ESPN posted its National Top 25 poll earlier today, but the Mid-Major Poll generally does not appear until the season has tipped off.
Here are the 25 best mid-major teams that I think you will hear of before March.
1) Gonzaga (WCC)
Yes, the Bulldogs are still considered a mid-major school even though they have become prestigious over the last decade. Returning six of their top seven scorers, Gonzaga is the best mid-major in the country.
Matt Bouldin is only a junior, Jeremy Pargo is back for his senior year, and Austin Daye looks to build on his impressive freshman campaign. Mark Few brought in three talented freshmen in Demetri Goodson, Grant Gibbs, and Andy Polling to stack an already loaded Gonzaga team.
The Zags' OOC schedule is challenging and is highlighted by games against UConn, Tennessee, and Memphis.
2) Davidson (Southern Conference)
The Wildcats lost three of their top four scorers, but the one returning scorer is Stephen Curry. After averaging 25.9 ppg last season, Curry is a preseason First Team All-American. He is accompanied by Andrew Lovedale, Bryant Barr, Will Archambault, and Max Paulhus Gosselin—all of whom boosted their experience from last year's run to the Elite Eight.
Again, Coach McKillop scheduled a tough OOC in order to raise Davidson's credentials going into Selection Sunday. The Wildcats open the season with three home games against James Madison, Winthrop, and North Carolina State, and then will travel to West Virginia, Purdue, Charleston, and Duke.
3) Saint Mary's (WCC)
The Gaels got snubbed by ESPN's Top 25, but they have the potential to break through early in the season. Patty Mills averaged 14.8 ppg last season and showed that he could take over games. Mills has quality backup, consisting of Diamon Simpson, Omar Samhan, and Ian O'Leary.
After being ousted in the first round of last season's Tournament, the Gaels should strive to prove that they can play with anyone. However, Randy Bennett did not schedule a demanding OOC. The Gaels' toughest matches will be at UTEP, Oregon, and Southern Illinois. Gonzaga is the only nationally ranked opponent on the Gaels' 2008-09 schedule.
4) Siena (MAAC)
Fran McCaffery's Saints, who ousted Vanderbilt in the first round of last season's Tournament, return all five starters from 2007-08. Kenny Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubiles, and Alex Franklin—all of whom were named to the All-MAAC First Team—will lead the Saints.
Pittsburgh, St. Joe's, and Kansas highlight the Saints' non-conference schedule. McCaffery was able to boost the Saints' potential RPI by grabbing a spot in the Old Spice Classic, where Siena squares off against Tennessee in the first round.
5) Virginia Commonwealth (CAA)
Eric Maynor is finally a senior and hopes to lead the Rams back into the NCAA Tournament. The Rams have a bunch of guys who can contribute, but they will be hit hard by the loss of Jamal Shuler.
Northeastern and Old Dominion are the only two teams that stand in the way of making the preseason coaches' poll, which predicted that VCU would finish first, correctly. Western Michigan and Oklahoma are the only tough games in the Rams' non-conference schedule.
6) American (Patriot)
After giving Tennessee a run for their money in the first round, the Eagles are back for more. Garrison Carr, Derrick Mercer, Bryce Simon, and Brian Gilmore were the top scorers on last season's team, and they will all conclude their tenures at American in 2008-09. Carr, Mercer, and Gilmore all hit over 100 three-pointers and can certainly do damage from beyond the arc.
Oklahoma, Georgetown, and Maryland are all stops on American's non-conference schedule. Don't be surprised if they come away with at least one win from those three games.
7) Northeastern (CAA)
In previous seasons, Northeastern was never even considered a candidate for the CAA title. However, they return their nine best scorers from 2007-08 and will compete with VCU and ODU for first place. Matt Janning, a junior in 2008-09, averaged a team-best 16.1 ppg last season. He is their main offensive threat, but their attack will be a balanced one.
8) Belmont (Atlantic Sun)
Justin Hare graduated after a season in which his Bruins were a halfcourt miracle shot away from devastating all the Dukies across America. Despite losing Hare, the Bruins return their best from 2007-08. Shane Dansby, Matthew Dotson, and Andy Wicke will lead Belmont this season.
Other than two returning players, every Bruin can knock down treys more than 30 percent of the time.
9) Cornell (Ivy)
It may be shocking to see the Big Red this high up on any top 25 list, but they deserve this rank. Cornell scored 76.3 ppg, which is impressive in the Ivy League. The Big Red is made up of a group of shooters that shot 40.9 percent from beyond the arc and 48.5 percent from the field in 2007-08.
Ivy League coaches picked the Big Red to win the league and advance to the NCAA Tournament again. Barring injury, Cornell should live up to their expectations.
10) Cleveland State (Horizon)
Seniors J'Nathan Bullock and Cedric Jackson plan on making the NCAA Tournament instead of the NIT. The Vikings gained a lot of experience during last season and return five of their seven best scorers.
Cleveland State is the favorite to win the Horizon League, according to the league's preseason coaches' poll.
11) Fairfield (MAAC)
12) Kent State (Mid-American)
13) Rider (MAAC)
14) Nevada (Western Athletic)
15) Southern Illinois (Missouri Valley)
16) Boston University (America East)
17) Radford (Big South)
18) Old Dominion (CAA)
19) Vermont (America East)
20) Cal State-Northridge (Big West)
21) Bradley (Missouri Valley)
22) Winthrop (Big South)
23) Wright State (Horizon)
24) Miami-Ohio (Mid-American)
25) Utah State (Western Athletic)
Some of the above may come as a surprise, but I researched all the mid-major conferences to find what I was looking for. I thought that giving a summary of each team would get boring, so I only previewed the top 10.
If you have any questions about my ranks, post a comment or contact me.
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