Preview: Which ten mid-majors could make some noise in March?
Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.
Editor’s Note: Updated 9 October 2012, 1:22 p.m.
Mid-major Cinderella teams have always been the darlings of March (or the most despised, depending on how much they shake up your bracket). We’re always looking for the next George Mason or VCU, but how easy are they to spot?
Who could be the teams to watch out for as we get ready to begin the 2012-13 season? Take a look below at NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major Watch List.
Coach Dave Rice had a monster recruiting haul in 2012, combined with a few key transfers that should have the Rebels solidly in the Top 25 when official polls are released.
Mike Moser is the biggest returning piece for UNLV, coming off a season in which he averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Add him to Top-10 recruit Anthony Bennett, guards Katin Reinhardt and DaQuan Cook, forwards Savon Goodman and Demetris Morant, and transfers Khem Birch (eligible in December) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (out 4-6 weeks with injury) and UNLV is in great position for a run in March.
The biggest question for Rice’s team will be the point guard spot, where we should keep an eye on returner Anthony Marshall.
It seems that Shaka Smart has his squad in the mid-major mix every season, and this year he’ll have to do it in a new conference: the Atlantic-10.
Darius Theus and Juvonte Reddic are two of the biggest returners for the Rams, along with shooter Troy Daniels and sophomore Treveon Graham.
Smart and the Rams got a gift in the late recruiting period, as Miami commit Melvin Johnson decommitted and pledged his name to VCU. A New York native, Johnson brings more shooting and scoring ability, likely off the bench.
Take these pieces and add it to Smart’s system, his patented “havoc” defense, and the Rams are in position to possibly win the Atlantic-10 in their first season in the league.
San Diego State
Jamaal Franklin & Co. look to make a deeper run in the NCAA tournament than last season, one year after Franklin averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds.
They lose Tim Shelton and Garrett Green, but Chase Tapley, along with Franklin and two other top scorers, return for Steve Fisher’s Aztecs. Look for Fisher to make use of three former transfers as well: JJ O’Brien, formerly at Utah, Dwayne Polee II, formerly at St. John’s, and James Johnson, a one-time Virginia Cavalier.
Granted, Murray State will be losing some pieces from last year’s team that some speculated could run the table, but any time a team is returning an All-American (like Creighton is with Doug McDermott), they need to be in the mid-major conversation.
Canaan joins Ed Daniel as a key returner, and the Racers will hope to have guard Zay Jackson back after he was suspended following an assault charge last month.
Fellow NBC writer Rob Dauster is a big believer in Phil Martelli’s team, considering they are returning a backcourt that will be the core of their success this season.
Carl Jones and Langston Galloway combined to average close to 33 points per game last season and those two, together with Ronald Roberts and CJ Aiken, St. Joe’s has four returning double-digit scorers.
The Billikens will unfortunately be without head coach Rick Majerus as he deals with health issues, but Saint Louis made a run to the NCAA tournament last season and nearly upset Michigan State to advance to the Sweet 16. They lose forward Brian Conklin, but return Kwamain Mitchell, who averaged 12.1 points and 3.8 assists per game last season.
Jim Crews takes over as the interim head coach, and he w0n’t be walking into an easy job with a competitive top end of the A-10.
Others to keep an eye on: Drexel, Creighton, Belmont, Akron