Alec Peters, Valparaiso (Getty Images)

Mid-Major Power Rankings: The best from the rest of the country

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The point of this post wasn’t to debate what the definition of “mid-major”, but since these rankings are based on what the best mid-major programs in the country are, I figured we’d share with you what our criteria was for eliminating teams from contention.

The schools from the Power 5 conferences were excluded, obviously, as well as any program in the Big East, the American, the Atlantic 10 or the Mountain West. The WCC, with the exception of Gonzaga and BYU, were included, as was the Missouri Valley, with the exception of Wichita State. The Zags and the Shockers are top 25 programs nationally paying their head coaches many millions of dollars and recruiting like the big boys. And to me, BYU is still a Mountain West program that was forced to relocate because #football.

[MORE: Mid-Major All-Americans]

This is my plea: Don’t argue the semantics of who we rated as high-major vs. mid-major. That’s not the point of this. The point is to highlight the best teams in the country that you’re probably not aware of, the teams you’ll want to track this season if you want to accurately predict upsets come March.

So without further ado, here are the 15 best mid-major teams for this season:

[MORE: Top backcourts | Top frontcourts]

1. Valparaiso

Just ask Maryland how good these guys are. The Crusaders took the Terps to the brink in the NCAA tournament last season. The Horizon League champs return head coach Bryce Drew, all five starters and nearly the entire roster of a 28-win team from last season. Junior forward Alec Peters is a matchup nightmare (think mid-major Kyle Wiltjer), center Vashil Fernandez is a great rim protector and there are also tough guards like Tevonn Walker and Darien Walker. Also a very deep team, Valpo has a top eight that would make many power conference schools envious.

2. UAB

It was easy to forget about Conference USA last season until UAB’s shocking upset over Iowa State in a 3 vs. 14 matchup last season. The Blazers weren’t your typical 14 seed then and they won’t be sneaking up on people this season. All five starters and 91 percent of the offensive production is back for head coach Jerod Haase’s team, which was considered young last season. Senior guard Robert Brown is a dangerous scorer coming off of all-conference honors while sophomore forward William Lee — a former Mr. Alabama for Basketball — showed flashes of brilliance.

3. Stephen F. Austin

These guys have become a bit of a fixture in the mid-major power rankings under third-year head coach Brad Underwood. The Lumberjacks have back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances and are coming off of three consecutive Southland regular season championships with three consecutive league Players of the Year. Last year’s reigning Player of the Year, senior wing Thomas Walkup, leads four returning starters and sophomore guard Ty Charles could be a player to watch as the next leader of this team. Stephen F. Austin led the country in assists last season and was seventh in field-goal percentage. They share the ball with the best of them and are tough to defend.

4. Belmont

Head coach Rick Byrd has made a strong initial impact in the Ohio Valley Conference as the Bruins have won the league’s conference tournament two out of three years they’ve been in the league. When you consider who good Murray State has been over that span, that’s an impressive feat. With four starters back, including league Player of the Year candidate Craig Bradshaw, Belmont has plenty of firepower to work with once again. Second-team all-conference selection Evan Bradds is a good presence inside while junior guard Taylor Barnette can knock down shots.

5. Central Michigan

The Chippewas haven’t been to the Big Dance since the Chris Kaman era in 2003 and they’re hungry to win the MAC this season. Head coach Keno Davis has all five starters coming back from a 23-win team that won the West Division of the MAC last season, including standout guard Chris Fowler and senior forward John Simons. Davis has built his entire program around his current core group of seniors and three of them figure to start with more re-enforcements coming off of a pretty deep bench.

MORE: Top leads guards | Top off guards | Top 100 Wings | Top 100 Bigs

Iona guard A.J. English (Getty Images)
Iona guard A.J. English (Getty Images)

6. Iona

The favorites in the MAAC are motivated after falling short of the NCAA tournament berth last season. The Gaels return four starters, including senior guard A.J. English, who is one of the best mid-major players in the country. Joining English in the Iona lineup are double-figure scorers like sophomore guard Schadrac Casimir and senior wing Isaiah Williams.

7. UC Irvine

Louisville had a sufficient scare with these guys in the opening round of the NCAA tournament before making the Sweet 16 and the favorites in the Big West will be tough again this season. The Anteaters have three starters coming back including the impossible-to-prepare-for 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye. Junior guard Luke Nelson is another talented piece and senior guard Alex Young is experienced as well.

8. Yale

The last time Yale made the NCAA tournament was 1963 and last season’s 22 wins were the most for the program since 1949. With do-it-all senior forward Justin Sears coming back, there is plenty of hope for another big season for the Bulldogs. Keep an eye on sophomore guard Makai Mason, who had flashes of great play last season.

9. North Florida

Another team with a NCAA tournament appearance to build from, the Ospreys return four starters, including first-team all-league guard Dallas Moore. Returning the team’s three leading scorers, North Florida is hoping for another run through the Atlantic Sun. Other talented returning players include junior forward Chris Davenport and senior wing Beau Beech.

10. Evansville

All five starters are back for the Purple Aces and they built some postseason momentum by winning last season’s CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The inside-outside duo of seniors D.J. Balentine (guard) and Egidijus Mockevicius (center) is one of the best in the country — regardless of conference.

11. Hofstra

One of the favorites in the CAA, the Pride have four starters coming back this season, including talented senior guard Juan’ya Green. Other returning double-figure scorers like senior wing Ameen Tanksley and junior guard Brian Bernardi are back as well and this team does a great job of sharing the ball.

RELATED: Top 100 players | NBC Sports Preseason Top 25

Louisiana center Shawn Long (AP Photo)
Louisiana center Shawn Long (AP Photo)

12. Louisiana

The Ragin’ Cajuns survived the loss of Elfrid Payton by winning 22 games last season and playing their best ball towards the end of the year. Senior big man Shawn Long returns and he’s one of the most productive players in the nation. Four other returning starters surround Long, including junior guard Jay Wright, one of the Sun Belt’s best defenders.

13. Columbia

Columbia battled plenty of injury issues last season and have a lot to build on for this season. Senior guard Maodo Lo is a potential Ivy League Player of the Year after a tremendous junior season and he’s surrounded by three more returning starters. The key will be the health of all-league forward Alex Rosenberg, who returns after a year off battling injury.

14. Illinois State

Playing great ball at the end of last season was Illinois State, who beat Wichita State in the semifinals and took Northern Iowa to the brink in the Valley conference tournament. Center Reggie Lynch has transferred to Minnesota, but the Redbirds return plenty of talent, including all-league candidate DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell.

15. Stony Brook

One of the most motivated teams to make the NCAA tournament after some crushing disappointments in the conference tournament, the Seawolves are talented and experienced. Senior forward Jameel Warney is a double-double, shot-swatting monster in the America East and he’s flanked by four returning starters. Junior guard Carson Puriefoy is another returning standout and the addition of junior guard Ahmad Walker, another former starter who returned from the junior college ranks, adds even more depth.

Five-star Brandon McCoy commits to UNLV

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After the season that UNLV, the Runnin’ Rebels desperately needed some good news, and this certainly qualifies: On Tuesday night, five-star center Brandon McCoy announced that he had committed to head coach Marvin Menzies.

McCoy is a five-star prospect and a top 15 recruit that hails from San Diego. He picked the Rebels over Arizona, Oregon and Michigan State, among others.

UNLV went 11-21 a season ago as Menzies took over a program that was a shambles after the majority of the roster transferred out following Dave Rices dismissal.

2017 NBA Draft official early entry list

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On Tuesday, the NBA announced the early entries for the 2017 NBA Draft. More than 130 student-athletes have filed early-entry paperwork to enter the upcoming draft. That doesn’t include the dozens of international prospects who will also be eligible for the upcoming draft.

Players wishing to maintain their NCAA eligibility must withdraw from the draft by May 24.  The 2017 NBA Draft will take place on June 22.

Here is the current list of early entrants:

Shaqquan Aaron, USC Soph.
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure Jr.
Edrice Adebayo, Kentucky Fresh.
Deng Adel, Louisville Soph.
Jashaun Agosto,LIU Fresh.
Bashir Ahmed, St. John’s Jr.
Rawle Alkin, Arizona Fresh.
Jarrett Allen, Texas Fresh.
Mark Alstork, Wright State  Jr.
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA Fresh.
OG Anunoby, Indiana Soph.
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State Soph.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA Fresh.
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas Jr.
Jordan Bell, Oregon Jr.
Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont Jr.
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana Jr.
Antonio Blakeney, LSU Soph.
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier Jr.
Bennie Boatwright, USC Soph.
Jacobi Boykins, Louisiana Tech Jr.
Tony Bradley, North Carolina Fresh.
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky Soph.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon Jr.
Thomas Bryant, Indiana Soph.
Rodney Bullock, Providence Jr.
Jevon Carter, West Virginia Jr.
Clandell Cetoute, Thiel College (PA) Jr.
Joseph Chartouny, Fordham Soph.
Donte’ Clark, Massachusetts Jr.
Chris Clemons, Campbell  Soph.
David Collette, Utah Jr.
John Collins, Wake Forest Soph.
Zach Collins, Gonzaga Fresh.
Chance Comanche, Arizona  Soph.
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall Jr.
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky Fresh.
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon  Soph.
PJ Dozier, South Carolina Soph.
Vince Edwards, Purdue Jr.
John Egbunu, Florida Jr.
Jon Elmore, Marshall Jr.
Obi Enechionyia, Temple Jr.
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State Soph.
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State Soph.
Tacko Fall, Central Florida Soph.
Tony Farmer, Lee College (TX) Soph.
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky Fresh.
Markelle Fultz, Washington Fresh.
Harry Giles, Duke Fresh.
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU Jr.
Donte Grantham, Clemson Jr.
Isaac Haas, Purdue Jr.
Aaron Holiday, UCLA Soph.
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky Soph.
Chandler Hutchison, Boise State Jr.
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State Fresh.
Frank Jackson, Duke Fresh.
Josh Jackson, Kansas Fresh.
Justin Jackson, Maryland Fresh.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina Jr.
Alize Johnson, Missouri State Jr.
Darin Johnson, CSU-Northridge Jr.
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville Jr.
Robert Johnson, Indiana Jr.
Andrew Jones, Texas Fresh.
Ted Kapita, North Carolina State Fresh.
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan Jr.
Luke Kennard , Duke Soph.
Braxton Key, Alabama Fresh.
George King, Colorado Jr.
Kyle Kuzma, Utah Jr.
Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma Jr.
TJ Leaf, UCLA Fresh.
William Lee, UAB Jr.
Zach Lofton, Texas Southern Jr.
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse Soph.
Daryl Macon, Arkansas Jr.
Marin Maric, Northern Illinois Jr.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Fresh.
Yante Maten, Georgia Jr.
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State Soph.
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State Jr.
Eric Mika, BYU Soph.
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville Soph.
Malik Monk, Kentucky Fresh.
Matthew Morgan, Cornell Soph.
Shaquille Morris, Wichita State Jr.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor Jr.
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas Jr.
Divine Myles, Stetson Jr.
Derick Newton, Stetson Soph.
Austin Nichols, Virginia Jr.
Semi Ojeleye, SMU Jr.
Cameron Oliver, Nevada Soph.
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah Jr.
Justin Patton, Creighton Fresh.
L.J. Peak, Georgetown Jr.
Theo Pinson | North Carolina Jr.
Ivan Rabb, California Soph.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State Jr.
Devin Robinson, Florida Jr.
Josh Robinson, Austin Peay Jr.
Martavius Robinson, Lewis & Clark CC (Illinois) Soph.
Maverick Rowan, North Carolina State Soph.
Corey Sanders, Rutgers Soph.
Victor Sanders, Idaho Jr.
Kobi Simmons, Arizona Fresh.
Fred Sims Jr., Chicago State Soph.
Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State Fresh.
Zach Smith, Texas Tech Jr.
Kamau Stokes, Kansas State Soph.
Edmond Sumner, Xavier Soph.
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue Soph.
Jayson Tatum, Duke Fresh.
Matt Taylor, New Mexico State Jr.
James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan Soph.
Stephen Thompson Jr., Oregon State Soph.
Trevor Thompson,  Ohio State Jr.
Melo Trimble, Maryland Jr.
Craig Victor II, LSU Jr.
Moritz Wagner, Michigan Soph.
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso Jr.
Antone Warren, Antelope Valley CC (CA) Soph.
Thomas Welsh, UCLA  Jr.
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan Jr.
Cecil Williams, Central Michigan Jr.
Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga Jr.
Kam Williams, Ohio State Jr.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga| Jr.
Christian Wilson, Texas-San Antonio Jr.
D.J. Wilson, Michigan Jr.
Omer Yurtseven, North Carolina State Fresh.

CBT Podcast: Breaking down the NBA Draft early entry list

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On the podcast today, I am joined by Sam Vecenie to break down all of the NBA Draft early entry decisions. Who are the key returnees? Who are the most important names still testing the waters?

Joel Berry to return to North Carolina for senior season

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A little more than a day after North Carolina Joel Berry II — along with Tony Bradley and All-American Justin Jackson — announced they would enter the 2017 NBA Draft, Berry reversed course decided to forgo the draft process and will return to Chapel Hill for his senior season.

“After speaking to my family I have decided to withdraw from the 2017 Draft and will return to Carolina next season,” Berry said in a statement released by the university on Tuesday evening. “I know I can continue to improve my game and be better prepared for the NBA after another year playing against the best college competition in the country. There’s no reason to rush leaving school. I love being a Tar Heel and love playing for Carolina and Coach Williams.

Berry, the Most Outstanding Player from this season’s Final Four, averaged 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.6 rebounds per game as a junior.

The 6-foot floor general will likely open next season as not only a preseason All-American but perhaps a favorite for national player of the year. Berry will join Theo Pinson as the returning starter for the Tar Heels. North Carolina was pegged as a top-5 team in an early preseason poll by NBC Sports. While Berry’s anticipated return is a big reason why, that ranking also hinges on the decision of Bradley, a 6-foot-10 forward who will be projected as a breakout player if he chooses to return for his sophomore season.

Prospects have until May 24 to withdraw from the NBA Draft.

2017 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who is staying and who is going?

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RETURNING TO SCHOOL

Jalen Adams, UConn
Grayson Allen, Duke (story)
Tyus Battle, Syracuse
Joel Berry II, North Carolina (story)
Marques Bolden, Duke
Mikal Bridges (story)
Miles Bridges, Michigan State (story)
Bruce Brown, Miami
Jalen Brunson (story)
Jeffery Carroll, Oklahoma State (story)
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Devonte’ Graham, Kansas (story)
B.J. Johnson, La Salle
E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Shake Milton, SMU
Chimezie Metu, USC
Elijah Stewart, USC
Allonzo Trier, Arizona (story)
Robert Williams, Texas A&M (story)

DECLARING, SIGNING WITH AN AGENT

Bam Adebayo, Kentucky (story)
Jarrett Allen, Texas (story)
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA (story)
O.G. Anunoby, Indiana (story)
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State (story)
Lonzo Ball, UCLA (story)
Jordan Bell, Oregon (story)
Antonio Blakeney, LSU (story)
John Collins, Wake Forest
Zach Collins, Gonzaga (story)
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon (story)
P.J. Dozier, South Carolina (story)
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State (story)
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (story)
Markelle Fultz, Washington (story)
Harry Giles III, Duke (story)
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky (story)
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State (story)
Justin Jackson, North Carolina (story)
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville
Luke Kennard, Duke (story)
T.J. Leaf, UCLA (story)
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse (story)
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona (story)
Malik Monk, Kentucky (story)
Austin Nichols, Virginia
Justin Patton, Creighton (story)
L.J. Peak, Georgetown
Ivan Rabb, California (story)
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
Devin Robinson, Florida
Kobi Simmons, Arizona (story)
Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State (story)
Edmond Sumner, Xavier (story)
Jayson Tatum, Duke (story)
Melo Trimble, Maryland (story)
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga (story)

DECLARING WITHOUT AN AGENT

Shaqquan Aaron, USC
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure
Deng Adel, Louisville
Jashaun Agosto, LIU-Brooklyn
Rawle Alkins, Arizona
Mark Alstork, Wright State
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
James Blackmon, Indiana
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Tony Bradley, North Carolina
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Thomas Bryant, Indiana (story)
Rodney Bullock, Providence
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
Jevon Carter, West Virginia (story)
Jason Chartouny, Fordham
Donte Clark, UMass (story)
Chance Comanche, Arizona
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky (story)
Vince Edwards, Purdue
John Egbunu, Florida
Jon Elmore, Marshall
Obi Enechionyia, Temple
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State
Tacko Fall, UCF
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU
Isaac Haas, Purdue
Aaron Holiday, UCLA
Chandler Hutchinson, Boise State
Frank Jackson, Duke (story)
B.J. Johnson, La Salle
Darin Johnson, CSUN
Robert Johnson, Indiana
Andrew Jones, Texas
Kerem Kanter, Green Bay
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan
Braxton Key, Alabama
Kyle Kuzma, Utah
William Lee, UAB
Daryl Macon, Arkansas
Yante Maten, Georgia
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
Eric Mika, BYU
Johnathan Motley, Baylor (story)
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas (story)
Semi Ojeleye, SMU
Cam Oliver, Nevada
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah
Theo Pinson, North Carolina
Maverick Rowan, N.C. State
Corey Sanders, Rutgers
Jaaron Simmons, Ohio
Jaren Sina, George Washington
Zach Smith, Texas Tech
Elijah Stewart, USC
Caleb Swanigan (story)
Stevie Thompson, Oregon State
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State
Mo Wagner, Michigan
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso
Thomas Welsh, UCLA
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan
Johnathan Williams III, Gonzaga
D.J. Wilson, Michigan
Omer Yurtseven, N.C. State
Craig Victor, LSU
Donte Grantham, Clemson

YET TO DECIDE

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
Jacob Evans, Cincinnati
Matthew Fisher-Davis, Vanderbilt
Jessie Govan, Georgetown
Donta Hall, Alabama
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
D.J. Hogg, Texas A&M
Justin Jackson, Maryland
V.J. King, Louisville
Dedric Lawson, Memphis
Anas Mahmoud, Louisville
De’Anthony Melton, USC
Jerome Robinson, Boston College
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
Khadeem Latin, Oklahoma
Kamau Stokes, Kansas State
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