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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

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP
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With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.

 

Boise State assistant named head coach at Northern Colorado

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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.

Duke’s Azura Stevens transfers to UConn

Duke's Azura Stevens (11) steals the ball from North Carolina A&T's Kenya Hailey, right, as Duke's Ka'lia Johnson watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Jan. 2, 2015, in Durham, N.C. (AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
(AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
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STORRS, Conn. (AP) Azura Stevens, the leading scorer and rebounder for Duke, has decided to transfer to UConn.

The 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Raleigh, North Carolina will sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins the school announced Saturday.

Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and was named to the ACC’s all-conference first team.

She was second in the league both scoring and rebounding.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday that he normally doesn’t get involved in transfer situations, but Stevens convinced him that Storrs would be the right place for her going forward.

Beachem says he’ll be back at Notre Dame for senior season

Notre Dame's V.J. Beachem reacts during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Wisconsin in the regional semifinals of the men's NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 25, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Forward V.J. Beachem has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will return to Notre Dame for his senior season.

Beachem made the announcement Sunday night on Twitter, writing that he was thankful for the opportunity to experience the NBA draft process and invitations to work out for teams, “but now I’m ready to lead [Notre Dame]. #IMBACK.”

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.0 points and 3.9 rebounds as the Irish finished 24-12. He was at his best in the NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 17.5 points as the Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for a second straight year.

Coach Mike Brey sent a Tweet saying he was thrilled Beachem will return.