NCAA College Basketball: 10 Mid-Majors to Look out for in the 2011-12 Season
The college basketball season is only weeks away. In an era where three mid-major teams have made it to the Final Four in the past two years, the mid-majors as a whole have suddenly received a lot more attention. They are on the rise, and every year they threaten national powerhouses more and more.
Although the big-time mid-majors, such as Butler and Gonzaga, get national attention every year, there are other mid-major schools that have the talent to take down a nationally ranked team.
Here is a list of 10 mid-major schools that could do some damage this year and possibly even make a run in March.
Harvard Crimson (Ivy League)
Harvard is the clear favorite in the Ivy League, although Princeton could give them a fight. In fact, the Crimson have even received some consideration as a top 25 team in the nation for 2011-12.
Last season, Harvard did a lot of damage with a young team. The Crimson had no seniors and only three juniors, but they still managed to beat Colorado and Boston College, while only losing by three at Michigan.
The Crimson return all six players that averaged more than nine points per game last season, plus it will have the addition of a very strong incoming class, led by center Kenyatta Smith. Smith was ranked No. 17 among centers in this incoming class, and he could do some immediate damage in the Ivy League.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits (Summit)
With Oakland no longer being the dominant team in the Summit League, South Dakota State could have a chance to make some noise out in the midwest.
The Jackrabbits return junior point guard Nate Wolters, who put up some of the best stats in the league last year as a sophomore. Wolters scored 19.5 PPG, dished out 6.1 APG, grabbed 4.6 RPG at the height of 6'3", and shot 40.8 percent from beyond the arc.
South Dakota State also returns sophomores Jordan Dykstra and Marcus Heemstra. Dykstra made his mark last year, averaging over 11 PPG as a freshman. Heemstra struggled last season, but he could be ready to be the main man in the frontcourt for the Jackrabbits.
Santa Clara Broncos (WCC)
The defending CIT champions will make some more noise in 2011-12. The Broncos return the dominant trio from last year's team, plus Coach Kerry Keating is bringing in a solid recruiting class for a mid-major school, led by 6-foot-10 center Robert Garrett.
With recently successful teams like Brigham Young, Gonzaga and St. Mary's, the Broncos will be overshadowed in the WCC this year. If they play to their full potential, they could be a nice west coast surprise.
Iona Gaels (MAAC)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images
Iona is the favorite to win the MAAC this year. The Gaels have the most talent of any team in the MAAC between Michael Glover, Scott Machado, and possibly Lamont "MoMo" Jones, pending a hardship waiver from the NCAA. The Gaels also have a pair of the best shooters in the MAAC with Kyle Smyth and Sean Armand.
The Gaels have a key stretch starting December 2 and ending January 3, where they play nine straight games on the road. Between Iona and Fairfield, strong non-conference campaigns could potentially make the MAAC a two-bid league. If Iona can't handle that stretch on the road, the MAAC can kiss those hopes goodbye.
Long Beach State 49ers (Big West)
The Long Beach State 49ers return their three-headed monster made up of T.J. Robinson, Casper Ware and Larry Anderson.
The 49ers should win the Big West fairly easily, but they will have their chances to do damage in non-conference play, too. Long Beach State has games scheduled against Pitt, Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina.
Long Beach State will most likely be dancing in March, and no team will want to see the 49ers in their opening weekend matchup.
Butler Bulldogs (Horizon)
Of course, the Butler Bulldogs will be back in 2011-12. Although they lost Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack among others, the Bulldogs still have Ronald Nored, Andew Smith and Khyle Marshall to lead the team.
Depending on the situation with Eli Holman at Detroit, Butler could end up with legitimate competition for a Horizon League title once again in 2011-12. Either way, the Bulldogs will be at the top of the Horizon League this year.
Montana Grizzlies (Big Sky)
The Montana Grizzlies lost leading scorer Brian Qvale after last season. However, they still return more than 75 percent of their scoring.
Montana has one of the most exciting guards at the mid-major level in Will Cherry. The junior from California averaged over 14 PPG game last year and 4.3 APG despite playing injured in February. From November through January, he averaged 17 PPG.
The key to the Grizzlies success will be senior Derek Selvig. The 7-footer, who averaged 10.1 PPG and 5.2 RPG last season, is the only big man on the Montana roster that has proven he can be effective. Without Qvale, the Grizzlies need a new post presence in order to win.
Drexel Dragons (CAA)
Drexel had a quietly good season in the CAA last year. In 2010-11, the Dragons were overshadowed by Old Dominion, VCU and George Mason, but they did make some national noise with a win over then No. 21 Louisville last December.
The Dragons are returning most of their team from last year, plus the CAA will be a slightly easier conference than it was last year.
Unfortunately for Drexel, there are no games against Power-Six conferences on the schedule. The Dragons toughest non-conference games will be against Princeton and Fairfield.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (WCC)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Gonzaga is dangerous every season, and 2011-2012 will be no different. All the Bulldogs lost from last year is Stephen Gray. Although Gray was a key part of the team and a leader, Gonzaga still has a group of very good players that will step up in 2010-11.
The Bulldogs return 7-foot center Robert Sacre and junior forward Elias Harris. In addition Coach Mark Few is bringing in ESPNU Top 100 recruit Gary Bell as the leader of a strong recruiting class.
Gonzaga has its schedule loaded with tough non-conference games, plus the WCC could be the best mid-major conference this year between Gonzaga, St. Mary's, Brigham Young and Santa Clara.
The last time the Bulldogs missed the NCAA Tournament was in 1998. Expect them to be back again in 2012.
Belmont Bruins (Atlantic Sun
Harry How/Getty Images
Belmont had its first 30-win season in 2010-11, and the Bruins could be on track to make it two seasons in a row.
The Bruins return all players but one that averaged more than 15 minutes of playing time per game, including last year's three leading scorers.
There is a good chance Belmont will cruise through the Atlantic Sun, but it will have a chance to make some noise early in the season. As part of the Maui Invitational, the Bruins will play national powerhouses Duke and Memphis on the road.
Although they will be heavy underdogs, don't count the Bruins out in these games.