Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mid-Major Sleepers to Watch


In March, the major question everyone wants to know is: "Which small-conference team is going to pull an upset or two and possibly reach the second weekend?" Every NCAA Tournament has at least one; you just have to figure out which one or two it is going to be. Don’t mistake this for a “Who is this year’s George Mason?” column, though—that’s simply not going to happen again. And I'm not including teams from the Atlantic-10, Missouri Valley, Conference-USA, Mountain West, WAC, or Gonzaga, because the top teams in those leagues simply aren't sleepers.

For my complete Non-BCS Top 25, click here.

Davidson: A definite Sweet Sixteen contender. Led by Stephen Curry, the Wildcats own one of the best backcourts in the country in Curry and point guard Jason Richards, one of the nation’s top assist men. Up front, Thomas Sander leads the way, while Boris Meno is a versatile forward who led the team in rebounding. Max Paulhus Gosselin gives coach Bob McKillop another athletic option on the wing, and William Archambault and Andrew Lovedale provide help in the post.

Butler: Last year’s early-season darling will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the Horizon. A.J. Graves and Mike Green both return, giving the Bulldogs one of the best backcourts around. Up front, new coach Brad Stevens will have to replace two starters, but three-point marksman Pete Campbell returns, as do Drew Streicher and Julain Betko. Alabama transfer Avery Jukes and highly-touted freshman Matt Howard will help out in frontcourt.

VCU: Despite the loss of two starters in B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa, the two main ingredients from the Rams’ terrific season return: coach Anthony Grant and point guard Eric Maynor. Maynor is one of the top point guards in the country, and will have to take on more of an offensive role this season. Taking starting spots on the wing will be shooter Jamal Shuler and wing T.J. Gwynn, who could be primed for a big season. Returning inside are leading rebounder Wil Fameni and Michael Anderson, a long, athletic forward.

George Mason: The team that had a huge part in jumpstarting the “mid-major craze” with its Final Four run is back for another trip to the Big Dance. Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell were both starters on that team, and will once again lead the Patriots. Dre Smith is a very good three-point shooter in the backcourt, while John Vaughan could develop into a consistent scorer on the wing. Jordan Carter and Daryl Monroe also return as key cogs in Jim Larranaga’s attack.

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament last season, but return almost 90% of their scoring from yet another 20-win team. Courtney Lee is one of the best wings in the country, and can score in a variety of ways. Tyrone Brazelton will run the show, while Ty Rogers is a very good shooter. Orlando Mendez-Valdez is another scorer and shooter on the wing, and Jeremy Evans anchors in the interior. A.J. Slaughter can score.

Saint Mary’s: Although the Gaels will be overshadowed by Gonzaga all season, they have a chance to make some noise in March if they can get to the Dance. It all starts with Diamon Simpson, one of the best players in the conference, and a very good defender. He teams with 6-11 Omar Samhan down low in a menacing frontcourt. Wayne Hunter is a decent scorer on the wing, while Todd Golden is a solid point guard. Ian O’ Leary also returns as a starter.

Loyola (Md.): The Greyhounds are poised to take the next step in coach Jimmy Patsos’ rebuilding process, which would be a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Led by Gerald Brown, one of the nation’s top returning scorers, that is a possibility. Brown is tough to stop on the offensive end, and backcourt partner Marquis Sullivan is another good scorer. Brett Harvey returns as a starter on the perimeter, but Marshall transfer Joe Miles will push for time. Omari Israel leads the way up front.

Austin Peay: The defending Ohio Valley Champions return all five starters from a young team that fell in the OVC title game. Player of the Year Drake Reed leads the way, while Fernandez Lockett led the league in rebounding. Todd Babington and Derek Wright comprise a formidable duo in the backcourt, while Kyle Duncan and Wes Channels will also contribute for the Governors.

Cal State Fullerton: With Big West champion Long Beach State losing all five starters, the Titans have as good of a shot as anyone to win the conference. Scott Cutley is one of the best players in the conference, and Frank Robinson is another good rebounder and scorer up front. In the backcourt, Ray Reed and sixth man Marcus Crenshaw return, but Washington State transfer Josh Akognon or 5-6 newcomer Greg Russell will have to replace Bobby Brown.

UC Santa Barbara: The Gauchos have arguably the best player in the Big West, and one of the most underrated player in the country in Alex Harris. If they are to win the league, he is going to be a major reason why. Harris also teams with Chris Devine to form the league’s best duo. Ivan Elliot is a solid big man. Weber State transfer Nedim Pajevic will also push for time. Justin Joyner and James Powell will start in the backcourt.

Winthrop: Despite the loss of three starters, this team won’t miss a beat in the Big South. Sure, they might lose a game or two this season, but they still have the most talent and experience in the conference. Having Chris Gaynor and Mike Jenkins in the backcourt doesn’t hurt, either. Those two form a very good guard duo, while wing Antwon Harris will see increased time. Taj McCullough is expected to have a big year in the frontcourt.

Akron: One of the best mid-major teams in the country last season, the Zips will have some reloading to do if they are to reach the NCAA Tournament. Gone are Romeo Travis and Dru Joyce, but plenty of experience returns. Nick Dials and Cedric Middleton are very good shooters on the wing, while Jeremiah Wood and Nate Linhart are solid forwards. Quade Milum and Steve Swiech will combine to replace conference player of the year Travis on the inside.

Western Michigan: The Broncos were only .500 overall last season, but they finished second in the West division and return all five starters. David Kool and Joe Reitz form one of the better inside-outside duos in the conference, while guard Shawntes Gary is another double-figure scorer in the backcourt. Derek Drews and Derek Fracalossi are solid wing performers, while Michael Reddell is a very good point guard.

Kent State: The Golden Flashes always seem to lose talent and experience only to reload and put together another 20-win campaign. Heading into this season, they lose Armon Gates but return four starters and several key reserves. Mike Scott and Haminn Quaintance form a very good forward combo, while guard Chris Singletary will look to build off his impressive showing in the MAC Tournament.

Photo Credit: The Davidsonian


  1. Davidson is not a sweet 16 contender. I'll be shocked if they get there.

    VMI is just living off of last year's tournament "upset" over overrated Duke. They'll take a step back this season.

  2. Isn't every team a "contender" at this point?

  3. It was VCU not VMI who beat an overrated Duke and then they almost defeated Pitt.

    VCU lost a few key components from last year's team but i think they are in a good position this year to compete for the CAA title and possibly win a game or two in the NCAA tournament

  4. Gerald Brown will lead the hounds to the promise land....that is as long as he doesnt foul out

  5. Don't forget Pacific in the Big West.

  6. What about Youngstown State?

  7. Western Kentucky is the team to watch...Picked to win their conf. Most, if not ALL of their main horses back, and some good recruits. Watch their pre-conf play (@ SIU). This is a dangerous team...even Early in the season. Will make a good NCAA Run this year.

  8. I guess this means teams from the Atlantic-10, Missouri Valley, Conference-USA, Mountain West, WAC, or Gonzaga are awake?

  9. I guess this means teams from the Atlantic-10, Missouri Valley, Conference-USA, Mountain West, WAC, or Gonzaga are awake?