NCAAB
November 24, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

12 College Basketball Mid-Majors You Have to Watch in 2020-21

One of the great joys of the college basketball season is watching teams from small- and mid-major conferences try to take down the Goliaths from the major conferences.

The game has changed so much that it’s a lot more feasible for mid-majors to compete at the same level as teams from major conferences. The only caveat is mid-majors still lack consistency, so every year there seems to be a new batch of mid-majors breaking free of the pack and establishing themselves as threats to make some noise in March.

For the 2020-21 college basketball season, here are the mid-majors you should know about.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

It doesn’t seem fair to call Gonzaga a mid-major anymore, but the Bulldogs still play in the West Coast Conference, so they fit the description.

The forward tandem of Corey Kispert and Filip Petrusev will be one to watch closely this season. The Bulldogs also bring back Joel Ayayi and add highly-recruited Jalen Suggs to lead their backcourt.

If Suggs can live up to the hype, the Bulldogs could be even better than last season. Not only will they be the best mid-major in the country, but they will be a serious contender for the national championship.

Austin Peay Governors

In past years, the Ohio Valley Conference has revolved around Belmont and Murray State. But the Governors were 14-4 inside the OVC last year and 21-12 overall, finishing a close third behind the league’s heavyweights.

With the return of Terry Taylor and Jordyn Adams this season, Austin Peay will make a serious push to be the best team in the Ohio Valley. Taylor averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds last year while Adams could be the OVC’s best point guard.

It should be a three-team reface in the Ohio Valley this year, and the Governors might just be the favorite.

Richmond Spiders

Dayton was so good last year that nobody paid much attention to Richmond, who finished 24-7 and was the second-best team in the Atlantic-10.

The Spiders bring a lot back from last season’s roster, including the inside-outside tandem of Grant Golden and Jacob Gilyard. Golden is likely the A-10’s best big man and a player capable of carrying the Richmond offense if opposing teams don’t have good interior defending.

Gilyard, on the other hand, is a lightning-quick 5-9 guard who’s scored in double figures in three straight seasons while dishing out over five assists per game in back-to-back campaigns.

Even with Nick Sherod lost to injury, the Spiders look like the team to beat in the Atlantic-10.

St. Louis Billikens

Elsewhere in the A-10, don’t sleep on the Billikens. St. Louis finished 23-8 last season and now brings back its top eight scorers, including four who averaged double figures.

The veteran trio of Jordan Goodwin, Javonte Perkins and Hasahn French will be a tough matchup for most teams. But don’t forget about Gibson Jimerson, who had a promising freshman season interrupted by a broken foot. He’ll come back healthy this season and help give the Billikens arguably the deepest team in the Atlantic-10.

Loyola Chicago Ramblers

It was always going to be difficult for the Ramblers to live up to their Final Four run in 2018. But they still managed to finish 21-11 last season, finishing second in the Missouri Valley. They’ll bring back five starters, including a few contributors from the Final Four team.

Of course, the player to watch is center Cameron Krutwig. He was among the top-five scorers, rebounders and assisters in the Missouri Valley last season. Needless to say, he’s one of the most versatile and skilled big men in the country and an early favorite for Player of the Year in the Missouri Valley.

With a strong and experienced supporting cast around Krutwig, Loyola is perhaps better than they were in 2018, which will make them a dangerous team in March.

Northern Iowa Panthers

The Panthers are usually near the top of the Missouri Valley Standings, and this year will be no different.

A.J. Green and Trae Berhow are both outstanding outside shooters while Austin Phyfe gives UNI a legitimate post presence. That trio combined for over 42 points per game last season and gives the Panthers an amazing foundation to build upon this year.

They’ll lock horns with Loyola Chicago and a few other solid teams in the MVC, but Northern Iowa has the ingredients to be a Sweet 16 candidate in March.

UNC Greensboro Spartans

Furman has received a lot of attention in the SoCon recently, but it could be the Spartans who make waves this season.

Point guard Isaiah Miller can do it all, leading the team in points, assists and steals last season while being Greensboro’s second-best rebounder despite being just six-feet tall. He has a legitimate chance to play in the NBA after this season and will have a good running mate in Kaleb Hunter.

The Spartans need better outside shooting than last year and will get plenty of competition from Furman and East Tennessee. But if they can survive the SoCon and get to the Big Dance, they’ll be a team that nobody wants to see in the first round.

San Diego State Aztecs

Much like Gonzaga, it’s hard to classify San Diego State as a mid-major, but the Mountain West isn’t exactly a power conference.

Even after losing Malachi Flynn to the NBA, the Aztecs are in great shape with Matt Mitchell set to take over as the team’s leading scorer and go-to guy.

More importantly, Brian Dutcher has recruited like he’s coaching a power-conference team, so the supporting cast around Mitchell should be enough to make the Aztecs a top-25 team.

BYU Cougars

The Cougars got a huge lift during the offseason when they landed Purdue transfer Matt Haarms. The 7-foot-2 center should be able to dominate the West Coast Conference after being one of the best big men in the Big Ten. Along with 6-11 Richard Harward and 6-10 Wyatt Lowell, BYU has an unreal amount of size in the frontcourt. They might have the personnel to match up against Gonzaga’s frontcourt and give the Bulldogs a run for their money.

More importantly, the Cougars have the size to create trouble for any other team they play, even power-conference opponents they’ll meet in March.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

This is Rick Stansbury’s fifth season at Western Kentucky, and the Hilltoppers finally look ready to seize control of Conference USA after finishing second in back-to-back years.

Center Charles Bassey nearly averaged a double-double last season, so there won’t be too many big men in C-USA who can handle him. The Hilltoppers will also get great guard play from Taveion Hollingsworth, who averaged more than 16 points per game last year.

Western Kentucky should also have more depth than any other team in Conference USA, making them favorites in that league and a team that could cause trouble in March.

Winthrop Eagles

The Eagles had a deep 10-man rotation last season when they won the Big South regular-season and conference tournament titles. Leading scorer Hunter Hale is gone, but the rest of the group returns, so Winthrop shouldn’t miss a beat.

DJ Burns Jr. is the player to watch, as he was a highly-rated recruit and transferred to Winthrop after starting his career at Tennessee. If he can take another step forward, the Eagles will have a top-flight player to replace Hale and lead a team that should have far more talent and depth than anyone else in the Big South. 

Eastern Washington Eagles

The Eagles won the Big Sky last season and are being slightly overlooked this season after losing forward Mason Peatling, who averaged over 17 points per game in 2019-20. But Eastern Washington still has leading scorer Jacob Davison, who scored over 18 points per game a year ago.

In addition to Davison, the Eagles have a nice collection of shooters and a fair amount of size for a Big Sky team.

It’s not a given that EWU will win the Big Sky, but the Eagles are the clear favorites and have the biggest upside of any team in that league.

Photo: Getty Images