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NBC Sports Midseason Mid-Major Power Rankings

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College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.

To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?

Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?

What have we learned about the conference hierarchy, and what is left for us to figure out?

We break it all down here.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at Mid-Majors. 

For the sake of this post, members of the following conferences will be excluded: ACC, American, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC.

We’ll also be leaving out BYU and Gonzaga of the WCC, which is likely to fire up our readers with Saint Mary’s’ interests.

1. SAINT MARY’S 

One of the best offenses in the country (No. 3 on KenPom in adjusted offensive efficiency), Saint Mary’s should be a major threat to Gonzaga in the WCC. The Gaels suffered some early slip-ups against Washington State and Georgia on neutral courts. Other than that, they’ve been perfect. A veteran core that is filled with upperclassmen leads Saint Mary’s as big man Jock Landale is once again an All-American candidate. Calvin Hermanson, Emmett Naar and Jordan Ford are also performing admirably to start the season. Do yourself a favor and stay up late to watch these guys play. Saint Mary’s can be really fun to watch.

2. MIDDLE TENNESSEE

If we’ve learned anything the past few years it’s that you don’t want to face these guys in March. Winners of an NCAA tournament game the past two seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising if Middle Tennessee made it back to the dance and won again. Playing a ridiculously tough schedule for a mid-major program, the Blue Raiders already own wins over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss while taking top-25 teams like USC and Miami to the brink on neutral courts. Senior wing Nick King is one of the best players in the nation — regardless of conference. Seniors Giddy Potts and Brandon Walters have proven they can play with anyone. Conference USA won’t be easy but Middle Tennessee has a chance to maintain a special run for the program again this season.

3. NEW MEXICO STATE

First-year head coach Chris Jans deserves a ton of credit for maintaining the success for the Aggies as the WAC favorites look like a potentially terrifying team to play in March. Already with neutral court wins over Illinois and Miami, New Mexico State also swept in-state rival New Mexico while pushing USC in a single-digit loss. Senior guard Zach Lofton is a potent scorer who isn’t afraid of the spotlight and double-double threat Jemerrio Jones has proven that he can hang with power conference teams.

4. MISSOURI STATE

Off to a positive start in Missouri Valley Conference play, the Bears have already knocked off Loyola and Valparaiso — two of the league’s stronger teams. Senior forward Alize Johnson is perhaps the best pro prospect of any player on this list as the double-double threat can carry Missouri State on his back during certain stretches. Around Johnson, there is plenty of balance, including senior guard J.T. Miller and junior forward Reggie Scurry. Playing at a slow tempo, Missouri State can to grind out wins using its solid eight-man rotation, or they can score and go more uptempo when the game calls for it.

5. LOYOLA-CHICAGO

The road win at then-No. 5 Florida got the nation’s attention as the Ramblers look like one of the teams to watch in the Missouri Valley Conference. Blessed with a team that loves to move the ball, this unselfish group is very deep and balanced. Seniors like Aundre Jackson and Donte Ingram have been solid. Junior point guard Clayton Custer and junior transfer Marques Townes have also shown flashes of strong play. Freshmen like center Cameron Krutwig continue to develop. Loyola has a high ceiling, but they have to navigate a very difficult league that knows how good they can be.

6. WESTERN KENTUCKY

Even without former McDonald’s All-American Mitchell Robinson, the Hilltoppers have been solid playing against a schedule that was designed to be difficult. The win over Purdue was a shocker and Western Kentucky also picked off SMU for good measure. Head coach Rick Stansbury also has plenty of talent at his disposal, including graduate transfers Darius Thompson (Virginia) and Dwight Coleby (Kansas) and freshman shooter Taveion Hollingsworth. Conference USA looks really tough but Western Kentucky should definitely be in the mix.

Giddy Potts (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

7. LOUISIANA

The Sun Belt favorites might not have NBA-caliber talents like Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long on the roster anymore but this is still a noteworthy program. Transfers have done well for the Ragin’ Cajuns as former BYU guard Frank Bartley IV and former Missouri forward JaKeenan Gant have been the team’s two best players so far this season. Louisiana doesn’t have an eye-opening, top-25 caliber win like some teams on this list but they’re off to a 12-3 start and have a neutral win over Iowa that should count for something.

8. EAST TENNESSEE STATE

Head coach Steve Forbes has done a solid job of building this program into a consistent winner as the Buccaneers sit at 10-4. A recent 19-point road win at Mercer was a really impressive mid-major win and East Tennessee State also put a serious scare into Xavier on the road before losing by two. Armed with a top-50 defense, if the Buccaneers can improve their dreadful 32 percent three-point shooting then they could compete with anyone.

9. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN

Things were looking really good for the Lumberjacks until a puzzling conference-opening loss to SE Louisiana. Although not to the level of the Brad Underwood-era juggernauts, this Stephen F. Austin team is still really good. With a road win at LSU and close road losses at Mississippi State and Missouri, this team has shown that they can compete with SEC teams if they’re focused. Sophomore wing Kevon Harris looks like a potential star while junior forward T.J. Holyfield is very steady. The Southland has some solid competition but the Lumberjacks remain the favorites at this point.

10. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE

The Summit League has some intriguing teams this season, including in-state rival South Dakota. But none of the other teams in the conference have a player as talented as junior forward Mike Daum. Knowing that Daum was returning, the Jackrabbits loaded up the non-conference schedule, as they knocked off Iowa and Ole Miss while also gaining experience in road losses to Kansas, Wichita State and Colorado. Daum can take over a game and go for 40 on any night but freshman shooter David Jenkins Jr. has been a pleasant surprise as the team’s second-leading scorer.

11. ALBANY

The favorites in the America East have been really solid to start this season as the Great Danes find themselves at 12-3. Armed with three really good scorers in junior sharpshooter Joe Cremo, junior guard David Nichols and senior forward Travis Charles, Albany has the weapons to compete with the big boys. With single-digit road losses at Memphis and Louisville, the Great Danes haven’t been intimidated by anybody this season.

12. SAN DIEGO

Could the WCC have four good teams this year? That might be the case if surprising San Diego continues to win games. Off to an 11-3 start, the Toreros had three quality road wins in non-conference play at Grand Canyon, New Mexico State and Colorado. Defense and balanced scoring is the calling card for San Diego as they rate No. 61 in KenPom in adjusted defensive efficiency while producing four double-figure scorers. The real tests will come for the Toreros when they have to face WCC juggernauts like Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU but San Diego shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Tayler Persons, Robert Franklin/AP Photo

13. UC SANTA BARBARA

With a solid 12-3 start, UC Santa Barbara looks like the team to beat in the Big West this season. The one-two punch of freshman Max Heidegger and senior Leland King II is one of the best scoring duos on this list. Competitive in road losses to Pittsburgh and USC, the Gauchos have wins over solid mid-major teams like San Diego, Montana and Montana State.

14. GRAND CANYON

Eligible for the NCAA tournament this season, the Antelopes are hungry to make a move in the WAC. Although Grand Canyon didn’t earn a signature win during non-conference play, they competed against a lot of tough teams. Close road and neutral losses against St. John’s, Boise State and Illinois showed that this team isn’t afraid of bigger schools away from home. And Grand Canyon still maintains one of the better homecourt advantages in all of college hoops.

15. BALL STATE

After a rough 1-4 start, the Cardinals have turned things around during a recent eight-game winning streak. A road win at Notre Dame is one of the best wins of any team on this list and Ball State also had some solid in-state wins over Valparaiso and Indiana State during the recent streak. And if we’re talking clutch players, junior Tayler Persons is your guy. A CBT Player of the Week earlier this season, Persons has knocked down numerous clutch shots to win games.

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.