NCAA Basketball Mid Major Conference Previews: A-10, MVC, MW, WCC, Ivy

The Mid Majors are often overlooked but still play a vital part in NCAA basketball. Without them what we know as March Madness wouldn’t be mad at all. Instead just a basketball tournament. Love is always needed for the mid majors and the players who give it everything for the love of the game. Over the next week, our writers Matt Karner and Matt Waldman will be previewing the NCAA basketball mid major conferences of NCAA basketball. To start, let’s have a look at the five of the best mid major conferences in the country. Check out our picks for the conference favorite, conference Player of the Year, and Coach of the year.

Atlantic 10

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: It will come down to Richmond and Saint Louis. But ultimately Richmond wins out. I love the Billikens but can’t trust them to win games after ranking 350th in FT% last season. The Spiders will take care of business in the conference with Gilyard leading the way. Both are NCAA Tournament teams and I do think Saint Louis sweeps the season series.

Matt W: This will probably upset some people, but I’m higher on Saint Louis than Richmond. Both teams should be in the NCAA Tournament, but the Billikens have more depth, which gives them the edge for me. 

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: Behind Saint Louis and Richmond, St. Bonaventure returns the most players in the conference who earned all-conference honors. The Bonnies play solid defense and control the tempo. Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi will lead the team and potentially make a run to become A-10 champions.

Matt W: I don’t think enough people are talking about St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies have all five starters back, including Kyle Lofton, who is a playmaker for this team. They’ll be relying on some transfers to provide depth, but the starters are good enough to carry them to a bid.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: Of the 18 all-conference selections last season, 15 of them are returning to play again in the A-10. The talent in the league is deep. Fatts Russell is my top pick for the POY. He was a member of the first team last season and a member of the all-defensive team. Rhode Island will depend a lot on Russell with the departure of so many threats and Russell should live up to it. Jacob Gilyard (Richmond), and Jordan Goodwin (Saint Louis) also were all-conference first team selections and on the all-defensive team and will be in the running for POY.

Matt W: The league has a plethora of talent to choose from here. My first pick is Jordan Goodwin of Saint Louis. He averaged a double-double last year in points and rebounds, but he’s also a crisp passer and stout defensively. Any one of Richmond’s trio of Blake Francis, Grant Golden, and Jacob Gilyard could win it also. And, you can’t forget Fatts Russell at Rhode Island.

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: Jeff Neubauer is 60-97 in his five years at Fordham. He has struggled at a tough school that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1992. Fordham’s AD, David Roach has retired and the new administration is in place. Neubauer’s saving grace may be Covid-19, as Fordham may not be able to afford a coaching change. On the other side look for Dayton’s Anthony Grant to be considered for major jobs if any open up.

Matt W: Jeff Neubauer at Fordham. That is a tough place to win at, and every coach the program brings in has high hopes of being the one to turn things around. Neubauer only had three seasons below .500 out of his 10 at Eastern Kentucky. He’s already had four such seasons in five years at Fordham. Patience can only last so long, no matter how bad a program is.

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: Unfortunately, scheduling for this season is still being worked out. Richmond is set to compete at West Virginia which should show us early if Richmond is for real. In the conference, the Richmond and Saint Louis game should be one of the best of the season and hopefully, we get at least two of them. I am also looking forward to Saint Louis and UMass who split the season series last season by a total of seven points.

Matt W: Anytime Saint Louis and Richmond play each other should be must-see TV. However, both will have chances to prove themselves in non-league play as well. Richmond is expected to play in an MTE event hosted by Kentucky, which will be a litmus test for them. Saint Louis was set to compete in the Orlando Invitational that included Gonzaga, Michigan State, and Auburn. However, that event is up in the air with ESPN deciding not to sponsor MTEs at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. 

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A-10 Player of the Year

Matt K: Fatts Russell (URI)

Matt W: Jordan Goodwin (SLU)

A-10 All-Conference First Team

Matt K: Fatts Russell (URI), Jordan Goodwin (SLU), Jacob Gilyard (Richmond), Hasahn French (SLU), Jalen Crutcher (Dayton)

Matt W: Jordan Goodwin (SLU), Jacob Gilyard (Richmond), Fatts Russell (URI), Kyle Lofton (SBU), Tre Mitchell (UMass)

A-10 Coach of the Year

Matt K: Travis Ford (SLU)

Matt W: Travis Ford (SLU)

 

Missouri Valley

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: With two All-Conference first team players returning I have to give the edge to Northern Iowa. It won’t be easy for the Panthers with Loyola Chicago looming right behind them, but I expect AJ Green to make the much needed plays needed to solidify Northern Iowa as the best in the MVC.

Matt W: Picking against last year’s champs may come back to haunt me, but I’m all in on the Loyola-Chicago train. The Ramblers are anchored by senior big man Cameron Krutwig, while Tate Hall commands the backcourt. UNI will be right there, but the edge goes to the team that still has a few guys with Final Four experience.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: Only once since 2014 has the top team in the MVC tournament received the auto-bid to the NCAA tournament so any one of them can get to the Big Dance. Indiana State is flying under the radar with Loyola and Northern Iowa getting all the attention. Indiana State is the only team besides the two favorites to return an All-conference first team selection in Tyreke Key and most of the team’s scoring presence as well.

Matt W: Indiana State finished last season strong and returns most of their roster after a respectable third-place finish. The Sycamores have their star in Tyreke Key but are also set up for the future with some young talent as well. This is a team that can make a push and potentially steal a bid during Arch Madness.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: Cameron Kurtwig, AJ Green, and Tyreke Key. All three have a fantastic chance to win the Valleys POY, but I am going to place my bet on Cameron Krutwig. Krutwig does it all and last season became the league’s first player in history to finish in the top five in points, rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage. 

Matt W: Cameron Krutwig is my choice, looking to add this piece of hardware to his illustrious career. He has the chance to average a double-double as a senior while also getting teammates involved with his passing ability. That’s no disrespect to A.J. Green of Northern Iowa, who will certainly try to defend his winning of this honor last season. Tyreke Key of Indiana State should have an eye kept on him as well. 

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: In all honesty, I really don’t see any coach coaching in their last season with their team. If I had to name someone I would be looking at Ben Jacobson and Porter Moser potentially having a chance to be considered at larger programs. Ultimately, I don’t see either of them going anywhere for next season.

Matt W: Dan Muller at Illinois State. He is a former player with the Redbirds and did guide them to a regular-season title in 2016-17. However, Illinois State has been mediocre since, including a rough 10-21 last season. Muller may be a beloved alumnus, but if he can’t make the program competitive again, he may not be around much longer.

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: It has to be the season series between Northern Iowa and Loyola-Chicago. They split the season series last season with both games heading into overtime. They should be set to have another outstanding series this season.

Matt W: Loyola-Chicago versus Northern Iowa matchups are the obvious choice. With all the schedule changes happening, neither program has confirmed a key non-league game yet, but expect them to each have at least one by the time they have an official schedule.

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Missouri Valley Player of the Year

Matt K: Cameron Krutwig (Loyola-Chicago)

Matt W: Cameron Krutwig (Loyola-Chicago)

Missouri Valley All-Conference First Team

Matt K: AJ Green (UNI), Tyreke Key (Indiana St.), Cameron Krutwig (Loyola-Chicago), Austin Phyfe (UNI), Elijah Childs (Bradley)

Matt W: AJ Green (UNI), Tyreke Key (Indiana St), Austin Phyfe (UNI), Marcus Domask (So. Illinois), Cameron Krutwig (Loyola-Chicago)

Missouri Valley Coach of the Year

Matt K: Ben Jacobson (UNI)

Matt W: Porter Moser (Loyola-Chicago)

 

Mountain West

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: San Diego State. The Aztecs lost a lot with the departure of Malachi Flynn, Yanni Wetzell, and KJ Feagin, but return a solid core that will lead them to another Mountain West title. All-Conference first team selection, Matt Mitchell, returns with Jordan Schakel who would provide a dynamic duo. Adding Cal State Northridge transfer Terell Gomez will give the Aztecs a lethal trio that should earn an NCAA tournament bid.

Matt W: San Diego State is still the team to beat, even with the loss of some key guys from last season. The Aztecs snagged prized CS Northridge transfer Terell Gomez, who should impact immediately. SDSU won’t be pushing for a top seed in the Big Dance this season, but they are still good enough to win a few tournament games.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: UNLV. T.J. Otzelberger’s first year at UNLV was the first time his team didn’t win a conference championship as a Division I head coach. With the return of Bryce Hamilton and Caleb Grill now eligible to play, UNLV is a team that can make a surprise run. They are one of two teams that knocked off San Diego State last season and did so on the road. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rebels remain relevant as a fringe tournament team all season.

Matt W: Colorado State. The Rams don’t have a single senior on the roster, which is usually a bad thing. However, Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy were both MW honorable mentions last season as freshmen. CSU is probably a year away from being a title contender, but they have the pieces and talent to be in the bubble conversation at the end.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: Bryce Hamilton, Matt Mitchell, and Neemias Queta are my favorites for the MW POY. I expect Hamilton to take a major step this year as he did from his Freshman to Sophomore season. With Terell Gomez joining Matt Mitchell it may be harder for one of them to outshine the other to earn the award. Sam Merrill’s departure from Utah State leaves Queta a prime opportunity to average a double double this season if he can stay healthy for an entire season.

Matt W: Derrick Alston Jr. from Boise State is my pick. His return to the Broncos made them an NCAA Tournament team in my opinion, and he is the most NBA-ready guy in the league. Terrell Gomez and Matt Mitchell of San Diego State will be in the mix as well, as they will be the key guys fueling the Aztecs’ quest for a repeat.

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: Paul Weir. New Mexico fired Craig Neal after four years, one NCAA tournament trip, and only one losing season. Weir is on that track without an NCAA tournament trip. Records are almost identical and not acceptable at a program like New Mexico. 

Matt W: Paul Weir at New Mexico. The Lobos used to be a Mountain West power not too long ago. That hasn’t been the case of late, but fans haven’t forgotten the success of those teams and are longing for it once again. UNM was plagued by off the court issues last season, and Weir just hasn’t seemed to be able to bring consistency to the program. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the Lobos are going to be very good this season either, and that will most likely lead to a coaching change.

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: San Diego State and UNLV I believe will provide the most firepower and excitement. San Diego State and Utah State should also be great games to catch. And of course, when talking about the MW there is always excitement when UNLV and Nevada play.

Matt W: San Diego State and Boise State’s matchups will be critical in deciding the league title this season, much like the SDSU-Utah State games were last season. Colorado State, Utah State, and UNLV should also be in the bubble conversation, so games between them and against SDSU and BSU will go a long way towards that.

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Mountain West Player of the Year

Matt K: Bryce Hamilton (UNLV)

Matt W: Derrick Alston Jr (Boise St)

Mountain West All-Conference First Team

Matt K: Bryce Hamilton (UNLV), Matt Mitchell (SDSU), Neemias Queta (Utah St.), Derrick Alston Jr. (Boise St.), Terrell Gomez (SDSU)

Matt W: Bryce Hamilton (UNLV), Derrick Alston Jr (Boise St), Terrell Gomez (SDSU), Matt Mitchell (SDSU), Neemias Queta (Utah St)

Mountain West Coach of the Year

Matt K: T.J. Otzelberger (UNLV)

Matt W: Brian Dutcher (SDSU)

 

West Coast Conference

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: Gonzaga. An explanation isn’t even needed. 2020-2021 will make Gonzaga’s ninth regular season championship in a row and the 20th in Mark Few’s 21st season.

Matt W: Gonzaga. There’s no way you could say anyone else. The Bulldogs are arguably the best team in the nation coming into the season. Mark Few landed five-star recruit Jalen Suggs to ice the cake on a roster that was already stacked.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: All the attention in the conference goes to Gonzaga. BYU is getting some as well this season but it will be Pepperdine who can be the biggest surprise. The team returns four starters including a potential WCC player of the year candidate and 2019-2020 first team all-conference member in Colbey Ross. Kessler Edwards will be in the running for first team all-conference this season as well. The Waves may be even better if Skylar Chavez can take a jump this season.

Matt W: Pepperdine seems like a team that could make a push, largely behind the efforts of Colbey Ross. The Waves showed flashes of their potential last season, and Kessler Edwards may be the best-kept secret in this league. This is a group that will fight hard and could sneak into the bubble conversation.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: Corey Kispert gets a lot of love from the media and Gonzaga will likely have a conference POY candidate which will likely be him. I am a big fan of Colbey Ross of Pepperdine and Eli Scott Loyola Marymount to make a push for the award. Ross is a playmaker and scorer. If he can cut down on his turnovers and Pepperdine can have a successful season he is my favorite for POY.

Matt W: This feels like a “throw a dart at a dartboard” kind of year with all the talent Gonzaga has. Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, Drew Timme, and Jalen Suggs are all possible. Colbey Ross is the one guy not wearing a Bulldog uniform that appears to have the best shot.

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: Portland has only four players returning on a team that won only nine total games and one game in the WCC. Terry Porter is entering his fifth season, five seasons seems to be the limit at Portland. After three successful seasons, Eric Revenowas fired after five subpar seasons. Before him, Michael Holton lasted five seasons and Rob Chavez had five seasons after an NCAA tournament appearance in 1996. It looks like this is Porter’s last chance to make things happen.

Matt W: Terry Porter at Portland. It seems like a miracle that is even back to coach his fifth season at the school. The Pilots have won just 37 games during his tenure, and have just one league win over the past two seasons. Portland is primed to be the worst team in the league again, and that kind of consistency should be good enough to push Porter out.

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: Everyone always seems to play their best when they play Gonzaga. Yet the Bulldogs still handily take care of business almost every single time. As always must see games are when Gonzaga is taking on BYU and Saint Mary’s. Pepperdine and Gonzaga may also provide for must see TV.

Matt W: Gonzaga seems to have a budding rivalry with BYU brewing, as the Cougars are building themselves into a solid program in the league. It will be interesting to see how all of BYU’s new additions, including Matt Haarms, can fare against the Zags. In the non-conference, Gonzaga has a big slate lined up, led by a match-up with Baylor. That could be a national title preview. 

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WCC Player of the Year

Matt K: Colbey Ross (Pepperdine)

Matt W: Colbey Ross (Pepperdine)

WCC All-Conference First Team

Matt K: Colbey Ross (Pepperdine), Corey Kispert (Gonzaga), Drew Timme (Gonzaga), Eli Scott (Loyola-Marymount), Matt Haarms (BYU)

Matt W: Colbey Ross (Pepperdine), Corey Kispert (Zags), Drew Timme (Zags), Jamaree Bouyea (San Fran), Matt Haarms (BYU)

WCC Coach of the Yeat

Matt K: Lorenzo Romar (Pepperdine)

Matt W: Todd Golden (San Francisco)

 

Ivy League

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: Yale will look for their third straight Ivy League regular-season crown. Harvard has a solid core returning, led by Noah Kirkwood. That with an added recruiting class will give the Bulldogs trouble but with 2019-2020 Co-POY Paul Atkinson returning Yale has the upper hand. 

Matt W: Yale earns this honor once again. The Bulldogs have just about everyone back, including reigning co-POY Paul Atkinson. They have to take advantage of their opportunity this season as many key players will be gone in 2021-22. However, they will be a popular upset pick if they can get back to the NCAAs.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: Princeton went 1-3 against Harvard and Yale last season. They have the talent and depth to make a run at an Ivy League championship. To do so, the Tigers will need to split the series with the two front runners and avoid some losses they took last season when they were swept by Cornell.

Matt W: Princeton. The Tigers have a solid core led by Jaelin Llewellyn and have enough depth to rotate deep into their bench. Princeton will push Yale for the Ivy title, and the league tournament makes it tough for the top seed at times.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: It’s hard not to pick Paul Atkinson. Atkinson shared the honors last season and is returning to be the favorite again. Noah Kirkwood of Harvard could give Atkinson a run for the award but I expect Atkinson to go unchallenged. If Brown or Dartmouth can have successful seasons keep an eye on Ramenang Choh of Brown and Chris Knight of Dartmouth. Princeton’s Jaelin Llewellyn could also play a factor in the voting.

Matt W: Paul Atkinson is the favorite to take home the honor on his own this season. He is an efficient shooter in the paint, and also fights for rebounds and second-chance opportunities. Jaelin Llewellyn is another candidate, as he will be the biggest reason Princeton will have a shot at the title. Noah Kirkwood of Harvard is the other that comes to mind. He is the next guy to step up with the losses of Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns.

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: I have to go with David McLaughlin at Dartmouth. McLaughlin is 37-76 in his four years with the Big Green. He has never finished better than sixth in the conference and his overall Ivy League record is 14-42. Dartmouth needs a promising season if McLaughlin hopes to maintain his coaching position.

Matt W: Brian Earl at Cornell. The Big Red is not that far removed from being the Ivy League’s upset darling in the NCAA Tournament. That makes expectations high, but Earl has yet to finish above .500 in four seasons in Ithaca. It is going to be hard for the administration to take much more of that without improvement as Cornell’s rivals continue to thrive.

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: The best games will be between the best three teams in the conference. Yale, Harvard, and Princeton will give us very exciting matchups to watch and keep our eye on. Let’s hope that the Ivy League will have a season so we can see them in action.

Matt W: The Yale-Harvard series always plays a role in the outcome of the league title race. However, Yale-Princeton may go a long way in deciding the top seed in the Ivy Tournament. Unfortunately, the Ivy is not playing any non-conference games, so we won’t get to see how the league’s best shape up against the rest of the country until March Madness.

Ivy League Player of the Year

Matt K: Paul Atkinson (Yale)

Matt W: Paul Atkinson (Yale)

Ivy League All-Conference First Team

Matt K: Paul Atkinson (Yale), Noah Kirkwood (Harvard), Ramenang Choh (Brown), Chris Knight (Dartmouth), Azar Swain (Yale)

Matt W: Azar Swain (Yale), Noah Kirkwood (Harvard), Jaelin Llewellyn (Princeton), Paul Atkinson (Yale), Tamenang Choh (Brown)

Ivy League Coach of the Year

Matt K: James Jones (Yale)

Matt W: James Jones (Yale)

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Feature Image Credit: Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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