Although they might not be as memorable as upset victories that happen in March, mid-majors occasionally knock off big name teams in the opening week of the college basketball season. We’ve seen big name teams go down early in the season, some even at home in stunning losses.
If you can’t think of these games of the top of your head, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.
November 16, 2014: No. 25 Harvard vs. Holy Cross
It almost pains me to have one of the examples be a fellow mid-major. The Harvard Crimson were coming off a successful 2013-14 campaign where they won the Ivy League and entered the NCAA Tournament as a 12 seed. In the Big Dance, they upset the Cincinnati Bearcats in the round of 64, before losing to Michigan State the next round.
So, fresh off an upset in the first round of the NCAA tourney, and with their top three scorers returning, Harvard earned itself a spot in the inaugural AP Poll for the 2014-15 season.
In a neutral-site game at TD Garden, the Holy Cross Crusaders stuck with the Crimson all 40 minutes, and eventually eked out a 58-57 victory when Wesley Saunders’s shot missed at the buzzer.
November 13, 2015: No. 17 Wisconsin vs. Western Illinois
This was the year where the Badgers had such a rocky start that Bo Ryan decided to call it quits 12 games into the season. This was the season-opener for a team that had been to the final four two consecutive seasons.
Nevertheless, the Leathernecks of Western Illinois stunned a sold-out crowd at the Kohl Center. J.C. Fuller led the way for a Western Illinois team that shot the lights out from deep in this one, and they came away with a 69-67 win. Surprisingly enough, it didn’t propel the Leathernecks to any further success that season. The road upset in Madison was one of only 10 victories on the season for them.
November 11, 2016: No. 18 UConn vs. Wagner
Kevin Ollie’s Huskies came into the season with more hype than was probably warranted, considering that they lost three seniors and two graduate transfers from the season before. The Seahawks from Wagner were coming off a trip to the NIT, and looked to prove themselves with an early-season road game against a ranked opponent.
And prove themselves they did. Mike Aaman and Romone Saunders had 15 points each to lead the way as Wagner upset the Huskies on their home floor.
Now here’s the million dollar question: Which team(s) will be the one(s) that shock the college basketball world this November? Well, there are a few matchups that fit the bill for an early season upset.
St. Francis (PA) at No. 22 Saint Mary’s - Saturday November 11 @ 8pm EST
I can already hear the complaints. How dare I, a writer for midmajormadness.com, suggest that one of the best mid-majors could possibly lose their first game to an inferior opponent. Just hear me out first. St. Francis will be no joke this season, and they are a common preseason pick to win the NEC, coming on the heels of a 17-17 campaign and a trip to the CIT. Last year’s Red Flash team had an 11-7 conference record, and lost in the conference championship to Mount Saint Mary’s.
St. Francis had this relatively successful season all while being a fairly young team. The Red Flash return three of their four top scorers from a season ago, and guards Isaiah Blackmon and Keith Braxton were named to the all-NEC preseason team. The Gaels are also a force to be reckoned with, but if they get caught sleepwalking in this season-opener, the Red Flash could pose a threat for pulling off a big upset on Saturday night.
Monmouth at No. 23 Seton Hall - Sunday November 12 @ 1:30pm EST
Monmouth became famous for it’s bench mob antics a couple years ago, and their celebrations were warranted with wins over teams like Notre Dame, USC, UCLA and Georgetown. The past two seasons however, have ended in disappointment as the Hawks have fallen in the finals and semifinals of their conference tournament. This year, they also lost quite a few impact players from a season ago, but head coach King Rice has built a solid program based on winning big games like these.
Redshirt junior Micah Seaborn will be the centerpiece of this year’s Hawks team, and he was selected to the first-team all MAAC for a reason. If Seaborn and some young guns get to the level that Monmouth has been playing at in past seasons, an unproven Seton Hall team should be on upset alert.
George Mason at No. 16 Louisville - Sunday November 12 @ 2pm EST
The events in the past few weeks that have completely uprooted the Louisville basketball program have caused a scenario where some people may not even be surprised if George Mason wins this one. This will be the first game in the post-Rick Pitino era at Louisville. The firing of Rick Pitino combined with the fact that there is a FBI investigation going on right now certainly may take a toll on the Louisville basketball players.
George Mason will come into Sunday’s season opener after a 20 win season a year ago. The loss of Marquise Moore certainly will be a tough void to fill, but juniors Otis Livingston and Jaire Grayer, along with sophomore Ian Boyd, should step up their game from last season. Therefore, this season opener for Louisville will not be a tune-up game. George Mason will be a competitive team, and if Louisville comes into this one without their hearts fully into the game, they might start the year off with a loss to an A-10 team on their home court.