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2023-24 Mid-Majors Conference Preview
The No Ceilings crew wraps up their Conference Preview round tables for the 2023-24 season with a Mid-Majors Conference Preview.
The college basketball season is just around the corner, and the NBA season is off to a roaring start. While many of the rookies from the 2023 NBA Draft are making headlines, the 2023-2024 NCAA season will show prospect evaluators who might be joining this year’s rookies in determining the NBA’s future.
Before the college season gets underway, we simply had to gather the No Ceilings collective for a roundtable and discuss some of the top prospects and players who might be primed to break out and establish themselves on the draft scene. Today, we finish our conference previews with a preview of some of the top prospects on mid-major conference teams.
1. Ignore “consensus” boards and Twitter groupthink. Who is the best NBA prospect in these conferences?
Stephen: It’s gotta be Dillon Jones. He had a very solid season, followed by a good combine run. Jones was likely going to find his way onto an NBA team’s roster this season in some capacity, but could be one of the major names by the time the draft comes.
Metcalf: I was late to the party last year, but Tucker DeVries has my full attention this season. He’s the driving force of that entire Drake team, he is a lethal shooter, and he grew significantly as an on-ball creator. He should be in for a big year.
Corey: It’s my guy Dillon Jones. Jones is not only coming off a strong junior season, but a strong pre-draft process. Jones went from might not even get an Elite Camp invite, to absolutely balling out at the Draft Combine. Jones has legit NBA length, has gotten in noticeably better shape, is a complete student of the game with crazy high end feel, and is one of the biggest stat stuffers in college hoops. Ill Dill is gonna go crazy this year.
Rucker: I’m going to say Dillon Jones. He’s coming off a sensational year at Weber State and surprised some when he decided to return for an additional year. Jones reportedly is in fantastic shape and will be firmly on scouts radar after an impressive pre draft process showing last year. There’s some serious versatility and fantastic feel for the game when it comes to Dillon.
Albert: I’m with the others on Dillon Jones. That dude can hoop and averaged almost 11 boards per game last season. As Rucker mentioned, he looks top be in phenomenal shape as well. Sign me up!
Rowan: For my money’s worth, DaRon Holmes II is this class’s best mid-major NBA draft prospect. I had a high grade on the versatile center last year due to his two-way excellence, and with a handful of marquee matchups on the docket, Holmes II should have a bevy of opportunities to show out and put himself firmly on the map.
Nick: I was worried that I would be alone on DaRon Holmes II island, so I’m very happy to see that Rowan’s also staked out a spot on the island. Holmes II took on a much heavier load on offense last season for Dayton and thrived in it, but I’m more excited by his incredible array of complementary skills on both ends of the floor. If he takes another step forward with his shot, like he did last season, his versatility will draw even more interest from NBA teams.
Maxwell: It’s still Tucker DeVries in my book. I will never get off The Tuck Train. He’s an exceptional outside shooter, but he’s more than that. DeVries was efficient at all three levels and is a genuine passing threat when operating out of a ball screen. When the game isn’t going his way, he’ll mix it up on the glass and use his smarts to make plays on D. There’s a lot to like in the high-feel, 6’7” wing.
Evan: I’ll align myself here with the Dillon Jones coalition, but with the caveat that I don’t believe the gap between him and Tucker DeVries is all that significant. Either one of them is a respectable choice, I just feel Jones has the slight edge coming into the season.
2. Admittedly, one of the most satisfying parts of analyzing the draft is being able to look back and say “psh, about time you guys took notice of him. I’ve been hyping him up for ages.” Who is the prospect that you are irrationally high on?
Stephen: I’m going to say Wesley Cardet Jr. He was one of the more productive sophomores to not get a ton of buzz, but has a decent amount of fans coming into this year. Built like a pro already, Wesley put up over 16 PPG, 5 RPG, and 3.1 APG. With some more talent coming into Chicago State, look for Cardet Jr. to get a good amount of love on draft boards.
Metcalf: He may have the most absurd name in college basketball, but holy moly can Gibson Jimerson play. There isn’t anything overly flashy or complicated about his game, but his ability to defend and shoot is very Max Strus-esque.
Rucker: I mean, I’m just very intrigued with UC Santa Barbara junior guard Ajay Mitchell. This is one of those wildcards that I think could really start to make a bit of a charge up some boards. The outside shot is the swing skill, but the rest of the tools are really intriguing for Mitchell on the offensive side of the ball. He’s a shifty lefty that can play with some hesitations and gives you some Jalen Brunson vibes.
Rowan: The transfer portal can giveth and taketh away, but San Francisco should thank their lucky stars that Mike Sharavjamts chose to play for the Dons. While he’s a bit on the older side, Sharavjamts’s passing, size, and budding self-creation game are all worthy of first-round consideration now that he can show it off as the unquestioned top option for a team.
Nick: I think most of the “irrationality” here comes from the concerns about his health, but I refuse to quit on Jevon Porter. I admittedly have a weakness for big men with shooting and playmaking potential, and Porter has both in spades.
Albert: Remember the name, Jun Seok Yeo. I know people are going to say I only picked him because he’s Korean and I’m Korean. You wouldn’t be wrong; that’s a huge part of why I love him so much. But with Alex Toohey choosing to stay home and play for the Sydney Kings, that really opened up a spot for Yeo to contribute this season. The redshirt freshman came over in the middle of last season by way of the Global Academy, and should see some minutes as a backup wing this season. Yeo is a tough driver of the ball and has really improved his outside shooting.
Maxwell: Johnny O’Neil at Santa Clara. He’s 6’9”, he’s as quick as a two-guard, he has excellent rotational instincts, he can protect the rim, and he’s a near-40% three-point shooter. With a more up-tempo system at Santa Clara and a brighter spotlight, people are going to lose their minds over this guy.
Evan: I doubt many people are thinking about Ezra Ausar as a pro prospect, but I believe the East Carolina sophomore is primed for a breakout season. I love the way he can attack defenders in the mid-range game or out of the post with his combo of power and agility. At 6’8”, 247 pounds, he’s got a frame and skillset that's reminiscent of Julius Randle. After recovering from a torn labrum in the offseason, I’m curious to see if Ausar can extend his shooting range in year two, only enhancing his value. He enters the 2024 draft cycle as a fringe first round talent on my personal board.
3. Unfortunately, there are two sides to that coin, and they do not have equal probabilities. Which prospect do you like but think has the most likely chance of failing to meet expectations?
Stephen: It’s hard to say that a mid-major prospect will fail to meet expectations, but I’ll throw out Drew Pember. His age is not doing him any favors. The fact that he popped after transferring down was a point of conversation last season, and he decided to stay. He’s also not the most athletic forward in college hoops. There are pros and cons in terms of that decision, but I think he has the highest chance of failing to meet whatever expectations exist.
Metcalf: Rasheer Fleming really has my attention, but there are a lot of ways that it could go wrong. If the shot really takes a leap and he refines some of the inconsistencies from last year, though, Saint Joseph’s could be in for a really fun year with him and Erik Reynolds II.
Rucker: It’s tough because I like the player a lot, but I could see Dayton big man DaRon Holmes just having another similar year to last season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when a player like Holmes decides to return for another year, scouts are going to want to see the production take another step forward across the board. It could be tricky, and a potentially deep big man class won’t make it any easier.
Rowan: Few expected Aidan Mahaney to ball out as viciously and cleanly as he did in his freshman campaign for Saint Mary’s, but he won’t be a surprise any longer. Teams will likely throw a lot more ball pressure and attention his way, which could either lead to him exceeding expectations and firmly entering the draft conversation or could hurt his draft stock due to his depressed stats.
Nick: I’m with Stephen in that it’s difficult to say that a mid-major player will fail to live up to expectations since there isn’t really a consensus first round pick in the bunch, but if I had to pick one I’d probably go with Ajay Mitchell. I’m just not sure that he can be consistent enough with his shot to live up to some of the more optimistic expectations, given how much he’ll need his shot to be there to open up the rest of his game.
Maxwell: It’s Ajay Mitchell for me. He’s just okay athletically, nothing special on defense, and he’s never been a consistent outside shooter. Given what we know about the difficulties facing traditional point guards in the NBA at the moment, it’s really surprising to me to see him on so many mocks.
Evan: I hate to be lame, but I also agree with Stephen here. There isn’t really a specific mid-major player this season that I feel has too lofty of expectations coming in. So I’m going to pick nobody for this answer. My apologies once again for copping out from this question.
4. The shiny new thing is always the most enticing to go after, but there is always a ton of value in older prospects. Based on their previous college seasons, which returning player are you most excited to watch and has the best NBA potential?
Stephen: The answer has to be Zeke Mayo, right? I mean, the guy is a bucket from essentially every level on the floor. He is the type of guard that has a number of paths he could go down as an NBA, with many making his game less in-demand. But he’s a microwave and fun to watch, so it’s realistic that he could really establish himself as one of the best scorers not in the NBA.
Metcalf: Feels like it’s now or never for DaRon Holmes. We’re going on year three of him being a legitimate NBA prospect. For him to really take that jump, I almost want to see him do less on offense and show that he can thrive in a more simplified role. Being more consistent with his rim running, passing out of the short roll, and face up jumpers will do wonders for his draft stock.
Rucker: Zeke Mayo definitely is in the mix here. I’m going to go a little bit out of the box here. I am a massive fan of Saint Mary’s guard Aidan Mahaney. He was extremely impressive last year as a freshman, averaging 13.9 points per game while shooting 42/40/71. But now he’s going to have the attention of every team that is playing the Gaels this year. Mahaney is just tough and plays the game with some really fun wiggle. I’m a fan.
Rowan: Playing in the Big West isn’t a recipe for exposure, but that hasn’t stopped Ajay Mitchell from forcing his way into the conversations. Mitchell is a talented driver, finisher, and ball-handler, all of which make him an under-the-radar returning prospect who really should be on everyone’s watchlist.
Nick: Dillon Jones was somewhat of a surprise returner after his breakout combine performance last year, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can build on that hype this season. He was more willing to let it fly from deep last season than he had been the year before, but he also dropped off percentage-wise from 35.4% to 30.3% from beyond the arc. If he can keep the volume but get to the mid-30’s from long rage, he could build on his hype from late last season and solidify his place in the 2024 NBA Draft.
Maxwell: I really want to see Dillon Jones this year. He was good last year, but being overtaxed in his role, the jumper didn’t stick. It looked awesome at the combine, though. So did his fitness levels. Previously, Jones was heavy and his motor could fade. This year, he looks to be coming into the season in awesome shape. I’m excited to watch him cook at Weber State.
Evan: I’ll go with Alden Applewhite. I’m looking forward to watching the Portland transfer at Murray State this season. He put up encouraging Per 40 numbers last year with 17.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.6 APG, and 1.6 SPG. Applewhite’s a big wing who can do a bit of everything offensively, showcasing some intriguing potential as a jumbo creator. If he can earn consistent minutes within the Racers rotation, while displaying a growth defensively, Applewhite will have the chance to vault up draft boards.
5. Whether it’s Anthony Edwards dropping 37 points against Michigan State or Austin Rivers ripping the heart out of UNC fans, or De’Aaron Fox vs. Lonzo Ball, fans are provided with mesmerizing matchups and performances every season. Which matchup, whether team vs. team, player vs. player, or player vs. team, are you most looking forward to?
Stephen: Chicago State visits Madison, Wisconsin on December 22nd. This could be the game where Wesley Cardet Jr. stamps his NBA Draft resume against some talented players against the Badgers. Both sides of his game will be tested, and I believe that he’ll shine.
Metcalf: Saint Joseph’s vs either Kentucky or Villanova. Both should provide real tests for Flemming and Reynolds. They don’t need to win, but those could be massive opportunities for both players.
Rucker: All of them. Okay fine…Weber State vs Saint Mary’s. Let me see what Dillon Jones can do against a scrappy Saint Mary’s squad.
Rowan: From a pure prospect perspective, watching Jevon Porter match up against Cody Williams and Tristan De Silva should provide useful data on all three through their frontcourt duel. The same will be true of Santa Clara versus Oregon, as Johnny O’Neil will get a marquee “prove-it” game against Kwame Evans Jr. and a massive Duck frontline of Nate Bittle and N’Faly Dante.
Nick: Dayton vs. Saint Joseph’s. I’m really looking forward to seeing what DaRon Holmes II can do against Rasheer Flemming and the rest of the Saint Joseph’s frontcourt; it could end up being a statement game for either Holmes II or Flemming.
Maxwell: UNC Asheville vs. Michigan. I’ve long been interested in Drew Pember, but concerned by his struggles against physicality. It doesn’t get much more physical than Tarris Reed and Olivier Nkamhoua. How he responds to that type of challenge will be very telling.
Evan: East Carolina vs. Florida on December 14th. I think this will be a great opportunity for both, Brandon Johnson and Ezra Ausar, to show they’re legitimate NBA prospects against a talented SEC squad.