Year in and year out, there’s a crop of mid-major stars that burst onto the national scene. Last year saw Obi Toppin captivate the nation with high-flying dunks and a ruthless offensive repertoire en route to a slew of National Player of the Year awards.
The All-Mid-Major Madness First Team features the best that college basketball has to offer, and it’s laden with talented seniors that have the chops to make their stardom shine even brighter this season.
Here are our preseason picks for the five best players in mid-major college basketball this season.
Jalen Crutcher, Sr., Dayton
The aforementioned Toppin garnered most of the headlines, but Crutcher was just as important to Dayton’s miraculous run last season. The First Team All-Atlantic 10 selection was second on the team in scoring (15.1 PPG) while leading the team in assists (4.9 APG) and three-point percentage (46.8%, 147-314). He’s a ruthlessly efficient floor general who doesn’t shy away from the big moment, as he showed against Saint Louis to preserve Dayton’s undefeated A-10 run.
This season, he’ll step into the role of go-to scorer for a Flyers team that is still a legitimate threat to win the A-10 and make the NCAA Tournament. Crutcher was named to the Naismith National Player of the Year watch list, the Bob Cousy Award (top point guard) watch list, and has appeared on umpteen other preseason rankings and awards. He’s not just one of the best mid-major players in the country. He’s one of the best guards in college basketball. Period.
Colbey Ross, Sr., Pepperdine
The last time we saw Colbey Ross, he was coming off of his best performance of the season. In a WCC Tournament matchup against Saint Mary’s and Jordan Ford, Ross poured in 43 points in a double OT classic before ultimately coming up short.
The best player in Pepperdine history might be the best guard in college basketball that people haven’t heard of. Ross is a two-time All-WCC First Team honoree, and he returns as the leader in assists among active college basketball players with 647. On top of that, he returns as the leading scorer in the WCC after averaging 20.5 points per game last year. He’s only 23 points away from becoming Pepperdine’s all-time leading scorer, which he might reach in the Waves’ first game.
Like Crutcher, Ross was also named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list. He’s the catalyst for a Pepperdine offense that’s finished in the top 100 of KenPom’s AdjO last year for the first time since the Paul Westphal era. Everything flows through Ross. He was used on 31.4% of possessions when he was on the floor last year, and his assist rate of 40.0% was the eighth-highest in the country, according to KenPom. Few players in college basketball have their fingerprints on every aspect of the game like Ross does.
Terry Taylor, Sr., Austin Peay
Everyone is shouting “Let’s go Peay!”, and Taylor is a huge reason why. His list of accolades is pages long, including three First Team All-OVC selections, and OVC Player of the Year award, and regular inclusion on the Lou Henson (top mid-major player) Watch List. Here’s a list of every player in college basketball to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and a block and steal apiece last year: Lamine Diane and Terry Taylor.
He finished tied for seventh in college basketball last year with 18 double-doubles, and he scored in double figures in all but one game. On top of the stat sheet stuffing, Taylor will be tasked with leading a Governors squad that is hoping to finally break the stranglehold that Belmont and Murray State have had on the OVC for the past decade. Matt Figger told Blue Ribbon Yearbook that he thinks Taylor is the most underrated player in the nation. Taylor has the stats, now he just needs the postseason success.
Corey Kispert, Sr., Gonzaga
Is it possible that the nation’s No. 1 team’s best player is also their Glue Guy and X-factor? Kispert is as rock solid as wing players come in college basketball, and he’s been an increasingly steady presence for a Gonzaga program that continues to prove that it’s among the elite in college basketball.
The senior forward is coming off of a junior campaign in which he averaged 13.9 points per game while hitting nearly 44% of his three-point attempts. He plays tough defense, and he just makes everyone else around him better. Kispert was one of three Zags to be named to the All-WCC preseason team after a First Team selection last year.
His numbers won’t be as eye-popping as others on this list or on national award lists, but few players in college basketball will have as much of an impact on winning as Kispert. If Gonzaga is finally able to cut down the nets in the NCAA Tournament, Kispert will be one of the biggest reasons why.
Jacob Gilyard, Sr., Richmond
The reigning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year might be the single most disruptive defender in college basketball. The lightning quick guard led Division I in steals last year with 3.2 per game, and if he continues at his career rate of 2.8 steals per game, he’ll finish in the top 20 on the all-time leaderboard.
In addition to being a nuisance at the point of attack for opposing ball-handlers, Gilyard is a solid floor general on the other end. He’s a three-year starter for a Richmond team that was picked to win the league in the A-10’s preseason poll. With Nick Sherod’s injury, Gilyard will have to pick up some of the scoring slack on the perimeter on top of continuing to facilitate. He’s a career 13.4 points per game scorer, but his usage could look more like it did in 2018-19, when Gilyard averaged over 16 points per game. Nonetheless, expect Gilyard to be one of the best two-way guards in the country and a legitimate threat to be the best defensive player in college basketball.