Mid-Major Regional Quick Guide, Part II

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 10th, 2017

With the season now upon us, here’s a region-by-region look at the mid-major players, coaches, teams, and storylines you need to know entering 2017-18. Here’s Part I, focused on the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the country.

Midwest

  • Oakland. Returning talent, you ask? Seniors Jalen Hayes (15.9 PPG, 8 RPG) — perhaps the Horizon League’s best forward — and Martez Walker (17.8 PPG) are both back. Fresh blood? Former Illinois standout Kendrick Nunn (15.0 PPG in 2015-16) joins the fold. Coaching? Greg Kampe, alive and well, is simply one of the best. If the Grizzlies can avoid another conference tournament letdown, they could definitely be a Cinderella in March.
  • Offseason Realignment. Wichita State’s jump to the American Athletic Conference created a mini-domino effect in O26 land: Valparaiso joined the Missouri Valley, prompting IUPUI to fill the Crusaders’ spot in the Horizon.The Summit League, now down to eight members, wound up the ultimate loser here.
  • Alize Johnson – F – Missouri State. Wichita State’s departure aside, there’s a reason Missouri State was picked to win the Missouri Valley this season: Johnson — who averaged 14.8 points and 10.6 boards last season — is really, really good. The athletic forward logged 17 double-doubles and could be a first-round NBA Draft pick next summer.

  • Mike Daum. Put simply, Daum is one of the best players in college basketball. The 6’9″ junior ranked second nationally in scoring last season (25.3 PPG), a product of remarkable efficiency: Daum shot 42 percent from behind the arc, 87 percent at the free throw line, and posted a true shooting percentage of 65.5 percent — sixth-best in the country among players who played at least 80 percent of his team’s minutes. He scored 30+ points 12 times — including a 51-point, 15-rebound effort against Fort Wayne — and should do more of the same this season.
  • James Whitford – Head Coach – Ball State. After two straight 21-win seasons, Whitford’s  reclamation project is nearly complete. Expect the former Arizona assistant to become a household name — and hot commodity to boot — if he leads lead Ball State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000 this season. With a dependable point guard and powerful center back, Whitford might just have the roster to do it.
  • Old faces, new places in the Buckeye State. Former VCU and Alabama coach Anthony Grant takes over for Archie Miller at Dayton following an assistant coaching stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder. John Groce, fired from Illinois, is now back in the MAC at Akron.

Southwest

  • Kevin Hervey  – F – Texas-Arlington. Other than perhaps Saint Mary’s Jock Landale and North Dakota State’s Mike Daum, there might not be a better mid-major player around than Hervey (17.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG). The rangy forward is at once a stellar defender, prolific defensive rebounder (27.8% DReb), and versatile scorer, able to work around the rim and step out from the perimeter. With point guard Erick Neal (6.6 APG) at his side, Texas-Arlington should give BYU, Alabama and Creighton fits during non-conference play before finishing at or near the top of the Sun Belt.
  • Stephen F. Austin. Led by rebounding and shot-blocking maven TJ Holyfield, the Lumberjacks should cruise through the Southland and return to the NCAA Tournament after missing the event last season for the first time since 2013.

Dan Majerle is building something special down in Phoenix. (Zuriel Loving/Cronkite News)

  • Grand Canyon. The Lopes, finally eligible for postseason play, have a chance to become one of the best stories in college basketball this year. Led by two-time All-WAC guard Josh Braun (17.5) and Oregon transfer Casey Benson — a contributor on last year’s Final Four squad — Dan Majerle’s upstart program will compete neck and neck with New Mexico State this season for the league crown. And don’t underestimate Grand Canyon’s home court advantage, which Rick Pitino called “the toughest crowd I’ve ever faced.”
  • Transfer U. Another year, another class of incoming high-major transfers for Texas Southern coach Mike Davis. This season, the former Indiana and UAB head man welcomes Massachusetts transfer Donte Clark (12.6 PPG) and former Auburn center Trayvon Reed. That kind of talent goes a long way in the SWAC.

Northwest

  • What’s next for Gonzaga? The WCC overlords finally broke through to the Final Four after two decades of perceived NCAA Tournament disappointment, but where does Gonzaga turn now that four of its top five scorers  — including Zach Collins, Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski — are all gone? Its veteran backcourt is a good place to start. Josh Perkins (8.1 PPG) and Silas Melson (7.2 PPG) are both back, along with pre-season All-WCC forward Johnathan Williams (10.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG). International forwards Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura and Jacob Larsen have also shown enormous potential. Several quality freshmen also join the fold, and… look, Mark Few will have this team back in the national picture soon enough.

  • Tyler Hall  – G – Montana State. A prolific shooter who connected on 43 percent of a whopping 280 three-point attempts last season, Hall has a chance to become a household name before it’s all said and done. His game is Steph Curry-like — pull up from anywhere, hit from anywhere — and he finally has a supporting cast good enough to compete for a Big Sky title. If the Bobcats make the Dance, the nation’s seventh-leading scorer will become an immediate star.
  • Chandler Hutchison  – F – Boise State. The 6’7″ senior (17.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG) is the Mountain West’s best returning player, which makes Boise State a legitimate contender for the league crown alongside Nevada and San Diego State.
  • Bogdan Bliznyuk – G – Eastern Wasington. Great name, better game: the 6’6″ Ukranian point guard (20.6 PPG) tallied 45 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in a game against Portland State last season. He’s a rare talent in the Big Sky.

West

Jock Landale and the Gaels are the real deal this season. (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Jock Landale – C – Saint Mary’s. The Gaels were picked over Gonzaga to win the WCC this season in no small part because of Landale. The 6’11” Aussie is probably the nation’s most efficient big man, averaging 16.9 points and 9.5 boards in just 28 minutes per game, posting elite offensive and defensive rebounding rates, and shooting a sparkling 63 percent from from inside the arc. When Landale was on the floor, Saint Mary’s looked like a force to be reckoned with; when he got into foul trouble, the Gaels struggled. With several key teammates back, including hyper-efficient point guard Emmett Naar, Randy Bennett’s team has a chance to grab a top-five seed next March.
  • How long do Russell Turner and Eric Musselman stick around? Turner should have UC Irvine in contention for a third-straight Big West title, while Musselman is in great position to lead Nevada back to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. Turner turned down an offer from George Mason two years ago, while Musselman withdrew his name from consideration for the California job this past offseason. There’s a good chance at least one of these guys finds a new landing spot after 2017-18 is complete.
  • Jordan Caroline  – F – Nevada. Speaking of Nevada, keep an eye on Caroline. The son of former NFL Pro Bowler Simeon Rice, Caroline plays with a football player’s intensity, which is part of the reason he racked up 13 double-doubles a year ago — including a dominant 45-point, 13-rebound effort in the Wolfpack’s impossible comeback against New Mexico in January.
  • Steve Fisher will be missed. For the first time since San Diego State basketball became relevant, Steve Fisher will no longer be pacing the sidelines in Viejas Arena. Longtime assistant Brian Dutcher will probably do a fine job and the Aztecs have plenty of talent this season, but the Mountain West-by-way-of-Michigan legend will be missed.
  • Brandon McCoy – F – UNLV. Marvin Menzies’ first year in Vegas turned out to be the program’s worst in over 20 years but that didn’t stop the veteran head coach from snagging a bona fide five-star recruit in McCoy. The Runnin’ Rebels probably won’t compete for the Mountain West crown this season, but they should be better with a future NBAer in tow.
Tommy Lemoine (216 Posts)


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