The season is only a few days away, so it’s time to get to know who the best mid-majors in college basketball are for 2013-14. Every team is linked to its conference’s preview, which has an in-depth preview of that team. The Catch and Shoot defines a mid-major as any team that plays in a conference other than: the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC, American, Mountain West, or Atlantic 10.
1. Gonzaga (32-3, 16-0 WCC, NCAA Tournament Third Round)
Gonzaga returns two starters in Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., and it adds a pair of impact transfers in Gerard Coleman and Angel Nunez. Sophomore big man Przemek Karnowski is primed for a breakout season.
2. Harvard (20-10, 11-3 Ivy, NCAA Tournament Third Round)
Harvard returns four starters from last year’s team that upset New Mexico in the NCAA tournament, and they also add Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who were supposed to be the best players on the team in 2012-13. Casey and Curry withdrew from school after their involvement in a cheating scandal, but they are now back for a second try at a senior season.
3. Wichita State (30-9, 12-6 MVC, NCAA Tournament Final Four)
Wichita State returns a preseason Mid-Major All-American in Cleanthony Early, and the Shockers also bring back Ferd VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Evan Wessel, and Nick Wiggins.
Early is the only returning member of the frontcourt, but transfers Kadeem Coleby and Darius Carter should be ready to perform at a high-level for the Shockers.
4. Brigham Young (24-12, 10-6 WCC, NIT Final Four)
BYU could realistically challenge Gonzaga and win the WCC title for the first time. The Cougars have one of the nation’s best scorers in shooting guard Tyler Haws, and two more very talented guards in Matt Carlino and Kyle Collinsworth.
Forward Eric Mika is arguably the best freshman at the mid-major level this season.
5. Indiana State (18-15, 9-9 MVC, NIT First Round)
Indiana State could find itself in the NCAA tournament this season. The Sycamores were considered a NCAA tournament bubble team for a large portion of last season, and they return everybody but RJ Mahurin. Point guard Jake Odum is one of the best mid-major players in the nation, and he has a good supporting cast in Manny Arop and Justin Gant.
6. Louisiana Tech (27-7, 16-2 WAC, NIT Second Round)
Louisiana Tech is favored to win Conference USA in its first year as a member. The Bulldogs return four starters and five members from their bench. Raheem Appleby will be one of the best scorers in the new conference, and Alex Hamilton should have a huge sophomore season.
7. Towson (18-13, 13-5 CAA)
Two years ago, Towson went 1-31. Last year, the Tigers went 18-13, 13-5 in the CAA, but were ineligible for the postseason. Their roster is even more talented this season, and now they are eligible for postseason play.
Former Georgetown transfer Jerrelle Benimon is a potential Mid-Major Player of the Year.
8. Wright State (23-13, 10-6 Horizon, CBI Semifinal)
Wright State was a pleasant surprise in the Horizon League last season, going 10-6 and advancing to the conference championship game. Overall, the Raiders won 23 games.
This season, they return their top nine scorers and add Butler transfer Chrishawn Hopkins after the fall semester.
9. Florida Gulf Coast (26-10, 13-5 A-Sun, NCAA Tournament Sweet 16)
Florida Gulf Coast made history last season as the first No. 15 seed to ever advance to the Sweet 16. The Eagles have a new head coach in Joe Dooley, but they return four starters and add Marquette transfer Jamail Jones and Georgia Tech transfer Nate Hicks.
They could once again give high-major teams nightmares in March.
10. Manhattan (14-18, 9-9 MAAC)
Manhattan got hot at the end of last season and ultimately advanced to the MAAC title game, where it fell three points shy of Iona. The Jaspers return everyone except for a pair of role players, and they add fifth-year senior George Beamon and Maryland transfer Ashton Pankey to the starting lineup. Beamon missed nearly all of last season with an ankle injury and received a medical redshirt, but in 2011-12 he led the MAAC in scoring with 19 points per game.
11. North Dakota State (24-10, 12-4 Summit, CBI First Round)
North Dakota State was cruising in the Summit League until Taylor Braun went down with an injury, giving the conference’s reins to South Dakota State. But the defending champion Jackrabbits graduated a pair of starters while the Bison return all five starters.
Braun will be the best player in the conference, and Marshall Bjorklund and TrayVonn Wright could also make the league’s first team.
12. Mercer (24-12, 14-4 A-Sun, NIT Second Round)
Florida Gulf Coast represented the Atlantic Sun in the NCAA tournament, but Mercer actually won the regular season conference title. The Bears return four starters from that team and could once again win the league with point guard Langston Hall leading the way.
13. Iona (20-14, 11-7 MAAC, NCAA Tournament Third Round)
Iona will certainly challenge Manhattan for the MAAC crown. The Gaels return two of the MAAC’s best players in Sean Armand and David Laury, and A.J. English and Tre Bowman will both be ready for increased roles in the offense. Junior college transfer Isaiah Williams and Rutgers transfer Mike Poole extra depth and talent.
14. Southern Miss (27-10, 12-4 C-USA, NIT Quarterfinal)
Southern Miss is looking for its fifth straight season with 20 wins. That feat is well within the Golden Eagles’ grasp, as they return three starters and add Temple transfer Aaron Brown.
15. New Mexico State (24-11, 14-4 WAC, NCAA Tournament Third Round)
New Mexico State is the heavy favorite to repeat as WAC champions with all but two players returning. Guard Daniel Mullings and 7’5″ center Sim Bhullar make for one of the best inside-outside duos at the mid-major level.
16. Eastern Kentucky (25-10, 12-4 OVC, CIT Second Round)
Eastern Kentucky returns four starters from last year’s team that won 25 games, a school record. Glenn Cosey is an Ohio Valley Player of the Year candidate, and Corey Walden will also be one of the conference’s top scorers.
17. Weber State (30-7, 18-2 Big Sky, CIT Runner-Up)
Weber State won 30 games last season and returns star guard Davion Berry, Kyle Tresnak, and Joel Bolomboy. The Wildcats are the early favorite to win the Big Sky title.
18. Denver (22-10, 16-2 WAC, NIT Second Round)
Denver is the only team that can really challenge North Dakota State for the Summit League title. The Pioneers return three starters, including Chris Udofia and Brett Olson. Both players could crack the All-Summit League First Team in the spring.
19. Belmont (26-7, 14-2 OVC, NCAA Tournament Third Round)
Belmont won the Ohio Valley last season in its first year as a member, and the Bruins could repeat in 2013-14. Although they lost their top three scorers, but they return two starters in J.J. Mann and Blake Jenkins. Reece Chamberlain will be an adequate starting point guard, and Samford transfer Drew Windler will make an immediate impact.
20. Boston U (17-13, 11-5 A-East, CIT First Round)
Boston could wind up cruising to the Patriot League title in its first season as a member. The Terriers went 11-5 in the America East and advanced to the CIT, and they will return all five starters.
21. Georgia State (15-16, 10-8 CAA)
Like Boston, Georgia State will be the most talented team in a new league. The Panthers are making the transition from the CAA to the Sun Belt, and they return star guard R.J. Hunter and forward Manny Atkins. They also add Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow.
22. Elon (21-12, 13-5 SoCon, CIT First Round)
Elon won 20 games last season for the first time since it joined Division I. The Phoenix return every noteworthy player from last year’s team, and they become the SoCon favorites as Davidson graduated three starters.
23. Green Bay (18-16, 10-6 Horizon, CIT First Round)
Green Bay has two of the Horizon League’s best players in Alec Brown and Keifer Sykes. The Phoenix also add Eastern Illinois transfer Alonzo McKinnie, Rutgers transfer Vincent Garrett, and former St. Peter’s guard Lamin Fulton.
24. Buffalo (14-20, 7-9 MAC)
Buffalo will make a huge jump under first-year head coach Bobby Hurley. The Bulls return one of the nation’s best mid-major players in forward Javon McCrea, along with skilled point guard Jarod Oldham.
25. UTEP (18-14, 10-6 C-USA)
UTEP lost two starters, but John Bohannon, Julian Washburn, and Cedrick Lang will form the best frontcourt in Conference USA. The addition of Eastern Washington transfer Justin Crosgile arguably gives the Miners an upgrade from Jacques Streeter, who graduated last spring.
Others considered: North Dakota, Oakland, Wagner, Toledo, Northern Iowa, Vermont, San Diego, Long Beach State, St. Mary’s, High Point, Northwestern State, Akron, Stony Brook, Cleveland State, Louisiana-LafayettePhoto: Michael Perez/AP