NBCSports.com’s 2013-2014 Mid-Major Power Rankings

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

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

Prior to delving into the power rankings, it is important to identify who we are considering “mid-majors” this season, especially after realignment saw many teams jump from one conference to another during the offseason. The following conferences are not included in any mid-major discussion: AAC, Atlantic 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West and Pac-12. The WCC is still considered a mid-major league with the exclusion of Brigham Young, Gonzaga, and St. Mary’s.

Oh, and Conference USA? You’ve been relegated.

(MORE: Click here to see NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major All-Americans)

1) Wichita State: With Creighton departing for the Big East, the class of the Missouri Valley now resides in Wichita. Cleanthony Early returns for his senior season, and Gregg Marshall welcomes two more junior college transfers to the roster in Darius Carter and Nick Wiggins. Keep an eye on Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Kadeem Coleby as well. In the backcourt, sophomores Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet return. Wichita State is a “high-major” program in the quintessential “mid-major” league.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2013

2) Harvard: Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament win in school history, Harvard enters the season a fringe Top 25 team. Graduation only claimed Christian Webster, and the Crimson more than replace the void he left by welcoming Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry back to the team and adding highly touted recruit Zena Edosomwan. Many BCS teams are jealous with the talent Tommy Amaker has to work with in the frontcourt.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2013

3) Southern Mississippi: If not for a double overtime loss to Memphis in last year’s Conference USA tournament, Southern Miss. would have been dancing for the second straight season. With Memphis off to the AAC, however, it is now the Golden Eagle’s time to shine. They’ll be led by dynamite point guard Neil Watson along with his running mate in the backcourt Jerrold Brooks. Southern Miss. should own the new-look Conference USA.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2012

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4) Indiana State: For parts of last season, it looked like Indiana State would have a shot to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. With early season wins against Mississippi and Miami (FL) and conference wins against Creighton and Wichita State, the Sycamores had a good looking resume. Losing five of their final six regular season games dashed those hopes. Jake Odum, who led Indiana State to the NCAA Tournament as a freshman, is back for his senior season, along with three other starters from last year’s team.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2011

5) Denver: Remember the name Chris Udofia. The senior guard has been a fixture in Denver’s lineup since his freshman season, and may very well be the top player in the Summit League, the Pioneers’ first season in their new digs. Joe Scott, with a slow and methodical offense that gives opponents fits, has built Denver into one of the top mid-major programs. Denver has never reached the NCAA Tournament, but that may change this year.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: N/A

6) Towson: Two seasons ago, Towson posted a 1-31 record. This season, they are the team to beat in the CAA. Pat Skerry is building Towson up through the transfer route, landing Jerrelle Benimon (Georgetown), one of the best big men in the country and Four McGlynn (Vermont), a sharpshooter who’s now eligible. With the APR issues now in the rear view mirror, Towson has their sights set on the NCAA Tournament.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 1991

7) North Dakota State: Denver’s primary challenger in the Summit comes in the form of North Dakota State. With Oakland’s move to the Horizon League, the door is now open at the top. The Bison return all five starters from a team that won 24 games last season. Taylor Braun, TrayVonn Wright and Mike Felt are all back for their senior season, along with junior Lawrence Alexander — not many mid-major units out there shoot from the perimeter as well as these four. North Dakota State is a very deep and experienced team.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2009

8) UTEP: Despite graduating key backcourt players Jacques Streeter and Konner Tucker, the Miners return Julian Washburn and John Bohannon who make for the top frontcourt in Conference USA. Complementing Washburn and Bohannon is Cedrick Lang who came on towards the end of last season. Tim Floyd will have his best team yet in El Paso even without Isaac Hamilton.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2010

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9) Florida Gulf Coast: Ah yes, Dunk City. There’s a new leader at Florida Gulf Coast as long time Kansas assistant Joe Dooley takes over for Andy Enfield, but the high-flying Eagles shouldn’t miss a beat. In just their sixth season as a Division 1 basketball program, Florida Gulf Coast took the NCAA Tournament by storm defeating Georgetown and San Diego State in convincing fashion. While they lose their top player, Sherwood Brown, from last year’s team, many other pieces are back, including point guard Brett Comer. Marquette transfer Jamail Jones is now eligible and will add to this year’s dunk total.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2013

10) Northern Iowa: Head coach Ben Jacobson has yet to lead Northern Iowa back to the NCAA Tournament following their magical 30 win season and Sweet 16 appearance in 2010, but the Panthers are poised for a big season with Deon Mitchell and Seth Tuttle returning.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2013

11) Boston University: In their first year in the Patriot League, the Terriers will be the prohibitive favorite to win the league. The combination of D.J. Irving and Maurice Watson in the backcourt is one of the best among mid-majors.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2011

12) Wright State: All five starters return from a team that was minutes away from defeating Valparaiso and advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2007

13) Manhattan: The Jaspers were a popular pick to win the MAAC last season, but then star point guard George Beamon went down with a season-ending injury after playing just four games. With Beamon back, Steve Masiello will have success not seen since the Bobby Gonzalez years.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2004

14) Eastern Kentucky: Belmont coasted through the Ohio Valley in their first season, but after graduating three of their top players they figure to regress. Eastern Kentucky returns six of their top seven scorers from a team that won 25 games last season.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2007

15) Georgia State: Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow is immediately eligible and joins an already potent backcourt consisting of R.J. Hunter, and Devonta White, along with swingman Manny Atkins who transferred from Virginia Tech after the 2010-11 season. The Panthers will be immediate contenders in the Sun Belt.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2001

Ten more to watch: New Mexico State, College of Charleston, Wagner, Weber State, Akron, Belmont, South Alabama, San Francisco, Toledo, Tulsa

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.