Monday, October 31, 2005
The Southern Conference was home to the lone undefeated-in-conference team in Division 1 a season ago. Davidson went 16-0 during conference play, then proceeded to lose to Chattanooga in the conference tournament. They wasted a perfect season and ended up going to the NIT. UT-Chattanooga beat UNC-Greensboro in the conference championship to go to the NCAA Tournament. They gave Wake Forest a nice run in the first round, but lost steam in the second half and lost. The league is going to be home to a host of good teams, although a familiar face should be atop the standings at the end of the regular season. As last year proved, however, the conference tournament is a different story.
Favorites: Davidson probably won't go undefeated in the regular season again, but they return enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Player of the Year Brendan Winters leads the way. He is an excellent shooter and scorer, and can dominate a game if he needs to. Winters is one of the most underrated players in the country. The rest of the perimeter has a multitude of options. Kenny Grant averaged almost six assists per game and is one of the best point guards in the conference. Matt McKillop is a good shooter that provides solid all-around play. Sixth man Jason Morton averaged double figures off the bench for the Wildcats. Up front, Ian Johnson will shoulder the load. He didn't start last season, but he could have a huge year in the lineup. The job next to him is up for grabs. Returnees Boris Meno and Thomas Sander and newcomers Stephen Rossiter and Andrew Lovedale will fight for the spot.
Contenders: Chattanooga is looking to repeat their NCAA Tournament appearance from a season ago. Their backcourt is deep and balanced. Casey Long is a good scorer and shooter on the wing, while Steve Cherry also returns as a starter. Ricky Hood provides a little bit of everything, and Jerice Crouch is a decent point guard. Newcomers Kedric Mayes and Jaycen Herring will make impacts on the perimeter. Up front, Alphonso Pugh could be an all-conference player if he plays to his potential. Charles Anderson returns as a starter who improved as the season went on, while Matt Malone will provide depth. UNC-Greensboro returns the league's best duo in guard Ricky Hickman and forward Kyle Hines. Hickman is an excellent scorer that will boost his scoring average this season, while Hines is a dominant post player. He is a top notch rebounder and shot blocker. The supporting cast could use some work, though. Guards Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Oleksiak are decent, but have to improve their shooting. Forwards Brian Beckford and Dustin Everette will take on more of a role, while freshman David McClenny is expected to make an immediate impact down low. Furman may have the most offensive talent in the league, giving them a legitimate chance to make a run at the league title. The backcourt trio of Tony Carter, Robby Bostain, and Eric Webb all averaged at least nine points per game and complement each other's games very well. Carter is a quick guard that is a decent scorer and passer; Bostain is the best long-range shooter on the team, in addition to being a good defender and assist man; and Webb is a very good shooter and distributor. Wing Gerad Punch also sees plenty of playing time. Up front, Moussa Diagne returns. He could be an all-conference player by the end of the season if he progresses the way he should. He's tough to stop down low. Redshirt newcomer Stan Jones could start next to Diagne, while several other players will vie for time in the froncourt.
Sleepers: Georgia Southern has the best scorer in the conference in Elton Nesbitt. He is explosive on the offensive end and had up to 43 points and 11 three pointers in a game. The 5-9 guard is difficult to stop, but he is also a very good defender. His partner in the backcourt is Donte Gennie, a combo guard capable of running the team. He is a decent scorer and passer. Anthony Marshall and Dwayne Foreman will also see time on the perimeter. Up front, Louis Graham could have a huge year after coming off the bench a season ago. Willie Dunn and Sean Olivier return as frontcourt contributors. JC transfer Lafayette Lofton will also make an impact. College of Charleston loses the bulk of their team, but the Cougars return a talented cast of players. The backcourt of Dontaye Draper and Drew Hall is very good, and is one of the best in the conference. Draper came off the bench last season, but was one of the best all-around players in the SoCon. Hall takes excellent care of the ball, and is a solid point guard. Richmond transfer Jose Garcia should help on the wing. In the frontcourt, Josh Jackson could have a breakout year, while Virginia Tech transfer Philip McCandies might start down low. Returnees J.R. Hairston and Jermaine Johnson and JC transfers Renardo Dickerson and David Lawrence will also get time up front. Appalachian State returns numerous players that had contributions a season ago, led by all-conference performer D.J. Thompson. He is tough to stop when he has the ball, and is also a good defender. The 5-8 point guard was one of the best passers in the league and can shoot well from deep. Nathan Cranford, a good shooter, and Demetrius Scott, a tough defender, will also start on the perimeter with Thompson. 6-3 Derek Thomas could get a starting job due to his athleticism. The inside spots are up for grabs. Jeremy Clayton should get one of them. He is a good all-around post player. Douglas McLaughlin-Williams and Lennox Marshall will get chances to start, as well.
Rounding Out the Pack: Elon has one of the best --albeit one of the most underrated-- players in the conference in post man Jackson Atoeybi. He went down with an injury in the fourth game of the season, effectively ending the Pheonix's chance of making any noise in the SoCon. The rest of the inside game isn't too shabby, either. Chris Chalko is a good low-post option, while Colin Wyatt and Rasmi Gamble also contributed last season. On the perimeter, Brian Waters and Scottie Rice are good scorers and Le'Vonn Jordan is a nice inside-outside player. Western Carolina has one of the best big men in the conference in center David Berghoefer. He can dominate a game from the low block. Joining him in the frountcourt is Cory Muirhead, a solid scorer and rebounder. A trio of good perimeter players all return in Kyle Greathouse, Trey Hopkins and Antonio Russell. Hopkins could develop into a go-to-guy in the backcourt. Wofford has an all-conference candidate in forward Howard Wilkerson. Wilkerson went down with an injury in January, but should be healthy. He is a near-impossible match-up for the defense. Tyler Berg is his partner down low, and proved he can be a go-to-guy as well. Eric Marshall is an excellent shooter on the wing, while Drew Gibson and Byron Fields are a decent duo at the point. Former MAAC Freshman of the Year Shane Nichols, a St. Peter's transfer, will have an impact on the perimeter. The Citadel has a nice returning group of players. The brother duo of Warren and Donny McLendon lead the way. Forward Warren is a very good inside-outside player that should be all-conference at the end of the season. Guard Donny is a good scorer. Donny's backcourt mate, Kevin Hammack, is a very good point guard. He takes good care of the ball and is a good distributor. Forwards J'mel Everhart and Matt Davis are very solid contributors for the Bulldogs.
Prediction: Davidson should repeat as the regular season champions, given their experience and the presence of Brendan Winters. The conference tournament is a different story. UNC-Greensboro has the best duo in the league; Georgia Southern has the best scorer; Furman is loaded on offense; Chattanooga won it last season; Appalachian State may have the best team out of all the contenders. After Davidson, the league is wide-open. Even the bottom feeders have some of the best players in the league. Top to bottom, the Southern Conference is going to be strong yet underrated throughout the season. Prepare for a competitive and entertaining year.
Player of the Year: Brendan Winters, SF, Davidson
G- Elton Nesbitt, Georgia Southern
G/F- Brendan Winters, Davidson
F- Jackson Atoyebi, Elon
F- Kyle Hines, UNC-Greensboro
C- David Berghoefer, Western Carolina
G- Kenny Grant, Davidson
G- Ricky Hickman, UNC-Greensboro
F- Warren McLendon, The Citadel
F- Moussa Diagne, Furman
F- Howard Wilkerson, Wofford
The regular season in the Sun Belt Conference last season went down to the final weeks, and Denver ended up with a one game lead over UL-Lafayette, and a two-game lead over Arkansas Little-Rock. The conference tournament came down to UL-Lafayette winning the title game, and then giving Louisville all they could take in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before falling. Western Kentucky and Denver went to the NIT. Overall, the league was a very underrated conference in which several teams had a chance to win on any given night. It should be more of the same this season.Favorites: Western Kentucky returns plenty of talent from a team that made it to the second round of the NIT. Anthony Winchester is one of the best mid-major wings in the country, shooting over 45 percent from beyond the arc. He also put up over 18 points and 7 rebounds. His partner on the wing is all-conference candidate Courtney Lee, who is a very good shooter and scorer. Ty Rogers is also decent on the perimeter. At the point will be two newcomers, Orlando Mendez and Joemal Campbell. Up front, Elgrace Wilborn could blossom into a dominant post player. Junior forward Boris Siakam and Daniel Emerson and Mike Walker, who have no collegiate experience, will also help in the frontcourt. Denver is home to the best player in the conference in center Yemi Nicholson. He is a load to stop in the post, and is an excellent shot blocker as well. He will carry the Pioneers. Forward Antonio Porch combines with Nicholson to give Denver the best frontcourt in the league. He is an all-league candidate. Depth needs to be found behind the two baseline players. On the perimeter, Andrew Carpenter leads the way. He is a good defender and all-around performer. Redshirt junior Alex Cox is expected to start at the point, while Brett Seger and DaShawn Walker will compete for the final starting spot.
Contenders: Louisiana-Lafayette return three players that they weren't expected to have this season. Guard Dwayne Mitchell was granted another year by the NCAA, and he should be an all-Sun Belt performer. 6-11 Chris Cameron, a perimeter threat as a big man, received an extra year due to academics. 6-11 center Michael Southall hasn't played in two seasons due to off-the-court problems. He is a potentially dominant post player. Wings Spencer Ford and Lucian Graham are the frontrunners to get the two available jobs in the starting lineup. New Orleans returns the best scoring guard in the conference in Bo McCalebb. He is explosive off the dribble and is near-impossible to defend. Four other starters also come back for the Privateers. Wings Chad Barnes and James Parlow are good shooters and scorers on the perimeter. James McNeilly also returns in the backcourt. He could have a breakout season in the starting lineup. Inside, Ben Elias and Shawn Malloy are back. Malloy could be a 12 and 9 guy every night out, while Elias is a big body down low. Nathaniel Parker and Jacob Manning provide depth. Florida International has the best forward tandem in the conference, including one of the better power forwards you've never heard of in Ivan Almonte. His partner up front is Ismael N'Diaye. Almonte averaged a double double a season ago, and should repeat his first-team all-conference status. N'Diaye is a solid scorer, rebounder, and defender. Kenny Simms also returns up front. In the backcourt, point guard Jayce Lewis returns as the starter, but St. Francis (NY) transfer John Quintana and Alan Guyton will push him for that spot. Cesar Chavez-Jacobo could start on the wing.
Sleepers: Arkansas State returns a slew of talented players, but it is the addition of two newcomers in the backcourt that will bolster the Indians. Junior college teammates Elvin Jones and Korrel Henderson are expected to either start or see extended playing time immediately. Returning point guard Dereke Tipler is a good defender and very solid distributor that averaged over 5 assists per game. 6-6 wing Jerry Nichols was nearly a double figure scorer, while Lorenzo Hampton is a decent option. In the frontcourt, all-conference candidate Kitus Witherspoon could have a breakout season. He is an excellent rebounder. Isaac Wells and Marcus Ardison also return after posting good numbers a season ago. South Alabama has an abundance of quality players up and down the roster, led by all-conference choice Mario Jointer. He can do everything on the court. Jeff Collins returns on the wing after posting decent offensive numbers last season. Point guards Steven Cowherd and Carlos Smith will run the team, but need a better assist to turnover ratio from both of them. Transfers Chey Christie (Clemson) and Demetric Bennett (SMU) are expected to make immediate impacts. Christie will form a very good wing duo with Jointer. In the frontcourt, forwards Michael Phillips and Richard Law are solid scorers and rebounders, while JC transfer Jason McGriff should make an impact down low. Middle Tennessee returns a solid trio in guard Fats Cuyler, wing Michael Morrison, and big man Kyle Young. Cuyler is a good shooter and passer, while Morrison could develop into a star in the Sun Belt. Young provides a big body down low. Several newcomers will need to step in and play significant minutes immediately. Forwards Tim Blue and Brian Lake (injured last season after six games) and guards Bud Howard, Kevin Kanaskie, and Calvin O'Neil will see time right away.
Rounding Out the Pack: Arkansas Little-Rock returns Zack Wright as the lone player that was in the main playing rotation. He is going to be the go-to-guy. Jarryd Knight and several newcomers will get the majority of the minutes on the perimeter. Up front, Rashad Jones-Jennings and Byron Ray are two JC transfers that should step up and have a significant impact. North Texas has a bevy of perimeter players leading the way. Calvin Watson could develop into an all-conference-type player, while Isaac Hines lead the team in rebounding, assists, and steals from his point guard position. Michael Sturns also returns on the wing, but Arkansas transfer Kendrick Davis will start. He can do everything and play any perimeter position. Post players Jeffrey Simpson and Justin Barnett are above average performers down low when they are healthy. Both should improve their numbers this season. Quincy Williams returns at forward. Troy has one of the best all-around guards in the league in Bobby Dixon. He was a very good shooter that also put up numbers across the board. His backcourt mate is Jacob Hazouri, who returns is a starter. He is a decent shooter but doesn't venture into the lane that often. Newcomers are going to fill out the rest of the starting lineup. Boo Ramsey and Josh Williams should see minutes on the perimeter. Sammy Sharp, Todd Martin, and C.J. Jackson will get long looks up front, although returnees Richard Damous and Jarvis Acker are solid players.
Prediction: Western Kentucky looks to have the best team in the league on paper, with Anthony Winchester and Courtney Lee on the perimeter, and Elgrace Wilborn on the inside. However, there is up to five other teams that have a legitimate chance at winning the league, based on personnel. The regular season title should be won by Western Kentucky, but the conference tournament is going to be wide open. WKU will prevail, though, and will win the automatic bid from the Sun Belt, with a handful of teams nipping at their heels. It will be an exciting race to watch.
Player of the Year: Yemi Nicholson, C, Denver
G- Mario Pointer, South Alabama
G- Anthony Winchester, Western Kentucky
G- Bo McCalebb, New Orleans
F- Ivan Almonte, Florida International
C- Yemi Nicholson, Denver
G- Dwayne Mitchell, Louisiana-Lafayette
G- Courtney Lee, Western Kentucky
G- Bobby Dixon, Troy
F- Antonio Porch, Denver
F- Ismael N'Diaye, Florida International
The West Coast Conference had an underrated regular season title race last season. Everyone knew about Gonzaga, but St. Mary's only finished one game back of them and split their regular season meetings. The rubber match occurred in the conference tournament, which Gonzaga won. In the NCAA Tournament, St. Mary's lost in the first round to Southern Illinois, while Gonzaga had another classic underachieving postseason, and was bounced in the second round by Texas Tech. A familiar face is at the top of the league again this season, while there is not another team that seems ready to take the potential second bid for the WCC.Favorite: Gonzaga is the obvious frontrunner to win the league. They are a potential Final Four squad and are a near-consensus top six or seven team in the country. First-team All-American Adam Morrison leads the way. He has the best mid-range game that has come through the college ranks in years. He is not a great three-point shooter, but he has unbelievable scoring talent. Point guard Derek Raivio is one of the best point guards in the country, yet he is underrated and overshadowed by Morrison and co. He is a very good distributor and an excellent three-point shooter. His backcourt partner is Erroll Knight, a lockdown defender. He uses his athleticism to finish in transition and grab rebounds. Down low is all-conference candidate JP Batista. He is a load to stop on the low block, and can develop into one of the better back-to-the-basket players in the country. Returnee Sean Mallon, who lost his starting job midway through last season, and freshman Josh Heytvelt will battle for the power forward position. A glut of guards provide depth on the perimeter, including returnees David Pendergraft, Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes, Nathan Doudney and freshman Jeremy Pargo.
Contenders: Portland had a disappointing seventh place finish last season, but could make some noise this season. Pooh Jeter is an all-conference performer, and can carry the Pilots due to his versatile offensive game. Darren Cooper could develop into an all-WCC player by the end of the season. He and Jeter form one of the conference's best backcourts. Donald Wilson returns on the wing, and is a good defender. 5-6 Jeremiah Dominguez provides depth. Up front, Marcus Lewis could have a huge year in the starting five after coming off the bench last season. 6-10 Ben Sullivan is a good low-post player, while Oregon State transfer Kevin Field could push for a starting job. St. Mary's has the league's second best player in forward Daniel Kickert. He is one of the best inside-outside players in the country, with his ability to score in the post and shoot the three. Not much else returns, though. Two seven-footers should hold down the center position. Reda Rhalimi saw increased minutes down the stretch, and Blake Sholberg is a good defender. Several newcomers are expected to make an impact in the backcourt. Wayne Hunter will start at the point, while UNLV transfer John Winston will compete for minutes. Returning junior Brett Collins is a good scorer who will start on the wing.
Sleepers: San Diego loses a couple of very good forwards, but returns center Nick Lewis. He can shoot the three with the touch of a guard, and should be able to score some points down low this season. Michael Shepherd will join him in the frontcourt. The perimeter group is deep and talented. Floyd North is a good scorer and could have a big year in the points department. Michael Hubbard also returns on the wing. Corey Belser is one of the better defenders in the country, and can lock down some of the best players in the league. Freshman Brandon Johnson is expected to start at the point. San Francisco lost three starters, including two all-conference caliber players. They still have a good backcourt in hand, however. Jerome Gumbs could have a huge year on the wing. He is an athletic player that will be the unquestioned leader of the team. Next to him will be Miami transfer Armando Surratt, who started for two years with the Hurricanes before transferring. He is an excellent distibutor and is very quick. Johnny Dukes should get the nod at small forward. Down low, returning starter Alan Wiggins is a solid scorer and rebounder, while Northern Iowa transfer Vince Polakovic and senior Jason Carter will also play lots of minutes in the paint.
Rounding Out the Pack: Loyola Marymount would have been a legit sleeper pick in this conference had their best player, Matthew Knight, not tore his ACL in the summer. He is gone for the season. With him out, athletic forwards Daryl Pegram and Dustin Brown will have to take on bigger roles up front. John Haywood and Chris Ayer will also see more minutes. That quartet is going to have to step up their production this season after being role players a year ago. In the backcourt, Brandon Worthy, an all-conference candidate, is back. He is a solid all-around player that can score and distribute. Wes Wardrop joins him on the perimeter. He is a very good defender and shooter. Damian Martin played well at the point a year ago, while wings Adoyah Evans-Miller and Jon Ziri will also play major roles. Santa Clara has an all-WCC player in forward Travis Niesen. He is the Broncos' go-to-guy that is also a very tough competitor. Forward Tristan Parham and center Sean Denison will start beside Niesen on the baseline. Denison is a big body in the middle, while Parham is a versatile and effective player. Brody Angley returns in the backcourt after starting 22 games a season ago. He is a decent distributor that should improve his production with more minutes. Brandon Rohe will start on the wing after missing last season with a back injury. Several newcomers will provide depth. Pepperdine loses their top three players from last season, and they all just happened to be studs in the frontcourt. The backcourt should be in good hands, however. 5-7 Kingsley Costain is a good shooter and can run the team well. Marvin Lea and Chase Griffin will also see time in the backcourt. Freshman Gregg Barlow could see immediate time at the 2-guard. He is a very good scorer. In the frontcourt, 7-foot Russell Hicks will lead the way. He is an excellent shot blocker, and could become one of the best big men in the conference. Jarrad Henry and Derick Grubb will need to step their production up from last season.
Prediction: Gonzaga will win the regular season title as well as the conference tournament. They have a chance to go undefeated in conference play, although it's doubtful that it will actually happen. In addition, it's unlikely that the WCC will repeat their two-bid season of a year ago. No other team is anywhere close to Gonzaga in this league. Portland has the personnel to make some noise, but they are light years behind the Bulldogs. St. Mary's will likely be in the thick of things late in the season. Expect a heated fight for second place in the West Coast Conference.
Player of the Year: Adam Morrison, SF, Gonzaga
G- Derek Raivio, Gonzaga
G- Pooh Jeter, Portland
F- Adam Morrison, Gonzaga
F- Daniel Kickert, St. Mary's
C- JP Batista, Gonzaga
G- Brandon Worthy, Loyola Marymount
G- Darren Cooper, Portland
G- Jerome Gumbs, San Francisco
F- Travis Niesen, Santa Clara
C- Nick Lewis, San Diego
The Western Athletic Conference was a close race last season until Nevada won their last 10 games of the season to clinch the regular season title. UTEP was neck and neck most of the way, while Rice went 12-6 to finish four games back of Nevada. The conference tournament was won by UTEP and Nevada received an at-large bid. UTEP lost to Utah in the first round in a game that went down to the wire, while Nevada defeated Texas in the first round and fell to Illinois in the second round. UTEP and Rice are not in the league anymore, while Big West power Utah State is now in the WAC. It should be a new look to the WAC, but a familiar face will be atop the standings.
Favorite: Nevada is a legit Top 25 candidate this season and is easily one of the Top 3 non-BCS teams in the country. One of the best players in the country, Nick Fazekas, leads the way. He averaged over 20 points and 9 rebounds last season, and dominated the WAC. However, he needs to play stronger against the tougher frontlines that he faces. Alongside him in the frontcourt is Mo Charlo, an athletic 6-7 forward. He could have a huge year. Center Chad Bell could be a near-dominant player given his size and skill. However, he hasn't played to his potential yet. In the backcourt is the WAC's best point guard in Ramon Sessions. He is an excellent distributor that can also score the ball. On the wing, Marcellus Kemp is back from a year missed due to injury. He is a solid all-around player. Kyle Shiloh started every game a season ago, and is a decent scorer.
Contenders: Utah State is new to the WAC, but should have the same sort of success it enjoyed in the Big West. They have potentially the best inside-outside combo in the league in guard Jaycee Carroll and forward Nate Harris. Carroll is a very good scorer and an excellent shooter. Even though he needs to round out his game a bit more, Carroll is one of the best guards in the league. Harris should be a first-team all-conference player. He is a well-round performer that is extremely efficient on the interior. The supporting cast is impressive, as well. Guard David Pak is a solid point guard that gets the ball to the right places. Chris Huber will also see time in the backcourt. Forward Cass Matheus is a productive player that will need to play bigger against the tougher competition. Several newcomers will fill in the holes. Hawaii has an excellent duo that can carry the team if they play to their potential. Forward Julian Sensley might be the most talented player in the league, but he hasn't demonstrated that over a full season. He could dominate the WAC with his multitude of skills. Sensley will be an all-conference player. On the outside, Matt Gibson is a very good scorer and solid shooter. He is most comfortable on the wing, as opposed to the point guard position that he had to play for the final stretch of the season. 7-foot center Chris Botez is an excellent defender and good rebounder, but he too could improve his production. Matthew Gipson will also see extended minutes in the paint. On the perimeter, Deonce Tatum and Bobby Nash could both start on the wing alongside Gibson. JC transfer John Wilder might get the starting job at the point.
Sleepers: Louisiana Tech has one of the most overlooked players in the country in double-double extraordinaire Paul Millsap, the NCAA's leading rebounder for the past two seasons. He gets overshadowed by Fazekas within the conference, but is every bit as good as him. His frontcourt mates are not terribly good, however. Returnee Michael Wilds will need to take on a bigger role, while newcomers Harry Disy, Adrian Rogers, and Chad McKenzie could all join Millsap up front. A very good backcourt returns for the Bulldogs in versatile playmaker Daevon Haskins, who is one of the best all-around guards in the league, and Corey Dean, a very good scorer. Fresno State has one of the best guards in the conference in Ja'Vance Coleman. He is an explosive, exciting player that can keep the Bulldogs in the game, but his subpar shooting percentage can also keep them out of games. His partners in the backcourt, Donovan Morris and point guard Kevin Bell, are solid performers. Morris is a great shooter, while Bell is excellent in the open court. Dwight O'Neil was a part-time starter than will also contribute in the backcourt. JC transfer Quinton Hosley is going to be a potential starter at one of the forward spots. Up front, Hector Hernandez will lead the way. He will need to increase his production by leaps and bounds if Fresno is going to make noise within the conference. Boise State has one of the best backcourts in the league in Coby Karl and Eric Lane. Karl is an all-conference candidate and is a very good all-around player that produces in all aspects of the game. Lane is a good on the ball defender that can also score and pass on the offensive end. Tezarray Banks returns as a starter up front. He needs to become a consistent option down low. Seth Robinson and Kareem Lloyd will also see major minutes in the post.
Rounding Out the Pack: New Mexico State is stockpiling Division-1 transfers for the next two years. Two of those transfers are eligible this season, and could make major impacts. Elijah Ingram is immediately one of the best point guards in the WAC. He averaged over 13 points per game for St. John's two years ago, more than holding his own in the Big East. Forward Tyrone Nelson, via Prairie View A&M, was a dominant performer in the SWAC. It might not be the same as the WAC, but he should still be a major contributor. The returning duo of Trevor Lawrence and Mike Mitchell is very good. Mitchell is a decent shooter that will run the team from the point, while Lawrence is a solid scorer and rebounder. San Jose State returns a solid backcourt in Donta Watson and Alex Elam. Watson is a decent option at the point, but needs to improve his shooting and defense if he wants to make a difference. Elam is a good scorer and is a pretty solid shooter. Freshman Devonte Thomas will see immediate playing time on the wing. Down low, 6-11 Matt Misko and 6-6 D.J. Brown return. Misko is a good rebounder, and could have a solid year in the post. Brown was a redshirt last season, but will give the Spartans a good scorer up front. Idaho returns two starters, both in the backcourt. Tanoris Shepard is an underrated guard within the conference, and is a very good all-around player and leader. Jerod Haynes' numbers don't jump out at you, but he was a good contributor, but needs to improve his offensive game. Mike Kale is the only returnee up front, and he needs to have a much better season than he did last year for the Vandals to have a chance. Newcomers Rob Pankowski and David Dubois have very good chances to start.
Prediction: Nevada should win both the regular season title and the automatic bid in the new-look WAC.. They have the best player in the league in Nick Fazekas and the best point guard in the WAC in Ramon Sessions. Throw in several very good role players, and that is the recipe for success. However, Louisiana Tech has a player in Paul Millsap that can hold his own against Fazekas, while Utah State and Hawaii have inside-outside combos that can rival Nevada's. However, the Wolfpack will take down both titles come March. Aside from the bottom two teams, however, the rest of the WAC is balanced and has several teams that can beat each other any given night.
Player of the Year: Nick Fazekas, PF, Nevada
G- Ramon Sessions, Nevada
G- Ja'Vance Coleman, Fresno State
F- Nate Harris, Utah State
F- Paul Millsap, Lousiana Tech
F- Nick Fazekas, Nevada
G- Coby Karl, Boise State
G- Jaycee Carroll, Utah State
G- Matt Gibson, Hawaii
G- Elijah Ingram, New Mexico State
F- Julian Sensley, Hawaii
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
The MAC Conference may have been the best mid-major conference, top to bottom, in the country. They had nine teams with at least 10 wins within the league, as well as nine teams above .500 overall. From start to finish, the league was wide-open, as evidenced by last-place Marshall's victory over first-place Miami (Ohio) on the last day of the season. With a chance to tie for the league title, several teams lost on the final day of the year, leaving a logjam at 11-7. In the conference tournament, Ohio outlasted the rest of the teams and gained the league's automatic bid. They then went to the NCAA Tournament and came thisclose to knocking off Florida in the first round. Buffalo should have joined the Bobcats in the Field of 65, but they were the last team left out of the field. Ohio could repeat as MAC Champion again.
Favorite: Ohio is one of the best mid-major teams in the country, and is a candidate for a Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament. Leon Williams is a dominant force down low, and is unstoppable within the MAC. He is also an excellent rebounder. Mychal Green is another first-team all-conference pick. He is a good shooter and defender and is one of the best scorers in the conference. The backcourt of Jeremy Fears and Sonny Troutman could have two all-conference players, as well. Fears is one of the better point guards in the league, and provides scoring and passing. Troutman is a scorer on the wing. He is an excellent third option. The lone starting spot left open will go to Boston College transfer Johnnie Jackson. He will team with Williams in the frontcourt, but spends most of time on the perimeter.
Contenders: Akron has one of the top two frontcourts in the league, as well as a solid point guard in Dru Joyce. The 5-7 Joyce is a good assist man and provides quickness. They basically line up four forwards next to Joyce. Romeo Travis, high school teammate of Joyce and LeBron James, is an all-conference pick. He is a very good scorer and rebounder inside for the Zips. Darryl Peterson is another scorer in the frontcourt, averaging 13 points per game. Jeremiah Wood missed most of last season with an injury, but should start this year. He is a double-double threat every night out. Matt Futch also returns as a starter in the frontcourt. If they decide to go more conventional, guards Bubba Walther and Cedrick Middleton could start. Northern Illinois is one of the favorites to win the West Division. Mike McKinney, a first team all-conference candidate, is an excellent scorer and an above-average rebounder. He leads a very good perimeter trio. Anthony Maestranzi is one of the more solid point guards in the league, while Cory Sims is the best playmaker on the team, as evidenced by his 10-point, 5-assist, 4-rebound averages. Iowa transfer Ben Rand should make an impact. In the frontcourt, Todd Peterson returns to provide a nice inside-outside duo with McKinney. James Hughes could develop into a star big man in the MAC with more playing time. Toledo loses Keith Triplett, but return a deep and talented team capable of making a run. Justin Ingram and Sammy Villegas form a very good backcourt, with Ingram one of the best point guards in the conference. Kashif Payne comes off the bench and produces solid numbers, while Keonta Howell is an excellent swingman. Forward Florentino Valencia is expected to have a big year, and returning starter Anton Currie is also back. Allen Pinson will most likely start at center for the Rockets.
Sleepers: Kent State returns three starters and three other players who saw extensive playing time. Guard DeAndre Haynes might be the best pure point guard in the conference, averaging 5.5 assists per game to go with 10 points and 3.4 rebounds. Jay Youngblood is a solid scorer on the wing, while forward Kevin Warzynski rounds out the starters. He will be the go-to-guy in the frontcourt. Guard Armon Gates is expected to start after providing excellent depth last season. 6-9 Nate Gerwig will also likely start and could become a dependable inside option. Marcus Crenshaw will give the backcourt a breather. Buffalo loses their heart and soul in Turner Battle from a team that should have made the NCAA Tournament, but they will be back in the hunt. Forward Yassin Idbihi is a good offensive player, capable of scoring from the mid-range as well as in the low post. The backcourt of Calvin Cage and Roderick Middleton should be the one of the better ones in the league, even though neither of them started a season ago. Parnell Smith and Mario Jordan could start at the forward spots for the Bulls, although freshman Vadim Fedotov is expected to compete for a starting job. Ball State could make a run at the title this season if everyone is healthy. Peyton Stovall heads the group. He had ACL surgery in March, but should be ready for the start of the season. He will be a first-team all-conference selection if he plays. Darren Yates joins him in the backcourt. Skip Mills could be one of the best forwards in the conference if develops into a go-to-guy. Charles Bass didn't play at all last seaosn due to injury, but should be able to make a significant contribution in the frontcourt. Anthony Kent and Tom Howland will fight for the center spot in the starting lineup. Western Michigan returns a solid inside-outside combo in guard Brian Snider and post player Joe Reitz. Both should have big seasons. Forward Stane's Bufford and guard Silver Laku will contribute from the wing to give the Broncos some offensive balance. Andrew Hershberger will also expand his role after riding the bench last season.
Rounding Out the Pack: Miami returns three starters, but loses two of the best players in the MAC from a season ago. William Hatcher is a solid scorer that runs the team well. Josh Hausfield needs to produce right away once he gets into the starting lineup after coming off the bench last year. Nathan Peavy and Monty St. Clair return as starters up front. Peavy needs to live up to his potential, while St. Clair needs to stop spending all of his time on the perimeter. Bowling Green lost a slew of players from last year's team and will need to rebuild. Steven Wright could develop into a top-of-the-line player for Dan Dakich, but he hasn't proven that yet. John Floyd is an excellent distributor in the backcourt next to Wright. Also in the backcourt is newcomer Martin Samarco, who could compete for a starting job. Mawel Soler needs to take on more of an offensive role this season in the frontcourt. Eastern Michigan has one of the best forwards in the league in John Bowler, who has a nice offensive game to complement his rebounding skills. JC transfer Chris Knaub could start next to him in what would be a pretty sizeable MAC frontcourt. Danny McElhinny is the lone returning contributor to the backcourt. Freshman Carlos Medlock could start at the point. Central Michigan has a bright spot in perimeter duo Giordan Watson and Sefton Barrett. Barrett is a good rebounder and will become the main option on offense. Watson is a decent point guard who can pass fairly well, but also turns the ball over too often. Eddie Spencer is expected to take over in the starting lineup and become an immediate go-to-guy if he can handle it. 7-1 Drew Walker also figures to factor in the starting lineup.
Prediction: Ohio can make a Sweet 16 run in this year's NCAA Tournament, and I wouldn't be surprised if they did. The Bobcats are far too talented on offense for anyone within the MAC to slow down, with Leon Williams, Mychal Green, and co. scoring at will against opponents. Akron has the frontcourt to hang with Ohio, while Northern Illinois has good balance. The Mid-American conference has several teams capable of making a run at Ohio and the league crown, going as far as Kent State, who will likely finish third in the East Division. Any team can beat any team in this league, as last year showed. Anticipate another season like last year's for this season's MAC campaign.
Player of the Year: Leon Williams, PF, Ohio
G- Mike McKinney, Northern Illinois
G- Peyton Stovall, Ball State
F- Mychal Green, Ohio
F- Romeo Travis, Akron
F- Leon Williams, Ohio
G- Jeremy Fears, Ohio
G- DeAndre Haynes, Kent State
F- John Bowler, Eastern Michigan
F- Sonny Troutman, Ohio
F- Jeremiah Wood, Akron
The Horizon League wasn't the most exciting of leagues last season, as Wisconsin-Milwaukee won the regular season title by four games. In the conference tournament, Detroit was on the verge of upsetting the Panthers, but fell short by two in the championship game. Once in the NCAA Tournament, UW-Milwaukee used their press to perfection, defeated Alabama and Boston College en route to the Sweet 16, where they lost to Illinois after a valiant effort. The Panthers could repeat their Cinderella run of a year ago with a few breaks here and there.
Favorites: Wisconsin-Milwaukee returns everyone but star Ed McCants from the Sweet 16 team of a year ago. Joah Tucker, the leading candidate for conference Player of the Year, can dominate a game, as evidenced by his 32-point performance against Illinois in the NCAA Tournament. His partner up front, Adrian Tigert, is an all-conference-caliber player. He is a very good rebounder and a solid low-post option that does all the dirty work down low. In the backcourt, the underrated tandem of Boo Davis and Chris Hill return. Davis is a double-figure scorer and a decent shooter, while Hill is a solid all-around player. Returning wings Allan Hanson and Mark Pancratz and Western Kentucky transfer Kevin Massiah will attempt to replace McCants.
Contenders: Detroit came within two points of the NCAA Tournament, and only lose one starter from that team. Brandon Cotton may be the best offensive player in the league. He is nearly impossible to stop when driving to the basket. Muhammed Abdur-Rahim returns as a starter on the wing, while Ben Green is also a nice option off the bench. Marquette transfer Brandon Bell should have an impact once he becomes eligible at the point. Up front, Ryvon Coville and Torvoris Baker have the potential to be one of the better inside tandems in the league. Forwards Chuck Bailey and Ethan Shaw will see plenty of minutes off the bench. Wright State returns four starters from a .500 team. Point guard DaShaun Wood is one of the better players in the conference. He is an excellent scorer and rebounder (for his size), as well as a very solid passer. His backcourt partner, Zakee Boyd, is a double-figure scorer and provides shooting for the Raiders. Two forwards also return in the starting lineup. Drew Burleson is the main option down low. He has a nice mid-range game and provides balance on the inside. Everett Spencer can do nearly everything on the court. He spends most of his time on the perimeter but he is a very good rebounder. Jordan Pleiman should move into the starting lineup. He could be poised for a big year at the center spot. Guard Jaron Taylor and several frontcourt newcomers will provide depth.
Sleepers: Loyola-Chicago returns one of the most versatile and talented players in the league in Blake Schlib. The 6-7 point guard can do everything on the court and is a player of the year candidate. Majak Kou was the team's sixth man last season but should move into the starting lineup this year. He is the best defender on the team, and was a double-figure scorer a year ago. Chris Logan also returns as a starter on the perimeter. In the frontcourt, Tom Levin is the lone returnee with significant experience. Several newcomers, including JC transfer Kye Pattrick, are going to have to step up up front. Butler returns all five starters from a season ago. Leading the way is a trio of guards that ranked 1-2-3 in the league in 3-point shooting percentage. A.J. Graves is the best perimeter scorer on the team, averaging over 11 points per game. He led the team in steals and is also a good passer and an exceptional free throw shooter. Bruce Horan led the league in three-point shooting percentage, but is somewhat one-dimensional. Avery Sheets also averaged around double figures in points. He was the leading assist man on the team, and had over a 2:1 assist:turnover ratio. That trio forms one of the best perimeter triumvirates around, but Brandon Polk is the go-to-guy on the Bulldogs. He is a candidate for the first-team all conference. He is tough to stop down low. Brandon Crone is his partner in the frontcourt. He is a solid all-around player that can also hit the three. Illinois-Chicago loses their top two players from a year ago, but return a solid group of players that should be ready to step up. Elliott Poole is the top returnee; he could be ready for a huge season. Jovan Stefanov is very versatile and will be one of the better scorers on the team if he gets used to being a go-to-guy. Justin Bowen came off the bench at times and started other times a season ago, and could do the same this year. He is an excellent athlete and a very good rebounder. Newcomers Othyus Jeffers and Danijel Zoric are expected to make impacts in the frontcourt. On the perimeter, Rocky Collum returns as a starter, and is the best shooter on the team. However, he might not keep his starting job. JC transfer D.J. Smedley is expected to push him at the point. Karl White will move into the starting lineup.
Rounding Out the Pack: Wisconsin-Green Bay lost essentially their entire team, but a host of newcomers are ready to take the departed's places. However, the one major returnee, forward Josh Lawrence, is a good one. He is an inside-outside threat that needs to have a huge year. Point guard Ryan Evanochko also returns. He is a decent scorer. The only other returnee that is going to see minutes is center Tevah Morris. Freshman forwards Ryan Tillema and Mike Schachtner are expected to play major minutes right away, as is guard Simon Farine. Cleveland State returns one of the best guards in the conference in Raheem Moss. He is a very good shooter and scorer. Fellow perimeter players Victor Morris and Steve Gansey have the ability to double their scoring averages from a year ago and get into double figures. Up front, Patrick Latham and Frashon McGee return. Latham is an excellent defender, while McGee could have a big year. Purdue transfer Ije Nwankwo should make an immediate impact once eligible. Youngstown State has one of the best players in the league in guard Quin Humphrey, who could be even better this season. His backcourt partner will be Derrick Harris, a solid point guard. Freshman Chad Fender is an excellent shooter. Up front, John Barber leads the way. He needs to become a better all-around player if he is going to become a go-to-guy down low. Colin LaForme and Alex Sanchez are going to have to step their respective games up if the Penguins are going to do anything this season.
Prediction: UW-Milwaukee is the odds-on favorite to win the Horizon League. They could run away with it if they play to their potential. No one has enough players to match up with guys like Joah Tucker, Adrian Tigert, and Boo Davis. They just have too many options. Detroit, as always, will be in the thick of things, while Wright State and Butler lead a group of teams that are going to contend for what will end up being second place. Although anything can happen in the conference tournament, UW-Milwaukee will get the automatic bid from the Horizon League. A very balanced league is in for an interesting winter, especially if UW-Milwaukee is as good as advertisted.
Player of the Year: Joah Tucker, F, UW-Milwaukee
G- Brandon Cotton, Detroit
G- DaShaun Wood, Wright State
F- Blake Schlib, Loyola-Chicago
F- Joah Tucker, UW-Milwaukee
F- Brandon Polk, Butler
G- Quin Humphrey, Wright State
G- Raheem Moss, Cleveland State
G- Josh Lawrence, Wisconsin-Green Bay
F- Adrian Tigert, UW-Milwaukee
F- Drew Burleson, Wright State
The Missouri Valley Conference was one of the deepest mid-major conference in terms of NCAA Tournament caliber-teams. They had four teams in contention for a bid to the Big Dance heading into Championship Week. Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa received at-large bids, while Creighton won the automatic bid with a victory over Southwest Missouri State (now known as Missouri State), while Wichita State faltered down the stretch and was left out. In the NCAA Tournament, Southern Illinois beat St. Mary's and took Oklahoma State to the wire before losing in the second round. Northern Iowa gave Wisconsin a game before falling, while Creighton played one of the best first-round games against West Virginia, but also lost. Three bids could again come from the Missouri Valley.
Favorites: Northern Iowa may be the best mid-major team in the country (Gonzaga doesn't count). They return all five starters from an NCAA Tournament team a year ago. Ben Jacobson is one of the top shooting guards in the nation, and is certainly one of the best shooters overall. In addition, he is one of the better competitors around. He is one of two leading candidates for the conference players of the year. On the other wing, Erik Crawford is an excellent scorer but an even better defender. Inside, Grant Stout and Eric Coleman form the best post duo in the MVC. Stout could be all-conference this season with another big year, while Coleman should be recovered from a summer league injury he suffered. Brooks McKowen rounds out the lineup. John Little and Atila Santos provide depth in the backcourt and frontcourt, respectively. Creighton returns four starters from a team that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Nate Funk leads the way. One of the top shooters in the country, Funk can carry the Blue Jays. He can go to the basket or bomb from outside. He is also the leading rebounder for Creighton, as well as a solid passer and defender. Johnny Mathies likes to play on the wing better than at the point, and he produced extremely well a season ago. Freshman Josh Dotzler might step in at the point. Up front, a quarter of post players should handle the load. Dane Watts and Anthony Tolliver will start, but Jeffrey Day and perimeter threat Jimmy Motz will see ample time.
Contenders: Southern Illinois loses three starters from the regular season champs of a season ago, including two-time player of the year Darren Brooks. Jamaal Tatum will need to take over the leadership role for the Salukis. He is a candidate for all-conference honors. Sixth Man award winner Tony Young and role player Mike Dale will join him on the perimeter. Both should see their numbers go up with more playing time. Matt Shaw returns as a starter at one forward spot, while Randal Falker should get the nod at the other inside spot. Missouri State returns three starters from an NIT team. The perimeter trio of Deke Thompson, Tyler Chaney, and Blake Ahearn is one of the more balanced and talented backcourts in the league. Ahearn led the NCAA in free throw percentage the last two seasons. In the frontcourt, returning starter Nathan Bilyeu and athletic Deven Mitchell will play major roles. Sky Frazer and Drew Richards will fight for the starting center spot. Kellen Easley provides excellent depth on the perimeter. Bradley returns five starters and nearly all their production from a season ago. Marcellus Sommerville is one of the best players in the conference, and a two-time first team selection. He can dominate a game. His partner on the inside is another all-conference candidate, 7-footer Patrick O'Bryant. O'Bryant might develop into a star in this league. Sixth man Lawrence Wright, a double-figure scorer, also returns in the frontcourt, while freshman Zach Andrews might compete for a starting forward spot. The perimeter trio of Tony Bennett, Daniel Ruffin, Jeremy Crouch provides excellent balance to the potentially dominant frontcourt. Bennett is a very good scorer; Ruffin averaged almost five assists per game; and Crouch is a solid all-around player.
Sleepers: Wichita State was in the thick of an NCAA bid last season before falling off the map down the stretch. They lose four starters from that team. The lone returning starter is center Paul Miller, who could be an all-conference player now that he is the go-to-guy. Forward Kyle Wilson is a very solid forward and will form a nice frontcourt duo with Miller. On the perimeter, P.J. Couisnard is expected to become a star after coming off the bench last season, while Sean Ogirri will also move into the starting lineup. Marquette transfer Karon Bradley will make an impact at the point immediately. Drake returns several players that made solid contributions a season ago. Klayton Korver and Aliou Keita form a very good frontcourt duo. Keita has loads of potential, while Korver is an inside-outside threat. The backcourt returns Chaun Brooks, Chris Bryant, and Nick Grant are three good guards that provide decent production. However, it is the recruiting class, the best in the MVC, that will make or break the Bulldogs. Al Stewart will step in at the point, while Ajay Calvin will make an impact up front.
Rounding Out the Pack: Indiana State loses both frontcourt starters, but returns a very good perimeter troika, including David Moss. Moss is one of the best players in the conference, and is very tough to stop offensively. Returning starters Tysen Schnitker and Gabriel Moore are very good shooter who will join him in the backcourt, while Eric Gray was a double-figure scorer off the bench. In the frontcourt, players are going to have to step up. Returnees Darron Evans, Brandon Ray, Mich Yelovich and newcomer Trent Wurtz need to provide a solid inside presence for the Sycamores. Evansville loses their two leading scorers from a ninth place team, and will have to find a way to move up in the standings. Kyle Anslinger is a tough competitor and a decent all-around player in the backcourt, while newcomer Maurice Blakey is expected to start at the point. Up front, Matt Webster and Bradley Strickland comprise a good inside duo, while Justin Petty will start at the remaining forward spot. Illinois State returns one starter from what was a solid Sycamore club from a year ago. Greg Dilligard produced average numbers and was the fifth option on offense. He needs to step up. Neil Plank is a solid swingman, while Nedu Onyeuku is a decent guard. Roberto Fortes and other newcomers will need to make a huge impact in order to make some noise in the league.
Prediction: Northern Iowa and Creighton are going to fight for the regular season title all season long, with NIU coming out in the end thanks to their multitude of options and balance on offense. Ben Jacobson and Nate Funk are also going to be in a tug of war in the Player of the Year race. I would say that the winner of the league will have the league's player of the year, but it could change this season. This is a very tough league from top to bottom, and the winner could come from as deep as fifth place, which would be Bradley. Expect an exciting season, with plenty of talk about bubble teams from this conference late in the season, in the MVC.
Player of the Year: Nate Funk, Creighton
G- Nate Funk, Creighton
G- Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa
G- Jamaal Tatum, Southern Illinois
F- David Moss, Indiana State
F- Marcellus Sommerville, Bradley
G- Erik Crawford, Northern Iowa
G- Blake Ahearn, Missouri State
F- Grant Stout, Northern Iowa
C- Paul Miller, Wichita State
C- Patrick O'Bryant, Bradley
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
This was one of the most underrated conference in the country the entire season. Old Dominion was dominant most of the season, although they slipped during the final week. In addition to them, five other teams finished with double figure wins within the conference. Old Dominion defeated Virginia Commonwealth in a very close tournament championship game, and gave Michigan State a run in the first round before losing. The Colonial conference shouldn't be very underrated this season--people should already know about it. It is going to be loaded top to bottom, with several teams chasing the defending champions for the title.
Favorite: Old Dominion is the defending regular season and tournament champion, and should repeat both of those feats this season. Alex Loughton is one of the best mid-major big men around, and he can put the Monarchs on his back if necessary. Arnaud Dahi joins him in the frontcourt. He is a viable inside option and is very versatile. Valdas Vasylius has proven that he can produce if given minutes; he and 7-3 Sam Harris provide depth. In the backcourt, Isaiah Hunter returns. He could be an all-conference pick this season. Point guard Drew Williamson is a very fundamentally sound, heady point guard. He doesn't make many mistakes and is an excellent passer and defender. Brian Henderson and Brandon Johnson were solid off the bench last season; one of them could start this year.
Contenders: Hofstra finished on a hot streak last season, and hope to carry that into this year. Loren Stokes may be the best all-around player in the conference. He is very smooth and is a top-notch scorer, in addition to being an excellent rebounder and solid passer. Antoine Agudio joins Stokes on the wing. He is a very good shooter and could be even better offensively than he was last season. At the point, Carlos Rivera has struggled somewhat. Luckily for the Pride, several options are available. Veteran Gibran Washington can play, but the more exciting option would be newcomer Greg "Playstation" Johnson. Up front, Adrian Uter is a good rebounder and defender, while Aurimas Kieza needs to play tougher inside. George Mason may have the best trio of any team in the conference in guards Lamar Butler and Tony Skinn, and big man Jai Lewis. They combined to average 43 points per game last season. Butler and Skinn may be the best backcourt in the league, while Lewis provides an excellent inside option. Gabe Norwood is versatile at forward, while John Vaughan and Folarin Campbell are solid scorers on the wing. Virginia Commonwealth has one of the best players in the league in forward Nick George. He can score in a variety of ways, and is very difficult to stop. B.A. Walker is the main option on the perimeter, and mans the point well. Jesse Pellot-Rosa is solid on the wing, while Calvin Roland returns at center for the Rams. The final starting spot could go to Seton Hall transfer Eric Davis or returnees Alexander Harper and Renardo Dixon.
Sleepers: UNC-Wilmington returns one of the best guards in the league in defensive player of the year John Goldsberry, who is also an excellent distributor and shooter and a decent scorer. T.J. Carter will be his backcourt mate after coming off the bench last year and providing excellent scoring. JC transfer Temi Soyebo is expected to make an immediate impact at the point. Wake Forest transfer Todd Hendley could develop into one of the best interior players in the conference. A solid forward trio returns in Mitch Laue, Beckham Wyrick, and Taylor Lay. Northeastern has one of the best point guards in the country in Jose Juan Barea. He is an outstanding scorer at over 22 points a game, and still finds time to dish out over 7 assists per contest. Bobby Kelly, Adrian Martinez, and Aaron Davis return on the perimeter to help out Barea. Inside, Shawn James is one of the most underrated players in the mid-major world. He averaged in double figures last season, and also went for about 8 boards and 5 blocks per contest. He forms an excellent inside-outside combo with Barea. Bennet Davis is a solid forward. Drexel returns a relatively underrated inside-outside duo in Bashir Mason and 6-10 Chaz Crawford. Mason is a decent assist man, while Crawford is a pretty good scorer, rebounder, and a very good shot blocker. Dominick Mejia also returns in the backcourt for the Dragons. If Timothy Tillman can provide another solid big man down low, this team will be more balanced. Delaware returns one of the best forwards that you have never heard of in Harding Nana. He averaged a double double last season, but the Blue Hens only won 11 games. Guard Anthony Washington was a capable scorer from the perimeter, and showed he can carry the backcourt. Rulon Washington also returns in the backcourt. Rapheal Madera needs to take some of the pressure off Nana inside, while JC transfer Calvin Cannon is expected to play a major role at the point.
Rounding Out the Pack: James Madison returns a dynamite trio that could make some noise within the Colonial. Ray Barbosa is one of the better perimeter scorers in the league, while Daniel Freeman averaged 19 points per game last season before ending his season after 3 games due to injury. Inside, Cavell Johnson gives the Dukes a very good inside option. Jomo Belfor is a quality point guard, and David Cooper and Gabriel Chami return in the frontcourt. William & Mary returns three starters. Corey Cofield is a vastly underrated interior option, while fellow forwards Laimis Kisielius and Hawley Smith also return to give the Tribe a solid frontcourt. Nathan Mann will handle the point, while Vanderbilt transfer Adam Payton will contribute right away in the backcourt. Towson returns four starters, including potential all-conference forward Lawrence Hamm. Cantrell Fletcher is a decent point guard, while Trevan Jackson also returns as a contributor to the backcourt. Winstonn Tubbs and Holden Plack started last season up front, while Jonathan Pease provided quality depth. However, three transfers could start next to Fletcher and Hamm. Loyola (Ill.) transfer Terrance Whiters is expected to make an impact in the backcourt, while JC transfers Marc Pratt and Dennard Abraham should see extensive time up front. Georgia State return one of the better backcourts in the conference in Malcolm Manier and Boyd Copeland. Copeland was a solid assist man and an excellent rebounder for his size, and Manier was a good defender and scorer. D'Andre McGrew will also see time on the perimeter. JC transfer Lance Perique should make an impact on the wing, while Rashad Chase and Ranard Robinson are newcomers that will get loads of playing time in the frontcourt, next to returning players Deven Dickerson and Justin Billingslea.
Prediction: The Colonial Athletic Association is going to be loaded this season. I'd take their all-conference team against most conferences in a pick-up game; that's how talented this league is. There are three teams that would be the preseason favorite in many mid-major conferences in Old Dominion, Hofstra, and George Mason. It is going to be a tight race throughout the entire season. Expect an extremely competitive conference tournament, with Old Dominion pulling it out in the end because of their experience and balance. Look out for this conference in 2005-2006--they should have a big year.
Player of the Year: Alex Loughton, C, Old Dominion
G- Loren Stokes, Hofstra
G- Jose Juan Barea, Northeastern
F- Nick George, Virginia Commonwealth
F- Harding Nana, Delaware
C- Alex Loughton, Old Dominion
G- John Goldsberry, UNC-Wilmington
G- Antoine Agudio, Hofstra
G- Lamar Butler, George Mason
G- Isaiah Hunter, Old Dominion
F- Jai Lewis, George Mason
The America East Conference was led from start to finish a season ago by Vermont, with now-departed finishing only one game back, with Boston University one game behind them. In the conference tournament, Vermont defeated Boston University in the title game, and went on to pull up one of the biggest upsets of the NCAA Tournament when they beat #4 seeded Syracuse in the first round. They then lost to Michigan State in the second round. The league as a whole is down this year, with Vermont and Boston University rebuilding. There are several teams that can take advantage of that.
Favorite: Albany returns four of five starters from a season ago, including the league's best backcourt in Player of the Year candidate Jamar Wilson and All-Conference pick Lucious Jordan. They may be the two best players in the conference. 5-9 Jon Iati returns after a year missed due to injury. He was the America East Rookie of the Year two years ago after averaging 11 points per game. Up front, forwards Levi Levine and Brent Wilson should form one of the best frontcourt duos in the league. 7-1 Kirsten Zoellner returns at center for the Great Danes.
Contenders: Boston University loses three starters, but returns two players that could be ready for a breakout season. Guard Shaun Wynn is an excellent defender, and will increase his production. Forward Kevin Gardner posted solid numbers last season, but will need to develop into a go-to-guy this year. Matt Wolff and several other players are going to have to step up quickly if the Terriers are going to make another run. Maine returns an excellent backcourt in Kevin Reed and Ernest Turner. Both should be all-conference choices by the end of the season. However, there isn't much going on in the frontcourt. Freddy Petkus is going to have to become a viable option up front in order for the Black Bears to relieve some of the pressure that is on the star backcourt. Stony Brook finished in 7th place last season, but should be the most improved team in the league this year. Bobby Santiago and Antwan Hardy return in the backcourt, which will be bolstered by the comeback of Mitchell Beauford, who missed all but six games last year due to injury. That trio each averaged double figures a season ago, led by Beauford going for nearly 17 per game. Up front, Mike Popoko provides balance for the Seawolves. He is a very good option in the post. JonPaul Kobryn also returns in the frontcourt. He sat out last season due to injury, but should be one of the best low-post options in the conference.
Sleepers: Hartford returns a team that can make some noise if all the pieces fall into place. Aaron Cook will be an all-conference selection in the backcourt, given his scoring prowess. Charles Ford and David Ruffin also return as starters on the perimeter. Rich Baker will provide depth. Bo Taylor should have a big season up front now that he will be the go-to-guy up front. Hofstra transfer Kenny Adeleke will also be eligible to play. He was an excellent player for the Pride; if he can stay focused on basketball, he will have a big impact. Binghamton has an all-conference candidate in guard Andre Heard, who has the ability to carry the Bearcats. Troy Hailey and Schafer Jackson are two more solid players in the backcourt. Sebastian Hermenier is a decent player in the paint, and could improve his numbers with more opportunities.
Rounding Out the Pack: Vermont loses one of the best inside-outside combos in conference history in TJ Sorrentine and Taylor Coppenrath, who both had historic careers with the Catamounts. This season, lots of rebuilding will have to be done. Even without Coppenrath, the frontcourt returns several players that should be able to keep Vermont competitive. Martin Klimes returns as a starter, while Josh Duell could develop into a star. 6-11 Chris Hold will add size, while 6-7 swingman Ryan Schneider will likely shift to the backcourt to make room for all the frontcourt players. A guard needs to step up if the Catamounts are going to remain in the upper tier, however. New Hampshire wasn't very good last season, and things shouldn't be entirely different this year. Contrasting to nearly every other team in the America East, the Wildcats are lead by a very solid forward combination. Blagoj Janev and Mike Christiansen are a pair of 6-8 bookends that combined for about 20 points and 9 boards a season ago. Chris Vetrano provides the production from the perimeter. Maryland-Baltimore County returns a decent trio from a year ago in guards Brian Hodges and Rashad Bilal, as well as forward John Zito. Hodges and Bilal seem poised for breakout seasons as a result of the fact that they were reserve players a season ago. The Retrievers are, for the most part, a young team. This season should develop the players for down the road in a year or two.
Prediction: Albany is the clear-cut choice for the automatic bid from the America East. They return potentially the two best players in the league in Jamar Wilson and Lucious Jordan, as well as a very good frontcourt consisting of forwards Brent Wilson and Levi Levine. The Great Danes also have more quality depth than most teams in the conference. Stony Brook might be the closest thing to a contender that the conference has for Albany. Boston University should come around by the end of the season, while Hartford has a very talented squad. Albany could run away with the regular season title, but the conference tournament should be competitive.
Player of the Year: Jamar Wilson, SG, Albany
G- Jamar Wilson, Albany
G- Kevin Reed, Maine
G- Andre Heard, Binghamton
G- Lucious Jordan, Albany
G- Aaron Cook, Hartford
G- Shaun Wynn, Boston University
G- Mitchell Beauford, Stony Brook
G- Ernest Tucker, Maine
F- Levi Levine, Albany
F- Kevin Gardner, Boston University
The Big West Conference had a season where there was a fairly large gap between the top teams and the bottom teams. Pacific ran away with the league, going undefeated in conference play. Now-departed Utah State finished 5 games back, with Cal State-Fullerton and Cal State-Northridge one game behind the Aggies. After that, there was a full four games between Northridge and the next team in the standings. In the conference tournament, Utah State handed Pacific their first loss in the Big West. Both teams went to the NCAA Tournament, with Utah State losing to Arizona in the first round, and Pacific defeating Pitt in the first round before falling to top-seeded Washington in the second round. Expect more balance and more parody in the league this season.
Favorites: Cal State Fullerton had a successful season a year ago, winning two NIT games and finishing 21-11. They should make the NCAA Tournament this year. Bobby Brown is the best guard in the league, and possibly the best player overall. He can do it all, whether it is in the form of points, rebounds, assists, or steals. Jamaal Brown is also going to be a first team all-Big West pick. The 6-7 forward is an excellent low-post player. Jermaine Harper is a versatile third option on the wing. East Carolina transfer Frank Robinson should have an immediate impact on the perimeter. Several players could play important roles up front, including returnees Justin Burns and Derek Quinet, and newcomer Gary Nunez. Pacific has the preseason Player of the Year in center Christian Maraker. He has an excellent inside-outside game. The problem for the Tigers is that he is the lone returning starter. Guards Johnny Gray and Mike Webb saw extensive minutes a year ago, so the backcourt will be in good shape. Maraker needs help up front, though. Mike White needs to pick his game up if he wants to start, while Anthony Esparza leads a talented group of newcomers.
Contenders: Cal State Northridge loses their top three scorers from last season, but return two starters and an abundance of role players that are ready to make bigger splashes in the Big West. Calvin Chitwood is expected to become an all-conference-caliber player, while 6-10 Thomas Shewmake also has the potential to be one of the best low post players in the league. Joining them in the frontcourt is Jonathan Heard, who was one of the best freshman in the conference last season. Three transfers will be counted on to make immediate impacts. JC transfer Jonathan Smith and UC Irvine transfer Mike Efevberha will form a decent backcourt combo, while San Jose State transfer Keith Everage should have a big year in the frontcourt. UC Santa Barbara return a very deep and talented team that lost two starters from a season ago. Josh Davis is a blossoming guard, and could develop into a top-notch offensive player. He is already an excellent defender. 6-6 Alex Harris also returns on the perimeter and should see his numbers increase. Joe See is a good scorer at guard as well, while Cecil Brown returns from injury to continue his solid play on the perimeter. Up front, Glenn Turner returns at center, although Cameron Goettsche is healthy now and could become an all-conference player. He is a legit post presence. Derek Rasp and Michael Chambers will also see minutes for the Gauchos. Sophomore forward Chris Devine hasn't played since he got to school two years ago. He is a superb athlete.
Sleepers: Long Beach State returns a very good inside-outside combination in guard Jibril Hodges and forward Shawn Hawkins. Both could be all-league performers by the end of the season. Onye Ibekwe is back at center after a solid sophomore season. Guards Kevin Houston and Louis Darby are ready for bigger roles after contributing off the bench last season. Several freshman are coming that could contend for starting jobs, but will make an impact no matter what. UC Irvine returns four starters from a 16-13 team. Ross Schraeder and Aaron Fitzgerald comprise one of the top backcourts in the conference, with both averaging nearly 13 points per game. Jeff Gloger also returns to start on the perimeter; he went for 10 points and 5 boards per contest. However, he may not be able to play because of injuries he sustained during the offseason. Tenacious defender Shamar Armstrong could replace him if he can't go. In the frontcourt, Nic Campbell and Darren Fells make up a decent starting duo, while 6-10 Adam Metelski provides a big body down low.
Rounding Out the Pack: UC Riverside has an above-average backcourt coming back in Rickey Porter, an all-around talent, and Larry Cunnigham, one of the best scorers in the conference. Versatile Steve Williams produces in several categories. Center Klaus Schille needs to improve his numbers if the Highlanders are going to improve from a year ago. Cal Poly returns two starters from a 5-22 club. Guard Dawin Whiten is the best player on the Mustangs. Fernando Sampson is back to help Whiten on the perimeter. Up front, Andew Haskins returns as a starter, while Joe Henry will provide depth off the bench. Freshmen Coby Leavitt and Chaz Thomas could have major impacts down low and at the point, respectively. Derek Stockalper was the team's best rebounder before his season ended prematurely due to injury. He should start at small forward.
Prediction: Cal State Fullerton should break the Pacific-Utah State trend of recent seasons, although Utah State isn't in the Big West anymore. They have two of the three best players in the league in Bobby Brown and Jamaal Brown. If a couple of role players step up to play major roles, the Titans should win the league. As usual, Pacific will be right there, while UC Santa Barbara could make some noise. Every team has a chance of winning some games within the conference--that's how balanced the Big West is this season. When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, though, the Big West is going to be a one-bid league--and that lone ticket will go to Cal State Fullerton.
Player of the Year: Christian Maraker, C, Pacific
G- Bobby Brown, Cal State Fullerton
G- Jibril Hodges, Long Beach State
G- Aaron Fitzgerald, UC Irvine
F- Jamaal Brown, Cal State Fullerton
C- Christian Maraker, Pacific
G- Rickey Porter, UC Riverside
G- Josh Davis, UC Santa Barbara
G- Ross Schraseder, UC Irvine
F- Calvin Chitwood, Cal State Northridge
F- Shawn Hawkins, Long Beach State
Monday, October 17, 2005
In other news, the lone writer for March Madness All Season, Jeff, is also now a member of the writing team over at SouthernCollegeSports.com. He will be in charge of their 2005-2006 Preview, and will have a weekly column during the season on the northern conferences in Division 1. Feel free to go check out his work.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Holy Cross essentially ran away with the regular season title a season ago, winning it by three games over Bucknell. Only three teams finished with a winning record overall during the season. In the conference tournament, Bucknell took down the top-seeded Crusaders and won the automatic bid. The Bison went on to pull of the biggest upset of the 2005 NCAA Tournament, beating 3rd-seeded Kansas before losing in the second round to Wisconsin. Bucknell and Holy Cross are once again the top two teams. Their roles are reversed, however, and it shouldn't be as close this time around.
Favorites: Bucknell is everyone's favorite mid-major this season, after shocking the world and beating Kansas last season. However, everyone seems to forget that this is the same team that lost the regular season title by three games. Not to sound like I'm nitpicking, but the Bison have flaws. They also have many strengths, and they far outshine the weaknesses. Guard Kevin Bettencourt was tied for the team lead in scoring average, and combined with Charles Lee to give Bucknell a lethal wing combination. Lee is an excellent inside-outside player. Point guard Abe Badmus runs the show and keeps everyone happy. Inside, Chris McNaughton is one of the best players in the league. If he improves his rebounding, he will be one of the best mid-major post players. Darren Mastropaolo rounds out the starting lineup, while John Griffin and Donald Brown provide depth in the backcourt and frontcourt, respectively. Holy Cross loses three starters from the regular season champs, but they return a wing combination that rivals that of Bucknell's. Kevin Hamilton is a candidate for Player of the Year; he can do it all on the court--scoring, rebounding, passing, and defending. Keith Simmons is a very good scorer and should have even better numbers this season. Torey Thomas is an extremely capable point guard. There are many questions in the frontcourt, although Kevin Hyland looks like he could be the answer to some of them down low. Tim Clifford could start at center.
Contenders: Lehigh is another team that has a sensational backcourt. The Mountain Hawks' version includes All-League performer Joe Knight, who fills up the stat sheet in a variety of categories; and Jose Olivero, one of the best wing scorers in the league. Jason Mgebroff provides an inside presence to take some of the pressure off the outside guys. John Gourlay can also help inside. He is a 7-foot freshman that is expect to make an impact. Colgate returns three double-figure scorers. Alvin Reed could be an all-league player this season, while Jon Simon is a high-scoring wing. Kyle Roemer is another solid scorer from the wing; he is an excellent shooter. Brothers Kendall and Kyle Chones will bolster the frontcourt--neither played last season--and Kendall may start. Alex Woodhouse is a returning starter up front, while Marc Daniels is another body down low. American has a first team All-Patriot guard in Andre Ingram, a very good shooter and scorer who can carry the Eagles. Freshman Derrick Mercer is an excellent defender and ball handler and is expected to start at point guard. Linas Lekavicius should see more open shots with the addition of Mercer. South Carolina transfer Paulius Joneliunas will become eligible in late December and should make a major impact once he comes to the Eagles.
Sleeper: Navy should improve their record considerably from a year ago. Forward Matt Fannin could develop into an all-league type of player, while fellow frontcourt mate Carlton Baldwin is expected to make more of a splash in the paint. Freshman Adam Teague should make an impact up front. Corey Johnson is one of the better all-around guards in the league, and Greg Sprink and David Hooper are good scorers on the wing.
Rounding Out the Pack: Lafayette doesn't have anyone that would resemble a go-to-guy on offense, but they have a crew of players that are ready to contribute. Returning starters Marcus Harley, Bilal Abdullah, and Jamaal Hilliard all can score the ball. Harley is a very good point guard, Abdullah was one of the league's best freshman last season, and Hilliard is poised for a big year. Andrei Capusan should step into a starting role this season, as could one or two of the newcomers. Army has a decent team on paper, but it is the same paper that shows that the Black Knights won 3 games last season and 1 in the Patriot. Matt Bell is an underrated guard, and should be all-Patriot. Joining him in the backcourt is Cory Sinning, who is a versatile guard. Colin Harris, Corban Bates, and Grant Carter are three solid forwards, with Harris leading the way. Jimmy Sewell is a capable center.
Prediction: Bucknell should be one of the best mid-major teams in all of college basketball this season. Their trio of Kevin Bettencourt, Charles Lee, and Chris McNaughton can compete with anyone. Holy Cross will contend and would be a serious threat to win most mid-major conference championships this year--but not the Patriot. Bucknell is just too good all-around. Holy Cross and their wing combo of Kevin Hamilton and Keith Simmons should find themselves consolation in the NIT, though.
Player of the Year: Kevin Hamilton, SG, Holy Cross
G- Kevin Hamilton, Holy Cross
G- Andre Ingram, American
G- Charles Lee, Bucknell
G- Joe Knight, Lehigh
C- Chris McNaughton, Bucknell
G- Kevin Bettencourt, Bucknell
G- Matt Bell, Army
G- Keith Simmons, Holy Cross
G- Alvin Reed, Colgate
F- Matt Fannin, Navy