It’s an exciting time around here.
We had big-time games galore last week, with Saint Mary’s beating Gonzaga, Middle Tennessee knocking off Western Kentucky, Nevada getting past Boise State...Mississippi Valley State holding a halftime at Texas Southern. It was dizzying!
And with four mid-major schools in the most recent AP top 25, the good times continue to roll.
But with 264 definitively-defined mid-major schools, some great storylines can get lost in the shuffle. Here are five that you should be paying attention to.
There’s an assault on Steph Curry’s three-point record, and not just from Trae Young.
All credit to Chris Schutte (@ChrisSchutte3) for this one. The NCAA-record 162 three pointers that Curry made during the 2007-2008 season are yet again under attack. Wofford’s Fletcher Magee — he of UNC-slaying fame — and Oakland’s Kendrick Nunn are both currently out-pacing what Curry did in his record season. Here’s the proof:
For what it’s worth, Young has hit 78 three’s through 18 games.
Montana is threatening to run away with the Big Sky, and maybe more.
The Griz are rolling, busting out to a 7-0 league start and going 9-2 since Dec. 3. Their defense has been stifling in Big Sky play, as it was when Bobby Moorehead and the Griz bottled up Montana State star Tyler Hall (10 points, 3-9 FG) in a road win last Saturday. Montana still has a quartert of difficult road games (Eastern Washington and Idaho, especially), but seems like the class of the Big Sky with the league’s top-ranked offensive and defensive efficiency.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Griz were an NCAA Tournament staple, going three times under Wayne Tinkle from 2009-2013. Fourth-year coach Travis DeCuire has kept them more than competitive, coming into the year with a 39-15 Big Sky record. But with a dynamic backcourt — Ahmaad Rorie, Michael Oguine — and a dominant big man in Jamar Akoh, the Griz could find themselves back in the March spotlight.
Canisius is making a statement playing pretty basketball.
If you want to stand out in the MAAC — at least in recent years — you’ve got to get past Iona. That’s just what the Golden Griffins did, sweeping the Gaels for the first time since 2006-2007 with a two-point win in New Rochelle last weekend.
It moved them to 7-1 in the league standings, and while they’re sitting pretty alone at the top, they’re doing it in a pretty way. Canisius moves the ball better than almost anyone, ranking third in the country in assist rate. It has led to *rather* high percentage looks like this:
Kassius Robertson may have left, but the Golden Griffins remain loaded on the wing with MAAC POY contender Isaiah Reese (16.5 PPG, 4.7 APG, 5.8 RPG) and Takal Molson (12.6 PPG). Big man Jermaine Crumpton (15.9 PPG) has helped fuel the MAAC’s most efficient offense too, and has Canisius looking like a real threat to make its first NCAA Tournament since 1996.
Arkansas Pine Bluff is shaking up the SWAC.
From Golden Griffins to Golden Lions. Since Mike Davis took over at Texas Southern the Tigers have run roughshod over the SWAC, winning 83 percent of league games while claiming four regular season titles.
That’s not the case this season, as Arkansas Pine Bluff has launched itself to a 7-0 league start after a thrilling, final second win at Texas Southern (4-3) on Monday night. Junior Martaveous McKnight has exploded in league play, averaging 24.4 points per game and had five points in the final 2.8 seconds against the Tigers to give UAPB a near-miracle of a two-point win.
The Golden Lions find themselves in a good spot with four-straight home games coming up, but they aren’t the only contender in the suddenly open SWAC. Jackson State sits at 6-1 and Grambling State is on a four-game winning streak with three solid non-con wins backing up its legitimacy. Plus Texas Southern is still lurking and dangerous, making for a fun final month and a half in the SWAC.
There’s been a Southland surprise, for now.
Stephen F. Austin is back!
You might remember hearing that when the Lumberjacks beat LSU and took Missouri to the brink over a three-day period. And that may in fact be the case, as SFA has forced a silo-full of turnovers to start 5-1 in Southland play. But the Jacks have plenty of a competition in a race that is as jumbled at the top as any in the country.
Three league teams are wallowing at 0-7, meaning that other teams have feasted on wins. That puts five teams at 5-2 or better, with Nicholls and Southeastern Louisiana leading the way both at 6-1. There’s intrigue galore among that group. The Lions stunned SFA in their Southland opener, while the Colonels play at one of the fastest tempos in the country. Elsewhere, New Orleans has overcome heavy losses from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, as well as a winless-against-Div.-1-teams non-con to get to 6-2, while Sam Houston State, often solid and overshadowed under Jason Hooten, is off to a 5-2 start.
SFA may indeed be the No. 13 seed no one wants to face, but getting to that point may not be as easy as it once seemed.