The 2019-2020 NCAA Basketball season is right around the corner and Def Pen Sports will take a weekly focus on each Power-6 Conference plus the Mid-Majors. The Mid-Majors have always had a special place for college basketball fans. In the past 10 years, Mid-Majors have been represented by seven different teams from a myriad of conferences. We’ll take a closer look at the top five storylines in Mid-Major basketball, as we continue our 2019-2020 NCAA Preview.
5) Murray State to Threepeat in the OVC post-Ja Morant
Murray State lost the greatest player to ever play for the Racers, Ja Morant, who recently went 2nd overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. With the program moving from the Morant era, many may believe that the Racers will take a step back in success. Back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances are hard to come by in that conference, and only three times ever has a team in the OVC won three conference tournaments in a row. I’m here to tell you to not count out the Racers, superstar or not, Coach McMahon has built a really good program and they are my choice to win the OVC again this season. Tevin Brown is going to have more opportunity to be the leading scorer, the 2019 class showed out in the Bahamas this summer, and they have the depth to run through the conference again. The Racers will need a player or two to step up and be All-Conference type performers in order to pull it off, but with the players they have, I have no doubt in my mind that at least two guys will be able to step it up.
4) Charles Bassey returning to dominate C-USA
The Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky are fortunate to have retained their star big man, Charles Bassey. Bassey, 3rd in our top-10 Mid-Major player rankings, was last season’s conference Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year as well as earning a multitude of other accolades. He joined Anthony Davis as one of two freshmen to average 14 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks, and shoot 60% from the field. Some assumed that Bassey would be in the NBA by now, and while he hasn’t made the jump yet, surely after another season of dominating C-USA and showing out for WKU, he will be on an NBA roster. Bassey is one of those players that might be able to lead a team like WKU to a regular-season conference championship but is one who will definitely make a difference in a conference tournament situation with limited games.
3) Loaded A-10 Championship Race
The Atlantic-10 is going to be a really fun conference to follow this season. Davidson and VCU are both going to be really good this season and the battle for the conference title is going to be one of the most hotly contested in the country. Jon Axel Gudmundsson, the #8 player in our top-10 Mid-Major player rankings, is coming off a season where he posted averages of 16.9 points and 7.3 rebounds. His triple-double against Rhode Island was one of the most impressive performances from a big all season. Not only that, but he helped Davidson defeat VCU last season. For VCU, Marcus Evans is back. The Rams point guard put up 13.9 points and 3.2 assists last season, and despite Achilles surgeries, he has come back to be #7 in our Mid-Major player rankings. These two teams and these two players are going to make this season in the A-10 exciting for fans, and it will be something worth following as the season goes on.
2) Killian Tillie looking for redemption from injury to lead a young Gonzaga team in the WCC
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament three times in the past ten years and was the national runner-up in 2017. Next step is a national title and Gonzaga has a talented team that could make a run for it. Killian Tillie, who had a breakout sophomore season endured a severe ankle injury and then a torn ligament in his right foot that sidelined him for much of his junior season. Although he was able to come back towards the end of last season, he wasn’t the same and couldn’t contribute the way he was projected to. The French player starts his redemption tour this year with the help of a star-studded Freshman class. The class includes Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Pavel Zakharov and Oumar Ballo who are all 4 Star prospects. In addition, Admon Gilder from Texas A&M has been added to the mix. Tillie and the Zags will have early tests against Texas A&M, on the road at Arizona, North Carolina and the always tough Battle for Atlantis.
1) Season Two of Penny Hardaway with Potential #1 Overall NBA Draft Pick, James Wiseman
Season two of the Penny Hardaway era has some very high expectations. Hardaway landed one of the best recruiting classes that Memphis has seen since the John Calipari years. The #1 over class per 24/4 Sports is headlined by the consensus #1 overall high school prospect in James Wiseman. Wiseman decided to stay home in Memphis and cited his relationship with Penny as the main reason for his commitment. Wiseman is the best player to commit to Tigers since Derrick Rose and will have a target on his back not only in the AAC but all throughout college basketball. Hardaway will also welcome Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones Malcolm Dandridge, and Damion Baugh. No one is denying that Hardaway and his vaunted staff can recruit, but the jury is still out whether Hardway can actually win. Although he was an NBA All-Star and won on the high school and AAU level, that doesn’t always equate to NCAA basketball wins.