Dave Rice, Anthony Marshall

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_

Brandone Francis-Ramirez transferring out of Florida

Florida State center Jean Marc Christ Koumadje (21) fouls Florida guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Gainesville, Fla. (Matt Stamey, The Gainesville Sun via AP)
(Matt Stamey, The Gainesville Sun via AP)
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Brandone Francis-Ramirez is transferring out of the Florida program, the school announced on Wednesday.

A former top 40 recruit, Francis-Ramirez had his two seasons in Gainesville ruined by an academic issues and a loss of confidence. He was academically ineligible in 2014-15, practicing with the team during the second semester. He was granted a redshirt for the year, but he struggled to find any kind of a rhythm this past season. There was a two-month stretch in the middle of the year where he shot 6-for-58 from the floor and 2-for-31 from three.

On the season, he shot 20.2 percent from the floor and 16.9 percent from three.

“I want it to work out for him,” Gators coach Mike White said in a release. “We really appreciate what Brandone did here and wish him the best.”

One of Villanova’s title game stars undergoes knee surgery

Phil Booth, Jack McVeigh
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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The forgotten star of the national title game underwent an arthroscopic on his left knee on Wednesday.

Phil Booth, who scored a season-high 20 points in the 2016 National Title game, will be a junior next season and one of the guys called upon to help replace Ryan Arcidiacono, who graduated. He should be ready to go by the middle of the summer; according to a statement put out by the program, Booth will need 6-to-8 weeks to heal.

“Phil is as mentally tough a young man as we have had at Villanova,” head coach Jay Wright said in the release. “He continually impresses our coaching staff with his outstanding attitude. Phil will attack this recovery challenge with great determination, as he does everything in life.”

Booth averaged 7.0 points and 2.2 assists this past season.

Jennings becomes seventh player to transfer from Kentucky

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell watches his team during the team's regional semifinal in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament against Washington in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 25, 2016. Washington won 85-72. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell has announced that sophomore forward Alexis Jennings will transfer, the seventh Wildcat to leave the program since last fall.

Jennings’ departure comes a week after Mitchell publicly addressed the mass exodus of players and assistant coaches and stressed the need for building stability. Jennings figured to be part of that process and the coach said in a release Wednesday night that “it saddens us that Alexis did not see a path for her at Kentucky. … She felt it was in her best interest to finish her career elsewhere and we owe her that opportunity.”

The 6-foot-2 Jennings started 18 of 33 games last season and averaged 10 points and 7.1 rebounds.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.