Preseason Mid-Major Top 15 Power Rankings
Top 15 Mid-Majors
Enough about Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky and any other BCS school who cracked every major preseason Top 25 poll. Those schools get all the attention year round, so let’s refocus on other programs that will fly under the radar until they bust your bracket in March.
The Top 15 Mid-Majors, a weekly power ranking that will be reevaluated and published every Monday throughout the season.
(Disclaimer: The top two teams on this list happen to appear in every Top 25 poll, but they play in mid-major conferences and are thus included in these rankings.)
(Disclaimer: For the purpose of these rankings, any team in a conference outside the BCS, A-10, MWC and C-USA is considered a mid-major.)
Here’s a little bit about the teams who didn’t crack the Top 15 but find themselves right on the periphery.
Bucknell — The Bison have one of mid-major’s best bigs in Mike Muscala and they can also shoot the rock.
Loyola Marymount — They lost Drew Viney but Anthony Ireland and Ashley Hamilton will keep the Lions competitive in the WCC.
Manhattan — With almost every key player from last year’s 21-win team returning, the Jaspers are the favorite to win the MAAC.
Loyola Md. — But even though the Jaspers are the favorite, Loyola Md. looks to repeat as tournament champions with Erik Etherly leading the way.
Iona — The Gaels will also contend for the MAAC crown with MoMo Jones, Sean Armand and a bunch of transfers looking to replace the production of Scott Machado and Mike Glover.
Belmont — Even though Belmont lost three key players, Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark will keep the team competitive in its first OVC season.
Montana — The Grizzlies return their top three scorers from last year’s tournament team. But Will Cherry’s injury keeps them outside the top 15 for now.
George Mason — With a solid guards corps, the Patriots need to fill the void left by Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison up front. Doing so effectively could land George Mason in the top 15.
Illinois State — The Redbirds return almost everyone from last year’s 21-win team. Look for Illinois State to be Creighton’s top challenger in the MVC.
Northern Iowa — You can also never count out the Panthers in the MVC, though 2011-12 was somewhat of a down year. UNI only lost Johnny Moran.
Denver — After emerging last year, Denver transitions to the WAC with a group of returners. Brian Stafford is gone, but the Pioneers have the pieces to be strong once again.
Tennessee State — The top four scorers return to the only team to beat Murray State in the regular season last year, headlined by Robert Covington.
Utah State — The Aggies lost a lot of key players, but Preston Medlin is one of the most under the radar mid-major guards.
Santa Clara — This might seem like a long-shot, given last year’s record. But the Broncos have so much talent in Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore, and Marc Trasolini is set to return after missing last year with an ACL tear.
15. Long Beach State 49ers
After losing its core from last year, Long Beach State enters 2012-13 as somewhat of an enigma. James Ennis and Mike Caffey are the only two key returners from last year’s squad, but Dan Monson brought in several transfers to replace his stars.
Dan Jennings (West Virginia) is eligible immediately, and Tony Freeland (DePaul) and Edgar Garibay (Loyola Marymount) are set to join him in the frontcourt in December. Arizona State transfer Keala King will also be eligible in December, giving the 49ers a scoring boost in the backcourt and on the wing.
So early on, Long Beach State won’t be as strong as last year. But over time, the 49ers could be just as good.
14. Detroit Titans
Detroit gained steam late in 2011-12 and reached the NCAA tournament after a disappointing start. Chase Simon and Eli Holman are no longer with the team, but Nick Minnerath is healthy and Ray McCallum returns for his junior year. Everyone else is back, and transfer Juwan Howard Jr. joins the mix, too.
13. Valparaiso Crusaders
The reigning regular season champs of the Horizon League return their big two of Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk. Most of the Crusaders’ rotation will also suit up this year, and without Butler, they stand a good chance of repeating.
12. Ohio Bobcats
Ohio underachieved in the MAC but won the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament last year. Then they rolled to the Sweet 16, where they brought North Carolina to the brink.
The Bobcats didn’t have the most prolific offense, but their defense ranked No. 3 nationally in steals per game and No. 10 in three-point defense. Their turnover margin of 4.4 ranked No. 5 nationally.
With every key player from that team returning, expect big things from Ohio in 2012-13.
11. LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds
LIU-Brooklyn avoided disaster when the school lifted its suspensions of Julian Boyd, Jamal Olasaware, Troy Joseph and C.J. Garner, following an on-campus fight.
The Blackbirds went 25-9 last year, and with those players expected to return, were set to continue to dominate the NEC. Boyd and Olasaware form one of the best mid-major duos, combining for 34.3 points and 16.8 rebounds per game last year.
10. Murray State Racers
After leading his Racers to a 31-2 record last year, Isaiah Canaan will once again be his team’s leader. But the AP Preseason All-American can only do so much by himself.
Ivan Aska, Donte Poole and Jewaun Long are no longer with the program, and Zay Jackson is currently suspended. So Murray State, which ranked No. 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency a season ago, lose their top two rebounders (Aska and Long) and three of their best defenders (Poole, Long and Jackson).
9. Brigham Young Cougars
Brandon Davies returns and Matt Carlino is coming off an impressive freshman campaign, but don’t underestimate the losses of Noah Hartstock and Charles Abouo. Together, last year’s senior duo averaged 27.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.
Replacing that production won’t be easy.
Davis could be a 18 ppg forward, though, and if Carlino continues to progress, the Cougars will still be a top 10 mid-major.
8. Lehigh Mountainhawks
C.J. McCollum was named an AP Preseason All-American, and the Mountainhawks return their top four scorers from last year’s team, which upset No. 2 seed Duke.
There really isn’t anything McCollum cannot do on the floor. He averaged 21.9 points last year and has never averaged fewer than 19.1. But he is also an exceptional rebounder for a 6-foot-3 guard and averaged 3.5 assists and 2.6 steals per game as well.
7. South Dakota State Jackrabbits
With Nate Wolters leading the way, South Dakota State ranked No. 30 in adjusted offensive efficiency last year. Wolters returns for his senior season, and his entire supporting cast, save Griffin Callahan, joins him as the Jackrabbits look to return to the Big Dance.
Three Jackrabbits — not Wolters, somewhat surprisingly — shot over 46 percent from long range, helping South Dakota State post one of the nation’s top three point percentages of 39.3 percent.
6. St. Mary's Gaels
St. Mary’s lost a few key players, most notably double-double machine Rob Jones. But with Matthew Dellavedova and Stephen Holt leading the way, the Gaels should once again be Gonzaga’s primary challenger in the WCC.
St. Mary’s ranked No. 26 in adjusted offensive efficiency, but without Jones and sharpshooter Clint Steindl, the Gaels need someone to step up. 6-foot-9 sophomore Brad Waldow is a candidate to do so if he can stay on the floor longer than 18.5 minutes per game.
5. Davidson Wildcats
Davidson beat Kansas last December and nearly upset Louisville in the NCAA tournament.
Every key player from that team is back, and they’re all upperclassmen. Forming one of the country’s best, most versatile frontcourts De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen combined to average 30 points and 12.3 rebounds per game a year ago.
4. Drexel Dragons
Depth could be a concern for Drexel, which played just seven players last season. The Dragons went 29-7, but they missed out on the NCAA tournament and lost Samme Givens to graduation after the season.
However, Drexel has incumbent bigs Dartaye Ruffin and Daryl McCoy, who should fill bigger roles and mitigate the loss of Givens. The Dragons also have two tall redshirt freshmen, one of whom, Tavon Allen, Jon Rothstein said is very skilled and capable of playing three positions.
And that’s not to mention a big three of Frantz Massenat, Damion Lee and Chris Fouch. If Fouch can finally prove he’s healthy, Drexel should have another big year ahead — the senior averaged 14.9 points two years ago.
3. North Texas Mean Green
Though North Texas went 18-14 last year and did not reach the NCAA tournament, the Mean Green return seven players who saw at least 20 minutes of floor time. One of those players is future NBA lottery pick Tony Mitchell, who averaged 14.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and three blocks per game as a freshman.
Chris Jones and Jordan Williams are both expected back after missing the second half of 2011-12 with academic issues, and T.J. Taylor, a former Marquette signee, will suit up. Also, don’t sleep on Grambling transfer Justin Patton, who averaged 13.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in 2010-11.
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Robert Sacre graduated, but somehow Elias Harris is still around. Joining Harris are returnees Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., and Sam Dower, all of whom had very solid seasons in 2011-12.
Dower should have a breakout year as Gonzaga’s main threat down low while Pangos and Bell look to build on impressive freshman campaigns.
The Bulldogs, albeit with the help of Sacre, were very efficient on both ends of the floor last year, ranking No. 29 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 34 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
1. Creighton Blue Jays
With AP All-American Doug McDermott leading the way, the Blue Jays are a national top 25 team. They’re the best mid-major squad out there, too.
Creighton went 29-6 last year, losing to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament. Few teams had a more efficient offense than the Blue Jays, who ranked No. 5 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency. McDermott averaged 22.9 points on 60.1 percent field goal shooting and 48.6 percent three-point shooting.
Creighton did lose Antoine Young to graduation, and Greg McDermott’s defense ranked No. 178 in adjusted defensive efficiency last season. But everyone else returns, so the Blue Jays are the trendy mid-major pick in the preseason.