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_

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.

No. 12 Iowa State holds on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes matched his season high with 23 points as No. 12 Iowa State held on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76 on Tuesday night.

The Cyclones (15-4, 6-2 Big 12) moved into a three-way tie atop the conference standings with the Wildcats and Texas.

Gabe Kalscheur added 19 points for Iowa State. Osun Osunniyi finished with 16.

Markquis Nowell led Kansas State (17-3, 6-2) with 23 points.

A 3-pointer from Holmes gave Iowa State a 59-49 advantage with 8:12 remaining. Kansas State responded with a 10-1 run to trim the margin to 60-59.

Caleb Grill’s 3-pointer steadied the Cyclones and pushed the lead back to 63-59 with five minutes left.

Free throws by Osunniyi, Grill and Holmes sealed the victory in the final 24 seconds.

The first half featured eight lead changes and ended with Kansas State up 33-31.

A 3-pointer by Kalscheur ignited an early 9-0 run for the Cyclones and helped them build a 19-14 lead. Iowa State made just one of nine 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State was trying to extend its best start to a season since 1961-62.

Iowa State improved to 11-0 at home. The Cyclones have not lost back-to-back games this season.

UP NEXT

Kansas State hosts Florida on Saturday as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Iowa State travels to Missouri on Saturday.

Georgetown snaps 29-game conference losing streak

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON – Primo Spears scored 21 points and Georgetown snapped a 29-game conference losing streak with an 81-76 victory over DePaul on Tuesday night.

Georgetown (6-15, 1-9) won its first Big East game since March 13, 2021, ending the longest skid in the history of the conference. The Hoyas also ended a 10-game losing streak this season.

Spears also contributed six assists for the Hoyas. Akok Akok scored 12 points and added six rebounds and four blocks and Brandon Murray recorded 12 points.

Umoja Gibson led the Blue Demons (9-12, 3-7) in scoring, finishing with 24 points, four assists and three steals. Javan Johnson added 13 points.

Spears scored nine points in the first half and Georgetown went into the break trailing 37-36. Georgetown used a 10-0 run in the second half to build a 12-point lead at 75-63 with 1:39 remaining.

Nance scores 21 as North Carolina survives Syracuse, 72-68

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Pete Nance scored 21 points, capped by a dunk with 19 seconds left that put North Carolina in front for good as the Tar Heels pulled out a hard-fought, 72-68 battle with Syracuse on Tuesday night.

Joe Girard hit from beyond the arc to put Syracuse up, 68-66 with 1:28 left, but after Nance hit the first of two free throws to get North Carolina within one, he missed the second free throw and in the scramble to gather in the rebound, the ball caromed toward the end line and Girard dove to save it. Instead, he flicked the ball right to Nance, who dunked for the lead.

Judah Mintz tried to drive the lane for a go-ahead layup but was called for an offensive foul that was upgraded to a flagrant foul. North Carolina took possession and Caleb Love converted three straight free throws to put the game away.

Armando Bacot scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds with four assists for North Carolina (15-6, 7-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Love finished with 15 points and five assists.

Girard hit 4 of 9 from beyond the arc and finished with 18 points to lead Syracuse (13-8, 6-4). Mintz scored 17 points and had three steals and Chris Bell hit 3 of 5 from deep and finished with 15 points.

North Carolina has a week off before playing host to Pitt on Feb. 1. Syracuse plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Green Bay fires Will Ryan after 11th straight loss

Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports
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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay fired Will Ryan three days after the Phoenix suffered their 11th consecutive loss.

Ryan, the son of former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, posted a 15-61 record in 2 1/2 seasons. Freddie Owens, who had been an assistant coach on Ryan’s staff, will be interim head coach for the rest of the season.

“UW-Green Bay is committed to continuing its legacy as an outstanding Division I athletics program in the future, and Phoenix men’s basketball needs to help lead the way as we work to elevate all of our programs and be a shining light for this region and beyond,” athletic director Josh Moon said in a news release announcing the move.

Moon thanked Ryan and his family for their contributions to the program and said that “we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Stadium first reported Ryan’s firing.

Green Bay dropped to 2-19 overall and 1-9 in the Horizon League with a 72-38 home loss to Robert Morris.

Ryan was hired by Green Bay after going 14-13 in his lone season as the head coach at Division II program Wheeling (West Virginia). Green Bay went 8-17 in Ryan’s debut season and finished 5-25 last year.

Ryan had taken over for Linc Darner, who went 92-80 and posted a winning record in four of his five seasons.