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Preseason Mid-Major All-Americans

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While the average college basketball fan tends to focus on the talent on display in power conference programs, there are many talented players at the mid-major level who merit consideration.

And every year a player who may not have been discussed much during the winter due to where he plays becomes a national name, with his standout performance sparking an NCAA tournament upset.

Below are some of the best players at mid-major programs heading into the 2018-19 season, with the first team being headlined by one of the sport’s best shooters and a big man who could join the short list of 3,000-point scorers at the Division I level.

As a reminder, the following conferences were not included: American, Atlantic 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC. Also Gonzaga and BYU have not been considered as mid-majors.



FIRST TEAM

G FLETCHER MAGEE, Wofford

You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a lengthy list of college basketball players who shoot the ball better than Magee, who as a junior was very nearly a 50/40/90 player. Averaging 22.1 points per game, Magee shot 48.4 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from three and 90.9 percent from the foul line. Among Magee’s best performances last season were a 36-point effort in a win at Georgia Tech, 27 in Wofford’s upset win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and a career-high 45 points in a win over Chattanooga in mid-February.

G JON ELMORE, Marshall

While Marshall was unable to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, losing to West Virginia in the second round, Elmore proved to be one of the most entertaining players in the field to watch. For the season Elmore averaged 22.7 points, 6.8 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game, and in Marshall’s first round win over Wichita State he racked up 27 points, four rebounds and four assists. Elmore has free reign within Dan D’Antoni’s system, and it paid off in a big way for both he and the Thundering Herd. Expect more of the same during Elmore’s senior season.

G D’MARCUS SIMONDS, Georgia State

Simonds was the subject of some NBA chatter heading into the 2017-18 season and with good reason, as he’s got good size for a lead guard (6-foot-3, 200) and can both score and distribute. As a sophomore Simonds averaged 21.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, and that was despite struggling with his perimeter shooting (29.2 percent from three). If Simonds can approach the percentage he posted as a freshman (35.6 percent) while continuing to attempt more than four three-pointers per game (1.6 three-point attempts per game as a freshman) he becomes an even tougher matchup for opponents.

F MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State

“The Dauminator” (2,232 career points) is well on his way to becoming just the ninth player in Division I history to reach the 3,000 point mark, and provided he remains healthy the senior forward is a safe bet to join that illustrious group. As a junior Daum averaged 23.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, winning Summit League Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. Daum can knock shots down from anywhere on the court, as he shot 46.2 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from three (on 6.5 attempts per game) and 85.1 percent from the foul line.

F DEVONTAE CACOK, UNC Wilmington

As a junior Cacok was the nation’s leading rebounder, pulling down an average of 13.5 caroms per night while also scoring 17.7 points per game and shooting 58.5 percent from the field. The 6-foot-7 senior is a handful on both ends of the floor when it comes to rebounding, as his offensive (17.7) and defensive (32.0) rebounding percentages ranked second and third in the nation, respectively, according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.

Jon Elmore (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

SECOND TEAM

G CHRIS CLEMONS, Campbell

In each of the last two seasons Clemons has managed to make his freshman year average of 18.5 points per game, which is more than respectable, look downright pedestrian. After averaging 25.1 points per game as a sophomore the 5-foot-9 lead guard pumped in 24.9 points per contest in 2017-18. Clemons also averaged 4.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the Camels, and he’s in line to produce another big season as a senior.

G JUSTIN WRIGHT-FOREMAN, Hofstra

The Pride managed to win 19 games last season, thanks in large part to an offensive attack anchored by Wright-Foreman. Last season’s CAA Player of the Year, the 6-foot-1 guard accounted for 24.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, shooting nearly 45 percent from the field on 19 shot attempts per game. Another season like that, and Wright-Foreman could become Hofstra’s first repeat winner of CAA Player of the Year since Charles Jenkins pulled off the feat in 2010 and 2011.

G CLAYTON CUSTER, Loyola-Chicago

The reigning Larry Bird Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year winner, Custer’s back for one final run after helping lead the Ramblers to the program’s first Final Four appearance since 1963. Custer may not have the eye-popping stats that some of the other players on this list possess (Loyola ranking 307th in adjusted tempo had a lot to do with that) but don’t let that fool you; the redshirt senior gets the job done in a variety of ways for Porter Moser’s team. Last season Custer averaged 13.2 points and 4.1 assists per game, shooting 52.8 percent from the field, 45.1 percent from three and 77.0 percent from the foul line.

F NATHAN KNIGHT, William & Mary

While he didn’t receive the attention nationally, Knight was one of college basketball’s most improved players a season ago. The 6-foot-10, 235-pounder raised his scoring average more than ten points, accounting for 18.5 per game after averaging 8.2 points per night as a freshman. Add in his 7.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.0 blocks per game, and that was good enough to land Knight on the CAA’s second team all-conference squad. Another step forward, and not only will Knight be a first team all-conference selection but he’ll be on the short list of CAA Player of the Year candidates as well.

C/F JAMES THOMPSON IV, Eastern Michigan

Consistency would be a good word to use in describing the 6-foot-10 senior, as he averaged a double-double in each of his first three seasons at Eastern Michigan. Last season Thompson accounted for 14.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, shooting 67.2 percent from the field, and his 20 double-doubles were the most in the MAC. In conference games Eastern Michigan was the best defensive team in the MAC with regards to efficiency, effective field goal percentage and two-point percentage defense, and having Thompson in the middle of Rob Murphy’s zone was a key reason why.

Clayton Custer (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

THIRD TEAM

G JERRICK HARDING, Weber State

After averaging 9.3 points per game in a reserve role as a freshman, Harding took a significant step forward in 2017-18. The 6-foot-1 guard averaged 22.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, shooting 53.0 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from three and 88.2 percent from the foul line. One of three unanimous first team All-Big Sky selections last season, Harding should be the choice for Big Sky preseason Player of the Year.

G MILIK YARBROUGH, Illinois State

Due to some offseason legal issues there were some questions regarding Yarbrough’s status for the upcoming season. However Yarbrough, who was suspended indefinitely in mid-September, participated in the Redbirds’ first practice of the season and based upon Dan Muller’s post-practice comments the redshirt senior appears OK to play. In Yarbrough the Redbirds have the player best equipped to unseat Loyola’s Clayton Custer as Larry Bird Missouri Valley Player of the Year, as he’s coming off of a season in which he averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.

G CJ MASSINBURG, Buffalo

Last season Buffalo won 27 games, the MAC tournament title and whipped Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and Massinburg was one of the biggest reasons why. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 17.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game as a junior, shooting 46.8 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from three and 74.3 percent from the foul line. Massinburg will once again be a key cog for a team that returns five of its top six scorers from a season ago.

F JARRELL BRANTLEY, College of Charleston

Thanks to a knee injury Brantley didn’t make his 2017-18 debut until mid-December, and after working off the rust in the Cougars’ first two games the 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward showed just how valuable he was. Brantley finished the season with averages of 17.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, shooting 50.0 percent from the field, 38.5 percent from three and 82.1 percent from the foul line. Brantley was one reason why Earl Grant’s team made the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1999, and he’s in line for a good senior season as well.

F DYLAN WINDLER, Belmont

The 2017-18 season was Windler’s second as a starter, but his output was far better than what he produced the season prior. After averaging 9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game in 2016-17, Windler averaged 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in 35.4 minutes per game last season. Windler’s improved production helped Belmont account for the graduation of leading scorers Evan Bradds and Taylor Barnette, with the Bruins winning 24 games and reaching the OVC tournament final.

CJ Massinburg (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

FOURTH TEAM

G GARRISON MATHEWS, Lipscomb

After averaging 20.4 points per game as a sophomore Mathews managed to improve his numbers across the board in 2017-18, averaging 21.7 points per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from beyond the arc and 79.9 percent from the charity stripe. In addition to his offensive numbers Mathews also accounted for 5.5 rebounds per night, and he’ll once again lead the way for a Lipscomb squad that won 23 games and finished second in the Atlantic Sun.

G C.J. BURKS, Marshall

The aforementioned Jon Elmore wasn’t the only Marshall guard good for at least 20 points per night. Last season Burks averaged 20.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three and 88.9 percent from the foul line. And this all happened after the 6-foot-3 guard averaged 9.8 points per game in a reserve role as a sophomore. Look for another standout season from the senior guard in 2018-19.

G MAX HEIDEGGER, UCSB

Heidegger was a key contributor for the Gauchos in Joe Pasternak’s first season as head coach, as he averaged 19.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in helping to lead UCSB to 23 wins and a second place finish in the Big West. And after struggling with his shot in a reserve role as a freshman the 6-foot-3 Heidegger made noticeable strides last season, raising his field goal (from 26.8 to 43.2 percent) and three-point field goal (20.5 to 40.4) percentages substantially.

F PHIL FAYNE, Illinois State

The aforementioned Yarbrough doesn’t lack for help on an Illinois State squad that has the pieces needed to dethrone Loyola in the Missouri Valley, with Fayne being the Redbirds’ top option in the front court. Last season the 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward averaged 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, shooting 59.5 percent from the field. A second team all-conference selection, Fayne merits serious consideration for preseason first team All-Valley.

F/C CHARLES BASSEY, Western Kentucky

Given the plethora of talented upperclassmen at the mid-major level, this pick may raise some eyebrows. But there’s no denying the talent that the 6-foot-11 freshman from Nigeria possesses. Bassey was considered to be a Top 10 recruit in the Class of 2018, and his athleticism in the post gives WKU an option that last season’s team did not have. And all that team did was win 27 games and reach the semifinals of the Postseason NIT.

HONORABLE MENTION

Francis Alonso, UNCG
James Batemon, Loyola Marymount
Keith Braxton, Saint Francis (PA)
Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern
John Carroll, Hartford
RJ Cole, Howard
Ernie Duncan, Vermont
KJ Feagin, Santa Clara
Armon Fletcher, Southern Illinois
JaKeenan Gant, Louisiana
Tyler Hall, Montana State
Scottie James, Liberty
John Konchar, IPFW
Anthony Lamb, Vermont
Ja Morant, Murray State
Nick Perkins, Buffalo
Isaiah Piniero, San Diego
Ed Polite Jr., Radford
Vasa Pusica, Northeastern
Isaiah Reese, Canisius
Grant Riller, College of Charleston
Ahmaad Rorie, Montana
Dimencio Vaughn, Rider

Zach Norvell leads No. 5 Gonzaga over Loyola Marymount 73-55

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Zach Norvell Jr. scored 17 points and No. 5 Gonzaga used a stout defense to beat Loyola Marymount 73-55 on Thursday night, the eighth consecutive win for the Bulldogs since a pair of losses knocked them out of the top spot in The AP Top 25.

Brandon Clarke added 13 points, Corey Kispert 12 and Rui Hachimura 10 for Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0 West Coast), which beat Loyola Marymount for the 20th straight time. The Zags have won 18 straight games at home.

James Batemon led Loyola Marymount (13-5, 1-3) with 12 points.

Loyola used a slow-down offense and stingy defense to keep the scoring low, and it mostly accomplished that goal.

Gonzaga, which averages 92 points a game, led just 17-16 midway through the first half.

The Zags went on a 19-6 run the rest of the half to take a 36-22 lead at halftime. The Lions shot only 36 percent in the first and committed 11 turnovers.

A 3-pointer by Norvell highlighted a 14-2 Gonzaga run to open the second half that lifted the Bulldogs to a 50-24 lead. Meanwhile, the Lions were missing eight of their first 10 shots.

Loyola Marymount made just five of its first 20 shots in the second half, and fell behind 61-35 with less than 8 minutes left.

BIG PICTURE

Loyola Marymount: The Lions opened the season 11-1, but have dropped off since … The Lions ranked 13th in the NCAA in defense at 61.2 points per game … Their last win in this lop-sided series was in 2010. They have not won in Spokane since 1991 … The Lions have already surpassed last season’s 11 wins.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are cruising toward another WCC title, outscoring conference foes by nearly 30 points per game… The Zags suffered back-to-back losses to No. 3 Tennessee and at No. 13 North Carolina in mid-December and have not lost since … They lead the nation in field goal shooting at 52.6 percent and are second in scoring at 92.2 points per game … Gonzaga and Marquette are the only programs with both men’s and women’s teams in the Top 15.

UP NEXT

Loyola Marymount hosts Pepperdine on Saturday.

Gonzaga plays at last place Portland on Saturday.

Cassius Winston’s career-high 29 lifts No. 6 Spartans over Huskers

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Four nights after Tom Izzo called out Cassius Winston for his poor play in Michigan State’s previous game, the Spartans’ star point guard responded better than his coach would have expected.

Winston scored a career-high 29 points to go over 1,000 for his career, had six assists and played tough defense on Glynn Watson Jr. while leading No. 6 Michigan State past Nebraska 70-64 on Thursday night.

“I told him before the game, ‘You’re going to get measured on how you bounce back,’ ” Izzo said.

Winston more than passed the test.

“Cassius, the way he ran that whole thing, he was like a quarterback dissecting a defense,” Izzo said.

In a win at Penn State on Sunday, Winston had seven turnovers, and his 11 points were his fewest since Florida held him to 10 on Dec. 8. Izzo told reporters it was one of the worst games Winston had played in his three seasons.

Of the Spartans’ first 18 field goals against Nebraska, Winston scored eight of them and had assists on five others. He held Watson, the Huskers’ hottest player the last week, to 3-of-13 shooting from the field and eight points.

Izzo’s criticism motivated him, he said.

“Just get back on track, playing at the level I was playing at,” Winston said. “I want to play at the highest standard, my best ability. I’ve got to do that for this team and put us in the best situation.”

Michigan State (16-2, 7-0) won its 11th straight game overall and extended its school-record Big Ten winning streak to 19 games. The Cornhuskers (13-5, 3-4) had their school-record 20-game home win streak end.

Nick Ward added 15 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double. He also made his first 3-pointer of the season and second of his career.

“That should keep him happy for a week or 10 days,” Izzo said.

The Spartans led by 12 points in the final 2 minutes, but Nebraska cut the lead to four twice before Matt McQuaid made a pair of free throws for his first points with 14.2 seconds to put the game away.

Nebraska shot a season-low 32.8 percent and was just 5 of 26 on 3-pointers, 1 of 12 in the second half.

“I wasn’t very pleased with our offense in any way, shape or form,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.

James Palmer, who led Nebraska with 24 points, struggled mightily from the field, going 6 of 21, but he made all 11 of his free throws.

“Palmer’s a good player, and I feel like I did a pretty good job on him,” McQuaid said. “I just tried to do what I could. He’s a bigger, more physical guard. I tried to get a couple charges, but things weren’t going my way. So I had to figure out different ways to guard him.”

Nebraska had hoped to build off its win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday night but couldn’t get going. The Huskers were trying for their first win over a top-10 opponent in nine tries.

“You need to build and play from the front against these teams,” Miles said.

He found no consolation in playing the Spartans close for most of the game, which had 11 lead changes and six ties.

“There are no moral victories,” Miles said. “I’m utterly mad and disappointed.”

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: This was a gut-check win for the Spartans, who were without Joshua Langford (ankle) for a fifth straight game and Kyle Ahrens (back) for a second in a row.

Nebraska: The Huskers were feeling pretty good about themselves after an impressive win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday, and they had an amped standing-room crowd on hand. But they could never find rhythm until it was too late against the nation’s No. 3 team in field-goal defense.

HE SAID IT

“We were paranoid of this game. They didn’t make shots tonight. Those things happen sometimes. Tim’s got a great team that’s going to be an NCAA Tournament team, and I hope they keep on winning now.” — Izzo.

UP NEXT

Michigan State hosts No. 19 Maryland on Monday.

Nebraska visits Rutgers on Monday.

WATCH: Ja Morant can’t be stopped

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The Ohio Valley Conference is just not equipped to deal with Ja Morant.

The Murray State guard just keeps dunking on anyone and everyone that stands in his way, the latest victim coming Thursday night at Eastern Illinois.

There’s just so much to love about this dunk. The athleticism. The explosiveness. The aggressiveness. The ferocity. It’s thunder meeting lightning at the rim.

If there’s someone who can stop Morant, a likely top-10 pick in June, it sure ain’t in the OVC.

UCLA, USC meet amid rocky seasons for crosstown rivals

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A fired coach. A transfer. Suspensions. Injuries. UCLA and Southern California have experienced it all barely halfway through the season.

Things began promisingly enough for the Bruins. They were an AP Top 25 team and were predicted to finish second in the Pac-12 before early consecutive losses to ranked Michigan State and North Carolina knocked them out. Then came stunning defeats at home to mid-majors Belmont and Liberty. Those precipitated the biggest shocker of all: coach Steve Alford’s firing on New Year’s Eve.

Murry Bartow was quickly tabbed as interim coach for the Bruins (10-7, 3-1 Pac-12). They’ve won three out of four games under him.

“We had a lot of ups and downs,” UCLA freshman Moses Brown said, “but I think we caught our stride and the sky is the limit for us.”

USC was predicted to finish fifth in a weakened Pac-12. The Trojans got off to a 5-2 start before dropping four in a row. They regrouped to reel off four straight wins, including a home sweep to open conference play. But they dropped a pair on the road, where freshman Kevin Porter Jr. got suspended last weekend.

In the midst of rocky seasons, the crosstown rivals meet Saturday at Galen Center. The Bruins have won four in a row in the series and are 8-4 at USC’s arena since it opened.

“Coming off a two-game losing streak, we’re kind of hoping this is a game that we can bounce back,” USC’s Nick Rakocevic said. “We want to be put in a good position for the rest of the Pac-12.”

Both teams would likely need to win the Pac-12 tournament title to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Last March, the Bruins played in the First Four for the first time in school history and lost. The Trojans were snubbed by the selection committee despite finishing second in the Pac-12 for the first time in 25 years after losing twice to UCLA.

“We play UCLA twice, but there’s 16 other games. You have to do well the rest of the league,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Whether you win or lose these games, yes, it’s great for a rivalry, it’s great for another win in your conference, but it’s a long Pac-12 season. We try to keep that in perspective no matter who we play even if it’s UCLA.”

The Trojans (9-8, 2-2) have played over half their games with eight or fewer scholarship players because of injuries and the recent transfer of Jordan Usher, who was suspended before he left.

“Nothing surprises us at this point,” Enfield said. “The injuries and distractions have had a significant impact on our team.”

Porter was back practicing with the Trojans this week, but he hasn’t been cleared to play in games.

“He’s working on some things off the court. He has very clear expectations that he has to meet,” Enfield said. “As he progresses, we will reevaluate his status.”

Bartow said the Bruins will prepare as if Porter will play Saturday. Before his suspension, Porter missed time with a leg injury.

USC’s Bennie Boatwright, a local product who was recruited by UCLA, has been on an offensive tear in his last seven games. He scored a career-high 37 points in an overtime loss at Oregon State and is averaging a team-leading 17.1 points. The Bruins are led by Kris Wilkes at 17.3 points a game.

“Inside, they’ve got some really, really good players,” said Bartow, who has the Bruins playing at a faster pace and zipping the ball around.

One of the intriguing matchups on Saturday will be the 6-foot-11 Rakocevic and Brown, who at 7-1 is the tallest player at UCLA in decades. Rakocevic averages 14.9 points and a league-leading 9.5 rebounds. Brown averages 11.9 points and 9.0 rebounds

“It’s going to be fun going against somebody like that,” Rakocevic said.

A famous name associated with the rivalry won’t be on the court.

USC’s Chuck O’Bannon, the son of former UCLA star Charles O’Bannon, is expected to seek a medical redshirt. The sophomore broke his pinky finger in practice in November, had surgery, got the cast off in December and it hasn’t healed properly. He’s still has pain, too, Enfield said.

Report: Cam Reddish cleared for Saturday’s showdown with Virginia while Tre Jones’ injury isn’t as severe as feared for Duke

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Duke may not be at full strength for its showdown with Virginia on Saturday, but the Blue Devils are on their way to that eventuality.

Cam Reddish is expected to play after missing Monday’s loss to Syracuse with an illness while Tre Jones will not miss an extended amount of time and is not initially ruled out for Saturday after suffering a shoulder injury, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told The Athletic on Thursday.

Reddish absence wasn’t expected to be a lengthy one, but there was fear that Jones’ might be after he suffered an AC sprain in a collision with Syracuse’s Frank Howard. Jones initially told coaches he thought he broke his collarbone, but x-rays revealed a sprain slightly more significant than a grade one.

“I don’t know if it’s for this game or the next game, but it’s not going to be long term, where it’s a month or something,” Krzyzewski told Dana O’Neil of The Athletic.  “He’s going to be back.”

While Jones hasn’t been ruled out for Saturday, he is unlikely to play against the Cavaliers, Krzyzewski said. That will diminish some of the luster for a game that pits The Associated Press’ top-ranked team vs. the coaches’ poll top team, but it’s ultimately fantastic news for the Blue Devils.

Losing Jones for any significant length of time would have been a significant blow to Duke. While Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Reddish headline the highlight reels and mock drafts, Jones’ skill, leadership and tenacity at the point guard position plays no small part in allowing that trio – and Duke at large – flourish. Without him, the machine doesn’t run as smoothly, as evidenced by the overtime home loss to the Orange.

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