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Nine mid-majors that can be the next Loyola-Chicago

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In each of the last five NCAA tournaments, there’s been at least one double-digit seeded mid-major that’s managed to advance.

The 2013 NCAA tournament boasted two such teams, 14-seed Harvard and a 15-seed in FGCU, that became national darlings over the course of the opening weekend.

Since then there have been repeat winners (Harvard won as a 12-seed in 2015, and Middle Tennessee advanced in both 2016 and 2017), and Loyola-Chicago reached the 2018 Final Four as an 11-seed.

What traits do these teams tend to have in common?

In many cases experience is key, be it from winning an NCAA tournament game the season prior or bringing back many experienced pieces (or both).

And for some teams, the presence of a star player has been the key.

Below is a look at ten teams that could pull off at least one upset in next spring’s NCAA tournament.

NOTE: For this post the following conferences (and teams) are not under consideration: ACC, American, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC, as well as BYU and Gonzaga.

Dan D’Antoni of Marshall (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

Loyola-Chicago

As noted above the Ramblers reached the program’s first Final Four since 1963 last season, knocking off Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State on the way to San Antonio. Porter Moser will have to account for the loss of two double-digit scorers (Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson) and the Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year (Ben Richardson) from that team, but reigning Valley Player of the Year Clayton Custer is back as are fellow starters Marques Townes and Cameron Krutwig.

Sophomore Lucas Williamson and junior Bruno Skokna will need to take a step forward after serving as supplementary options last season, but the Ramblers’ ability to defend and share the ball on the other end of the floor should serve them well. Will it be enough to cause some mayhem in the NCAA tournament for a second straight year? That’s the question, especially with their top challengers in the Valley having improved.

Buffalo

Nate Oats’ Bulls dominated Arizona in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament, shooting nearly 55 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the 89-68 beating in Boise. Three starters from that team, guards CJ Massinburg, Jeremy Harris and Davonta Jordan, return as do valuable reserves Nick Perkins and Dontay Carruthers. Buffalo will have to account for the loss of Wes Clark, who was third on the team in scoring and first in assists, and forward Ikenna Smart, but there’s more than enough talent to get the job done. In addition to the returnees, Buffalo adds freshmen Ronaldo Segu and Jeenathan Williams to the mix. Not only does Buffalo have the tools needed to win an NCAA tournament game for the second consecutive season, but it could go beyond that in 2019.

Marshall

Marshall’s style of play made the Thundering Herd an entertaining team to watch last season, and with the tandem of Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks back on campus for one last hurrah expect more of the same in 2018-19. Elmore and Burks combined to score an average of 42.8 points per game, with the former also responsible for 6.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds per contest. Dan D’Antoni did lose his best front court player from the team that knocked off Wichita State in Adjin Penava, who averaged 15.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game.

Penava’s departure that means players such as sophomore Jansson Williams and Darius George and juniors Mike Beyers Ante Sustic will need to step forward. That being said the backcourt rotation, which in addition to Elmore and Burks includes the likes of Rondale Watson and Jarrod West (both averaged 7.8 ppg last season), is talented enough to cause some chaos in the NCAA tournament yet again. That being said Marshall won’t lack for challengers within Conference USA, one being Western Kentucky.

Mike Daum (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

HIGH-LEVEL STAR

South Dakota State

Three of South Dakota State’s top four scorers from last season’s NCAA tournament team are back, with the leader of that bunch being one of the nation’s best scorers in senior forward Mike Daum (23.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg). “The Dauminator,” who’s won the last two Summit League Player of the Year awards, is on pace to become the ninth 3,000-point scorer in Division I history, and his ability to score from anywhere on the court (46.2 percent FG, 42.5 percent 3PT, 85.1 percent FT) makes the 6-foot-9 forward an extremely difficult matchup for opponents.

Sophomore David Jenkins Jr., the Summit League’s top freshman last season, and senior guards Tevin King, Skyler Flatten and Brandon Key return as well. T.J. Otzelberger’s roster has both talent and experience, and with a player like Daum this could be the season in which the Jackrabbits break through and pick up the program’s first Division I NCAA tournament victory.

Western Kentucky

When a star has led a mid-major to an NCAA tournament upset, it’s usually be an upperclassman who’s done the honors with Georgia State sophomore R.J. Hunter (2015) being a notable exception. The Hilltoppers land here because of the presence of a freshman many scouting services pegged as a Top-10 recruit in 6-foot-11 center Charles Bassey. Bassey has the size, athleticism and skill needed to make an immediate impact at WKU, and he’ll need to with forwards Dwight Coleby and Justin Johnson having moved on.

That being said, Rick Stansbury has two really good guards in senior Lamonte Bearden and sophomore Taveion Hollingsworth, with the latter having scored 30 in the Hilltoppers’ Postseason NIT win at Oklahoma State. Add in the likes of sophomore guard Josh Anderson, transfers Desean Murray (Auburn) and Jared Savage (Austin Peay) and Top 100 prospect Dalano Banton, and Western Kentucky has enough in the cupboard to reach the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. And they have the potential to do some damage if they get into the field.

Seth Towns (Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

RETURNING TALENT

Harvard

More than 99 percent of the scoring from last season’s Ivy League regular season co-champion team is back, and that includes three all-league selections in juniors Seth Towns, Chris Lewis and Justin Bassey. Towns and Lewis combined to average 28.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game last season, with Bassey being part of a perimeter rotation that includes fellow juniors Bryce Aiken and Christian Juzang. Tommy Amaker has a roster that isn’t short on depth, talent or experience, which is why they enter the 2018-19 season as the clear favorite to win the Ivy League. And if the Crimson can successfully navigate the Ancient Eight’s four-team postseason tournament, something they were unable to do last season, look out.

Southern Illinois

All five starters return from a team that won 20 games and finished second in the Missouri Valley last season, led by seniors Armon Fletcher (14.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Sean Lloyd Jr. (12.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Kaivon Pippen (12.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg). The experience stands to serve Southern Illinois well in what projects to be a tighter Valley race than a season ago, which Loyola won by four games.

Two things to keep an eye on regarding the Salukis: what senior center Thik Bol can give them off the bench after missing all of last season due to a knee injury, and how they perform in close games. Ten of SIU’s 18 regular season conference games were decided by six points or less, with the Salukis winning eight. Will that good fortune carry over? Or better yet, can Barry Hinson’s team do enough to cut down on the number of close games it has to play? Either way, this sets up to be a good season for Southern Illinois.

Cal State Fullerton

Dedrique Taylor’s Titans won 20 games and the Big West tournament last season, earning the program’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2008. And with four starters back from that team, Cal State Fullerton may be in line for a return trip. The perimeter tandem of seniors Kyle Allman and Khalil Ahmad is outstanding, with the former being a first team All-Big West selection as a junior after averaging 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. As for Ahmad, he earned second team all-conference honors and averaged 15.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Add in junior forward Jackson Rowe (12.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg), and all three double-digit scorers from last season’s NCAA tournament team are back. The NCAA tournament experience for the Titans was a humbling one, as Purdue limited them to 48 points, but that should serve as motivation for this talented squad. Cal State Fullerton has the talent to become the first Big West team to win a Round of 64 NCAA tournament game since Hawaii did so in 2016.

Rider

All five starters are back for Rider, which won 22 games and the MAAC regular season title in 2017-18. But like Harvard, memories of how that season ended (a loss in the MAAC tournament quarters) could serve as fuel for the Broncs in 2018-19. Redshirt sophomore guard/forward Dimencio Vaughn, a first team all-MAAC performer, leads the way after averaging 16.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game with Jordan Allen, Frederick Scott, Stevie Jordan and Tyere Marshall all back as well.

Add in grad student Anthony Durham, and Kevin Baggett has his top six scorers from a season ago to work with as Rider looks for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994. Navigating the MAAC tournament has proven difficult for the Broncs since joining the league in 1997, but this could be the group that breaks the run of bad luck. And given the production and experience on this roster, Rider could be a team first round opponents hope to avoid come Selection Sunday.

Miami lands Florida grad-transfer Keith Stone

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Keith Stone is leaving the SEC but not the state of Florida.

The former Gator will finish his career at Miami as a graduate transfer, he announced Monday via social media.

The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.

Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.

Kyle Guy says he’s staying in the draft, will not return to Virginia

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Kyle Guy is off to the professional ranks.

The Virginia junior had already declared for the NBA draft, but announced Monday that he plans to stay in the draft and not return to the Cavaliers next season, as he would be allowed to under NCAA rules.

“I am officially keeping my name in the draft. I know it’s the right step after much prayer and thought with my family,” Guy wrote on social media.

Players retain the option to return to school up until the end of next month, but Guy’s announcement makes it clear he has no intention of utilizing that avenue as he plows ahead toward a professional career after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player as Virginia won its first-ever national championship earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in Virginia’s slow-paced offense while shooting 49.5 percent from 3-point range. Right now, Guy’s draft ceiling would appear to be in the second round with going undrafted a possibility as well. If he does make it at the next level, it’s pretty clear it’ll be the 3-point shooting that gets and keeps him there in a league that covets that skill now more than ever.

For Virginia, Guy’s decision simply crystalizes what was likely the reality already – they’re going to have a completely remade roster, which certainly isn’t uncommon for national championship winners. There’s a reason no one since Florida in 2006 and 2007 has repeated as champions. With Guy gone and Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite all having declared, Tony Bennett and Co. could be looking at more modest expectations following the greatest season in program history.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

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Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

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Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

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KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.