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Several mid-majors fill the field at the Myrtle Beach Invitational

A look at each of the mid-majors in the field

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Furman vs San Diego State
JP Pegues flirted with a triple-double in his first game of the season as he tallied 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in Furman’s win over Belmont.
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

The Myrtle Beach Invitational kicks off Thursday with three days full of basketball. Below is a snapshot of the mid-major teams in the field.

College of Charleston (1-1)

An NCAA Tournament a year ago, head coach Pat Kelsey’s team saw a magical season start off with a magical run to a CAA regular-season and tournament title and will look to repeat the success they had in the Charleston Classic last season when they knocked off Davidson 89-66, Colorado State 74-64 and Virginia Tech 77-75 en route to winning their title in the early season tournament. The Cougars entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed and lost their opening round clash with eventual national runner-up San Diego State 62-56.

CofC, who was picked to win the CAA this season, is off to a 1-1 start and has already faced a pair of strong mid-major teams, with games against Iona and Duquesne. Charleston beat the Gaels 71-69 before falling to the Dukes 90-72.

The Cougars, who won 20-straight games at one point last season, return just two starters from that team that finished 31-4. Sharp-shooting Reyne Smith (9.5 PPG) is one of those returning starters and will lead the Cougars’ efforts to repeat their run to the CAA title and back to the NCAA Tournament this season. Big man Anton Brzovic (14.5 PPG), who garnered Third-Team All-CAA honors last season, is also back and will give the Cougars a nice inside-outside duo along with Smith.

Ben Burnham (11.5 PPG) is a player that improved as the season progressed in 2022-23 and he ended up starting 23 of 35 games last season for the Cougars. Burnham has found his way into double figures in both of CofC’s games to open the 2023-24 season, posting 13 points in the opening-season win over Iona, while finishing with 10 points the last time out against Duquesne.

Vermont (2-0)

Like CofC in the CAA, the Vermont Catamounts are the pick to once again win the America East Conference and are off to a 2-0 start under the direction of John Becker, who is in his 13th year leading the Catamount basketball program.

The Catamounts finished the 2022-23 season with a 23-11 record and like the Cougars, were 2023 NCAA Tournament participants as a No. 15 seed against No. 2 seed Marquette in the East Region. They ended up dropping that first round game 78-61.

The Catamounts have become the gold standard in the America East Conference, having won or shared the past seven America East regular-season titles. The Catamounts went 14-2 in America East play last season, and over the past five seasons, the Catamounts are averaging 23 wins per season. They won 23 or more games in four of the past five seasons.

This season, Becker welcomes the return of just one of five starters from a team that went dancing. You might think there would be a drop-off, however, the Catamounts seemingly just re-load. They had to replace America East Player of the Year Finn Sullivan as well as his entire trio of starters in the backcourt, which also included Dylan Penn and Robin Duncan.

America East Sixth Man of the Year Aaron Deloney (8.0 PPG) is back, and is the team’s heartbeat this season. He combines with TJ Long (15.0 PPG) and Shamir Bogues (13.5 PPG) to form the Catamount backcourt.

Keep an eye on 6-foot-8-inch forward Matt Veretto (11.0 PPG), who is back after spending three seasons away from the game. His last season of competition was back in the 2018-19 season as a Delaware Blue Hen. Veretto is a good inside-out performer. His ability to shoot from the perimeter as a big that forces you to guard him all over the floor.

Wyoming (2-0)

Wyoming comes to the Myrtle Beach Invitational having easily made the longest journey to reach its destination, which is 1,814 miles from Laramie, WY. The Cowboys will be playing in the second game of the invitational and will be facing the Saint Louis Billikens out of the Atlantic 10.

The Cowboys are coming off a 2022-23 season that saw them finish just 9-22 overall, which included just a 4-14 mark in the Mountain West, which was last place. The Cowboys are under the direction of fourth-year head coach Jeff Linder. Only one starter returns.

One of the brightest additions to the Wyoming team and one of the scorers to keep an eye on is 6-foot-2-inch guard Akuel Kot, who was brought in via the transfer portal from Fort Lewis College and was a Division II First-Team All-American last season. He’s been the scoring option the Cowboy coaching staff had hoped he’d be through the first two games, averaging 18.5 PPG. Kot posted 16 points and dished out four assists in Wyoming’s 80-66 win over Cal Poly last time out.

Saint Louis (3-0)

Saint Louis is one of two teams that heads into the Myrtle Beach Invitational with a 3-0 record, as the Billikens have opened the 2023-24 season with wins over Southern Indiana (85-75), Lincoln (Mo.) (102-66) and Illinois State (80-71).

The Billikens were picked to finish sixth in the 15-team A-10 to start the season and have just one starter back from a team that went 23-12 and finished tied for second in the A-10 standings last season with a 12-6 record.

The Billikens, who are under the direction of Travis Ford, who is his eighth season. They will hope to bring home their 10th in-season tournament and first since winning the 2021 Cancun Challenge.

The top veteran player on this Billikens team is junior guard Gibson Jimerson, who will be one of the best players fans will witness in this weekend’s tournament. Jimerson is coming off his best performance of the young season, posting 20 PPG last time out in the nine-point win over Illinois State. Jimerson was the leading scorer for the Billikens last season.

Saint Louis has had three different leading scorers in all three of its games this season. Swingman Terrence Hargrove Jr. appears to be the player that will seemingly give Jimerson the kind of scoring support required to make the Billikens a factor in the Atlantic 10 as a title contender this season.

Wichita State (3-0)

Formerly regarded as one of the best mid-majors in the land during its time as a Missouri Valley Conference power under the direction of Gregg Marshall, the Shockers have hit some hard times. The Shockers have struggled a bit to find their way in the American.

After getting off to a 3-0 start this season, new head coach Paul Mills is hoping the Myrtle Beach Invitational will be a launching pad to greater successes in the immediate future. Mills inherited a team that finished 17-15 last season, which included a 9-9 mark in the American, good for a sixth-place finish in the league.

Kenny Pohto (8.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG) highlights the returnees for the Shockers this coming season. Seven-footer and Florida State transfer center Quincy Ballard (7.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG) appears to be fully healthy after battling some back injury issues last season, which caused him to miss the final 17 games of the season.

The leading scorer for the Shockers coming into the Invitational is 6-foot-4-inch guard Colby Rogers (16.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG). He sat out last season after transferring in from Cal Poly. Rogers is a lethal outside shooter, connecting on 42.1% (8-for-19) so far this season.

Coastal Carolina (1-0)

Coastal Carolina is off to a 1-0 start this season, having survived the embarrassment of losing to a non-Division I program, as the Chanticleers defeated Piedmont, 88-86, on a last-second shot. The Chants, who are the direction of ageless legend Cliff Ellis, will play 11 of their first 12 games in the friendly confines of the HTC Center.

The Chanticleers were picked to finish 12th in the 14-team Sun Belt Conference at the league’s preseason media day back in October. The main player to watch for the Chanticleers is Kevin Easley—a name familiar to Southern Conference fans—as he was the 2018-19 SoCon Freshman of the Year at Chattanooga. Easley has had stops at TCU and Duquesne before ending up at Coastal Carolina.

Easley got his career started off in Conway in strong fashion, posting a 20-pt effort in the win over Piedmont, as he went 6-of-12 from the field and 8-for-11 from the charity stripe.

Freshman Jacob Meyer (16.0 PPG) and Kylan Blackmon (13.0 PPG) are two other players to that could play a factor this weekend for the Chanticleers.

In the last three seasons, the Chanticleers and Ellis have been a victim in a major way to the portal, with Michigan, Illinois, TCU, Temple and Utah all having snagged players from Coastal’s roster.

Liberty (2-0)

Liberty is a basketball program that is one of the top mid-majors in the program, led by coach Ritchie McKay. The Flames had an outstanding season in 2022-23 as they were 27-9 and 15-3 in the Atlantic Sun, which was good enough for first place in their final season of the Atlantic Sun.

The Flames will be entering their first season as a member of Conference USA, and the matchup with Furman in the first round is the blockbuster matchup of the tournament, at least according to KenPom. The two teams ranked the highest coming into the tournament. The Flames are ranked No. 62 in the latest KenPom rankings, while Furman ranked 99th.

The Flames graduated one of the best players in the history of its program, in diminutive guard Darius McGhee, and despite his loss, are picked tied atop the Conference USA preseason coaches poll with Middle Tennessee State.

McGhee was Liberty’s winningest player, with 131 wins in his standout career. He also leaves Lynchburg as the program’s and A-Sun’s all-time leading scorer (2,685 pts), and finished the season ranking third in the nation as a senior in scoring average (22.8 PPG) and led the country in 3-pointers made (162).

The Flames get back a pretty solid scoring threat in the post in 6-foot-7-inch senior forward Kyle Rode (16.0 PPG), who started all 36 games for the Flames last season and is one of four starters returning, making the Flames easily the most experienced team in the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

McKay’s team’s calling card is its defense, allowing just 51.0 PPG in its first first two wins over both Mid-Atlantic and Charlotte. The Flames also shoot the ball well. They’re averaging 13.5 made triples per game.

Furman (2-0)

Furman heads into the Myrtle Beach Invitational having had the luxury of having played in the Charleston Classic last season, facing Penn State, Old Dominion and South Carolina. Bob Richey’s Paladins knocked off South Carolina 79-60 but lost to both Penn State 73-68 and Old Dominion 82-77.

The Paladins lost Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell to graduation—the two top scorers from last season’s team. But Furman might feature even more depth this season, with seven of its top nine scorers back and Furman showing it could go a full 10 deep in its 99-76 win over Belmont last time out in its first real test of the 2023-24 campaign.

The players to keep an eye on are point guard JP Pegues (23.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 9.0 APG) and Marcus Foster (17.0 PPG). Both are preseason All-SoCon performers. Pegues flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists vs. Belmont.