Year of the Mid-Major?

UNLV, Creighton and others have an opportunity to make a run

Updated: June 26, 2012, 1:57 PM ET
By Drew Cannon | Special to ESPN Insider
Doug McDermottMatt Ryerson/US PresswireGetting Doug McDermott back makes Creighton a potential mid-major monster this season.

The mid-major ranks are loaded this season. Now that doesn't mean we're necessarily going to see a mid-major team in the Final Four like we have in recent seasons. There's still roster flux and player improvement to track between now and October, much less between now and March. But if a good team has a fabulous stretch and a "Cinderella" storyline emerges, nobody should be surprised.

Doug McDermott and Isaiah Canaan, both All-Americans last season, returned to Creighton and Murray State, respectively. Twelve of the top 100 freshmen (and seven of the top 60) are heading to non-BCS conferences. Both of those are comfortably the highest numbers in recent memory. Six players named first-team all-conference in BCS leagues are coming back -- an average of one per conference -- whereas 62 are returning in the non-BCS leagues (an average of 2.4), and those are conferences where experience has traditionally dominated. The BCS schools that played in the round of 32 last season return an average of 2.3 starters; the non-BCS schools return an average of 3.6.

It's not parity. The BCS conferences will still be the best. The mid-majors are not about to take over the top 25. But there are more reasons to pay attention to the smaller conferences than ever before in the coming 2012-13 season. UNLV and maybe Creighton have arguments as top 10 teams, and 10 mid-majors could be reasonably included in a preseason top 25. It'd be tough to make a top 60 without 30 or so teams coming from outside the BCS leagues.

Another factor helping mid-majors this season is that college hoops won't be as dominated by stars. Players like Florida's Kenny Boynton and Cal's Allen Crabbe can have a big impact, but there aren't any obvious early player-of-the-year favorites. Outside of perhaps Cody Zeller and a few others, our 2013 college basketball superstars will largely be freshmen and mid-major monsters -- Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel, C.J. McCollum and Nate Wolters.

As the early polls have shown, this is a year for teams with depth. The poll-toppers are not the overwhelmingly star-studded North Carolina and Kentucky teams of the literal yesteryear, and teams like Louisville and Indiana have many unproven pieces. Nobody seems to be unbeatable, which creates an environment for mid-majors to excel in. Here are five teams that could benefit this season: