2014-2015 Season Preview: NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major All-Americans

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source: AP
Keifer Sykes (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Here are our Preseason Mid-Major All-Americans.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

A quick disclaimer before I begin, because determining who qualifies as a mid-major and who doesn’t is always a touchy subject. Here is how we broke it down for these rankings: The Mountain West, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and the American were all, by default, barred from these rankings. The WCC was eligible with the exception of Gonzaga and BYU. The Missouri Valley was eligible with the exception of Wichita State. Everyone else was fair game.

Why did we eliminate the Shockers from contention? Well, the complicated answer is that “high-major” delegation is more about financial resources, support from the university, the fan base and the community, and consistent, high-level success during the season and on the recruiting trail, but the simple answer is that the Shockers would be the clear-cut No. 1 team here and it’s more fun to do this without them involved. Our rankings, our rules. Deal with it.

RELATED: NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major Power Rankings

FIRST TEAM

  • Keifer Sykes, Green Bay, Sr. (20.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.9 apg): High-flying, high-scoring point guards aren’t that easy to find. Sykes is the reason that the Phoenix have a shot at winning a game-or-two in the NCAA tournament.
  • R.J. Hunter, Georgia State, Jr. (18.5 ppg, 39.5% 3PT): Yeah, I know he plays for Georgia State, but we picked him on this team because he may actually be the nation’s best spot-up shooter.
  • John Brown, High Point, Jr. (19.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.6 spg, 1.5 bpg): The nation’s highest-flying wing, Brown is the reigning Big South Player of the Year and a human-highlight reel.
  • Alan Williams, UC-Santa Barbara, Sr. (21.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.4 bpg): Williams has been a star at the mid-major level for three years now, but the Gauchos simply haven’t had the kind of success as a team that would garner him more national recognition.
  • Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jr. (18.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 42.3% 3PT): It will be Long’s Ragin’ Cajuns team this season with Elfrid Payton now in the NBA. His ability to block shots and shoot threes at 6-foot-10 could mean that he winds up in the NBA Draft after this season as well.

MORE: Top 25 Potential Breakout Stars | Top 25 Non-Conference Games | Coaches on the Hot Seat

source:
Wesley Saunders (AP Photo)

SECOND TEAM

  • Jalan West, Northwestern State, Jr. (19.4 ppg, 6.4 apg, 40.3% 3PT): His numbers are inflated by Northwestern State’s uptempo style of play. That doesn’t make him any less talented, however.
  • Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State, Sr. (16.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.5 apg): Mullings is the reigning WAC Player of the Year, and he’ll have a chance to play more point guard this season.
  • Wesley Saunders, Harvard, Jr. (14.2 ppg, 3.8 apg): Saunders was the Ivy League’s Player of the Year last season and should once again be the leading scorer on a Harvard team that has one a game in the tournament in back-to-back seasons.
  • Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin, Sr. (14.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 46.9% 3PT): Parker won last year’s Southland Player of the Year award and was the best player on a team that went 32-3 and beat VCU in the NCAA tournament.
  • Justin Sears, Yale, Jr. (16.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg): Sears is our Preseason Ivy League Player of the Year and the biggest reason Yale has a chance to contend with Harvard for the Ivy title.

THIRD TEAM

  • Siyani Chambers, Harvard, Jr. (11.1 ppg, 4.6 apg): The heart and soul of the Crimson. He’s one of the nation’s most underrated point guards.
  • Ryan Harrow, Georgia State, Sr. (17.8 ppg, 4.2 apg): The former Kentucky and N.C. State point guard found his niche back in his hometown of Atlanta.
  • Julius Brown, Toledo, Sr. (14.9 ppg, 6.0 apg): ‘Juice’ Brown helped lead the Rockets to a share of the MAC regular season title last season.
  • A.J. English, Iona, Jr. (17.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.9 rpg): English is the best player on an Iona team favored to win the always-competitive MAAC.
  • Cameron Payne, Murray State, So. (16.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 1.7 spg): The Memphis-native had a terrific freshman season trying to replace the production left when Isaiah Canaan graduated.

HONORABLE MENTION: D.J. Balentine (Evansville), Joel Bolomboy (Weber State), Karl Cochran (Wofford), Brett Comer (Florida-Gulf Coast), Juan’Ya Green (Hofstra), Martez Harrison (UMKC), Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington), Damion Lee (Drexel), Tshilidzi Nephawe (New Mexico State), Andrew Rowsey (UNC-Asheville), Bernard Thompson (Florida-Gulf Coast), Marcus Thornton (William & Mary), Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Isiah Umipig (Seattle), Jameel Warney (Stony Brook), Kyle Wilson (Army)

2014-2015 Season Preview: Mid-Major Power Rankings

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Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Here are our Mid-Major Power Rankings.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

A quick disclaimer before I begin, because determining who qualifies as a mid-major and who doesn’t is always a touchy subject. Here is how we broke it down for these rankings: The Mountain West, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and the American were all, by default, barred from these rankings. The WCC was eligible with the exception of Gonzaga and BYU. The Missouri Valley was eligible with the exception of Wichita State. Everyone else was fair game.

Why did we eliminate the Shockers from contention? Well, the complicated answer is that “high-major” delegation is more about financial resources, support from the university, the fan base and the community, and consistent, high-level success during the season and on the recruiting trail, but the simple answer is that the Shockers would be the clear-cut No. 1 team here and it’s more fun to do this without them involved. Our rankings, our rules. Deal with it.

MORE: Top 25 Potential Breakout Stars | Top 25 Non-Conference Games | Coaches on the Hot Seat

1. Harvard, 27-5, 13-1 Ivy (1st): The Crimson return the core of a team that has won a game in back-to-back NCAA tournaments, notching upsets over No. 3 New Mexico and No. 5 Cincinnati. Their front court is deep, big and talented enough to matchup with just about any high-major. Their perimeter doesn’t have a ton of depth, but it does have Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders. Barring injuries, the Crimson look like a top 25 team.

2. Georgia State, 25-9, 17-1 Sun Belt (1st): The Panthers back court is absolutely loaded. Ryan Harrow, R.J. Hunter and Kevin Ware are as talented as any group of guards that you’ll find at the Division I level. There should be no drop-off from last season’s team, the one that went 17-1 in Sun Belt play, particularly if Ron Hunter can find someone to help Curtis Washington on the interior.

3. Louisiana Tech, 29-8, 13-3 Conference USA (t-1st): The Bulldogs lose three starters off of last year’s team, but more importantly that brought back head coach Mike White, who nearly took the Tennessee job, as well as their trio of talented guards, Alex Hamilton, Kenneth Smith and the now-healthy Raheem Appleby.

MORE: NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major All-Americans

source: Getty Images
Daniel Mullings (Getty Images)

4. New Mexico State, 26-10, 12-4 WAC (2nd): The Aggies have made three straight NCAA tournaments and this season return reigning WAC Player of the Year, Daniel Mullings, as well as Tshilidzi Nephawe and DK Eldridge. NMSU hasn’t won the WAC regular season or a game in the NCAA tournament the past three seasons, and this year might change that.

5. Murray State, 23-11, 13-3 OVC West (1st): Thrust into the point guard role after Zay Jackson’s knee injury, freshman Cameron Payne quickly made Racer fans forget about Isaiah Canaan. Steve Prohm will return the top four scorers from that team, including double-double threat Jarvis Williams.

6. Saint Mary’s, 23-12, 11-7 WCC (4th): Losing Stephen Holt, Beau Levesque and James Walker III will hurt, but Brad Waldow is back and he’ll be joined by former Stanford point guard Aaron Bright, Minnesota wing Joe Coleman and Washington big man Desmond Simmons. They’ll compete with BYU for the title of second-best team in the WCC.

7. Green Bay, 24-7, 14-2 Horizon (1st): The Phoenix lose center Alec Brown, but they return four of their top five scorers — including star point guard Keifer Sykes — from a team that beat ACC champion Virginia last season.

8. Toledo, 27-7, 14-4 MAC West (1st): Fresh off a school record 27 wins and a trip to the NIT, Toledo returns six of their top seven scorers, including all-league guard ‘Juice’ Brown, who has started 98 games in his career.

9. Stephen F. Austin, 32-3, 18-0 Southland (1st): The Lumberjacks lost three key pieces from last season’s team, but they return reigning Southland Player of the Year Jacob Parker. Head coach Brad Underwood is back as well, meaning SFA will once again be a team capable of winning a game in the Big Dance.

10. Northern Iowa, 16-15, 10-8 Missouri Valley (3rd): The Panthers were a bit of a disappointment a season ago, but they return their top six scorers from last season, headlined by big man Seth Tuttle, while adding Virginia transfer Paul Jesperson.

11. Iona, 22-11, 17-3 MAAC (1st): The Gaels won 20 games for the fourth straight season a year ago. They return one of the best scorers at the mid-major level in A.J. English and should once again be the favorites to win the always-competitive MAAC.

12. Wofford, 20-13, 11-5 SoCon (t-3rd): The Terriers return everyone of significance from a team that won the SoCon tournament a season ago. Along with Chattanooga, the favorites to win the league with Davidson A-10 bound.

13. Yale, 19-14, 9-5 Ivy (2nd): Harvard is the favorite to win the Ivy League this year, but Yale, the only team to beat Harvard in Ivy play last season, brings back a loaded front line, headlined by NBCSports.com’s preseason Player of the Year Justin Sears.

14. UC Irvine, 23-12, 13-3 Big West (1st): The Anteaters rode a pair of freshmen to the Big West title last season — 7-foot-6 center Mamadou N’Diaye and 6-foot-3 guard and leading scorer Luke Nelson.

15. Florida-Gulf Coast, 22-13, 14-4 Atlantic Sun (t-1st): The Atlantic Sun may be withering with the loss of Belmont, Mercer and East Tennessee State in recent years, but FGCU’s program is as good as ever. Bernard Thompson and Brett Comer anchor the back court while another crop of high-major transfers will fill their supporting cast.

OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES: Belmont, Chattanooga, Cleveland State, Hofstra, Louisiana-Lafayette, Manhattan, Sam Houston State, Siena, Stony Brook, UC Santa Barbara, Western Michigan

Georgia State’s RJ Hunter is a mid-major name you’ll want to remember

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One of my favorite parts about mid-major basketball is learning about the diamond in the rough, watching the kid that wasn’t good enough to deserve a high-major scholarship grow into a lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

Whether they are stars that led their team to deep NCAA tournament runs — Stephen Curry, CJ McCollum, Gordon Hayward, Kenneth Faried — or simply athletic marvels that worked harder than anyone else despite playing outside the bright lights of national TV — Paul George, Damian Lillard — doesn’t matter. These are the guys that we get attached to, simply because they actually end up hanging around the collegiate ranks for a few years before heading to the pros.

There isn’t a surefire NBA player in the mid-major ranks this season, but over the weekend, ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman pumped out a solid list of 20 guys that could end up cashing NBA paychecks down the road.

Some of the names you should know — Cleanthony Early helped lead Wichita State to last year’s Final Four, Sim Bhullar is the 7-foot-5 kid from New Mexico State that did this — and others should sound familiar — Allan Chaney began his career at Florida and Jerrelle Benimon spent two seasons at Georgetown — but the bottom-line is that those 20 names are the small school studs to keep an eye on this year.

But I have one more name for you: RJ Hunter, a rising sophomore at Georgia State.

RJ is the son of Ron Hunter, the head coach of the Panthers, which helps explain how the 6-foot-5 wing from Indiana ended up in Atlanta for college.

Hunter averaged 17.0 points and shot 36.5% from three as a freshman, helping the Panthers end their run in the CAA with a 10-win season. He’s tough as well, notching 5.1 rebounds despite carrying just 175 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame. As Georgia State moves on to become a member of the Sun Belt in 2013-2014, there are some things that Hunter can improve on, most notably his consistency. Hunter went for more than 25 points six times last season, including a 38 point outburst against Old Dominion, but also finished the year with six games in single digits.

That consistency will come with time, however. He was just a freshman, after all.

Which is why he’s a player you’ll want to keep an eye on during the upcoming season.