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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Mid-Majors Shine Together

As a draft blogger, you grow attached to certain teams. Of course, you watch the same big schools that everyone else does. The Blue Devils, Kentucky, and the Jayhawks. But you also watch the same small schools over and over again and find yourself getting to know not only their star player, but the rest of the team as well. Not only do you want to see these schools make the NCAA tournament in order to evaluate them on a bigger stage, but also because you start to become a fan of the school. For most small schools with NBA prospects, this is a rare opportunity for exposure and it is fun to be along for the ride with them.

Among the teams that I have found myself watching over and over again this year are North Texas, South Dakota State, Murray State, Detroit, Bucknell, Illinois State, Creighton, and Lehigh. There are other schools as well - Long Beach State and James Ennis, Davidson, Drexel, and Tennessee State.

Tonight, quite a few of the prominent mid/low-major schools were in action. North Texas played Troy and got their first conference win after starting off 0-2. Now, Troy is the worst team in the Sun Belt so it is no reason to get excited for the simple fact that they got the victory. But Tony Mitchell had his best game of the season - scoring 29 points and adding 15 rebounds. Mitchell is capable of these performances against any Sun Belt team, but it is more impressive how he did it. He was the aggressive Tony Mitchell we've been waiting to see all season. He got to the line 12 times, blocked 4 shots, and finally took advantage of easy points in transition by running the court. North Texas's offense had a sense of rhythm to it that has been rare this season. Granted it was Troy, but this is a good blueprint for them to follow for the rest of the season.

The attitude of North Texas fans towards Mitchell is a mixed bag, with a lot of fans disappointed in his effort so far this season. He's not the typical low-major star where he is worshiped on campus. He has his fair share of detractors.

Out in South Dakota, however, they live and breath Jackrabbits basketball because of Nate Wolters. Wolters has been a major part of the program for 4 seasons and is looking to get his team back into the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. They improved to 2-1 in the Summit League with their blowout victory over UMKC tonight (nicknamed the Kangaroos). Wolters was a big part of it - scoring 23 points and also providing 7 helpers. He didn't take over the game in a dominating sense. But he did control the game and its pace. The game moves slower for him than the rest of the players and he does a good job manipulating angles to get inside and show off his floater game. He also made a series of nice passes and delivered them in crafty ways. Now, I've been holding off on comparing him to any NBA player but I've had a guy in mind the entire time - Jeremy Lin. I've been hesitant to say it because of all the other things that are associated with Lin.

But if you look back at Lin at Harvard, you will see the similarities. Neither was a great shooter, but both were excellent in the pick and roll game because of their ability to play at their own pace. They are average athletes, attackers, have good touch inside, play with confidence, struggle defensively, and have similar slow release jumpshots. Lin was never looked at as much of a NBA player but obviously put in a lot of work between college and the Knicks to get to where he is now. Wolters is no stranger to work and has Lin's roadmap to the NBA to follow.

Also in action was Detroit who handled Milwaukee to advance to 1-0 in Horizon League play. Ray McCallum had a modest 13 points, but also helped out with 7 rebounds and 6 assists. McCallum is viewed as a second rounder at best on DraftExpress, but I see him as a very good backup point guard that is capable of starting for some teams - a less crafty Eric Maynor type. I highlighted McCallum's notable plays from tonight in the video below. I must say, he hasn't shown a lot of versatility in his game for much of this season. He's settling for 3s while being very good out in transition. We know he is capable of other things though, and has been impressive at times - such as the 2nd half against Syracuse.

In other action, Long Beach State lost a tough one to Cal Poly 79-73. Both teams look like contenders to win the Big West's automatic bid, but I'm rooting for LBSU in order to see Ennis in at least one more high profile game. He had 22 points and 5 blocks tonight.

Tennessee State advanced to 2-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference, despite Patrick Miller and Robert Covington being out. Covington has been out for both wins and figures to miss 4 to 6 more weeks after his recent knee surgery. Tennessee State didn't look like a good team in non-conference play, so their start is a bit surprising. Although, this is the OVC.

Still, Tennessee State will need to win their conference tournament and they will have a tough time upsetting Murray State. The Racers held off TSU in last year's championship game and the talent gap between the two teams has widened. Murray State may be more dangerous than last year's team with even more experience and the emergence of Ed Daniel. They picked up their first OVC win tonight against Tennessee-Martin.

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