College Basketball 2010-11: 10 Mid-Majors to Watch Other Than Butler and Gonzaga
Mid-majors don't receive the respect they deserve. Because the mid-major conferences have weaker teams than the power conferences, many in the college basketball world overlook the talent and ability of the Butlers, Northern Iowas, and Sienas.
Every year a mid-major shocks the country by going on a run. Last year alone, four mid-majors reached the Sweet 16 and Butler was a half-court shot away from a national title.
This slideshow is meant to help you avoid overlooking the best mid-major programs in the country.
Note: Gonzaga and Butler are mid-majors, but they are not included in the slideshow because they are nationally ranked. Also, the Atlantic 10, Mountain West and Conference USA are considered a level above mid-major.
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10. Siena Saints
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Edwin Ubiles, Ronald Moore and Alex Franklin graduated last spring, but the Saints return Ryan Rossiter, Clarence Jackson and several other rotation players from a season ago.
Rossiter, an ideal leader and fundamentally sound big man, was voted the MAAC's Preseason Player of the Year. Jackson, an athletic sharpshooter, earned first-team All-MAAC preseason honors.
In addition to Rossiter, O.D. Anosike and Brandon Walters will comprise the frontcourt. Anosike, who added muscle to his tall-but-lanky frame during the offseason, should be a bigger, more valuable contributor than he was in 2009-10. Formerly a Seton Hall Pirate, the 6'9" Walters has the potential to be a force in the MAAC.
Siena's frontcourt is the best in the conference and will be able to hold its own against better opponents.
As for the backcourt, replacing Moore won't be easy. However, Siena has several guards ready to step in and run an offense—although none of them can push the ball and distribute quite like Moore.
Siena definitely will take a step down this year. Fairfield is the preseason favorite to win the MAAC. However, that step won't be a big one.
9. Lipscomb Bisons
Adnan Hodzic, Lipscomb's Bosnian Beast. Photo Credit: AtlanticSun.org
There's no time like the present—at least for Scott Sanderson and his Lipscomb Bisons.
The Bisons' core consists of four seniors and two juniors and, as we all know, experience is a crucial ingredient for mid-major success.
Adnan Hodzic—who withdrew from the 2010 NBA Draft—and Josh Slater are both seniors and accounted for 39.8 of Lipscomb's 79 points per game a year ago. They make up the best inside-outside duo in the Atlantic Sun and they can also give better opponents fits.
Although Slater turned the ball over 2.9 times per game last year, only 22 Division I players averaged better than his 5.2 assists per game and 1.78 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Hodzic averaged 22.7 points and 9.1 boards per game as a junior. He is one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball despite being the runner-up for the 2009-10 scoring title. With 57 straight double-digit scoring games to his credit, the Bosnian Beast will pour in points against anyone. He scored 18 points at Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Cincinatti and 34 in a narrow overtime loss at Arizona last year.
In addition to Hodzic and Slater, Sanderson returns two double-figure scorers in Jordan Burgason and Brandon Brown.
Burgason, who drained just over three triples per game at a 43.8-percent clip, is an absolute assassin from deep. Although Brown underwent offseason shoulder surgery, he should be 100 percent to start the season. Brown averaged 10.4 points per game as a junior and he is also a reputable defender who usually guards the opponent's top offensive threat.
The Bisons won a meager three non-conference games last season, but they finished 14-4 in the Atlantic Sun. However, they fell short of the conference championship and, consequently, the NCAA tournament.
They have a few must-win non-conference games against Austin Peay (twice), Stillman, Tennessee-Martin and Tennessee Tech. But they also have several challenges including Baylor, Memphis and Alabama.
Expect the Bisons to get off to a better start in 2010-11 and play tough against top competition—like they did for three-quarters of the season-opening game against UNC.
8. Fairfield Stags
Photo Credit: Peter Caty/The Mirror
Here is what I wrote about Fairfield in my MAAC season preview:
"Except—yes, this is a big “except”—for Anthony Johnson and Mike Evanovich, the entire Stags team that took Siena to overtime in the 2010 conference championship returns for Ed Cooley."
In addition, Yorel Hawkins—who missed the final 12 games of the season with a leg injury—and Greg Nero and Warren Edney—both of whom sat the entire 2009-10 season—are ready to play.
Hawkins, who averaged 14.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, should be the impact player he was prior to hurting his leg. Nero is still improving his stamina, but should be a valuable asset for the Stags. Edney’s injured foot still bothers him, but according to Collegehoopsnet’s Joel Welser, he is expected to play a significant role.
Last year’s conference Rookie of the Year, Derek Needham, will run the point again. He proved he could take over games as a freshman. If he worked on cutting down his turnovers this offseason, Needham could be the conference’s most valuable player.
Ryan Olander will need to mitigate the loss of Johnson by crashing the boards more and providing interior defense, both tasks he can certainly do. Lyndon Jordan, Sean Crawford and Colin Nickerson will also assume larger, possibly starting, roles.
This Fairfield team is poised to usurp Siena’s throne atop the MAAC.
Nero provides one of the season's most inspirational story-lines, returning from an illness that left him unable to leave his bed for nearly a year.
Although Fairfield's loss to Stonehill (D-II) was not an auspicious way to start the season, the Stags have the pieces to at least mitigate—if not fully replace—the voids left by Johnson and Evanovich. They could flourish in 2010-11.
7. Loyola Marymount
Coach Max Good looks to coach his team to a WCC title and NCAA Tournament berth.
Jeff Golden/Getty Images
Gonzaga and Saint Mary's be warned—it won't be a two-team race for first place in the West Coast Conference in 2010-11.
With four starters and nine of its top 11 scorers returning, Loyola Marymount is ready to join the party.
The Lions return three double-digit scorers and a great one-two scoring punch of Drew Viney and Vernon Teel, both of whom received preseason All-WCC honors.
A 6'8" junior, Viney averaged 16.7 points, seven boards, 1.2 swipes and 1.2 blocks. He also converted 42.6 percent of his three-point attempts.
Teel, a versatile senior guard, averaged 15.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game. If Teel can cut down his 3.5 turnover per game average, he might emerge as an elite mid-major guard.
Jarred Dubois, who scored 12.3 points per game and shot 40.4 percent from long range, is the third returning double-digit scorer.
Despite being an undersized center at 6'7", Ashley Hamilton averaged 8.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last year. He will return to power forward when the 6'10" Edgar Garibay, who averaged 7.4 points and 6.1 rebounds before tearing his ACL, is ready to take the court.
The Lions have one of the best starting lineups in the WCC and their bench is also deep. Larry Davis spent a lot of time sidelined with an injury last year, but he will be a key contributor when healthy. Freshman Godwin Okonji, who posted seven points, eight rebounds and four blocks in his debut, will also be a valuable asset off the bench.
Three other bench players who averaged over 10 minutes per game return, and freshmen Anthony Ireland and Ayodeji Egbeyemi are expected to contribute early.
6. Wofford Terriers
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Minus Junior Salters (7.7 ppg) and Corey Godzinski (3.6 ppg), the entire Wofford team that took Wisconsin down to the wire in the first round of last year's Big Dance will be intact for 2010-11.
Noah Dahlman and Jamar Diggs, both preseason All-Southern Conference selections, were the Terriers' top two scorers a year ago and will once again lead the offense.
A senior forward who will challenge Andrew Goudelock for Southern Conference Player of the Year, Dahlman averaged 16.6 points and 6.3 boards per game last year. He has posted double-figures in scoring in 48 straight games and he is one of the country's best mid-major players. A defensive-minded guard, Diggs is also valuable on offense. He averaged 9.5 points and 2.6 assists and he shot 37.7 percent from long range a year ago.
Joining Dahlman up front, Tim Johnson, who averaged 6.1 points and 7.9 rebounds last year, is an elite rebounder among his conference foes. Although he is an inefficient scorer and foul-shooter, his ability to clean the glass is invaluable.
Cameron Rundles and Brad Loesing fill out the backcourt. Neither shot above 40 percent from the floor a year ago but, according to Blue Ribbon's team preview, both have high basketball IQs.
Loesing, who led the team with three assists per game in 2009-10, will run the point. He will also be the only junior in a starting lineup loaded with seniors.
The Terriers combine talent with experience, an amalgam that generally leads to mid-major success.
5. Old Dominion Monarchs
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Gerald Lee graduated, but the impact of his departure will not be onerous on ODU, as coach Blaine Taylor returns four starters from last year's NCAA tournament team.
Frank Hassell, Ben Finney and Keyon Carter are more than capable of making up for Lee's 4.8 boards per game, while the well-balanced Monarchs can account for their former center's 14.4 points per game.
Importantly, the Monarchs are experienced. Carter, Finney, Hassell and point guard Darius James are all seniors and Kent Bazemore, the other starter, is a junior. They're accustomed to playing in hostile environments and on big stages—they upset No. 6 seed Notre Dame in the first round of the tournament last year.
In its season opener this weekend, ODU fell to No. 20 Georgetown by three points. The Monarchs might have squandered a seven-point lead at home with under six minutes left, but the close loss proves that the Monarchs are still a tough mid-major capable of competing with the big boys.
4. Saint Mary's Gaels
Without Omar Samhan and Ben Allen, Saint Mary's does not return any player who averaged more than 3.5 boards per game a year ago.
However, the Gaels have several returning big men who can alleviate the graduations of their best two rebounders. Clint Steindl, Mitchell Young, Tim Williams, Rob Jones, Kenton Walker and Beau Levesque all add height to the mix.
Transfers from reputable D-I programs, Jones (San Diego) and Walker (Creighton) should receive lots of playing time. They both posted solid debuts this weekend against the College of Idaho Yotes.
Even if the frontcourt takes a step down from last year, Saint Mary's might have the best mid-major backcourt, with sophomore Matthew Dellavedova and senior Mickey McConnell. Dellavedova averaged 12.1 points, 3.5 boards and 4.5 assists while shooting 39.8 percent from long range as a frosh. His backcourt mate posted 13.8 points and 5.1 dimes per game and shot a ludicrous 51 percent from deep.
With a collective 2.32 to 1 assist/turnover ratio, Dellavedova and McConnell are both extremely smart with the ball and can be trusted in pressure situations.
The Gaels' depth and excellent backcourt will keep them relevant in mid-major and national circles in 2010-11.
3. Murray State Racers
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Danero Thomas, the Racer whose buzzer beater defeated No. 4 seed Vanderbilt in the first round of the 2010 tournament, graduated. So did Tony Easley, the team's leading rebounder.
However, despite the graduations, Murray State is still poised for another special season.
The offensive balance and defensive tenacity that propelled the Racers to a 30-4 record will once again be the staples of Billy Kennedy's system, as B.J. Jenkins, Isaiah Canaan, Ivan Aska, Isaac Miles and four other key components return.
Last year, six Racers averaged between 9.7 and 10.6 points per game. Although Thomas and Easley were among those six, their loss will be mitigated by former sixth man Jeffrey McClain, Edward Daniel, freshman Shawn Jackson and JUCO-transfer Brandon Garrett.
Jenkins and Miles, both of whom averaged over three dimes per game in 2009-10 en route to first-team All-OVC honors, and Canaan, a sophomore who averaged 10.4 points per game as a frosh, comprise the backcourt. With the chemistry created after one year on the court together, the backcourt should be a formidable strength for Murray State in 2010-11.
Winning the OVC is not a guarantee. Kenneth Faried and a hungry Morehead State team will challenge the Racers, but Murray State is definitely the preseason favorite.
Fun fact: A year ago only four mid-majors (Butler, Old Dominion, Northern Iowa and St. Peter's) allowed fewer than Murray State's 91.7 points per 100 possessions. Expect the Racers' defense to produce similar numbers in 2010-11.
2. Wichita State Shockers
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Four starters return for Gregg Marshall and the Shockers, a team that narrowly missed the Big Dance last year. The lone departing starter, point guard Clevin Hannah, was the team's leader in points and assists, but Joe Ragland will fill the vacancy.
Ragland, a JUCO All-American in 2009-10, will need to learn the new system. However, he is not a freshman preparing for his college debut. Ragland already has two years of college ball—albeit JUCO ball—under his belt and he should be able to learn the offense quickly.
Like last year, Wichita State will be solid around the perimeter and down low. Junior Toure' Murray and senior Graham Hatch can shoot from beyond the arc and attack the basket. Senior J.T. Durley can score in the post and extend his range to three-point territory.
Junior Garrett Stutz is a 7'0" center who averaged 7.8 points per game last year, and bigger things are expected from him in 2010-11. At 6'8", Gabe Blair, who averaged 6.3 points and 4.5 boards last year, is also a potential impact player in the frontcourt.
In terms of depth, the Shockers have a few reliable options off the bench. Ben Smith, David Kyles, Aaron Ellis and Ehimen Orukpe will all contribute upon checking into the game.
Wichita State has its first test of the season next Monday at UConn. Don't be surprised if the Shockers leave Storrs with a win.
1. Utah State Aggies
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One of the most positive signs from Utah State's season-opening win had to be Brockeith Pane's performance.
Pane, who transferred from Midland Junior College, scored 23 points and added five boards and four dimes in his Aggie debut. Following the graduation of Jared Quayle, Utah State had a hole to fill. Pane was expected to be relied upon, and he delivered in his first opportunity.
Other than Quayle, every starter from a year ago will toe the hardwood in 2010-11. This team finished 27-8 last year and, if Pane can successfully replace Quayle, the Aggies, who were picked to win the WAC, should return to the NCAA tournament.
Senior Tai Wesley led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks last year with 13.7 points, 6.6 boards, and 1.3 swats per game. For now, Wesley will be without frontcourt-mate Nate Bendall, who is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot. Bendall averaged 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last year, and the Aggies will receive quite a boost when he is healthy.
Brady Jardine, Morgan Grim and Matt Formisano will all compete for playing time while Bendall is sidelined.
Senior guards Pooh Williams, Tyler Newbold and Brian Green will join Pane in the backcourt. All three are legitimate deep threats and take good care of the basketball. Collectively, the trio averaged 24.3 points per game last year.
This Wednesday, the Aggies will face Jimmer Fredette and the BYU Cougars. Utah State looks to defend a 10-point defeat of BYU from a season ago in its first test of the year.