We are at the halfway point of the college basketball season, with conference play well underway. Every year, there are a few "Cinderella" teams from outside of the major conferences that show they can play at a very high level. It is also common knowledge that hidden in these "Mid-Major" or "Low-Major" conferences are some talented players who will one day be factors at the next level. Here is a list of some teams that could make some noise in March, along with highlighting some of the standout players from these conferences. Plus, a review of the Draft eligible players currently in the NBA Development League.

Top 5 Mid Major Draft Prospects

1. Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette

Gained favor of scouts after his performance on the Team USA U19 team, where he showed a great deal of versatility as a defender. Payton has quickness, length and is aggressive going to the basket. Would like to see him spend another year in college to work on his shooting and cut down his turnovers. Still very young for a junior and putting up nice All-Around numbers, if Payton were to strike while the iron is hot, he looks like the first non-major player off of the board.

2. Deonte Burton 34149, Nevada

A big time athlete who has been on the draft radar since his sophomore season, Burton has had a very nice senior year. His scoring ability was never in question, it was more shot selection and decision making. He has made noticeable improvements in both, which could have teams looking at him as an option at PG. He has length that makes him play beyond his size and playing 38.6 mpg this season shows just how high his level of conditioning is. Showing an ability to get to the basket, armed with a lot of in game experience should have teams thinking about him as a back-up PG option with upside.

3. Roscoe Smith, UNLV

Smith is currently the NCAA’s leading rebounder and one of the few bright spots on a struggling UNLV team. The former UConn Huskie also played a crucial role during the 2011 Championship run. His length and quick feet make him a disruptive defender, which has also translated to him being relentless on the boards. He has added a considerable amount of weight to his frame and still has maintained his athleticism. He has even shown improvement as a jump shooter, though his offense is still secondary. What Smith does well is the dirty work and his physical, athletic tools are sought after when it comes to playing a role in the NBA.

4. Kendall Williams, New Mexico

Deceptively quick, Williams is fearless in seeking out contact and gets to the FT stripe at a very high rate. Always aggressive, Williams is shooting 8.6 free throws per game while making 84.4%. He also has shown major improvement as an outside shooter as well, making almost two 3’s per game at a 43.8% clip. This boldness can be a downfall, however, as he has struggled in his in between game and overall FG percentage. Where he has really shown improvement is as a playmaker, while he gives a consistently strong effort as a defender. When you throw in his size for the PG position at 6-4, Williams looks like a very like 2014 Draft choice.

5. Juvonte Reddic, VCU

Reddic has seen a slight dip in production this season, most noticeably shooting only 46.7% from the FT line a year after being around 70%. Even with this, his combination of size and speed as a PF stands out. He has become a post presence and can use his body as a scorer. He also can finish above the rim and is an aggressive rebounder. The form on his shot certainly does not seem to be broken and hopefully the FT shooting is just an early season anomaly. Reddic truly has been a part of VCU’s "Havoc" defense since his freshman season and brings that type of mentality as a big man.

NBDL Report

PJ Hairston Texas Legends (5 games, 32.4 mpg, 27.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.2 spg, 51.2% FG, 42.5% 3PT, 86.5% FT)

After waiting in hopes of regaining eligibility at North Carolina, Hairston left after the school officially ended trying to seek his reinstatement. His rights were picked up by the Legends, the team associated with the Dallas Mavericks. Many see similarities between Hairson’s path and that of Glen Rice Jr. After leaving Georgia Tech, Rice Jr. was a good D-League role player before really turning things up in the play-offs. This turned him around from a draft afterthought to the 35th pick last year.

Hairston is a different player than Rice, though he does possess great strength and definite scoring instincts. His entry into the NBDL is an opportunity to show how he acts as a professional and possibly alleviate some of the character concerns that led to his departure from NC. So far, he is showing flashes of the player that was near the top of his HS Class. He has already logged two 40 point performances, including 45 in his latest contest. If he keeps performing near the level he has, looks like Hairston may be the first auto eligible D-Leaguer to crack the 1st round.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo Delaware 87ers (28 games, 29.8 mpg, 10.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.2 bpg, 41.5% FG, 25.9% 3PT, 68% FT)

With his younger brother Giannis looking like one of the best 2013 Draft prospects (maybe THE best), Thanasis is also showing some promise and playing big minutes as a rookie. While not as tall or long as Giannis, he is a more explosive athlete, while still bringing decent size and length as well. For those looking for another "Greek Freak" as a point forward, that is not really Thanasis’ game.

He is a nice runner in transition and does not back down from contact, even if he can still stand to put some weight on his frame. His shooting and ball skills still need a great deal of work, plus he is still making a lot of rookie mistakes. Shows some potential as a perimeter defender and a slasher. Another similarity between the Antetokounmpo’s is that they are both playing for the bottom team in their respective leagues. The 87ers are only 7-21, though they are also providing valuable experience and minutes for a promising prospect.

Norvel Pelle Delaware 87ers (18 games, 13.9 mpg, 5.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 48.8% FG, 57.1% FT, 3.33 fpg)

Norvel was the 87ers first selection in the D-League draft, chosen with the 6th selection (Thanasis went 9th). Having never played a college game, he was a well thought of recruit due to his combination of size and athleticism. His defense is far ahead of his offense, with a specialty in shot blocking. The issue one can see with his production in the NBDL is that he is averaging nearly 3 fouls per block.

Pelle has the physical tools to maybe get some interest, he is just really raw and needs a lot of physical development before one could see him helping a NBA franchise. Great to see him finally getting a chance to play, though it mainly showed what most people thought he was. That is an athletic talent who still needs quite a bit of seasoning against top flight competition.

Aquille Carr Delaware 87ers (10 games, 14 mpg, 10.7 ppg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 2.1 topg, 39.8% FG, 39.1% 3PT, 68.3% FT)

Well known for his high school mixtapes, "The Crime Stopper" was taken in the 3rd round by Delaware, who seemed to have an affinity for NBA Draft eligible prospects. Carr is an explosive athlete who measures in at around 5-6. Despite his scoring ability in relatively few minutes, he played his last game on Dec. 15 and was cut a few weeks after. Once a Seton Hall commit, their were always rumors surrounding his potential college eligibility. His goal is still the NBA and he may seek to play overseas. As much fun as he is to watch, his lack of size seems to have really stacked the odds against him being drafted.

Top 10 Mid-Major Teams

1. Wichita St.

Coming off of a Final 4 berth, Greg Marshall’s bunch is off to a 19-0 start. This team may not have had the toughest schedule, yet even if they don’t run the table, they have the look of a pretty high seed. They move the ball very well and have Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker as outside shooting threats. Defense and rebounding are still also at a high level, plus they still have Cleanthony Early as a go-to scorer. Hard to expect a repeat of last season, though this group has not disappointed coming off their spectacular March of 2013.

2. San Diego St.

Even with the Aztecs ranked behind the Shockers here, this might be your best bet for a Mid Major pick come March Madness. They crash the boards hard and have been shooting at an almost 40% clip from downtown. Steve Fisher teams always focus on defense as well, with their take down of Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse turning into a clinic. Losing only to undefeated, #1 ranked Arizona, further adds to their case for being the top Mid-Major. Xavier Thames and Josh Davis provide major senior leadership for a team that is keeping the Mountain West Conference relevant during a down year.

3. UMass

With the days of Marcus Camby and John Calipari a distant memory, UMass is finally looking like a top team in the A-10 again. Derek Kellogg had steadily gained momentum with the Minutemen and has them in line to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance in over 15 years. Waterbug quick senior Chaz Williams has to be the favorite for conference player of the year. Another major story line is the emergence of big man Cady Lalanne, whose strength and long limbs have made him a post threat on both ends of the floor. Their rotation is not incredibly deep, though experience has made this team a force to be reckoned with. About time for these Minutemen to be back in the spotlight (sorry, had to do it).

4. Gonzaga

Another early exit for Mark Few’s boys last season, this time while claiming a long alluded #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This group’s expectations were much lower, though they still have that offensive power that have the look of a tough out. Even without Gary Bell Jr, Kevin Pangos and company are scorching the nets. Plus, Sam Dower is finally having the breakout season many have expected for a few years. Gonzaga is no longer the mid major everyone is talking about, though they still look to be the class of the WCC and look like a team that could continue the streak of 5 seasons with at least one NCAA Tournament victory.

5. St. Louis

Rick Majerus laid the foundation for this team and Jim Crews has continued to build with it. The Billikens only losses were a to a couple of teams currently ranked in the Top 10. Not to mention, neither was by more than six points. Winning the A-10 looks like a much more difficult task for the Billikens this season, though they at least seem to be in the thick of things. Four of their top five scorers are seniors, led by rugged forward Dwayne Evans. This team is not a consistent outside threat, though counter that with suffocating defense. They are only allowing 57.3 ppg on 38.1% FG through 19 contests.

6. New Mexico

Duplicating Steve Alford’s success at New Mexico will be no easy task for Craig Neal, though he luckily had some of the core from last years MWC champion squad back in Albuquerque. Cameron Bairstow} has been among the most improved players in the entire NCAA, doing a bit of everything and making a living at the FT stripe. He forms a nice triumvirate with returning conference Player of the Year, PG [Player: Kendall Williams along with C [{Player: Alex Kirk]. Neal’s son, Cullen, has also provided an added shooting dimension and his adjustment to the NCAA is crucial towards the Lobos success. Last years NCAA finish was a shocker, this year they could thrive as the underdog.

7. VCU

This is the second season of Shaka Smart’s "Havoc" defense in the A-10. The Rams managed a fairly seamless transition in year 1 and should be a team to look out for once again this season. If you can give a criticism to this group, they have been extremely streaky offensively and are only shooting 42% so far this season. This is also highlighted by woes at the FT stripe, shooting amongst the lowest percentage in the nation. What they still do incredibly well is creat turnovers. Briante Weber is still the defensive QB, averaging an amazing 3.8 spg. For VCU to truly make some noise, they will need to get more efficiency from their offensive leaders, particularly Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic.

8. George Washington

The graduate transfer rule has been under a great deal of scrutiny. Maurice Creek is one of the prime examples of this rule creating a well deserved second chance. Creek has become the Colonials leading scorer and on track to fight for their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2007. It could definitely be an uphill battle, as second leading scorer Kethan Savage just suffered a broken foot. Fellow sophomores, Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen will play a crucial role during the rest of conference play. The versatility of Isaiah Armwood still should be enough for coach Mike Lonergan’s first postseason bid at GW.

9. Harvard

The RPI may not love Tommy Amaker’s team, though I think it could lead to history repeating itself. Harvard brings back most of their main players from last years team that upset Mountain West champion New Mexico in the NCAA’s. While recent knee trouble to do-it-all wing Wesley Saunders is troubling, the Crimson still held tough with UConn on the road without him. Floor general Siyani Chambers has nice court vision and is a streaky shooter. The Ivy League does not usually get the reputation for its athletic prowess, just know that this team will be physical along with playing smart.

10. UW-Green Bay

Alec Brown has been on the NBA Draft radar for the last few years and it would be a major landmark for the Phoenix to represent the Horizon League in the NCAA Tournament. Having a legit 7-footer who can also stretch the floor immediately gives this team a tough match-up. Another major key has been electrifying PG, Keifer Sykes. Right now the duo scores a combined 37.4 ppg while both shooting over 50% from the field. Lack of marquee wins probably mean they have to be close to perfect during conference season. Just hard to overlook a team that shoots 48.7% from the field while only allowing opponents to shoot 38.6%.

Honorable Mention: Toledo, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Indiana State, Dayton

Half-Season Mid Major Plus All-Americans

1st Team
PF Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara
PF Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette
PG Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
PG Kendall Williams, New Mexico
PG  Xavier Thames, San Diego St.

2nd Team
C Aaric Murray, Texas State
PF Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
SF Cleanthony Early, Wichita St.
PG Chaz Williams, UMass
PG Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga

3rd Team:
PF JJ Avila, Colorado St.
SF Dwayne Evans, St. Louis
SG Tyler Haws, BYU
PG Fred VanVleet, Wichita St.
PG Deonte Burton 34149, Nevada
Mid-Major Plus Half Season All-Freshman Team
C Mamadou N'Diaye, UC Irvine
PF Eric Mika, BYU
SG Jon Severe, Fordham
PG EC Matthews, Rhode Island
PG Kareem Canty, Marshall

Follow Michael on Twitter @NBADraftMikeyV. Also, feel free to e-mail him at [email protected]


  1. 3rd team seems kind of low

     3rd team seems kind of low for Tyler Haws.  I know BYU is underachieving big time this year considering the talent they have.  But the guy is shooting 46.5% from 3 and is number three in the country in scoring.  

  2. 3rd team seems kind of low

     3rd team seems kind of low for Tyler Haws.  I know BYU is underachieving big time this year considering the talent they have.  But the guy is shooting 46.5% from 3 and is number three in the country in scoring.  

  3. Why does this site glorify

     Why does this site glorify roscoe smith but overlook Khem birch ?  birch is practically averaging a double double with 4 blocks don’t get me wrong smiths numbers are good but I don’t see his game translating to the pros as much as birch does. Also it’s silly how you guys claim smith a "disruptive" defender when he struggles to guard college 4 men. 

    • He can defend in the post but

      He can defend in the post but not the perimeter.  Birch and Smith have switched roles on defense when the other team has a stretch four.

  4. Why does this site glorify

     Why does this site glorify roscoe smith but overlook Khem birch ?  birch is practically averaging a double double with 4 blocks don’t get me wrong smiths numbers are good but I don’t see his game translating to the pros as much as birch does. Also it’s silly how you guys claim smith a "disruptive" defender when he struggles to guard college 4 men. 

    • He can defend in the post but

      He can defend in the post but not the perimeter.  Birch and Smith have switched roles on defense when the other team has a stretch four.

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