The southwestern corner of the country is home to some quality mid-major basketball, and this portion of our rankings is proof. The top two teams in the WAC, New Mexico State and Grand Canyon, fall in here and will face each other twice this season in two sure-to-be-epic battles.
Speaking of conference rivals, there’s Yale and Harvard as well. Both are included in today’s video and both have legit arguments to be the preseason favorite in the Ivy League.
20. Yale Bulldogs
Last Year: 18-11 (9-5), no postseason
Key Returnees: Alex Copeland (Jr., G), Makai Mason (Sr., G), Miye Oni (So. G), Blake Reynolds (Jr., F), Jordan Bruner (So., F), Trey Phils (Jr., G)
Key Losses: Sam Downey, Anthony Dallier
Key Additions: Paul Atkinson (Fr., F), Azar Swain (Fr., G), Jalen Gabbidon (Fr., G), Jameel Alausa (Fr., F), Wyatt Yess (Fr., F)
You try picking the Ivy this year. With little separation between Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, the Bulldogs land at No. 20 in our rankings despite having serious NCAA Tournament potential. It all starts with Mason’s return. The senior stud sat out all of last year after suffering an injury in a preseason scrimmage, but is an early favorite for Ivy League player of the year after averaging 16.0 points per game two seasons ago. Throw Mason into the mix on a team that returns Copeland and Oni (12.9 ppg a piece) and you’d be hard pressed to find a better mid-major backcourt. Expect a healthy Bruner and Reynolds to hold down the forward spots while newcomers Atkinson and Yess see immediate minutes.
Last Year: 19-14 (9-9), no postseason
Key Returnees: Trey Kell (Sr., G), Jeremy Hemsley (Jr., G), Malik Pope (Sr., F), Montaque Gill-Caesar (Jr., G), Max Montana (Jr., F)
Key Losses: Zylan Cheatham, Dakari Allen, Matt Shrigley
Key Additions: Kameron Rooks (Sr., C), Jordan Schakel (Fr., G), Adam Seiko (Fr., G), Matt Mitchell (Fr., F), Devin Watson (Jr., G)
Not seeing Steve Fisher on the San Diego State sideline is going to take some getting used to, but Brian Dutcher isn’t exactly a newcomer. While this will be his first season as head coach of the Aztecs, he has been an assistant there for the past 18. And returning with him is a group that should challenge for the Mountain West title after an uncharacteristic down year in 2016-17. Kell and Hemsley were the Aztecs’ two leading scorers last year, while Pope was the second-best rebounder on the team. Welcome grad transfer Rooks and the finally eligible Watson and Montana to the fold, and San Diego State has as much talent as anybody in the conference. Nevada will be the trendy pick in the Mountain West, but the Aztecs might be the most complete team.
Last Year: 28-6 (11-3), lost to Baylor in NCAA Tournament First Round
Key Returnees: Sidy N’Dir (Jr., G), Eli Chuha (Jr., F), Jemerrio Jones (Sr., F), Johnathon Wilkins (Sr., F), Joe Garza (Sr., G)
Key Losses: Ian Baker, Braxton Huggins, Matt Taylor, Jermaine Haley, Tanveer Bhullar
Key Additions: A.J. Harris (So., G), Zach Lofton (Sr., G), Gabe Hadley (Fr., G), Kortrijk Miles (Fr., G), Johnny McCants (Fr., F), Leston Gordon (Jr., C)
After a 28-win debut season, Paul Weir bolted for New Mexico, adding more fuel to an already blazing rivalry. Former Wichita State assistant Chris Jans steps in, and there’s reason for optimism. Jans won 21 games at Bowling Green in 2014-15 before being let go after a video surfaced of him acting inappropriately in a bar. With that behind him, he inherits a talented team led by a dominant frontcourt and high-ceiling backcourt. Chuha and Jones may be the WAC’s best forward tandem, while Ohio State transfer Harris and N’Dir, if healthy, may be the league’s most talented guard duo. Jans also landed the reigning SWAC Player of the Year in Lofton, a transfer from Texas Southern. With these five, the Aggies have the talent to continue an incredible six-year run in Las Cruces.
Last Year: 22-9 (11-3), not eligible for postseason
Key Returnees: Josh Braun (Sr., G/F), Keonta Vernon (Sr., F), Gerard Martin (Jr., F), Oscar Frayer (So., G/F), Kerwin Smith (Jr., F), Shaq Carr (Sr., G), Fiifi Aidoo (So., G)
Key Losses: Dewayne Russell, Darion Clark
Key Additions: Casey Benson (Sr., G), Alessandro Lever (Fr., F), Roberts Blumbergs (Fr., F), Damari Milstead (Fr., G)
The wait is over. After four years in transition purgatory, Grand Canyon finally has the chance to take its purple frenzy to the entire country. Dan Majerle has a team capable of capturing the WAC’s NCAA bid in its first year of Division I eligibility. It starts with Braun, a dynamic offensive player that has been named the league’s preseason POY in consecutive seasons. He’ll be surrounded by quality players, like an athletic wing in Frayer, versatile forward in Martin, and low-post presence in Vernon. Russell is gone after leading the WAC in scoring last season, but Majerle brings in Benson, who played key roles on several great Oregon teams, to replace some of what was lost at the point. Will a sleeping mid-major giant awaken this season in Phoenix?
16. Harvard Crimson
Last Year: 18-10 (10-4), no postseason
Key Returnees: Bryce Aiken (So., G), Seth Towns (So., F), Corey Johnson (Jr., G), Chris Lewis (So., F), Justin Bassey (So., G), Henry Welsh (So., F), Robert Baker (So., F)
Key Losses: Siyani Chambers, Zena Edosomwan
Key Additions: Reed Farley (Fr., G), Danilo Djuricic (Fr., F), Rio Haskett (Fr., G)
Harvard was one of the youngest teams in Division I last year and still managed to win 10 games in the Ivy League. Naturally, that means the Crimson have a real shot at winning the conference this year. Chambers and Edosomwan have since departed, but Tommy Amaker’s freshman phenoms are all a year better. Aiken was the team’s leading scorer as a freshman. Lewis was the team’s second-leading rebounder as a freshman. Johnson was the best three-point shooter as a sophomore. Towns ranked in the top 15 in the conference in every major shooting category, according to KenPom, as a freshman. Yeah, there’s reason to be excited about this season (and beyond) in Cambridge.