- Adam Finkelstein
Conference realignment has had lasting implications on every major conference in college basketball, but the group that might have been affected more than anyone else were the mid-major schools.
Annual powerhouses like Xavier, Memphis, Butler, Temple and several others have now been elevated to “high-major” conferences, leaving a void for other mid-major programs to establish their recruiting superiority at their own level.
So after grading the ACC, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac 12, and SEC last week, it’s now time to examine the best of the rest. Grading mid-major classes can be subjective, meaning there’s a little bit of a curve in order to account for the fact that recruiting at this level is tougher than ever before given the unprecedented number of competing programs who can now leverage their high-major conference affiliation.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the top mid-major classes in the country:
San Diego State (Mountain West Conference)
Timing is everything and Steve Fisher had San Diego State peaking in recent years at just the time when the Pac-12 (or Pac-10) was slipping. As a result SDSU has established itself as a true West Coast power and this year’s recruiting class is proof. With three ESPN 100 products, and a fourth who saw his recruitment from programs in higher-level conferences, this could be Fisher’s best class yet since arriving in California. Zylan Cheatham and Malik Pope are both uniquely talented and highly versatile along the frontline while Trey Kell is a shot-maker who can fill up the scoring column. Kevin Zabo rounds out the class as another multi-positional player.
VCU (Atlantic 10 Conference)
There’s no one better suited to convince prospects to spurn high-major conferences than a coach who has done so numerous times himself, and that’s the unique angle that Shaka Smart has to play with recruits. He has had his choice of BCS-level jobs in the last three years but has instead opted to stay at VCU and continue to build his brand of basketball. Now he’s added to that with his best recruiting class to date. ESPN 100 SF Terry Larrier is tailor-made for VCU’s style of play and opted for the Rams over a variety of perennial powerhouse programs. Fellow ESPN 100 PF Mike Gilmore and Justin Tillman are equally good fits while Jonathan Williams is as underestimated a point guard as there is in the country.
UNLV (Mountain West Conference)
From the moment he returned to UNLV, Dave Rice has made it crystal clear that UNLV will once again be able to recruit on a national level. With a pair of frontcourt prospects in the top half of the ESPN 100, he has only further solidified that status coming out of the early signing period. Dwayne Morgan, the ninth best power forward in the country, gave the Rebels an early boost of momentum with his commitment last spring, but when Goodluck Okonoboh went on national television and announced what can only be described as a surprisingly pledge to UNLV, it not only give Sin City arguably the best shot-blocker in the country but another testament to their growing recruiting clout on a national level.
BYU (West Coast Conference)
Dave Rose has his latest deep and talented class coming to Utah with five commitments including a pair of ESPN 100 prospects. T.J. Haws, the No. 13 shooting guard in the country, is the gem of the group and poised to reunite with former high school teammates and current BYU freshmen, Eric Mika and Nick Emery. Payton Dastrup gives the Cougars their fourth ESPN 100 pledge in the last two years, and another big body to team with Mika for the foreseeable future. Add another big body in Ryan Andrus and a smart and skilled forward in Jake Toolson and BYU has a good thing that’s only bound to get better in the coming years.
Gonzaga (West Coast Conference)
The last of the perennial mid-major powerhouses to still actually compete in a mid-major conference, Mark Few and Gonzaga show no signs of letting up anytime soon. They targeted a handful of ESPN 100 prospects in the 2014 class and ultimately came away with Josh Perkins, one of the top point guards in the class, and the type of true floor general who fits the prototype that Few looks for at the position. Perkins headlines a trio of guards with Silas Melson and Bryan Alberts, securing the Bulldogs backcourt of the future with three versatile and multi-talented playmakers.
Dayton (Atlantic 10 Conference)
Archie Miller’s club has been getting it done as of late, winning on the hardwood and the recruiting trail alike. Darrell Davis is an athletic scoring guard with four-star status who spurned the likes of Michigan State and others to be a part of what Miller is building at Dayton. He’ll provide an immediate scoring punch while also meshing well with the team’s other talented young guards like Khari Price and Scoochie Smith. At 6-foot-11, 285 pounds, Steve McElvene will provide the type of physical post presence that the team currently lacks.
St. Joseph’s (Atlantic 10 Conference)
Phil Martelli has built up a solid four-man class including one four-star prospect, James Demery, and a trio of three-star prospects in Shavar Newkirk, Obi Romeo, and Markell Lodge. At 6-6, Demery is a terrific long-range shooter and major matchup problem because of his size and ability to score from various spots on the floor. Romeo provides some size, strength, and shot-blocking in the middle of the lineup while Lodge will join him on the frontline as an undersized, but powerful and athletic, four-man. Newkirk is a slippery lead guard who gets into the lane and pressures the ball defensively.
Harvard (Ivy League)
Tommy Amaker has taken Ivy League recruiting to unprecedented levels since his arrival in Cambridge, Mass., but there were questions coming into this season about whether the Crimson would be able to maintain the same level after former lead recruiter Yanni Hufnagel moved to Vanderbilt’s staff. Amaker and his staff have answered the bell, pulling in a three-man class that is headlined by Chris Egi, a four-star big man who had a slew of high-major offers and is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. Andre Chatfield is a long and athletic wing with a similarly high upside while Zach Yoshor provides a skilled court spacer on the perimeter.