September 18, 2013 3:52 PM EST
NCAA Basketball: Ten Mid-Major Teams to Watch Out for in 2013-2014
In college basketball, there are the big schools, and then there are the others. Not everyone can get into the likes of Duke or North Carolina or UCLA, but some of those who don't, make it to the other schools. And man, do they play with a vengeance! Remember Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee, and Larry Bird? They have one thing in common: all of them went to smaller colleges with proud basketball traditions (in the case of Harvard, though, they're still working on it).
Here are some mid-major teams that will definitely make waves in the coming NCAA basketball season.
The historically black school is known more for its marching band and its football rivalry with Grambling State. But on the biggest stage in college hoops, they battled a first-ranked team in Gonzaga to a near-standstill, losing by just six points, 58-64. With guard Derick Beltran graduating, last season's top scorer Malcolm Miller will have to take even more of the scoring load. And it's a role he relishes playing, scoring 21 points or more in eight games, including a four-game streak. He also shot 45 per cent from the outside and grabbed 5.9 rebounds per game.
Despite losing two of their top players to an academic cheating scandal, the Ivy League school defied the odds and made it all the way to the Round of 32. Leading the way were freshman guard Siyani Chambers, who scored 12.6 points on top of 5.7 assists, tops in the Ancient Eight; and Wesley Saunders, who averaged 16.2 points and 4.2 rebounds. Now that former co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry are returning from a year off, the Crimson are expected to win their fourth conference championship and are currently in the top 25 of the pre-season rankings.
8. New Mexico
The Lobos are still reeling from the transfer of head coach Steve Alford to UCLA and the loss of five players from the 2012-2013 roster, including guard Tony Snell, who was taken 20th overall in the 2013 NBA draft. Still, they are projected to be the Mountain West's top team this season. Kendall Williams, Australian Cameron Bairstow, and Alex Kirk are still in the roster. Their non-conference schedule is also one of the best in the NCAA, as they play Marquette, Kansas, Cincinnati, and either Nebraska or Massachusetts. New head coach Craig Neal has good rapport with his players, having served as the Lobos' assistant coach since 2004.
7. Brigham Young
Even if the Cougars are now playing in a more competitive West Coast Conference, they are still considered one of the top picks in 2013, having finished third behind Gonzaga and Saint Mary's. Brandon Davies was practically the only player they lost to graduation, and getting back guard Tyler Haws in 2012 after a stint as a Mormon missionary in the Philippines will definitely boost their stock. Haws is a multifaceted player in the mold of a taller Jimmer Fredette and led the WCC in scoring. Non-conference wins against either DePaul or Wichita State, Iowa State, Stanford, and Oregon will definitely improve their chances at an at-large bid.
6. Boise State
Despite losing to La Salle in the 2013 NCAA Tournament First Four, Boise State head coach Leon Rice should like his chances, especially since the Broncos lost only one player to graduation. The top five scorers are all returning, bringing back a collective total of 60.9 points per game. Australian swingman Anthony Drmic is an explosive scorer who is also not afraid to go after the loose ball, while guard Derrick Marks is both an efficient shooter and defensive demon who will give opposing backcourts fits. The Broncos feature a non-conference slate that includes Kentucky, Utah, Saint Mary's, and Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic, with a potential matchup against George Mason, Iowa State, and Oregon State in the same tournament.
5. La Salle
The La Salle Explorers have not had much success since Tom Gola battled Bill Russel for rebounds. In 2013, though, the Explorers went on a surprise run to the Sweet 16 behind the tough play of forward Jerrell Wright, who averaged 10.7 points and 6 rebounds for his team. This year will be tougher as forward Ramon Galloway has graduated, but Tyrone Garland will be more than ready to step up for his team. The non-conference schedule, though, is a disappointment -- their marquee games will be against Villanova and Penn; the Paradise Jame lineup is also relatively weak, with only Maryland, Northern Iowa, Providence, Marist, and Vanderbilt as the only notable names. They might need to sweep their A-10 schedule to get back into the tournament, which is not an easy task considering they are set to play VCU, Saint Louis, and Richmond in conference play.
Losing Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris might be tough for any team, but as long as Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell are on the roster, the Zags should be one of the top teams in the WCC. They also retain some height with Przemek Karnowski and Ryan Edwards both standing at 7'1". Transferee Angel Nunez from Louisville will be eligible in the winter/spring term and will add depth to the frontcourt. As expected of a team many no longer consider a mid-major, they have put together a daunting schedule: Washington State; the Maui Invitational where they get a chance to play Baylor, Chaminade, Syracuse, Minnesota, Arkansas, or Cal; New Mexico State; West Virginia; and Kansas State.
3. Florida Gulf Coast
Coach Andy Enfield might be gone, but Dunk City lives on. Even though Enfield left to coach the USC Trojans, the core of 2013's surprise package -- Brett Comer, Chase Fieler and Bernard Thompson are back to fuel the Eagles' fastbreaking plays. Former walk-on Sherwood Brown is also gone, but this year's roster will feature an exciting freshman in Logan Harvey out of Orlando, Florida. Their schedule is likewise loaded, with games against Nebraska, NC State, Iona and Mississippi State. If they are looking for another breakout year, 2013-2014 should be it.
2. Wichita State
The Shockers lived up to their nickname in 2012-2013; they finished behind Doug McDermott's Creighton team in MVC play and went all the way to the Final Four. This year, though, they will have to contend with the departure of starting point guard Malcolm Armstead, center Ehimen Orukpe and forward Carl Hall. One thing going for them, though, is that power forward Cleanthony Early will be back for one more year. Early has an excellent motor and work ethic, and it should power the Shockers through a non-conference schedule that includes WKU, Tulsa, Saint Louis, Oral Roberts, Alabama and Davidson. With the exception of WKU, Saint Louis, and Alabama, though, there is not much to be excited about. They will still have to go through Creighton and get MVC auto-bid.
1. Virginia Commonwealth
The Rams finished the season ranked #25 by AP after losing in the Round of 32. This year, with center DJ Haley and guards Troy Daniels and Darius Theus leaving, they might look decimated on paper. However, power forward Juvonte Reddic is without doubt one of the best in the nation, and Treveon Graham a worthy counterpart at the wings. They were also able to sign four three-star recruits to shore up their suddenly-shallow backcourt and frontline, including JeQuan Lewis and Antravious Simmons. Their non-conference season is also worthy of a ranked program, featuring Virginia, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Boston College, and possible matchups against Michigan, Kansas State, or Georgetown in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.