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Way-too-early Mid-Major Madness 2017-18 Power Rankings

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Last year’s finalists, their conference rivals, and some east coast power lead the way.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Sacramento Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

There is no argument more fun nor exercise more useless than trying to rank the 25 best mid-majors more than six months before the 2017-18 season starts.

So let’s go ahead and do that.

One quick note before we present the rankings: With Wichita State’s move to the American Athletic Conference, the Shockers have moved out of the mid-major club. We wish the Shockers well against Cincinnati, UConn, SMU, and more.

Way-too-early 2017-18 Mid-Major Madness Power Rankings

Just missed: Louisiana Tech, Grand Canyon, Davidson, Yale, Old Dominion, East Tennessee State, Richmond, Northern Kentucky

25. Wyoming Cowboys (2016-17 record: 23-15, CBI Champions)

It’s always tough to come up with rankings so far ahead of the next season, but a good recipe for selection is to win a postseason tournament with a bunch of sophomores and juniors on the roster. The CBI Champion Cowboys did just that, and return leading scorers Justin James and Hayden Dalton. -- Russell Steinberg

24. St. Bonaventure Bonnies (2016-17 record: 20-12)

Jaylen Adams put his name in the NBA Draft pool, but he will likely return next year. If he does, then the Bonnies are bringing back a potential Atlantic 10 Player of the Year who averaged 21 points and seven assists in 2016-17. And don’t forget about Matt Mobley, who scored 18.5 per game and has one year of eligibility remaining. -- Russell Steinberg

23. Dayton Flyers (2016-17 record: 24-8, NCAA Tournament First Round)

It’ll be a new era in Dayton in more ways than one. Not only is Anthony Grant tasked with following Archie Miller as head coach, but he will have to do so without the core of a Flyers team that has been so successful for so long. Charles Cooke, Kendall Pollard, and Scoochie Smith have all graduated, and Dayton will have to hope Xeyrius Williams makes a leap next season. -- Russell Steinberg

22. UNC Asheville Bulldogs (2016-17 record: 23-10, lost to Tennesse Martin in CIT First Round)

Nick McDevitt will bring back a balanced team that tore through the Big South last year before stumbling and losing its last two games. Ahmad Thomas and MaCio Teague were both three-point marksmen and should return to help the 20th-best three-point shooting team in the country. Look for Kevin Vannatta to play an even larger role in 2017-18. -- Russell Steinberg

21. UNC Wilmington Seahawks (2016-17 record: 29-6, lost to Virginia in NCAA Tournament First Round)

NCAA Basketball Tournament - UNC Wilmington v Virginia Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Losing Kevin Keatts to North Carolina State hurts, but C.B. McGrath should have enough talent left over to help the transition. C.J. Bryce returns as the leading scorer, and Devontae Cacok will be back to anchor the post yet again. If McGrath is able to find a couple of guys to help fill the void left by seniors Denzel Ingram and Chris Flemmings, the Seahawks should be just fine. — Chris Schutte

20. Boise State Broncos (2016-17 record: 20-12, lost to Illinois in NIT Second Round)

The Broncos will return a lot of talent from a team that won 20 games and finished third in the Mountain West last year. Chandler Hutchison took a major leap last season, and should be one of the preseason favorites for Player of the Year in the conference. Paris Austin, Justinian Jessup, and Zach Haney also return as starters from last year’s squad. — Chris Schutte

19. VCU Rams (2016-17 record: 26-9, lost to Saint Mary’s in NCAA Tournament First Round)

Next year’s VCU team will look much different than in years’ past. Will Wade left to take the LSU job, while the Rams also lose some major seniors to graduation. Mike Rhoades will count on Justin Tillman and Jonathan Williams to step up and be leaders for what should be a relatively young team. — Chris Schutte

18. New Mexico State Aggies (2016-17 record: 28-6, lost to Oregon in NCAA Tournament First Round)

The New Mexico State Aggies will return four of their top five scorers next season with the departure of leading scorer Ian Baker. Shooting guard Braxton Huggins will likely be the anchor for the Aggies, and he is joined by experienced forwards Jemerrio Jones, Jonathan Wilkins and Eli Chuha. Point guard Sidy Ndir will add to that experience on the perimeter. — Torrance Jones

17. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (2016-17 record: 15-17)

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Louisiana State vs Texas A&M Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Western Kentucky has been making noise with an impressive incoming recruiting class. The Hilltoppers signed ESPN’s No. 9 overall recruit in center Mitchell Robinson, No. 72 player, small forward Josh Anderson, and three-star guard Taveion Hollingsworth. Western Kentucky does lose Pancake Thomas and Que Johnson, two of its three leading scorers. However, the Hilltoppers retain Justin Johnson, who brings double-double potential. — Torrance Jones

16. Harvard Crimson (2016-17 record: 18-10)

The freshman and sophomore classes for the Harvard Crimson will continue to be the focal point next season. Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns provide an offensive spark, while freshmen Justin Bassey and Chris Lewis, along with sophomore Corey Johnson, should get more opportunities for a meaningful impact moving forward. Though they lose seniors Siyani Chambers and Zena Edosomwan, Harvard has plenty of potential to compete in the Ivy League. — Torrance Jones

15. San Diego State Aztecs (2016-17 record: 19-14)

The Aztecs had a thoroughly disappointing 2016-17 season. But they still won 19 games, and will likely return most of the key pieces from a team that finished 29th in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom. This starts with the back court duo of Trey Kell and Jeremy Hemsley, who will be joined by ESPN four-star freshman wing Jordan Schakel. In Steve Fisher we trust, right? — Greg Mitchell

14. Nevada Wolf Pack (2016-17 record: 28-7, lost to Iowa State in NCAA Tournament First Round)

The Wolf Pack had an early offseason victory when Eric Musselman pulled out of the running for the Cal job. Now, he'll wait to see if star forward Cameron Oliver does the same with the NBA Draft. Nevada would need to replace three of its top four scorers if Oliver leaves, but the cupboard isn't bare for the defending MWC champs. Sophomore Jordan Caroline (15.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg) will be one of the league's premier players, and is joined in the front court by North Carolina State transfers Cody and Caleb Martin. — Greg Mitchell

13. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (2016-17 record: 26-8, lost to Florida State in NCAA Tournament First Round)

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Florida State vs Florida Gulf Coast Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles are certifiably not a flash in the pan after a fourth consecutive 21-plus win season under Joe Dooley. They face big losses in the front court, including Marc-Eddy Norelia, but should have one of the best mid-major back courts in the country. Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell both averaged double digit scoring and set the stage for Brandon Goodwin (18.5 ppg, 4.1 apg), who should be the Atlantic Sun preseason Player of the Year favorite. — Greg Mitchell

12. Princeton Tigers (2016-17 record: 23-7, lost to Notre Dame in NCAA Tournament First Round)

The Tigers lose some key pieces of their undefeated Ivy League championship squad. Both starting point guard Spencer Weisz and leading scorer Steven Cook graduated, and they also lose Henry Caruso and Hans Brase to graduate transfers. However, they return enough firepower to be dangerous and Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens, who should anchor the offense. Princeton also has a decent crop of recruits coming in, led by a three-star recruit from Montreal, Jerome Desrosiers. — Andy Evans

11. Bucknell Bison (2016-17 record: 26-9, lost to West Virginia in NCAA Tournament First Round)

The Bison had four players average double-digit scoring this last season and return all of them in 2017-18. Among them is reigning Patriot League Player of the Year Nana Foulland and the team’s leading scorer Zach Thomas. If the Bison can avoid the transfer bug that has victimized many others, there is no reason to think they won’t repeat as Patriot League champions. — Andy Evans

10. College of Charleston Cougars (2016-17 record: 25-10, lost to Colorado State in NIT First Round)

The Cougars spent last season playing second fiddle to UNC Wilmington in the CAA, but they could be the favorites to win the conference next year. They are slated to return essentially their entire roster, coming off a 25-win season. Leading scorer and All-CAA First-Team selection Joe Chealey has the inside track to be CAA Player of the Year in 2017-18. — Andy Evans

9. Oakland Grizzlies (2016-17 record: 25-9, Lost to Richmond in NIT Second Round)

The Golden Grizzlies should be the favorites to win the Horizon League. They will be loaded with seniors, including potential Horizon League Player of the Year contenders Jalen Hayes and Martez Walker. Oakland will also have the services of Illinois transfer Kendrick Nunn. Nunn was an impact player for the Illini, but was dismissed from the team due to a domestic violence arrest. — Andy Evans

8. Illinois State Redbirds (2016-17 record: 28-7, lost to UCF in NIT Second Round)

With Wichita State heading to the AAC, Illinois State has the opportunity to become the league’s premier basketball program. The Redbirds always play tough defense under Dan Muller, and MiKyle Mcintosh should provide the scoring punch. After coming up just short of the NCAA Tournament last year, Illinois State will have a good chance to rectify that. — Chris Schutte

7. Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (2016-17 record: 31-5, lost to Butler in NCAA Tournament Second Round)

Kermit Davis appears to be building a mid-major powerhouse in Murfreesboro. Giddy Potts will be back yet again to terrorize opposing defenses. He and Nick King, a former top-50 recruit and grad transfer from Alabama, should form a dynamic duo. — Chris Schutte

6. UT Arlington Mavericks (2016-17 record: 27-9, lost to CS Bakersfield in NIT Third Round)

NCAA Basketball: Coastal Carolina at Texas-Arlington Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

Scott Cross has quickly become one of the hottest names on the mid-major coaching market, and for good reason. He’ll have a good chance of leading the Mavericks to a third-straight 20-win season. Kevin Hervey returns as the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year, and key contributors like Erick Neal and Kaelon Wilson will also be back. — Chris Schutte

5. BYU Cougars (2016-17 record: 22-12, lost to UT Arlington in NIT First Round)

Credit to Dave Rose for building a program at BYU with high expectations. In 2016-17, the Cougars fell well short of that mark, losing 12 games and falling in the first round of the NIT. The good news is that most significant contributors should return, led by Eric Mika, who scored 20-or-more points 15 times this season. The Cougars were one of the fastest teams in the nation, and should continue to be, making them, at the very least, entertaining. They’re probably looking at predicted third-place finish in the West Coast Conference behind Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, but with a few big non-conference wins, that just might be enough to get them back to the NCAA Tournament. — Russell Steinberg

4. Vermont Catamounts (2016-17 record: 29-6, lost to Purdue in NCAA Tournament First Round)

If you thought the Catamounts were scary this year, just you wait. It was easy to forget that Anthony Lamb was only a freshman, as he quickly become Vermont’s most important player. Lamb leads Vermont’s quartet of leading scorers that will return next year, including rising senior Trae Bell-Haynes. The Catamounts went 16-0 in the America East, then won the conference tournament. It’s entirely realistic to expect another perfect conference run next year...and maybe more. — Russell Steinberg

3. Rhode Island Rams (2016-17 record: 25-10, lost to Baylor in NCAA Tournament Second Round)

Bad news for Rams fans: Dan Hurley’s name will swirl in major conference coaching change talks for as long as he’s in Kingston. The good news: He’s back for 2017-18 and could have his best team yet. E.C. Matthews will return along with Jared Terrell, and both were instrumental in Rhode Island’s near-Sweet 16 run. Losing Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson will hurt, but Rhode Island was a balanced team and everyone else will be back. Cyril Langevine’s play toward the end of the year is an encouraging sign for a front court playing alongside a positively loaded back court. — Russell Steinberg

2. Saint Mary’s Gaels (2016-17 record: 29-5, lost to Arizona in NCAA Tournament Second Round)

Saint Mary’s lost to just one non-NCAA Tournament team this year, and assuming Jock Landale returns, the Gaels could be a second-weekend team next year. He was the runner-up for national KenPom Player of the Year, and with good reason. He made 63 percent of his two-point attempts, ranked first in the WCC in offensive rebound percentage and second in defensive rebounding percentage, and was fourth in the league in effective field goal percentage. Calvin Hermanson and Emmett Naar will return to help him out, and if the Gaels can land New Mexico grad transfer Elijah Brown, watch out. — Russell Steinberg

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (2016-17 record: 37-2, lost to North Carolina in NCAA title game)

Gonzaga is No. 1 until someone proves worthy of unseating them...or until NBA Draft decisions are finalized and we re-examine this poll. For now though, the Bulldogs have Zach Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss coming back, along with Johnathan Williams, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, and Killian Tillie. Losing Przemek Karnowski to graduation will hurt, but the Bulldogs are so loaded up front that they can make it work without him. Add in four-star freshman Corey Kispert, and the Zags should be stacked with talent again. — Russell Steinberg