Mid-Major Notebook (Dec. 8, 2021)

Coast To Coast : Mid-Major Notebook (Dec. 8, 2021)


South Carolina State’s buzzer-beating upset of South Florida last week showed why it’s wise to keep an eye on the MEAC this season. 

The Bulldogs won one game last season. They’ve experienced one winning conference record since 2010. Yet, under first-year coach Tony Madlock, a former Ole Miss and Memphis assistant, the Bulldogs have been feisty and organized from the outset, scaring East Carolina, forcing overtime against The Citadel and finally scoring a milestone victory when freshman guard T.J. Madlock - the coach’s son and 3-star recruit - heaved in a wild jumper from the corner for S.C. State’s first victory over a school from the American Athletic Conference. 

Nobody expects S.C. State to contend for the MEAC championship. But their victory speaks to the depth of the conference. 

The favorite, Norfolk State, has earned its headlines, storming to a 9-2 record entering Saturday’s trip to Wichita State. Robert Jones is one of the nation’s best coaches, leading the Spartans to an NCAA tournament victory over Appalachian State last March. His bearded star Joe Bryant is like the old guy at the rec center who never lets his team lose and Little Rock transfer Kris Bankston has made 73 percent of 2-pointers vs. Division I teams.  

Howard scored 81 points - 1.21 per possession - vs. Villanova earlier this season, prompting Jay Wright to praise the team’s talent. Howard is 5-4 with a pair of two-point defeats and Kyle Foster, Steve Settle and Randall Brumant form the conference’s best frontcourt. Coppin State is the best 1-11 team I’ve seen. Juan Dixon’s squad has played only one home game and five top-100 opponents and will be battle tested when conference action opens Jan. 8th. Maryland Eastern-Shore is small, quick and aggressive. The Hawks beat Fordham and Lehigh and threatened UConn and St. Joe’s. North Carolina Central and Levelle Moton always figure it out by February. The task has been taller this season after an offseason overhaul to the roster.    

The Corner 3

1. Tough, physical, defensive-oriented teams are what we’ve come to expect from coach Mike Jones and UNC Greensboro has followed that familiar formula early in his first season. 

The Spartans 7-2 start featured four wins in games decided by three points or less and a pair of three-point overtime losses. UNCG is top 25 nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage and 36th in effective field goal percentage. Fifth-year senior DeMonte Buckingham is the offensive leader, hitting 43 percent of 3-pointers and 50 percent of 2-pointers to lead UNCG with 13.3 points per game. 

Committing fewer turnovers is the focus going forward and the return of point guard Keyshaun Langley - who was ineligible for the first semester - should help in that area. Langley will return to the floor Saturday when the Spartans travel to Tennessee. 

2. New Hampshire coach Bill Herrion earned his 200th career victory last week and having players like this week’s player you’ll want to watch Jayden Martinez (pictured above) explains his success and why he believes his veteran team can contend for the America East title this season. 

Martinez, a 6-7 forward, has three double-doubles and four 20-point games so far, helping UNH to a 4-2 record entering tonight’s visit to struggling Bryant. His 136 Offensive Rating leads the conference and his versatility creates a quandary for defenders each night. Put a smaller wing on him and the paint opens up. And his 11-for-24 touch beyond-the-arc vs. Division I opponents means he can’t be left alone behind the arc either.

Martinez has steadily improved during his four years at UNH and could challenge Vermont’s Ryan Davis for America East Player of the Year honors. 

3. James Madison is leaving the Colonial Athletic Association after this season, headed for the Sun Belt. The CAA denied the Dukes an opportunity to compete for a championship this season in a move panned by most national observers although the decision followed conference bylaws that JMU voted to approve. 

Despite that drama, JMU scored a significant victory for the conference Tuesday night, nipping neighbor Virginia 52-49 in front of a packed, raucous Atlantic Union Bank Center in the best college basketball atmosphere I’ve witnessed this season. 

The Dukes are 8-2 and the CAA has climbed to 14th in the KenPom conference ratings. Built on the strength of eight wins over top-150 opponents, it’s the conference’s best position since 2016-17. Banned from the conference tournament, JMU will be in the mix for the regular season crown along with Charleston, Delaware, Hofstra, Northeastern and Towson in what figures to be a thrilling race that may not be sorted out before the final weekend.