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NCAA mid-major preview: Wichita St. among several that could make a deep March run

Wichita State is coming off a trip to the Final Four, and the Shockers have the talent to get back. But VCU, New Mexico and others also have a shot to upset the traditional powers.


The nation's top-tier conferences might get the most highly touted recruits and the most airtime on ESPN, but if the last few years have proved anything, it's that the mid-majors are just as capable of winning big games. Wichita State reaching the Final Four in 2013 is just the latest example.

Here's an early look at the top mid-majors to watch in 2013-14:

1. Wichita St. Shockers

The Shockers announced earlier this week that head coach Gregg Marshall would receive a hefty raise following last season's Final Four run. This year, Wichita St. could be just as good. Cleanthony Early will return to lead the offense, accompanied by Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. Losing Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead -- both double-digit scorers a year ago -- will hurt, but the Shockers will have a chance to prove themselves early on with out of conference games against Saint Louis, Tennessee and Alabama.

2. Virginia Commonwealth Rams

Havoc became a household term among hoops fans last year as the Rams found their stride late in the regular season, winning eight of their last 10. This year, Shaka Smart returns four of his top five scorers, but will have to make up for the losses of Darius Theus and Troy Daniels. But Juvonte Reddic, Rob Brandenberg and Treveon Graham were all double-digit scorers a year ago, making VCU a favorite in the Atlantic 10.

3. New Mexico Lobos

Steve Alford has moved on to Westwood, but the Lobos remain a power. Kendall Williams led New Mexico in points and assists last year, but he will be called on to do even more now that Tony Snell has moved on to the NBA. it also doesn't hurt to have an experienced 7-footer on your side, and that's what the Lobos will have in Alex Kirk. Throw in four-star point guard and coach Craig Neal's son Cullen, and the cupboard is far from bare in Albuquerque.

4. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Gonzaga will be a Top 25 team, at least to start the year, despite losing its star, Kelly Olynyk, to the NBA. But rather than focusing on a 7-foot center, this year's Bulldogs will be built around guards Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and David Stockton. The Bulldogs' trip to Maui will say a lot about whether or not they can compete with a short-handed frontcourt.

5. Boise St. Broncos

There's a ton of returning talent in Boise and the Broncos should get off to a hot start with an easy schedule early on. They'll eventually roll into Rupp Arena in mid-December and in order to emerge with a win, they'll need to be nearly flawless. Anthony Drmic and Jeff Elorriaga can both get hot from deep while Derrick Marks can be counted on to put up double figures every night.

6. Harvard Crimson

The Crimson haven't been the typical Ivy League pushover in a while, but they took it to the next level last year when they beat New Mexico to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Most of the key contributors from that team will return and Harvard will be favored to win the Ivy by a landslide once again. Tommy Amaker's club will also be expected to win the Great Alaska Shootout and could upset Boston College or Colorado in the non-conference season.

7. La Salle Explorers

Even with Temple, Xavier and Butler moving on, the Atlantic 10 is deep this year. If Ramon Galloway hadn't graduated, La Salle might have been favored to win the league. Instead, the Explorers will have to settle for bringing back every other player on the team that averaged more than a point per game last year. Tyreek Duren leads the way for La Salle. He averaged 14.3 points per game last year and was second on the team in assists.

8. Saint Louis Billikens

Dwayne Evans has player of the year potential in the Atlantic 10 and he will need to play that way for the Billikens to repeat as the league's regular season champion. He scored in double figures every game last year from Jan. 23 through the end of the season, and that includes several 24-plus point performances. Another summer of improvement from him should counteract the losses of Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis.

9. BYU Cougars

If you haven't heard the name Tyler Haws yet, prepare yourself. He led the Cougars to the NIT semifinals last year, routinely putting up more than 25 points per game. If that wasn't enough, he even brought along two top recruits from his former high school to help BYU this year. ESPN ranked center Eric Mika as the 28th-best player in the class of 2013 and point guard Nick Emery as the 45th-best. That's not a bad recruiting class for a mid-major.

10. UNLV Rebels

So No. 1 NBA Draft pick Anthony Bennett as well as a few other double-digit scorers are gone, but what the Rebels bring to the table in 2013-14 is just as important as what they lost. Guard Bryce Dejean-Jones is back, and UConn transfer Roscoe Smith will be eligible after having to sit out a year. The Rebels also bring in two top-100 prospects in Christian Wood and Kendal Smith to help what will be an unproven but talented UNLV squad.

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