurs.), vs. Santa Clara (Sat.)
KenPom’s Unbeaten Probability: 47.5%

Read this!

Cal and his wolves
Chris and his horrific Giddy Potts pun
Greg and his weird fixation on the WAC

Three-day weekend:

Arkansas State at Louisiana, 8 p.m. ET, Ragincajuns.com/watch

The Red Wolves have won four straight and a once-strong Ragin Cajuns team has been struggling. These two teams are tied for second in the Sun Belt and this is the final meeting of the regular season between the two (Arkansas State won on New Year’s Eve in Jonesboro). The winner of this game may present the biggest challenge to Georgia Southern for the regular season crown.