Preview: Which ten mid-majors could make some noise in March?

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of The Lists we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Editor’s Note: Updated 9 October 2012, 1:22 p.m.

Mid-major Cinderella teams have always been the darlings of March (or the most despised, depending on how much they shake up your bracket). We’re always looking for the next George Mason or VCU, but how easy are they to spot?

Who could be the teams to watch out for as we get ready to begin the 2012-13 season? Take a look below at NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major Watch List.

UNLV

Coach Dave Rice had a monster recruiting haul in 2012, combined with a few key transfers that should have the Rebels solidly in the Top 25 when official polls are released.

Mike Moser is the biggest returning piece for UNLV, coming off a season in which he averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Add him to Top-10 recruit Anthony Bennett, guards Katin Reinhardt and DaQuan Cook, forwards Savon Goodman and Demetris Morant, and transfers Khem Birch (eligible in December) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (out 4-6 weeks with injury) and UNLV is in great position for a run in March.

The biggest question for Rice’s team will be the point guard spot, where we should keep an eye on returner Anthony Marshall.

VCU

It seems that Shaka Smart has his squad in the mid-major mix every season, and this year he’ll have to do it in a new conference: the Atlantic-10.

Darius Theus and Juvonte Reddic are two of the biggest returners for the Rams, along with shooter Troy Daniels and sophomore Treveon Graham.

Smart and the Rams got a gift in the late recruiting period, as Miami commit Melvin Johnson decommitted and pledged his name to VCU. A New York native, Johnson brings more shooting and scoring ability, likely off the bench.

Take these pieces and add it to Smart’s system, his patented “havoc” defense, and the Rams are in position to possibly win the Atlantic-10 in their first season in the league.

San Diego State

Jamaal Franklin & Co. look to make a deeper run in the NCAA tournament than last season, one year after Franklin averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds.

They lose Tim Shelton and Garrett Green, but Chase Tapley, along with Franklin and two other top scorers, return for Steve Fisher’s Aztecs. Look for Fisher to make use of three former transfers as well: JJ O’Brien, formerly at Utah, Dwayne Polee II, formerly at St. John’s, and James Johnson, a one-time Virginia Cavalier.

Murray State

Granted, Murray State will be losing some pieces from last year’s team that some speculated could run the table, but any time a team is returning an All-American (like Creighton is with Doug McDermott), they need to be in the mid-major conversation.

Canaan joins Ed Daniel as a key returner, and the Racers will hope to have guard Zay Jackson back after he was suspended following an assault charge last month.

St. Joseph’s

Fellow NBC writer Rob Dauster is a big believer in Phil Martelli’s team, considering they are returning a backcourt that will be the core of their success this season.

Carl Jones and Langston Galloway combined to average close to 33 points per game last season and those two, together with Ronald Roberts and CJ Aiken, St. Joe’s has four returning double-digit scorers.

Saint Louis

The Billikens will unfortunately be without head coach Rick Majerus as he deals with health issues, but Saint Louis made a run to the NCAA tournament last season and nearly upset Michigan State to advance to the Sweet 16. They lose forward Brian Conklin, but return Kwamain Mitchell, who averaged 12.1 points and 3.8 assists per game last season.

Jim Crews takes over as the interim head coach, and he w0n’t be walking into an easy job with a competitive top end of the A-10.

Others to keep an eye on: Drexel, Creighton, Belmont, Akron

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas posterizes defender

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Creighton rising junior wing Khyri Thomas, like several of his teammates, are taking part in the Omaha Summer League this offseason.

On Thursday night, the 6-foot-3, 205-lb. Thomas eviscerated a defender with a one-handed posterization.

Thomas is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign for the Bluejays. He started all 35 games, averaging 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Aside from the increase in offensive production, Thomas served as one of the top defenders in the Big East. He shared the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award with Villanova’s Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges.

Zion Williamson throws down 360 windmill dunk

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Zion Williamson added another jaw-dropping dunk in the layup lines on the first night of the second live evaluation period.

Williamson and his SC Supreme team took on Each 1 Teach 1 at the Hoopseen Best of the South at the LakePoint Sporting Community in greater Atlanta.

The 6-foot-7 power forward threw down a 360 windmill dunk during his pregame routines.

Each 1 Teach 1 would pick up a 70-67 victory over SC Supreme. Williamson would end with a monster stat line of 37 points and seven rebounds.

Appalachian State freshman shooter to transfer

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A 3-point threat became a late addition to the transfer market earlier this week.

Appalachian State rising sophomore Patrick Good informed head coach Jim Fox on his intentions to leave the program. He was granted his release on Wednesday, according to Bret Strelow of the Winston-Salem Journal.

“I was pretty shocked when he came in to tell me he was leaving,” Fox told the Winston Salem-Journal. “He was a guy who had a very good freshman season, and we’re surprised to see him go.”

“I enjoyed being around the team and the experience that I got from the first year,” Good added. “I don’t think I would change that for anything. I just felt like moving forward, there is just so much more that I was capable of.”

Good appeared in 29 of 30 games, all of the bench, for the Mountaineers. The 6-foot guard averaged 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. His biggest asset to his newest team will  be in his ability to shoot from deep, connecting on 41 percent of his attempts during the 2016-17 season.

If Good plans to remain in at the Division I level, avoiding a year spent at a junior college, he will need to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Iowa State adds graduate transfer Zoran Talley

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Iowa State added a scoring option on Thursday night, one who is eligible immediately.

Zoran Talley, who spent his first three seasons at Old Dominion, will join the Cyclones as a graduate transfer this season.

“We are excited to add Zoran to our program,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said in a statement issued by the athletic department. “He has had great success, both personally and as a team, at ODU and will be an asset for our team. Zoran brings versatility on both ends of the floor and his ability to play and guard several positions will benefit us. He can score and make plays and with him being immediately eligible, that is great for us.”

Talley, a 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 11.3 points for the Monarchs last season as a sophomore. However, he was dismissed from the team in April for a violation of team rules. This was preceded by two separate suspensions during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, according to Ed Miller of the Virginia Pilot.

He redshirted the 2014-15 season, leaving him two years of eligibility remaining at Iowa State. He is set to graduate in August.

Talley and fellow graduate transfer Hans Brase (Princeton) provides a boost in scoring, as well as in experience, in a frontline that returns Solomon Young, the rising sophomore big man.

Ex-NCAA scoring leader Daniel ready to return for new team

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard James Daniel III finally has the chance to deliver a follow-up performance to his 2015-16 NCAA scoring title, an opportunity that essentially eluded him last season.

After an ankle injury caused Daniel to play just two games last season at Howard, the 6-foot graduate transfer brings experience and offense to Tennessee’s backcourt.

“I wanted to go on the biggest stage for my last year and try to pursue my hopes and dreams since I’ve been a little kid, which was to get to the NBA,” Daniel said.

Daniel likely won’t be shooting or scoring as much as he did at Howard, where he averaged 27.1 points per game to lead all Division I players in 2015-16. He’s more interested in getting to the NCAA Tournament, something he hasn’t done and Tennessee hasn’t accomplished since 2014.

“At this point in my career I’m ready to win,” Daniel said. “That’s pretty much what I have to do. I feel like if we win, my personal goals will be met.”

Daniel believed that NCAA berth would come last season as Howard was favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Those plans quickly went awry.

Daniel was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season. After returning and playing just two games, Daniel learned he had a chipped bone in his ankle. With Daniel out for the rest of the season, Howard finished 10-24.

That injury allowed Daniel to redshirt the 2016-17 season, giving him one more year of eligibility. He decided to spend that season in a bigger conference and considered Michigan, Ohio State and DePaul before selecting Tennessee.

Daniel remembered watching Tennessee games when he was younger and appreciating prolific guard Chris Lofton, who starred for the Volunteers from 2004-08. When Daniel visited Tennessee, he bonded with the team and sensed a family atmosphere.

“They’re competitive,” Daniel said. “They all want to win. That was the most intriguing part.”

Although Daniel’s ankle leaves his status uncertain for Tennessee’s three exhibition games next month in France and Spain, he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season.

Tennessee is counting on the additions of Daniel and Vincennes University transfer Chris Darrington to solidify a backcourt that struggled with inexperience last year.

“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”

Barnes cited the maturity Daniel brings as Tennessee’s lone senior. Daniel will turn 24 on Jan. 29, about a month after Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play. Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is older than 20, though juniors Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson will have their 21st birthdays before the season starts.

“He’s older than all of us, so I think I can learn some things from him,” Darrington said.

Daniel’s teammates will learn plenty about his knack for drawing fouls. Not only did Daniel lead all Division I players in scoring during that 2015-16 season, he also topped the nation in free-throw attempts with 331.

They’ll also learn about his work ethic. Daniel’s father, James Daniel Jr., remembers how his son used to take about 200 jump shots every morning before his classes started at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia.

“He’s just been a workaholic,” James Daniel Jr. said. “Well, we’d call it a workaholic, but he’d probably say it was something that he loved doing.”

All that practice helped Daniel overcome his lack of height at Howard to become an NCAA scoring leader. Now he’s ready to compete at a higher level.

He got an idea of what to expect from Quinton Chievous, who made the move in reverse by leading MEAC program Hampton to the NCAA Tournament after starting out at Tennessee. Daniel said Chievous told him he “should do really well here.”

Daniel agrees.

“I don’t think they would have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete at this level,” Daniel said.