North Texas and Abilene Christian are enjoying recent streaks to enter their respective league title conversations, highlighting our most recent mid-major Top 25 rankings.
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. We are officially back in action after taking last week off due to the holiday. As always, these rankings were compiled by Lukas Harkins and Andy Dieckhoff.
Our biggest winners of the past two weeks were Abilene Christian and Chattanooga.
Abilene Christian is the newest addition to our rankings (slotted at No. 24). The Wildcats started this season with a pair of road losses to Utah and Texas A&M, but have since won 11 straight games. They are forcing the most turnovers in the entire country (29.1 percent) and also draw plenty of free throw attempts on the other end of the floor. ACU could be the biggest threat to New Mexico State and Grand Canyon when it comes to figuring out the WAC favorite.
Chattanooga has been a consistent presence in our rankings all season but warranted a bump this week following back-to-back impressive performances. A 30-point win over ETSU followed by a road victory over Wofford led to a 30-spot jump on KenPom. The Mocs have increased by a total of 87 spots compared to their preseason ranking on the efficiency website. They are playing excellent basketball and have emerged as the SoCon favorite.
North Texas might have also earned “winner of the week” honors for its 32-point demolition of Rice, although UNT was featured two weeks ago. If anything, though, the Mean Green deserve credit for their continued rise and strong play.
Now, without any further introduction, let’s dive into our Week 6 edition of the mid-major Top 25!
25. Grand Canyon Antelopes (11-2)
Grand Canyon handled its business at home against Chicago State – winning by 17 – since our last update to the mid-major Top 25. The Antelopes boast a very strong overall record and can hang their hat on being the only team to take down San Francisco this season. Head coach Bryce Drew is leading this team to rank fourth nationally in offensive rebounding rate and sixth in effective field-goal percentage allowed. -Lukas Harkins
24. Abilene Christian Wildcats (11-2)
After a perfect eight-game homestand that spanned over a month, the Wildcats finished their nonconference season at 9-2. Abilene Christian was back on the road for its first two WAC games, but they responded with two solid wins. First, ACU outlasted a good Utah Valley team that slowed the pace way down. Then, they beat Dixie State easily on New Year’s Day. Brette Tanner’s team has won 11 straight (including four non-D1 wins) and look positioned to contend for a WAC title. -Andrew Dieckhoff
23. South Dakota State Jackrabbits (12-4)
The Jackrabbits’ latest Summit League campaign is only three games old, but South Dakota State already has a pair of statement wins under its belt. SD State now boasts victories over Oral Roberts and North Dakota State, two of their main competitors for the league crown this year. In each those two games, Baylor Scheierman topped the 20-point mark. Over all three conference games, the 6-6 point guard has a 22.7 percent assist rate to a turnover rate of just 9.2 percent. -AD
22. Wyoming Cowboys (11-2)
The Cowboys haven’t been seen since Christmas Day when they trounced South Florida to top the consolation side of the Diamond Head Classic bracket. Wyoming’s two losses came to Arizona and Stanford, and both happened away from home. This team could still end up being fool’s gold, but Jeff Linder appears to have a top-half Mountain West team on his hands. The squad will have to shake off the rust quickly, as Wyoming’s next two games are against San Diego State and Utah State. -AD
21. Saint Louis Billikens (9-4)
Yuri Collins continues to impress for the Billikens, and the latest example came in a 24-point, 8-assist, 6-rebound performance against Richmond. Collins has posted top-100 assist rates in each of his first two seasons at SLU but he’s taken a major step forward in 2021-22. Saint Louis is the top offensive rebounding team in the Atlantic 10, thanks in large part to large men Francis Okoro and Martin Linssen. Okoro, with his top-20 offensive rebound rate, has been particularly outstanding. -AD
20. Boise State Broncos (10-4)
Boise State has very quietly rattled off seven consecutive wins to reach a 10-4 overall record. Additionally, the Broncos have climbed into the KenPom top 50 after securing back-to-back wins over Washington State and Fresno State recently. They are an excellent defensive team, ranking in the top 5 nationally in 3-point attempts allowed and assists percentage surrendered. Boise is shooting just 60.7 percent at the charity stripe for the season; that needs to be cleaned up. -LH
19. VCU Rams (8-4)
VCU has turned a new leaf over the last month. The Rams have won five consecutive games and are an undefeated 4-0 since the return of Ace Baldwin from injury. Baldwin’s impact was on display in the Rams’ recent win over Dayton as he buried the game-winning three in the closing seconds. VCU ranks third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. They are dominating in just about every defensive category, including forcing a ton of turnovers and limiting quality looks. If their offense can be consistent, they will be one of the top teams in the A10. -LH
18. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (11-3)
Kenneth Lofton is one of the best players in the country, and he makes Louisiana Tech a legit contender to win the CUSA this season. The Bulldogs recorded a solid nonconference record with their only three losses coming to high-major competition. They have since jumpstarted their CUSA schedule with back-to-back home wins over Marshall and Western Kentucky. Three of their next four games will come on the road. -LH
17. Chattanooga Mocs (12-3)
Chattanooga, as already discussed, was one of our biggest winners of the past two weeks. The Mocs had already jumped out to a strong start but put forth two of their best performances of the season with their demolition of ETSU and road win over Wofford. Chattanooga ranks 10th nationally in offensive rebounding rate and has a star to play around in Malachi Smith. Head coach Lamont Paris is leading perhaps the SoCon’s best team. -LH
16. New Mexico State Aggies (12-2)
The Aggies went undefeated in December and carried that win streak over into the New Year, taking out Chicago State in their WAC opener on Jan. 1. The Teddy Allen Volume Operation is working out well, as the 6-6 junior is one of just 35 players nationally to have an offensive rating over 100 and a usage rate over 27 percent. Just as impressively, Johnny McCants currently ranks seventh nationally in 2-point percentage for New Mexico State (75.7 percent in D-1 games). -AD
15. Saint Bonaventure Bonnies (8-3)
Mark Schmidt and the Bonnies have a massive game this weekend as they host Saint Louis in their A-10 opener. St. Bonaventure has had a bad taste in its mouth since well before Christmas, with its last two games resulting in losses of 10 and 37 points. Perhaps the long layoff will give the team a chance to fix what is ailing them. While the team’s 3-point shooting has long been an issue, the Bonnies shot under 40 percent on 2-pointers in each of the past two games. Gotta hit the bunnies. -AD
14. UAB Blazers (12-3)
UAB is out to a hot start in the C-USA, winning the league’s Initialism Olympics by topping UTEP and UTSA in its first two conference games. The Blazers could create an interesting situation for the selection committee a few months from now, as none of their three nonconference losses are particularly damning. They will have their hands full Thursday, though, as Andy Kennedy‘s team goes to Denton to take on a hot North Texas squad. If UAB wins, they’ll be on the inside track to a league crown. -AD
13. North Texas Mean Green (8-3)
North Texas seems to have found its rhythm as of late. After starting the season just 2-3, the Mean Green have won six consecutive games and are soaring up efficiency rankings. Wins over Drake and Wichita State – both away from home – headline this winning streak. Most recently, though, they also took down Rice by 32 points. A huge matchup with UAB looms but UNT is trending as one of the best teams in the league. Tylor Perry is shooting 43.2 percent from three and 93 percent from the free-throw line this season. -LH
12. Murray State Racers (11-2)
Murray State might not be the favorite to win the OVC this season but it is not far behind. The Racers hold a strong overall record and feature a pair of absolute snipers from beyond the arc. Tevin Brown (37-for-82; 45.1 percent) and Justice Hill (25-for-52; 48.1 percent) are leading the charge for a Racers’ team that ranks 32nd nationally in 3-point percentage. Brown is putting together a superb season as the team’s star. Murray State won its first conference game of the season by 25 over Southeast Missouri State. Their first meeting with Belmont comes on Jan. 15. -LH
11. Iona Gaels (11-2)
The Gaels have had a stop-and-start month, playing just four games between Dec. 3 and Jan. 2 due to various cancellations and postponements. The good news for Iona is that the team won all four games and currently sits at 3-0 in MAAC play. KenPom projects that Iona will win out in the league, and it’s hard to disagree. Highlights of the team include the stellar play of big man Nelly Junior Joseph and the emergence of freshman Walter Clayton, who has started all three league games. -AD
10. San Diego State Aztecs (9-3)
The Aztecs have won four straight, including their Mountain West opener on the road against UNLV. SDSU trailed for much of the first half but recovered by the break and eventually put away the Rebels 62-55. Despite the result, the shooting numbers are still concerning. San Diego State posted a season-low 36.1 effective field goal rate against UNLV, including a 2 percent mark from downtown. An elite defense mitigates a lot of the offensive issues, but the shots just aren’t falling consistently. -AD
9. Ohio Bobcats (11-2)
Ohio has won six straight games and breakout star Mark Sears has been right at the forefront. The sophomore guard is not the creator that Jason Preston was last season for the Bobcats, but he is filling the scoring column consistently. Sears is averaging 23.2 points per game (.556/.471/.953) during this current winning streak. He is shooting 45.7 percent from three and 90.8 percent at the free-throw line for the season. With a talented core around him, the Bobcats are the MAC’s favorite. They are already 2-0 in league play with both wins coming on the road. -LH
8. Saint Mary’s Gaels (12-3)
Saint Mary’s responded to a loss to San Diego State by obliterating Missouri State and Yale to the tune of a combined 44 points. The Gaels have a top-10 defense and a top-100 offense, and that combination could keep the #4BidWCC dream alive all the way to Selection Sunday. Their WCC opener will be a massive testing ground, though, as the squad makes the trip to Provo to tussle with BYU. This game may not be brimming with star power, but it is an elite mid-major matchup nonetheless. -AD
7. Davidson Wildcats (11-2)
Davidson is the best shooting team in the entire country. Not only do the Wildcats lead the nation in 3-point percentage, but they feature three incredibly deadly snipers. Foster Loyer (40-for-75, 53.3 percent), Hyunjung Lee (33-for-79, 41.8 percent) and Michael Jones (24-for-53, 45.3 percent) are as deadeye of a trio as it gets in college basketball. They have led the Wildcats to an 11-2 record and a current 10-game winning streak. Loyer, who started his career at Michigan State, is having a serious breakout campaign in his first season with head coach Bob McKillop. -LH
6. Belmont Bruins (10-3)
Belmont has not played since our last update to the mid-major Top 25. The Bruins remain 10-3 and have won five straight games. They will begin their quest for the OVC regular-season title this week with a home game against Southeast Missouri State. Head coach Casey Alexander’s team ranks 37th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency behind superb interior finishing. Nick Muszynski and Grayson Murphy form an elite duo with lots of help around them. Will Richard has been a welcome addition to the rotation with his elite efficiency. -LH
5. BYU Cougars (12-3)
As noted above, BYU takes on Saint Mary’s this weekend. First, the Cougars have their WCC opener against Pacific Thursday, which should be a comfortable win. While the team initially struggled to contain big men after losing Gavin Baxter to injury, the Cougars have been lit up by opposing guards in each of its past two D-1 games. Alex Barcello is still an elite offensive player, but Caleb Lohner and Te’Jon Lucas have regressed a bit after shining early. They need to get back on track. -AD
4. San Francisco Dons (13-1)
Since taking their first loss of the season to Grand Canyon back on Dec. 18, the Dons are 3-0 (including a win over NAIA Academy of the Arts). Their WCC opener was delayed, but that unfortunate circumstance opened the door for an awesome matchup with Loyola Chicago Thursday at Salt Lake City Community College. No matter how this one plays out, the trio of Jamaree Bouyea, Khalil Shabazz and Yauhen Massalski will make USF a serious contender in the non-Gonzaga WCC ranks. -AD
3. Loyola Chicago Ramblers (9-2)
Loyola Chicago has not played since Dec. 10 when it beat Vanderbilt on the road. The Ramblers are expected to return to the court Thursday when they will challenge a fellow top 5 mid-major team in San Francisco. Head coach Drew Valentine has led a remarkably efficient offensive unit to date in his first season on the sidelines. -LH
2. Colorado State Rams (11-0)
Three undefeated teams remain in college basketball: Baylor, USC and Colorado State. The Rams are 11-0 on the campaign and added three wins over KenPom top-60 opponents on their way. David Roddy is one of the top players in the entire country and is at the forefront of an elite offense. Colorado State has emerged as the favorite to win the MWC, but there are several other challengers. This team belongs nationally ranked and appears destined to potentially make a run in March. They rank second nationally in 3-point percentage, 12th in 2-point percentage, and third in free-throw percentage. That type of offensive efficiency is almost impossible to achieve. -LH
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (11-2)
With all due respect to Lorenzo Romar‘s team in Malibu, Gonzaga should absolutely roll Pepperdine ahead of its marquee matchup with BYU on Jan. 13. Something to keep an eye on: Gonzaga currently has a 37.6 percent 3-point attempt rate (3PA%) that ranks 189th nationally. Under Mark Few, Gonzaga has had a top-200 3PA% in 10 different seasons — but they never went past the Sweet 16 in any of those years. Perhaps the nation’s best 2-point shooting team should play to its strengths. -AD