Mid-major takeaways from week four includes Stephen F. Austin, who stole most of the mid-major headlines this week when they toppled top-ranked Duke. The Lumberjacks did not suffer a letdown in their next game, smothering Arkansas State by 19 three days later. They will be a team to keep an eye on from the Southland Conference as the season presses on. November has officially come to a close, with the mid-major landscape heating up.
Mid-Major Week Four Takeaways
San Diego State-ment
There’s another team in the Mountain West that’s looking to make their case as the best team in the conference. The San Diego State Aztecs had a great week, taking home the Las Vegas Invitational Championship. They defeated Creighton 83-52 in the semi-finals, at one point holding a 36 point lead. Then, in the championship, they overcame a 16 point first-half deficit to take down Iowa 83-73. The Aztecs’ sweep in Las Vegas was led by tournament Most Valuable Player Malachi Flynn, who scored 21 against Creighton and 28 against Iowa. All of Flynn’s points versus Iowa came in the second half. He is San Diego State’s unquestioned leader, averaging 16.1 points per game thus far. Yanni Wetzell, a big man from New Zealand, gives the Aztecs a serious post threat, as he averages 11.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
San Diego State exited Las Vegas with an 8-0 record, their best start since the 2010-11 season. That team made it to the Sweet 16. The Aztecs are suffocating opponents through their first eight games, holding them to an average of 57.6 points per game. That is in large part due to the fact that opposing teams are only shooting at a 37.6 percent clip from the floor against San Diego State. They also have 59 more rebounds than their opponents through their first eight games. Their early season performance should earn them a spot in the next AP poll, but the Aztecs have their sights set on something bigger.
Saint Mary’s flew off of most people’s radars when they dropped an early home contest to Winthrop. Now, they may be close to getting back into the polls after giving fellow mid-major Utah State their first loss of the season this week, defeating the Aggies 81-73. This game had an NCAA Tournament kind of vibe, with 23 lead changes and clutch performances down the stretch. Jordan Ford scored 22 second-half points, including leading an 11-0 run with 2:43 remaining to push Saint Mary’s ahead for good. He finished with 27 points total. Malik Fitts added 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Gaels. After the game, Ford noted the importance of this game, saying the win “was good for momentum and gives us a lot of confidence moving forward.” It was Saint Mary’s first home win over a top-15 team since defeating 12th ranked Oregon in 2007.
Utah State was led by Justin Bean’s 24 points, a career-high. Sam Merrill added in 23 points as the Aggies suffered their first setback of the season. This was the first game where it felt like Utah State really missed Neemias Queta, as the Aggies were outrebounded for the first time this year. Utah State can still hang their hat on the win against LSU last week, though the aforementioned Aztecs from San Diego State are starting to look like their biggest conference threat.
As the month of November comes to a close, there are five remaining undefeated teams at the mid-major level. San Diego State is one with UTEP, Liberty, Duquesne, and Delaware being the other four.
UTEP, out of Conference USA, is sitting at 5-0, though three of their wins have come against non-Division I opponents. Their two Division I wins came against New Mexico and New Mexico State. The Miners did start the season with some optimism, defeating Texas Tech in a preseason scrimmage. Still, the jury is still out on how good UTEP really is. Bryson Wiliams is their leading scorer, putting in 18 points per game.
The Liberty Flames out of the Atlantic Sun conference are 9-0, their best start in school history. They are also the first team in the country to reach nine wins this season. Their schedule hasn’t been the greatest, though they did beat Big South favorite Radford to start the year. We’ll learn a lot more about the Flames in their December contests against Vanderbilt and LSU. Scottie James is arguably their best player, averaging 11 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
While many other teams have been making more noise out of the Atlantic 10, Duquesne has quietly started 6-0. That’s the Dukes best start since the 2007-08 season. That record includes a 3-0 sweep en route to a Junkanoo Jam championship in the Bahamas. There’s a chance that Duquesne could end up undefeated heading into conference play. If that happens, a late January matchup against Dayton could set up to be huge. Sincere Carry leads the Dukes with 13 points per game and was the Junkanoo Jam Most Valuable Player.
The Delaware Fighting Blue Hens are 8-0, tied with the 1998-99 team for the best start in school history. The CAA member already has five wins on either a neutral or road court. The Blue Hens should still be undefeated when they face Villanova on a neutral floor in mid-December. Nate Darling has been the offensive catalyst for Delaware, averaging 23.4 points per game, which ranks seventh-best in the NCAA.
Mid-Major Top Performers
There were three notable scoring performances at the mid-major ranks this week. Jordan Burns of Colgate dropped 40 points in a win against Green Bay in the subregion of the Legends Classic. He was scorching hot from behind the arc, going 8-14 from the three-point line. It was the most points ever scored by a player participating in the Legends Classic, and the most by a Colgate player since 1995. The performance earned Burns Most Valuable Player honors for the subregion.
Cal Baptist’s Milan Acquaah scored 37 points in a loss to South Dakota during the WAC/Summit League Challenge. He also had seven rebounds and seven assists. The 37 points were a career-high for the WAC Preseason Player of the Year. Acquaah spread the scoring love, getting 15 from behind the arc, eight at the free-throw line and 14 from two-point field goals.
Finally, KJ Riley put up 36 points in Evansville’s triple-overtime victory over Morgan State last Sunday. The career-high point total included a game-tying three-pointer that sent the game into its first overtime period. Riley shot 66.7 percent from two-point land and added in 10 free throws. This effort helped the Purple Aces snap a three-game losing streak, far removed from their upset over Kentucky a few weeks earlier.