2024 Drexel vs UNC Wilmington - Men's

Mid-Major Power Rankings: Continued Chaos Makes For Tight Conference Races

Mid-Major Power Rankings: Continued Chaos Makes For Tight Conference Races

Nine of the conferences outside of the power six head into February's first full week with at least three teams either tied or within a game of 1st place.

Feb 5, 2024 by Kyle Kensing
Mid-Major Power Rankings: Continued Chaos Makes For Tight Conference Races

A little more than a month remains until conference championship season officially begins college basketball's March to madness, and the regular-season title races are already nothing short of chaotic. 

Among the non-power six leagues, nine begin the first full week of February with at least three teams either tied of within just one game of first place. The tight title chases ensuing across the nation suggest a madcap beginning of March once the conference tournaments begin. 

American

A three-team tie between 2023 Final Four participant FAU, and surprising USF and Charlotte teams has taken shape shape atop the new-look American. 

FAU is a winner of seven straight after dispatching Tulsa in a 102-70 blowout on Feb. 3, a game in which all five Owls starters scored in double-figures. The team responsible for FAU's last defeat, however, has won eight in a row following its 67-52 win over East Carolina. 

That's Charlotte, a squad with a first-year head coach and considerable roster turnover from last year's College Basketball Invitational-winning lineup. Aaron Fearne is establishing himself as a national Coach of the Year contender with the 49ers surging behind balanced offense and tenacious defense. 

The coming week promises some separation at the top, with Charlotte traveling to USF. The Bulls have quietly stampeded to a 15-5 overall mark with wins including at Memphis and over a Loyola Chicago bunch in contention of the Atlantic 10 crown. 

Atlantic 10

Since its non-conference loss to USF, Loyola Chicago is 9-2, and just a game out of first place in the A-10. A Dayton team that looked poised to run away with the conference lead before its loss at Richmond last week didn't spend long in second place. 

The Flyers blasted a good George Washington team last Tuesday, 83-61, between DaRon Holmes II's 25-point, 12-rebound double-double. Dayton followed that up surviving a 76-71 test from St. Bonaventure. 

Coupled with Richmond suffering its first A-10 loss to rival VCU, the Flyers and Spiders now share the conference lead. 

Big West 

UC Irvine standing alone in first place atop the Big West isn't surprising; the program has been among the most consistent throughout Russell Turner's tenure as head coach. UC San Diego and UC Davis being the two teams just a game behind the Anteaters, however, is a shock. 

UCSD is transitioning from Div. II and thus ineligible for the Big West's NCAA Tournament berth, which makes the Tritons' 15-8 overall mark and 9-2 record in the Big West that much more noteworthy. UCSD was picked ninth out of 11 teams in the Big West preseason poll. 

UC Davis was right in the middle at fifth. Elijah Pepper, who's scoring 21 points per game, garnered preseason All-Big West recognition, but his role in the Aggies' conference title contention might power Pepper to Player of the Year. 

CAA 

Drexel maintains its sole possession of first place in the Coastal Athletic Association heading into a huge week for the Dragons. But after upstart Monmouth knocked Drexel off in West Long Branch, New Jersey, last Thursday, Drexel's edge in the CAA slipped to just one game over three different teams — two of which the Dragons play on the road this week. 

UNC Wilmington welcomes Drexel to the always-rowdy Trask Coliseum on Thursday. The Seahawks completed the season sweep of Charleston between 22 points from Donovan Newby last Thursday. 

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That gives UNCW the inside track on Charleston with both a game behind Drexel, while fellow 7-3 CAA squad Towson boasts wins over both. 

The Tigers had been the CAA's hottest team with a four-game winning streak and victories in 6-of-7 — including defeats of each of UNC Wilmington, Charleston and Drexel — but they ran into a buzzsaw at Hofstra with Tyler Thomas delivering one of the most impressive individual performances of the season. 

Tyler Thomas' CAA Player of the Week-winning performance denied Towson a share of first place, and instead leaves the Coastal with three teams all just a game away from catching Drexel. UNCW or Charleston could do so this week. 


Horizon 

A Green Bay Phoenix team that finished 2022-23 with one of the worst records in all of Div. I basketball is now tied atop the wildly competitive Horizon League at 10-3. Green Bay is 15-9 overall in coach Sundance Wicks' first season, and with Wyoming transfer Noah Reynolds and his 19.3-point per game output. 

Green Bay draws Youngstown State, which lost a tough, 82-78 contest on Sunday at Purdue Fort Wayne. The Penguins now sit a game out of first with Saturday's date against Green Bay looming. 

Mid-American 

The backcourt tandem of Anthony Pritchard and Brian Taylor has powered surprising Central Michigan into the MAC championship discussion with a month remaining in the regular season. The duo lead the Chippewas in just about every major offensive statistical category, and have each shown up in big spots. A five-game winning start for the Chips began with Pritchard going for 20 points and nine rebounds in a 65-62 defeat of Toledo. 

Central Michigan now has the opportunity to move into first place this week when it travels to league-leading Akron. The Zips hold a one-game edge over both CMU and Toledo heading into a big week. 

In addition to Akron's conference clash with Central Michigan, the Zips face James Madison as part of the MAC-Sun Belt Challenge. A win at James Madison could bolster Akron's NCAA Tournament profile and seeding — if the Zips earn a place in the Big Dance. 

Mountain West 

What has been indisputably the strongest mid-major conference at the top all season unsurprisingly features the most contentious championship chase. 

Four teams are either setting the pace or just a game back: 7-2 Utah State and Boise State, followed by 6-3 New Mexico and San Diego State. Colorado State, UNLV and Wyoming are all just two games back, and Nevada may have the biggest opportunity ahead of it any team in college basketball draws in the coming week with games against Utah State and San Diego State as the Pack trail the lead by 2.5 games. 

Mountain West parity has created remarkable fluctuation in the standings from day-to-day — case in point, each of San Diego State, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah State are 1-1 in their last two games. 

Northeast 

Since joining the Div. I ranks, Merrimack has consistently been at the top of the Northeast Conference. The Warriors were ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to the transitional period in their move from Div. II, but that's no longer the case. Behind the standout, all-around play of Jordan Derkack, Merrimack is vying for the Big Dance and tied in first atop the NEC with Central Connecticut State. 

Merrimack extended its current winning streak to four games on Feb. 3, avenging an earlier loss to CCSU with a 71-68 victory. The two meetings between the Warriors and Blue Devils were decided by eight combined points. 

A rubber match in the NEC Championship sounds exciting, but Sacred Heart may have something to say in the matter. The Pioneers are one game behind the two NEC pace-setters, with two games against CCSU and a home date vs. Merrimack still on their docket. 

SWAC 

Texas Southern has nearly monopolized the SWAC's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament in recent years, and the Tigers are near the top of the league once again in 2024. TSU begins the week a half-game behind Southern and Grambling. 

Grambling is hoping to parlay a regular-season SWAC championship into the first March Madness berth in program history. 

Summit 

As of Feb. 5, there are five teams in the nine-team Summit League within a game of or tied for first: South Dakota State and North Dakota at 6-3 each; St. Thomas, Oral Roberts and Omaha all a game back at 5-4. 

Extend the scope further, and only 2-7 South Dakota is more than 2.5 games behind the pace. 

Games to Watch Feb. 5-11 

Monday, Feb. 5

Eastern Washington at Portland State, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT 

Tuesday, Feb. 6

Central Michigan at Akron, 7 p.m./4 p.m.

Dayton at Saint Joseph's, 8 p.m./5 p.m. 

Nevada at Utah State, 9 p.m./6 p.m.

Boise State at Colorado State, 9 p.m./6 p.m.

Charlotte at South Florida, 9 p.m./6 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 7

High Point at UNC Asheville, 6:30 p.m./3:30 p.m.

Loyola Chicago at George Mason, 7 p.m./4 p.m.

Western Kentucky at Louisiana Tech, 7 p.m./4 p.m.

Southern Illinois at Drake, 8 p.m./5 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 8

Drexel at UNC Wilmington, 7 p.m./4 p.m. 

Delaware at Towson, 7 p.m/4 p.m.

Samford at UNC Greensboro, 7 p.m./4 p.m.

FAU at UAB, 9 p.m./6 p.m.

UC Irvine at UC Santa Barbara, 10 p.m./7 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 9

Dayton at VCU, 7 p.m./4 p.m.

San Diego State at Nevada, 8 p.m./5 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 10 

Loyola Chicago at George Washington, 12 noon/9 a.m.

Green Bay at Youngstown State, 1:30 p.m./10:30 a.m.

Indiana State at Missouri State, 2 p.m./11 a.m.

Drexel at Charleston, 3:30 p.m.

Gonzaga at Kentucky, 4 p.m./1 p.m.

Akron at James Madison, 6 p.m./3 p.m.

Drake at Bradley, 6 p.m./3 p.m.

Boise State at Utah State, 10 p.m./7 p.m.

Santa Clara at San Francisco, 10 p.m./7p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 11 

Tulane at Memphis, 2 p.m./11 a.m.

Feb. 5 Top 15

1. FAU 

Over the course of its seven-game winning streak, FAU has found ways to win both defensive grinders and back-and-forth shootouts. The Owls look the part of former Final Four team, gearing up for another deep run in March. 

2. Dayton

Dayton's answer to having its nation-long winning streak ended was emphatic. DaRon Holmes II continues to build an All-America worthy resume as leader of a team with Final Four potential. 

3. San Diego State

Opponents are winless at Viejas Arena, with San Diego State's 81-67 win over No. 17-ranked Utah State marking the most impressive effort for the Aztecs at home to date. San Diego State needs to find some of that same resilience away from home to replicate last year's run to the National Championship Game, but successfully holding serve in America's Finest City will ensure the Aztecs are in the thick of a tight Mountain West title race. 

4. New Mexico

New Mexico's four-game winning streak, as well as its dominance at The Pit both ended in an 86-78 loss to Boise State. Nevertheless, New Mexico boasts some of the most impressive wins in the loaded Mountain West with its routs of San Diego State, Utah State and Nevada. 

Should the Lobos escape on Tuesday visiting a feisty Wyoming team and hold serve at home against UNLV on Saturday, a three-game stretch with the Lobos visiting San Diego State and Nevada before hosting Colorado State could be season-defining. 

5. Indiana State

After avenging its only loss in Missouri Valley Conference play, Indiana State holds a two-game edge in the league race. The Sycamores are also ranked in the top 40 of KenPom.com overall metrics. 

Few teams in the country are as hot as the Sycamores. If they keep rolling, look for them to crack the AP Poll for the first time since Larry Bird played in Terre Haute. 

6. Utah State 

The bad news for Utah State is that it's 3-2 over its last five after having 15 straight. The good news for the Aggies is that the two losses came at New Mexico and San Diego State, and they've thus cleared the docket of what have proven to be the two most difficult road trips in the Mountain West. 

What's more, the third-most difficult — at Boise State — resulted in a Utah State win. Meanwhile, the Aggies have been terrific at home in their own right, and get a pair of NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents both at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum this week: Nevada on Tuesday and Boise State on Saturday. 

7. Saint Mary's

From facing a potentially lost season less than two months ago, to knocking on the door of the AP Top 25, Saint Mary's resurgence has been nothing short of remarkable. 

The Gaels had their best week to date, winning hard-fought West Coast Conference matchups with Santa Clara and Gonzaga by seven combined points. Joshua Jefferson's double-double against a talented Zags frontcourt ranks among the past week's most impressive individual performances.

8. Colorado State 

Colorado State had slipped to 2-4 after its 13-1 start, the nadir of which came in a 79-76 loss at Wyoming. The Rams since recovered, however, winning an impressive 79-71 decision against San Diego State before handling Fresno State. 

The Rams get Boise State at home with a chance to avenge an earlier loss and add further chaos to the tight Mountain West race. 

9. Boise State 

With wins in four of its last five, including San Diego State and New Mexico, Boise State's first-place standing atop the Mountain West is no fluke. The Broncos' brand of aggressive defense is forcing opponents to shoot just 29 percent from 3-point range. 

They'll need their defense to travel in the coming week: Splitting against Colorado State and Utah State may be enough at this juncture to land the Broncos firmly in the NCAA Tournament, barring any bad slip-ups in the final month. An 0-2 road trip leaves Boise State with work to do. 

10. Richmond 

From the high of knocking off Dayton, to the low of falling in a rivalry game, Richmond had a rollercoaster stretch of seven days. 

With just one regular-season matchup between the Spiders and Flyers, Richmond still controls its own destiny for the A-10 championship and seeding in the conference tournament. 

11. Drake 

The return matchup between Missouri Valley counterparts Indiana State and Drake delivered a game as physical and intense as any in college basketball. While the Bulldogs fell short of the season sweep against the Sycamores, Drake proved itself capable of stepping up away from home. 

12. Appalachian State

Winners of six in a row after surviving an 85-84 overtime decision at Georgia Southern, Appalachian State's streak is among the nation's longest. The Mountaineers are enjoying the program's best season in 45 years thanks to a hard-nosed defensive style and effective interior offense. 

13. Nevada 

The Wolf Pack's hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament appeared to be slipping away when Nevada dropped three straight, including a visit to Wyoming, and 4-of-5 with a blowout loss against New Mexico. 

Nevada's road to the Big Dance might still be complicated, but after scoring a win over Colorado State last week and destroying San Jose State on Feb. 2, Nevada can make its tournament case with three straight dates against Utah State, San Diego State and New Mexico, the latter two at home. 

14. Charlotte 

There may not be a more surprising team in college basketball than Charlotte, which sits tied atop the American. The 49ers' eight-game winning streak includes defeat of FAU, North Texas and UAB, three of the best teams in the conference. 

15. Grand Canyon 

Grand Canyon's bounced back from its Jan. 20 loss at Seattle to win four straight, including avenging its prior setback against the Thunderbirds with a 95-88 overtime win on Feb. 1. 

The Antelopes should cruise to a Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship with some of the more noteworthy league games (Cal Baptist and Stephen F. Austin) coming at home. 

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