NCAA mid-major Top 25 rankings: San Francisco remains undefeated; Murray State racing

With San Francisco roaring out to a 10-0 start, the Dons are surging up the latest mid-major Top 25 rankings update.

Another week of the 2021-22 college basketball seasons 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 biggest winners of the week were New Mexico State, Colorado State and Murray State.

The Aggies notched back-to-back quality road wins over Loyola Marymount and Washington State to climb up the rankings. They have now won four consecutive true road games and are 6-1 away from home so far this season. New Mexico State hasn’t played a home game since Nov. 30 but has steadily risen up our mid-major Top 25 regardless.

Colorado State remains one of the few undefeated teams in the country and kept that streak alive with a come-from-behind win over Mississippi State last weekend. That victory came on the heels of defeating Saint Mary’s by 16. This team is finally nationally ranked and deserves the exposure.

Murray State secured an excellent road win over Memphis to skyrocket up our rankings as well. That win wasn’t particularly impressive at the time, but quickly aged well with Memphis taking down a top-10 Alabama squad. The Racers are 9-1 and playing excellent basketball.

Now, without any further introduction, let’s dive into our Week 6 edition of the mid-major Top 25!

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25. Richmond Spiders (6-4)

Richmond started this season at just 3-4, but all of its defeats came at the hands of KenPom top-85 opponents. Since the start of December, though, the Spiders have appeared to turn a corner. They have won three straight games – two on the road –over Wofford, Northern Iowa and Toledo to return to our mid-major Top 25. A big matchup with NC State looms to potentially solidify their placement. Tyler Burton is shooting 25-for-55 (45.5 percent) from three this season. -Lukas Harkins

24. Missouri State Bears (7-4)

The Bears fell off the radar a bit right out of the gates, losing their opener to Southeast Missouri State. Then, Missouri State added losses of varying quality to East Tennessee State (fine), Illinois State (bad) and BYU (totally acceptable). Since starting 4-4, Dana Ford‘s squad has reeled off three straight wins of increasing strength: Little Rock, Oral Roberts and South Dakota State. Isiaih Mosley and Gaige Prim are still a fantastic 1-2 punch, and Jaylen Minnett has been a sharpshooter off the bench for the Bears. Still, it’s tough to imagine this team grabbing an at-large bid at this point — even with a win on Dec. 22 over Saint Mary’s. -Andy Dieckhoff

23. Wyoming Cowboys (9-1)

Wyoming recovered from its blowout loss to Arizona by taking down Utah Valley by double digits at home. The Cowboys are still 9-1 overall and boast four wins over the KenPom top 200. They are yet to secure that “signature win” but opportunities loom with Stanford and Boise State next on the schedule. In fact, Wyoming’s next six games all come against KenPom top-100 opponents. The Cowboys’ elite numbers when it comes to free throw rates, turnover rate and 2-point finishing lend plenty of confidence in the program’s trajectory. -LH

22. Boise State Broncos (7-4)

Boise State is currently riding a four-game winning streak with the last three victories all coming by double digits. The Broncos are defending at a high level, holding opponents to just 56.5 points per game over the last four contests. Head coach Leon Rice’s group is limiting opponents to the third-lowest 3-point attempt rate and the 11th-lowest assist rate in the country. There is work to be done offensively – namely at the free-throw line (58.2 percent; 354th nationally) – but the defense has been solid. -LH

21. Buffalo Bulls (6-3)

The Bulls didn’t really move much from last week because, well, the Bulls didn’t really do a whole lot in the past week. Yes, they beat St. John Fisher and their meme-worthy big man, but otherwise played zero D-1 games. There’s a somewhat dangerous game coming up on Dec. 18 when Buffalo plays Canisius in a crosstown battle at the KeyBank Center. The Golden Griffins may only have one D-1 win so far, but in their other regional duel against St. Bonaventure, Canisius led at halftime and only lost after the Bonnies went on a 17-1 run. Long story short, all bets are off when local bragging rights are on the line, but Buffalo should win comfortably. -AD

20. UC Irvine Anteaters (5-3)

The Anteaters very nearly scored a top-10 win on the road against USC on Wednesday night, but the Trojans came back to give UCI its second consecutive loss. Don’t you date write off Irvine now, though. The defense is stingy, ranking in the top 20 for both 2-point and 3-point defense, and the team shoots from downtown with skill at 36.8 percent overall. There are certainly some issues, though, most notably the fact that the Anteaters are just barely clearing 40 percent shooting on their own 2-pointers. Guys like Collin Welp, DJ Davis and JC Butler are all shooting at least 10 percentage points worse from inside the arc as compared to last season. -AD

19. Chattanooga Mocs (9-2)

There’s nothing quite like a mid-major showdown to really put teams in their place. Belmont did just that to Chattanooga when the two teams met on Wednesday. The Mocs trailed by 16 at halftime and were able to cut that deficit in half, but the damage was done after just a few minutes. The week doesn’t get much easier from here, though, as a date with Murray State awaits on Saturday. UTC still has a very solid roster, but if the team doesn’t show up against the Racers, it will raise questions about whether the hype from the VCU win will stick. The advanced stats are in Chattanooga’s favor though, and for now, so is the benefit of the doubt. -AD

18. Saint Louis Billikens (8-3)

Saint Louis is back to looking strong after inviting ACC foe Boston College to Chaifetz Arena and sending them home with a loss. High-major win? You betcha. Good for the resume? Meh. That won’t be this case this Saturday, though, when another big hitter comes to town. Auburn, currently ranked No. 13 in the AP poll, present a much tougher challenge that BC ever could. The Tigers are very careful with the ball, which makes up for the fact that they don’t shoot very well. If SLU’s defense (and its top-75 turnover rate) can clamp down, an upset could be brewing. If not, the Billikens will likely miss out on grabbing a marquee non-conference win. -AD

17. New Mexico State Aggies (9-2)

New Mexico State dropped out of our rankings a couple of weeks ago after a home loss to New Mexico. Since then, though, the Aggies have rattled off four consecutive victories, including exacting revenge on the Lobos on the road. All four of their wins during this streak have come in true road games – no small feat – and their most recent came over at-large hopeful Washington State. Head coach Chris Jans has his team playing very well right now and they have played a difficult schedule as well. Back-to-back non-D-1 opponents are next on the schedule before jumpstarting WAC play. -LH

16. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (8-2)

Louisiana Tech is also riding a four-game winning streak and is one of the many beneficiaries of Santa Clara playing without its star player for the past few weeks. While the Bulldogs’ win over the Broncos is a bit overvalued thus far, head coach Eric Konkol’s group is also yet to suffer a truly bad loss. Their only two defeats to date have come on the road to high-major opponents. Sophomore forward Kenneth Lofton is living up to the hype of being one of the nation’s best players. He is shooting 64.6 percent on 2-pointers this season and ranks second nationally in offensive rebounding rate. -LH

15. Davidson Wildcats (7-2)

Davidson lost two of its first three games this season, but both were to teams now firmly ranked in our mid-major Top 25. The Wildcats have since won six consecutive contests and have soared to a No. 62 spot on KenPom that could warrant being ranked even higher next week. Head coach Bob McKillop is once again guiding a highly efficient offensive unit that can light it up from 3-point range. The Wildcats are hitting 42.2 percent of their threes this season (fourth nationally) and also take care of the ball. They do not do a lot exceedingly well defensively, but they do limit second-chance opportunities. This team thrives in some of the most important statistical categories. A home meeting with Loyola Chicago on Dec. 22 should be on everyone’s radar. -LH

14. Utah State Aggies (8-3)

The Aggie offense is alive and well, most recently racking up 95 points against Weber State. High-scoring games have been the safe space for Utah State, with the team going 7-0 when it scores 80 or more points. USU is 1-3 otherwise, gutting out a three-point win over Oklahoma but falling to UC Davis, Saint Mary’s and BYU in the other lower-scoring affairs. Better yet, leading scorer (and currently hobbled) Justin Bean only needed two points in the win over Weber State, as Steven Ashworth, Brandon Horvath and Brock Miller all went off for 20 or more points. If the whole team keeps clicking like this, USU might emerge as Colorado State’s top challenger in the Mountain West. -AD

13. Murray State Racers (9-1)

Murray State is ever-so-quietly 9-1 and also notched an impressive road victory over Memphis during this past week. The Racers are leaping up our mid-major ranks every week, despite ranking near the bottom of the nation in free-throw shooting (63.0 percent). Thankfully, the rest of their offense makes up for it as they shoot the ball efficiently from the field and dominate the offensive glass. Murray State is starting to make the case for a potential multi-bid OVC along with Belmont this season. A huge opportunity looms as the Racers will travel to Auburn for a road game on Dec. 22. -LH

12. Iona Gaels (9-2)

After a brief dip into MAAC play, the Gaels went back outside their league to pick up yet another impressive win, this time over Yale. The biggest difference so far between this year’s team and last year’s? Iona has cut back on the turnovers, going from a 22.5-percent turnover rate in 2020-21 to a more respectable 18.9 percent in 2021-22. Part of that improvement is the fact that Tyson Jolly and Elijah Joiner are more responsible with the ball than Isaiah Ross and Asante Gist were last season. Another crucial aspect is Nelly Junior Joseph‘s improvement. The big man turned the ball over 22.6 percent his touches last year. Now, that number is 17.9 — at higher usage. -AD

11. San Diego State Aztecs (6-3)

At this point of the season, we know enough about most teams to make a reasonable determination about where they might end up. One exception is SDSU, which remains an anomaly more than five weeks into the campaign. It may have been premature to raise the alarm bells after losses to BYU, USC and Michigan, but the wins the team has amassed aren’t very reassuring, either. The narrative will take a major turn — for better or worse — on Friday. The Aztecs are heading to Phoenix to take on Saint Mary’s in what could be a mid-major blockbuster. Elite defense will win games, to be sure, but the Aztecs can’t continue to be so toothless on offense. -AD

10. UAB Blazers (9-2)

UAB has won four straight, but the two most recent victories aren’t much to write home about. The Blazers put Grambling away with ease on Tuesday after slaughtering Millsaps College, a D-3 operation, by a final of 103-29. The last real nonconference test comes this weekend, though, as UAB hosts Bob Huggins and West Virginia. One reason why the Blazers could win: the 3-ball is the softest spot of the UAB defense (opponents shooting 38.2 percent; No. 326 nationally), but the Mountaineers have struggled from deep (31.4 percent as a team; No. 242). Don’t expect a clean battle, either. These are both top-10 turnover-producing defenses. -AD

9. Ohio Bobcats (8-2)

Ohio sits at 8-2 through the early portion of this season and is living up to the hype as one of the better mid-majors in the country. The Bobcats’ lone losses were on the road to Kentucky and LSU – not too much to be upset about there. Ohio also holds solid wins over Belmont and Marshall to bolster their resume. Sophomore guard Mark Sears has been excellent while attempting to replace Jason Preston this season; he is shooting 50 percent from three on 26 total attempts. Ben Roderick has been ice-cold from deep this season and the Bobcats will take another leap forward once his shots start to fall; he hit 40 percent from three last season but is at just 18 percent this year. -LH

8. St. Bonaventure Bonnies (8-2)

Once thought to be the non-Gonzaga mid-major to watch, the Bonnies haven’t been ranked in any of the last three AP Top 25 polls. After starting 8-1, St. Bonaventure added another loss at the hands of UConn this past weekend. In the next week, the Bonnies wrap up the nonconference slate with potentially difficult games against Virginia Tech (neutral site) and Northeastern (away). SBU tries to play carefully — low turnover rates on both sides of the ball, limited offensive rebounds on either side — but the Hokies can shoot the rock from deep, and the Huskies will deploy one of the tallest mid-major rosters in the country to match St. Bonaventure’s big wings. -AD

7. Belmont Bruins (9-3)

Belmont’s 9-3 record might not jump off the computer screen after its dominant start to last year. However, the No. 56 spot on KenPom is much higher than any mark the Bruins hit last season and that is a major plus for a potential at-large resume. The Bruins have solid wins over Furman, Drake, Iona, Saint Louis and Chattanooga already under their belts – they are proving that scheduling quality mid-major programs can bolster a resume. Belmont ranks eighth nationally in 2-point percentage so far this season. Grayson Murphy, Ben Sheppard, and Nick Muszynski form as good of a trio as there is in mid-major basketball. -LH

6. Saint Mary’s Gaels (10-2)

The Gaels held their two opponents last week — UC Santa Barbara and D-2 Cal State Stanislaus — to under 100 points combined. That should not come as much surprise, though, considering this is a top-10 defense that forces its opponents to shoot an inordinate amount of 3-pointers. That should spell success against San Diego State on Friday, as the Aztecs can’t hit the broad side of a barn from deep right now. However, SMC has another difficult opponent lined up for Wednesday, Dec. 22, when Missouri State makes the trip to Moraga. The Bears can hit their shots, which limits the impact of the Gaels’ No. 2-ranked defensive rebound rate. -AD

5. BYU Cougars (8-2)

BYU is simply not the same team without Gavin Baxter. The Cougars are 2-2 since he went down with an injury and their interior numbers have plummeted as a result. BYU is having a much more difficult time controlling the glass and opponents are having more success finishing inside the arc. These struggles will likely continue in his absence, but BYU is still one of the better mid-majors in the country. Perhaps the makeshift frontcourt of Seneca Knight and Caleb Lohner will find their rhythm as well. Point guard Alex Barcello is still one of the best leaders in the country. -LH

4. San Francisco Dons (10-0)

There are just seven D-1 outfits that can still boast the ‘Undefeated’ badge, and wouldn’t you know it, the Dons are among them. Considering San Francisco’s strength of schedule to this point — ranked No. 244 on KenPom as of Thursday morning — it’s not terribly surprising the team isn’t ranked. That said, Baylor, USC and Iowa State all currently have worse SOS rankings than USF, so the Dons are definitely dealing with some branding issues. How’s this for an advertisement? San Francisco has Jamaree Bouyea, a player Kevin Sweeney of Sports Illustrated calls “the best guard in mid-major basketball.” They also have a great coach in Todd Golden. A weekend trip to Phoenix sees the streak put to the test against GCU and Arizona State, with a sneaky-tough game on Wednesday against Southern Illinois. -AD

3. Loyola Chicago Ramblers (9-2)

Loyola Chicago has picked up a pair of very solid road wins over DePaul and Vanderbilt in recent weeks. Perhaps its neutral-site victory over Arizona State is aging a bit better as well. Loyola Chicago could probably be a touch lower in these rankings based on resume, but this group passes the eye test with flying colors. Head coach Drew Valentine is leading an offensive giant, ranking second nationally in effective field-goal percentage. This team shoots it from deep, moves the ball offensively, and is extremely balanced. Combine that with a well-rounded defensive unit and they are right near in the conversation for best mid-majors nationwide. -LH

2. Colorado State Rams (10-0)

Colorado State continues to roll while looking like one of the nation’s best offensive teams. The Rams are one of the few undefeated teams in the country, and they also added to their resume with wins over Saint Mary’s and Mississippi State. Statistically speaking, they rank tops nationally in effective field-goal percentage behind the best 3-point percentage, 10th-best 2-point percentage, and fourth-best free throw percentage. The Rams also hold the 16th-lowest turnover rate. This is an offense that is very, very hard to stop. Their matchup with Alabama on Dec. 21 is going to be fascinating and a blast to watch. -LH

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (8-2)

Gonzaga is the class of this list until proven otherwise — and close losses to Duke and Alabama do not prove otherwise. For the Zags, 3-point shooting limits the offense to a degree, but no team in the country is better in the close-range game thanks to Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme (shouts to Julian Strawther, Anton Watson and Andrew Nembhard, too). That efficiency will be tested this weekend by Mark Adams and the staunch Texas Tech defense. The Red Raiders likely won’t be able to render the Gonzaga offense as ineffective as Tennessee was against Texas Tech, but it may not be a cakewalk. The Zags are going to see a lot ball pressure with Adams and assistant Barret Peery running the show — something Gonzaga has struggled with to this point. Keep an eye on how the guards handle the press. -AD



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