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December 7, 2006

Mid-majors continue to strut their stuff

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Welcome to the Year of the Mid-Major, Part II. That would be a fitting title for a chapter about the first month of the 2006-07 college hoops season.

Several schools outside the "Big Six" conferences seem to have picked up right where they left off last season, pulling off many of the biggest upsets so far and knocking off elite level opponents along the way. This time, they're getting a lot more respect.

Can you remember the last time a Missouri Valley Conference team was ranked in the top 10 in early December?

Wichita State (6-0) climbed up the polls by knocking off No. 9 LSU and No. 21 Syracuse on the road.

But the biggest story of the 2006-07 campaign belongs to No. 14 Butler (9-0). The Bulldogs - who began the season unranked and were picked to finish anywhere from third to fifth in the Horizon League - knocked off Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga to capture the NIT Season Tip-Off title.

Gonzaga (8-2) created a giant stir with its upset over North Carolina in the semifinals of that tournament. The Bulldogs led nearly the entire game.

Oral Roberts did the same in its upset over Kansas (ranked No. 3 at the time) on the road.

Missouri State, another MVC school, knocked off No. 11 Wisconsin in the South Padre Invitational.

What kind of impact will these upsets have in March? If the trend continues, look for better seeds and more NCAA Tournament bids for the mid-major ranks. High-profile wins this time of year will go a long way with the tournament committee, particularly after how smart the mid-major programs made them look last season.

Can't Recognize Caracter

The offseason was loaded with talk of Louisville's Derrick Caracter losing weight. Word was the prize recruit was shedding pounds at a rapid rate, per request of Rick Pitino.

We got full proof on Tuesday night in New York City.

The 6-foot-9 center looked nothing like the hefty big man who made a name for himself on the AAU circuit. Caracter was flashing a much smaller waistline and much slimmer frame in his college debut against Arizona in the Jimmy V Classic.

Caracter, who has gone from 313 pounds to 267 pounds, also looked like a rookie who missed the first three games of the season - he was suspended for taking money from the friend of his family. Caracter fouled out in 11 minutes in the Cardinals' 72-65 loss.

Expect rapid improvement out of the former five-star recruit. Caracter still managed to score seven points and grab six rebounds in that limited time.

Youth Movement takes over in Pac-10

No conference features a more impressive crop of freshmen so far than the Pac-10. In fact, no two conferences combined may be able to top them.

Arizona's Chase Budinger (19.4 ppg), Washington's Quincy Pondexter (16.4 ppg), Oregon's Tajuan Porter (21.8 ppg), California's Ryan Anderson (18.3 ppg) and Arizona State's Chrisitan Polk (17.7 ppg) all lead their teams in scoring.

Budinger, a top-10 recruit, is no surprise. Arizona coach Lute Olson said in the offseason Budinger might be his most talented freshman ever.

The play of the other Pac-10 newcomers is more surprising.

Spencer Hawes was supposed to be grabbing all the limelight at Washington. The 6-11 center was also ranked among the top 10 prospects and chose the Huskies over several other elite programs.

Porter and Polk didn't have those type of options. Each were each three-star prospects, receiving little attention or publicity.

At Cal, center Devon Hardin was supposed to emerge as the go-to guy with the departure of Leon Powe. But Anderson's size and long-range shooting ability have made him a huge matchup problem. At 6-foot-9, 225-pounds, he has the size and hands to do plenty of damage down low (averages 7.3 rpg). However, he is also a better 3-point shooter than most of the starting guards in the league. That combination has caused matchup problems for several of the Bears' opponents.

Temple of Doom

With Florida's Corey Brewer out with mononucleosis, a strong case can be made that LSU's Garrett Temple is the SEC's best perimeter defender.

Temple would certainly get the vote of Texas A&M's Acie Law and former Duke star J.J. Redick. He might be the only player who can say he shut down both players.

Law looked nothing like a preseason All-Big 12 pick when matched up against Temple, whose 6-5 frame and long arms make him an ideal defender around the arc. Law made just 1-of-11 shots from the field and finished with four points in the Tigers' 64-52 win over the No. 6 Aggies Tuesday night. Aggies coach Billy Gillispie was prompted to say his star played "scared."

Redick had one of the worst nights of his illustrious career against Temple last season in the NCAA Tournament. The first-round NBA Draft pick struggled to a 3-for-18 shooting performance that cost the Blue Devils a Final Four trip. The Tigers emerged with a 62-54 win.

Wondering why your team is off to a slow start? Want to know why your favorite player has changed roles this season?

Rivals.com college basketball writer Andrew Skwara answers your questions every week in his mailbag. Click here to send him a question.
Quick Hits

  • Guard Harvey Perry chose to leave Washington and seek a transfer this past weekend due to a lack of playing time. A former four-star recruit, Perry played limited minutes in four of the Huskies' first six games. He averaged just 2.8 points per game. He took a medical redshirt last season and has three and a half years of eligibility remaining.

  • LSU guard Terry Martin, a transfer from Texas Tech, will be eligible for the No. 9 Tigers (5-1) on their road trip to No. 13 Washington (7-0) on Wednesday. Depending on when the school posts fall semester grades, he could play his first game three days earlier at Oregon State.

  • As expected, Cincinnati center Adam Hrycaniuk was ruled ineligible this season by the NCAA for having previously played on paid professional teams. The 6-foot-10 Polish center will have one year of eligibility remaining. The NCAA already ruled that another Cincinnati post player Hernol Hall, a junior college transfer, has exhausted his eligibility for similar reasons.

  • Less than two weeks after losing a hard-fought battle to New Mexico on the road 79-76, New Mexico State came back and crushed their rivals 103-72 at home on Tuesday. How could the rematch have produced such a different outcome? There's two explinations: David Fisher and rebounding. Fisher, a senior guard, scored a game-high 24 points after adding just two in the first meeting. The Aggies, who were outrebounded 33-30 in the first meeting, also dominated the glass. They grabbed 40 boards to the Lobos' 21 in the rematch.

    Injury Update

  • Florida coach Billy Donovan has legitimate hopes that Brewer will be able to play when the No. 7 Gators play host to No. 3 Ohio State on Dec. 23. Brewer, who was diagnosed with mononucleosis, is going to class and could be cleared for individual workouts by next week.

  • Nevada star Nick Fazekas may miss the No. 20-ranked Wolf Pack's home game against in-state rival UNLV on Saturday. Fazekas suffered bruised ribs in a 77-71 win at Cal on Sunday night. The senior hasn't missed a game in his career - yet.

    Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He files his national notebook every Thursday and answers your questions every Friday in his Mailbag feature. Click here to send him a question.

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