NCAA mid-major Top 25 rankings: Toledo takes control of the MAC; Furman emerging

Tod Kowalczyk, Toledo

Toledo’s recent surge and Furman’s emergence highlight the latest edition of our NCAA 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. As always, these rankings were compiled by Lukas Harkins and Andy Dieckhoff.

Our two biggest winners of the week were Toledo and Furman, both of which are making quick rises up the national rankings behind superb offensive play.

Toledo knocked off fellow top MAC contender Ohio during this past week and did so with relative ease. The Rockets went on the road to take down the Bobcats by 18 points. This was one of the most impressive mid-major performances of the season and warranted a jump not only in our rankings but also in predictive metrics. Toledo – which was ranked No. 124 in mid-December – has climbed all the way to No. 67 on KenPom.

Furman similarly came away with an excellent road victory, besting Wofford by 25 points before returning home to defeat VMI by 15. Head coach Bob Richey is leading one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, and they hit 32 combined threes in their wins this week. The Paladins started this season just 7-5, but have won eight of their last 10.

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

Bracketology: Projected field of 68
Tournament Index: March Madness 2022 projections
Bubble Watch: Complete analysis of at-large picture

25. Seattle Redhawks (16-4)

Seattle U is on a tear right now. The Redhawks flew under the radar with a 9-4 nonconference record, but have burst onto the scene since the onset of WAC play. They might not be the favorite to win the league but they are making a case as one of the top contenders. Seattle is 7-0 in conference play thus far and already own wins over Utah Valley, Abilene Christian and Stephen F. Austin. Cameron Tyson has been superb for Seattle this season; he is shooting 70-for-163 (42.9 percent) from 3-point range and has reached double-figures as a scorer in every game during Seattle’s current eight-game winning streak. He pairs nicely with sophomore point guard Darrion Trammell. -Lukas Harkins

24. Morehead State Eagles (15-5)

Morehead State has quietly won eight straight games over D-1 competition, a streak that includes its 7-0 start in the OVC. The Eagles have yet to take on Murray State, but they did beat Belmont at home in a result that changes the entire complexion of the league. All five of Morehead’s losses have come on the road, and four to teams in the KenPom top 40. Star sophomore Johni Broome is picking up right where he left off last year, averaging a double-double (16.2 points, 10.5 rebounds) to go along with 3.6 blocks per game. Another NCAA Tournament bid could be in the making. -Andrew Dieckhoff

23. Liberty Flames (13-6)

Flame on, Liberty. Like many of the teams on the list, the Flames have found their happy place now that conference play has kicked off. Liberty is 4-0 in ASUN play, scoring 70 or more points in each win and surrendering 60 in none. Ritchie McKay obviously shouldn’t let his team look past a struggling North Alabama squad Thursday, but there’s a big game on the horizon. Liberty hosts Jacksonville State, the ASUN’s other undefeated team, on Saturday — the only time those two will meet in the regular season. -AD

22. Drake Bulldogs (15-6)

Drake has won two in a row, but it sure has been a struggle. The Bulldogs had to toil through their third and fourth overtime games of the season to earn a 6-2 mark in the Valley — and they also won a pair of 60-59 games in regulation over Evansville and Southern Illinois — but who cares how they got there? Drake is No. 2 in the MVC and only a half-game back, thanks to Missouri State putting a dent in Loyola’s armor. That result set up the Bulldogs for a chance to take the top spot on Sunday, as they host the Ramblers in a massive mid-major showdown. Tank Hemphill’s return is a huge boost to Drake’s chances. -AD

21. Towson Tigers (15-6)

Towson currently sits safely within the top 100 of the KenPom leaderboard — nearly 30 spots higher than the program has ever been in those rankings. So, what’s different this year? Good luck finding just one answer. Is UT-Martin transfer Cam Holden, the team’s leading scorer, the X-factor? Maybe. Or is it Antonio Rizzuto, a true 3-point threat since transferring from Albany? How about Bradley transfer Terry Nolan, a solid scoring option when healthy? Or is it just the development of the returning trio of Nick Timberlake, Jason Gibson and Charles Thompson? The real answer is having all those things at once. -AD

20. Hofstra Pride (12-7)

Speedy Claxton has Hofstra on the right track in his first season at the helm, and the play of Aaron Estrada is a major reason why. The Oregon transfer is averaging 22.8 points per game in conference play to lead the Colonial. The big hole in his game is the 3-point shot (24.4 percent) — but thankfully fellow transfer Zach Cooks returned from injury to give Jalen Ray and Darlinstone Dubar a little help in that regard. In his first game back, Cooks was 2-of-3 from deep and had 19 points in a win over Northeastern. -AD

19. Missouri State Bears (15-7)

Isiaih Mosley is an exceptional player. He has turned on the jets in recent weeks to emerge as one of the best scorers nationwide. The Bears are 4-2 during this stretch but Mosley is averaging 32.8 points (.595/.486/.891) and 6.8 rebounds per game over his last six contests. He makes Missouri State extremely dangerous when it comes to contending for the MVC title; the Bears have already proven capable of taking down Loyola Chicago. -LH

18. Oakland Grizzlies (15-5)

Greg Kampe and the Golden Grizzlies paused their regularly scheduled Horizon League programming to beat the brakes off a 3-19 NAIA team. There may not be much to learn from a game like that, but at least the players stay sharp. Oakland gets back to the Horizon race this weekend, with a home game against UIC on Saturday ahead of a tricky four-game road trip that includes Wright State and NKU. Jamal Cain gets a lot of deserved love for his work, but Jalen Moore’s 40.6 percent assist rate is just absurd. -AD

17. New Mexico State Aggies (16-3)

The Aggies just wrapped up a three-game stretch against the best of the programs to join the WAC from the Southland this offseason. New Mexico State handled Abilene Christian with little issue but suffered its first league loss on the road against Sam Houston State. While they pulled things back with a win over Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, the Aggies now sit in a surprising third place. New Mexico State has crucial games against fellow top-four clubs in Grand Canyon and Seattle coming on Jan. 29 and Feb. 5. -AD

16. Furman Paladins (15-7)

Furman is one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the entire country, ranking 12th in 3-point percentage and third in 3-point attempt rate. Alex Hunter, most notably, leads the way at 70-for-176 (39.8 percent) on the season while Conley Garrison (46-for-95) and Joe Anderson (26-for-54) are both shooting over 50 percent on solid volume as well. The Paladins dominated Wofford on the road this past week before returning home to defeat VMI. They are now 7-2 in conference play and have won six of their last seven. Furman ranks No. 1 in the SoCon in both offensive and defensive efficiency since the start of conference play. -LH

15. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (15-4)

The Bulldogs are coming off an admirable showing in the top heavyweight bout that Conference USA has to offer. UAB pulled away late to win the game, but Kenneth Lofton Jr. and Amorie Archibald combined for 51 points against the Blazers’ solid defense. Another big test looms this weekend when North Texas comes to town. The Eagles are currently tied for first in C-USA with Louisiana Tech and UAB, so expect Lofton and the boys to be extra-motivated to defend home court after failing to do so last week. -AD

14. Wagner Seahawks (12-2)

Wagner has not played a KenPom top 100 opponent since the beginning of December. As a result, the Seahawks have not received enough attention for how well they are playing. They are currently on a nine-game winning streak that includes an undefeated 6-0 start to NEC play. They are the heavy favorite to win the conference at this point and are steadily rising up the national ranks. Wagner already owns six true road wins. This is a team that understands its strengths and weaknesses; they rank near the bottom of the country in 3-point percentage (26.9 percent, 349th) but attempt (352nd in 3-point rate) fewer threes than just about anyone. -LH

13. Vermont Catamounts (14-4)

Vermont appears likely to control the America East yet again. The Catamounts have won eight consecutive games and are 6-0 in conference play. This upperclassmen-led group ranks 14th nationally in effective field goal percentage and 13th in offensive turnover rate. While they might not crash the offensive boards (345th in OR%), they do everything else well offensively. Conversely to their work on the offensive glass, Vermont ranks second nationally in defensive rebounding rate. They will be favored to win every game the rest of the regular season. Ben Shungu and Ryan Davis are an elite high-efficiency duo – both are posting effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage numbers over 60 percent for the season. -LH

12. South Dakota State Jackrabbits (17-4)

Ah, the cozy confines of league play. Not to besmirch the great House of Summit, but things have been much smoother for the Jackrabbits since they entered the conference portion of the season. South Dakota State is 8-0 in league play, a stretch that includes consecutive wins on either side of the New Year holiday over the second-, third- and fourth-place teams in the Summit. Eric Henderson’s offense is clicking to the tune of a No. 9 national ranking in the KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency rankings. -AD

11. Ohio Bobcats (15-4)

Ohio suffered its first loss since Dec. 1 during this past week when it was upended at home by Toledo (by 18 points). It was a disappointing performance by the Bobcats, but not one that wipes away the goodwill they have built up. Ohio is still one of the best teams in the MAC and responded nicely with a win over Northern Illinois earlier this week. Mark Sears continues to blossom as a sophomore star, though the team is still missing Ben Roderick’s shooting. Roderick is just 14-for-65 (21.5 percent) from three this season after shooting 39.6 percent a season ago. -LH

10. North Texas Mean Green (13-4)

North Texas took care of business at home against Charlotte and Old Dominion this past week, posting a pair of double-digit victories. The Mean Green have now won 11 of their last 12 games with the only loss coming against CUSA favorite UAB. Head coach Grant McCasland is leading an excellent defensive unit that defends the 3-point line at an elite level. UNT has risen into the KenPom top 75 and is a real threat to win the league’s automatic bid. Back-to-back road games against Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech are up next on the schedule. The latter should be a must-watch for mid-major fans. -LH

9. Toledo Rockets (16-4)

Toledo was due to rocket up our rankings with their high level of play over the last month. Well, back-to-back double-digit wins over Ohio and Buffalo were exactly what they needed to jump into our top 10. The Rockets are riding a seven-game winning streak into first place in the MAC standings. Sophomore guard Ryan Rollins continues to be superb as a scorer and is also developing as a playmaker. He is averaging 22.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 6.8 assists over Toledo’s last four games and is a legit contender for MAC Player of the Year. –LH

8. Chattanooga Mocs (17-4)

Chattanooga is a team that high-majors are going to want to avoid as a first-round matchup in a couple of months. The Mocs are the SoCon favorite and boast an elite offense. They rank 28th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and feature a go-to bucket-getter that make them dangerous against any opponent. Malachi Smith, a 6-4 junior, is averaging 21.5 points on 55.0 percent on 2-pointers, 43.0 percent on 3-pointers and 82.6 percent at the free-throw line. -LH

7. Belmont Bruins (15-5)

Casey Alexander’s Music City men haven’t hit many high notes of late. The Bruins recently lost by 22 at home to Murray State in the latest edition of their vivacious rivalry. But those two trade haymakers all the time. Perhaps greater cause for concern? Those sneaky upstarts at Morehead State. The Eagles are 7-0 in league play and beat Belmont, too, making the Bruins a third wheel in the OVC. Of note: Belmont’s worst-ever finish in the Ohio Valley was a second-place tie back in 2015 — so this is somewhat uncharted territory. -AD

6. Iona Gaels (17-3)

What more could you want from the Gaels, really? They’re 9-0 in the MAAC, they’re 17-3 overall, and they’re owners of nonconference wins against Alabama, Hofstra, Liberty and Yale. Iona’s most recent league games have come against three of the MAAC’s top five, and a home date with second-place Saint Peter’s looms on Sunday. If KC Ndefo and the solid SPU defense (No. 64 in KenPom) hold Iona under 70 points, that could be key. The Gaels are 14-1 when they get over 70, and just 3-2 when they don’t. -AD

5. UAB Blazers (16-4)

UAB has not received a ton of national attention despite entering the year with high hopes and holding an impressive 16-4 record. The Blazers have won at least two games between each of their defeats and do not have a single winning streak lasting longer than four this season. Nonetheless, they are the CUSA’s best team right now with a 6-1 conference record and a top 40 national rating on KenPom. They are excellent on both ends of the floor and might be able to generate some at-large buzz if they finish the regular season strong. -LH

4. San Francisco Dons (16-4)

The Dons captured the hearts of hoops fans and AP voters everywhere with their 10-0 start, but San Francisco is just 5-4 in Division I games since then. In fairness, none of those defeats are worse than a Q2 loss as of this writing, but it’s still somewhat worrisome. USF is a top-50 team in 3-point attempt rate, so it’s no surprise that a relative dry spell is a culprit in the recent slowdown. The Dons are just 2-4 when they make fewer than eight 3-pointers, but they are a perfect 14-0 when they make eight or more. -AD

3. Saint Mary’s Gaels (15-4)

After a 32-point beatdown of LMU, the Gaels are currently a top-25 team in the KenPom rankings. Saint Mary’s has won three straight since falling in the league opener in Provo against BYU, and another big WCC road test is on the docket tonight against San Francisco. The winner will have the inside track on the conference’s No. 3 seed. Alex Ducas has been playing well of late, averaging 17.0 points per game in the current three-game win streak — compared to just 9.0 in the Gaels’ four losses this season. -AD

2. Murray State Racers (18-2)

Murray State has an argument to be the No. 1 team in these rankings this week. After all, Loyola Chicago did drop a game. However, the Racers remain slotted in the No. 2 spot following home wins over UT Martin and Tennessee Tech. They have not lost yet in 2022 and hold an 8-0 record in the OVC that includes a road win over Belmont. Murray State is in position to secure an at-large bid if it doesn’t win the OVC’s automatic bid, so long as they continue their dominant play. KenPom is favoring them to win all ten of their final games (with eight including an 80 percent likelihood of victory). -LH

1. Loyola Chicago Ramblers (15-3)

It’s true, the Ramblers could not stop Isiaih Mosley last weekend — and because of it, they are no longer perfect in the Missouri Valley. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t the best team in mid-major basketball. One game does not make the team, and Loyola has already bounced back with a smothering 59-47 win over Southern Illinois. In that win, Drew Valentine’s defense held Marcus Domask (15.3 points per game) to just six points on 2-of-8 shooting and didn’t let SIU hit 40 as a team until 34 minutes into the game. Loyola appears to be just fine, but the true test comes on Sunday in Des Moines against Drake. -AD