The Mid-Major conferences in the 2019-2020 season showcase far more talent than ever before. With the resurgence of Memphis under Penny Hardaway, Jr. and the typical dominance found in Gonzaga, there is a lot of potential for a team outside of the power five conferences to bring home a national championship and potential lottery selections in the upcoming draft.
Another team to look out for is the Dayton Flyers who took the country by storm in the Maui Invitational last week. The Flyers took 2nd ranked Kansas to overtime as Obi Toppin emerged from the abyss as a legitimate superstar to be on the look out for this season. His performance in the Maui invitational tournament has earned him the Mid-Major Player of the Week honor. This “mid-major plus” blog will focus on the prospects and teams outside of the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12 and Pac 12.
Player of the Week:
Obi Toppin, SF/PF, Dayton Flyers
It is safe to say that many, if not all college basketball fans, were surprised by Obadiah Toppin’s performance in the Maui Invitational. The 6’9, 220 lb. forward not only proved that he belongs in the conversation as one of the best players in the country this season, but also proved to NBA teams that he should be in the conversation as a potential lottery pick this year.
It is likely that before the invitational, Toppin was not found on anyone’s mock draft, certainly not in the first round, but his impressive display of both physicality and perimeter shooting ability skyrocketed himself into the top 10 of our mock draft.
Toppin averaged 22.3 points and 7 rebounds in Maui and nearly led his team to a shocking upset, at least to some people, over Kansas in the championship. Jay Bilas, an ESPN commentator, actually considered the Flyers a better team than the Jayhawks before the exciting tournament finale. This bold claim from Bilas had much to do with his admiration of Toppin’s performance to date.
Throughout the tournament, Toppin shot a remarkable 69% from the field including 54% from beyond the arc. The best of his three pointers clearly came in the first half against Kansas. Toppin released the shot directly in front of the Jayhawks’ bench and immediately turned towards them to celebrate the shot that eventually splashed through the net. This showed that not only are scouts confident of his abilities, but Toppin surely is as well, especially with the way he is playing.
His incredible efficiency is another key reason as to why teams all over the NBA are dreaming of selecting Toppin come June.
Richmond Spiders, 7-1
The Spiders last appeared in the NCAA tournament as a 12 seed in 2011, a year they advanced to the Sweet 16 before a loss to the Kansas Jayhawks. Since then, the Spiders have failed to return to the big dance.
Luckily, they are led by the same coach, Chris Mooney, who took them there in 2011, so he has valuable experience under his belt. Richmond was challenged by three power five teams last week and found a way to knock off two of them. Impressive, resume boosting, double-digit wins against Wisconsin and Boston College caught the eye of the rest of the country.
But, the most impressive performance in my eyes was actually a loss against Auburn in the Veterans Classic Championship. The Spiders held a one-point advantage at the half before an inspired second half performance by the Tigers took the title away from the surging Spiders. The ability to hang tough with a top 15 team in the country proved that Richmond is a legit competitor in the Atlantic 10 this season.
San Diego State Aztecs, 9-0
San Diego State is no stranger to the NCAA tournament as they have appeared all but three times in the past decade. They have only reached the Sweet 16 twice during these seven appearances, but the Aztecs are off to a flying start in 2019.
A 31-point win over Creighton and a 10-point win over Iowa are the most impressive wins so far. Malachi Flynn, a graduate transfer from Washington State, is averaging nearly 17 points per game to lead the team and is showing no rust after a season break after his transfer from the Cougars.
While he is not showcased in the 2020 mock draft, Flynn is found as a second-round selection in the 2021 draft. He is protective of the ball, averaging 5 assists for every turnover, and is shooting a higher percentage from three-point range since the new rule extended the three-point arc. If he maintains this consistent play, while also leading his team to victory, look for Flynn to jump up draft boards for not only next year, but also this season as well.
Vermont Catamounts, 6-4
After a 4-0 start and a hard-fought battle against the reigning national champions, the Virginia Cavaliers, Vermont was in discussion as possibly one of the best Mid-Major teams of the year. After all, they have been in the NCAA Tournament two out of the last three seasons and have kept both of their games as a 13 seed relatively close against Purdue in 2017 and Florida State in 2019.
However, the Catamounts have dropped their last two games against Yale (by 13) and Cincinnati (by 9), and three of their last four (Rider loss by 5). There are high expectations for this team to return to the tournament once again this season because of the return of All-Conference First Team selection Anthony Lamb, who is averaging nearly 17 points and over 8 rebounds per game. Vermont does have an easy stretch coming up that should help get them back onto their winning ways.
Florida Gulf Coast, 2-7
Oh, dunk city, how you are missed. Nobody misses the high-flying Eagles team more than Florida Gulf Coast fans and alumni. This season, the Eagles are off to a dreadful 2-7 start and have not been competitive in most of those losses. To make matters worse, they are also a bottom 15 scoring team in the entire country of 350 teams.
They have one player averaging double figures in scoring, Zach Scott, but even his 12.3 points per game have not been easy to come by as he is shooting an abysmal 31% from the field. The 2013 Cinderella story that grabbed the hearts of college basketball fans everywhere is long in the rearview mirror as the Eagles already seem desperate just to salvage a .500 season.
Top 5 Sharpshooters You HAVE to See
1. Storm Murphy, Wofford
If you are wondering why you faintly remember this name, it is because Murphy played alongside, arguably, the greatest three-point shooter in college basketball history, Fletcher Magee. The all-time leader in career three pointers was not a one-man wrecking crew last season as Wofford almost pulled off a historic upset against the Kentucky Wildcats in the Round of 32 of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Murphy was also a deadeye shooter for the Terriers and has even improved in the early part of this season. A 47% three-point shooter from a year ago is now shooting an absurd 53.7% making him must-see TV.
Game to watch: Wofford at 7 North Carolina, 4 PM, December 15, ACC Network
2. Tanner Krebs, Saint Mary’s
A senior at Saint Mary’s, Krebs is lighting it up for the Gaels who are surging in the young season. The 9-1 Gaels rely on three-point shooting from both Krebs and leading scorer Jordan Ford (20.2 ppg). A team perennially known for shutting down opposing offenses has a pair of players that can shoot the lights out with Krebs shooting 56% from distance. Not only is Saint Mary’s a team to keep an eye on in the West Coast Conference, but do not be surprised if they find a way to knock Gonzaga off their throne for the second consecutive season in the conference tournament.
Game to watch: 19 Dayton vs Saint Mary’s, 4 PM, December 8, ESPNU
3. Trae Berhow, Northern Iowa
Trae Berhow has never shot worse than 40% in his three-year career thus far and it has only improved each year with a huge jump to 52% this season. Since transferring from Pepperdine after his freshman year, Berhow has not been the premier scorer, but he has taken strides this season into the second leading scorer on the Panther squad with a six-point jump in points per game. Northern Iowa used to give Wichita State trouble in the MVC before the Shockers left for the American Conference in 2017. Expect the Panthers to take the reins of the MVC this year, as they are off to a hot 8-1 start, thanks to the vast improvement seen in Trae Berhow.
Game to watch: Northern Iowa at 20 Colorado, 9 PM, December 10, Pac 12 Network
4. Jazz Johnson, Nevada
The Wolfpack made a tremendous run to the Sweet 16 in 2018 thanks mostly to the Martin twins, Caleb and Cody, who graduated following the 2019 season. Johnson did not get to play during that run because of a transfer from Portland, but he did endure the first-round loss against the Florida Gators the following season. With the Martin twins in the NBA, Johnson has taken the step as the team’s leader on and off the court. After shooting a stellar 45% last season, Johnson has improved into a 48% three-point shooter so far this season. While the season has not been perfect by any means so far, Johnson has been a bright spot for the Wolfpack trying to make another deep NCAA Tournament run.
Game to watch: Nevada at BYU, 9 PM, December 10, ESPNU
5. Nate Darling, Delaware
It is very unusual to see such an amazing improvement for a transfer in college basketball. A player who barely averaged 10 points per game at UAB his sophomore season has made a huge jump to a player averaging 22.5 PPG at the University of Delaware. Darling has the Fightin’ Blue Hens at 9-0 in the young season and more than halfway to their win total from last season. The 47% three-point shooter is one of the most electric players that you have never heard of in college basketball this season. Do not be surprised if you see him lighting up a top seed in March.
Game to watch: Delaware at 23 Villanova, 2 PM, December 14, ESPN2