The college hoops offseason is painfully long and we’re stuck in the absolute dead zone right now. There’s almost no commitments, transfers, coaching changes or players leaving programs during the time we are in now. So, let’s have some fun and start ranking and debating the 2015-16 season.
There’s been some preliminary rankings, whether it’s ESPN’s No-Longer-Way-Too-Early Top 25, Today’s U Tiered Rankings or other sites across the Internet, we’re starting to get an idea of what teams to watch out for. Now, the problem with a lot of these rankings is it just looks at the major conference schools and then the familiar smaller schools like Gonzaga and Wichita State.
What about the other smaller schools? Who can be a team like Northern Iowa who surprised a lot of people last year by being ranked for the majority of the year? These are the mid-majors to keep an eye on during the 2015-16 season. For the sake of argument we’re going to rule out Gonzaga and Wichita State since they have been talked about numerous times the last couple of years.
Note: All stats are from ESPN.com unless notified elsewhere
Boise State Broncos
2014-15 season: 25-9, 14-4 Mountain West, lost in First Four to Dayton
Sure, the Broncos are losing Derrick Marks, but thanks to a medical hardship, Boise State will have Anthony Drmic for a fifth year. The Australian native led Boise State in scoring his first three years before playing just seven games last season with an ankle injury. He made a splash as a freshman scoring nearly 18 points a game while pitching in almost five rebounds and over two assists a game. Drmic is the type of player who can have the success Seth Tuttle had for Northern Iowa last season just from a guard position. Drmic will be surrounded with better talent than Northern Iowa as well, especially with James Webb III, who averaged 11 points and eight rebounds last year.
2014-15 season: 26-9, 17-3 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, lost to Rhode Island in 1st round of NIT
One of the most important mid-major players will return for his senior year and hopefully get Iona over the hump after losing to Manhattan the last two seasons in the finals of the MAAC title game. That player is A.J. English, who averaged over 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game last season. The point guard made a gigantic leap two seasons ago as a sophomore when he upped his scoring average from seven points as a freshman to 17 points during his second year. Iona likes to play an uptempo offense, with the 38th best offense in the country per KenPom. Iona is the type of team who can pull off an upset in the Round of 64 solely because of its offense. Keep an eye on English as he’ll try to be one of the only people in the country to average 20/5/5 again.
San Diego State Aztecs
2014-15 season: 27-9, 14-4 Mountain West, lost to Duke in Round of 32
There’s an underlying theme here with the reasons why these teams are the ones to watch as mid-majors. It’s because they all have at least one player that can make a run at First Team All-American while leading their respective programs to a high seed come March Madness. The player for San Diego State? Malik Pope, who was a five-star coming out of high school and arguably the biggest recruit to ever go to San Diego State. He didn’t have a big freshman year, averaging just five points and three rebounds per game, but look for him to blow up this season. The Aztecs are the opposite of Iona in the sense of they play incredibly tough defense while notoriously struggle on the offensive side of the ball. If they can find a way to balance that out, there will be a run to the Sweet 16 in their future.