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.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.

No. 17 Illinois rallies late, beats No. 2 Texas 85-78 in OT

Illinois v Maryland
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NEW YORK – Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining, and No. 17 Illinois rallied to hand second-ranked Texas its first loss of the season, 85-78 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jayden Epps added 11 points, including the final five points of regulation – a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with 8 seconds remaining. Epps then blocked Marcus Carr’s jumper in the lane just before the buzzer to force overtime in an entertaining showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Matthew Mayer, who faced Texas several times at Baylor, tied a career high with 21 points as he made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10.

Shannon, who missed eight of nine shots in regulation, took over in the extra period to help Illinois (7-2) beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. He opened overtime with a jumper after Marcus Carr was called for traveling and then hit an open 3 from the right wing over Brock Cunningham for a 73-70 lead.

Shannon then converted a reverse layup and finished off a three-point play to make it 77-70 with 2:16 left. Carr hit two free throws to get Texas within one with 1:28 remaining. Jayden Epps hit a layup, RJ Melendez sank two free throws to put Illinois ahead by five, and Shannon made two free throws with 27.7 seconds left.

Timmy Allen scored a season-high 21 points for Texas (6-1), which failed to open 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15. Tyrese Hunter added 10 points but Carr was held to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting as Texas had 12 shots blocked and shot 42%.

Texas took its only double-digit lead when Dillon Mitchell hit a layup with 8:28 left. Illinois cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3 by Melendez nearly four minutes later. After Cunningham hit an open 3 with 4:15 remaining, Si’Jabari Rice made a 3 for a 64-58 lead.

Allen found Cunningham for an open jumper that counted when officials called goaltending on Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins. That gave Texas a 65-61 lead with with 1:51 remaining.

Carr’s rainbow jumper in the lane made it 68-63 with a minute left and Illinois had a 3-pointer by Melendez waved off because it called timeout with 45.3 seconds left. After the timeout, Epps made an open corner 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Epps’ tying free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini continued to struggle with turnovers, committing 17. But only two of them came in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation or overtime. Illinois’ 15th turnover was an offensive foul by Mayer, which sent him to the bench with four fouls with 10:42 remaining.

Texas: The Longhorns had little offense beyond Allen and Hunter. While the duo was a combined 13 of 29, the rest of the team missed 24 of 40 shots.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Penn State in its second Big Ten game on Saturday. The Illini lost their conference opener to No. 13 Maryland.

Texas hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Jimmy Blacklock Classic on Saturday.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

No. 25 Villanova women beat American University 83-42

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – Maddy Siegrist had 24 points and seven rebounds, Lucy Olsen added 14 points and No. 25 Villanova beat American University 83-42 on Tuesday night.

Siegrist scored 15 points in the opening 13 minutes as Villanova led 34-15. The Wildcats extended it to 46-23 by halftime before starting the second half on a 9-0 run for a 32-point lead.

Villanova added an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter for its largest lead of the game at 79-36. The Wildcats held American to 15-of-50 shooting (30%) and scored 21 points off 19 turnovers.

Christina Dalce scored 13 points for Villanova (8-2), which plays Saint Joseph’s on Saturday before taking a week off for final exams. Siegrist, who was coming off a 29-point performance on Sunday, made 10 of 17 shots as Villanova shot 56%.

Emily Johns scored 12 points for American (0-8), which hosts Marist (3-5) on Saturday.