Series explanation here.
Creighton at Bradley: Whither the MoVal? Even if most mid-major observers wouldn't phrase it nearly so geekily, that's still one of the biggest questions in all of college basketball as we enter the conference season. The league that two years ago seemed on the verge of permanently rewriting exactly where the major/mid-major line ought to be drawn sunk into one-bidhood last season and appears to be in serious danger of suffering the same fate this season. Creighton was the pre-season new hottness before Illinois St. ran the nonconference table (albeit against a slate completely devoid of BCS or A-10 competition) to emerge as the Valley's best at-large bet. But now it's the unheralded Braves who are making the noise in the early part of the conference schedule, upsetting the Redbirds at home 56-52 last Tuesday to preserve the only 4-0 start in MVC play.
Meanwhile, with nonconference wins over Dayton and New Mexico, Creighton could have possibly gotten into the at-large conversation with a decisively-claimed MVC title. But those hopes are virtually on life support already after the Jays were annihilated 86-64 in their visit to Illinois St. and lost to Northern Iowa at home by three earlier this week. A second straight home defeat, this time to one of Creighton's hypothetical rivals for the league title, and the Jays will need something approaching a miracle to claim the MVC crown. For the Braves, meanwhile, a road victory over the preseason favorite would stamp them firmly as the conference front-runners.
On the other hand, a Jays win would keep Dana Altman's team firmly in the mix and show that the Braves--who struggled mightily away from Peoria in nonconference play, including a neutral-court loss to the UM-Kansas City Kangaroos*--will need to sharpen their road chops before they can start seriously thinking about winning the league.
Jacksonville 80, Mercer 59: It's all but official: after two seasons of massive upsets out-of-conference and meek-n'-anonymous defeats in A-Sun play, no mid-major team in the country has a bigger disconnect between the two seasons than Mercer. The Bears never even challenged the homestanding Dolphins, falling behind 5-0 at the jump, 40-26 at the half, and 54-28 before the 13-minute mark of the second half.
The Dolphins were led by the tag-team of forward Ayron Hardy--from Huffman High in Birmingham and scorching hot from the field at the moment, by the by--and guard Ben Smith, who combined for 35 points on just 18 shots. Smith, a junior, went over 1,000 points in his career and continued to look like the kind of offensive weapon that could swing a future conference tourney meeting with Belmont in the Dolphins' favor. If the league favorite Bruins are going to be challenged in the regular season or the A-Sun tournament, it appears more likely than ever that it's the Dolphins who are going to be doing the challenging.
*Not a joke, for anyone new to this mid-major thing. Oh, and by-the-by we'll have some Auburn men's hoops stuff tomorrow after the SEC opener against South Carolina tonight.