Everyone these days seems to have a different method for classifying who is or isn't a "mid-major." Some say every program outside the six BCS conferences, others say only programs with a budget below a certain number, and a few even go so far as to make a distinction between "mid-majors" and "low majors."
These people are all over-complicating things. To me, the definition of a "mid-major" has always been fairly straightforward: any team that doesn't play in one of the six BCS conferences or four "mini-major" (A-10, WAC, MWC, C-USA) conferences. So that's what we're working with here.
All teams which fit that mold were considered for the following preseason mid-major top 25.
1. GONZAGA (West Coast)
There are no widespread Final Four predictions as there have been in years past when the 'Zags have occupied (or would have occupied) this spot, but this is still the deepest and most experienced team in the "field." If Elias Harris can play up to his potential and Marquise Carter can build off of his stellar performance last March, this could be a team that could advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
2. BELMONT (Atlantic Sun)
The Bruins return four starters from a squad that went 30-5 and won the Atlantic Sun conference championship game by 41 points. However, a 14-point loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament has left the program still looking to prove it can be a player on the national stage. This year's team will get that opportunity right off the bat when they open the season with games at Duke (Nov. 11) and Memphis (Nov. 15).
3. CREIGHTON (Missouri Valley)
The Valley has a good shot at re-claiming its long-held title of king of the mid-major conferences this season. A lot of that is because of the strength of Creighton, a program which has had a surprising four-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Jays return three starters who averaged double figures last season, including sophomore forward Doug McDermott (14.9 ppg/7.2 rpg). Last year McDermott became the first freshman to earn All-MVC honors since 1952, and as a result is one of the preseason favorites for league player of the year.
4. BYU (West Coast)
It's a bit odd seeing the Cougars on a list like this, but Brigham Young will begin its first season as a member of the West Coast Conference this weekend. Dave Rose's team figures to step in and immediately compete with Gonzaga and Saint Mary's for the league title, in large part because of the return of junior forward Brandon Davies. Davies was averaging 11.1 points per game when he was infamously suspended late last season for violating the school's honor code. He was reinstated in August and joins Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo as key returnees.
5. HARVARD (Ivy League)
Harvard was a one-game playoff buzzer-beater by Princeton away from making an appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1946 last March. The Crimson returns every key player from that team, including reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Keith Wright. They'll get a chance to make a splash nationally in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament later this month, and then again on Dec. 8 when they play a nationally televised game against Connecticut in Storrs.
6. WICHITA STATE (Missouri Valley)
The Shockers lost five seniors from last year's squad that ran through the NIT and set a school record for wins. On the other hand, they return three starters and six players who saw at least 13 minutes of court time a night in 2010-2011. If a couple of the frontcourt players can step up then this team could compete for an at-large bid.
7. DREXEL (Colonial)
The Colonial has become the unquestioned flagship conference of mid-major basketball. Consistently sending multiple teams to the big dance and seeing two of them (George Mason and VCU) crash the Final Four will do that. The league's best hope to make national news this year could be the Dragons, who return all but one key player from a squad that surprisingly won 21 games last season. Samme Givens, who was the only player in the conference to average a double-double (12.2/10.1) last year, is the team's lone senior and unquestioned leader.
8. BUTLER (Horizon League)
It doesn't seem quite right to rank the two-time defending national runners-up this low, but on paper the ranking appears almost generous. The Bulldogs lost Matt Howard (16.4 ppg), Shelvin Mack (16.0 ppg) and Shawn Vanzant (8.1 ppg) from the team that fell to Connecticut in the '11 national championship game, and return just one player (Andrew Smith) who averaged more than six points last season. They'll still probably end finding a way into the Final Four.
9. GEORGE MASON (Colonial)
Jim Larranaga bolted for Miami, Cam Long graduated and Luke Hancock transferred to Louisville, but the Mason program has become strong enough to handle such blows. Former Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt will be the man pacing the Patriot Center sidelines this season, and he has star forward Ryan Pearson (14.2 ppg/6.7 rpg) back to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
10. LONG BEACH STATE (Big West)
No one in the country will play a tougher non-conference schedule than the 49ers, who will face Pittsburgh, Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina and Xavier...before Christmas. Reigning Big West Player of the Year Casper Ware (17.2 ppg/4.2 apg) leads the way for a team that figures to dominate the Big West once again.
11. IONA (MAAC)
Tim Cluess has an embarrassment of riches in the backcourt where Scott Machado (13.2 ppg/7.6 apg) and Arizona transfer Lamont "MoMo" Jones will have to figure out a way to co-exist. Senior Michael Glover (18.4 ppg/10.1 rpg) might be the most dominant inside player in mid-major basketball. He finished last season sixth nationally with 21 double-doubles.
12. SAINT MARY'S (West Coast)
Mickey McConnell is gone, but the Gaels are still fully capable of making the WCC a three-horse race. Matthew Dellavedova will have as large a green light as anyone in the country, and should put up some monster numbers in his junior season. Fellow first team All-WCC honoree Rob Jones (13.8 ppg/7.7 rpg) is also back for his senior year.
13. VCU (Colonial)
VCU was able to keep head coach Shaka Smart from bolting for greener pastures, but there was nothing that could have been done to prevent the four graduating seniors from last year's Final Four team from moving on. Much of the burden of getting the Rams back into the field of 68 will fall on the shoulders of senior Bradford Burgess, who averaged 14.3 points per game last season.
14. OLD DOMINION (Colonial)
Replacing leading scorer and rebounder Frank Hassell is the tallest task for the reigning Colonial champions. Senior Kent Bazemore - the CAA preseason Player of the Year - underwent surgery in August to repair a stress fracture in his left foot, but is expected to be available for this weekend's season-opener against Northern Iowa.
15. DETROIT (Horizon League)
The Titans failed to live up to preseason expectations a season ago, but that hasn't stopped those same expectations from returning this November. All five starters are back from a team that won 10 games in the Horizon last season, including former McDonald's All-American Ray McCallum Jr.
16. FAIRFIELD (MAAC)
New head coach Sydney Johnson has all-conference performers Derek Needham and Ryan Olander back from a team that won the MAAC and set a school record for wins last season. If that wasn't enough, talented transfers Desmond wade (Houston) and Rakim Sanders (Boston College) also enter the fold.
17. WEBER STATE (Big Sky)
The Wildcats, who had won three of the past four Big Sky titles, finished a disappointing third in the league race a season ago and bowed out in the conference tournament semifinals. A lot of that was because reigning Big Sky Player of the Year Damian Lillard played just nine games before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Lillard, who averaged 19.9 points per game as a sophomore, is back and joins fellow all-conference honorees Scott Bamforth and Kyle Bullinger to make up a squad that should return to its position as the class of the league.
18. KENT STATE (Mid-American)
Much of the fire power is back from a squad that became the first to win back-to-back regular season MAC titles in nearly two decades a season ago. Reigning league Player of the Year Justin Greene leads the way for the Golden Flashes.
19. PRINCETON (Ivy League)
The graduation of Kareem Maddox and Dan Mavraides hurts, but new head coach Mitch Henderson still has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Junior forward Ian Hummer and senior guard Douglas Davis (who hit the shot that beat Harvard and sent the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament) will lead the way. Princeton is that rarest of mid-major breeds: the one that boasts an intimidating frontcourt. Brendan Connolly (6'11), Mack Darrow (6'9) and Patrick Saunders (6'8) make the Tigers an interesting team to gameplan against for the rest of the Ivy League.
20. BUCKNELL (Patriot League)
Four starters return from a Bison team that won 19 of 20 games down the stretch to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since '06. Reigning Patriot League Player of the Year Mike Muscala is the headline returnee.
21. AKRON (Mid-American)
The reigning conference tournament champions lost three seniors, but add a host of transfers/non-qualifiers and can also lay claim to the league's lone NBA prospect, 7-foot junior center Zeke Marshall.
22. SANTA CLARA (West Coast)
Three starters return from last season's CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament champions (it exists). Junior guard Kevin Foster is one of the most prolific outside shooters in the country, and led the WCC in scoring last season at 20.2 points per game.
23. INDIANA STATE (Missouri Valley)
Coming off their first NCAA appearance since 2001, the reigning MVC tournament champs should be right in the mix for the Valley title again. Four starters are back, including senior guard Dwayne Lathan and sophomore backcourt mate Jake Odum.
24. ORAL ROBERTS (Summit League)
The Golden Eagles return essentially their entire team and will again battle with two-time defending league champion Oakland for the Summit title.
25. OHIO (Mid-American)
Electric guard D.J. Cooper is back and so is one of basketball's most exciting offenses, but if the Bobcats don't develop any sort of interest in playing defense they won't fare much better than the 9-7 league mark they posted a season ago.