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NCAA Basketball Mid-Major Teams to Watch in 2021-2022

I have been writing for Hubpages for nine years. My degree is in literature and education and I've always enjoyed college basketball.

This is a look at some of the less heralded Division I basketball teams that could prove to be difficult matchups for their major conference counterparts in November, December, or March. It is not an all-inclusive list of the best teams outside of college basketball’s six major conferences, as several of the most high profile mid majors are absent for different reasons. Most notably, Gonzaga, Memphis, Drake, and St. Bonaventure are all covered in my preseason top 25, while Houston could be facing a down year relative to their recent success.

At 6-2, Grayson Murphy pulls in 8 rebounds a game for Belmont.

At 6-2, Grayson Murphy pulls in 8 rebounds a game for Belmont.

Belmont Bruins

  • 2020-2021: 26-4, 18-2 in the OVC
  • Departures: no major departures
  • Additions: no major additions
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

Belmont has had two heartbreaking seasons since Casey Alexander took over for Rick Byrd as head coach. The team has a total record of 52-11 under Alexander and had already qualified for the NCAA Tournament two years ago before it was cancelled due to the pandemic, while last season ended with a disappointing loss to another talented OVC team, Moorehead St., in the OVC Tournament Championship Game. Even though there are no newcomers likely to be major contributors, the maturation of what was a young team should allow for some improvement this season. Senior team leaders Grayson Murphy and Nick Muszynski probably can’t be expected to do much more than they already have; at 6-2, Murphy (10.9 ppg., 8.0 rpg., 5.8 apg., 2.3 spg., 35.7% 3pt., and an impressive-for-a-guard 58.9% overall field goal percentage) is one of the premiere stat sheet stuffers in college basketball, a two time first team All-OVC player, and a two time OVC Defensive Player of the Year, while the 6-11 Muszynski (15.0 ppg., 5.6 rpg., 1.6 bpg.) is a three time first team All-OVC player. The most improved player should be JaCobi Wood, who was able to score 11.3 points per game without the benefit of a preseason as a freshman, while Ben Sheppard (10.5 ppg., 4.4 rpg.) took a big step forward as a sophomore and is still getting better as well. Although Moorehead St. and an improved Murray St. will be major obstacles, Alexander’s Bruins will be the OVC’s overall and sentimental favorites to earn a berth in March.

BYU Cougars

  • 2020-2021: 20-7, 10-3 in the WCC; lost to UCLA in the NCAA Round of 64
  • Departures: Matt Haarms (11.3 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 2.0 bpg.) and Brandon Averette (11.7 ppg., 3.7 apg., 35.0% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Connor Harding (5.4 ppg.) transferred to Utah Valley and Kolby Lee transferred to Dixie State
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Alex Barcello
  • Additions: 6-2 Milwaukee transfer Te’Jon Lucas (14.9 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 5.8 apg.), 6-7 San Jose St. transfer Seneca Knight (17.1 ppg., 5.7 rpg. in 2019-20)
  • Preseason Projection: NIT

If not for the pandemic, Mark Pope would have taken BYU to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first two seasons as head coach. While he will be facing some roster turnover, he will have a chance to remain consistent in year three. The biggest part of that potential was Alex Barcello’s decision to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility offered due to the pandemic. Barcello (16.1 ppg., 4.7 rpg., 4.3 apg., 47.7% 3pt.) was an easy pick as a first team All-WCC player as a senior, and he gives the team a clear leader for his fifth year. He will be joined in the backcourt by Milwaukee transfer Te’Jon Lucas, who doesn’t shoot nearly as well as Brandon Averette but should represent an upgrade in every other area of point guard play and allow Barcello to move off the ball more often. With the benefit of his first full offseason, Caleb Lohner should emerge as a star and join Barcello on an all conference team; he flashed potential throughout his freshman year, but was particularly dominant in a five game stretch in February when he averaged 14 points and 9.2 rebounds a game and shot 73.3% from the three point line. In the post, 6-11 senior Richard Harward doesn’t have Matt Haarms length or mobility, but he also won’t try to shoot 3s and is a significantly better rebounder. There were other WCC teams that benefited from the transfer portal so it isn't quite as clear that BYU will be the second best team in the conference, but the Cougars will again give themselves enough chances for quality non-conference wins to potentially earn an at large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

Pavel Zakharov found an ideal situation through the transfer portal.

Pavel Zakharov found an ideal situation through the transfer portal.

California Baptist Lancers

  • 2020-2021: 13-10, 6-6 in the WAC
  • Departures: Gorjok Gak (13.5 ppg., 10.3 rpg., 1.7 bpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Mark Carbone (6.2 ppg., 43.3% 3pt.) graduated and will not return
  • Additions: 7-0 Gonzaga transfer Pavel Zakharov, 6-6 Long Beach State transfer Chance Hunter (12.3 ppg., 5.8 rpg., 34.2% 3pt.), 6-9 UMBC transfer Daniel Akin (7.9 ppg., 6.4 rpg.), and 6-5 Australian recruit Taran Armstrong
  • Preseason Projection: NIT

California Baptist might seem like an odd team to include on this list because, as a relatively new addition to Division I, they won’t actually be eligible for the NCAA Tournament until next year. However, what Rick Croy’s team has been able to do in it’s first three years at a higher level has been impressive, and with an improving roster they could be a very real contender for a Tournament berth right away. Former Florida transfer Gorjok Gak had a great season in his one year with the program, but transfer Pavel Zakharov is a former top 50 recruit that was similarly buried on the depth chart at Gonzaga and will have three years of eligibility remaining at the program. The Lancers feature a first team All-WAC point guard in rising senior Ty Rowell (15.4 ppg., 5.8 apg., 40.3% 3pt.) to go along with a collection of 6-5 and 6-6 wings that can shoot the basketball, and they would have had one of the most efficient offenses in the country last season if their stats had been considered with the rest of Division I (the team would have been 32nd in fg%, 5th in 3pt.%, and 35th in assist to turnover ratio).

Charlotte 49ers

  • 2020-2021: 9-16, 5-11 in Conference USA
  • Departures: Jordan Shepherd (11.9 ppg.) transferred to California; Jhery Matos (7.6 ppg., 4.4 rpg.) and Milos Supica (6.3 ppg., 5.5 rpg.) will play professionally outside the US
  • Additions: 6-5 Holy Cross transfer Austin Butler (16.1 ppg., 8.8 rpg., 1.6 spg., 45.8% 3pt.), 6-4 Clemson transfer Clyde Trapp (7.3 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 35.1% 3pt.), 6-7 Syracuse transfer Robert Braswell, 6-8 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi transfer Perry Francois (7.3 ppg., 3.9 rpg.), and 6-5 Ohio State transfer Musa Jallow
  • Preseason Projection: NIT

The 49ers have struggled in the three years since longtime Tony Bennett assistant Ron Sanchez took over as head coach, but a huge influx of talent via the transfer portal will finally give him a chance to show what he can do with a roster that more closely resembles what he worked with at Virginia. Clutch shotmaking is incredibly important for a team that tends to run down the shot clock and doesn’t give itself a chance on the offensive boards, and the 49ers will have that now with second team All-Patriot League guard Austin Butler, Clyde Trapp (Clemson’s best guard last season), and Robert Braswell (who scored 9.3 ppg. on 50% 3pt. during a four game stretch in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments) joining first team All-Conference USA guard Jahmir Young (18.0 ppg., 4.9 rpg., 33.8% 3pt.) and emerging offensive weapon Brice Williams (9.7 ppg., 4.0 rpg., 43.1% 3pt.). Sanchez wasn’t really able to address the center position, but Jared Garcia flashed potential as a freshman and Butler and Trapp will help close out possessions on the defensive boards. This should be a very different year for Charlotte, who will have a chance to earn their first postseason appearance since 2013.

At 6-5, David Roddy was 27th in the nation in rebounding.

At 6-5, David Roddy was 27th in the nation in rebounding.

Colorado State Rams

  • 2020-2021: 20-8, 14-4 in the Mountain West; lost to Memphis in the NIT Semifinal
  • Departures: No major departures
  • Additions: 6-3 Division II transfer Chandler Jacobs
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

Like Belmont, Colorado St. isn’t just a good team that returns everyone, it’s a relatively young team that returns everyone, meaning that several of last year’s players are still early in their development. The team’s two best players, first team All-MWC forward David Roddy (15.9 ppg., 9.4 rpg.) and second team All-MWC point guard Isaiah Stevens (15.3 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 5.4 apg., 42.7% 3pt.), will just be juniors this season, while honorable mention All-MWC forward Adam Thistlewood (9.1 ppg., 36.4% 3pt.) and Kendle Moore (10.5 ppg., 35.8% 3pt.) will be the only seniors. That group maturation should be particularly helpful with regards to offensive efficiency, which wasn’t a problem last season but should become a strength. In the frontcourt, 6-9 junior stretch four Dischon Thomas may be ready for a breakthrough year while 6-10 sophomore James Moors will benefit from a full offseason and a year in the weight room. As the team’s only real size, their development would both take some rebounding responsibility off the shoulders of the 6-5 Roddy and improve the team’s post defense. The Mountain West Conference routinely sends two teams to the NCAA Tournament, but with four teams set to have good years a strong non-conference performance from Niko Medved’s Rams could allow it to send a third team for the first time since 2015.

Eastern Kentucky Colonels

  • 2020-2021: 22-7, 15-5 in the OVC
  • Departures: Wendell Green Jr. (15.8 ppg. 5.0 apg., 1.6 spg., 36.4% 3pt.) transferred to Auburn, Tre King (14.9 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 1.5 spg., 1.2 bpg., 33.9% 3pt.) transferred to Georgetown, Brandon Knapper (18.3 ppg. on poor shooting in his only four games with the program) transferred to San Jose St., Cheikh Faye (5.4 ppg.) transferred to Charleston Southern, and JacQuess Hobbs transferred to Fort Lewis
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Russhard Crickshank
  • Additions: 6-0 NC State transfer Braxton Beverly (7.0 ppg., 40.0% 3pt.), 6-9 Marshall transfer Jannson Williams (9.4 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 2.0 bpg., 32.8% 3pt.), 6-9 Marshall transfer Iran Bennett (9.1 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 1.3 bpg. in 2019-2020), 5-11 Wichita St. transfer Trevin Wade
  • Preseason Projection: NIT

Eastern Kentucky is coming off of it’s first successful season under prominent former Hargrave Military Academy coach A.W. Hamilton and will be transitioning from the OVC to the ASUN Conference. While Wendell Green was a huge part of last season’s success, Braxton Beverly proved capable of running an offense efficiently and hitting 3s against a higher level of competition during his time at NC State and should excel with the Colonels. Tre King played an important role as well, but the duo of big men from Marshall will present some interesting options for Hamilton; Jannson Williams is a new age floor stretching shot blocker, while Iran Bennett is an effective widebody in the tradition of Oliver Miller. The Colonels will also welcome back former first team All-OVC guard Jomaru Brown (18.4 ppg., 1.9 spg. in 2019-20), who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, and return two emerging young players in 6-5 sophomore Curt Lewis (11.1 ppg., 5.1 rpg., 1..4 spg., 34.7% 3pt.) and 6-7 junior Michael Moreno (10.2 ppg., 4.9 rpg., 45.7% 3pt.). The ASUN Conference will be on the rise with Eastern Kentucky and a talented Jacksonville State team joining perennial favorite Liberty and an improving Florida Gulf Coast team, so the conference's at large bid will be well contested, but the Colonels will be an immediate contender upon arrival.

Kevin Samuel will control the paint for FGCU.

Kevin Samuel will control the paint for FGCU.

Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

  • 2020-2021: 10-8, 4-5 in the ASUN Conference
  • Departures: Eli Abaev (7.1 ppg., 7.4 rpg., 35.7% 3pt.) will play professionally overseas; Jalen Warren (12.3 ppg.) transferred to UIC and Dom London (6.1 ppg.) transferred to Maryland-Eastern Shore
  • Additions: 6-11 TCU transfer Kevin Samuel (8.8 ppg., 7.8 rpg., 1.7 bpg.), 6-1 Western Carolina transfer Matt Halvorsen (12.1 ppg., 38.8% 3pt.), 6-8 McNeese transfer Carlos Rosario (12.0 ppg., 5.5 rpg.), 5-8 Duquesne transfer Tavian Dunn-Martin (10.2 ppg., 3.6 apg.), and 6-6 Tulsa transfer Austin Richie (6.7 ppg., 35.5% 3pt.)
  • Preseason Projection: NIT

FGCU has only been a full Division I member for nine years, but the team has managed to reach the NCAA Tournament three times in that period and even reached the Sweet Sixteen under Andy Enfield. The Eagles haven’t had quite as much success under Michale Fly, but they were over .500 for the first time last season and a large influx of talent through the transfer portal should allow them to take another step forward this year. Kevin Samuel will be a game changer in the post. While he won’t remind anyone of Dunk City offensively and he has a Shaq sized free throw problem, he has averaged 7.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game in his three years in the Big 12 and should dominate the paint in the ASUN. Otherwise, Matt Halvorsen and Austin Richie will join junior Cyrus Largie (13.4 ppg., 6.1 rpg., 38.1% 3pt.) and senior Caleb Catto (13.3 ppg., 4.7 rpg., 1.4 spg., 39.2% 3pt.) to address the team’s three point shooting problem (FGCU was 325th in 3pt.% last year) and Tavian Dunn-Martin will help with turnover issues (209th in assist to turnover ratio). The Eagles suddenly find themselves in a very competitive mid major basketball conference, but with substantive improvements on both ends of the floor they should definitely be on the way back up.

Iona Gaels

  • 2020-2021: 12-6, 6-3 in the MAAC; lost to Alabama in the NCAA Round of 64
  • Departures: Isaiah Ross (18.4 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 1.4 spg., 38.3% 3pt.) and Asante Gist (13.4 ppg., 3.6 apg., 33.3% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Dwayne Koroma (3.4 rpg.) entered the transfer portal
  • Additions: 6-8 Louisville transfer Quinn Slazinski (6.2 ppg., 3.6 rpg.), 6-3 Tulsa transfer Elijah Joiner (11.3 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 4.0 apg., 33.3% 3pt.), and 6-4 SMU transfer Tyson Jolly (14.5 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 38.2% 3pt. in 2019-20)
  • Senior taking an extra year: Dylan van Eyck
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

Rick Pitino immediately lived up to his well earned reputation as one of the premiere coaches in the sport by leading Iona back to the NCAA Tournament in his first year, and he followed that up by making three strong veteran additions through the transfer portal. In the backcourt, Tulsa transfer Elijah Joiner may end up being a slight upgrade from Asante Gist at point guard, while SMU transfer Tyson Jolly is a solid player that will have some work to do in order to approach the production of first team All-MAAC guard Isaiah Ross. In the frontcourt, Quinn Slazinski is an energetic stretch four that had a promising freshman year at Louisville, and he will be a nice compliment to returning MAAC Freshman of the Year Nelly Junior Joseph (11.1 ppg., 7.5 rpg., 1.6 bpg.). 6-5 senior wing Berrick JeanLouis (8.1 ppg., 5.4 rpg., 2.2 spg., 1.2 bpg.) is a weapon in his own right; he’s an NBA caliber perimeter defender that will become an excellent 3 and D prospect if he can improve his scoring while retaining an already respectable 37.0% from beyond the arc. Due to Ross's departure, Rick Pitino’s second year at Iona may not be a significant improvement over his first, but the Gaels should now be considered the favorite for the MAAC’s automatic bid.

Brandon Huffman's first year at Jacksonville St. was a strong indication of how much talent can be wasted on a major college bench.

Brandon Huffman's first year at Jacksonville St. was a strong indication of how much talent can be wasted on a major college bench.

Jacksonville State Gamecocks

  • 2021-2022: 18-9, 13-6 in the OVC
  • Departures: No major departures
  • Graduates taking an extra year: Brandon Huffman, Darian Adams, and Kayne Henry
  • Additions: 6-3 Mount St. Mary’s transfer Jalen Gibbs (16.5 ppg., 4.8 rpg., 42.3% 3pt. in 4 games)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

With three starters (including two All-OVC players) returning to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, Ray Harper’s Gamecocks will be an immediate contender for the ASUN’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid in their first year in the conference. Jalen Gibbs was off to an outstanding start to his senior year at Mount St. Mary’s (including a 19 point effort against Maryland) before making an interesting decision to opt out ostensibly due to covid and quickly entering the transfer portal. He will join first team All-OVC point guard Darian Adams (15.7 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 3.1 apg., 36.9% 3pt.) and senior point guard Jalen Finch (11.0 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 4.8 apg., 38.2% 3pt.), who was outstanding in his first year in Division I, to form what should be one of the best trios of guards in college basketball. The Gamecocks eventually figured out how good 6-10 North Carolina transfer Brandon Huffman could be in January, and he averaged 12.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks over the team’s last 17 games on his way to earning second team All-OVC honors. Senior stretch four Amanze Ngumezi (8.7 ppg., 40.0% 3pt.), a 6-9 former Georgia transfer, started to fulfill his potential last season as well, and should be in line for a strong senior year. Harper won two NCAA Division II championships and two NAIA Division I championships at previous stops, and he will have plenty of talent and experience available to lead the Gamecocks back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since his first year at the school in 2016-2017.

Jordan Brown will try to finally fulfill his potential at his third school.

Jordan Brown will try to finally fulfill his potential at his third school.

Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns

  • 2020-2021: 17-9, 10-7 in the Sun Belt Conference
  • Departures: Cedric Russell (17.2 ppg., 40.0% 3pt.) transferred to Ohio St., Mylik Wilson (12.9 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 3.2 apg., 2.0 spg.) transferred to Texas Tech, and Jacobi Gordon (4.8 ppg., 38.5% 3pt.) transferred to California; Devin Butts (6.4 ppg., 36.0% 3pt.) entered the transfer portal
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Dou Gueye
  • Additions: 6-11 Arizona transfer Jordan Brown (9.4 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 0.9 bpg.), 6-3 St. John’s transfer Greg Williams (9.5 ppg., 44.8% 3pt.), 6-2 San Jose St. transfer Jalen Dalcourt (9.6 ppg., 35.4% 3pt.), and 6-6 Creighton transfer Antwann Jones
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

Bob Marlin has only taken Louisiana to the NCAA Tournament once in his eleven years as head coach, but the surprise addition of former top 20 recruit Jordan Brown may put his team in position for an encore eight years later. What makes Brown’s addition so interesting is the presence of 6-11 senior center Theo Akwuba (11.3 ppg., 9.3 rpg., 2.6 bpg.), who is a returning second team All-Sun Belt player and the reigning conference Defensive Player of the Year. In reality, Akwuba’s presence may be exactly why Brown chose the Cajuns. Brown was projected to have a face up game that included perimeter shooting coming out of high school, and he really hasn’t displayed that to this point; now, Louisiana’s best potential lineup will obviously include both Akwuba and Brown, and the only way for that to work will be if Brown is finally able to display those skills that the NBA now covets in big men. Regardless of how well that works out offensively, the pair will obviously control the paint; Louisiana was already 25th in the nation in blocked shots, 37th in rebound margin, and 32nd in offensive rebounds per game, and they could reasonably finish in the top 10 nationally in each category with the twin tower approach and 6-9 Dou Gueye (9.9 ppg., 8.2 rpg.) coming off the bench. The perimeter will be more of a question mark, although transfer Greg Williams should excel after having a breakthrough season at St. John’s, former four star recruit Ty Harper (5.6 ppg., 35.7% 3pt.) will be better prepared after his first full offseason, and Kobe Julien (12.8 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 1.9 spg., 33.3% 3pt. in 2019-20) could be closer to the player he was as a freshman after having more than a year to recover from a knee injury.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

  • 2020-2021: 24-8, 12-4 in Conference USA; lost to Mississippi St. in the NIT semifinals
  • Departures: Kalob Ledoux (11.6 ppg., 4.0 rpg., 42.5% 3pt.), JaColby Pemberton (8.6 ppg., 5.6 rpg.), and Andrew Gordon (4.8 ppg., 4.0 rpg.) graduated and will not return
  • Graduates taking an extra year: Amorie Archibald and Exavian Christon
  • Additions: 6-3 Incarnate Word transfer Keaston Willis (18.9 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 36.6% 3pt.), 6-4 Texas A&M transfer Ladamien Bradford, 6-5 3 star prospect Terran Williams, 6-3 3 star prospect Kaleb Stewart
  • Preseason Projection: NIT

Louisiana Tech ended last season with three wins against good teams in the NIT, and may ultimately improve offensively with the addition of second team All-Southland Conference guard Keaston Willis. However, the real reason Eric Konkol’s Bulldogs are likely to continue to succeed is because of their defense, which has been among the best in college basketball for each of the last two years (25th in fg% defense and 26th in 3pt% defense last season). That defense will again be anchored by 6-6 junior Isaiah Crawford (11.8 ppg., 5.1 rpg., 38.1% 3pt.) and 6-7, 275 pound sophomore Kenneth Lofton Jr. (12.2 ppg., 7.5 rpg.), both of whom were third team All-Conference USA members last season. Conference USA’s automatic bid will be well contested this season, but Louisiana Tech should be among several to earn postseason appearances.

Chris Knight will be tasked with filling the shoes of a third team All-American.

Chris Knight will be tasked with filling the shoes of a third team All-American.

Loyola Ramblers

  • 2020-2021: 26-5, 16-2 in the MVC; lost to Oregon St. in the Sweet Sixteen
  • Departures: Cameron Krutwig (15.0 ppg., 7.0 rpg., 3.0 apg.) entered the NBA Draft
  • Graduates taking an extra year: Lucas Williamson, Keith Clemons, Aher Uguak, and Tate Hall
  • Additions: 6-7 Dartmouth transfer Chris Knight (14.8 ppg., 6.4 rpg. in 2019-20), 6-6 Princeton transfer Ryan Schwieger (10.7 ppg., 37.3% 3pt. in 2019-20), and 6-6 3 star recruit Saint Thomas
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

Loyola would seem to be in a major state of flux following the departure of Porter Moser to coach at Oklahoma and the graduation of third team All-American Cameron Krutwig, but in some ways the program will actually be more stable than most of the teams in college basketball. While only 30 years old, new coach Drew Valentine has been a prominent assistant under Moser for the past four years and is unlikely to make dramatic changes to the team’s offensive and defensive approaches. Also, while Krutwig was a great college player, the Ramblers were able to get most of the band back together for another run, including the return of four players that graduated and are taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility. Among those players are second team All-MVC guard and MVC Defensive MVP Lucas Williamson (8.8 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 1.4 spg., 35.9% 3pt.), third team All-MVC forward Aher Uguak, and former third team All-MVC guard Tate Hall (12.7 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 42.6% 3pt. in 2019-20). In addition, junior Braden Norris (8.5 ppg., 3.2 apg., 41.0% 3pt.) was on the conference All-Newcomer team last season. Newcomer Chris Knight doesn’t have Krutwig’s bulk as a post defender or play at his unique pace, but he will provide more conventional athleticism and his statistical productivity at both ends of the floor as a second team All-Ivy League player at Dartmouth in 2019-20 was virtually identical to Krutwig’s last season. Drew Valentine is stepping into a very good situation with a team of veterans that is familiar with him and fully expects to return to the NCAA Tournament, and there is every reason to believe that is exactly what will happen.

Loyola Marymount Lions

  • 2020-2021: 13-9, 7-5 in the WCC
  • Departures: Mattias Markusson (9.7 ppg., 6.0 rpg.) will play professionally overseas
  • Graduates taking an extra year: Eli Scott and Quentin Jackson
  • Additions: 6-2 Northern Arizona transfer Cameron Shelton (19.2 ppg., 5.9 rpg., 4.2 apg., 1.5 spg., 34.7% 3pt.), 6-9 CSU-Northridge transfer Alex Merkviladze (10.0 ppg., 7.0 rpg., 38.2% 3pt.), and 6-6 Wyoming transfer Kwane Marble (9.5 ppg., 4.1 rpg.)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

In his first year as a head coach, Stan Johnson led Loyola Marymount to their second winning season in the last nine years. He was able to follow that success with a productive foray into the transfer portal, most notably landing senior first team All-Big Sky point guard Cameron Shelton and promising sophomore stretch four Alex Merkviladze. The team received more good news with 6-6 first team All-WCC forward Eli Scott (18.0 ppg., 8.2 rpg., 3.6 apg.) deciding to play a fifth year. The roster also includes two juniors that were on the Honorable Mention All-WCC list in 6-7 forward Dameane Douglas (13.5 ppg., 7.3 rpg., 36.7% 3pt.) and 6-6 forward Keli Leaupepe (10.8 ppg., 5.6 rpg., 39.3% 3pt.) as well as All-WCC Freshman Team point guard Jalin Anderson (7.1 ppg., 3.4 apg.). In all, Stan Johnson will now have two first team all-conference players (Scott and Shelton), two honorable mention players on the rise (Douglas and Leaupepe), two capable point guards (Shelton and Anderson) as well as a productive supplemental facilitator (Scott), three highly effective rebounders (Scott, Douglas, and Merkviladze), and six respectable perimeter threats (including senior shooting guard Joe Quintana (9.3 ppg., 42.9% 3pt.)). Loyola Marymount hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since the 1990 Paul Westhead/Bo Kimble Elite Eight team, but on paper there is every reason to believe that this could be the year for their return.

Deandre Gholston gives Milwaukee a veteran star to pair with top recruit Patrick Baldwin Jr.

Deandre Gholston gives Milwaukee a veteran star to pair with top recruit Patrick Baldwin Jr.

Milwaukee Panthers

  • 2020-2021: 10-12, 7-10 in the Horizon League
  • Departures: Amir Allen (5.6 ppg., 5.5 rpg.) graduated and will not return; Te’Jon Lucas (14.9 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 5.8 apg.) transferred to BYU, C.J. Wilbourn (5.6 ppg., 3.1 rpg.) transferred to Wright St., Courtney Brown Jr. (5.4 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 35.6% 3pt.) transferred to St. Thomas, and Grant Coleman (5.1 ppg., 36% 3pt.) transferred to Bryant
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Josh Thomas
  • Additions: 6-9 top 5 recruit Patrick Baldwin Jr., 6-9 Boston College transfer Vin Baker Jr., 6-4 UTEP transfer Jordan Lathon, 7-0 San Francisco transfer Samba Kane, and 7-1 UCF transfer Moses Bol
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

It can’t really be called a recruiting coup when the recruit is the coach’s son, but the addition of top 5 prospect Patrick Baldwin Jr. temporarily puts Milwaukee back on the college basketball map for the first time since the end of the Bruce Pearl era. Baldwin Jr. is 6-9, athletic, and can do everything, although he is still working to add weight and may need a season in the Horizon League before he is ready to play against larger bodies. He should still be a conference player of the year candidate right away. Baldwin will be paired with an outstanding 6-5 senior guard in Deandre Gholston (16.8 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 37.4% 3pt.), which should keep pressure from mounting on him offensively. 6-9 former Boston College recruit Vin Baker Jr. should finally be able to return to action as well, and there are enough other competitive pieces in place for the Panthers to be considered preseason favorites to win the Horizon League’s automatic bid. This season might be as important for the future of head coach Pat Baldwin as it is for that of his son; after struggling and staying below .500 for the first four years of his coaching career, there is a very real possibility that his job would be in jeopardy without the arrival of Patrick. If the Panthers don’t at least reach the NCAA Tournament, the program could see major changes after the season.

Missouri State Bears

  • 2020-2021: 17-7, 12-6 in the MVC
  • Departures: no major departures
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Gaige Prim
  • Additions: 6-1 IUPUI transfer Jaylen Minnett (16.4 ppg.) and 6-7 Valparaiso transfer Donovan Clay (10.1 ppg., 5.5 rpg.)
  • Preseason Projection: NIT

Missouri St. lost by two points to Drake in the semifinals of the MVC Tournament, and would have been certain to make the NIT had it included its normal 32 team field. Every member of last year’s rotation returns for Dana Ford, including 6-8 first team All-MVC and All-MVC Defensive Team center Gaige Prim (16.7 ppg., 9.1 rpg., 3.0 apg., 1.2 spg., 1.3 bpg.), who is taking advantage of the extra year, and 6-5 fellow first team All-MVC forward Isiaih Mosley (19.8 ppg., 6.3 rpg., 3.1 apg., 38.6% 3pt.), who could attract NBA attention as a junior. Improvement from senior point guard Demarcus Sharp (8.2 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 3.7 apg., 1.7 topg.), who played without the benefit of a preseason in his first year of Division I basketball but managed to run the offense efficiently anyway, could allow the Bears to develop one of the better offenses in college basketball. In addition, transfers Jaylen Minnett and Donovan Clay will significantly improve the team’s bench. An NCAA Tournament berth will be hard to come by for the Bears with both Drake and Loyola also in the conference, but with more non-conference play than there was a year ago all three should have opportunities to prove themselves against major conference competition and have chances for at large bids.

Even now, 6-10 players that shoot over 40% from 3 like KJ Williams are rare.

Even now, 6-10 players that shoot over 40% from 3 like KJ Williams are rare.

Murray State Racers

  • 2020-2021: 13-13, 10-10 in the OVC
  • Departures: Chico Carter (12.7 ppg., 44.2% 3pt.) transferred to South Carolina, Demond Robinson (6.9 ppg., 4.6 rpg.) transferred to Kennesaw St., and Brion Whitley (4.4 ppg., 35.9% 3pt.) transferred to Southern; Devin Gilmore (5.8 ppg., 4.4 rpg.) graduated and will not return
  • Additions: 6-2 South Carolina transfer Trae Hannibal (6.0, 53.8% 3pt.), 6-6 Eastern Illinois transfer Jordan Skipper-Brown (10.2 ppg., 5.6 rpg., 1.2 bpg.), 6-3 Davidson transfer Carter Collins (10.9 ppg., 38.5% 3pt.), 6-7 Southern transfer Damiree Burns (9.3 ppg., 5.0 rpg.), and 6-8 junior college transfer Elijah Farr
  • Preseason Projection: NIT

Matt McMahon’s Racers suffered a down year following three consecutive first place finishes and what might have been three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances if not for the pandemic. Even in a down year, two stars continued to develop in 6-5 point guard Tevin Brown (14.7 ppg., 5.9 rpg., 4.3 apg., 1.4 spg., 37.2% 3pt.) and 6-10 stretch four KJ Williams (15.6 ppg., 8.5 rpg., 41.3% 3pt.), both of whom were named first team All-OVC as juniors. McMahon built around the pair through the transfer portal, adding two perimeter shooters as outlets for Brown in Trae Hannibal and Carter Collins and a competitive post player that doesn’t look to shoot 3s and will allow Williams to avoid being anchored in the paint in Jordan Skipper-Brown. In addition, the OVC became a little less competitive in the offseason with two of last years top four teams, Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State, departing for the ASUN. Murray State’s down year should be quickly forgotten, and the Racers should contend with Belmont and Moorehead St. for the OVC’s automatic bid.

AJ Bramah will be surrounded with significantly more talent at Nevada.

AJ Bramah will be surrounded with significantly more talent at Nevada.

Nevada Wolf Pack

  • 2020-2021: 16-10, 10-7 in the Mountain West
  • Departures: Zane Meeks (9.0 ppg., 5.9 rpg., 35.8% 3pt.) transferred to San Francisco and Kane Milling (4.8 ppg., 36.8% 3pt.) transferred to UC Davis
  • Additions: 6-7 Robert Morris transfer AJ Bramah (21.0 ppg., 10.3 rpg., 1.4 spg.), 7-0 Texas transfer Will Baker, and 6-6 Florida Atlantic transfer Kenan Blackshear (9.4 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 1.5 spg.)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

Steve Alford has consistently placed teams in either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT throughout what has been a thoroughly respectable coaching career, and he would have taken the Wolf Pack to the postseason in each of his first two years if the tournaments hadn’t been altered by the pandemic. He’ll have more talent to work with this season, starting with an outstanding returning backcourt composed of first team All-MWC point guard Grant Sherfield (who improved quickly after getting away from the Gregg Marshall drama and put up 18.6 ppg., 6.1 apg., and 1.6 spg. while shooting 36.7% 3pt.) and senior Desmond Cambridge (16.3 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 34.8% 3pt.). Robert Morris transfer AJ Bramah is a great player that doesn’t shoot threes; he would pair perfectly with 7-0 Texas transfer Will Baker, a former top 40 recruit looking for minutes that has a face up game and can stretch the floor in addition to competing in the paint. The Wolf Pack does already have an established traditional center in 7-0 junior Warren Washington (10.0, 5.9 rpg.), but it’s possible that Baker could pair with him at times as well depending on matchups. Add a small collection of shooters with length, and Alford will likely take Nevada back to the NCAA Tournament where the team had appeared consistently under Eric Musselman.

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

  • 2020-2021: 18-11, 10-5 in the Summit League; lost to Arkansas in the Sweet Sixteen
  • Departures: Kevin Obanor (18.7 ppg., 9.6 rpg., 46.3% 3pt.) transferred to Texas Tech, R.J. Glasper (11.0 ppg., 35.2% 3pt.; injured during the team’s Summit League and NCAA Tournament runs) transferred to Incarnate Word, and Sheldon Stevens transferred to Emporia St.
  • Additions: 6-1 Vanderbilt transfer Issa McBride (4.7 ppg., 35.8% 3pt.) and 6-2 Oklahoma transfer Trey Phipps (35.5% 3pt.)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

Oral Roberts was one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the history of the NCAA Tournament last season, going from a fourth place regular season finish in the Summit League that wouldn’t have earned them a NIT invite to a two point loss in the Sweet Sixteen. Kevin Obanor was clearly one of the two most important parts of that run; he was a dominant rebounder and had been one of the best shooting big men in the country since arriving at the school. He will be missed. Still, the other five major contributors return, and they’re a young group that is still improving. It would be impossible to ask more of junior Max Abmas (24.5 ppg., 3.8 apg., 1.5 spg., 42.9% 3pt.), who led the country in scoring last season and won the Lou Henson Award for the best mid major player in college basketball. However, Kareem Thompson (8.7 ppg., 3.7 rpg., 38.9% 3pt.), Carlos Jurgens (10.0 ppg. and 5.2 rpg. during the Summit League and NCAA Tournaments), and DeShang Weaver (6.0 ppg., 35.8% 3pt.) all made big plays at various times during the team’s tournament runs, and all three are likely to play with more confidence and improve as juniors. The team will also still have a competitive post presence with the return of Elijah Lufile, a 6-8, 275 pound senior who chose to redshirt last season. Lufile (5.6 rpg., 5.3 rpg. in 15.1 mpg. in 2019-20) is as good a rebounder as Obanor and is particularly effective on the offensive boards, although he isn’t a perimeter threat and is significantly more foul prone than his predecessor. Paul Mills will face a more difficult challenge without Kevin Obanor, but his team has gotten better in each of his four years as coach and should still have enough talent to be considered the favorite for the Summit League’s automatic bid.

Matt Bradley instantly gives the Aztecs a new star player.

Matt Bradley instantly gives the Aztecs a new star player.

San Diego State Aztecs

  • 2020-2021: 23-5, 14-3 in the Mountain West; lost to Syracuse in the NCAA Round of 64
  • Departures: Matt Mitchell (15.4 ppg., 5.6 rpg., 1.4 spg., 33.7% 3pt.), Jordan Schakel (14.4 ppg., 4.4 rpg., 46.1% 3pt.), and Terrell Gomez (8.6 ppg., 40.2% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft
  • Graduates taking an extra year: Trey Pulliam and Joshuah Tomaic
  • Additions: 6-4 California transfer Matt Bradley (18.0 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 36.4% 3pt.), 6-7 Duquesne transfer Chad Baker (9.5 ppg., 41.7% 3pt.), and 6-9 TCU transfer Jaedon Ledee (5.8 ppg., 3.9 rpg.)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

It almost seems like a crime that Brian Dutcher didn’t get his first opportunity as a head coach until the age of 58. Dutcher has a 96-31 record since taking over for Bill Fisher, including a combined 53-7 mark over the last two seasons that has resulted in back to back Mountain West Coach of the Year awards. Last season’s Mountain West Player of the Year Matt Mitchell was a major part of that success, but overall Dutcher’s incoming talent may exceed that of the departed seniors. Cal transfer Matt Bradley was a second team All-Pac-12 player last season and should safely land on the All-MWC team as a senior, while Chad Baker showed flashes of offensive explosion in an inconsistent but promising freshman year at Duquesne. Combined with fifth year senior point guard Trey Pulliam, the Aztecs will still feature a strong perimeter offense. Mitchell will be missed at both ends of the floor, but TCU transfer Jaedon Ledee will be competitive in the post and should actually prove to be an upgrade on the boards. San Diego State takes care of the basketball and will again be one of the premiere defensive teams in the country (12th in fg% defense last season), and should again find itself as the higher seed in their first round matchup in the NCAA Tournament.

San Francisco Dons

  • 2020-2021: 11-14, 4-9 in the WCC
  • Departures: Damari Milstead (4.7 ppg.) transferred to Cal State Fullerton and Samba Kane transferred to Milwaukee
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Jamaree Bouyea
  • Additions: 6-3 Columbia transfer Gabe Stefanini (13.8 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 4.1 apg., 1.5 spg., 42.3% 3pt. in 2018-19), 6-10 San Diego transfer Yauhen Massalski (9.6 ppg., 8.3 rpg., 2.2 bpg.), 6-9 Nevada transfer Zane Meeks (9.0 ppg., 5.9 rpg., 35.8% 3pt.), and 6-9 Duke transfer Patrick Tape (11.3 ppg., 5.9 rpg., 1.3 bpg. at Columbia in 2018-19)
  • Preseason Projection: NIT

Despite an impressive early non-conference victory over Virginia, San Francisco struggled without impactful additions to compensate for the departure of four of the team’s top six players in Todd Golden’s second year as head coach. The team’s fortunes should take another wild swing in year three, as four highly regarded transfer portal additions and a decision to take an extra year by the team’s best player should make the Dons a contender for second place in the WCC. Jamaree Bouyea (17.3 ppg., 3.7 apg., 1.5 spg., 37.0% 3pt.) was a first team All-WCC selection despite his team’s struggles as a senior, while his backcourt partner, rising senior Khalil Shabazz (15.0 ppg., 1.9 spg., 33.2% 3pt.), was named to the second team. They will now be joined by a former second team All-Ivy League player in Gabe Stefanini, who hasn’t played in two years due to a broken foot and the Ivy League’s canceled season but did everything you could ask of a point guard in 2018-2019. More importantly, Yauhen Massalski and Patrick Tape represent significant improvements in the post after the Dons struggled to defend the paint and rebound (they finished 249th in both fg% defense and rebounding margin) last season. Add a second mobile 6-9 perimeter weapon in Zane Meeks to supplement senior honorable mention All-WCC forward Dzmitry Ryuny (9.4 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 36.7% 3pt.), and Todd Golden will have as much talent to work with as any WCC team not named Gonzaga. The West Coast Conference hasn’t sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament since 2012, but with their success through the transfer portal the conference will feature four teams that will be difficult matchups for any major conference competition.

Kendric Davis was 5th in the nation in assists, but he will have limited options to feed in the post.

Kendric Davis was 5th in the nation in assists, but he will have limited options to feed in the post.

SMU Mustangs

  • 2020-2021: 11-6, 7-4 in the AAC; lost to Boise St. in the 1st round of the NIT
  • Departures: Feron Hunt (11.1 ppg., 7.9 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Tyson Jolly (9.3 ppg., 4.8 rpg., 39.1% 3pt.) transferred to Iona, Ethan Chargois (8.8 ppg., 5.4 rpg.) transferred to Oklahoma, Darius McNeill (7.3 ppg., 39.0% 3pt.) transferred to UT-San Antonio, Charles Smith (5.2 ppg., 44.7% 3pt.) transferred to Old Dominion, and Yor Anei (6.6 ppg.) transferred to DePaul
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Isiah Jasey
  • Additions: 6-3 Sam Houston transfer Zach Nutall (19.3 ppg., 5.7 rpg., 37.2% 3pt.), 6-5 Duquesne transfer Marcus Weathers (15.3 ppg., 7.5 rpg.), 6-3 Texas Southern transfer Michael Weathers (16.5 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 3.5 apg., 2.1 spg.), 6-10 Baylor transfer Tristan Clark, and 6-4 4 star recruit Zhuric Phelps
  • Preseason Projection: NIT

Tim Jankovich will be dealing with significant roster turnover, but he returns one star player and added three more through the transfer portal. All of those players are guards, so it will at the very least be a fun team to watch. The starting perimeter will include Kendric Davis (19.0 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 7.6 apg., 1.6 spg., 37.3% 3pt.), a returning first team All-AAC senior point guard; Zach Nutall, the reigning Southland Conference Player of the Year; first team All-SWAC member Michael Weathers; and Marcus Weathers, Michael’s twin and a second team All-A-10 member. On the other hand, the frontcourt is going to be a giant question mark. Tristan Clark was a great player at Baylor at one point (14.6 ppg., 6.3 rpg., 2.4 bpg. in 2018-19), but more recently he had announced his “retirement” from basketball due to problems recovering from a knee injury, so just what can be expected of him is unknown. Otherwise, 6-10 Isiah Jasey stuck around for an extra year, but he's foul prone and has almost no offensive skill. The Mustangs will be interesting if for no other reason than to serve as an experiment in just how unnecessary frontcourt players have become. The answer will inevitably be not completely, so unless Clark has finally made a full recovery SMU’s ceiling will be limited.

Clemson would definitely like to have Trey Jemison back this year.

Clemson would definitely like to have Trey Jemison back this year.

UAB Blazers

  • 2020-2021: 22-7, 13-5 in Conference USA
  • Departures: Tyreek Scott-Grayson (9.3 ppg., 34.0% 3pt.) transferred to Northeastern, Jalen Benjamin (9.2 ppg.) transferred to Mount St. Mary’s, and Kassim Nicholson (6.7 ppg., 6.7 rpg.) transferred to Tennessee St.
  • Graduates taking an extra year: Michael Ertel, Quan Jackson
  • Additions: 6-0 South Alabama transfer Tyreke Locure (13.5 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 3.1 apg., 2.0 spg., 33.3% 3pt.), 5-11 Tulane transfer Jordan Walker (13.0 ppg., 4.3 apg., 1.7 spg.), 6-7 Ole Miss transfer KJ Buffen (8.4 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 38.9% 3pt.), 6-6 South Florida transfer Justin Brown (8.1 ppg., 36.3% 3pt.), 6-4 Auburn transfer Jamal Johnson (9.4 ppg., 36.1% 3pt.), and 6-7 LSU transfer Josh Leblanc (4.4 rpg.)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

Ole Miss’s decision to push Andy Kennedy out the door was questionable at best (that program can’t seriously expect more success than he provided), and his coaching ability was on full display at UAB as he turned the team around completely in his first year. Like several other quality teams, the Blazers would have been an NIT team had the tournament featured a full field. Players in the south seem to be aware of how good of a coach Kennedy is because they flocked to UAB at the first opportunity through the transfer portal. Kennedy added a total of six established players that should excel in Conference USA. The Blazers also return their top three scorers, two of whom are taking advantage of the extra year to perhaps be part of something special. The other top returning scorer, senior Tavin Lovan (12.2 ppg., 4.0 rpg.), was a second team All-C-USA player last season. Throw in 7-0 senior center Trey Jemison (7.1 ppg., 6.9 rpg., 2.1 bpg.), who was a C-USA All-Defensive team member along with Quan Jackson (10.8 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 2.1 spg.), and UAB has talent equal to many major conference teams and will easily be the favorite to win Conference USA’s automatic bid. Even if the Blazers were to lose in the Conference USA Tournament, the team would likely have a very real chance for an at large bid in the NCAA Tournament depending on what they can do in non-conference play. Andy Kennedy’s forced departure from Ole Miss may turn out to be both an escape from unrealistic pressure and a blessing in disguise, and it should start paying dividends this season.

Utah State Aggies

  • 2020-2021: 20-9, 15-4 in the Mountain West; lost to Texas Tech in the NCAA Round of 64
  • Departures: Neemias Queta (14.9 ppg., 10.1 rpg., 3.3 bpg.) was a 2nd round pick in the NBA Draft, Marco Anthony (10.0 ppg., 4.8 rpg., 3.1 apg.) and Rollie Worster (9.1 ppg., 3.8 rpg., 3.5 apg.) transferred to Utah, and Alphonso Anderson (6.8 ppg.) transferred to Pacific
  • Additions: 6-0 Utah transfer Rylan Jones (4.0 apg.), 6-3 UMBC transfer R.J. Eytle-Rock (14.3 ppg., 4.9 rpg., 40% 3pt.), 6-10 UMBC transfer Brandon Horvath (13.1 ppg., 8.7 rpg.), and 6-7 3 star recruit Dallin Grant
  • Preseason Projection: NIT

Like Loyola, Utah State is experiencing both a coaching change and the departure of a significant player. Unlike Loyola, the Aggies went outside the program to add new coach Ryan Odom, who was last season’s Coach of the Year in the America East Conference. Odom brought two first team All-America East players with him from UMBC and added a proven Pac 12 point guard through the transfer portal, so he will still have plenty of talent to work with in his first year with the program. Neemias Queta’s departure means that former walk on Justin Bean can take on a larger role as a senior. Bean (11.4 ppg., 7.7 rpg.) is a two time All-MWC player in his own right; he plays with relentless energy and attacks the boards like a smaller, less athletic Dennis Rodman, and he’s worked to expand the rest of his game over the last three years. While Queta’s defensive presence in the post will be missed, Bean and UMBC transfer Brandon Horvath should allow the Aggies to continue to control the glass in Mountain West play. Utah transfer Rylan Jones acquitted himself well as the only real guard at Utah as a freshman two years ago (9.6 ppg., 4.5 apg., 1.5 spg., 38.6% 3pt. in 2019-20) before being recruited over and accepting a smaller role last season, and he should be in line for a breakout year for the Aggies. R.J. Eytle-Rock, the second UMBC transfer, is a large bodied guard that should compliment Jones perfectly. A return to the NCAA Tournament will be difficult because of San Diego State and Nevada, but it should at least be a possibility for what will again be a competitive Utah State team.

Kobe King's comeback will take place at Valparaiso.

Kobe King's comeback will take place at Valparaiso.

Valparaiso Beacons

  • 2020-2021: 10-18, 7-11 in the MVC
  • Departures: Donovan Clay (10.1 ppg., 5.5 rpg., ) transferred to Missouri State, Daniel Sackey (5.3 ppg., 3.5 apg.) transferred to New Orleans, Jacob Ognacevic transferred to Lipscomb (6.3 ppg., 51.7% 3pt.), and Zion Morgan (5.1 ppg.) graduated
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Eron Gordon
  • Additions: 6-4 Wisconsin transfer Kobe King (10.0 ppg.), 6-8 Michigan St. transfer Thomas Kithier, 6-2 Wisconsin transfer Trevor Anderson (54.2% 3pt.), 7-0 Wisconsin transfer Joe Hedstrom, 6-5 Division II transfer Kevion Taylor
  • Preseason Projection: CBI (if that tournament is able to return)

Valparaiso has effectively dropped off the radar nationally since Bryce Drew left for Baylor and the program moved to the Missouri Valley Conference, so coach Matt Lottich took the opportunity for a different approach to roster building through the transfer portal. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that the team will be good, it should make things more interesting, particularly for regional fans of the Big Ten. The biggest name added to the roster is Kobe King, who hasn’t played college basketball since leaving Wisconsin after the 2019-20 season. He should find himself in a position to succeed, and could emerge as the team’s best player. Otherwise, King’s former teammate Trevor Anderson established himself as a dangerous perimeter threat at Wisconsin last season, while Thomas Kithier should at least contribute on the boards after battling somewhat effectively in the paint at Michigan St. and Joe Hedstrom will have potential as a 7-0 former Big Ten recruit moving to the MVC. Along with returning players Ben Krikke (third team All-MVC with 12.3 ppg. and 4.2 rpg.) and Eron Gordon, the newcomers should give Lottich a fighting chance to at least hold on to his job a little longer.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

  • 2020-2021: 21-8, 11-3 in Conference USA; lost to Louisiana Tech in the NIT Quarterfinals
  • Departures: Charles Bassey (17.6 ppg., 11.6 rpg., 3.1 bpg.) was a 2nd round pick in the NBA Draft, Taveion Hollingsworth (13.9 ppg.) and Carson Williams (7.5 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 39.5% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft, and Jordan Rawls (8.3 ppg., 34.7% 3pt.) transferred to Georgia St.
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Josh Anderson
  • Additions: 5-11 top 60 recruit Zion Harmon, 6-8 Maryland transfer Jairus Hamilton (6.5 ppg., 43.0% 3pt.), 6-9 DePaul transfer Jaylen Butz (10.1 ppg., 5.4 rpg. in 2019-20), 6-5 Cincinnati transfer Keith Williams (14.3 ppg., 4.1 rpg.), and 7-5 number 3 JC recruit Jamarion Sharp
  • Preseason Projection: CBI

Rick Stansbury has routinely operated with more talent than the rest of Conference USA, and while the returns have been consistent the team has yet to win the conference’s automatic bid. With UAB suddenly loaded, this probably won’t be the year for that either, but the team should still be competitive inside and outside of the conference. Freshman point guard Zion Harmon will have to live up to his recruiting ranking right away for that to be true, but he has shown the physical strength and decision making necessary to do that. Transfers Jairus Hamilton and Jaylen Butz will be prime breakout candidates based on their performances at previous stops and Stansbury’s previous success developing and getting the most out of major conference transfers. Charles Bassey will obviously be missed, but the team will at least still have above average rim protection with the arrival of highly regarded and intriguing 7-5 junior college recruit Jamarion Sharp. Western Kentucky probably won't be quite as good as they were a year ago, but they should still find their way into a postseason tournament.

Joe Pleasant should have another chance for NCAA Tournament glory at Wichita State.

Joe Pleasant should have another chance for NCAA Tournament glory at Wichita State.

Wichita State Shockers

  • 2020-2021: 16-6, 11-2 in the AAC; lost to Drake in the NCAA First Four
  • Departures: Alterique Gilbert (10.3 ppg., 4.1 apg., 1.6 spg.) entered the transfer portal and Isaiah Poor Bear Chandler transferred to Omaha
  • Additions: 6-8 Abilene Christian transfer Joe Pleasant (10.5 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 46.5% 3pt.) and 6-1 Division II transfer Qua Grant
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

There was probably an expectation that Wichita State could fade into obscurity after Gregg Marshall's meltdown, but Marshall’s long time assistant Isaac Brown picked up the pieces quickly and there was enough talent left after a mass exodus for the Shockers to return to the NCAA Tournament. Brown has the team in position to get better in his second season with most of his primary contributors returning. Included in that group are two promising young prospects in 6-6 sophomore guard Ricky Council (7.1 ppg., 3.4 rpg. in 15.6 mpg.; 44.4% 3pt.) and 6-7 junior forward Clarence Jackson (5.0, 4.4 rpg. in 13.9 mpg.), both of whom exceeded all possible expectations without the benefit of a preseason in their first year of Division I basketball. Tyson Etienne (16.3 ppg., 39.2% 3pt.) should take over at point guard after being named AAC Co-Player of the Year, and he will have a chance to attract NBA attention as a junior. Abilene Christian transfer Joe Pleasant, a well conditioned 6-8 stretch four that shoots the 3 extremely well and was one of the heroes of last year’s NCAA Tournament, will be a major boost to the frontcourt. Depending on how well they are able take care of the basketball, Isaac Brown’s Shockers should be a threat to win a game in March.