Mid-Major Lives Matter (Feb 6-9)

As has been the case every week this season, it was another eventful seven days in mid-major hoops. Gonzaga moving to 24-0, Wichita State rolling Illinois State, UNC Wilmington and Middle Tennessee both suffering losses and Akron dropping their first MAC game of the season were some of the most noteworthy highlights. Here is our latest Mid-Major Top 25, which excludes the power 6 conferences, the American, the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West:

Mid Major Top 25
1. Gonzaga
2. Saint Mary’s
3. Wichita State
4. Illinois State
5. UNC Wilmington
6. Middle Tennessee
7. New Mexico State
8. ETSU
9. Belmont
10. Monmouth
11. Charleston
12. Akron
13. Chattanooga
14. Valparaiso
15. Vermont
16. Arkansas State
17. Princeton
18. UT Arlington
19. Louisiana Tech
20. Florida Gulf Coast
21. Georgia Southern
22. Bucknell
23. Furman
24. BYU
25. UNC Asheville

We sit just three weeks away from the tip-off of the first conference tournament (the Atlantic Sun). Conference races are heating up and every game seems to get more meaningful each day. Here are the games you most need to pay attention to this week in mid-major hoops.

Monday

UL Monroe at Georgia State
UL Lafayette at Georgia Southern
Coastal Carolina at Arkansas State

Why You Should Care: All three home teams enter the week tied for first atop the Sun Belt at 8-2. Georgia State probably has the easiest matchup out of the three, as UL Monroe is just 1-9 in conference play, although the first meeting did go to OT before the Panthers beat the Warhawks. Arkansas State looks to get revenge against a Coastal Carolina team that beat them by 15 a month ago, while Georgia Southern gets a tough UL Lafayette team they beat by 5 on January 14.

ETSU at Wofford
Why You Should Care: ETSU is on a 4 game winning streak and is half a game back of Furman for the top spot in the SoCon. Being the only game in the conference on Monday, a win would put them in a tie for first. In order to do that, they’ll have to go on the road and beat a Wofford team that is 6-5 in the conference and played the Buccaneers to a 7 point game just a couple weeks ago.

Monmouth at Rider
Why You Should Care: Monmouth continues to roll in the MAAC, as they have extended their league lead to 2 games. One of their two losses, though, came at home to the Rider team they face on Monday. Rider beat the Hawks 93-90 back on New Year’s Eve. It’ll be interesting to see if Rider can take Monmouth down to the wire again. The only thing stopping the Hawks from running away with the conference would be dropping tough road games like this one.

Norfolk State at Savannah State
Why You Should Care: The top of the MEAC continues to be crowded. NC Central holds the league lead at 7-1, with three others right behind them. One of them is Norfolk State, who is a half game back at 7-2. Another is Savannah State who is tied in the win column but two back in the loss column at 7-3. Both teams need to win this one to keep pace with NC Central. Norfolk State won the first meeting, 80-76.

Tuesday

Ball State at Akron
Central Michigan at Ohio
Northern Illinois at Buffalo

Why You Should Care: Akron is running away with the MAC, holding a three game lead at 9-1. That doesn’t mean the other games in the league don’t have big implications, though. The race for the number two seed is tight, with three teams at 6-4 and four teams at 5-5. Ball State, Northern Illinois and Ohio are the three squads currently sitting at 6-4. Ball State has the toughest matchup tonight, heading to Akron, but Ohio has to take on the nation’s leading scorer in Marcus Keene and 5-5 Central Michigan, while NIU also gets a 5-5 squad in Buffalo.

Siena at Iona
Why You Should Care: Iona sits 2.5 games behind Monmouth for the lead in the MAAC, while they hold a 1.5 game lead of second place. A win tonight, although they’d still have quite a bit of ground to cover to catch Monmouth, would give them a comfortable hold on that second spot.

Illinois State at Drake
Why You Should Care: The importance of MiKyle McIntosh to Illinois State was shown on Saturday, when the Redbirds were hammered at Wichita State. That put the two teams in a tie for first in the MVC with six games to play. The Redbirds will have to figure things out with McIntosh for the time being if they want to at least win a share of the league title and keep their at-large hopes alive. That starts tonight against a Drake team that played ISU tough in their first meeting.

Wednesday

Bucknell at Lehigh
Why You Should Care: With just six games to play and a whole three games separating Bucknell from the rest of the league, the Bison are very close to clinching a league title. The only thing that could prevent that are a few tricky road games like this one. The Bison will have to find a way to stop Tim Kempton (20.2 PPG) and Lehigh, who are the only Patriot League team to beat Bucknell this season. And it was a decisive 11 point win at Bucknell. We’ll see if things are different this time around.

Southern Illinois at UNI
Why You Should Care: Southern Illinois currently holds the third spot in the MVC standings at 7-5, but it has three teams just a game behind them at 6-6. UNI is one of those teams, as the Panthers have won 6 of 7. The first game resulted in a 58-57 UNI victory.

North Dakota State at South Dakota State
South Dakota at Fort Wayne

Why You Should Care: With just 5 or 6 games left for each team, there are still a ton of question marks in the Summit League. It is a wide open conference, which should make for an exciting tournament. North Dakota State currently has a half game lead of first place, but they have a tough test as they take on a South Dakota State team that has won 3 straight. SDSU is led by the nation’s second leading scorer, Mike Daum (23.8 PPG). The other big matchup in the league on Wednesday involves South Dakota, who is a half game back of the league lead at 7-4, and Fort Wayne, who is very talented but just 5-5 in league play.

Thursday

Winthrop at UNC Asheville
Liberty at Gardner Webb

Why You Should Care: There’s a three way tie atop the Big South with six games to play. Two of those teams face off tonight as Winthrop heads to UNC Asheville. The first game between these two was an exciting three point Winthrop win. Liberty also sits in that tie for the top spot and gets the fourth place team in the league, Gardner Webb. The first meeting between these two was also a 3 point game, in favor of Liberty.

Chattanooga at Furman
Why You Should Care: Furman has won six in a row to move to 9-2 in the SoCon, currently good enough for a one game lead over Chattanooga and ETSU. Preseason favorite Chattanooga has bounced back from a mini 2 game skid a couple weeks and has a great chance tonight to retake control of the league. The Mocs won the first meeting by 16.

Lipscomb at FGCU
Why You Should Care: A battle of the top two teams in the A-Sun, FGCU holds the league lead with a game separating them and Lipscomb. With just 5 games to play, a FGCU win would put them very close to clinching the league title and home court advantage in the conference tournament. A Lipscomb win, though, and we’ll be all knotted up with four to play. FGCU took the first matchup, 84-80.

Northeastern at Charleston
James Madison at UNC Wilmington

Why You Should Care: Another exciting league title race, Charleston and UNC Wilmington are tied for first at 10-2 with six games to play. Even though both Northeastern and James Madison are in the bottom half of the league right now, one off night could cost Charleston or UNCW a league title.

Green Bay at Northern Kentucky
Why You Should Care: Green Bay’s dominant win over Valpo on Saturday has put them just a half game back of the league leaders. Northern Kentucky is fourth in the league right now and presents a tough matchup for Green Bay. If they want to win the league title, they can’t afford to lose this one tonight.

Eastern Washington at North Dakota
Why You Should Care: The two teams are tied for second in the Big Sky, half a game behind Weber State. With seven games to play, there’s still a lot of time to catch the league leaders, but a loss tonight would put the loser 3 games back in the loss column. That would all but end any hopes of a league title.

Old Dominion at Middle Tennessee
Why You Should Care: The loss to UTEP on Saturday was a surprise, but MTSU is still very much in control of the C-USA. There are still slim at-large hopes for the Blue Raiders, but for that to happen they’ll most likely need to run the table until the conference championship game. That would start by getting a big bounce back win tonight against third place Old Dominion.

Missouri State at Wichita State
Why You Should Care: Illinois State already won this week, so the Shockers need this one to keep pace in the MVC title race (a win would put both teams at 12-1). Wichita State also needs to keep beating the teams they should to strengthen that at-large resume. This is the first meeting of the season between these two teams.

Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount
Why You Should Care: A chance to move to 25-0 on the season seems like a good reason to care about this one.

New Mexico State at Cal State Bakersfield
Why You Should Care: New Mexico State has won 20 games in a row and is 22-2 overall. This is probably their toughest game in their remaining schedule, as Cal State Bakersfield is second in the league with their only loss in WAC play being a 5 point one to New Mexico State. A win tonight and the Aggies have a great chance of entering the WAC tournament at 28-2.

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