Commentary

A weekly look at the mid-major scene

Originally Published: February 21, 2011
By Mark Adams | Special to ESPN.com

Here's a look around the mid-major scene at the teams and players you might not know much about (but should):

What you might've missed

Here are a few of my favorite moments from this past weekend's BracketBusters games:

Best performance: Vaughn Duggins, who scored a career-high 31 points in Wright State's win over Hofstra on Saturday.

[+] Enlarge Vaughn Duggins
Tim G. Zechar / Icon SMI Vaughn Duggins scored a career-high 31 in Wright State's win over Charles Jenkins and Hofstra.

Cleveland State's Norris Cole receives an honorable mention for a 35-point effort in a loss at Old Dominion.

Best dunk: Utah State's Brady Jardine in the second half at Saint Mary's. Wow!

Best student section: Liberty was down more than 20 points, and when it cut Iona's lead to 18, I thought the roof was ready to come off the Vines Center. The students were loud and respectful. Well done.

Best clutch performance: VCU's Joey Rodriguez, who had missed a late-game free throw against Wichita State, stepped to the line with 0.8 seconds to go and nailed two freebies in the face of a wild Shockers crowd for the Rams' winning margin.

Best broken nose: That would be Utah State's Tai Wesley, who played without a mask and took a few shots to the face. He blinked but never backed off.

Best rebounding effort: Old Dominion won the battle of the boards over Cleveland State by 29 (53-24).

Best offensive spurt: The College of Charleston went on a 25-0 run in the first half in its win over Vermont.

Best passer: Iona's Scott Machado handed out 11 assists versus Liberty. This guy can really pass the ball.

Best game: VCU at Wichita State. It was a great atmosphere, and a last-second play and call decided the game.

Best comeback: Utah State trailed by 10 in the second half, then turned it on and dominated Saint Mary's in Moraga. Also, let's give some props to George Mason. It trailed UNI but came back to win in a tough environment in Cedar Falls to extend its winning streak to 13 games.

Biggest winners: The CAA (4-1 in TV games) and the MAAC (9-1 overall in BracketBusters games on Saturday).

Friday night headline: The CAA wins its first two crucial BracketBusters matchups.

VCU 68, Wichita State 67

VCU had lost two in a row at home to CAA rivals Old Dominion and George Mason. Wichita State has had its own set of issues, losing at home to Missouri State and Southern Illinois.

The Rams needed leadership and got it from one of the best leaders in college basketball, Joey Rodriguez. The diminutive point guard made two free throws with 0.8 seconds remaining to give VCU a much-needed 68-67 victory.

The CAA is vying for a few NCAA tournament bids. The Rams' win over the MVC-leading Shockers certainly helped the conference's cause.

Bradford Burgess scored 17 points and Rodriguez netted 15 for VCU, which may have to win the CAA tournament to earn an NCAA bid, but at least it now stays in the bubble conversation. The Shockers suffered their fourth home loss of the season but still can earn the automatic bid from the Valley. Their NCAA tournament at-large hopes seem slim, and now Wichita State fans will root for late-season swoons from "power six" teams on the bubble.

Drexel 73, Kent State 66

Drexel assured the CAA of a Friday night sweep of the BracketBusters matchups with its win over Kent State.

The strength of the CAA became clearer as the Dragons were led by the scoring and rebounding of Samme Givens, who tallied his ninth double-double of the season with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Drexel's Chris Fouch added 15 points, Gerald Colds scored 13, Derrick Thomas had 12 and Dartaye Ruffin 10 in a well-rounded effort for the Dragons, who knocked off Louisville earlier in the season.

Saturday night headline: The MAAC is underrated, the CAA shines and the Horizon League impresses.

Wright State 82, Hofstra 56

This was a matchup of two great mid-major guards, as Hofstra's Charles Jenkins faced off with Wright State's Vaughn Duggins. Jenkins was the focal point of the Raiders' defense and was held to 18 points on 3-of-8 shooting. Duggins, with a bad back, had a career-high 31 points on 10-of-18 from the field.

Wright State outhustled, outmuscled and outtussled the Pride, and Duggins was the example whom everyone else followed.

The Horizon League needed this win versus the CAA badly, as these are two conferences that are closely ranked in the RPI, and both crave a coveted second or third bid. Any head-to-head win versus the highly respected CAA helps the Horizon's cause. Although Wright State will have to win the Horizon League tournament to make the NCAA tournament, the Raiders' win helped Cleveland State, Butler and Valpo raise their profile.

Fairfield and Iona delivered back-to-back wins on national television over Austin Peay and Liberty, respectively.

Fairfield 76, Austin Peay 69. TyShwan Edmondson scored 29 points for the Governors, but it wasn't enough for the road team. Derek Needham showed why he is one of the most dynamic guards in the country with 19 points and five assists, while Colin Nickerson chipped in 17 points.

Iona 77, Liberty 57.
Iona's Scott Machado told me before the game that he'd get at least 10 assists and take the lead in the nation's assists race. Machado was true to his word with 11 dimes, while Mike Glover recorded his 15th double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Kyle Smyth also lit it up from 3-point range (5-of-9) and scored 17 points for the winners.

Iona appears to be peaking at the right time. This was an impressive double dip for the MAAC.

Valpo 80, Missouri State 67

Valpo took care of business for the Horizon League and disposed of Missouri State, as Brandon Wood scored 24 points, Cory Johnson added 13 points and Howard Little had 11.

[+] EnlargeWood
Tim G. Zechar/Icon SMIBrandon Wood and Valparaiso picked up a huge win for the Horizon against Missouri State.

The Crusaders shot 58 percent against what once was a stingy Missouri State defense. This was an important win for the Horizon League, as it is vying for multiple NCAA bids, and it sends a clear message that the conference is deserving of such consideration.

Charleston 85, Vermont 70

Andrew Goudelock scored 24 points in Charleston's win at home over the No. 1 team in the America East. Three Cougars scored 20 or more points as Willis Hall added 22 points and Donavan Monroe pitched in with a 20-point effort. The Cougars have won six straight and used a 25-0 first-half run to bury Vermont and end the Catamounts' 10-game winning streak.

George Mason 77, Northern Iowa 71

If there was any question as to which was the better conference -- the CAA or the MVC -- that was answered very clearly. The CAA's Patriots went on the road and won one night after their CAA brethren VCU beat Wichita State.

George Mason is the best mid-major team in the country right now. Ryan Pearson had a double-double (21 points and 15 boards) and was simply a mismatch for the undersized Panthers. Andre Cornelius scored 24 points to lead the Patriots (23-5, 14-2), who extended the longest active winning streak in Division I to 13 games.

The CAA ended the day 3-1 in the televised BracketBusters games.

Utah State 75, Saint Mary's 65

OK, let's have a show of hands. How many of you eliminated Utah State from your bubble list after its loss at Idaho last week? Be honest now.

The Aggies looked dead and buried in the first half in Moraga, but Stew Morrill's crew conquered the Gaels on their home floor.

Tai Wesley and Brockeith Pane each scored 22 points as Utah State rallied from a 10-point deficit early in the second half. The Aggies forced the Gaels to miss 16 of 20 second-half field goals, and Brady Jardine put a hurt on the Gaels and their fans with a vicious late-game dunk that sent a message to the college basketball world.

Long Beach State 74, Montana 56

Dan Monson has a way of winning big games, and this was a big win for Long Beach State. Eugene Phelps led the way for the 49ers with 19 points, and Larry Anderson added 17 as LBSU defeated a good Grizzlies team.

Sunday headline: The CAA and ODU close the deal.

Old Dominion 74, Cleveland State 63

The Monarchs' Frank Hassell and Ben Finney played volleyball on the offensive glass, combining for 28 rebounds and 22 points in a dominant rebounding performance. ODU had 23 offensive rebounds compared to 24 total rebounds for Cleveland State. Even with those numbers, Norris Cole made it interesting by dropping 35 points on an ODU defense focused on stopping him.

ODU put an exclamation point on the BracketBusters' nationally televised games for the CAA, which went 4-1. The league is now in a good position to gain multiple NCAA tournament bids. As mentioned, George Mason has won 13 straight, ODU showed its ability to defend and rebound at a very high level, and VCU got back into the tournament bubble discussion with a thrilling road win.

A few non-BracketBusters notes:
• What can Brown do for you? It can beat Princeton, as the Bears beat the Tigers 75-65. Harvard (9-1) now leads the Ivy over Princeton (8-1).

• Check out the Conference USA standings. It's quite the race, as teams continue to beat each other up. Keep watching, and eventually someone will win C-USA.

On a similar note:
• Ten of 12 Southland teams are all within two games of first place. McNeese State and Texas State are 8-4 and lead their respective divisions.

• NIT bids are in the can for the following teams:
Bucknell clinched the No. 1 seed in the Patriot League tournament. Congratulations to the Bison.

Vermont has two America East games left -- versus second-place Boston University -- at home. It doesn't matter, as the Catamounts have won the regular-season championship.

Congratulations to Belmont, the Atlantic Sun regular-season champion.

Coastal Carolina ran away with the Big South regular-season championship, but all is not well in Conway, S.C. Read the 'Who's Not' below …

Fairfield has won the MAAC regular season, but the tournament will be a wild ride, as this conference has several teams that could rise up to claim the postseason title.

Long Island has closed the door on the rest of the NEC.

Oakland dominated the Summit League and now faces the task of earning an automatic bid.

Florida Atlantic has clinched the Sun Belt East and will finish with the best regular-season conference record and the No. 1 seed in the conference tourney.

What you shouldn't miss

Saturday: Wichita State at Missouri State -- After BracketBusters losses by both Valley leaders, the road to the NCAA tournament for this proud conference appears to have only one direct route: an automatic bid. A second at-large bid seems unlikely, and that makes this regular-season finale even bigger. Our ESPN2 broadcast team will be in Springfield, Mo., to bring you a great Valley rivalry game with a lot riding on it at 1 p.m. ET.

Who's hot

Let's up the ante this week. Who's the hottest?

George Mason has won 13 in a row.

[+] EnlargePearson
AP Photo/Mic SmithRyan Pearson has helped lead George Mason to 13 straight victories.

I watched the Patriots dismantle VCU in Richmond on Tuesday, and they backed that up with a tough road win at UNI on Saturday. George Mason is executing as well as any team in the country right now. Its margin of victory during this streak is plus-16.9 points, as only two of those 13 games have been decided by fewer than 14 points. Cam Long does it all for the Patriots, and Pearson can stretch the defense with a soft 3-point touch. I've seen this movie before, and I think Mason fans are in for another box-office hit.

The MAAC went 9-1 in BracketBusters games on Saturday. It was an impressive showing, as Fairfield and Iona both looked good. This is an underrated conference, and it showed with the collective results on Saturday. The MAAC tournament is worth watching closely. Fairfield is certainly the favorite, but Iona convinced me on Saturday, while Rider and St. Peter's are dangerous teams. I'm a fan.

Who's not

There is drama in Conway, S.C., with Coastal Carolina. Kierre Greenwood is done for the season with a knee injury, and leading scorer Desmond Holloway has been declared academically ineligible pending an investigation by the NCAA. The Chanticleers asked for reinstatement, but what if he is determined to have played as an ineligible player? What if the NCAA rules quickly and determines he is not eligible? What happens then? The Big South tournament sites are based on the highest remaining seed, and the No. 1 seed hosts the semifinals. The championship game is at the best surviving seed. The No. 2 seed Liberty Flames are watching this story closely.

Tussle at the top

Thursday: Morehead State at Murray State -- Kenneth Faried is not only the nation's leading rebounder, but he's now also the greatest rebounder in college basketball since 1973. He has 1,576 career rebounds to pass former Wake Forest great Tim Duncan and is 14th on the all-time list. Murray State and Morehead have each won 21 games, and both are 12-4 in the OVC. You have to respect Murray State, which knocked off Vanderbilt in the NCAA tournament last season and is now tied on top of the OVC vying for another regular-season championship. Our ESPNU television team will be there to bring you all the action on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.

Spotlight on Cleveland State's Aaron Pogue

Norris Cole is the Vikings' headline-grabbing guard, and for good reason. Cole averages more than 21 points per game and at 6-foot-1 is an impressive rebounder (5.9 rpg). He is also selfless and an adept passer (5.6 apg).

Once upon a time, Cole was just another player on a very good Dunbar High School team in Dayton, Ohio. DaeQuan Cook was the headline grabber and the big man, and Aaron Pogue caught the attention of many college recruiters as well.

Much has been written about Cole this season, and rightfully so. But Pogue is starting to emerge from Cole's shadows.

In 2007, Pogue was out with a friend when their car ran out of gas. According to a Dayton Daily News article on the incident, they pulled into a parking lot and were waiting for his friend's father to bring some gas when they were ambushed by a gunman. Thirteen shots were fired, and one bullet got stuck in Pogue's back. That bullet is still lodged two centimeters from his spine.

The gunman was never caught.

Pogue was often seen as moody, and he rarely smiled. There were questions that swirled around him. Was he a good kid? Did trouble find him, or did he find trouble? Could he survive and socially fit into an academic environment?

Pogue ballooned to 6-9, 300-plus pounds. Although coaches continued to show some interest in his basketball talents, one coach came along and talked to him about everything else.

[+] EnlargeAaron Pogue
Tim G. Zechar/Icon SMINorris Cole gets the headlines, but Aaron Pogue has also made an impact at Cleveland State.

"We challenged him," said Cleveland State coach Gary Waters. "We didn't make it about basketball."

Pogue accepted the challenge. "I never counted myself out. I saw some of my friends doing well, like my AAU teammates DaeQuan Cook, O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley and Greg Oden were all doing well and even going to the [NBA]," Pogue said.

J'Nathan Bullock and Cedric Jackson both had great careers at Cleveland State that included an NCAA tournament win. They told Pogue, "Don't take anything for granted. Work hard and submit to the coaches," Pogue said.

Cole played behind Jackson, and he also learned a few lessons about patience and success under Waters. Pogue was there firsthand to watch Cole sacrifice, work hard and improve. Pogue watched and learned from his friend and teammate.

Pogue then made a commitment to his team and his own successful future. He shed 30 pounds before this season, and last week he went for 18 points in the road win at Wright State. Pogue was dominant, and Dunbar High fans attended that game to see just how much this big fella had changed.

I saw it as well a few days later. It was the night before Cleveland State played Old Dominion in its BracketBusters game. Waters was recalling how Pogue rarely smiled when he first came to CSU. The other night, he called his name, and Pogue looked across the floor with a big smile on his face.

Pogue will earn a degree in criminal justice next year, and he has set new goals for himself. "I want to finish strong," the junior said. "I want to lose 20 more pounds and add to my outside game. I want to step up."

Pogue is doing that.

Mark Adams is a contributor to ESPN.com. He is a game analyst on the ESPN family of networks and was a college basketball coach for 17 years, including a head-coaching stint at Central Connecticut State and assistant jobs at Idaho State and Washington State. For more of his insight, check out www.enthusiadams.com