College Basketball Mid-Major Report: Breaking Down BYU, Loyola Chicago & Davidson

College Basketball Mid-Major Report: Breaking Down BYU, Loyola Chicago & Davidson article feature image

Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images. Pictured: Caleb Lohner (BYU)

As college basketball begins to heat up, it’s time to start digging into the little guys. Everyone knows the Blue Bloods and top-25 programs competing for a title, but what about the mid-majors primed to make an unlikely run?

After D.J. James broke down three in the previous edition of this column, I’m here to break down three more.

All of these Little Brothers below have wins against power conference opponents this season. So, don’t overlook them when discussing at-large resumes.

BYU Cougars (WCC)

Current Overall Record10-3
KenPom Ranking27
Current ESPN Bracketology Seed8-seed

BYU is known for two games this season: a dominant win against Oregon and an overtime loss against Utah Valley.

However, the Cougars are much more than that.

Mark Pope’s team is highly experienced and currently performing at a high level, checking in at 27th in KenPom’s ratings.

Led by fifth-year senior guard Alex Barcello and a defense that’s top-10 in eFG% (42.7%), BYU is 10-3 with five wins against KenPom top-100 teams.

BYU isn’t the most perimeter-oriented offense, but the Cougars have no shortage of shooters. Barcello is the straw that stirs the drink, shooting almost 50% from deep so far this season.

DAGGER! 7/7 from deep tonight for Alex Barcello. 💦

— The Blue Brethren (@BlueBrethren) February 26, 2021

But there could be some regression coming for BYU in the future.

Opponents are shooting just 24.9% from 3 against BYU this season, a number that seems unsustainable. That is especially true when you consider that BYU forces turnovers at one of the lowest rates in the NCAA (15.5%, 319th).

The Cougars have been excellent at guarding catch-and-shoot opportunities, allowing just .557 PPP, which is fourth nationally. But again, that number feels unsustainable, and more than 55% of those catch-and-shoot attempts come when their opponent is unguarded.

Moreover, ShotQuality has the Cougars over-performing their metrics. BYU’s ShotQuality record is just 8-4, with its adjusted defensive Shot Quality ranking outside the top 100.

The Cougars are also undersized on the interior, running a 6-foot-8 player at the 5. While the interior defensive numbers are solid, dominant big men could take advantage of the Cougars.

The offense should continue to run well, as BYU’s backcourt is excellent on ball screens and Barcello & Co. will keep making shots. So, targeting BYU overs could be profitable moving forward.

All in all, BYU is hard to project long-term. But Pope is a consistent force in the upper echelon of the WCC, and the Cougars will almost certainly be in the field of 68.

Loyola Chicago Ramblers (MVC)

Current Overall Record9-2
KenPom Ranking23
Current ESPN Bracketology Seed8-seed

To say Loyola Chicago will make the tournament seems like an afterthought — especially following the last few Cinderella runs.

However, there were questions entering this season, specifically around the departures of Porter Moser and Cameron Krutwig.

So far, the Ramblers have responded strongly.

That response becomes more intriguing when you consider the MVC. I picked Drake to win the league in the preseason, but the Bulldogs' 3-9 ATS start attests to their struggles. Therefore, the Ramblers are far-and-away the favorite to take the title.

The offensive development in Chicago is astounding. The Ramblers have always been talented defensively — although they’ve taken a step back this season — but they currently rank 16th in adjusted offensive efficiency.

It’s a true team effort for head coach Drew Valentine, with no individual scoring more than 11 points per game. The key is a slow-moving progression offense (324th in tempo) that often works its way toward open jumpers (45.3 3PA%, 45th).

The numbers are staggering. The Ramblers rank top-15 nationally in half-court PPP (1.021), spot-up PPP (1.144) and pick-and-roll PPP (1.000). They’re second overall in eFG% (59.8%) and only two of the 11 rotation players are shooting less than 37% from deep.

Lucas Williamson is the big name for the Ramblers. He’s the best on-ball defender and the team’s leading scorer.

THEEE STANDARD. If there’s a person that deserves the success they have, it is Lucas Williamson. An absolute grinder. Incredible leader. Great ambassador for our program + university, etc.

So proud of you @lucasw2424. So much more to do! Let’s keep GRINDING! #WIF🧬

— Drew Valentine (@CoachDrewLU) December 11, 2021

However, other names to keep an eye on include:

  • Sophomore center Jacob Hutson (8.9 PPG, 53.4 FG%)
  • Princeton transfer forward Ryan Schwieger (11.5 PPG, 50 FG%, 45.5 3P%)
  • Dartmouth transfer forward Chris Knight (7.9 PPG, 80.4 FG%)

The Ramblers managed to keep it very close with Michigan State and within double digits against Auburn. Otherwise, they have three KenPom top-100 wins, but future resume victories will have to come against Missouri State (KenPom No. 71) and Drake (KenPom No. 85).

Davidson Wildcats (A-10)

Current Overall Record10-2
KenPom Ranking55
Current ESPN Bracketology SeedN/A

While Davidson’s metrics are less impressive than other mid-majors, the Wildcats need to be mentioned following their shocking upset win over Alabama.

This offense is electric. Four players are averaging double-digits in scoring this season, all of them efficiently. That list includes:

  • Hyunjung Lee (17.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 27.9 shot%, 62.6 eFG%)
  • Foster Loyer (15.2 PPG, 27.5 shot%, 62 eFG%)
  • Michael Jones (12.3 PPG, 64.4 eFG%)
  • Luka Brajkovic (12.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 60.4 eFG%)

Behind those four, the Wildcats are seventh in eFG% (57.7%) and 22nd in overall offensive efficiency.

It’s worth diving deeper into Lee, who is taking over the college hoops subconscious as a true three-level scorer (77.8 FG% at rim, 41.7 FG% on 2-point jumpers, 41.3 FG% on 3-point shots) and one of the smoothest shooters I’ve ever seen.

Everything you need to know about Hyunjung Lee, from my guy @AMAZNHQPranav ⤵️

— Mark Kim (@MarkJKim_) December 22, 2021

The Wildcats are second nationally in 3-point shooting (42.4%), but I don’t see too much regression coming from them. In fact, ShotQuality’s metrics show zero positive or negative regression coming from 10-2 Davidson.

The defense is where Bob McKillop’s Wildcats will make or break the season. Under McKillop, the Wildcats have always been electric on offense and questionable on defense. But then again, they also haven’t made the tournament since 2018.

Davidson is particularly vulnerable to motion, ball-screen offenses, wherein it ranks below the 21st percentile in cutting PPP allowed (1.246), off-screen PPP allowed (1.05) and pick-and-roll roll-man PPP allowed (1.108).

Additionally, the Wildcats allow 48% of opponents’ shots to come from deep, good for seventh-highest nationally.

The Alabama win was a big resume-builder for Davidson, but it’s also the only KenPom top-100 win it has all season.

If McKillop wants to end this tournament drought, the Wildcats will have to storm through the A-10 with some level of defensive proficiency.

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