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2016-17 Mid-Major Power Rankings

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Before we get into the meat of this post, let’s hold the annual tradition of laying out our “mid-major disclaimer”, or how we determined who was eligible for this team:

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 …

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

MID-MAJOR POWER RANKINGS

1. Saint Mary’s

The West Coast Conference regular season co-champion was one of the notable snubs from the NCAA Tournament this past March. That shouldn’t be the case this season, as Randy Bennett returns all five starters to what should be a top-25 team in the preseason. Emmett Naar, a first-team all-conference selection, and senior forward Dane Pineau are among the four double-digit scorers the Gaels bring back. According to kenpom.com, Saint Mary’s was top-20 in adjusted offensive efficiency. That’s the highest its been since 2013, the last time the Gaels reached the tournament.

2. UAB

Jerod Haase is now the head coach of Stanford. He left the program in the hands of Robert Ehsan, an assistant who has been with the program since 2012. Ehsan, the first-year head coach, inherits a team that returns four starters, with the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year, Dirk Williams, set to be the starting point guard. Chris Cokley, the team’s leading scorer, and William Lee, Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year, are both back, giving the Blazers one of the best frontcourts among mid-majors. UAB could face up to three ranked opponents during in the non-conference: Kansas, Saint Mary’s and Texas.

3. Princeton

Mitch Henderson’s team is set to return the Tigers back to the top of the conference standings this season. Princeton essentially returns six starters: the five who started last season, as well as Hans Brase, a 6-foot-9 forward who averaged 11.5 points during the 2014-15 season, but missed all of last year due to a torn ACL. Henry Caruso, the team’s leading scorer, is back as one of several shooters the Tigers have in their arsenal. Besides center Pete Miller (who did not attempt a three last year), four starters shot better than 35 percent from deep. It’ll be a three-team race with Harvard and Yale, but if Princeton can separate themselves, it’ll earn this spot in the rankings.

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4. Chattanooga

The Mocs had been on the rise since Will Wade took over the program. Even after he departed for VCU, Chattanooga continued to rise, reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. During the process of a 29-win season, the Mocs knocked off three high-major programs, including Dayton. Matt McCall brings back four starters. That doesn’t include Casey Jones, the 2015 preseason SoCon Player of the Year, who missed all but seven games due to an ankle injury. In his absence, Tre’ McLean emerged as the top scorer at 12.1 points per game while Justin Tuoyo was named SoCon Defensive Player of the Year for the second time. Chattanooga will have its hands full with Eastern Tennessee State, but the Mocs should be favored to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2017.

5. UT Arlington

On January 21, the Mavericks were 13-2 and held wins over Ohio State and Memphis. But their season was abruptly derailed when Kevin Hervey tore his ACL, ending his season. UT Arlington went on to win 24 games, but saw Little Rock play the role of Cinderella in the NCAA Tournament. Hervey is one of five starters back, meaning the Mavericks should be a team to be reckoned with in 2016-17. Kaelon Wilson, Erick Neal and Jalen Jones were all double-digit scorers last year, which allows Hervey, who was close to averaging a double-double before getting hurt, to ease back into the lineup if he’s not already at 100 percent. UT Arlington did figure out how to win without Hervey, closing out the season as winners of 10 of 14.

Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
UT Arlington’s Kevin Hervey (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

6. UNC Wilmington

In two seasons, Kevin Keatts is 43-22 as head coach of UNC Wilmington. He not only guided the program to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade, he put a scare into Duke in the first round. From that team, four players return. Chris Flemmings, a candidate for CAA Player of the Year, headlines a backcourt that also includes Denzel Ingram and C.J. Bryce, two other double digit scorers. The trio will continue to force other opponents into turnovers, as the Seahawks were one of the best at doing that last season.

7. Harvard

Siyani Chambers is back at Harvard following an ACL tear. He joins a mix of veteran players and talented youngsters. Zena Edosomwan, a second-team all-Ivy League selection as a junior, is part of the former, while Corey Johnson, a potential mid-major breakout star, headlines the latter. The Crimson are in the middle of what should be a tight race between themselves, Princeton and Yale.

8. Long Beach State

The 49ers were close to a NCAA Tournament berth last season. They should be in contention for once again this year. Long Beach State has one of the best mid-major backcourts with Justin Bibbins being joined by Evan Payne, the Loyola Marymount transfer who should replace the production left behind by Nick Faust. UC Irvine, which has been to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, should fight with the 49ers for the top spot.

9. Northern Iowa

The Panthers graduated three double-digit scorers in Paul Jesperson, Matt Bohannon and Wes Washpun, but return arguably the best player in the Missouri Valley Conference in Jeremy Morgan. The last time we saw Morgan, he posted 36 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. That’s the only thing Northern Iowa fans choose to remember about the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Northern Iowa does test itself out of conference, playing Xavier, North Carolina, Iowa and South Dakota State.

10. Akron

Isaiah Johnson anchors the middle, while Antonio Jackson and Noah Robotham bring experience to the backcourt for the Zips. Akron should be the favorites after coming up short in the 2016. The Zips go on the road this season to face Creighton and Gonzaga, both of whom could be ranked, before they head into MAC play in a conference that is wide open.

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 20: Alec Peters #25 of the Valparaiso Crusaders reacts after losing to the Maryland Terrapins during the second round of the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Nationwide Arena on March 20, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Valparaiso’s Alec Peters (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

11. Valparaiso

Alec Peters is the best mid-major player in the country. He was named a third-team NBCSports.com Preseason All-American and is on the radar of every NBA team. The Crusaders, in the first season of the post-Bryce Drew era, will go as far the 6-foot-9 Peters can take them. That isn’t to say the cabinet is bare outside of Peters. Valpo also returns starting guard Tevonn Walker and Shane Hammink.

12. Fort Wayne

A 24-win season led Fort Wayne to an NIT appearance. The Mastodons should be a player in the Summit League, contending with South Dakota State and North Dakota State. Fort Wayne no longer has Max Landis, the Summit League Player of the Year, but Mo Evans, who missed the last two months of the season due to an academic issue, is back, as is John Konchar, who led the conference in rebounding.

13. Belmont

Rick Byrd has four starters back, including Evan Bradds, a 6-foot-7 forward who led the nation in field goal percentage at a remarkable 72 percent. The Bruins are projected to have another efficient offense. Since 2011, Belmont has been in the top-50 in adjusted offensive efficiency five times, according to kenpom.com. As always, Byrd will test his team early on, with games against Florida and Rhode Island.

14. Lehigh

Two-time Patriot League Player of the Year Tim Kempton and first-team all-Patriot League selection Kahron Ross are two of four starters from a team that had its NCAA Tournament hopes dashed by an unlikely postseason run from Holy Cross. The Mountain Hawks have great balance. They have Kempton, at 6-foot-10, on the block, a steady point guard in Ross and guys who can knock down shots from deep and defend.

15. South Dakota State

Despite being in Brookings, South Dakota, Mike Daum is going to be a name you hear a lot this year. The 6-foot-9 sophomore averaged 15.2 points and 6.1 boards per game last season, logging less 22 minutes a night. Daum hit 47 percent from three as a freshman. Reed Tellinghuisen, the other returning starter for the Jackrabbits, can also knock down shots from the outside. Those two, along with Ian Theisen, give first-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger a solid frontcourt to work with. But contending with Fort Wayne for the Summit League title could come down to how good the backcourt can be after losing Deondre Parks and George Marshall.

Ten More Mid-Majors to Watch: East Tennessee State, Florida Gulf Coast, Illinois State, New Mexico State, Ohio, Siena, UC Irvine, Vermont, Weber State, Yale

North Dakota State's Dexter Werner (40) looks around South Dakota State's Mike Daum (24) on his way to the net during an NCAA college basketball game for the Summit League men's tournament championship, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Elisha Page/The Argus Leader via AP)
South Dakota State’s Mike Daum (Elisha Page/The Argus Leader via AP)

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.