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

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

Oakland’s Greg Kampe hosting charity golf event with big-name coaches

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe hosted a successful charity event for cancer research two years ago by allowing people to bid online to play a round of golf with some of college basketball’s best coaches.

Kampe is back again this year as he’s hoping to eventually raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

According to a report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Kampe has 11 high-profile names that fans can play with this year.

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • Frank Martin, South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes, Tennessee
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
  • Chris Holtmann, Butler
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
  • Greg Kampe, Oakland
  • Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
  • Steve Lavin
  • Fran Fraschilla
  • Bill Raftery

Fans can find more details about the auctions and all of the details here.

The minimum bid is $15,000 per coach. A “buy now” bid of $24,000 is also available.

Each round includes the following, according to the event’s website:

Up for auction will be 11 spectacular packages, featuring a private dinner with elite basketball coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club on the South Course. The winning bidders and their two guests will round out the foursomes with their selected VIP: Rick Barnes, Mick Cronin, Fran Fraschilla, Chris Holtmann, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, Steve Lavin, Frank Martin, Bill Raftery, Stan Van Gundy, or Kevin Willard.

There are a lot of great selections to choose from for this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine a better afternoon than playing golf with Bill Raftery and a few friends. There are some other tempting choices on this list, but that’s the one I would have to jump at.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.