Maodo Lo (AP Photo)

Mid-Major All-Americans

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Our “mid-major disclaimer”, or how we determined who was eligible for this team, as written on the Mid-Major Power Rankings:

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.

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 players in the country that you’re probably not aware of.

So without further ado …

[MORE: Mid-Major Power Rankings]

MID-MAJOR ALL-AMERICAN FIRST TEAM

Maodo Lo, Columbia

The 6-foot-3 senior had an unbelievable junior campaign in which he helped carry the depleted Lions. Lo led the Ivy League in scoring at 18.4 points and also put up 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Also the league’s leader in 3-pointers, Lo made 84 of them while shooting a very good 43 percent from distance.

A.J. English, Iona

The senior guard was the only player in college basketball last season to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. The 6-foot-4 guard is also an iron man, averaging 37.5 minutes per game last season and he still managed to improve his field-goal percentages with more minutes and shots. English had 17 outings of at least 20 points last season, including one stretch of seven consecutive games.

Justin Sears, Yale

A powerful forward who puts up stats across the board, the 6-foot-8 forward averaged 14.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game last season as the Bulldogs scored their most wins since 1949. Sears also shot 51 percent from the field while dealing with a ton of defensive attention from Ivy League opponents.

Shawn Long, Louisiana

With 52 career double-doubles, Long has more than any returning player in college basketball. Through his three-year career, Long holds averages of 16.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. While Long benefitted from having a pro point guard in Elfrid Payton to get him the ball his first two seasons, he succeeded and put up big numbers even after Payton left for The League.

Jameel Warney, Stony Brook

Already the two-time America East Player of the Year, Warney averaged 16.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per game for the Seawolves. The 6-foot-8 senior also averaged 2.4 blocks and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 53 percent from the field. In conference play, Warney has been nearly unstoppable the last two seasons.

MORE: Top backcourts | Top frontcourts | NBC Sports Preseason Top 25

Jalan West (AP Photo)
Jalan West (AP Photo)

SECOND TEAM

D.J. Balentine, Evansville

One of the best scoring guards in all of college basketball, Balentine already has 1,776 career points and averaged 20.1 points per game as a junior. The 6-foot-2 also put up 3.2 assist and 3.2 rebounds per game and made 74 3-pointers at a 39 percent clip.

Jalan West, Northwestern State

One half of the nation’s highest scoring duo a season ago, West averaged 20 points and 7.7 assists per game as a junior. Also a three-time all-defense selection in the Southland, West averaged 2.1 steals per game.

William Lee, UAB

We’re expecting big things out of the sophomore forward this season as the bouncy 6-foot-9 Lee had a solid freshman campaign. A former Mr. Basketball in Alabama, Lee only averaged 8 points and 6 rebounds per game last season, but he came on strong at the end of the year, posting double-figures in points in 10 of the final 12 games last season. Lee can also block shots (1.5 bpg) and hit 3-pointers (21-for-46), making him a versatile threat on both ends.

Alec Peters, Valparaiso

An incredibly dangerous offensive force, Peters put up ridiculous shooting splits (48% FG, 82% FT, 46% 3PT) while averaging 16.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. At 6-foot-9, Peters is a matchup nightmare because of his size and ability to hit jumpers from anywhere on the floor.

John Brown, High Point

Most casual college hoops fans have probably seen highlights of a John Brown dunk or two. But there is more to the high-flyer than assaulting rims. He’s a very good overall player and the favorite to be the Big South’s Player of the Year. Brown averaged 19.3 points and 6 rebounds per game last season.

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

Craig Bradshaw (AP Photo)
Craig Bradshaw (AP Photo)

THIRD TEAM

Craig Bradshaw, Belmont

An efficient scorer, the 6-foot-3 senior averaged 18.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range.

Juan’ya Green, Hofstra

A highly-productive, 6-foot-2 senior guard, Green averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game as a junior. If he improves on the defensive end and becomes a more efficient shooter (38 percent) he could have a huge year.

Stacy Davis, Pepperdine

A high-motor 6-foot-6 senior, Davis has become one of the most consistent performers in the WCC. Davis averaged 15.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a junior.

Thomas Walkup, Stephen F. Austin

The reigning Southland Player of the Year, Walkup is the engine that makes the Lumberjacks go. The senior averaged 15.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season while also earning all-defense honors in the Southland.

Joel Bolomboy, Weber State

One of he nation’s best rebounders, the 6-foot-9 senior has averaged double-figure rebounds the last two seasons. Last season, Bolomboy improved on the offensive end, as he upped his scoring to 13.3 points per game.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.