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Mid-Major Madness Offseason Roundtable

There’s a lot that happened this offseason. A few of our writers talked about it.

NCAA Basketball: Mountain West Conference Championship Nevada vs Colorado State Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

There’s never a shortage of storylines that take place during the college basketball offseason. There’s transfers, coaching changes, and whatever new phrases Jon Rothstein unleashes on Twitter. It can be a lot to keep up with!

Rather than try to recap all of them, we gathered some of our writers to talk about some of our favorite storylines, and even talk about some things we’re looking forward to this season.

DISCLAIMER: Some answers came before the Mitchell Robinson news broke on Sunday, so keep that in mind.

What has been your favorite storyline to follow during the offseason?

Russ Steinberg: Is there any answer other than the Mitchell Robinson saga? I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything like it. Top-10 recruit commits to a mid-major, everything’s looking good, then he suddenly jumps ship at the last minute, with no clear destination after that. I think we can all agree that this needs to end with him dominating the Southland at New Orleans.

Ellie Lieberman: I’m a sucker for summer league basketball because it’s the first time I get to see my favorite mid-major players face off against NBA level talent. Though many mid-major players’ career hopes may have been dashed after a few summer league games, it’s exciting to see players like Jacob Wiley (from EWU) or Alec Peters (Valpo) put on the jets for a few games in order to receive two-way contracts. It’s March Madness level desperation meets July.

Ben Goren: Yeah, this one isn’t close. It’s clearly Mitchell Robinson. I was all ready to watch Robinson dominate Conference USA and lead Western Kentucky to, if nothing else, an incredibly interesting season. Now he’s gone. Or is he? (Ed. note: he isn’t.) And probably going to go pro. Or will he?

Austin Brown: The Missouri Valley’s scramble for survival following Wichita State’s departure for the AAC. The MVC ultimately decided to add a team that spent the majority of the last four years riding the coattails of Alec Peters in Valparaiso. I think Valpo can compete with the rest of the MVC, but that isn’t saying much.

The biggest losers of this offseason? Every beat writer in the MVC. With Wichita out of the picture, here are the cities that currently comprise the MVC: Peoria, IL, Des Moines, IA, Evansville, IN, Normal, IL, Terra Haute, IN, Springfield, MO, Cedar Falls, IA, Carbondale, IL, Valparaiso, IN and Chicago, IL. Outside of Chicago, that is an absolutely excruciating gauntlet of towns to spend January-March bouncing between.

Chris Schutte: I’ve been way too invested in the Mitchell Robinson saga, but I’ll go a different route. As an IUPUI student and lone Jaguar fan online, their abrupt move to the Horizon League was exciting for me. I’m very much looking forward to watching them in a new league and talking trash to people online throughout the season.

Which team had the best offseason?

Russ: North Texas because they were the winners of the Mascot Melee and now get to hang a banner.

Ellie: Hats off to Eric Musselman of Nevada!

Ben: I’ll go off radar and say Chicago State. It isn’t often that you can say that a school landed inarguably its best recruit ever, but the Cougars did just that by picking up Kezo Brown of Simeon. Brown was a fringe top-100 guy at one point. That’s a massive pick up for a program, and a school, that desperately needs good news.

Austin: Middle Tennessee. Kermit Davis didn’t leave, and Mitchell Robinson’s departure from WKU means the Blue Raiders should still sit comfortably atop CUSA. They also put together a solid non-conference schedule that includes Florida Gulf Coast twice and about half of the SEC.

Chris: I agree with Ellie. Nevada has taken the Fred Hoiberg model of owning the transfer market and ran with it. Eric Musselman is the man.

Which school made the best coaching hire?

Russ: Considering where they are as a program and what they could realistically get, I loved Drake’s hire of Niko Medved. He’s a young guy who can potentially rebuild that program into what it once was. Take a look at the job he did at Furman. He turned a nine-win team his first year into a 23-win team that had a realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament last season. He was there four years, and every year he won more games overall and in conference than he had the year before.

Ben: Anyone but Duquesne, who should have hired Mark Titus, but didn’t, and are now doomed to wander the streets of Pittsburgh searching for mediocrity.

Austin: Tom Crean is still unemployed, so nobody.

Chris: What he said.^ I like the Paul Weir hire at New Mexico too. That adds even more fuel to an in-state rivalry.

Which player do you think benefits most from a change of scenery?

Russ: I’ll go with Cullen Neal, who is going from middling SEC team in Oxford, Miss. Ole Miss to legit Final Four contender by the bay in Saint Mary’s. A great literal change in scenery. A great figurative change of scenery. His numbers were by no means bad for the Rebels, but he did suffer from bouts of inconsistency. Put a stronger cast around him (particularly Jock Landale and Calvin Hermanson) and throw him in a weaker conference, and Neal could star.

Ellie: Braxton Huggins.

Ben: How much can we fire up the hype thrusters for Elijah Brown at Oregon? Him taking 23 shots in a #Pac12AfterDark game in early February is going to be all kinds of fun. Playing in front of a much bigger audience at a school in need of scorers after a rash of departures should be right up Brown’s alley.

Austin: I have to go with Dwight Coleby at Western Kentucky. He spent last season buried at the end of Kansas’ bench after transferring from Ole Miss. A second transfer to WKU will give him the opportunity to see significant minutes, particularly if Mitchell Robinson ends up not coming back to Bowling Green.

Chris: I’m very here for Casey Benson getting buckets at Grand Canyon in front of a raucous crowd. Anytime a guy that played actual minutes on a Final Four team transfers to a smaller school, I’m taking time to watch. I’m all in on the Lopes this year.

Who are you looking forward to watching most this season?

Russ: Dikembe Dixson, just to see if he lives up to the hype he’s giving himself on Twitter.

Ellie: Alize Johnson

Ben: I’m riding for Anthony Lamb at Vermont. As a freshman on one of the best mid-major teams not named Gonzaga, he put up ruthlessly efficient numbers on a balanced Catamount team. With a handful of seniors leaving, Lamb will be handed the keys to the offense, and he might explode.

Austin: I’m going to be completely selfish here and say Makai Mason at Yale. He showed promise toward the end of his sophomore year, and I think he has a big year after sitting out all of last season with a broken foot. Also, thanks to the Ivy League having archaic eligibility rules, he’ll be playing for my alma mater in 2018 which is only fair considering he single-handedly ended Baylor’s season in 2016.

Chris: With all of the hype surrounding Mitchell Robinson, UNLV’s Brandon McCoy has flown a little bit under the radar. UNLV was bad last year, but an improved team and the presence of a five-star freshman is intriguing.

What’s one bold prediction you have for this season?

Russ: Grand Canyon goes to the NCAA Tournament in its first year of eligibility.

Ellie: Gonzaga doesn’t win the WCC.

Ben: No teams who have never made the NCAA Tournament will qualify this season. Yes this is an attempt at a self jinx.

Austin: Yale wins the Ivy League.

Chris: Saint Louis wins the A-10.