The hottest place for opening week mid-major action was Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Half of the field of eight teams duking it out at the Sanford Pentagon were part of our Preseason The Other Top 25 rankings and two others were prominent mid-major programs. After 12 games at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic, West Virginia came away victorious, but there were plenty of non-Power conference takeaways.
The Western Kentucky hype was warranted
For the second year in a row, the Hilltoppers entered the season with expectations of being an at-large contender. Though they didn’t come away with the Bad Boy Mowers crown, #TwoBidCUSA season is in full effect.
WKU looked like a legit Top-25 team in wins over Northern Iowa and Memphis. Even in the title game loss to No. 15 West Virginia, the ‘Toppers were in the game until the end despite limited action from star big man Charles Bassey. Bassey played like a future NBA draft pick, especially in the opener versus Memphis where he went for 21 and 14 with seven blocks. But WKU proved they weren’t just a one or even a two-star team (shout out to senior guard Taveion Hollingsworth) as six different players scored in double-figures over the three games.
Northern Iowa really missed Trae Berhow
UNI also came into the season with hopes of an at-large bid. And while those hopes weren’t completely dashed in Sioux Falls, they certainly took a big blow. The Panthers didn’t suffer any bad losses, falling to Western Kentucky, Saint Mary’s, and Utah State, but not getting a single resume-boosting win is tough.
The Panthers still have non-conference outings at Richmond and at Wisconsin, which should provide for two more chances at a good win... so long as Berhow is back. A.J. Green was his usual high-scoring self, but outside of freshman Bowen Born there wasn’t a lot of consistent shot creation from the rest of the team. Noah Carter, also a freshman, burst out of the gates with 28 points (9-13 from three!) in his first career game, but then scored four points total in the next two outings. With Berhow, the team’s second-leading scorer last season, back in the fold, the offense should be more effective.
VCU was the most positive surprise
Picked to finish ninth in the A-10 preseason poll, the Rams played above expectations in South Dakota. After decisive victories over Memphis and Utah State, and just a loss to West Virginia, VCU is looking like more of an NCAA Tournament team than some people thought it would be. The tough defense and Nah’Shon Hyland showed up as expected, but the roster showed some depth as well. It’s early, but could we be looking at a five or six bid A-10?
Utah State’s performance was worrisome
The Aggies did end up with a win over UNI in their final outing of the Classic, but were run off the court by South Dakota State and VCU in their first two games. Yes, Utah State lost former Mountain West Player of the Year and current Milwaukee Buck Sam Merrill in the offseason, but they returned Neemias Queta and Justin Bean, one of the more formidable frontcourt duos in the nation. Hopefully the backcourt-by-committee replacement option for Merrill will grow more potent as the season goes on. It will have to if Utah State wants to keep up with San Diego State.
Saint Mary’s exceeded expectations without star duo
Following the loss of stars Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts, Saint Mary’s was expected to slide out of WCC contention this year. While they obviously aren’t at Gonzaga’s level, the Gaels might have more firepower in the arsenal than it originally thought. Following a blowout loss to Memphis in the opening game, Saint Mary’s reeled off wins over Northern Iowa and South Dakota State thanks to Tommy Kuhse and Alex Ducas.
South Dakota State had the most inconsistent showing
The Jackrabbits blew out Utah State, lost to Saint Mary’s by 13, and played well enough in a loss to West Virginia. It’s hard to draw a conclusion based on that trio of performances. But one thing is for sure about South Dakota State after three games in their home state: the squad has several scoring options. Six different Jackrabbits scored in double figures, who had a new leading scorer in each game (Douglas Wilson, Noah Freidel, Baylor Scheierman). They’re still the class of the Summit League until proven otherwise.