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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.

Report: NCAA will give more notices of allegations soon

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Now that the FBI’s college basketball corruption cases are complete, the NCAA will likely move forward with more notices of allegations.

Speaking to ESPN’s Heather Dinich on Wednesday at the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, NCAA vice president of Division I Governance Kevin Lennon said that more investigations could come “in due time and I think  very quickly.”

The NCAA needed to wait for the FBI’s trials to finish up before launching its own investigations on schools mentioned over the past 18 months. We could see a high number of big-name programs get investigated during the NCAA’s process.

“You don’t get in the way of a federal investigation,” Lennon said Wednesday. “Activity was going on during that span that was within our purview, but now that the court cases are done, now we’re in a position where you’re likely to see notices of allegations going to institutions that have violated NCAA rules, etc. I think you can anticipate notices of allegations will be coming.”

Following the completion of the first FBI trial in October 2018, the NCAA already reportedly sent notice of allegations to Arizona, Kansas, NC State and Louisville. Other prominent programs, including but not limited to, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma State and USC have also been mentioned during recent college basketball corruption trials.

While the NCAA will seek all documents that schools turned over to the federal government during legal procedures, the real difficulty in the NCAA’s investigations will be getting third-party participants to speak — or even cooperate in the first place. Those not tied to the NCAA through member schools have no legal obligation to help the NCAA during their investigation process.

Wednesday’s Knight Commission meeting also went over processes discussed or implemented because of the Rice Commission’s April 2018 report. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, president of the board of directors for the NABC, made waves by questioning where accountability comes from when it comes to coaching penalties.

Asking why “there’s been no hammer from the top of campus,” Brey asked why schools haven’t been accountable with coaches who break the rules.

“Why hasn’t an athletic director or a president acted in some of these current cases?” Brey said.

“I think a lot of our coaches want to know why hasn’t the hammer come down? I’m a little naïve to it. Is it legal stuff? A lot of lawyers? I think our profession would love to see the hammer be dropped on some of these situations. We need an explosion back.”

Brey has every right to question where penalties are coming from since only Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has lost his job among head coaches during this scandal. There seems to be a lot of confusion on where some things stand with the NCAA, and its rules, but maybe we’ll get more clarification now that the FBI trials are done.

Juwan Howard will be the next Michigan head coach

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Juwan Howard is heading back to school.

The former Fab Five member has accepted an offer to replace John Beilein as Michigan’s next head coach, according to multiple reports. He has spent the last six seasons as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, where he played his final three seasons as a pro. The Wolverines ultimately picked Howard over Providence head coach Ed Cooley and Luke Yaklich, who was an assistant on Michigan’s staff the last two years.

Stadium is reporting that Howard has agreed to a five-year deal.

This will be the first time in 25 years that Howard has been back in the mix on a college campus, since he left Ann Arbor to become the No. 5 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and that is what makes this decision a risk for the Wolverines.

Howard has never been an assistant coach at the college level. He hasn’t worked at the high school level. He hasn’t coached in the AAU ranks. There is not a strong track record for this kind of a hire. Of all the former NBA player that have ended up coaching a college team, Fred Hoiberg is really the only one that has had unquestionable and continued success. Kevin Ollie won a national title with UConn, but he not only was an assistant coach on Jim Calhoun’s staff for two years before getting the job, his title-winning team was a No. 7-seed that rode Shabazz Napier’s coattails to the title and he eventually got fired after driving UConn straight into the ground. Chris Mullin was a bust at St. John’s. The jury is still out on Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, but two years in he’s sitting with a 34-29 record and a 14-22 mark in the Big East.

Avery Johnson. Isiah Thomas. Clyde Drexler. Mike Dunleavy. Mark Price. Danny Manning. The list of NBA guys that have gone back to school and fizzled out is long.

Penny Hardaway — and, to a point, Jerry Stackhouse — are different. Penny worked his way up from the bottom. He started as a middle school coach and spent about a decade coaching in the high school and AAU ranks in Memphis before taking over the Tigers. Stackhouse coached an AAU program before taking over at Vanderbilt as well. They know the ins and outs of building relationships at that level. They had a keen understanding of what it means to be a head coach at the college level when they got hired, even if that understanding came from dealing with coaches recruiting their players.

Howard doesn’t have that.

And it doesn’t mean that he is going to be a flop.

When you have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade campaigning for you, the kids you will be recruiting will take notice. When your candidacy brings Jalen Rose and Chris Webber together, there are going to be people in Ann Arbor that want to make this work. He spent two decades playing in the NBA. He was an assistant on Erik Spoelstra’s staff, a staff that has turned the Heat into one of the better defensive teams in the NBA ever since LeBron left. That same staff has also proven themselves capable of establishing a culture of hard work, toughness and player development.

Howard may not have a ton of experience on a college bench — or doing the things required to run a college program — but the coaching chops are there.

But there is no question that this is a major risk.

And while Warde Manuel’s decision to hire Ollie when he had the same job in Storrs did result in UConn winning their fourth national title, he also ended up bringing in the guy that had to be fired just four years after cutting down those nets.

Clemson forward Baehre tears knee ligament

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson forward Jonathan Baehre is out indefinitely after tearing a knee ligament.

The school says the injury occurred during practice Monday. There is no timetable for his return.

Baehre is a 6-foot-10 junior transfer from UNC Asheville who sat out last season. With four senior starters gone off this year’s team, Baehre was expected to play a major role for the Tigers.

Coach Brad Brownell says it’s an unfortunate injury for Baehre and the team. Brownell says Baehre had worked hard since joining the Tigers and he had no doubt Baehre would approach rehab strongly “and have a very productive career at Clemson.”

Baehre, from Germany, started 21 games for UNC Asheville in 2017-18 and averaged 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game.

Sam Mitchell leaves Memphis coach Penny Hardaway’s staff

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis coach Penny Hardaway says former NBA coach of the year Sam Mitchell is no longer part of his staff.

Mitchell worked as an assistant coach for Memphis in 2018-19 during Hardaway’s debut season. Hardaway said Tuesday at a news conference that Mitchell has “decided to go in another direction.”

Hardaway added that “we definitely appreciate Sam so much and support him.” Hardaway said Mitchell will always be like an “older brother” to him.

Mitchell was an NBA head coach with the Toronto Raptors from 2004-09 and with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2015-16. He was named the NBA Coach of the Year in 2007.

Ex-Louisville coach Denny Crum hospitalized with a stroke

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — An official with Denny Crum’s foundation says the former Louisville coach has been hospitalized after recently suffering a stroke.

Jonathan Israel, who is the principal fundraiser for the Denny Crum Scholarship Foundation, provided the information in a Twitter post attributed to the foundation on Tuesday. The post that Crum, 82, who lives in Louisville, suffered the stroke in the past week. The post did not mention his condition or what hospital he is in, but added that Crum and his family “appreciates the thoughts, prayers and also their privacy while he is recovering.” There will be no other statements, the post added.

Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 1994, Crum was 675-295 with Louisville and led the Cardinals to NCAA men’s basketball championships in 1980 and 1986 before retiring in 2001 after 30 years. The coach suffered a stroke in August 2017 while fishing in Alaska but recovered and has attended Cardinals home games in recent years.