January is usually the time of year we start to see who are the contenders and who are the pretenders in the mid-major ranks. With a number of teams still fighting for positioning in their respective conferences, we could be in for a long, eventful rest of the regular season.
Now is the time to figure out who those teams are. Before we can have a definite answer, we must first look at this week’s mid-major stock report. Here we will see how has gained momentum and who has completely lost it.
Here's this week's mid-major stock report.
On The Rise: South Dakota State
After a rather disappointing December (going 5-4, all losses were on the road), the South Dakota State Jackrabbits are in prime position to take the Summit League over. While December may not have been the Jacks’ month, a road win at then-16 New Mexico brought SDSU back into the talks for premier mid-majors in the country.
Nate Wolters continues to star for the Jacks, averaging nearly 21 points, six points and six rebounds per game. Not only has Wolters been the go-to guy for SDSU, his 29-point effort against New Mexico earned him number Player of the Week honors in the mid-major ranks. Beating New Mexico was the first win against a ranked opponent in SDSU history during their time in Division-I.
After spending nearly a month on the road, the Jacks have five of their next seven games at home (where they currently have a 25-game winning streak, ranking third longest in the nation) with two must-win games in those five. Tied atop the Summit League standings are Western Illinois and North Dakota State, each of whom will travel to SDSU in the next few weeks. SDSU topped Western Illinois and their tough defense on the road this past week and lost at NDSU in their first meeting in December.
With two wins of that caliber, SDSU could see themselves back atop the conference standings and possibly earn a regular season championship.
Falling Down: Davidson
Davidson had so much potential going into the season. Being led by De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen, the Wildcats appeared poised to make another run into the big dance and, possibly, make some noise on the way.
Alas, this is not the case for Bob McKillop’s squad as Davidson currently posts an 11-7 record, 6-1 in conference. While this may not sound like a discouraging record, the Wildcats have yet to gain a significant win, closest being against West Virginia, which isn’t something to brag about this season.
Because Davidson has zero quality wins out of the Southern Conference, if they somehow fail to win the regular season AND conference tournament championships, the Wildcats could be looking for an NIT bid, if anything at all.
On the Rise: Saint Mary’s
Playing in the same conference that sports Gonzaga is never easy to do, but somehow Saint Mary’s always manages to hang around with the big dogs. Saint Mary’s win at BYU certainly makes them a legitimate threat in the West Coast Conference.
Much like Davidson, however, Saint Mary’s does not have a glowing tournament resume. The Gaels’ biggest non-conference win might be against Drexel, which came very early in the season, around the time everybody thought the Dragons were going to be good this year.
However, unlike Davidson, Saint Mary’s could possibly get away with it as long as they beat Gonzaga, either at home on Valentine’s Day or in the conference tournament. Battling the Zags, BYU and San Diego really helps the Gaels’ chances of clinching an at-large bid. Although, the would be wise for Saint Mary’s to win either the regular season title or conference tournament to avoid that sort of possibility.
Falling Down: North Dakota State
Just when everybody started to hop on the Bison bandwagon, NDSU’s leading scorer and star player, Taylor Braun, suffered a fracture in his right foot and could miss up to six weeks of action. While this presents the Bison with a chance to get Braun back before the Summit League tournament in March, NDSU be on the outside looking in before his return.
With the struggles of South Dakota St. through December, NDSU started popping up on everybody’s radar as the team to beat in the conference. Now the Bison have to pick up the slack without their most valuable weapon in Braun.
NDSU didn’t start off on a great note as they dropped a conference game at Western Illinois this past weekend, knocking them off the top spot in the standings. It doesn’t get any easier as the Bison travel to face SDSU this Saturday, in a game that could determine how far each team will go. NDSU won the first battle at home by 65-62.
Braun’s injury can’t impede the Bison from playing solid basketball. If it does, NDSU will have a lot of ground to make up when he does return.
On the Rise: Wichita State
After knocking off 12th ranked Creighton at home this past weekend, Wichita State finds themselves in familiar territory: tied on top of the Missouri Valley standings, with Creighton. The Shockers sport a 17-2 record, along with a 6-1 conference record.
Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall have been leading the way for the Shockers this season, combining to average over 28 points and 12 rebounds per game (no other player averages double-digit points).
With a conference loss on the road to Evansville, Wichita State needs to remain perfect throughout the rest regular season play to keep pace with the talented Creighton Blue Jays. If they can do that, the final game of the regular season could determine the winner of the Missouri Valley regular season championship as the Shockers travel to the Blue Jays on March 2.