The Ultra Early 2014-15 season preview continues with the Mid-Major Rankings, listing the 25-best mid-majors for next season. Some of these could change because players could still leave programs, and programs could still sign recruits or transfers who could become immediately eligible.
1. Wichita State
Key losses: Cleanthony Early, Chadrack Lufile, Kadeem Coleby, Nick Wiggins
Key returners: Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Darius Carter, Evan Wessel
Key additions: Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, Bush Wamukota
After its historic season, Wichita State will remain atop the mid-major world. The Shockers lose leading scorer Cleanthony Early and two parts of their three-headed monster in the frontcourt, but enough remains for them to be a Top-25 team nationally. MVC Player of the Year Fred VanVleet, one of the nation’s premier point guards, is back along with fellow All-MVC First Team guard Ron Baker. MVC Defensive Player of the Year Tekele Cotton, who also proved as an offensive player during the latter parts of the season, also returns in the backcourt.
Although forwards Kadeem Coleby and Chadrack Lufile depart, Darius Carter returns for his senior year. Carter was the most productive of the Shockers’ big men.
Wichita State brings in junior college transfer Bush Wamukota as a key addition to the frontcourt.
Key losses: Brandyn Curry, Kyle Casey, Laurent Rivard
Key returners: Wesley Saunders, Siyani Chambers, Steve Moudou-Missi, Jonah Travis, Evan Cummins, Agunwa Okolie, Kenyatta Smith
Key additions: Chris Egi, Andre Chatfield
Tommy Amaker continues to build his program at Harvard. The Crimson now have an NCAA Tournament win in each of the last two seasons and four straight Ivy League titles.
The Crimson lose three key pieces, and the loss of Rivard as a deadeye shooter will hurt especially. But they return their three best players and most of their bench, setting them up for a possible even more successful 2014-15 campaign.
Big man Kenyatta Smith also returns to the rotation after missing last season with a broken foot. Smith averaged 5.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks two seasons ago as a sophomore.
Key losses: Sam Dower, David Stockton, Drew Barham
Key returners: Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Draginis, Gerard Coleman, Angel Nunez
Key additions: Kyle Wiltjer, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Bryan Alberts
Gonzaga wasn’t too impressive this past season, but the Bulldogs still won a NCAA Tournament game for the sixth straight year. The Bulldogs suffer a few notable losses. A pair of starters, Sam Dower and David Stockton, will be gone. Key reserve Drew Barham also departs.
But, the Bulldogs will still have a great backcourt with Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Kyle Draginis all returning. They also add Josh Perkins, one of the best point guards in the Class of 2014.
The loss of Dower deals a big hit to Gonzaga’s frontcourt, but Przemek Karnowski returns after averaging 10.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. The Zags also add Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, who will be a great fit in Mark Few’s system. Wiltjer averaged 10.2 points and was a sharp 3-point shooter two seasons ago.
4. New Mexico State
Key losses: K.C. Ross-Miller, Kevon Aronis, Renaldo Dixon
Key returners: Daniel Mullings, Sim Bhullar, Tshilidzi Nephawe, DK Eldridge
Key additions: Tanveer Bhullar
New Mexico State is on track for its fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The Aggies lose point guard K.C. Ross-Miller and role players Renaldo Dixon and Kevin Aronis, but they return everyone else.
Daniel Mullings, the reigning WAC Player of the Year, will be back after averaging 16.8 points, 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals. DK Eldridge returns with him in the backcourt.
The Aggies will also have the two best big men in the WAC in Sim Bhullar and Tshilidzi Nephawe. Bhullar is a giant at 7’5″ and 355 pounds. He averaged 10.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks last season. Nephawe is actually the better post player of the two, and he averaged 11.1 points and 7.8 rebounds.
New Mexico State also adds Bhullar’s 7’3″ brother, Tanveer, who redshirted last season.
5. Florida Gulf Coast
Key losses: Chase Fieler
Key returners: Bernard Thompson, Brett Comer, Jamail Jones, Eric McKnight, Filip Cvjeticanin, Dajuan Graf, Nate Hicks
Key additions: Julian DeBose, Brian Greene Jr., Zach Johnson
Florida Gulf Coast will be the favorite in the Atlantic Sun with Mercer losing its entire starting lineup. The Eagles return four starters, including three of their main players from their Sweet 16 team: Bernard Thompson, Brett Comer and Eric McKnight.
The Eagles also return four other key players. Jamail Jones, a former Marquette transfer, shot poorly at 39.9% from the field but averaged a solid 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds. Filip Cvjeticanin struggled as a sophomore but came back strong as a junior, averaging 6.8 points and shooting 40.1% from 3-point range. Dajuan Graf and Nate Hicks also put together solid seasons as reserves.
Rice transfer Julian DeBose and Auburn transfer Brian Greene Jr. will be important additions.
Key losses: Sean Armand, Tre Bowman, Mike Poole
Key returners: A.J. English, David Laury, Isaiah Williams, Tavon Sledge
Key additions: Kelvin Amayo
Iona won the MAAC regular season title but failed to make the NCAA Tournament for a third-straight season. The Gaels will be heavy favorites to reach the Big Dance out of the MAAC in 2015.
The Gaels lost lethal scorer and sharpshooter Sean Armand along with two other key players, Tre Bowman and Mike Poole. But they will have possibly the three best players in the conference in Isaiah Williams, A.J. English and David Laury.
Williams is an amazing athlete with solid size for a guard. He can slash to the rim and also drain 3-pointers. English exploded his sophomore season, averaging 17.2 points and 4.3 assists. Laury averaged a double-double as a sophomore and put up great numbers once again as a junior. The 6’9″ forward causes mismatches with his ballhandling skills.
Key losses: Rian Pearson
Key returners: Julius Brown, Justin Drummond, J.D. Weatherspoon, Nathan Boothe, Jonathan Williams, Jordan Lauf
Key additions: None
Toledo loses starting guard Rian Pearson, the team’s second-leading scorer, but returns everyone else.
MAC assists leader and Rockets leading scorer Julius Brown returns along with three other starters. Justin Drummond and J.D. Weatherspoon were both stellar in their first year with Toledo.
The Rockets also return their entire bench.
Key losses: Matt Carlino, Eric Mika
Key returners: Tyler Haws, Kyle Collinsworth, Anson Winder, Nate Austin, Skyler Halford, Frank Bartley IV, Josh Sharp
Key additions: Chase Fischer, Payton Dastrup, Dalton Nixon, Ryan Andrus, Jake Toolson
BYU could have been a potential top-25 team nationally, but Matt Carlino’s decision to transfer hurts the Cougars a lot. Carlino, the team’s starting point guard, averaged 13.7 points, 4.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
Still, BYU returns one of the nation’s top scorers and shooters in Tyler Haws and versatile guard Kyle Collinsworth. Collinsworth averaged 14.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists, but he tore his ACL in the WCC championship game.
9. Cleveland State
Key losses: Jon Harris, Devon Long
Key returners: Bryn Forbes, Trey Lewis, Anton Grady, Charlie Lee, Sebastian Douglas, Marlin Mason
Key additions: None
Cleveland State finished the 2013-14 season on a tear before losing in the Horizon League Tournament. And now the Vikings return four starters from a team that won 21 games.
The Vikings won’t have the best guard in the conference because of Keifer Sykes at Green Bay, but overall they will have the best backcourt. Bryn Forbes led the team in scoring with 15.6 points per game and 81 3-pointers. Trey Lewis and Charlie Lee combined for 22.9 points and 7.5 assists per game, and both were also great 3-point shooters. Lewis shot 36.9% while Lee led the team, in terms of percentage, at 43.3% from deep.
Cleveland State will not have much depth in its frontcourt, but it has a great forward in Anton Grady and another solid one in Marlin Mason. Grady averaged 10.4 points and 6.8 rebounds last season while Mason posted 5.9 points per contest on 55.0% shooting and also grabbed 4.2 boards.
10. Northern Iowa
Key losses: Chip Rank
Key returners: Seth Tuttle, Deon Mitchell, Nate Buss, Matt Bohannon, Wes Washpun, Jeremy Morgan, Marvin Singleton, Max Martino
Key additions: Paul Jesperson, Wyatt Lohaus
Northern Iowa finished third in the MVC and returns its top six players.
Seth Tuttle and Nate Buss are two of the MVC’s premier forwards, and Wes Washpun and Deon Mitchell make up a dynamic backcourt. Matt Bohannon is a sharpshooter on the wing.
Shooting guard Jeremy Morgan could be primed for a breakouts season after averaging 6.0 points and 2.7 rebounds as a freshman.
Key losses: Bryant Mbamalu, Elridge Moore
Key returners: Elfird Payton, Shawn Long, Xavian Rimmer, Kasey Shepherd, Kevin Brown, J.J. Davenport, Steven Wronkoski
Key additions: None
Louisiana-Lafayette made the 2014 NCAA Tournament and should be even better next year. The Ragin’ Cajuns a good scorer in Bryant Mbamalu and another key player in Elridge Moore. But they return seven of their top nine players, including stars Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long.
Payton is a NBA prospect at the point guard position. He averaged 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals last season. He also shot better than 50% from the field.
Long also has NBA potential. He averaged a double-double in both his freshman and sophomore season. As a sophomore, he posted 18.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. He also shot 42.3% from long range.
Two other sharpshooters return in Xavian Rimmer and Kasey Shepherd.
12. UC Irvine
Key losses: Chris McNealy
Key returners: Luke Nelson, Will Davis II, Alex Young, Mamadou Ndiaye, Dominique Dunning, John Ryan, Aaron Wright, Travis Souza, Mike Best
Key additions: Conor Clifford, Jonathan Galloway
UC Irvine won 23 games and a Big West title last season, and it returns four starters. The only starter departing is guard Chris McNealy, who averaged 11.0 points and 2.1 assists.
Even without McNealy, the Anteaters have a very good frontcourt. Luke Nelson led the team in scoring, steals and 3-point shooting as a freshman. Alex Young has logged tons of minutes at point guard despite being in college only two seasons.
The Anteaters also bring big men Will Davis II and Mamadou Ndiaye. Davis averaged 11.0 points and 6.4 rebounds while the 7’6″ Ndiaye posted 8.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. Together, the duo shot 62.0% from the field.
Conor Clifford, who redshirted last season, gives the Anteaters some additional size. The 7-footer averaged 2.5 points and 1.7 rebounds as a freshman.
13. Stephen F. Austin
Key losses: Nikola Gajic, Desmond Haymon, Deshaunt Walker
Key returners: Jacob Parker, Thomas Walkup, Trey Pinkney, Tanner Clayton, Connor Brooks, Dallas Cameron
Key additions: Jared Johnson, Demetrious Floyd
Stephen F. Austin won a NCAA Tournament game for the first time in program history last season. The Lumberjacks could absolutely wind up with a chance to do that again in 2015.
Stephen F. Austin loses leading scorer Desmond Haymon, shooting guard Deshaunt Walker and small forward Nikola Gajic. But with such a deep roster, the Lumberjacks can make up for those losses.
The Lumberjacks also add two solid pieces to their backcourt in junior college transfers Jared Johnson and Demetrious Floyd.
14. Louisiana Tech
Key losses: Kenyon McNeil, Cordarius Johnson, Jaron Johnson, Chris Anderson
Key returners: Alex Hamilton, Raheem Appleby, Kenneth Smith, Michale Kyser, Isaiah Massey
Key additions: Joniah White
Louisiana Tech loses a lot but also returns enough to still be a Conference USA title contender next season.
The Bulldogs bring back a pair of great scorers in Alex Hamilton and Raheem Appleby. Kenneth Smith, the team’s starting point guard who averaged 7.7 assists, also returns. Underrated forward Michale Kyser will also be back. Kyser averaged 7.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in just 23.3 minutes last season.
Key losses: John Bohannon
Key returners: Julian Washburn, Vince Hunter, C.J. Cooper, Cedrick Lang, Matt Wilms
Key additions: Shaquille Carr, Omega Harris, Chris Sandifer
UTEP loses starting center John Bohannon but returns everybody else from last season’s team. The Miners have a loaded frontcourt with Julian Washburn, Vince Hunter, Cedrick Lang and Matt Wilms returning.
C.J. Cooper, who led the Miners with 3.0 assists per game, is not a great point guard, but he was good enough to lead the Miners to 23 wins last season.
16. Murray State
Key losses: Dexter Fields
Key returners: Cameron Payne, Jarvis Williams, T.J. Sapp, Jeffery Moss, Jonathan Fairell, Tyler Rambo
Key additions: Justin Seymour
Murray State won’t get any national publicity for this, but the Racers did win the CIT title last season. And considering that the Racers return four starters, they will be better next season.
Murray State returns its top-four scorers, its top-five rebounds and its top-three assisters. The only Racer departing is Dexter Fields. Fields was the team’s best 3-point shooter at 42.0% but did not do much else.
The Racers’ backcourt will still be very strong without Fields. Cameron Payne was the team’s best player despite being a freshman, averaging 16.8 points, 5.4 assists and 1.7 steals. T.J. Sapp will return for his senior year after averaging 13.3 points and draining triples at a 40.2% clip. Jeffery Moss, who averaged 13.2 points and 2.1 assists, will also be back.
17. Western Kentucky
Key losses: Caden Dickerson, Brandon Harris, O’Karo Akamune
Key returners: T.J. Price, George Fant, Trency Jackson, Chris Harrison-Docks, Aleksej Rostov, Kevin Kaspar, Aaron Adeoye, Payton Hulsey
Key additions: None
Western Kentucky loses three players from its rotation, but more importantly the Hilltoppers return their top four scorers from a team that won 20 games.
Leading the group are rising seniors T.J. Price and George Fant. Price and Fant combined for 28.8 points and 11.0 rebounds last season. The Hilltoppers also bring back a pair of talented guards in Trency Jackson and Chris Harrison-Docks. Harrison-Docks manned the point last season as a freshman and had three more turnovers than assists. His development as a facilitator and distributor will be key for Western Kentucky to reach its potential in 2014-15.
18. Illinois State
Key losses: Nick Zeisloft, Zach Lofton
Key returners: Daishon Knight, Bobby Hunter, Reggie Lynch, Paris Lee, John Jones, Tony Wills, Jamaal Samuel
Key additions: Devaughn Purcell
Illinois State loses some of its depth with Zach Lofton and Nick Zeisloft transferring. Lofton was often erratic but could sometimes be a lethal scorer, and Zeisloft was the team’s best 3-point threat.
But the Redbirds should still be the third-best team in the MVC with four starters returning, including leading scorer Daishon Knight and treasured big man Reggie Lynch.
The Redbirds partially make up for the losses of Lofton and Zeisloft with the addition of Devaughn Purcell, who averaged 20.9 points at Eastern Oklahoma State College last year.
19. Green Bay
Key losses: Alec Brown, Vincent Garrett
Key returners: Keifer Sykes, Greg Mays, Carrington Love, Jordan Fouse, Kenneth Lowe, Lamin Fulton, Alfonzo McKinnie
Key additions: None
Green Bay may have some struggles with Alec Brown departing, but the Phoenix still return five of their top six players. That includes Horizon League Player of the Year Keifer Sykes.
Sykes will once again be the best player in the Horizon League, and he also has a very solid supporting cast. Carrington Love, who averaged 7.9 points and 2.5 assists, joins him in the backcourt while Greg Mays, Jordan Fouse and Kenneth Lowe will man the frontcourt.
Key losses: None
Key returners: Rob Poole, Brett Bisping, Lavon Long, Marquis Wright, Evan Hymes, Ryan Oliver, Maurice White, Imoh Silas
Key additions: Patrick Cole
Siena is the defending CBI champion. That doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it is important considering this is a team that returns every significant player.
Shooting guard Rob Poole should be an All-MAAC First Team member and forward Brett Bisping made huge improvements during his sophomore season. Marquis Wright thrived as the team’s starting point guard despite being just a freshman. Wright averaged 8.7 points and 5.2 assists.
21. St. Mary’s
Key losses: Stephen Holt, Beau Levesque, James Walker III, Matt Hodgson
Key returners: Brad Waldow, Kerry Carter, Garrett Jackson, Jordan Giusti
Key additions: Aaron Bright, Joe Coleman, Evan Fitzner
St. Mary’s loses its two best guards in Stephen Holt and James Walker III, and the loss of Beau Levesque on the wing is a big one as well. But the Gaels are reloading via the transfer wire.
Stanford transfer Aaron Bright and Minnesota transfer Aaron Bright will be eligible to fill the holes in the backcourt. Bright was struggling with Stanford last season, but he was one of the Cardinal’s best players as a sophomore. Coleman averaged 8.7 points for Minnesota two seasons ago.
The Gaels also return talented forward Brad Waldow and shooting guard Kerry Carter.
Key losses: Aerris Smith
Key returners: Karl Cochran, Spencer Collins, Lee Skinner, Eric Garcia, Justin Gordon, Jaylen Allen, C.J. Neumann, Indiana Faithfull, John Swinton
Key additions: Ryan Sawvell (midseason)
Wofford’s only loss from a team that made the NCAA Tournament is Aerris Smith, an experienced motivational leader who averaged just 1.5 points per game. The Terriers return all five starters and the rest of their bench after winning 20 games.
They also get a key addition in Evansville transfer Ryan Sawvell, who will be eligible midseason. A 6’8″ forward, Sawvell averaged 6.0 points and 3.9 rebounds for the Purple Aces before transferring.
Key losses: Jesse Pritchard
Key returners: Justin Sears, Javier Duren, Armani Cotton, Brandon Sherrod, Nick Victor, Matt Townsend, Jack Montague
Key additions: None
Yale was in position to challenge Harvard for the 2014 Ivy League title. The Bulldogs were tied with the Crimson until they lost four of their final five regular season games. Still, they finished with 19 wins and advanced to the CIT championship game.
Yale did that with a very young team, and now it returns everyone except for reserve guards Jesse Pritchard and Isaiah Salafia.
Justin Sears and Javier Duren will again form one of the best inside-outside duos in the Ivy League. And they have a great supporting cast Armani Cotton, Brandon Sherrod and others.
Key losses: Ben Cherry, Denzel Ingram
Key returners: Pierria Henry, Shawn Lester, Willie Clayton, Terrence Williams, Mike Thorne Jr., Marcus Bryan
Key additions: Bernard Sullivan, Braxton Ogbueze
Charlotte returns its top five scorers although it loses two rotation players in Ben Cherry and Denzel Ingram. The 49ers have a do-it-all guard in Pierria Henry, a talented scorer in Shawn Lester, and two dangerous big men in Willie Clayton and Mike Thorne Jr.
The 49ers do not return any good outside shooters, and they will not have much depth. That’s why the additions of Clemson transfer Bernard Sullivan and Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze will be key. Sullivan gives Charlotte some much-needed depth while Ogbueze could be a solid 3-point shooter.
Key losses: None
Key returners: Alex Rosenberg, Maodo Lo, Grant Mullins, Cory Osetkowski, Meiko Lyles, Steve Frankoski, Isaac Cohen, Luke Petrasek, Jeff Coby
Key additions: C.J. Davis
Columbia performed extremely better than expectations last season. The Lions were picked to finish last in the Ivy League and wound up finishing third in the conference. They won 21 games overall, and now they return everyone in the rotation.
The Lions have three playmakers in Alex Rosenberg, Maodo Lo and Grant Mullins, and they are very dangerous from beyond the arc.
Others considered: Southern Miss, Southern Illinois, Evansville, Georgia State, Missouri State, San Francisco, IPFW, High Point, UC Santa Barbara, Morehead State, Eastern Washington, American
Mid-Major Rankings breakdown by conference: