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The key mid-majors to watch for 2013-14
After Florida Gulf Coast reached the Sweet 16 and Wichita State reached the Final Four, teams outside of the college basketball power structure are starting to reach even footing. At least on the court.
Beyond the major surprises in the NCAA Tournament, this is an interesting time for mid-major programs. The Mountain West showed surprising depth last season, a trend that should continue as the league expands. Even though Creighton left the Missouri Valley and Temple, Xavier and Butler left the Atlantic 10, there’s plenty to watch in both leagues.
Wichita State already has the look of the MVC’s flagship program. The same could be said of VCU and Saint Louis in the A-10, provided they can hold off upstart UMass.
We took a quick look of seven conferences already this offseason. Here’s a snapshot of 11 key teams in the the Mountain West, Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, West Coast and more.
Other conference snapshots:
1. WICHITA STATE (30-9, 12-6 Missouri Valley, NCAA Final Four)
Key players gone: Malcolm Armstead, Carl Hall, Demetric Williams
Top returners: Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Cleanthony Early, Fred Van Vleet, Jake White
New faces: D.J. Bowles (freshman), Kadeem Coleby (Louisiana-Lafayette transfer), Earl Watson (junior college), Evan Wessel (redshirt)
The point guard Armstead and leading rebounder Hall are gone from the Final Four run, but the rising sophomore Baker played only 18 games last season. With Early, Baker and Cotton, there’s enough returning to win the Missouri Valley this season, especially if Van Vleet flourishes as a full-time point guard. The 6-foot-9 Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Coleby and local 6-5 guard Wessel will fill some gaps.
2. VCU (27-9, 12-4 Atlantic 10, NCAA round of 32)
Key players gone: Troy Daniels, Darius Theus
Top returners: Rob Brandenburg, Treveon Graham, Juvonte Reddic, Melvin Thomas, Briante Weber
New faces: Jordan Burgess (redshirt), Terrance Shannon (Florida State transfer)
Five of the top seven players return to VCU, including three who averaged double-figure scoring. Theus’ 2.4 steals per game will be missed on the defensive end, but there’s a lot to like about a VCU team that went 12-4 in its first season in the Atlantic 10. Shannon was an injury-riddled player at Florida State, but he’s a 6-8 senior who will be a key piece for the Rams if he can stay healthy.
3. GONZAGA (32-3, 16-0 West Coast, NCAA round of 32)
Key players gone: Elias Harris, Guy Landry Edi, Kelly Olynyk
Top returning players: Gary Bell Jr, Sam Dower, Przemek Karnowski, Kevin Pangos, David Stockton
New faces: Gerald Coleman (Providence transfer), Angel Nunez (Louisville transfer)
The front line takes a hit without Olynyk and Harris, but Mark Few’s backcourt should be solid with Pangos (41.7 percent on three pointers) and Bell. Two centers who were part-time players last season in Karnowski (7-1) and Dower (6-9) will look to take a step forward in replacing the Olynyk. Gonzaga’s season was marred by losing to Wichita State in the round of 32, but the Bulldogs should remain a top-25 contender in 2013-14.
4. NEW MEXICO (29-6, 13-3 Mountain West, NCAA round of 64)
Key players gone: Tony Snell, Demetrius Walker
Top returning players: Cameron Bairstow, Alex Kirk, Hugh Greenwood, Kendall Williams
New faces: Merv Lindsey (transfer from Kansas), Cullen Neal (freshman)
Longtime Steve Alford assistant Craig Neal was promoted to coach a team that returns four players who started at least 30 games. The Lobos may be the preseason pick to win the Mountain West, but that NCAA Tournament loss to Harvard will be tough to forget. Snell (12.5 ppg) is a notable departure, but the Lobos were a balanced team for most of the season.
5. SAINT LOUIS (28-7, 13-3 Atlantic 10, NCAA round of 32)
Key players gone: Kwamain Mitchell, Cody Ellis
Top returners: Dwayne Evans, Grandy Glaze, Jordair Jett, Rob Loe, Mike McCall
Jim Crews has the job full-time and a chance to repeat in the Atlantic 10. Replacing Kwamain Mitchell’s 30 minutes per game will be tough. Four starters are back, not including the assist leader Jett.
6. UMASS (21-12, 9-7 Atlantic 10, NIT first round)
Key players gone: Freddie Riley, Terrell Vinson
Top returning players: Cady Lalanne, Raphiael Putney, Chaz Williams
New faces: Derrick Gordon (transfer from Western Kentucky)
Derek Kellogg’s program has steadily improved in five seasons. Now, the Minutemen have a chance to be the top team in the Atlantic 10, which will see Butler, Temple and Xavier depart. The 5-9 point guard Chaz Williams will be one of the top players in the league, and the 6-3 Gordon was a major pickup from Western Kentucky, where he averaged 11.8 ppg, 6.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
7. HARVARD (20-10, 11-3 Ivy, NCAA round of 32)
Key players gone: Christian Webster
Top returning players: Siyani Chambers, Steve Moundou-Missi, Laurent Rivard, Wesley Saunders
New faces: Zena Edosomwan (freshman)
Harvard’s upset of New Mexico signaled the young Crimson would be ready to take the next step in 2013-14. Last year’s team had only one senior (Webster), and one junior seeing significant minutes (Rivard). Led by Saunders and Chambers, Harvard will have a leg up on the the rest of the Ivy League the next two seasons.
8. BOISE STATE (21-11, 9-7 Mountain West, NCAA First Four)
Key players gone: Kenny Buckner
Top returning players: Anthony Drmic, Jeff Elorriaga, Igor Hadziomerovic, Derrick Marks, Mikey Thompson, Ryan Watkins
The Mountain West is expanding, but teams like Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State are in transition. With two of the league’s top returning scorers, Boise State is geared up for another run to the NCAA Tournament. Leading the four-guard lineup, Drmic averaged 17.7 points, and Marks averaged 16.3.
9. SAN DIEGO STATE (23-11, 9-7 Mountain West, NCAA round of 32)
Key players gone: Jamaal Franklin, James Rahon, Chase Tapley
Top returning players: J.J. O’Brien, Xavier Thames, Winston Shepard)
New faces: Josh Davis (transfer from Tulane)
The Aztecs have absorbed the loss of Kawhi Leonard and other key pieces in recent years. The next step is to replace Franklin, their top player the last two years, and the clutch Tapley. The key is the sophomore Shepard, a five-star recruit who averaged 5.7 points last season. Davis is a major pickup after averaging 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds for Tulane in 2012-13.
10. UNLV (25-10, 10-6 Mountain West, NCAA round of 64)
Key players gone: Anthony Bennett, Anthony Marshall, Mike Moser, Katin Reinhardt
Top returning players: Khem Birch, Bryce Dejean-Jones
New faces: Jelan Kendrick (junior college), Christian Wood (freshman)
UNLV was the most talented team in a deep Mountain West, but the Runnin’ Rebels finished third in the league before losing to Cal in the NCAA Tournament. The Rebels will have eight players who were top-100 recruits at some point, and that’s taking into account the departures of Reinhardt and Moser via transfer. With something of a revolving door on the roster, the results have been mixed under Dave Rice.
And 1: BYU (24-12, 10-6 West Coast, NIT semifinal)
Key players gone: Brandon Davies, Brock Zylstra
Top returning players: Tyler Haws, Matt Carlino, Josh Sharp
New faces: Kyle Collinsworth (returning from mission) Eric Mika (freshman)
BYU missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven seasons in 2013, but the Cougars could return in 2014. The backcourt will lead the way with Haws and his 21.7 points per game leading the way. With Davies gone, BYU will need the power forward Mika to make an instant impact.