The 2006-2007 SCS.com Hoops Preview rolls along in week number one as we take a step upward and glance towards this season's crop of mid-majors. While the mid-majors enjoyed a banner year last season, sending George Mason to the Final Four, there could be even more Sweet Sixteen threats this season as a number of these schools look to have teams worthy of top 25 rankings and high seeds come NCAA Tournament time. Look out for two or three of these teams to advance past the first weekend of the Tournament.
Teams in the Spotlight
Wichita State |
Southern Illinois |
TEAMS TO WATCH FOR
Memphis, like last season, should be the class of the mid-majors (that is, those teams not from one of "big six" conferences). The Tigers had one of the best seasons in Conference-USA history a year ago, going 33-4 overall and 13-1 in the conference. They reached the Elite Eight, defeating Oral Roberts, Bucknell, and Bradley by 16 points each before losing to UCLA in a low-scoring, 45-40 game. While the Tigers may not reach a regional final this year, they won't fall too far and are a team to watch for on a national level again.
Two first-round draft picks are gone in Rodney Carney and Shawne Williams, as is Darius Washington, who made the ill-advised decision to enter the NBA Draft. Even with the losses, John Calipari will have a very deep team with plenty of interchangeable parts. Leading the returnees will be the wing combination of Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts. Anderson was a part-time starter who is capable of contributing in many aspects of the game. He is a very good shooter and defender who is also one of team's best passers. Douglas-Roberts was also a part-time starter who could become one of the nation's best small forwards this year. He is extremely versatile and can score in a variety of ways. His length also makes him a decent defender. Providing depth on the wing is former starter Jeremy Hunt. He was kicked off the team last season and was seemingly gone for good, but Calipari allowed him back this year. He is a very good defender and a solid shooter who could be a double-figure scorer off the bench. Freshmen Doneal Mack and Tre'von Willis will also see minutes. At the point, Andre Allen and Willie Kemp will form an excellent two-headed option. Allen was actually playing better than Washington for much of last season. He is more of a pure point guard, and he is an excellent distributor. Kemp is a playmaker who is explosive.
Up front, Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey lead the way. Dozier showed flashes of brilliance last season with his athleticism and length. He is an outstanding rebounder and shot-blocker who could develop into a star. Dorsey is not much of a scorer, but dominates the interior with his shot-blocking and rebounding prowess. If he develops more consistency, look out. Returnee Kareem Cooper is a space-eater, while freshmen Pierre Niles and Hashim Bailey will provide depth behind Dozier and Dorsey. Niles could make a big impact with his size.
Hofstra could be one of the nation's top mid-major teams this season. After last year's disappointing Selection Sunday which left the Pride out in favor of George Mason, a team they beat twice in the final two weeks of the season, they will have enough motivation heading into this year. Coach Tom Pecora returns arguably the best three-man backcourt in the country in Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio, and Carlos Rivera. Stokes is the preseason Colonial Player of the Year, and rightfully so. The 6-3 senior is one of the better all-around guards in the country and can carry the Pride. He is very difficult to stop when going to the basket and is efficient scoring the ball inside the arc. He is also a very good rebounder and distributor who racks up steals on the defensive end. Agudio is an outstanding shooter who could become the team's leading scorer this season. He is one of the top long-range gunners in the conference who also has a very good mid-range game. Rivera is the most underrated of the group. He is an excellent passer who takes care of the ball very well and can also score if needed. He did not commit a single turnover in the CAA Tournament last season.
Up front, the Pride need to replace Aurimas Kieza and Adrian Uter, two dependable starters from a year ago. Chris Gadley and Mike Davis-Saab will get the first cracks. They were decent role players last season who need to step up their production this year.
Wichita State has enough talent to repeat their 26-9 record, including a 14-4 conference record, of a year ago, a mark that resulted in WSU winning the regular season title. Moreover, the Shockers reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. However, MVC Player of the Year Paul Miller needs to be replaced. Stepping in for him will be either Ryan Bradley or Colorado State transfer Phillip Thomasson. Bradley has good size and is developing, while Thomasson is a decent role player.
Whoever gets the starting job will have the opportunity to play alongside the best forward combo in the MVC. P.J. Couisnard had a breakout NCAA Tournament and could make the all-conference team this season. He is an inside-outside option on the offensive end who is also an excellent rebounder and defender. Kyle Wilson is a versatile offensive player who can shoot the three with efficiency and score down low. He could become a go-to-guy. In the backcourt, Sean Ogirri leads the way. He is an outstanding three-point shooter who could take on more of an offensive role this season. Look for him to have a big year. Matt Braeuer, meanwhile, returns at the point. He is a solid all-around performer.
Creighton had a very good season last year, going 20-10 overall and finishing tied for second in the conference. However, they could be much better this year. It all depends on the return of injured guards Josh Dotzler and Nate Funk. Dotzler missed the latter part of the season with a torn ligament in his right knee, but should be ready by the start of the season. He is an excellent passer and defender who is an integral part of the Bluejays' package. Funk is a former All-American who missed all but four games last season due to a shoulder injury. He is an outstanding scorer who can get points in a variety of ways. He can drive to the basket as well as shoot the three and is a candidate for MVC Player of the Year. Joining them on the perimeter will be Nick Porter. He is a potential double-figure scorer who is a matchup problem for defenders.
Up front, Dane Watts and Anthony Tolliver return as starters. Watts is a solid all-around player who does a little bit of everything. Tolliver is an all-MVC performer could be a dominant player this season. He is a very good rebounder who is one of the best post scorers in the conference. JC transfer Ty Morrison is a highly-touted recruit who will see minutes.
Southern Illinois had another excellent season last year, going 22-11 overall and finishing tied for second in the conference standings. It was the fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the Salukis, who will look to continue that streak this season. Five starters return for SIU, including the all-conference backcourt of Tony Young and Jamaal Tatum. Young is one of the bst all-around guards in the conference, with the ability to make a difference on both sides of the ball. He is a good scorer and three-point shooter who is also a very good defender. Tatum is the best perimeter scorer on the team. He is an inconsistent shooter who could have a big year this season, and he is also a good defender and passer. MVC Freshman of the Year Bryan Mullins also returns in the backcourt. He led the league in steals and was one of the top distributors in the conference.
Up front, Randall Falker and Matt Shaw return. Shaw is a nice inside-outside option on offense, providing the Salukis with a double-figure scorer who can get it done in a variety of ways. Falker is one of the best interior players in the conference. He is an excellent defender who has double-double potential in the paint.
Xavier did not have a very impressive regular season last year. They came into the season with decently high expectations, but struggled throughout the year and finished 8-8 in A-10 play. However, they righted the ship right after the regular season and made a run in the A-10 tournament to win the automatic bid and then nearly upset Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament. If they can carry some of that momentum over to this season, the Musketeers could be very good. Oklahoma transfer Drew Lavender is one of the main reasons for the optimism. The 5-7 point guard is extremely quick and can get to the basket on nearly any defender. He is also a solid three-point shooter who is a good distributor. Joining him in the backcourt will be all-conference guard Stanley Burrell. He is an outstanding shooter who is also a good passer and is a candidate for A-10 Player of the Year.
Up front, the forward trio of Justin Cage, Justin Doellmann, and Josh Duncan is as good as any in the conference. Cage is a good all-around player who is capable of increasing his scoring average by several points this season. Doellmann is an inside-outside player who is one of the more versatile players in the conference. His offensive and defensive abilities are very solid. Duncan, athletic and skilled, could be on the verge of a breakout season. He is athletic and skilled.
Gonzaga will not be as good as last season when they went 27-3 overall, ran through the West Coast Conference undefeated, and received a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, the Bulldogs are still good enough to win the conference and be a Sweet Sixteen contender come March. First, though, they need to find a way to replace Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista. While Morrison's production and confidence are impossible to replace, Mark Few has several options for who will step in on the wing. Kansas transfer Micah Downs becomes eligible in December and could be a big-time contributor. He is an excellent shooter and a solid passer. Returnees David Pendergraft and Larry Gurganious will also see plenty of time at small forward. Pendergraft has a non-stop motor and is a key role player, while Gurganious is a very good defender.
Down low, Few also has a couple of players that can step in for Batista. Sophomore Josh Heytvelt was a highly-touted big man coming out of high school, but injuries slowed his development last season. However, this season Heytvelt could be poised for a breakout season. BYU transfer David Burgess is a space-eater who will provide solid rebounding and a good inside presence. Sean Mallon also returns as the starter at power forward up front. He is efficient scoring the ball and is a good rebounder.
In the backcourt, Derek Raivio leads the way. He is an excellent three-point shooter who needs to regain the confidence he had as a sophomore. Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes is back at the two-guard spot. He is a solid all-around player. Sophomore Jeremy Pargo, an explosive guard with loads of potential, and freshman Matt Bouldin will also compete for minutes in the backcourt.
Nevada comes into the season as the clear-cut favorite in the WAC once again. Last year the Wolf Pack won 27 games, the third season in a row they have won at least 25 times. However, their season ended earlier than expected as they were upset in the first round by 12th-seeded Montana. With four starters back from last year, Nevada should be able to get out of first round this season. All-American and WAC Player of the Year Nick Fazekas leads the way. He is a dominant offensive player who can score in the post and step out and hit the jumper. He is a 20-10 threat every night out. Joining him up front will be Demarshay Johnson when he becomes eligible in January. He is a solid scorer and rebounder. Freshman Tyrone Hanson is a versatile scorer up front and could see immediate playing time.
The perimeter is loaded. Marcelus Kemp is a nationally-ranked wing who is capable of increasing his scoring average to nearly twenty points per game. He is a very good three-point shooter. Kyle Shiloh is an oustanding long-range shooter who is capable of getting hot from beyond the arc. Point guard Ramon Sessions took a step back last year after an excellent freshman season, but he still was able to be amongst the WAC's assist leaders. He is a decent scorer and a solid rebounder.
San Diego State increased their win total by 13 games last season, finishing 24-9 and 13-3 in the MWC, good enough for the league title. They return four starters from that team, but the one starter lost is Marcus Slaughter. He averaged a double-double last year but entered his name in the NBA Draft, skipping his final college season. The Aztecs will be fine, though. Brandon Heath, one of the best guards in the country, leads the way. He is an outstanding scorer who is also a very good distributor and defender. He is the favorite for conference Player of the Year. Joining him on the perimeter will be Richie Williams and Kyle Spain. Williams is an extremely quick point guard who is a solid passer and defender who needs to improve his offensive game. Spain is a tremendous three-point shooter who will likely become a double-figure scorer this season. He is tough to guard. Louisville transfer Lorrenzo Wade will battle Spain for a starting job on the wing due to his athleticism and size.
Up front, all-conference forward Mohamed Abukar is the go-to-guy. He is an inside-outside threat who is one of the most difficult matchups in the conference. His partner down low will be JC transfer Jerome Habel. Habel was the nation's #2-ranked JUCO prospect last season.
Akron could be one of the best mid-major teams in the country this season. They return four starters from a team that went 23-10 and finished second in the MAC with a 14-4 league record. The Zips could be ready to take the next step into the NCAA Tournament. It starts with Romeo Travis, the favorite for Player of the Year. The 6-7 forward is one of the most dominant players in the conference. He is capable of having big games on the offense end and is also a very good rebounder. Rejoining him on the interior is Jeremiah Wood, who took a medical redshirt last season after missing the whole year due to a torn ACL. He immediately provides a double-double threat who is one of the best rebounders in the MAC and also a very good shot-blocker.
On the perimeter, point guard Dru Joyce leads the way. He is an outstanding distributor who takes care of the ball and can also shoot the three efficiently. Wings Nick Dials and Cederick Middleton will flank him in the backcourt. Dials is a very good shooter, while Middleton is a versatile scorer that can shoot the ball and penetrate.
UNDER THE RADAR
Air Force had another successful season last year, going 24-7 overall and 12-4 in the MWC, garnering a NCAA at-large bid. Four starters return for the Falcons, plus they get 2004 Player of the Year Nick Welch back from injury. He is a match-up nightmare opponents, due to his inside-outside game. He also has the ability to play solid defense and distribute the ball very well. Joining him up front is all-conference forward Jacon Burtschi, one of the best all-around players in the conference. He is a good scorer and rebounder who is also an excellent defender.
On the wings are sharpshooters Matt McCraw and Dan Nwaelele. Nwaelele led the conference in three-point shooting, while McCraw is a solid scorer who can also rebound pass. Big man John Frye started every game down low for the Falcons, but will likely come off the bench this season. Tim Anderson will step in at the point guard slot to replace All-MWC pick Antoine Hood.
BYU had a very surprising year last season, going 20-9 and finishing second in the Mountain West. They were on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but did not have enough quality wins to garner legitimate consideration. The Cougars should get a bid this season. It all starts with Trent Plaisted, one of the best post players in the country. He has the potential to put up huge numbers and have a breakout season this year. He is very athletic and is tough to stop down low. Joining him up front is All-MWC forward Keena Young. He is extremely versatile and finished the season on a tear. Forward Fernando Malaman is another solid frontcourt player. He is a nice complement to Plaisted in the paint.
On the perimeter, Jimmy Balderson leads the way. He is a double-figure scorer who could be poised for a big season. Lee Cummard is another 6-6 guard that produces. At the point, Rashaun Broadus returns. He is a very good passer who could become a double-figure scorer this year.
Marist could be a big-time mid-major sleeper this season. The Red Foxes were one victory shy of 20 wins last season and finished third in the conference; both of those achievements will be improved this season. They are led by Jared Jordan, one of the top point guards in the country. He is the nation's leading assist man and is the favorite for MAAC Player of the Year. Jordan is a good scorer who can shoot it from long-range and is also a solid rebounder and defender. He is joined in the backcourt by fellow all-league guard Will Whittington. One of the top shooters in the nation, Whittington is capable of getting hot from deep and having a huge games.
The frontcourt is equally stacked. James Smith and Ryan Stilphen comprise arguably the best post duo in the conference. Smith, a seven-footer center, is a versatile scorer who is a difficult match-up on the offensive end. Stilphen is a beast on the low block who is a very good scorer and rebounder. 6-5 Ben Farmer is often overlooked, but he will start again at small forward. A nice mixture of returnees and newcomers will come off the bench to provide depth.
Massachusetts was not very good last season, going 8-8 in the conference and only 13-15 overall. However, with the influx of three transfers and a couple of impact freshmen, the Minutemen have the potential to be the best team in the A-10. Oh yeah, UMass also returns four starters from last season. One of those starters, Rashaun Freeman, is a favorite for conference Player of the Year. The 6-9 center is a double-double threat every night out and could improve his numbers even more this season. Down low with him is Stephane Lasme. The A-10 Defensive Player of the Year improved his offensive game over the summer, and could become an all-conference performer this season. Also returning up front are part-time starter Brandon Thomas and rotation players Dante Milligan and Lawrence Carrier. Their roles could be diminished, however, due to the addition of transfers Gary Forbes (from Virginia), Etienne Brower (Boston University), and Luke Bonner (West Virginia). Forbes is being mentioned as a potential Conference Player of the Year candidate due to his scoring ability. Brower is a versatile forward who can play a variety of roles due to his athleticism, while Bonner is a nice inside-outside option up front.
In the backcourt, Chris Lowe returns at the point. He led the A-10 in assists but needs to improve his offensive game. He is not guaranteed to keep his starting job however. Freshman Tiki Mayben, a former Syracuse signee, is expected to make an immediate impact due to his passing abilities. Three-point gunner James Life, a double-figure scorer, and freshman Ricky Harris, will battle for minutes at the two-guard spot.
George Mason had what will likely always be known as the best season in the program's history last year, receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and then making a Final Four run, beating some of the top teams in the country on their way there. While they are not likely to make a similar run this season with the loss of three starters, the Patriots could be a contender for the league championship once again. Will Thomas, the league's most dominant inside force, leads the way up front. He is a variety of moves down in the post that he uses to get points nearly every time he touches the ball. Moreover, he is a very good rebounder and one of the top defenders in the conference.
Folarin Campbell is the other returning starter. The versatile 6-4 wing can play any of the perimeter positions with ease. He is a good scorer and rebounder who is capable of passing the ball and taking care of the ball-handling responsibilities. Likely to start in the starting lineup next to Campbell will be former All-Freshman selection John Vaughan, who sat out last season with a torn ACL. He's a good shooter and scorer from behind the arc. Gabe Norwood is an outstanding athlete who will see plenty of minutes on the perimeter. JC transfer Andre Smith is expected to fight for a starting job at the point. Up front, returnee Sammy Hernandez and JC transfer Darryl Monroe will man the paint along with Thomas. Monroe could make an immediate impact.
New Mexico State is somewhat of a mystery coming into the season. The Aggies finished tied for fourth in the WAC last year, going 10-6 in the conference and 16-14 oerall. They only lose one starter and also bring in the best group of transfers in the country. The three D-1 transfers expected to either start or see immediate playing are Martin Iti (from Charlotte), Justin Hawkins (Utah), and Fred Peete (Kansas State). Iti was a highly-touted player coming out of high school, but has not lived up to those expectations yet. Hawkins is an athletic forward who is a good slasher going to the basket. Peete is a very good shooter and scorer who can also distribute and defend well.
The returnees are just as good, if not better. Tyrone Nelson, a first-team All-WAC player, is one of the most dominating players in the conference. He is a double-double threat each night and is very efficient shooting the ball. However, he was suspended both in August and in October, so his status for the season is unknown. Forward David Fisher will fight to keep his starting job. He is a good scorer and rebounder. Elijah Ingram is an all-conference point guard who is a very good three-point shooter who is also a decent distributor. Tre Knauber is a three-point threat. Forward Kevin Ford will also see minutes off the bench.
Missouri State was the biggest snub of last year's NCAA Tournament, and will look to make up for it this season with a bid to the Big Dance. The Bears were 22-9 last year and tied for second in the MVC, but will be motivated to do even better. They are led by sharpshooter Blake Ahearn, the best free-throw shooter in NCAA history. He is an all-conference guard who can carry the Bears with his offensive ability. His partner on the wing will be Tyler Chaney. He is a difficult match-up on the offensive end, and he is a very good defensive player who can also rebound.
Shane Laurie returns at the point guard spot, but will see competition from his brother, Spencer, a transfer from Missouri. Also on the wing will be Dale Lamberth, an outstanding and versatile shooter, and Deven Mitchell, who has loads of potential. Forward Nathan Bilyeu is a very good role player who can score if needed and is also an excellent rebounder. Down low, juniors Drew Richards and Sky Frazier will man the post. They both need to become go-to-players in the paint instead of complementary players.
Others Considered: George Mason, New Mexico State, Houston, Drexel, Toledo, Loyola Marymount, Saint Louis, Charlotte, George Washington, Northern Iowa, Western Kentucky, New Mexico, Long Beach State, Loyola (Chicago)
G - Jared Jordan, Marist
G - Bobby Brown, Cal State Fullerton
WRAPPING IT UP
The mid-majors won't have a Final Four team this season. You can mark that down. However, that is the only thing that is predictable about this group. When Gonzaga is ranked 7th in any sort of poll, that means there are plenty of very good teams in the mid-major ranks. Memphis likely won't get a #1 seed, but they are athletic and deep still. The MVC has three legitimate Sweet Sixteen contenders, while Hofstra and Xavier are loaded. Gonzaga and Nevada will be two of the West's best teams, and Akron could be the most balanced mid-major team. Don't forget about San Diego State. Or Marist. Or Air - you get the point.
The gap between themid-majors and the middle of the pack major-conference teams is nearly closed, so don't be surprised to see four or five of these teams advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. This could be a banner year for mid-majors - which is saying a lot after last season's dream run.