Mid-Major Power Rankings: The Top 15

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The definition of what, exactly, makes a “mid-major” program is one of the more contentious debates in college basketball.

Is it simply every program outside of the six conferences associated with the BCS? Does it have to do with the amount of money spent on the program? Or the history of successes of the program? Or the size of the fan base? Or who they are able to recruit?

To simplify things, we eliminated everyone from the BCS leagues, the Atlantic 10, the Mountain West, Conference USA and the top three programs — BYU, Gonzaga and St. Mary’s — out of the WCC. We feel it is more important to celebrate some of the little guys than it is to include teams on a list they — and their fans — want no part of.

So without further ado, here are our Mid-major Power Rankings:

1. Creighton: The Bluejays should not be a secret to anyone heading into the season. They are going to be ranked in every national poll that has any credibility and have a preseason NBCSports.com First Team All-American on the roster in Doug McDermott. Offensively, Creighton is one of the most entertaining teams in the country to watch, as they pass and shoot the ball as well as anyone in the country. But will they be able to get stops? Creighton ranked 178th in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom, last season.

  • Player to know: Sophomore forward Doug McDermott averaged 23.2 points and 8.2 boards last year.
  • Can’t-miss game: Creighton kicks off the season against the No. 2 team in these rankings on Nov. 9th, but dates with Wisconsin (Nov. 23rd) and St. Joseph’s (Dec. 1st) are worth your time as well.

2. North Texas: Tony Mitchell is the reason that the Mean Green will have plenty of chances to play in front of NBA scouts this season, but there is more to this team than simply a potential lottery pick. Chris Jones and Jordan Williams should both be eligible after missing the second half of last season due to academics. Alzee Williams returns for another season, as does Oklahoma State transfer Roger Franklin. New head coach Tony Benford also adds former Marquette and Oklahoma-signee TJ Taylor. There’s a lot of talent here.

  • Player to know: Sophomore forward Tony Mitchell averaged 14.7 points, 10.0 boards and 3.0 blocks last year. He’ll be a first round draft pick.
  • Can’t-miss game: Mitchell vs. McDermott on Nov. 9th will be fun, as will a date with St. Louis on Dec. 5th.

3. Drexel: The Dragons were arguably the best team left on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament’s bubble last year, as they won 25 of their last 26 games after getting their full team on the floor only to be toppled by VCU in the CAA tournament title game. The Dragons will have to replace the burly Samme Givens inside, but they will once again be a physical, defensive-minded team that will leave their opponent’s bruised and beat up.

  • Player to know: Junior guard Frantz Massenat (13.7 points, 4.5 assists) is their leader, but sophomore wing Damion Lee (12.0 points, 4.4 boards) is a future CAA Player of the Year in his own right.
  • Can’t-miss game: The Dragons have a tough slate of mid-major foes, but their two biggest non-conference games come at St. Mary’s (Nov. 22nd) and at home against St. Joseph’s (Dec. 31st).

4. South Dakota State: Last year, SDSU was able to snag the Summit’s auto-bid when Oral Roberts was upset in the conference tournament, and they gave Baylor a fight in the opening round. The Jackrabbits bring back all but one player from that team, including one of the nation’s best fantasy players in Nate Wolters. Three-point shooting is the name of the game for Scott Nagy’s club, as he surrounds Wolters with a group of guys that don’t miss when they’re open.

  • Player to know: Senior guard Nate Wolters averaged 21.2 points, 5.1 boards and 5.9 assists last year.
  • Can’t-miss game: The Jackrabbits play a number of road games against potential tournament teams before conference play begins, but the two to keep an eye on are Dec. 4th at Minnesota and Dec. 22nd at New Mexico.

5. Davidson: This is the best Davidson team that Bob McKillop has had since Steph Curry led the Wildcats to within a Jason Richards three of the 2008 Final Four. The Wildcats are coming off of a season where they rolled through the SoCon with a 16-2 record and went into Kansas City and knocked off the national runners-up in Kansas. Oh, and they bring back every single player that was on that team.

  • Player to know: Forwards De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen combined to average 30.0 points and 12.3 boards last year.
  • Can’t-miss game: Davidson will play at New Mexico at 2 a.m. on Nov. 13th during ESPN’s Kickoff Marathon, but they’ll have a chance of landing an upset in Cameron Indoor against Duke on Jan. 2nd.

6. Murray State: Murray State was America’s darling last season, winning their first 23 games of the season. And while they bring back an all-american in Isaiah Canaan, the loss of three key role players will be difficult to overcome.

  • Player to know: Senior guard Isaiah Canaan is a preseason NBCSports.com First Team All-American after averaging 19.0 points, 3.6 assists and shooting 45.6% from three.
  • Can’t-miss game: Murray State heads to Dayton on Dec. 22nd and hosts Valpo a week later, but their best games might end up being league dates with Belmont and Tennessee State.

7. Valparaiso: The Crusaders will have one of the best frontlines at the mid-major level with Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk returning and Indiana transfer Bobby Capobianco becoming eligible. Valpo could have won the Horizon last season if it wasn’t for some bad luck with injuries and the flu.

  • Player to know: Broekhoff and Van Wijk combined for 29.0 points and 13.7 boards last year.
  • Can’t-miss game: The Crusaders travel to New Mexico (Dec. 2nd) and St. Louis (Dec. 8th) within the span of a week, but their most interesting game might be dates with Cleveland State and Detroit in league play.

t-8. Bucknell and Lehigh: It’s almost impossible to separate these two teams. They’re by far the two favorites to win the Patriot League, and while most are going to remember CJ McCollum and the Mountainhawks thanks to their upset-win over Duke in the NCAA tournament, they’ll be overlooking the fact that the Bison also return their top four scorers, including former Patriot Player of the Year Mike Muscala.

  • Players to know: The senior big man Muscala averaged 17.0 points, 9.1 boards and 1.7 blocks last season and will be one of the nation’s best mid-major big men. McCollum is a preseason all-american this season after averaging
  • Can’t-miss game: Lehigh plays at Baylor while Bucknell plays at Purdue on Nov. 9th. Then, on Jan. 5th, Lehigh is at VCU and Bucknell is at Missouri. But circle Jan. 23rd and Feb. 20th on your calender; that’s when these two square off.

10. Montana: Losing Will Cherry to a broken foot hurts a lot, but he’ll be back by league play and back to 100% by the NCAA tournament.

  • Player to know: Cherry is a potential star, but in his absence watch out for junior guard Kareem Jamar (13.6 points, 5.6 boards, 3.7 assists, 44.1% threes).
  • Can’t-miss game: Unfortunately, Cherry will be out against Colorado State and BYU, and maybe even against South Dakota State on Dec. 15th.

11. Ohio: The Bobcats return every player of consequence from last season’s team that won the MAC and took North Carolina to overtime in the Sweet 16.

  • Player to know: It seems like so long go that senior guard DJ Cooper (14.7 points, 5.7 assists, 2.3 steals) led Ohio to an upset of No. 3 Georgetown in the 2009 NCAA tournament.
  • Can’t-miss game: Dec. 5th at Memphis will be a terrific matchup, as will Dec. 19th at UMass.

12. Long Island: The Blackbirds avoided a disaster as four of their players — including star big men Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere — were reinstated to the team and given two game suspensions for their involvement in an on-campus fight.

  • Players to know: Olasewere and Boyd get all the publicity, but it is point guard Jason Brickman (9.6 points, 7.3 assists) who is this team’s Kendall Marshall.
  • Can’t-miss game: The third and fourth games on LIU’s schedule: Maryland and Kentucky. Good thing their bigs will be back.

13. Northern Iowa: The Panthers are a sleeper in the MVC, as they bring back seven of their top eight players from last season. Leading returning scorer Anthony James will miss the first three games of the regular season after being suspended.

  • Player to know: Senior forward Jake Koch (8.5 points, 5.4 boards, 2.7 assists) is back from what feels like the 27th straight season UNI has had a Koch on their roster.
  • Can’t-miss game: Beyond the entire MVC schedule? Louisville (Nov. 22nd), at UNLV (Dec. 19th) and St. Mary’s (Dec. 22nd).

14. Detroit: Detroit will be one of the favorites to win the Horizon as Ray McCallum, one of the most talented players at the mid-major level, is back for another season. He’ll likely be the the league’s Preseason Player of the Year.

  • Player to know: McCallum is an easy pick, but keep an eye on uber-athletic wing Doug Anderson, who does things like this.
  • Can’t-miss game: Detroit plays a loaded schedule, but the highlight will probably be at trip to the Carrier Dome to take on Syracuse on Dec. 17th.

15. LBSU: With all that the 49ers lost last season, including all-everything guard Casper Ware, it’s easy to forget that Big West Player of the Year candidate James Ennis returns, as does potential star Michael Caffey. They’ll be joined by a handful of talented transfers, headlined by former top 25 recruit Keala King.

  • Player to know: Caffey, a sophomore, had some really promising performances spelling Ware at the point a year ago.
  • Can’t-miss game: The 49ers play every: at USC, at home against UNC, at Arizona, at Syracuse, at Ohio State, at UCLA.

Keep an eye on: Belmont, George Mason, Harvard, Illinois State, Iona, Manhattan, Princeton, Tennessee State, Utah State, Wichita State

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.