Not even 12 hours removed from the end of the national championship game, it’s time to look ahead to 2018-19. And with that, we have our way-too-early-and-borderline-irresponsible rankings for next season.
Loyola University Chicago, the darling of this year’s NCAA Tournament, will be a force again next year and should be favored to win the Valley. But the Ramblers will have some work to do if they want to prove that they are the best mid-major program in the country. That’s because Nevada should return nearly everybody from its Sweet 16 team AND it adds some key transfers in true Eric Musselman style.
Of course Gonzaga is there as well. The Bulldogs will lose Johnathan Williams and Silas Melson, but if Rui Hachimura, Zach Norvell Jr., and Killian Tillie come back, then there’s no reason to think Mark Few doesn’t have yet another second weekend team on his hands.
Check out the full rankings below and be sure to overreact to something that will probably change drastically over the next 217 days as the transfer market, the NBA Draft situation, and any late 2018 recruiting news unfolds.
Way-too-Early 2018-19 Mid-Major Madness Power Rankings:
1. Nevada (2017-18 record: 29-8, Sweet 16)
Nevada’s top ranking is contingent on all eligible players returning. If that happens, watch out, because the Wolf Pack can be a top-10 team. Nationally. The Martin twins and Jordan Caroline will be seniors and joining them will be the usual crop of Eric Musselman transfers. That includes two-time all-NEC player Corey Henson. This team will be loaded.
2. Gonzaga (2017-18 record: 32-5, Sweet 16)
Remember how last year we thought the Bulldogs would be in for a bit of a rebuild? Then they came back and were a top-10 KenPom team? Good times. We’re not underestimating them again. Losing Williams and Melson will hurt, but if Hachimura, Norvell, and Tillie return, they’ll be just fine. Throw in freshman big man Filip Petrusev and the Zags have plenty of weapons.
3. Loyola University Chicago (2017-18 record: 32-6, Final Four)
It’ll be hard to follow up a Final Four appearance for Loyola, but Porter Moser has his core returning, led by rising seniors Clayton Custer and Marques Townes. If Cameron Krutwig continues on the trajectory he’s been on, the Ramblers will be easy favorites in the Valley and MAYBE can get some respect in the at-large discussion (not that they’ll need it). We’re already looking forward to their MVC-MWC Challenge game against Nevada
4. South Dakota State (2017-18 record: 28-7, NCAA Tournament First Round)
As has been the case the last couple of years, the Jackrabbits program will be focused on Mike Daum. The redshirt junior has stated multiple times that he’s committed to finishing his career there, and his return would make South Dakota State an extremely dangerous offense yet again. With Daum, sophomore David Jenkins Jr., and guards like Tevin King and Skyler Flatten, the Jackrabbits will be the heavy favorites in the Summit League once again.
5. BYU (2017-18 record: 24-11, NIT First round)
Set aside all the “BYU is old” jokes: This year’s BYU squad had no seniors. From an eligibility standpoint, everyone should return next season — but of course, this doesn’t factor in Yoeli Childs’ potential to go pro after his impressive 17.8 ppg and 8.6 rpg sophomore campaign. Regardless, Dave Rose’s team gains four-star prospect Gavin Baxter, who will make his debut after serving his multi-year Mormon mission. Throw in the possibility that junior sharpshooter Nick Emery will return after abruptly withdrawing from BYU on opening night (Emery later cited a divorce for his absence) and the Cougars look stacked. If Childs returns to Provo, they will challenge Gonzaga for the WCC title.
6. Buffalo (2017-18 record: 27-9, NCAA Tournament Second Round)
Nate Oats’s group flipped a switch down the stretch this year and carried it into the tournament when they dismantled Arizona in the First Round. All-MAC selections Nick Perkins and CJ Massinburg should both be back as the Bulls will be the clear favorites in the conference. Wes Clark is a big loss, but he’s also the team’s only senior. Buffalo fans just have to hope Oats sticks around.
7. Davidson (2017-18 record: 21-12, NCAA Tournament First Round)
Davidson might have lost Peyton Aldridge, who is one of the best scorers we’ve seen in quite some time, but consider this: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundsson and KiShawn Pritchett. That’s a hell of a core to work with. Davidson came on strong toward the end of the year, as Bob McKillop’s teams usually do. It’ll take some adjustments without Aldridge, but only fools bet against one of the best coaches in the game.
8. Marshall (2017-18 record: 25-11, NCAA Tournament Second Round)
Jon Elmore, CJ Burks, and Ajdin Penava all declared for the NBA Draft, but assuming they return, the 2018 fun-as-hell CUSA champs will be largely intact next year. The world got to see Dan D’Antoni’s offense in action this March and the group deserves the same attention starting in November. It’ll help that Middle Tennessee is losing a lot, opening up the conference race. Marshall will lead the pack to start, but Western Kentucky isn’t far behind and Old Dominion should be strong again.
9. UNC Greensboro (2017-18 record: 27-8, NCAA Tournament First Round)
UNC Greensboro has gradually become a force in the SoCon under Wes Miller, who has proven himself to be one of the brightest young stars in coaching. He’ll bring back three starters for a team that nearly knocked off Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, including guard Francis Alonso. The way Miller’s team plays defense makes them a tough out for anyone, especially in the SoCon.
10. Montana (2017-18 record: 26-8, NCAA Tournament First Round)
Montana was, admittedly, underappreciated in 2017-18. They got the attention they deserved when they won the Big Sky and made the tournament, but deserved more credit for a 13-game winning streak, a win over Power 5 (albeit Pittsburgh), three wins over Northern Colorado, and one over UC Irvine. The junior trio of Ahmaad Rorie, Jamar Akoh, and Michael Oguine should all be back for Travis DeCuire, who backed out of opportunities at bigger schools.
11. Western Kentucky (2017-18 record: 27-11, NIT Semifinals)
Will we have a quiet offseason in Bowling Green this summer? Rick Stansbury and Co. had a strong showing in the NIT after getting bounced by Marshall in the C-USA title game. The Hilltoppers will have a dynamic backcourt that features a senior leader in Lamonte Bearden alongside two sophomores in Josh Anderson and Taveion Hollingsworth who showed a lot of promise in their first years. C-USA is gonna be loaded up top, but Western Kentucky should be right there in the mix.
12. South Dakota (2017-18 record: 26-9, CBI First Round)
The big question mark for South Dakota right now is who replaces Craig Smith after he left to be the head coach of Utah State. Whoever it is won’t be working with a bare cupboard, though. Matt Mooney is back, as is every other starter. If all of that talent stays, then there’s no reason to think that the Coyotes can’t compete in the Summit League once again. For now though, it’s still up in the air in Vermillion.
13. San Diego State (2017-18 record: 22-11, NCAA Tournament First Round)
The Aztecs went into the tournament as one of the hottest mid-majors in the country after ripping off nine straight wins to end the year. Brian Dutcher’s first year after replacing Steve Fisher should be a positive sign for a program that had been struggling the last couple of seasons. Dutcher returns Devin Watson and Matt Mitchell, and Jalen McDaniels is expected to return despite testing the NBA Draft waters. Add in a couple of other key contributors and a decent recruiting class, and the Aztecs will be among the Mountain West’s best again.
14. Georgia State (2017-18 record: 24-11; NCAA Tournament First Round)
The reigning Sun Belt Tournament champion should, if all eligible players return, be the clear-cut league favorite in 2017-18. The biggest decision rests with rising junior guard and reigning Sun Belt POY D’Marcus Simonds. If he forgoes the NBA, the stat stuffer (21.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.4 APG) will lead an athletic, experienced team that could include rising seniors Jeff Thomas, Malik Benlevi and Devin Mitchell. Get ready for more Run Hunter in the spotlight, which is never a bad thing.
15. New Mexico State (2017-18: 28-6; NCAA Tournament First Round)
It may look like the Aggies are forced to take a step back after losing the WAC POY. But that was the case heading into 2017-18, and all Chris Jans did was keep NMSU rolling in his first year in Las Cruces. Replacing Jemerrio Jones and Zach Lofton won’t be easy, but having hyper-athletic point guard A.J. Harris (9.4 PPG, 2.9 APG) isn’t a bad place to start. Rising senior Eli Chuha will be looked upon to regain his sophomore form, but he could have help in the frontcourt from Johnny McCants, whose jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism makes him a breakout candidate.
16. Old Dominion (2017-18 record: 25-7)
Old Dominion is losing a ton to graduation and Trey Porter’s decision to transfer only complicates things. But Ahmad Caver is one of the best guards in the mid-major game and for that reason alone, the Monarchs should not be discounted yet. A pair of three-star recruits will help strengthen the backcourt and forward Joe Reece will be asked to contribute immediately as a freshman.
17. Louisiana (2017-18 record: 27-7, NIT First Round)
Over the last five years, Bob Marlin has consistently had his team contending in the Sun Belt and that shouldn’t change going forward, even with some key departures. Jakeenan Grant should be back along with USC transfer Malik Marquetti. Both will be asked to do more, and don’t count out rising junior Justin Miller. If he can find some consistency, the Ragin’ Cajuns will be tough to beat.
18. Saint Louis (2017-18 record: 17-16)
We thought last year would be the year Travis Ford got things rolling at Saint Louis, and the Billikens were better, even if they weren’t as good as we thought. Thankfully, most of their key contributors should be back, and Ford has another solid recruiting class coming in, led by Carte’Are Goodwin. With a ton of turnover at Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure, the door is open for a new team to take the torch in the A-10.
19. Saint Mary’s (2017-18 record: 30-6, NIT Quarterfinals)
Randy Bennett has the unenviable task of replacing five seniors — including four starters and AP All-American Jock Landale — but the cupboard isn’t empty in Moraga. Rising junior Jordan Ford played his way into the starting lineup and could be one of the conference’s best scorers. Tanner Krebs and Evan Fitzner will bolster the frontcourt and fill the void left by the aforementioned Landale. By far, the most intriguing player on the Gaels’ roster is South Florida transfer Malik Fitts: a 6’8 stretch forward who averaged 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds in 24 minutes per game in his lone collegiate season.
20. Belmont (2017-18 record: 24-9)
Rick Byrd. And Dylan Windler.
21. Penn (2017-18 record: 24-9, NCAA Tournament First Round)
Penn made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over a decade, and Steve Donahue returns most of that core. AJ Brodeur, Max Rothschild and Ryan Betley highlight a group that went 12-2 in the Ivy League last season. The Quakers share the ball and play tough defense, and they’ll always have the advantage of playing in the Palestra. A second-straight trip to the tournament is well within reason for this group.
22. Vermont (2017-18 record: 27-8; NIT First Round)
The Catamounts ended up as a significant footnote in 2017-18. After a dominant America East campaign, falling at home in the league tournament championship set the stage for the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. But even with heavy personnel losses — including program great Trae Bell-Haynes — the Catamounts should enter next season as the league favorite yet again. Vermont seemingly dodged a bullet when John Becker was not poached by a bigger program, and he’ll roll out a team likely anchored by Anthony Lamb (14.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG) and long-range threats Ernie (39.8 3FG%) and Everett Duncan (46.2 3FG%).
23. Lipscomb (2017-18 record: 23-10; NCAA Tournament First Round)
The Bisons burst out of the Never Made The Tournament Club in 2017-18, but now comes the hard part: getting back. A good place to start is by returning all the main contributors from last year’s historic team, except departing senior Aaron Korn. This includes the All-ASUN duo of rising seniors Garrison Matthews (21.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and Rob Mayberry (15.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG), who helped lead a defense that ranked 125th in efficiency per KenPom. With FGCU in the opposite situation -- losing several key players to graduation -- the Bisons seem poised to enter the year as the league favorite.
24. Rhode Island (2017-18 record: 26-88, NCAA Tournament Second Round)
It’s anyone’s guess what Rhode Island is going to look like next year, so consider this more of a placeholder until we know who their next coach is going to be and which expected returners are actually returning. If all goes well, the Rams will bring back Fatts Russell, Jeff Dowtin, and Cyril Langevine, along with four-star big man Jermaine Harris. That’s enough to earn a spot in the rankings and an opportunity to move up with a strong November.
25. Illinois State (2017-18 record: 18-15)
It was supposed to be a step-back season for the Redbirds in 2017-18, and it was. But Dan Muller kept Illinois State competitive after losing the top three players from his 28-7 team the year before. If all holds, continuity won’t be a problem in 2018-19. The Redbirds could return a formidable senior trio of Phil Fayne, Milik Yarbrough, and Keyshawn Evans, which led a team that finished in the top 157 in KenPom offensive and defensive efficiency in a rebuilding year.
Also considered: New Mexico, Stephen F. Austin, Wright State, UCSB, Northern Iowa, Bradley, Northern Kentucky, Northeastern, Murray State.