NCAA mid-major Top 25 rankings: Saint Mary’s ascends, Drake finding groove

Saint Mary’s claims the No. 2 spot in our NCAA mid-major Top 25 rankings. Drake is also starting to live up to its preseason hype.

Another week of the 2021-22 college basketball season is complete. With that, a new edition of our Heat Check CBB mid-major Top 25 is hot off the digital presses. As always, these rankings were compiled by Lukas Harkins and Andy Dieckhoff.

Our two biggest winners of the week were Saint Mary’s and Drake.

Saint Mary’s made a move thanks to a stellar come-from-behind road victory over San Francisco. The Gaels are now riding a five-game winning streak and have soared up the national ranks. They are now ranked No. 20 on KenPom and earned a No. 7 seed in our most recent bracketology update. Head coach Randy Bennett is leading one of the best defenses in the nation and SMC is a real contender to be the No. 1 team in our mid-major Top 25.

Drake has not been as consistent as SMC over the course of this season, but it has been realizing its potential of late. The Bulldogs defended their home court against Loyola Chicago this past weekend and followed that up with an 18-point road win over Indiana State. Freshman wing Tucker DeVries has reached double-digits as a scorer in 15 of his 16 games as a full-time starter. His consistency as a scorer next to Garrett Sturtz and Roman Penn makes the Bulldogs quite dangerous.

Now, let’s dive into another edition of the mid-major Top 25!

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25. Morehead State Eagles (17-6)

There are only two OVC losses that won’t send you out of these rankings — and Morehead State took one of them last weekend when they lost by 11 on the road at Murray State. Now holders of a home win over Belmont and a road loss to Murray, it really is too soon to guess exactly where in the Ohio Valley the Eagles will land. They will surely be a top-three squad, but only the league winner will reap the benefit of a semifinal date with the No. 4 seed. That is a crucial carrot to grab, too, because there is a steep drop-off in the OVC after Morehead State. -Andy Dieckhoff

24. Santa Clara Broncos (14-8)

The Broncos have had an interesting season to say the least. After a 3-0 start that included home wins over Stanford and Nevada, a bout with mononucleosis sidelined big man Josip Vrankic for nearly a month. Santa Clara was 4-5 during his absence and faded from the public eye a bit. With WCC play underway now, Herb Sendek’s club is making life difficult for foes, picking up another big home win over BYU on Jan. 27. Once a part of the #4BidWCC campaigns, Santa Clara could play spoiler to those dreams when they host San Francisco (Feb. 8) and St. Mary’s (Feb. 12). -AD

23. Jacksonville State Gamecocks (15-6)

Jacksonville State upset Liberty on the road this past week. Not only did this result lead to the Gamecocks launching into our mid-major Top 25, but it also pushed them into first place in the ASUN standings. They are 15-6 (8-0 ASUN) overall and have won 10 consecutive games in total. They have not lost since Dec. 18 when they fell to Alabama by six on the road. Demaree King has scored in double-figures in eight of his last 10 games while coming off the bench. He is shooting 66-for-135 (48.9 percent) from three for the season. -Lukas Harkins

22. Towson Tigers (16-6)

The Colonial has been a dogfight so far this season. While UNC Wilmington has the league’s best record at 9-0, the Tigers lay claim to the best analytics. Towson ranks No. 89 in KenPom and No. 83 in our DPI rankings, the only top-100 team in the Colonial by either metric. Thanks to Charles Thompson‘s career-high 23 points, Towson avenged one of its two CAA losses and beat Drexel 66-62 on Jan. 29. Next up for the Tigers is a trip to Nassau County to take on a dangerous Hofstra team, then a relatively light stretch against Northeastern, William & Mary and Elon. -AD

21. Seattle Redhawks (17-4)

Seattle is yet to face New Mexico State but has leaped out to an early lead in the WAC regular-season standings. The Redhawks have won nine straight games and are undefeated in conference play. They were ranked at No. 199 on KenPom at the start of this streak; they are now No. 125. This has been an incredible run but their most difficult stretch of schedule approaches. Seattle will face Grand Canyon and New Mexico State in back-to-back road games this week, providing true tests of their intra-conference record. -LH

20. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (16-5)

The past couple Saturdays have been unkind to the Tech faithful, as the Bulldogs have taken home losses to UAB and North Texas on consecutive weekends. The Bulldogs could use this next stretch to build momentum heading into return games with both C-USA foes, as Louisiana Tech plays exactly one KenPom top-150 team over the next six games. One underrated contributor has been Incarnate Word transfer Keaston Willis, who has hit 46 3-pointers on 37.1 percent shooting. He has become the team’s most prolific deep threat with Isaiah Crawford out. -AD

19. Missouri State Bears (17-7)

The Bears come in hot off a 15-point win in Carbondale over a solid Southern Illinois club. Missouri State is lights-out from just about anywhere on the court, ranking in the top 35 nationally in 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage. Only Colorado State and VMI can make that same claim. The Bears will need to be firing on all cylinders in their next two games, too, as they host Loyola Chicago before a trip to Des Moines to face Drake. While Missouri State has already beaten both teams, the Bears trail them by a half-game in the standings. -AD

18. Oakland Grizzlies (16-5)

Oakland has pushed past its head-scratching loss to Milwaukee by winning its last three games. The Grizzlies did not face very tough competition during those games, but wins are wins. Head coach Greg Kampe has led his team to a 16-5 (9-1 Horizon) start and is the favorite to win the league. They have lost only one game in 2022, but their next four games are all scheduled to be on the road. Jamal Cain and Jalen Moore form one of the best mid-major duos in the nation. -LH

17. New Mexico State Aggies (17-3)

The Aggies only played one game last week, but it was one of the biggest matchups on the WAC schedule. Grand Canyon — which swept New Mexico State on the way to its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid — strutted into Las Cruces and limped away 10-point losers. Assuming the Aggies get past Cal Baptist tonight, a crucial WAC game awaits on Saturday when New Mexico State hosts Seattle. A win over the Redhawks would put the Aggies back on the right track to winning the regular-season crown. Teddy Allen vs. Darrion Trammell should be electric. -AD

16. Drake Bulldogs (17-6)

Winners of four straight, Drake currently sits at 8-2 in the Missouri Valley ahead of a matchup with in-state rival Northern Iowa on Saturday. In fact, the current win streak began with the Bulldogs’ overtime win on the road against UNI back on Jan. 22. Since that game, Tank Hemphill has returned and is averaging 11.0 points off the bench. He also added two blocks and two steals in Drake’s Jan. 30 win over Loyola Chicago to pull even atop the MVC leaderboard. With Darian DeVries‘ squad running back at full strength, the Bulldogs just might take home the regular-season title. -AD

15. Chattanooga Mocs (18-5)

Chattanooga dropped a tough road game to Samford this past week which caused a drop in their status. The Mocs are still 18-5 (8-2 SoCon) overall but are no longer the leader in the SoCon standings, currently sitting a half-game behind Furman. Chattanooga is led by a true star in Malachi Smith and is dangerous as a result. James Madison transfer Darius Banks has been playing well of late as an efficient shooting threat at 6-6. -LH

14. Wagner Seahawks (14-2)

If Wagner takes care of business this week against Central Connecticut and Long Island, the Seahawks will have pulled off two full months without a loss. That second game could be difficult, with Ty Flowers turning LIU into a dark horse in the NEC. Wagner has its own shining star, though, in Alex Morales. He is not the only one showing out, either. Elijah Ford and Raekwon Rogers are both shooting over 60 percent on their 2-pointers while posting block rates over 3.0 percent. While many mid-majors rely on the 3-ball to succeed, Wagner avoids it almost completely — and for good reason. The Seahawks shoot just 27.5 percent from beyond the arc. -AD

13. Furman Paladins (17-7)

Furman just posted 102 points (!) in a home win over The Citadel on the eve of this posting. The Paladins are arguably the best 3-point shooting team in the country and they put on a show in that game, connecting on 16-of-32 (50.0 percent) from beyond the arc. Head coach Bob Richey’s team has won five straight and eight of its last nine. With their ball movement and shooting ability, the Paladins are a dangerous contender in the SoCon with the potential to beat anyone on any night; their shooting is absurd. -LH

12. Vermont Catamounts (17-4)

Vermont is not only riding an 11-game winning streak (9-0 in the America East), but it is dominating. The Catamounts have won 10 straight by double-digits and by an average of 16.1 points per game. Their offense is among the most efficient nationally (fourth in eFG% and 14th in TO%) and they should continue to roll through conference play. They are unlikely to contend for an at-large bid but are not going to be a team high-majors will want to see as their first-round opponent. -LH

11. South Dakota State Jackrabbits (20-4)

Pop quiz, hotshot: Which team is the only one west of the Mississippi to notch 20 wins before February? That would be the nation’s hottest-shooting team, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. SD State is shooting a blistering 43.3 percent from deep as a team. One of those sharpshooters is Zeke Mayo, who took over Noah Freidel‘s spot in the starting lineup. Mayo came in third-place in our recent All-Arthur Team shortlist for the “Surgeon” role, thanks to his ability to score from everywhere. The freshman is shooting 67.7 percent at the rim, 47.5 percent on mid-range shots, 42.7 percent from 3-point range and 92.6 percent from the stripe. -AD

10. Belmont Bruins (16-5)

Belmont returned to form over the past week with back-to-back solid wins over Austin Peay and Tennessee Martin. The latter victory was especially well-liked by efficiency metrics due to the Bruins’ 29-point margin. Belmont has a slim chance at an at-large bid, so there is plenty to play for over the next few weeks. The Bruins are projected to win all but one remaining regular-season game; their road meeting with Murray State on Feb. 24 should be circled on every calendar. -LH

9. UAB Blazers (17-5)

UAB nearly pulled off a crazy-hard road trip perfectly, but fell three points short at Marshall after toppling Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky on their respective home floors. The Blazers are back in Birmingham for four of their next five games, though, and that could help them score some big wins to improve their quality metrics. With the resume taking hits in C-USA play, UAB may be able to back-door their way into the Big Dance by riding its potent mix of offense and defense to some hefty margins of victory in the coming weeks. -AD

8. Ohio Bobcats (17-3)

Ohio’s home loss to Toledo on Jan. 21 set them back a little bit. However, the Bobcats were not down for long, winning three straight since and are now winners of 12 of their last 13. Mark Sears continues to be one of the best sophomores in the country, while Jason Carter has been excellent since returning to the program (spent two years at Xavier). Ohio is in second place in the MAC standings but is a major contender to win the league still. Their chance at revenge against Toledo will be Feb. 8. -LH

7. Toledo Rockets (18-4)

The Rockets have been one of the most quietly excellent teams in the country over the last month. They are winners of nine straight and are up 37 spots on KenPom as a result. A road win over Ohio a couple of weeks back put them atop the MAC regular-season standings at this point. A huge home matchup with the Bobcats looms; a season-sweep would do wonders for their regular-season title and at-large hopes. Ryan Rollins is an absolute stud who has posted at least 19 points in five straight games. -LH

6. North Texas Mean Green (15-4)

North Texas has won 13 of its last 14 games and is rising up the national ranks as a result. The Mean Green’s only loss during this stretch came against a fellow top CUSA team in UAB. Wins over Drake, Wichita State and Louisiana Tech are their headlining performances so far this season. UNT will play its next two games at home before finishing with five of seven on the road. Head coach Grant McCasland’s team ranks 42nd in 3-point attempt rate and 21st in 3-point percentage. Perimeter shooting is guiding the way for the slowest offense in the country. -LH

5. San Francisco Dons (17-5)

The Dons have been playing with fire for weeks. San Francisco is just 7-5 after its 10-0 start had the nation singing the praises of all things USF. Don’t get it twisted, this is a team that could definitely win a game or two in the Big Dance. The tricky part is going to be earning a ticket. An 88-85 home win over Santa Clara helped a bit, but Thursday’s game is going to be a major plot point in San Francisco’s season. The Dons go to Provo to take on a BYU team that beat them by two points on Jan. 15. A win would be San Francisco’s third Q1 victory — but both neutral-site wins over Davidson and UAB are teetering on the verge of becoming Q2. A loss tonight could contribute to a disaster scenario wherein they end up with zero Q1 wins. -AD

4. Iona Gaels (18-3)

Last week, I mentioned that the Gaels would have a serious MAAC test against KC Ndefo and the top-75 St. Peter’s defense. Pfft. Led by 17 from Nelly Junior Joseph, Iona put up 85 on the Peacocks at 1.20 points per possession. At this point, the biggest opponent that Iona needs to defeat is complacency. The current KenPom projections have Iona favored to win out, but that’s not all — the Gaels are favored by 10 or more points in seven of the 10 remaining games on the league schedule. They may well hit those projections, but focus and intensity will be paramount. -AD

3. Loyola Chicago Ramblers (17-4)

The word ramble has two definitions: to walk about leisurely, and to speak at length without saying anything important. Loyola embodied the first version during its 14-2 start, but that second definition has seemed more fitting of late. The team posted its four worst 3-point shooting performances of the season during January, including a combined 26.3 percent in losses to Missouri State and Drake. Groundhog’s Day may have brought about an early spring, though, as Loyola shot 13-of-27 (48.1 percent) from 3-point land in a leisurely stroll over Illinois State on Feb. 2. -AD

2. Saint Mary’s Gaels (17-4)

Saint Mary’s has a legitimate argument to be the No. 1 team in our mid-major rankings this week. The Gaels are, in fact, the mid-major earning the highest seed in our most recent bracketology update. They have won five consecutive games, adding KenPom top 100 victories over Santa Clara and San Francisco along the way. Big man Matthias Tass has reached double-figures as a scorer in 14 consecutive games. -LH

1. Murray State Racers (20-2)

Murray State just continues to roll. The Racers added a pair of victories since our previous mid-major top 25 update to extend their winning streak to 10. Tevin Brown is averaging 19.0 points per game over Murray State’s last 11 games but did not win KenPom Game MVP for any of those performances. If that doesn’t speak to this team’s depth, I don’t know what does. KJ Williams, most notably, has been dominant of late. The Racers are for real and have the potential to land a single-digit NCAA Tournament seed. -LH



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