Eli Boettger | @boettger_eli | 04/20/20
The offseason rolls on with another week of previews and analysis.
This time around, we’re turning our focus to mid-major teams that could have excellent years in store this coming season. Check out the eight mid-major squads that are set to break out in ’20-21.
This selection is almost entirely dependent on whether Terry Taylor removes his name from the NBA Draft. Taylor has been one of the elite players at the mid-major level the past two seasons, tallying 20.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore and bumping that average up to 21.8 and 11 this past season.
Assuming Taylor returns, Matt Figger’s squad could see a handful of preseason AP votes next to its name this fall. Austin Peay is also expected to bring back a pair of promising backcourt youngsters in OVC rookie of the year Jordyn Adams (17.4 ppg, 37.7 3p%) and 19-game starter Carlos Paez (6.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, 1.3 spg). JUCO newcomers Elton Walker is a 6-5 wing who can score and rebound offensively and Merdy Mongozi is a 7-footer with shot-blocking abilities.
One of the younger teams in America saw a huge turnaround this past season, going from 10 wins in Darrell Walker‘s first year to a 21-10 record and the Sun Belt regular season title in ’19-20. The resurgence was led by the infusion of transfers Ben Coupet (formerly of UNLV) and Ruot Monyyong (Shelton State C.C.) and Year 2 jumps made by Markquis Nowell and Kamani Johnson.
Nowell, listed at 5-7, is the team’s bucket-getter and facilitator on offense, averaging a stellar line of 17.2 points, 4.9 assists and 2.2 steals per game while drilling 77 triples at a 39.1 percent clip. Soon-to-be sophomore Jovan Stulic, a Serbian native, is Nowell’s running mate in the backcourt. As for the frontcourt, Monyyong is the player to watch. In his first season with the Trojans, Monnyong was named the Sun Belt’s defensive player of the year, averaging 11.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, two blocks and a steal per outing. At the four spot is Johnson, another all-conference selection who crashes the offensive boards and led the country in free throw rate.
How about this for a returning rotation? Each of Loyola’s six players who averaged more than 24 minutes and five points per game last season are projected to return in ’20-21. Of those six contributors, five of them will be seniors this upcoming season. You can check the experience and roster continuity boxes in Porter Moser‘s squad this fall.
Two players from Loyola’s 2018 Final Four team remain in star big man Cameron Krutwig (15.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 4.2 apg) and starting shooting guard Lucas Williamson (9.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg). The nation’s 9th-ranked effective field goal percentage group is also aided by Tate Hall and Keith Clemons, who combined to hit 43.7 percent of their 3-pointers. Loyola also gets after it defensively with five players averaging over a steal per game.
The Thundering Herd of Marshall will eye a second NCAA Tournament appearance in the Dan D’Antoni era in ’20-21, having won 17 or more games in each of the last five seasons. Marshall will rank towards the top of the country in roster continuity with only one reserve set to depart.
D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense is led by a double-digit scoring trio of Taevion Kinsey (16.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.2 apg), Jarrod West (14.2 ppg, 4.1 apg) and Andrew Taylor (10.1 ppg, 3.2 apg). Forward Mikel Beyers is a potential breakout candidate as a junior, averaging 13.4 points per game over the final eight appearances after tallying just 4.7 points per game over his first 17 outings.
There’s a ton to like about Chris Mooney‘s Spiders in ’20-21. After being picked sixth in the Atlantic 10’s preseason rankings, Richmond finished second in the league behind Dayton and was the third-to-last team in BracketMatrix‘s final field of 68.
The key to a successful offseason will be returning Blake Francis, Jacob Gilyard and Grant Golden. Each of the three have put their names in the NBA Draft process after combining to average 43.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 11.1 assists per game on Richmond’s 24-win team. If they all return, Richmond will have their top five scorers back (all seniors) while bringing in Tulane transfer Connor Crabtree (15 starts, 7.1 ppg in ’18-19) in what could be the conference’s preseason favorite.
Richmond isn’t the only breakout contender out of the Atlantic 10. Saint Louis, like Richmond, is also hoping a pair of potential NBA Draft entries wind up returning to campus. Hasahn French and Jordan Goodwin both averaged double-doubles this past season and will either make or break Saint Louis’ preseason prognostications.
Assuming both return, Travis Ford could have his best roster ever with the Billikens. He would have all-league guys in French and Goodwin as well as 15-point scorer Javonte Perkins. Another x-factor will be the health of Gibson Jimerson. The freshman guard averaged nearly 25 minutes and 10.8 points per game in his first 10 appearances but had to undergo season-ending foot surgery in December.
It’s been a pair of heartbreaking ends to the season for South Dakota State. In each of the past two years, the Jackrabbits have won the Summit League regular season title and were upset in their first conference tournament game, going 27-5 in regular season play and 0-2 in the tournament in the two-year span.
With Eric Henderson back for Year 2, South Dakota State will likely enter the season as the league’s heavy favorite once again. Summit player of the year Douglas Wilson is the star of the group, averaging 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Both Wilson and Matt Dentlinger knocked in over 62 percent of their field goal attempts out of the frontcourt. Watch out for an explosive season from Noah Freidel, who started immediately as a freshman and scored 12.2 points per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from deep and over 85 percent from the line. As a team, the Jackrabbits were fourth in the country in effective field goal percentage.
Speaking of South Dakota State, former Jackrabbits head coach T.J. Otzelberger has a good looking group heading into ’20-21. As it currently sits, the Rebels are operating above the scholarship limit and rumors have circulated about former Utah transfer Donnie Tillman hitting the transfer portal.
Assuming no other changes, the Rebels have a nice mix of newcomers and returning players. David Jenkins Jr. will run the show after averaging 19.7 points and shooting 45.3 percent from deep as a sophomore on Otzelberger’s South Dakota State team. Now that his redshirt year is behind him, Jenkins will have weapons next to him in soon-to-be juniors Bryce Hamilton (16.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Marvin Coleman (20 starts). Moses Wood could start at power forward after coming over from Tulane as a sit-out transfer. Mbacke Diong is a rim-protecting big man who logged 7.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 steals+blocks per game as a junior.
Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.
Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.