Preseason Mid-Major Power Rankings

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Teams outside of the power conferences had a noticeable impact on the 2017-18 season, including UMBC becoming the first 16-seed to beat a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament and Loyola-Chicago winning 32 games and reaching the Final Four.

Buffalo and Marshall also managed to win an NCAA tournament game, and the College of Charleston gave Auburn all it wanted before falling by four points.

So what’s in store for mid-majors this season?

While predicting another Final Four participant at this stage is tough to do, there are a host of teams that possess the combination of talent and experience that generally leads to success.

Below are our preseason rankings of the 16 best mid-majors heading into the 2018-19 season.

Note: No teams from the American, Atlantic 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12 or SEC were eligible. The same goes for Gonzaga and BYU out of the WCC.



1. BUFFALO

Nate Oats’ Buffalo squad is coming off of a season in which it won 27 games, the MAC East regular season and MAC tournament titles. And all the Bulls did once in the NCAA tournament was blow out Arizona before falling to Kentucky in the second round. Buffalo will have to account for the loss of Wes Clark, but having five of the team’s top six scorers from a season ago back will certainly help with that.

Seniors CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris all averaged between 15.5 and 17.2 points per game, and junior guard Davonta Jordan made 35 starts and dished out 4.0 assists per game. Add in another senior in guard Dontay Carruthers, and two talented freshmen in point guard Ronaldo Segu and wing Jeenathan Williams, and Buffalo has the pieces needed to not only repeat as MAC champs but do even more damage in the NCAA tournament.

2. MARSHALL

Like Buffalo the Thundering Herd managed to win a game in the NCAA tournament, as Dan D’Antoni’s team knocked off Wichita State before falling to West Virginia. And despite losing forward Ajdin Penava, who averaged 15.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game, to the professional ranks Marshall is well-equipped to make a return trip to the Big Dance.

A big reason why is the prolific backcourt tandem of Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks, who combined to score an average of 42.8 points per game last season. In addition to leading the team in scoring, Elmore also dished out 6.8 assists per game and was second on the team in rebounding (5.8 rpg). In total six of Marshall’s top seven scorers from a season ago are back, which sets this team up for another run.

3. LOYOLA-CHICAGO

While the Ramblers are best known for their run through the NCAA tournament, reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1963, the fact of the matter is that Porter Moser’s bunch was darn good all season long. Loyola won the Missouri Valley regular season title by four games, and by the time their season was complete the Ramblers had amassed a school-record 32 wins. A stingy defense and a balanced offense were the keys, and the question now is what will Loyola do for an encore.

Reigning Larry Bird Missouri Valley Player of the Year Clayton Custer (13.2 ppg, 4.1 apg) is back, as is fellow senior Marques Townes (11.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and sophomores Cameron Krutwig and Lucas Williamson. That quartet will have to help account for the loss of two seniors who averaged 11.0 points per game last season (Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson) and the Valley’s top defender in Ben Richardson. Loyola’s path to another Valley title won’t be an easy one, as the competition has improved, but they’re capable of repeating.

Porter Moser (Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

4. WESTERN KENTUCKY

For some programs a saga like the Mitchell Robinson one would have dealt a crushing blow to the team’s hopes for that particular season. But that wasn’t the case for Rick Stansbury’s Hilltoppers, who won 27 games and reached the Conference USA tournament final. After getting over the disappointment of not reaching the NCAA tournament, WKU managed to reach the semifinals of the Postseason NIT. WKU returns just two starters from that team, guards Lamonte Bearden and Taveion Hollingsworth, but a look at the players Stansbury has added to the program reveals why there should be optimism in Bowling Green.

Five-star freshman big man Charles Bassey leads WKU’s freshman class, ad the Hilltoppers also managed to add some experience with transfers Desean Murray (Auburn) and Jared Savage (Austin Peay) among the non-freshman newcomers. If WKU can get consistent play in the post to help account for the loss of Dwight Coleby and Justin Johnson, who combined to average 26.8 points and 17.4 rebounds per game last season, look out.

5. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS

After finishing below .500 in each of Barry Hinson’s first three seasons in Carbondale, the Salukis have won 22, 17 and 20 games in each of the last three years. And with all five starters back from a team that finished second in the Missouri Valley, SIU is capable of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. Three seniors, led by guard Armon Fletcher, averaged at least 12.1 points per game last season and junior guard Aaron Cook wasn’t far off with an average of 9.8 points per.

The one thing to watch with this group is the progress of senior center Thik Bol, who averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in 2016-17. Bol missed all of last season with a knee injury that ultimately required two surgical procedures (addressing different issues on the same knee), the second of which occurred in July. His ability to rebound and block shots make the 6-foot-8 senior a valued member of the rotation, but the question is just how much can Bol give them. SIU will still be a factor in the Valley if Bol is severely limited, but his return makes this group that much better if he can go.

6. UNC GREENSBORO

As noted in the Wofford blurb the Spartans are the reigning SoCon champions, as Wes Miller’s team managed to win a school-record 27 games and the conference’s regular season and tournament titles. First team all-conference guard Francis Alonso, who averaged a team-best 15.6 points per game as a junior, is back as are reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year James Dickey (8.4 rpg, 2.1 bpg), senior guard Demetrius Troy and sophomore guard Isaiah Miller. UNCG returns three starters and four of its top six scorers, with Marvin Smith (12.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Jordy Kuiper both having graduated.

The Spartans may have finished last season with just two double-digit scorers, Alonso and Smith, but a big reason why they were so successful was their work on the defensive end. In conference games UNCG led the SoCon in defensive efficiency and block percentage and also did a good job of both defending inside of the three-point line and ending possessions with a rebound (best defensive rebounding percentage in the league). If they can duplicate those efforts and have someone step forward to help account for the loss of Marvin Smith’s production, there’s no reason why UNCG can’t repeat as SoCon champs.

7. ILLINOIS STATE

Like Loyola and SIU, Dan Muller’s Redbirds should be a major factor in the Missouri Valley race. Last season Illinois State went 18-15, 10-8 in conference play, but with four starters having returned this should be a team that can make a case to be considered the preseason favorite. Senior forward Milik Yarbrough was a first team all-conference selection last season, as he averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, and fellow senior Phil Fayne was a second team all-conference selection. Fellow starters Keyshawn Evans and William Tinsley are also back for the Redbirds, who have the talent and experience needed to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.

8. WOFFORD

Mike Young’s Terriers won 21 games and finished fourth in the Southern Conference last season, and four starters are back from that team led by reigning SoCon Player of the Year Fletcher Magee. Magee is one of college basketball’s best shooters, and in averaging 22.1 points per game the 6-foot-4 guard shot 48.4 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from three and 90.7 percent from the foul line. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Magee is a 50/40/90 player as a senior.

Mike Young (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Magee will have help offensively too, as guards Cameron Jackson and Nathan Hoover and center Trevor Stumpe (all double-digit scorers) all return. Guards Storm Murphy and Matthew Pegram are also back, meaning that the Terriers return the top six scorers from last season. What could also help this group in its quest to dethrone UNCG is the fact that it took a summer trip to Portugal, as those practices ahead of the trip can be quite valuable.

9. MONTANA

Since taking over at his alma mater in 2014, Travis DeCuire has led the Grizzlies to at least 20 wins in three of his four seasons at the helm. Last year’s squad managed to win 26 games and the Big Sky’s regular season and tournament titles, reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years. Montana may not have to wait that long for another trip to the Big Dance either, thanks in large part to one of the better guard tandems around in seniors Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine.

Rorie and Oguine combined to average 33.0 points, 9.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game, with the former leading the Griz in both scoring (17.2 ppg) and assists (3.7 apg). In total Montana returns four starters from a season ago, with seniors Bobby Moorehead and Jamar Akoh being the others. This group has experience, talent and depth, which makes Montana the class of the Big Sky heading into this season.

10. GEORGIA STATE

If you’re putting together a schedule of college basketball games to watch the first week, mark this one down: Georgia State at Montana, November 9. Ron Hunter has four starters back from a team that won 24 games and the Sun Belt tournament title last season, led by dynamic junior guard D’Marcus Simonds. Simonds averaged 21.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, and if he can improve his perimeter shooting some (29.2 percent shooter from three last season) the 6-foot-3 junior becomes an even tougher matchup for opponents.

Also back are guard Devin Mitchell and forwards Jeff Thomas and Malik Benlevi, who averaged between 9.6 and 12.0 points per game in 2017-18. With Jordan Session and key reserve Isaiah Williams having moved on Georgia State will need some of its supplementary options to step forward, but with Simonds leading the way the Panthers can make a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

11. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE

By now you should know who the headliner is for the Jackrabbits: 6-foot-8 senior forward Mike Daum. “The Dauminator” has won Summit League Player of the Year honors each of the last two seasons, and in 2017-18 he averaged 23.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Due in large part to Daum’s efforts T.J. Otzelberger’s program won 28 games and the Summit League regular season and tournament titles, resulting in a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

Sophomore guard Davis Jenkins, who as a freshman averaged 16.1 points per game, and senior guard Tevin King and Skyler Flatten shouldn’t be overlooked either, as the Jackrabbits return four starters from a season ago. Daum, and the production around him, are reasons why South Dakota State should once again rank among the best mid-majors in college basketball.

Mike Daum (Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

12. RIDER

Kevin Baggett’s Broncs won 22 games and the MAAC regular season title last season, only to once again experience disappointment in the conference tournament. Rider will take another stab and reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994, and having all five starters back will certainly help with that quest.

Sophomore guard Dimencio Vaughn (16.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg), the MAAC Rookie of the Year last season, leads the way with fellow sophomores Jordan Allen and Frederick Scott and juniors Stevie Jordan and Tyere Marshall back as well. All five were double-digit scorers on a team that had just one senior, one fewer than the number of seniors on this season’s roster. Rider can certainly rack up the wins during the season, but it’s all about that first weekend of March. This group has the talent needed to get over the hump.

13. LIPSCOMB

Prior to last season a member from the Sunshine State represented the Atlantic Sun in the NCAA tournament three straight years, FGCU twice and North Florida once. Lipscomb managed to end that run last season by beating FGCU in the A-Sun tournament title game on the Eagles’ home floor, and the Bisons have the pieces needed to make a return trip to the Big Dance.

Lipscomb returns its top six scorers from last season, led by seniors Garrison Mathews (21.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Rob Marberry (15.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg). Also, guard Nathan Moran, who averaged 11.1 points and 4.2 assists per game in 2016-17, returns after offseason hip surgery led to his taking a medical redshirt. Casey Alexander managed to lead Lipscomb to its first NCAA tournament as a Division I member last season, and the Bisons may not have to wait long for that second trip.

14. MURRAY STATE

Yes, Matt McMahon has two major holes to fill thanks to the departures of OVC Player of the Year Jonathan Stark and fellow first team all-conference selection Terrell Miller. Those aren’t players who can easily be replaced. That being said, Murray State has a promising young talent in sophomore guard Ja Morant. As a freshman Morant averaged 12.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 80.6 percent from the foul line.

Due to the departures of Stark and Miller more will likely be asked of Morant from a scoring standpoint, but he’s got the talent needed to rise to that challenge. Seniors Leroy “Shaq” Buchanan and Brion Sanchious return as well, giving Murray State three returning starters to work with as they look to remain atop the OVC.

15. BELMONT

Rick Byrd may return just two starters, Dylan Windler and Kevin McClain, from last season’s squad but year after year Belmont managed to put forth teams capable of contending for conference titles. Since the last time Belmont failed to win 20 games in a season (2009-10, and they won 19 games that year), the program has made four NCAA tournament appearances and won at least 22 games in seven of those eight seasons.

In Windler the Bruins have an outstanding 6-foot-7 senior forward who averaged 17.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, and he can shoot the ball from anywhere on the court. McClain averaged 12.6 points per game as a junior, and sophomore Nick Hopkins (7.4 ppg) was a solid reserve off the bench. Belmont has some holes to fill, but their system is incredibly difficult to defend. And when you have a player the caliber of Windler, you’ve got a shot to be really good.

16. VERMONT

The Catamounts won the America East regular season title for the second consecutive season, going 27-8 overall and 15-1 in conference play. But thanks to UMBC’s Jairus Lyles hitting a game-winning three in the America East title game, UVM had to settle for the Postseason NIT…and we all know what UMBC went on to do in its next game. The Catamounts, even with the graduation of three of the top four scorers from that team, are still a team worth keeping an eye on this season.

Forward Anthony Lamb, who was hampered some by injury, still averaged 14.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore, and redshirt senior Ernie Duncan (10.8 ppg) is back as well. Vermont’s hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament will rest upon the shoulders of those two, and they’ll need returning starter Everett Duncan to take a step forward as well, but John Becker’s work during his time in Burlington will ensure that they’ll remain a favorite in America East.

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Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events

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WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.