As the 2011-12 college basketball season draws near, it certainly is going to be one of the most anticipated seasons ever considering the fact the NBA continues to have a lockout on their hands. If the fans want basketball, college hoops is where they’re going to turn to get their fix.
We have seen the game get more and more exciting each year, especially with the upsets that we have seen in the NCAA Tournament the past few years. That includes Butler getting to the championship game twice and losing and George Mason and Morehead State making their runs last year.
With that being said, CollegeInsider.com revealed their Top 25 Mid-Major rankings yesterday. Here is the list of the top 25:
5. Wichita State
7. George Mason
11. St. Mary’s (CA)
12. Kent State
16. Old Dominion
18. Long Beach State
19. Weber State
20. Indiana State
22. Cleveland State
23. UC Santa Barbara
25. Santa Clara
This is a pretty compelling list. Butler ranks near the top again, but they are behind Gonzaga, who looks to make another tournament run this season. Surprises on the list include Indiana State, Weber State, Santa Clara and Oakland.
You may also find it surprising that BYU is on the list since they lost Jimmer Fredette to the NBA Draft this season. However, do not forget about Brandon Davies. He was kicked off the team last year for breaking the honor code of the school.
In spirit of the mid-major, here are the players that I think you should watch for out of these small schools and more…
Elias Harris Jr,. (Gonzaga): WCC is supposed to be one of the strongest mid-major conferences this year, and it is led by Harris. He is entering his junior year and finished last season with 12.4 points per game and about six rebounds. He will be a key factor in the Zags' chances to go far this season.
Andrew Smith (Butler): In Butler’s effort to return to the big dance, Smith is one of the key returnees. He was named to the All-Horizon League Second Team after averaging 8.5 points and five rebounds last year as a sophomore.
Butler also brings back Chase Stigall, Ronald Nored and forward Khyle Marshall.
Mick Hedgepeth (Belmont): Belmont is considered to be one of the most dangerous teams this season and will have to prove themselves against tough non-conference opponents, including Duke. However, the Bruins wouldn’t even be considered if it wasn’t for Hedgepeth.
Hedgepeth was named captain, along with fellow senior Drew Hanlen, after coming off a season in which he scored 10.8 points and grabbed six boards per game. Belmont is a lock for the tournament, and Hedgepeth is key in the Bruins run however far they may get.
Michael Glover (Iona): I’m kicking myself because Michael Glover was not named on The College Court’s list of Top 25 Players this season. However, Glover is an animal for the Gaels of Iona.
He averaged 18.4 points per game as a freshman. Not only that he grabbed 10 boards per game as well. Iona is only ranked sixth in this Mid-Major Poll but without Glover, Iona is not ranked.
Brandon Davies (BYU): To me, Brandon Davies was wrongfully discharged from the BYU team. Reports stemming from an allegation that he had premarital sex with his girlfriend. By breaking this rule, Davies disobeyed the BYU honor code and was kicked off the team.
Davies made it back this season though. Davies is likely to play a big part in the role of getting the "fighting Mormons" back to the dance without Jimmer Fredette. He’s going to have to put up bigger numbers than 11.1 points and 6.2 rebounds though.
Nate Wolters (South Dakota State): Next to Michael Glover of Iona, Nate Wolters is one of the best mid-major basketball players out there. SDSU is not ranked on the list, but Wolters is a key player to watch entering his junior year.
Wolters had 19 points per game last season and dished about six assists. He will help South Dakota State a lot and could be Summit Player of the Year this season.
Bradford Burgess (VCU): Burgess was named the 14th best college basketball player in the nation by The College Court this season. I hope he doesn’t let me down. Burgess surprised me last season, averaging 14 and six for the Rams and their head coach, Shaka Smart.
Burgess is going to be the biggest threat inside and out for the CAA and the rest of the NCAA this season. He finished second in three-point percentage in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Ray McCallum (Detroit): The sleeper team that could upset Butler in the Horizon League this coming season is definitely going to be Detroit and their star player, Ray McCallum. McCallum was already named Horizon League Player of the Year and rightfully so.
He is coming off a monster freshman season, averaging almost 14 points per game. If the Titans win the Horizon League, McCallum is a key contributor in the process.
Ryan Olander (Fairfield): Another player that quietly stuck out to me while trying to choose the Top 25 best players in the nation was Fairfield Stags center Ryan Olander. Olander is 23rd on the list, and I believe he will be a dominant force on the defensive side of things this year.
Olander is coming off a season in which he was named to the All-MAAC Second Team as he led the conference in rebounds and blocks. The Stags success will derive directly from Olander’s play and how the team responds to momentum.
Ken Horton (Central Connecticut State): Horton was the subject of discussion on SI.com in Luke Winn’s article on Value Add. That’s when I knew that there was more than meets the eye with Horton.
According to Winn, Horton was the last player to crack the five percent value add over replacement. The numbers put him on the same list as Jordan Taylor, Jared Sullinger, John Jenkins, Ashton Gibbs, Tu Holloway, Tyler Zeller and Marcus Denmon. I find that pretty impressive.
Anyway, Horton averaged 19.5 points last season for a less-than-stellar Blue Devils team. Oh, and that five percent means that he has the power to enhance a major conference team’s offense by that margin. Incredible.
Those are some of the players that everyone must keep their eyes on this year because I doubt that you will hear any of those players’ names until maybe February, when more and more Bracketology predictions are arising and selections for the big dance are made.
The mid-major is always fun and likely to give you a better time than what you would pay top dollar to go see--almost like a fun uncle. However, as we all know, the mid-major team is a fierce one and a force to be reckoned with.