Predicting the Top Mid-Major Stars for the 2014-15 College Basketball Season

In case you stopped counting a few years back, Division I college basketball has swelled to a whopping 351 teams. Of those 351, the bulk of our TV/talk radio/Internet reading traffic usually seems to center on about, oh, six or seven.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s slighter than you might think.

Some fans eyes may glaze over when we start throwing around the ever-fluid term “mid-major,” since it’s unlikely that those fans are hard-core enough to pay attention to any of these teams until they’re trying to explain some of their head-scratching office pool picks every March.

Still, there’s plenty of talent outside of the conferences with national TV deals on ESPN or Fox Sports 1. There are players who may be fun to watch if fans simply stay up late enough or spend a few extra minutes searching for the right streaming services.

These 20 players (and 20 honorable mention picks because we’re really nice guys here at B/R) are ones who any serious college basketball fan should go seek out at least once this season. That way, you’ll have a personal frame of reference when you’re trying to pontificate on why Harvard or Georgia State will be NCAA tournament sleepers.

 

Players from the following conferences were not considered for this list: ACC, American, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC.

Plus, top programs Gonzaga (16 straight NCAA tournaments and 13 straight years of at least one AP Top 25 ranking) and Wichita State (a Final Four and a one-loss season in the past two years) were excluded.

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NBA Draft 2014: Previewing Top Mid-Major Conference Tournament Prospects

There aren’t many, but there will be a few NBA prospects playing in some of the mid-major tournaments coming up—and for draft fans, they deserve your attention. 

This is a chance to see some of those sleeper prospects who rarely hit national television. And any tournament setting is a chance for a prospect to make a statement. 

Every year we see players from lower-profile schools hear their names called on draft night. These are the guys who’ll be in the conversation should they choose to declare in 2014. 

Note: I did not consider the Big East Conference or the American Athletic Conference mid-major. 

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2014 NCAA Tournament: Mid-Major Conferences Most Likely to Grab at-Large Bids

For every extra Cinderella that enters the field of 68, a power conference bubble team loses its wings.

Bubble watching becomes a pastime in and of itself this time of year. Who will crack the dance? After the 31 automatic bids go out for conference tournament winners, it’s a land grab for the remaining at-large bids.

For the so-called power conferences, winning the tourney is almost a bonus for some teams. On the other end of the spectrum, the automatic bid is the only ticket to the dance for some of the lower mid-major leagues.

And then there are the conferences in the middle that have a foot in both camps. These are the leagues and teams that create bracketology’s true X-factor. Call them the middle of the mid-majors, if you like, but if you’re a fan of any basketball powerhouse school, you may be more likely to call them spoilers.

Here are the mid-major conferences and teams that could play that role this year by unexpectedly landing more at-large dance cards than expected. 

If you’re one of the fans who will be on the edge of your seat come Selection Sunday, consider this your pocket guide to some of the mid-major tournaments to keep a close eye on as the big moment approaches.

 

All stats provided by ESPN unless otherwise noted.

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March Madness 2014: Unheralded Mid-Major Teams Who Will Make Noise in Tournament

With Wichita State still holding on to a perfect season and Gonzaga having another strong campaign, it looks as though this could be a great year for mid-major teams in college basketball. The definition of “mid-major” seems to be evolving, though.

While the Shockers and Zags are technically mid-majors due to the fact that they come from smaller conferences, the mid-major tag ends there. Both are big-time programs that have had a large measure of success in March over the years, and they won’t enter the NCAA tournament as underdogs by any stretch of the imagination.

True mid-majors are looked at as a group of Davids in comparison to the Goliaths of the power conferences. They aren’t expected to make it past the round of 64, and it is considered a triumph of epic proportions whenever they do.

For every Wichita State and Gonzaga, there are many more mid-major teams that will enter the NCAA tournament in hopes of becoming this year’s Florida Gulf Coast. Here are three programs that are in position to make that a reality.

 

Buffalo

A quick look at the MAC standings shows the Buffalo Bulls as the No. 4 team in the conference in terms of overall record at 16-8, but a deeper dive reveals much more. The Bulls are currently first in the MAC East with a 10-4 conference mark, and they have a golden opportunity to make their first NCAA tournament appearance this season.

UB has been on fire in MAC play, with three of its four conference losses coming by three points or less. The Bulls have beaten top competition like Akron and Western Michigan, and they will absolutely be in the mix for a MAC title along with Toledo and Ohio. While the MAC has a solid core of teams this year, it looks very much like a one-bid conference, which means that Buffalo will have to win the MAC tournament in order to take part in March Madness.

The driving force behind UB‘s surge this season has been the play of senior forward Javon McCrea. At 6’7″ and 250 pounds, McCrea is built like LeBron James, and he has decimated MAC competition to the tune of 19 points and 10 rebounds per game, along with better than two blocks and assists per game and nearly two steals per game.

Few players in college basketball stuff the stat sheet like McCrea, yet he hasn’t received the credit he so richly deserves. Following a dominant showing earlier in the month, UB head coach Bobby Hurley had high praise for his star forward:

McCrea may be a secret right now, but that won’t last much longer. The national media is finally starting to take notice, including Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, who pegged McCrea as a name to keep in mind come tournament time:

McCrea rates third in the nation on player efficiency rating, according to ESPN.com, well ahead of stars like Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Joel Embiid. McCrea won’t be able to do it all on his own, but if supporting players like Joshua Freelove and Will Regan step up in the latter stages of the season, then Buffalo will be a very dangerous team come tournament time.

 

Harvard

While Harvard is certainly better known for its academics than its athletics, the Crimson have built quite a competitive basketball program in recent years. Harvard is unquestionably the class of the Ivy League once again this season, and it already has some experience in terms of playing spoiler in the NCAA tournament.

Last year, Harvard knocked off No. 3 New Mexico as a No. 14 seed, and there is no reason why it can’t do something similar in 2014. Harvard boasts a record of 22-4 with some quality wins, including one over a Boston College team that handed Syracuse its first loss. Also, Harvard lost to Connecticut by just five points, which is proof positive that the Crimson can hang with power-conference giants.

Depth is the name of the game for Harvard, with six players averaging 9.5 points or more per game this season. Harvard also boasts a player who can take games over in the form of junior swingman Wesley Saunders. He has been a dominant force in the Ivy League, but Rothstein believes that he could be productive anywhere:

That will be put to the test come tournament time since Harvard will likely be faced with a big-name opponent. Even though the Crimson aren’t being talked about much right now, they are battle-tested and ready to break some hearts in the tourney once again.

 

Green Bay

The Green Bay Phoenix women’s basketball program has developed into a national power over the past several years, and that has naturally overshadowed the men’s team in many ways. The roles have suddenly reversed, however, and the men’s program now appears poised to potentially do some damage in March.

Green Bay has dominated the Horizon League to the tune of a 12-2 conference mark and 22-5 overall record. Although the Horizon League is viewed as weak by some, Green Bay has an impressive resume. The Phoenix beat a Virginian team that is now ranked No. 12 in the nation, and they lost by just three points to No. 14 Wisconsin. Add in the fact that diminutive point guard Keifer Sykes is averaging over 20 points per game, and there’s a lot to like about Green Bay with the season winding down.

One person who believes in the team’s tournament prospects is head coach Brian Wardle, who feels as though the underdog tag will work in Green Bay’s favor, according to Brian Hamilton of SI.com.

We have to keep our edge. We’ve got a lot of guys in that locker room that have chips on their shoulders, that want to prove to people what they’re made of. We need to keep that and stay grounded and humble and hungry. And if we have a little bit of luck, I’d love to have the opportunity to show people what Green Bay basketball is all about.

The Phoenix have everything that you look for in a potential bracket buster, with a pair of stars in Sykes and Alec Brown along with some quality performances against top teams. All of that points to Green Bay being one of the NCAA tournament’s most feared mid-majors.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Predicting Which Mid-Major College Basketball Stars Have NBA Futures

A look at the early mock-ups for the 2014 NBA Draft show the same old story: most of those projected to get picked in the first or second round will come from the usual suspects in college basketball’s power conferences.

According to NBADraft.net, its latest mock draft predicts 20 of the first 23 players selected will come from either the American, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC or Pac-12. The only exceptions are players from overseas.

That doesn’t leave much room for standouts from the rest of Division I’s 32 leagues, of which there are plenty. Though lacking the pedigree—not to mention publicity machines—of their top-tier brethren, the little guys from the lesser conferences still find ways to sneak into the pros each year.

One only needs to go back to the 2013 draft to see evidence of this. The top overall pick came from outside the big six (now seven, with the Big East’s split into two leagues), as Anthony Bennett shined at UNLV, while Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk were taken as lottery choices.

All told, 12 of the 60 players drafted last season came from mid- or low-major conferences.

Will the same happen this year? A lot depends on the progress and performance made by players between now and late June, not to mention the fickle needs of the drafting teams.

For now, though, here’s a look at which mid-major basketball stars might have a future in the NBA.

(NOTE: All statistics are through games of Tuesday, Jan. 21)

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Mid-Major Radar: Could Gonzaga miss the NCAA tournament?

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