For all intents and purposes, this has been a crazy season so far. A number of historically dominant programs are struggling. Furthermore, seeing numerous top 25 upsets every week is becoming commonplace. The better teams at the mid-major level have not been spared either. Teams that many felt could be sleepers in March are taking hits to their tournament profiles. The result is a bubble that is cluttered with blue bloods and mid-major darlings alike. History is not in the favor of those small conference teams. However, there’s still plenty of time to turn things around.
2020-21 Week Eleven Mid-Major Takeaways
Exploring an Upset
Saint Louis is one of those aforementioned teams that is sweating at the moment. The Billikens just played their first Atlantic 10 game due to a long COVID-19 pause. Losing to a solid Dayton team was tough, but SLU compounded that with a head-scratching loss to La Salle on Wednesday. The Explorers’ 82-75 victory came in a game that was rescheduled by the league. The game was full of mini runs before La Salle used a major 22-6 run to take the lead for good.
David Beatty led all scorers for La Salle with a career-high 22 points off the bench. He scored 15 of those in the second half. Beatty was one of five players that scored in double figures for the Explorers. La Salle held Saint Louis to just 40.3 percent shooting, its lowest total all season, and nearly 11 percent lower than their season average. All of a sudden, the Billikens have gone from being considered a top 25 team to sitting squarely on the bubble. Saint Louis has little room for error moving forward.
Wild Wildcat Sweep
The Big Sky was presumably Eastern Washington’s to lose heading into the season. However, while the Eagles are in the thick of the race, other teams have stepped up to make their case. Weber State and Montana State are two of those teams, and they had a crucial series this past week. When the dust cleared, Weber State emerged with a sweep, winning 96-88 on Thursday and 82-74 on Saturday. Both of those losses were the first in league play for Montana State.
Weber State won Thursday’s contest with their hot shooting, going 63 percent from the floor. They also drained an insane 13 three-pointers on the night. Meanwhile, Saturday’s win saw the Wildcats use a 17-4 run late in the game to seal the victory. Seikou Sisoho Jawara led Weber State on Saturday with a career-high 25 points. The Wildcats are now 8-0 at home this season after their sweep. Four teams now sit with a record of at least 6-2 in Big Sky play, with Eastern Washington sitting at 7-2. The battle for conference supremacy in the Big Sky will be a fun one down the stretch.
Howlin’ Good Win
Boise State is another solid mid-major team that many are keeping an eye on for a run in March. The Broncos are sitting atop the Mountain West and sit safely in NCAA Tournament projections for the moment. However, BSU took a small step back at the hands of Nevada on Friday, falling 74-72 on a last-second shot by the Wolf Pack’s Grant Sherfield. He nailed a jumper with 2.9 seconds left, giving Nevada a big win and giving him 20 points for the night.
Nevada could not gain the lead in the second half until the final minute of play, but they made it count. The outcome of the final sequence gave the Wolf Pack their ninth win in their last 10 games against the Broncos. Desmond Cambridge added 21 points for Nevada. Meanwhile, Sherfield had a career-high 14 assists on top of his point total. The loss isn’t terrible for Boise State, but does make their margin for error smaller moving forward. They continue to hold a slim lead at the top of the Mountain West standings, Colorado State, Utah State, and San Diego State lurking.
Running the Road
Cal State Bakersfield entered this season in a new era. The Roadrunners joined the Big West after spending prior seasons as a member of the Western Athletic Conference or as a mid-major independent. The program isn’t wasting any time making a statement in their new league either, downing league stalwart UC Irvine on Saturday, 62-57. Bakersfield and Irvine battled for most of the game, with 10 lead changes being recorded. However, the Roadrunners took the lead for good with 14 minutes left in the game, keeping the Anteaters at bay. Bakersfield won the rebounding advantage 37-31, including 15 offensive rebounds.
Justin McCall led CS Bakersfield with 15 points, helping them hand UC Irvine their first home loss of the season. It was also the Anteaters’ second loss in Big West play, showing they may not be as formidable as in year’s past. Meanwhile, Cal State Bakersfield now sits at 8-4 in the Big West, giving them a decent shot at still taking home a league title in their first season. Keep an eye on the Roadrunners moving forward.
Mid-Major Top Performers
Zane Martin of Towson scored 34 points in a double overtime loss to Charleston on Saturday. This was Martin’s season-high, finishing three points shy of his career-high. He made 12 field goals, and also added five rebounds and four assists to his stat line. This was Martin’s fourth career game scoring at least 30 points, and his 61st career game scoring in double figures.
Stanley Umude of South Dakota scored 34 points in a loss to South Dakota State on Saturday. This was Umude’s fourth game scoring at least 30 points on the season. He went 13-24 from the field, doing most of his damage inside the arc, shooting 12-18 from two-point range. While this was the Coyotes’ first league loss of the season, Umude is a big reason why they are competing for a league title this season.
Eral Penn of Long Island scored 33 points in a loss to Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday. Penn’s scoring was only a small part of the story, as he also had 20 rebounds and six steals. Penn is the first player in Northeast Conference history to have at least 30 points and 20 rebounds since 1998. He is also the only player nationally since 2010 to have at least 30 points, 20 rebounds, and five assists in a game.
Keaton Wallace of UTSA scored 33 points in a win over Florida International on Friday. This is Wallace’s season-high and his fifth career game of at least 30 points. He shot 12-19 from the field, including 4-7 from deep. This performance also moved him into second place on the program’s career scoring list.