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Mid-major grad transfers that could impact postseason races in 2017-18

NCAA Basketball: Longwood at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Hard as it may be for some mid-major fans to hear, graduate transfers don’t always ding the little guy.

Here are several immediate additions either joining or staying in the mid-major ranks that could help propel their new programs to the top of their respective conferences. And if that happens, they’ll have a hand in NCAA Tournament bids come March.

Khris Lane, VCU

The Rams have one of the A-10’s most explosive forwards in Justin Tillman. That’s a good place to start, but Mike Rhoades loses two important big men — Mo-Alie Cox and Ahemd Hamdy — to graduation. If he’s going to run VCU’s consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance streak to eight in his first season, Lane will need to play a big role. The Longwood transfer, who began his career at Drexel, averaged 17.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. He’s also a threat from deep, which complements Tillman’s interior-oriented game.

Lexus Williams/Christian Sengfelder, Boise State

The Broncos have a lot going for them in 2017-18. Mainly, the return of Chandler Hutchison, an athletic wing that exploded last season (17.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG) and could challenge for MWC Player of the Year. He’ll be flanked by another talented wing in sophomore Justinian Jessup. That’s the good. The bad is that Boise State lost its starting point guard when Paris Austin (12.3 PPG) transferred to Cal. In steps Williams, who started 44 games over three seasons at Valpo. Fordham grad transfer Christian Sengfelder is also important, as he replaces one of the best three-point shooting big men in the country in Nick Duncan. If they can can roughly approximate what Austin and Duncan did last year, the Broncos could find themselves at the top of the MWC.

Darius Thompson/Dwight Coleby, Western Kentucky

Even if Mitchell Robinson had left WKU for good, the Hilltoppers still would’ve been a factor in the CUSA race. In no small part because of Thompson and Coleby. Neither plugs a huge hole, with point guard Lamonte Bearden becoming eligible and double-double machine Justin Johnson still around on the interior. But the grad transfer duo add experience and depth to the frontcourt and backcourt. And with Robinson deciding to come back, WKU more than ever looks like a threat in CUSA.

Cullen Neal, Saint Mary’s

Neal’s well-traveled path finally led him to SMC, where he had initially signed out of high school. The Gaels 29-5 team from last year is largely intact. But they did lose guard Joe Rahon, who could pair with Emmett Naar for a dual point guard look. Neal should be able to replicate that, and his shooting (37.0 career 3P%) will be at home in the Gaels’ hyper-efficient attack.

Casey Benson, Grand Canyon

GCU is finally eligible for the NCAA Tournament after 49 wins and a #141 aggregate KenPom rating over the past two seasons. That will play in the WAC, especially with players like Josh Braun and Oscar Frayer still on the roster. But Dewayne Russell is gone after a dazzling senior season (21.2 PPG, 5.4 APG). Benson can’t break down defenses like Russell could, but had a 2.7/0.7 assist-to-turnover ratio in three seasons at Oregon. Whether he’s playing the point or off-the-ball — as he was more last season — he’ll be an important piece for the Lopes.

Zach Lofton, New Mexico State

GCU’s quest should still run though the Aggies, even as the program gets set for its third head coach in the last three years. Chris Jans has a ton of talent to work with in his first season in Las Cruces, but needs to replace the team’s leading scorers after Ian Baker (16.7 PPG) graduated and Braxton Huggins (13.7 PPG) transferred. Jans landed Lofton, a well-traveled guard that was last season’s SWAC Player of the Year after averaging 16.8 points per game at Texas Southern. If he can replicate that in the WAC, the Aggies will be a step closer to a sixth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last seven years.

Kameron Rooks, San Diego State

Steve Fisher set the standard so high that the Aztecs’ 19-14 (9-9) season was a no doubt disappointment. But the team is still loaded with talent as Brian Dutcher takes over, with Trey Kell, Jeremy Hemsley and Malik Pope in the fold. SDSU does lose Zylan Cheatham, a key forward on a team that let opponents run wild on the offensive glass in MWC play. Rooks should provide a big boost in the paint. The 7’0 center never posted a defensive rebounding rate under 17.1 percent over three seasons at Cal, and should team with Pope and Max Hoetzel to form one of the league’s best frontcourts.