Here’s our Top Ten Mid-Major teams to watch out for as the college basketball season starts.
1. Gonzaga: This could be the most talented roster Mark Few has ever had and the Bulldogs look ready to finally make a deep postseason run. Kevin Pangos returns for his final season after averaging 14.5 points and 3.7 assists per game as a junior. He and 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski started in every game last season while Gary Bell Jr. is a talented guard that averaged 11.4 points per game. USC transfer Byron Wesley and Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer will add more talent to the starting lineup, as Wesley averaged 17.8 points per game as a Trojan and Wiltjer is a 6-foot-10 power forward that can stretch a defense with his jumper. Another talented transfer, former Vanderbilt guard Eric McClellan, will be eligible to play in January. Incoming freshmen Josh Perkins and 6’10 Domantas Sabonis, son of Arvydas, will also find minutes. Is this the year the Bulldogs move past the Sweet 16?
2. Wichita State: After finishing the regular season with an undefeated record, the Shockers were slightly disappointed with a second round exit to the eventual runner-up, Kentucky. Wichita State returns the entire backcourt in mistake-free point guard Fred VanVleet, do-it-all combo guard Ron Baker, and defensive stopper Tekele Cotton. The trio started every game last year and averaged a total of 35.0 points per contest. The frontcourt will be a question, however, as Cleanthony Early and Chadrack Lufile have graduated. Darius Carter played well last year and should be ready to step into a starting role as a senior. Evan Wessel will be the fifth starter if head coach Gregg Marshall decides to go small. JUCO big men Tevin Glass and Tom “Bush” Wamukota should be viable options in bigger lineups. Redshirt freshman Ria’n Holland will be a quality addition to the backcourt depth.
3. VCU: Seniors Briante Weber and Treveon Graham will lead the Rams this season as a talented perimeter duo. Weber averaged 9.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game at the point guard position, but will miss the opener against Tennessee for a disciplinary issue. JeQuan Lewis will likely start against Tennessee and provide quality bench minutes throughout the course of the year. Graham averaged a team-high 15.8 points to go with 7.0 rebounds per contest and will remain the top scoring threat. Melvin Johnson had some knee issues last season, but is a talented shooter that will be another double-figure scorer when healthy. Sophomore Jordan Burgess is another guard that will contribute off the bench. VCU will miss the production from Juvonte Reddic, but Mo Alie-Cox will attempt to replace some of his production as a sophomore. Freshmen Michael Gilmore, Terry Larrier, and Justin Tliman are talented four-star forwards that highlight a quality recruiting class.
4. San Diego State: Coming off a Mountain West Conference regular season title and Sweet 16 appearance, the Aztecs are looking for a similar success this season. Starting point guard and leading scorer Xavier Thames will be tough to replace, but it looks like versatile wing Winston Shepard could assume major ball-handling duties. Freshman Kevin Zabo will also see minutes. Trey Kell, a highly touted freshman scorer, will see time at shooting guard and had 10 points in an exhibition game. Dwayne Polee is an ultra-athletic wing that will see a bigger role this year while J.J. O’Brien is a nice glue guy that averaged 7.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season. Arizona transfer Angelo Chol is a nice interior addition that can score on the block. Skylar Spencer is an athletic shot-blocking presence inside. The Aztecs are also awaiting the health of freshman Malik Pope, a highly-touted 6-foot-8 wing that suffered two leg injuries in high school. He could be another big addition to the already nationally ranked San Diego State squad.
5. Harvard: After winning an NCAA Tournament game in back-to-back seasons, Harvard looks like a legitimate Top 25 program. Wesley Saunders was last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year and will remain the top scoring option at the shooting guard position. Teamed with junior Siyani Chambers, who averaged 11.1 points and 4.6 assists per game last season, Harvard has a nationally relevant backcourt. The key will be finding viable options off the bench. In the frontcourt, Steve Moundou-Missi returns after averaging 10.5 points ad 6.0 rebounds per game as a junior. Outside of a solid core three, Harvard faces uncertainty. Zena Edosomwan was a highly touted forward that should emerge as a sophomore. Kenyatta Smith and freshman Chris Egi should also see action up front. This team returns a solid core that topped Cincinnati in the first round last season and should remain as a possible Cinderella candidate.
6. Georgia State: R,J. Hunter was the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore and will be one of the top shooting guards in the country this season. He averaged 18.3 points per game last year and will be an NBA prospect to monitor. Point guard Ryan Harrow has emerged at Georgia State after transferring from Kentucky and looks to build upon his averages of 17.8 points and 4.2 assists per game as a junior. The Panthers also added Louisville transfer Kevin Ware to the backcourt. Markus Crider played well in a smaller role and should emerge as a starter. Former USC transfer Curtis Washington is a solid big man that averaged 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last season. The backcourt should lead Georgia State to an NCAA Tournament bid, but the depth will be a question throughout the season.
7. Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs return four starters from last season and could be a bracket buster to follow. They bring back a talented floor general in Kenneth “Speedy” Smith, leading scorer Alex Hamilton, double-figure scorer Raheem Appleby, and leading rebounder Michael Kyser from last year’s squad and should have an experienced core to build around. There are some JUCO additions expected to make immediate impacts while Xavian Stapleton is a freshman to watch on the wing.
8. Dayton: Archie Miller’s squad was a bracket buster last season, as the Flyers advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to Florida. Dyshawn Pierre and Jordan Sibert were critical to the postseason run and the double-figure scorers return this season on the wings. Last year’s starting point guard, Khari Price, transferred to Southern Miss, but sophomore Scoochie Smith is expected to take over the role effectively after adding weight over the offseason. Guards Kyle Davis and Darrell Davis will also see time in the backcourt. The question for Dayton comes up front due to the losses of Devin Oliver and Matt Kavanaugh. Jalen Robinson looks ready for a breakout season at power forward after scoring a team-high 20 points in an exhibition. The Flyers will need to find another consistent option up front or Miller could also slide Pierre to the four in smaller lineups.
9. BYU: Tyler Haws returns after averaging 23.4 points per game last season, the sixth best average in the NCAA. The Cougars will need his scoring once again as backcourt mate Matt Carlino departed for Marquette and Eric Mika went on his LDS mission. Kyle Collinsworth will provide another complimentary option after averaging 14.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game last year. Wake Forest transfer Chase Fischer sat out last season and could have a breakout season ahead. He scored a team-high 21 points in BYU’s final exhibition game. Seniors Anson Winder and Skyler Halford will also add depth in the backcourt. With a talented backcourt, the frontcourt will need to provide enough to compliment. Nate Austin should add rebounding but not much offensively. Luke Worthington should see an increased role as a sophomore. The Cougars will also get a boost when UNLV transfer Jamal Aytes becomes eligible and fully recovers from an ankle injury.
10. Toledo: After winning 27 games last year, Toledo returns six of its top seven leading scorers and looks like the favorite in the Mid-American Conference. Julius Brown is a quality senior point guard that averaged 14.9 points and 6.0 points per game last year while Justin Drummond and J.D. Weatherspoon were also double-figure scorers. With an experienced group and high-scoring backcourt, Toledo should be a sleeper to keep an eye on.
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