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Mid-Major Bandwagon: One standout mid-major game (or team) to watch every day of opening week

Starting Tuesday, the games count! A handful of mid-major teams start their NCAA seasons with high-profile matchups against power conference teams or other mid-majors. Here’s how to watch them.

The Drake Bulldogs have a highlight match this week against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, a fellow “received votes” in the preseason AP Poll.
Courtesy of Drake Athletics via Twitter

The opinions “Actually, preseason polls don’t matter because they’re just guesses” and “Actually, more mid-majors should have made the preseason poll” aren’t mutually exclusive, you know.

It’s true that we have no idea what these teams look like when voting takes place for the first poll of the season, because the season hasn’t started yet. The preseason poll is literally a big guessing game ... one that, more often than not, excludes all but the most popular mid-majors.

But it’s so easy to understand why! There are five power conferences, about 60 or so teams to follow from those, maybe half of whom pack the NCAA Tournament field every season. Pollsters and fans alike get to know these teams specifically, as well as the mid-major or two who becomes mainstays — UConn, Gonzaga, and so on.

But when it comes to mid-majors making a preseason poll, the question becomes, how can they earn their place there if they haven’t been in the national consciousness long enough to be considered? We see teams like Rice enter the poll at the tail end of the season, while pollsters’ best preseason guesses tend to lean power conference-heavy — teams that tend to be booted from the top 25 when a mid-major finally proves it might actually deserve to be there.

Now, none of this is an indictment of any poll, or the people who vote for them. That stuff sounds difficult, and no one is ever happy! Really, this is just a reminder to fans who might not see enough of mid-majors that 27 conferences’ worth of other teams exist, too — and that there is so much talent hiding in “others receiving votes,” even if the number next to the team name isn’t enough to get them on the ESPN crawl with any regularity.

Should more mid-major teams end up ranked in preseason polls? Yes.

Does it matter at this moment that more weren’t ranked? Nah.

Let the following games, and more importantly, the teams in them, speak for themselves over the coming week. As we expressed at the beginning of last season, you’ve got nothing to lose by jumping on this, the Mid-Major Bandwagon, before these teams make a deep postseason run.

Here are a few games this week to get started:

MMB games of the week

This week: Conference champions, revenge stories, (longshot) redemption stories and UConn.

(RV) indicates that the team received votes in the AP and/or USA TODAY preseason polls. Numbered rankings are from the AP Poll.

(RV) Missouri State Lady Bears vs. No. 23 Minnesota Golden Gophers

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 30 Div I Women’s Championship - Third Round - Missouri State v Stanford Cardinal
Emily Gartner
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When: Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: BTN Plus

Why to watch: After coasting to two easy exhibition wins — something they couldn’t do last season — Missouri State has a chance to disrupt the preseason top 25 with a solid performance against ranked Minnesota. The defending Missouri Valley champs can also prove that the momentum with which they exited last season still exists despite losing their top scorer and coaching staff. Winning this game will set a tone for the Lady Bears’ season that they’ll need to get back to the NCAA Tournament — even if it’s as an at-large bid.

North Carolina A&T State Lady Aggies vs. No. 14 NC State Wolfpack

Cinia McCray
Courtesy of North Carolina A&T Athletics via Twitter

When: Wednesday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: James T. Valvano Arena, Raleigh, NC

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Why to watch: The Lady Aggies went undefeated in MEAC play last season, but in the conference tournament semifinals, their scoring stalled and they were soundly defeated by Norfolk State. Luckily, they’re returning top scorers C’Coriea Foy and Cinia McCray, the former of whom was named MEAC Preseason Player of the Year. With NC State predicted to finish second in a deep ACC, this is a very winnable game to open the Wolfpack’s season. But that doesn’t mean A&T’s best can’t shine anyway.

(RV) Marquette Golden Eagles vs. St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 05 Big East Women’s Tournament - Creighton v Marquette
Selena Lott (center)
Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When: Thursday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, WI

How to watch: Golden Eagles All-Access

Related game: St. Francis Brooklyn visits Boston College on Nov. 10 (2 p.m. ET, ACC Network).

Why to watch: Both teams are picked to finish near the middle of their respective conferences — Marquette fifth in the Big East, and St. Francis fifth in the Northeast — but these predictions come from very different places. While the Golden Eagles’ place is more of a fall from grace (back-to-back regular-season conference titles followed by losing their top five scorers and head coach), the Terriers are simply trying to stay consistent. Last season, St. Francis was also predicted to finish fifth under first-year head coach Linda Cimino, but ended up finishing third. Marquette can use an early win to prove they’ve still got a pulse, just as much as St. Francis can use a win (that would rightly be seen as an upset, in spite of everything) to bolster their résumé.

(RV) Drake Bulldogs vs. (RV) South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Becca Hittner
Courtesy of Drake Women’s Basketball via Twitter

When: Friday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Knapp Center, Des Moines, IA

How to watch: ESPN3

Related game: Drake hosts No. 23 Iowa State on Nov. 10 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN+).

Why to watch: A big weekend for the Bulldogs starts with the Summit League champions — who also happened to make the 2019 Sweet Sixteen. It’ll also be the first chance to see how the graduation of all-time South Dakota State great Macy Miller will affect the team’s scoring, and whether her departure is the sole reason the Jacks were picked to finish second in the Summit this season. Not that Drake didn’t lose players of their own in the offseason, but their best player, Becca Hittner, is still on the team. Plus, the Bulldogs were tabbed to win the MVC. This is a can’t-miss battle of mid-major powers, not to mention a chance for Drake to avenge last season’s loss to SDSU.

(RV) South Dakota Coyotes vs. Green Bay Phoenix

Hannah Sjerven
Courtesy of South Dakota Athletics via Twitter

When: Saturday, Nov. 9, at 2 p.m. ET

Where: Kress Center, Green Bay, WI

How to watch: ESPN3

Related game: Green Bay takes on Central Michigan on Nov. 6 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+). The Chippewas were picked to win the MAC West.

Why to watch: After its 20-year Horizon League regular-season championship run came to an end last season, Green Bay’s 2019-20 non-conference schedule is full of prime mid-major matchups like this one as it aims to live up to its status as preseason co-favorite. South Dakota, who became the first at-large bid in Summit League history last season, is also looking toward a conference title after being picked to finish first. Like Friday’s Drake vs. South Dakota State matchup, this game will serve as excellent practice for the rigors of these teams’ respective conference seasons — and really, the best way to prove their worth to their conferences right away.

No. 5 UConn Huskies vs. (RV) California Golden Bears

NCAA Women’s Final Four - Semifinals
Crystal Dangerfield
Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

When: Sunday, Nov. 10, at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT

How to watch: SNY, ESPN3

Related game: Harvard hosts Cal on Nov. 8; it’s a rematch of last season’s game that the Crimson won in Berkeley. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+).

Why to watch: Yes, it’s that rare mid-major versus power-conference team where the mid-major is heavily favored to win. No, the Huskies don’t normally lose games in Connecticut. But playing an opponent like Cal will force UConn to answer some tough questions early. For one thing, it barely clung onto its massive streak of 239 weeks in the top five of the AP Poll, coming in below No. 4 in the preseason version for the first time since the 2006-07 season. And for another, Cal is always a tough out. While the change in scenery will favor the Huskies, the Golden Bears put up a great fight last season when they hosted this matchup. This game will show how rattled, if at all, UConn is by its sudden appearance of vulnerability.