clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The definitive list of the five best mid-major starts you aren’t talking about

Debate away.

NCAA Basketball: Vermont at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

They haven’t cracked our Other Top 25, and you’ve probably yelled at us for it.

But nonetheless, the five teams below have enjoyed great starts to the 2018-19 season. We may not have been talking about them yet, but with conference play around the corner, we’re talking about them now.

Abilene Christian (11-2)

Why: The Wildcats are off to their best start since bumping up to Division I for the 2013-14 season. Five of their 10 wins have come away from home, with three true road victories and two on neutral courts.

Highlight: A win at Pacific on Nov. 23.

Who: The stalwart trio of Jalone Friday, Jaren Lewis and Jaylen Franklin have been more than solid, but the biggest surprise has been Payten Ricks. The junior guard has gone to another level spacing the floor (11.6 PPG, 46.7 3P%) for an offense that is over 100 spots higher in KenPom efficiency than a season ago.

Said: “We want to be a great team, and I told our guys that great teams don’t lose back-to-back games. They don’t make excuses after losses, they just go back to work and figure it out. We did that and came with a huge win.” — Wildcats coach Joe Golding on his team following up its first loss at Pepperdine with a home win over Campbell.

NJIT (11-3)

Why: The Highlanders never notched more than nine non-conference wins since joining the Atlantic Sun for the 2015-16 season. They’ve got 11 already, with a hearty amount (six) coming on the road against Division I opponents.

Highlight: Quality home wins in the season’s first week against Colgate and Brown.

Who: Sophomore Zach Cooks has, for lack of a better word, been cooking this year. The point guard has more than doubled his scoring average from last season (19.2 PPG) while hitting 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He and junior center Abdul Lewis will be a handful in the A-Sun.

Said: “We have a team of real competitors and they grind games out. For our program to be seven and one at this point in time is a credit to my kids and how hard they play. This is just a tough group of kids. They come out no matter who we face and give it their best effort.” — Highlanders coach Brian Kennedy after his team went to 7-1 with a three-point win at Drexel on Nov. 28.

Stony Brook (12-3)

Why: The Seawolves excellent, NCAA Tournament-bound team of 2015-16 started out 9-4. This season, Jeff Boals has Stony Brook sitting at 12-3 prior to America East play, with a power conference triumph (South Carolina), as well as an astounding seven true road wins.

Highlight: Topping the Gamecocks on Nov. 9 was nice, as was beating Rhode Island by 10 on Nov. 24.

Who: Though currently dealing with an injury, Akwasi Yeboah has been a league POY-type performer thus far. The junior has been a matchup problem both on the perimeter and paint (18.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 38.8 3P%) for a team that should challenge for an AE title.

Said: “I could not be more proud of our guys. We were down 22-0 and just kept chipping away and battling back. We found a way to win and that is what championship teams do.” — Jeff Boals after his team overcame a 22-0 deficit to beat George Washington in overtime on opening night.

Seattle (12-3)

Why: Seattle rode a first month of the season chock full of games in the Seattle area to a healthy record. But in the past two weeks the Redhawks have picked up a pair of road wins, and have taken advantage of two sagging Pac-12 teams (Cal, Washington State) to grab power conference wins.

Highlight: Taking down in-state “power” Washington State at home on Nov. 14.

Who: Matej Kavas has been on the fringe of the WAC POY discussion for a few years, but junior Morgan Means has stolen the show thus far, recording the second-best scoring average in the WAC (16.9 PPG) with excellent shooting efficiency.

Said: “You want to keep moving up the pecking order in the state. I’m grateful we won this game and we want to keep making the best out of each opportunity. Tonight we made the most out of this opportunity and puts us in a better position than if we had lost.” — JIm Hayford after his team took down Washington State on Nov. 14.

Vermont (9-4)

Why: You didn’t forget about the Catamounts now did you? Roster turnover and Jairus Lyles’ March dagger didn’t force Vermont into obscurity, as the America East heavyweight has surged to a 9-4 record full of quality wins.

Highlights: Home wins over St. Bonaventure (Dec. 18), Northeastern (Dec. 16), Harvard (Dec. 8) and Yale (Nov. 21).

Who: Anthony Lamb is healthy and playing at the superstar level many expected (22.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG). Sophomore guard Stef Smith is not Trae Bell-Hayne (at least not yet), but has jumped into a big role splitting time between both guard spots in a top-90 KenPom offense.

Said: “We have the pleasure of seeing one of the best players to ever play here play every night and every night it’s a better performance than the one before and it doesn’t seem possible. I’m prouder of the man and leader he’s becoming than his point totals.” — Vermont coach John Becker on Anthony Lamb’s 42-point performance in a double overtime win over the Bonnies.