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)

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

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NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

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PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.