NCAA mid-major Top 25 rankings: BYU makes a statement; George Mason soars

BYU climbs up the mid-major Top 25 rankings after throttling Oregon while George Mason continues its hot start.

Another NCAA basketball season is in the rear-view mirror and here comes the newest edition of the mid-major Top 25. These rankings are put together by Lukas Harkins (that’s me) and Andy Dieckhoff and will be released on a weekly basis throughout this entire season. Blurbs will be updated upon each Thursday release as well. Due to the minimal number of games played so far this season, there are still some preseason expectations baked into the rankings.

With that said, though, there have already been several surprises. Perhaps most notably, George Mason has flexed its muscles in the early going. First-year head coach Kim English looks like a basketball genius and has the Patriots quickly climbing up the national ranks. It appears as though he will have the program back into the A10 spotlight sooner rather than later. On the flip side, MWC teams Nevada and Boise State have both been a tad disappointing and have fallen out of our rankings for the time being.

Unlike last week, every team in our mid-major Top 25 has now played at least one game so far this season. It’s still very early, though, and there is plenty of time for teams to prove that they belong in the ranks. Without any further ado, let’s dive into our Week 2 edition of the mid-major Top 25.

DPI Forecast: Predictions for every game
Rauf Report: Villanova’s limitations, WCC’s woes, more
Heat Check CBB Top 25 rankings: Duke up to No. 5

Note: The ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, and AAC are excluded from consideration for these rankings. Gonzaga operates as a high-major program but plays in a mid-major conference. Our mid-major definition for the sake of this article series is based around conference affiliation, thus Gonzaga’s inclusion.

25. Vermont Catamounts

Vermont has tested itself early with a pair of road games against Northern Iowa and Maryland. Even though the Catamounts were without star player Ryan Davis for the former of those contests, they came away victorious. However, they did drop their matchup with the Terrapins. Vermont is the favorite to win the America East yet again this season and should be one of the best mid-majors in the country. Davis scored 28 against Worcester Tech in his second game back. Vermont is playing a difficult nonconference schedule and will face Yale, Oakland, and UNC Greensboro all in the next week. -Lukas Harkins

24. Furman Paladins

That din you hear is the roar of the charging ‘Dins! Furman solidified its place in the rankings by knocking off Louisville on the road and then taking Belmont to overtime in Nashville. The Paladins are shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc as a team, an effort led by Alex Hunter, Mike Bothwell and Conley Garrison. Jalen Slawson and Garrett Hien make for a dangerous frontcourt duo, too. -Andy Dieckhoff

23. Murray State Racers

I have been touting Tevin Brown as a potential star guard since the onset of his career at Murray State. So far this season, the 6-5 guard is living up to that hype. He is averaging 23.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game while guiding the Racers to a 3-0 start. Brown is also shooting 13-for-26 (50.0 percent) from three. Belmont is earning the most early-season hype from the OVC — and rightfully so — but Murray State should be very good this season as well. Brown and KJ Williams is an impressive duo. -LH

22. Chattanooga Mocs

The Mocs are 3-0 after starting the season off with an impressive victory over Loyola Marymount, a team that many projected to be a fringe at-large contender. Wins over UNC Asheville and Tennessee Tech are nothing to get too excited about, but the play of Malachi Smith certainly is. Smith leads the team in shot rate, assist rate and free throw rate in the early going, while playing 85 percent of UTC’s minutes. -AD

21. Iona Gaels

Rick Pitino certainly did not shy away from scheduling some difficult opponents in the early going. Still, the Gaels have knocked off last year’s NCAA Tournament rep from the Sun Belt (App State), one of the top teams in the Ivy (Harvard) and a Hofstra team that nearly beat Houston. Increasingly, the Gaels appear to be a true mid-major threat. The upcoming game with Liberty will be very telling. -AD

20. Liberty Flames

How do you properly judge a team like Liberty after the week they had? First, they absolute crushed a lowly non-D-1 school in Regent. Then, the Flames were extinguished by an LSU team that figures to finish top-half in the SEC this year. These are not exactly Liberty’s peers. It will be interesting to gauge how LU handles another mid-major from that projected 12-seed range. -AD

19. New Mexico State Aggies

New Mexico State has been among the nation’s most consistent programs for the past several years. Grand Canyon is also poised for a strong year in the WAC, but the Aggies appear to be the team to beat. Head coach Chris Jans has already guided his team to a pair of KenPom top-160 wins over UC Irvine and UTEP — both at home — to begin this campaign. Teddy Allen, Sir’Jabari Rice, and Donnie Tillman are all averaging in double-figures as scorers so far. A neutral-site matchup with Davidson looms next and should garner plenty of attention. -LH

18. Davidson Wildcats

It was an up-and-down week for Davidson, which got things started quickly with a 22-point drubbing of CAA favorite Delaware. The Wildcats followed that up with a close loss to San Francisco in what was a USF home game for all intents and purposes. Davidson has been lights-out from deep so far, hitting 51.2 percent on 3-pointers so far through two games. Look for players like Hyunjung Lee and Sam Mennenga to continue to play at high levels. -AD

17. Buffalo Bulls

Buffalo is yet to play a home game this season. The Bulls kickstarted their campaign a strong effort on the road against Michigan, although the matchup ended in defeat. Head coach Jim Whitesell’s team got into the wins column with an impressive away victory over North Texas a few days later. Jeenathan Williams dropped 32 in the loss to the Wolverines and will be the offensive leader of the team this year. He is part of a tremendous leading trio that also includes Josh Mballa and Ronaldo Segu. Buffalo is one of the top contenders to win the MAC. Back-to-back road games against St. Bonaventure and Western Kentucky are on the schedule for early December. -LH

16. George Mason Patriots

Kim English has arrived, y’all. The first-year head coach is instantly making his mark on the national stage on the sidelines for George Mason. The Patriots are 4-0 to begin the year and made a statement with an impressive road win over Maryland. Victories over Stony Brook and Penn also shouldn’t be blindly overlooked. Coach English is quickly bringing this program back into the national spotlight. Josh Oduro and D’Shawn Schwartz are both averaging 17.5 points per game in the early going. Schwartz looks comfortable in his new role after starting at Colorado for the last three seasons. -LH

15. Richmond Spiders

There was a lot of hype on this Richmond team coming into the season because of how much talent Chris Mooney was bringing back. However, there are already some questions about the Spiders after they were beaten in essentially home territory against Utah State. It is too soon to hit the panic button, though, considering Richmond picked up solid mid-major wins over NC Central and Georgia State. The team’s free-throw shooting needs to improve from 63 percent, though. -AD

14. Santa Clara Broncos

The WCC offseason discourse centered around two major topics: Gonzaga’s likely dominance and the logjam of teams projected to finish 3-through-5. As Loyola Marymount has struggled in the early going, it is Santa Clara that has emerged as a potential at-large contender in the middle of the league. The Broncos’ schedule granted them a pair of huge home opportunities against Stanford and Nevada in the opening two weeks of the season; the team took advantage, knocking off both teams by double-digits. Santa Clara ranks 10th nationally in effective field-goal percentage so far this season. Jalen Williams and Josip Vrankic are a great duo and this team moves the ball extremely well. -LH

13. South Dakota State Jackrabbits

A 3-1 start is nothing to sneeze at for SD State, especially considering the loss came to a nationally ranked Alabama squad. Wins over Bradley, Stephen F. Austin and Montana State are all absolutely solid victories. Noah Freidel has been a flamethrower from outside, hitting 14 of his 33 attempts (.424) from beyond the arc so far. The Jackrabbits also have one of the country’s best offensive rebounders so far in former league POY Douglas Wilson. -AD

12. Belmont Bruins

Belmont recovered from losing its season-opener (at Ohio) by taking down Evansville and Furman at home. The Bruins have now posted 80-plus points in each of their three games to date while making good on their promise of being an elite offensive team. Star guard Grayson Murphy is doing his thing as a stat-stuffing two-way star: 13.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 4.0 steals per game on remarkable efficiency. Sophomore sixth man JaCobi Wood is off to a slow start relative to expectations; Belmont will be much better once he regains some rhythm. The Bruins are the favorite in the OVC. -LH

11. San Francisco Dons

San Francisco is undefeated after a very strong first week that included a 65-60 win over Davidson. Stalwart backcourt duo Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz are doing their thing, to be sure, but the play of transfers Yauhen Massalski, Gabe Stefanini and Patrick Tape is encouraging. Todd Golden‘s team has at-large ability and could grab another valuable win over Nevada on Thursday. -AD

10. Saint Mary’s Gaels

The Gaels are 4-0 after beating a few solid programs from the low-major ranks. SMC took on the top two teams from the SWAC (Prairie View and Texas Southern), our staff’s preseason pick to win the Big Sky (Southern Utah) and a dangerous team out of the ASUN (Bellarmine). A lot of credit for this quick start goes to the interior play of Dan Fotu and Matthias Tass, who are shooting 71.4 percent on 2-pointers. -AD

9. Ohio Bobcats

No Jason Preston? No problem. Well, at least that is how the Bobcats have looked so far this season. Head coach Jeff Boals’ group is 3-0 and features a pair of very impressive mid-major wins over Belmont and Cleveland State. Point guard Mark Sears is answering the call of needing to replace Preston as the team’s leading star; he dropped 27 points in the season-opener against Belmont. Big man Jason Carter — who started his career at Ohio before transferring to Xavier and is now back — has immediately returned to being a big contributor. Six-foot-eight senior forward Ben Vander Plas is among the most underappreciated players in the country. -LH

8. San Diego State Aztecs

Considering the Aztecs’ loss last week came against BYU, a team ranked higher than SDSU in this poll, it’s hard to knock them too hard. Still, there are larger concerns than just one loss. Through the first two games, San Diego State is shooting just 16.7 percent from beyond the arc and 56.2 percent from the stripe. It was tempting to give SDSU the benefit of the doubt heading into the season, but now it appears this time is more ‘work-in-progress’ than ‘finished product.’ -AD

7. Drake Bulldogs

Drake is now 22-2 with Roman Penn in the lineup dating back to the beginning of last season. The senior point guard is an integral part of this top-tier mid-major and is what makes the Bulldogs’ offense click. He is averaging 12.0 points and 3.5 per game through the team’s first two games this season, wins over Coe and South Dakota. Freshman guard Tucker DeVries is also proving to be capable of filling the sixth-man role departed by Joseph Yesufu this offseason. The Bulldogs are yet to face a major test but are playing about as well as anyone could hope; they rank sixth in offensive effective field-goal percentage and fourth in defensive effective field-goal percentage. Matchups with fellow mid-major Top 25 teams Richmond and Belmont approach. -LH

6. UAB Blazers

UAB was always likely to have a strong defense, and after three games, the Blazers sit in the top 75 for adjusted defensive efficiency. What is more surprising, perhaps, is that the offense is looking even stronger. The addition of Jordan Walker from Tulane has gone exactly to plan so far, with the talented scoring shooting 8-for-12 from 3-point land. UAB could turn a few more heads with a Thursday win over SEC foes South Carolina. -AD

5. Colorado State Rams

It’s early, but the Rams certainly looked like the best team in the Mountain West during the first few days of the season. Colorado State made a pretty big statement on opening night by beating the pants off of Oral Roberts. The team also has big wins over Arkansas Pine Bluff and non-D-1 Peru State. This week’s Paradise Jam will be a good test of exactly where CSU stands. -AD

4. Saint Bonaventure Bonnies

The Bonnies survived a scare in their most recent matchup with Canisius over the weekend, but those regional rivalries can cause problems for just about anyone. The biggest concern right now, though, is big man Osun Osunniyi‘s ailing back. There are not many bigs better than Osun, so they need him at 100 percent. The Bonnies have another good test coming up this week as they face Boise State in the first round of the Charleston Classic MTE. -AD

3. Loyola Chicago Ramblers

Loyola Chicago is showing no signs of slowing down even with an offseason coaching change. The Ramblers have not faced tough competition yet this season but are destroying opponents. They are 3-0 and are winning by an average of 35.3 points per game. Head coach Drew Valentine has noticeably sped up the team’s offensive tempo — averaging 15.6 seconds per possession (60th-fastest nationally) — and they are scoring at will. The Ramblers rank seventh nationally in effective field-goal percentage and are recording assists on 73.1 percent (!) of made baskets. Lucas Williamson is truly blossoming as one of the nation’s best players; he was already an elite defender but is showcasing superb playmaking abilities this year as well. -LH

2. BYU Cougars

BYU head coach Mark Pope and point guard Alex Barcello are a match made in heaven. Barcello’s hyper-efficient scoring and careful playmaking fit tremendously well in the scheme and propel the Cougars to be elite offensively. This efficiency was particularly evident in a dominant victory over Oregon this past week. The Cougars punched the Ducks in the mouth early and never looked back in a 32-point victory over the ranked opponent. Barcello led the way with 25 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Caleb Lohner is off to a slow start this year but BYU still looks elite. The Cougars could blossom once he finds a rhythm. -LH

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Gonzaga is 3-0 with a pair of tune-up victories and a dominant performance against Texas. The Bulldogs once again look like the best team in the country and boast a superb combo of talent and coaching. Drew Timme is the frontrunner to win National Player of the Year and there are a ton of excellent pieces around him. Point guard Andrew Nembhard is an awesome fit in this up-tempo, ball-movement-focused offense. Additionally, Julian Strawther looks poised to be the team’s breakout player this year. He could be the ceiling-raiser of the group and already has two games with 17+ points. He is a vital floor-spacer with great size at 6-7. -LH

Header image courtesy of George Mason Athletics.



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