Everyone enjoys a good Cinderella story in college basketball. The 2019-20 mid-major preseason rankings show a few teams that could be that Cinderella this season. The country loves rallying around a mid-major school when March arrives. While Gonzaga has been at the top for years, there are plenty of other schools that rotate in and out of the conversation. Last year gave us Wofford, Belmont, and now Memphis Grizzlie, Ja Morant led Murray State.
2019-20 Preseason Mid Major Rankings
10. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Charles Bassey decided to come back for his sophomore year after testing the waters of the NBA Draft. He returns as one of four starters for the Hilltoppers who averaged double-digit points-per-game a season ago. Western Kentucky did not play in the postseason last year and has not been to the tournament since 2013. However, this team showed promise last year, taking down Wisconsin and finishing in the top four of Conference USA.
The biggest thing the Hilltoppers need this year is to show consistency, as they balanced out that upset over the Badgers with some ugly losses at times. Their biggest guaranteed test will come against Louisville on November 29th, while a potential match up with Cincinnati awaits when they play in the Paradise Jam.
9. Liberty Flames
Like Western Kentucky, Liberty also returns four starters, including star forward Scottie James. They also have sharpshooters Elijah Cuffee and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz, who shot 42.1 percent and 47.4 percent from behind the arc last season, respectively. The Flames took down Mississippi State last year and were close to reaching the Sweet 16, coming up just short against Virginia Tech.
They should be even more dangerous this season, though they will have the target squarely on their back in Atlantic Sun play. Liberty’s game against LSU on December 29th will be their only real non-conference test, so it’ll be important for them to avoid slip-ups during conference play.
8. New Mexico State Aggies
New Mexico State has been the class of the WAC for the past few seasons. Last year, they missed multiple opportunities in the final seconds to beat eventual Final Four participant Auburn in their first-round matchup.
Now, this senior-heavy team, led by leading scorer Terrell Brown (11.3 points per game), is looking to take that next step. The Aggies won’t be intimidated by any opponent, and opportunities against Arizona (11/17) and Mississippi State (12/22) could propel them into at large discussions depending on the outcomes.
7. Dayton Flyers
Anthony Grant is entering his second season as the Flyers’ head coach and is looking to get Dayton back to the tournament after an NIT appearance last year. Obi Toppin, last year’s A10 Rookie of the Year, is back after briefly entering the NBA Draft. The Flyers also have senior leaders in Jalen Crutcher and Ryan Mikesell.
On paper, the A10 looks like a three-horse race between Dayton, Davidson, and VCU. On top of playing the Wildcats once and the Rams twice in conference play, Dayton could get opportunities against Michigan State and Kansas in the Maui Invitational. The Flyers also play St. Mary’s and Colorado in the non-conference, giving them ample chances to build an at large worthy resume.
6. Harvard Crimson
Harvard is expected to defend its regular-season Ivy League crown after Bryce Aiken decided to return for his senior season. Aiken averaged 22.2 points-per-game last season and is part of a core of seniors who comprise the starting lineup. The Crimson should be a fringe top 25 team in preseason poll voting.
Harvard plays Texas A&M in their Orlando Invitational opener, with the chance to face Maryland later in the bracket. They also have Marquette as their other key non-conference game. Tommy Amaker always has his teams prepared, making the Crimson a mid-major no one will want to see on their schedule.
5. Davidson Wildcats
Jon Axel Gudmundsson did something that Stephen Curry couldn’t at Davidson: record a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists vs. Rhode Island last season). The reigning A10 Player of the Year will be leading a Wildcats team that has all five starters returning.
The expectations for Bob McKillop’s team may be as high as they were during Curry’s last season there. They’ll have to contend with Dayton and VCU during conference play, but we’ll find out a lot about this team in their season opener against Auburn at the Veterans Classic. If Davidson lives up to its potential, they could find themselves sitting pretty on Selection Sunday.
4. St. Mary’s Gaels
St. Mary’s had to upset Gonzaga in the WCC final to make the tournament last year. This year, the Gaels are expected not to have to sweat out the committee. Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts headline four returning starters for the Gaels. St. Mary’s should get back on track to being a legitimate mid-major threat and a borderline top 25 team.
Randy Bennett’s squad will be tested in their opener against Wisconsin, with other big games against Utah State, Dayton, and Arizona State sitting there as well. Those games should prepare them to battle Gonzaga for the WCC crown and the NCAA Tournament.
3. VCU Rams
VCU has been the model of consistency, having gone to the tournament eight times in the last decade, including 2011’s Final Four team. This year’s version of the Rams has four returning starters who all averaged double-figure scoring a year ago. VCU is expected to be ranked in the preseason top 25 and be the cream of the crop in the A10.
Before battling Dayton and Davidson in conference play, the Rams will be challenged in the Emerald Classic. They face off against Purdue and will either get Florida State or Tennessee in their second game in Destin, Florida. Look for VCU to push for a mid-range seed in March.
2. Utah State Aggies
Utah State trades places with Nevada as this year’s Mountain West program with high expectations. The Aggies are led by reigning Mountain West Player of the Year Sam Merrill and Rookie of the Year Neemias Queta. All five starters return to a team that played surprisingly lackluster in their loss to Washington in last year’s tournament.
The biggest question surrounding this team is how they will handle having the target on their back during conference play. Utah State should be in the preseason top 25, but we’ll know what kind of team they are after non-conference bouts with LSU, St. Mary’s, and Florida.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
There should be no surprise here that Gonzaga will once again enter the season as the nation’s top mid-major. However, Mark Few will have his work cut out for him, having lost 72 percent of his scoring in Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Zach Norvell Jr., and Josh Perkins. Killian Tillie will step in as the leader, and transfers Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge are expected to make big contributions.
Expect Gonzaga to have a hiccup or two as Few figures out a lineup that works. The Bulldogs will have a huge December, taking on Washington, Arizona, and North Carolina in back to back to back games.
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