5 Mid-Majors Not Getting Enough Attention in 2018-19

By Kevin Sweeney

If you call yourself a college basketball fan, chances are you know plenty about Gonzaga. After all, they may enter the season as the overall preseason #1 team in the country. The same could be said about Nevada and the expected top-10 team Eric Musselman has put together. You’ve probably heard about Rick Stansbury signing 5-stars at Western Kentucky, Loyola-Chicago bringing back a ton of talent from a Final Four club, and Mike Daum still mauling opponents in the Summit League.

Yet every year, the biggest storylines in mid-major basketball seem to come out of nowhere. Loyola went 8-10 in the Missouri Valley in 2016-17 before shocking the world this past season. Most of the nation’s eyeballs hadn’t focused on Nacogdoches, Texas to watch Stephen F. Austin until they came a fingertip away from the Sweet 16 the year before that. So, with colleges across the country getting underway and college basketball season just around the corner, I decided to highlight some sleeping giants across the mid-major landscape prepared for huge years in 2018-19.

Northeastern (23-10, 14-4 CAA)

Bill Coen remains one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball, and his 2018-19 Huskies roster has a chance to be his best one yet. Coming off a season in which they won 23 games and blew a huge lead in the CAA Championship game, Northeastern brings back more than 87% of its scoring and adds a talented transfer in George Washington transfer Jordan Roland. The Huskies play great defense, have a terrific point guard in redshirt senior Vasa Pusica, and shoot the ball very well. This team may not wow you with their athletes, but they have the talent & experience to win a game or more in the NCAA Tournament.

Illinois State (18-15, 10-8 MVC)

Loyola will receive the majority of the preseason notoriety in The Valley, and rightly so. But there’s another potential top-50 team coming out of the MVC, and that’s this Illinois State club. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more talented trio than Milik Yarbrough, Keyshawn Evans, and Phil Fayne in all of mid-major basketball. The trio fits together so perfectly– Yarbrough handles primary creation duties with a 41.4% assist percentage, pairing nicely with a scoring point guard like Evans while Fayne does the dirty work. WIth more depth and some talented newcomers joining the fray, ISU could have a special season.

East Tennessee State (25-9, 14-4 SoCon)

What Steve Forbes did last season with this ETSU club was remarkable. Despite losing 4 of their top 5 scorers from a 27-win NCAA Tournament team, Forbes led the Buccaneers to 25 wins in 2017-18. Forbes recruits physical athletes who can score and compete at both ends, helping put together elite defenses that make every basket tough to come by. This year’s club sees a fair amount of roster turnover once again, but Forbes has a pair of rising sophomores to build around in wing Bo Hodges and big man Mladen Armus, and a talent group of incoming freshmen and transfers should help ETSU remain near the top of the SoCon.

Rider (22-10, 15-3 MAAC)

Rider’s top 5 scorers last season were either redshirt freshmen or sophomores. That should inject immense fear into the rest of the MAAC, given the Broncs took home a share of the league title despite their youth. That top 5 forms a perfectly-designed core that allows them to create mismatches against any mid-major foe. Dimencio Vaughn and Frederick Scott are a pair of multi-positional wings who possess the combination of strength, ball-handling, and shooting to intimidate opposing defenses. Jordan Allen is a pure shooter, and Tyere Marshall is a steady presence in the post. The glue holding it all together is Stevie Jordan, the rising junior point guard who led the MAAC in assists a season ago and gets to the rim at will.

Kevin Baggett’s MAAC tournament record is less than ideal (0-6 in last 6 MAAC quarterfinals, 0-3 as 1 or 2 seed), but the Broncs have the talent to get over the hump this year.

Harvard (18-14, 12-2 Ivy)

Non-conference play was a big disappointment for the Crimson last season, as they stumbled out of the gates to a 5-9 start. Despite losing star guard Bryce Aiken for much of the season due to a knee injury, Harvard turned things around during conference play behind the other members of Tommy Amaker’s elite 2016 recruiting class, with Seth Towns claiming Ivy League Player of the Year and Chris Lewis providing a strong frontcourt presence. That 2016 class gets a year older, and Amaker brings in yet another strong group this year that can help accentuate the strengths of the team’s current core. Top-200 point guard Spencer Freedman will allow Aiken to move off the ball and embrace his ability to score the ball, and I was impressed with do-it-all wing Noah Kirkwood during his time with the Canadian U19 national team. Look for the Crimson to find their way back to the Big Dance this season.

CBB Central Podcast Homer Episode: Going In-Depth on Providence and Northwestern

Today on the show, Brad and Kevin tackle two teams near and dear to their hearts. Brad’s alma mater Providence brings in a great recruiting class, but is it enough to contend with some key graduations? Meanwhile, Kevin’s Northwestern Wildcats look to rebound from a disappointing 2017-18 campaign, but questions at point guard loom.

Be sure to follow Brad (@BradCav2) and Kevin (CBB_Central) on Twitter.

CBB Central Podcast: Previewing Maryland and Syracuse

In today’s episode of the CBB Central Podcast, Brad and Kevin preview 2 teams they have strong opinions about. Kevin has been down on Syracuse all summer, but Brad is much more optimistic about the Orange meeting their high expectations. Meanwhile, Brad simply can’t understand the preseason Maryland hype with Kevin Huerter gone.

 

Be sure to follow Brad (@BradCav2) and Kevin (CBB_Central) on Twitter.

Column: NCAA’s Latest Attempt To Save Face Fails

By Kevin Sweeney

“Committed to Change”

Those were the words plastered atop the NCAA’s midday Wednesday release. That release announced a host of rule changes in college basketball, championing supposed player-friendly legislation in the wake of the federal investigation that has shaken the game to its core since the September 2017 indictments.

At first look, the changes appeared to be moves for the better. The first points one comes across when reading the release are all about player flexibility, and on paper, all seem like great moves.

RELEASE

Yet in the “fine print” of these talking points, it quickly became clear that the rules were limiting and poorly thought-out. More official visits seemed like a great way to level the playing field for recruits without the financial ability to travel across the country visiting schools. But increasing the number of official visits a player is allowed from 5 to 15 while only increasing the number a team is allowed to host from 24 to 28 over a rolling 2 year timeframe makes little to no sense.

Allowing high school and college basketball players to have agents represent them was a seemingly positive step, and one that many around college basketball had suggested for years. A closer look, however, reveals that high school players will only be allowed agents if they are deemed “elite” by USA Basketball.

Anyone see a problem with this?

What about these rules, for the college players?

Because it’s so easy to just terminate a relationship with someone who bought you food and flights with the thought that they’d get paid in the future, once the athlete turns pro.

Finally, we get to perhaps the biggest bombshell of the bullets above, that players will be able to return to school if they go undrafted. Yet once again, a deeper dive shows that only players invited to the NBA Draft Combine would be allowed to return to school, limiting the impact of this legislation to at most 25-30 players per year. Why not simply allow all players who enter the draft to return if undrafted?

Add in the already-discussed-at-length new recruiting period changes that diminish the July live period and re-emphasize high school programs in the recruitment process. If you’ve been on Twitter in the last several weeks, you’ll find a whole host of reasons why that’s a bad idea.

There are some pieces of the new rules that are good for the game. Forcing schools to pay for former players to go back to school and finish their degrees is a great move. A few other great moves in this are “Coaches and athletics staff must report athletics-related income from any source outside their school, such as an apparel company,” and a move that would seemingly give the NCAA subpoena-like power in their investigations: “As a term of employment, school presidents and athletics staff must commit contractually to full cooperation in the investigations and infractions process.”

The root of the NCAA’s problems is amateurism. In a system in which high-level players worth hundreds of thousands if not millions to their schools can only accept a college scholarship, there are bound to be under-the-table dealings. Did anyone expect the NCAA to simply back down on everything they have been built on and allow players to be paid? No.

At some point, the NCAA has to address this. Opening things up to allow players to profit off their own likeness is the most-discussed common ground. Instead, they attempted a quick PR stunt.

Had these rules been implemented the right way (less restriction on who could have agents, what players could return to school, and better communication with USA Basketball and the NBA, etc), they could have been seen as a move towards common ground. Instead, the NCAA looks like a laughingstock once again.

The only thing the NCAA is committed to is the status quo. Next time, make some real changes.