It's time again for the Mid Majors Baker's Dozen. The tastiest thirteen teams in the mid majors. And remember it's A-10 free.
1) Northern Iowa (16-1, 7-0 MVC). The Panthers have hit the national rankings and just in time for tomorrow night's showdown at Wichita State (which follows George Mason vs. Hofstra on ESPNU, so I have to race home from the Mack and catch the game). A battle between the two best scoring defensive teams in the Valley. And the Panthers have their work cut out against the number one scoring team in the Valley in Wichita State. A win tomorrow night against the Shockers, and Northern Iowa will have a three game lead in the Valley. I think Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder lead the Panthers to victory.
2) Gonzaga (14-3, 4-0 WCC). A great week with three road victories, including two over their main competitors in the West Coast Conference, Portland and St Mary's. Their first conference home game is Thursday vs. Pepperdine, the unlikely team they are tied for first in the conference. Elias Harris is the real deal folks. The key stretch for the Zags - over a week span in February they play Portland, then at Memphis, then home to St Mary's. With how weak the Pac10 is and the Mountain West coming back down to earth, don't be surprised if the Zags get a #3 seed in the West Regional come NCAA tournament time.
3) Butler (14-4, 7-0 Horizon). A two game lead in the Horizon for the Bulldogs. But a four game conference road trip awaits starting at 12-5 Loyola on Thursday. I noted last week in a post that because Matt Howard hasn't played well this year, the Bulldogs are vulnerable. So a reader decided to post a comment saying how vulnerable they are by linking to Ken Pomeroy's site. I know Pomeroy's site well, and I didn't say Butler wasn't good, because they certainly are good. Vulnerable means having a weakness, which in this case has been Howard not playing up to his level this season. But the 22 point effort vs. Youngstown State might be the start to fixing that weakness.
4) William and Mary (13-3, 6-1 CAA). The Mary have really picked up their play since a surprising last second loss vs UNCW. Four wins in a row, including an impressive 25 point road beatdown of Drexel the second Saturday in January. Forward Steven Hess has given the Tribe an inside scoring presence. In the last five games, Hess is 21 of 26 from the field, averaging 10 points per game, with three double figure scoring games. That may not seem like a lot, but in the eleven games prior, Hess had no double figure scoring games. This week is huge for the Mary -road game at VCU on Wednesday, followed by a home game vs. ODU on Saturday. Win two here and the media bandwagon gets even bigger.
5) Cornell (15-3, 1-0 Ivy) - The Big Red almost bagged their biggest road trophy of the season several days ago. For 39 minutes, they had the Jayhawks on the ropes at Allen Fieldhouse before the Jayhawks rallied at the end. Ryan Wittman, Jeff Foote and company got the ultimate respect of Jayhawks coach Bill Self, All American guard Sherron Collins and the rest of the Kansas team. After the non-conference schedule Cornell has had, the Ivy will seem like a welcome change. After the weekend road game vs. Columbia, it's four straight home games, including the January 30 showdown with fellow Baker's Dozen member Harvard.
6) Old Dominion (14-5, 6-1 CAA) - The Monarchs are on a roll. Five wins a row and in their last three games, one of the best scoring defensive teams in the country has only given up an average of 48.5 points per game. ODU's law firm of Finney, Hassell and Lee have helped the Monarchs lead the CAA in scoring margin (more than 11 points per game), rebounding margin, turnover margin and second in field goal percentage defense. Offensively, the Monarchs make up for their terrible three point shooting (29.6 percent which is tied for ninth) by being first in in the CAA in assists and second to assist to turnover ratio (William and Mary is first, which again reinforces the most important stat is assist to turnover ratio). The Saturday road game at the Mary is huge.
7) Siena (14-4, 7-0 MAAC) - After losing at Northern Iowa, the Saints have reeled off eight straight wins, average margin of victory nearly 15 points per game. Siena has four scorers in double figures, led by Edwin Ubliles nearly 16 points per game, while Clarence Jackson and Alex Franklin nearly average 15 per game. In the "Scary Stat of the Week" award, in their last two games, Siena has shot 19 of 37 from beyond the arc. Siena averages 77 points per game. With two straight home games coming up, Siena should be 9-0 before their three game road trip.
8) St Mary's (16-3, 3-1 WCC) - The Gaels played their hearts out against Gonzaga, but couldn't stop the combination of Elias Harris and Matt Bouldin on the defensive end. But the Gaels did not suffer a letdown and took care of business against Portland two nights later. Omar Samhan has been a second half machine. In the game against Gonzaga, Samhan had 25 of his 31 points in the second half. Against Portland, "Enter the Sandman" Samhan scored 24 of his 28 points in the second half. On the year, Samhan is shooting nearly 57 percent from the field, scoring 21.7 points per game and averaging 10.7 rebounds per game. Simply, a one man wrecking crew. For the Gaels, their season may come down to the mid February road trip - at Gonzaga, at Portland, and at San Diego.
9) Wichita State (16-3, 5-2 MVC) - A very tough one point loss at Creighton now makes tomorrow night's home game vs UNI even more critical. A loss, and the Shockers will be three back of the first place Panthers. A win, and it's only one game back. Wichita State shot an ugly 36.5 percent from the field (on the season the Shockers average nearly 46 percent) and only 11 of 18 - 61 percent from the line (on the season the Shockers average nearly 76 percent). Tough stretch of the season for Wichita State. Home to UNI, at Drake, home to Illinois State, then on the road at Southern Illinois and at UNI.
10) Louisiana Tech (17-2, 5-0 WAC) - Ten straight wins for the Bulldogs, who average 80 points per game. Not a surprise that all five starters average in double figures, led by Kyle Gibson who averages nearly 22 points per game and shoots almost 90 percent from the line. Louisiana Tech also features one of my "All College Hardwood Name Team" members in Magnum Rolle, who certainly doesn't shoot blanks from the field. The 6-11 Rolle shoots nearly 56 percent from the field and averages 13 points and nearly 9 rebounds per game. The next five games are critical for the Bulldogs. Three road games, with one of them being part of a home and home with second place New Mexico State over a nine day span.
11) Harvard (12-3, 1-0 Ivy) - The other Ivy team in our countdown. Cornell gets all the love, but Harvard may be just as good. At least Pomeroy thinks so (told you I read Ken's site). Ryan Wittman gets most of the publicity, but Jeremy Lin might be just as good. Lin is averaging 17 points per game and shooting 52 percent from the field. The team as a whole shoots 49.5 percent from the field while averaging 77 points per game. And remember, they have wins over the Mary and at BC. Biggest game of the year is January 30 at Cornell. Remember, no postseason tournament in the Ivy. It's all about the regular season. The statisticians better have their fingers loose for that January 30 game. There will be lots of scoring there.
12) Murray State (16-3, 8-0 OVC) - There are not a lot of mid major programs with the success of Murray State. Three times in the last decade, the Racers made the NCAA tournament. And seven times in the 90's, Murray State also made the big dance. They have had at least 17 wins the past eight seasons with no losing records during that span. And now they are trying to make their eleventh NCAA tournament since 1990 with what might be their best team ever. They have six players who average between 9.4 and 11.3 points per game. They shoot 51 percent as a team and score over 79 points per game . Their average margin of victory on the season is nearly 18 points (they give up not even 62 points per game) . How awesome is that? They will face a good test with three of their next four games on the road.
13) Western Carolina (14-3, 4-1 Southern) - A bad loss at Georgia Southern nearly dropped the Catamounts out of the Baker's Dozen. But the Catamounts can make up for it with easily their toughest stretch of the season. Four out of their next five games are on the road. Their only home game - against Charleston, undefeated in the Southern at 6-0. The test starts Wednesday at Davidson.
Honorable Mention - VCU, Western Kentucky, Charleston, Buffalo, Vermont and Fairfield.