Predicting the 10 Most Impressive Mid-Majors for 2013-14 NCAA Basketball Season

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 29, 2013

Predicting the 10 Most Impressive Mid-Majors for 2013-14 NCAA Basketball Season

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    Thanks to the success of programs like Gonzaga, VCU, Butler and Xavier among countless others, we have come to expect a handful of mid-majors to be playing in the Sweet 16 or beyond almost every college basketball season.

    The 2013-14 campaign will likely be no different. Read on to get an idea of who the best mid-majors will be this year, keeping in mind that leagues outside of the American Athletic Conference, Big East, Big Ten, ACC, SEC and Pac-12 were considered “mid-major.”

    In reality it probably isn’t fair to call some of these schools mid-majors anymore, but the cutoff line had to be drawn somewhere (and the Mountain West lost the temporary benefit of the doubt with its most recent NCAA tournament performance).

Gonzaga

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    Considering its status as king of the mid-majors, it may come as somewhat of a surprise that Gonzaga has never reached the Final Four. The Bulldogs may have missed the best chance in school history last year as a No. 1 seed in a wide-open region.

    Alas, Mark Few’s squad won’t be No. 1 seed material in 2013-14, but it is still arguably the top mid-major in the country and will once again rack up an impressive win total. The main issue will be replacing key cogs Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk.

    In fact, Harris and Olynyk were the top two scorers for the Bulldogs from a year ago. Look for center Przemek Karnowski to pick up the slack in the points and rebounding departments, as he becomes a national name in his sophomore campaign.

    This team should still win the West Coast Conference and earn a favorable seed on Selection Sunday.

VCU

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    Virginia Commonwealth checks in at No. 15 in the initial USA Today Coaches Poll, and that ranking could improve as it racks up wins in a new look and weaker Atlantic 10.

    No longer will the Rams have to contend with the likes of Xavier, Butler and Temple, and perhaps only Saint Louis and La Salle stands in the way of an easy conference crown and favorable seed in the NCAA tournament.

    VCU will once again institute head coach Shaka Smart’s havoc-creating defense, as it hounds opposing ball-handlers and tests their stamina for 40 minutes. The constant full-court pressure will lead to plenty of turnovers and easy opportunities on the other end for the Rams.

    VCU’s final seeding and chances in the NCAA tournament may come down to how successful (or unsuccessful) the rest of the conference is in 2013-14. If La Salle and Saint Louis boost the Rams’ strength of schedule, they could be in position to make some noise in March.

Wichita State

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    No mid-major was more impressive than Wichita State in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

    The Shockers made it all the way to the Final Four after stunning the likes of Gonzaga and Ohio State in their regional. What’s more, they held a commanding lead for some time against eventual national champion Louisville in the Final Four before collapsing at the end.

    Wichita State will dominate the Missouri Valley this season now that Creighton is residing in the Big East. Cleanthony Early could take home conference player of the year honors as he leads the Shockers to another postseason appearance.

    Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet return as well to a roster that will be bolstered by three impact transfers. Darius Carter and Nick Wiggins come via the junior college ranks, while Kadeem Coleby joins Wichita from Louisiana-Lafayette.

Boise State

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    While the Mountain West has been criticized this offseason for its poor performance in the NCAA tournament, Boise State was likely simply ecstatic to be invited to the ball last year.

    That will not be the case in 2013-14. The Broncos have higher hopes than a first-round exit with a roster that features the best one-two punch in the conference.

    Floor general Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic may compete against each other for Mountain West Player of the Year honors while they combine forces to knock off opponents. Marks is the floor general who also scores a lot of points (he averaged better than 16 a night last year), while Drmic is more of a score-first weapon.

    Marks is also a formidable defender that will spearhead the Broncos’ efforts on both ends of the floor. Look for a return trip to the NCAA tournament for Boise State and perhaps a win or two when it gets there.

New Mexico

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    If Derrick Marks, Anthony Drmic and the rest of the Boise State Broncos are the class of the Mountain West (and that is up for debate), New Mexico isn’t far behind.

    The Lobos lost more than their conference counterparts when Tony Snell was drafted by the Chicago Bulls and head coach Steve Alford shocked the program by departing for UCLA right after signing a 10-year contract, but there is still plenty of talent in place.

    Before this season really heats up, New Mexico is going to have to recover from any lingering “hangover” effects the stunning loss to Harvard in the NCAA tournament left. If it can do that, Kendall Williams and company could defend their league title.

    Williams will challenge the Boise players for Mountain West Player of the Year honors as he becomes Mr. Everything for the Lobos with no more Snell around.

Harvard

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    That’s right, the nerds from Harvard are back for more in 2013-14 after a season that included an Ivy League championship and a stunning upset of New Mexico in the NCAA tournament.

    That was the Crimson’s first win in school history in the Big Dance, but this year’s version should be even better. Only Christian Webster departed from the 2012-13 squad, and Tommy Amaker replaced him with the return of Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry to the roster.

    Amaker also did some work on the recruiting trail this offseason, bringing in one of the most hyped prospects in Harvard history. Zena Edosomwan will make an impact right away and will at the very least take home freshman of the year honors in the Ivy League if he plays up to his potential.

    Watch out for the Crimson this season.

Southern Mississippi

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    It doesn’t get much more heartbreaking than the end of Southern Mississippi’s 2012-13 campaign when it comes to college basketball.

    The Golden Eagles fell in double overtime to Memphis in the Conference USA tournament. Had it found a way to pull that game out, Southern Miss would have been dancing for the second consecutive season. There was still some hope after the defeat, but the selection committee popped the Eagles’ bubble when the field was announced.

    The good news going into this season is that Memphis is now in the American Athletic Conference. That means Southern Miss should run rampant through the C-USA and find itself playing in March this time around.

    Neil Watson and Jerrold Brooks formulate an imposing backcourt that will be ready to run. There may not even be that many close conference games this year for the Golden Eagles.

La Salle

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    La Salle may not have gotten the national attention that Florida Gulf Coast or Wichita State did, but its run in last year’s NCAA tournament was impressive, especially when considering it started the journey in the “First Four.”

    While last year’s Sweet 16 trip was certainly a surprise, the Explorers won’t catch anyone off guard in 2013-14. Four starters return to a squad that should battle VCU for an Atlantic 10 championship.

    The problem is though that the one starter gone is last year’s superstar Ramon Galloway. That being said, La Salle is versatile enough to account for Galloway’s lost production in a number of ways.

    Tyreek Duren is arguably one of the best point guards in the country, and he will joined in the backcourt by potential breakout candidate Tyrone Garland. Down low the Explorers can throw Jerell Wright and Steve Zack at bigger opponents.

    La Salle has the talent needed to make another deep run in March. But first it has to contend for the conference crown with Shaka Smart’s squad.

UNLV

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    By the Cleveland Cavaliers’ logic, UNLV lost the most NBA-ready college basketball player from last year when Anthony Bennett was selected with the first overall pick.

    That is a lot to replace for a Runnin’ Rebels squad that always has NCAA tournament aspirations. Throw that on top of the fact that Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt transferred, and UNLV is starting from a hole when compared to conference mates Boise State and New Mexico.

    But the Rebels reloaded in a major way this offseason. Connecticut transfer Roscoe Smith will likely be the best player on the squad, while former Pittsburgh big man Khem Birch will provide size down low. Bryce Dejean-Jones also returns and should see more minutes.

    Former McDonald’s All-American and Ole Miss guard Jelan Kendrick and highly touted recruits Kendall Smith, Deville Smith and Christian Wood give UNLV some depth.

    There is a lot of impressive talent on this roster. If it all meshes, the Runnin’ Rebels will be in the thick of the Mountain West race and perhaps make some noise in the NCAA tournament.

Indiana State

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    Larry Bird may not be walking back through that door, but Indiana State is poised to make a run at the NCAA tournament in 2013-14.

    The Sycamores looked worthy for much of last year after racking up impressive wins over the likes of Miami, Mississippi, Creighton and Wichita State, but a late-season collapse cost them a potential at-large bid. After all, it’s difficult to overcome losing five of the final six for a Missouri Valley squad on the bubble.

    The last time Indiana State was in the NCAA tournament it was led by a certain freshman named Jake Odum. Well, he is now a senior and ready to take advantage of his last chance at the collegiate level. What’s more, three other starters from last year’s squad will join Odum as he contends for conference player of the year honors.

    Odum will do enough to lead the Sycamores to the Big Dance after coming tantalizingly close last year.

     

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