Mid-Major 2020-21 Takeaways: Week 12

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Valentine’s Day is a special day for love across the world. Family and friends express their love for one another with gifts and special days. This year, Valentine’s Day also serves as the one month mark from Selection Sunday. Love is in the air, not just for each other, but for the bubble race in college basketball. This year, mid-major leagues are hogging attention on the bubble watch. There is a good chance that the Mountain West, WCC, Missouri Valley, and Atlantic 10 may get multiple bids. A few of those leagues saw big moves from their bubble teams over the past week.

2020-21 Week 12 Mid-Major Takeaways

Ramblin’ On

The Missouri Valley Conference gets the first highlight in this week’s mid-major takeaways. Drake was one of three remaining unbeaten teams before falling to Valparaiso last Sunday. Meanwhile, Loyola-Chicago has been ripping off wins for over a month, leading to a ranking of 22nd in the AP Poll. The MVC finally had the big series between the two start on Saturday. In anticlimactic fashion, Loyola-Chicago thumped Drake 81-54 in the first game of the series. This was the first home loss of the season for the Bulldogs, and Loyola’s first win as a ranked team in 36 seasons.

The Ramblers opened the second half on a 27-8 run to break the game open. They also shot a blistering 70 percent from the field in the second half. The win was Loyola’s 12th of at least 10 points in league play this season. It’s looking more and more like this Rambler team may be better than their Final Four counterparts from 2018. Meanwhile, for Drake, it feels like an at-large berth is slipping from their grasp. The Bulldogs have a great record, but their actual profile leaves much to be desired.

Bulldogs Put Out the Blaze

The race in Conference USA is shaping up to be a fun one. The league has multiple teams sitting inside the top 100 of the NET. Furthermore, Western Kentucky has legitimate claims for an outside shot at an at-large bid, should they need it. However, the focus this past weekend went to Louisiana Tech, who earned a huge sweep over UAB. The Bulldogs won 70-58 on Friday and 69-64 on Saturday. Friday’s victory for the Bulldogs snapped UAB’s six-game winning streak.

Louisiana Tech slowly pulled away in the second half of game one behind the stellar play of Kenneth Lofton.¬†Lofton scored 13 of the team’s final 17 points to push the Bulldogs’ lead to close to 20 points. He finished with 21 points for the game. The Bulldogs survived a cold spell in the first half of game two to grab the victory. The second game was full of second half runs before Louisiana Tech iced it away at the free-throw line. The sweep tightens the title race in C-USA, pushing the Bulldogs right back into the thick of it.

Ramming Into First

Expectations were low for VCU heading into the season. Many thought it would be a rebuilding year, with the Rams finishing in the middle of a crowded Atlantic 10. However, after a big 67-64 win over St. Bonaventure on Friday night, the Rams find themselves in sole possession of first place in this competitive mid-major league. VCU earned this win largely with their rebounding and free-throw shooting. The Rams won the rebounding advantage 43-34, including a dominant 19-10 advantage on the offensive glass. They also went 5-6 from the charity stripe down the stretch to seal the victory.

VCU’s rising star Nah’Shon Hyland has been leading the way, and Friday was no different. He scored 22 points and eight rebounds in this one. He has now scored at least 20 points in nine games this season. The Rams have now won five straight games, and may be moving onto the right side of the bubble. However, if they keep their current pace up, they won’t need to worry about sweating out Selection Sunday, as they are now in the driver’s seat for the A-10 title.

A Storm is Bruin

Perhaps Belmont saw how everyone was on the Austin Peay hype train this season and took that personally. You can’t fault the masses for thinking the Governors were going to break through this season. However, Belmont has sent a clear message this season: they aren’t going anywhere. The Bruins continued their torrid season, taking down second-place Morehead State 73-58 on Saturday. The win is Belmont’s 19th straight, and their 28th straight against conference foes. This game was also just the third time in the last 25 seasons that two teams with win streaks of at least 12 games faced each other.

Grayson Murphy shined for Belmont in this one, recording the program’s first triple-double in their Division I era. He had 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. He is the catalyst on a mid-major team that is looking more and more dangerous with each game they play. Their metrics won’t merit an at-large bid, so they want to avoid a slip-up in the conference tournament. However, there will be an unlucky four or five seed who gets to face Belmont in the first round.

Mid-Major Top Performers

Max Abmas of Oral Roberts went off for a career-high 42 points in a victory over South Dakota State on Saturday. That point total is the most by any player in Division I this season. He was an efficient 14-2o from the field, including 5-8 from deep. The sophomore is averaging 21 points per game this season and is a rising star for the Golden Eagles.

Tyson Walker of Northeastern scored a career-high 36 points in a win over Towson on Saturday. He went 13-20 from the field, including a blistering 7-12 from beyond the arc. The seven made threes were also a career-high. This was Walker’s second straight game scoring at least 30 points.

Marcus Burk of IUPUI had a big series against UIC, scoring 36 points and 34 points in each game, respectively. Burk’s 36 points on Friday were a season-high for him. He shot 27-39 between both games, while also tallying a total of nine rebounds and six steals. Burk has been a scoring machine this season, averaging 22 points per game. He also surpassed 1,000 career points as a Jaguar with his performance on Saturday.

Antoine Davis of Detroit scored a season-high 35 points in a win over Cleveland State on Friday. He shot just 9-21 from the field, but went a perfect 13-13 from the charity stripe. He also chipped in six rebounds and six assists. This output put him 100 points shy of hitting 2,000 for his career. Davis has now scored at least 23 points in ten straight games, including scoring at least 30 in four of those games.

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