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HOOPS PREVIEW '07-'08: LOW-MAJOR PREVIEW
October 5, 2007

SCS.comThe beauty of college basketball is the fact that anything can happen on any given day. Just because a team doesnít play in a major conference doesnít mean it has no shot against the big boys. Heck, you donít even need to be from one of the middle-tier conferences (Missouri Valley, Atlantic 10, etc.) to pull off a shocking upset. Ask Iowa State how it felt when the Hampton Pirates out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference stunned the Cyclones in the first round of the 2001 NCAA tournament.

Anybody who follows college basketball still has the image instilled in their minds of Valparaisoís Bryce Drew creating a dog-pile on the court after defeating Mississippi in the 1998 NCAA tournament. And donít forget about Bucknell knocking off Kansas in the 2005 tourney, or Princeton taking out UCLA in the 1998 NCAA tournament. Go way back and maybe youíll recall Chaminade, who isnít even a Division I school, partaking in arguably the biggest upset in college basketball history by defeating Ralph Sampson and Virginia in 1982.

So which little guys do you need to pay attention to this season? Hereís a run-down of some of the best low-major teams you probably donít know much about.

THE BEST OF THE BUNCH

Davidson

When it comes to ranking the low-majors, there isnít a team that even comes close to the Wildcats. Thanks to an outstanding freshman campaign by star guard Stephen Curry, Davidson lost just one Southern Conference game last season and finished 29-5 overall, not to mention almost knocking off Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats didnít suffer a single significant loss from last season and return not only Curry but also three experienced and productive seniors in guard Jason Richards (13.5 ppg), and forwards Thomas Sander (13.2 ppg) and Boris Meno (11.0 ppg).

Western Kentucky

Although the Hilltoppers did not reach the postseason last year, they did finish with 22 wins, which can be attributed to their high-powered offense, led specifically by senior small forward Courtney Lee. Lee averaged 17.3 points per game last season and will enjoy some help from a strong group of backcourt mates, including a playmaking senior point guard Tyrone Brazelton. Just like Davidson, Western Kentucky didnít lose any notable players from last seasonís roster, and with a very strong core group of players returning, the Hilltoppers are a definite favorite to win the Sun Belt conference.

Winthrop

Head coach Gregg Marshall bolted for Wichita State, and the Eagles will be without three of last seasonís top performers in Torrell Martin, Craig Bradshaw, and Phillip Williams. Assistant coach Randy Peele still has a team capable of winning the Big South, though, with an outstanding backcourt led by Michael Jenkins, who led the team in scoring last season. Several losses from last seasonís NCAA tournament squad will leave Winthrop hard-pressed to complete another undefeated conference campaign, but the Eagles still have a very good shot at reaching the Dance come March.

Austin Peay

The Governors won the Ohio Valley Conference handily last season, but unfortunately suffered a heartbreaking loss to Eastern Kentucky in the conference tournament finals, which relegated the team to the NIT instead. The good news for Austin Peay is that all five starters return from last seasonís squad, including Drake Reed, a junior forward who averaged 15.8 points per game, and the conferenceís leading rebounder in senior Fernandez Lockett.

Loyola (MD)

Four of the Greyhoundsí five starters from a year ago return, including senior guard Gerald Brown, a big time scorer who averaged 22.2 points per game last season. A surprisingly tough MAAC conference will test Loyola, but coach Jimmy Patsos has enough firepower coming back to make an appearance in the NCAA tournament as the conferenceís lone representative.

Siena

Junior guard Kenny Hasbrouck will be relied upon as the Saintsí team leader this season after the graduation of leading scorer and rebounder Michael Haddix. Siena nearly reached the Dance last season, but fell short by a game, as it ended up losing to Niagara in the MAAC tournament finals.

OTHER CONTENDERS

Western Michigan

With every single player returning from last seasonís roster, the Broncos should be able to drastically improve last yearís mediocre results, as they finished at exactly .500 overall and just barely over that mark at 9-7 in the conference. However, WMU did win six of its final nine games and will begin the season as the favorite in the MACís Western Division. There isnít a single team in the MAC as deep as Western Michigan, and the Broncos feature a balanced offensive attack, which includes a very good big man in Joe Reitz (13.9 ppg), and a slew of guards in David Kool, Shawntes Gary, Michael Redell, and Andre Ricks.

Holy Cross

Remember that team that gave Southern Illinois fits in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season? Yep, that was indeed the Holy Cross Crusaders, who used its outstanding defensive play to stifle an eventual Sweet 16 team in the Salukis. Last seasonís top two leading scorers in Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas graduated, but the Crusaders do return a steadily improving big man in Tim Clifford. Ralph Willardís squad has made five trips to the NCAA tournament during his tenure, as he has built one of nationís most successful ďnon-BCSĒ programs.

High Point

Winthrop may have the momentum after last seasonís dominating performance, but the Panthers have the best shot of any Big South team to unseat the Eagles as the class of the conference. Possessing a supremely talented senior forward in Arizona ďA.Z.Ē Reid, High Point poses a serious threat to Winthrop this season, so do not be surprised if the Panthers stun everybody and win this conference outright.

South Alabama

Unfortunately for the Jaguars, the battle for the Sun Belt Conference will not be an easy one, as they figure to challenge Western Kentucky head-on for the conference championship. South Alabama now has qualified for the post-season in two consecutive seasons, and the Jaguars boast one of the leagueís top guards in senior Demetric Bennett.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Southland Conference Player of the Year Chris Daniels flirted with the NBA, but eventually withdrew his name from the draft. A true presence in the paint with a monstrous 7 foot, 265 pound frame, the senior center averaged 15.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. The problem is, Daniels is the Islandersí lone returning starter, and the team will also feature 10 newcomers on next yearís squad. Outside of Daniels, this team will be young, but should be the favorite to win the Southland this season.

Akron

Syracuse fans can whine all they want, but the Orangeman were not the biggest post-season snub last season. That award goes to the Zips, who despite winning 26 games, somehow found themselves out of the NIT picture. Making matters even worse, Akronís season ended on a terrible note, as they lost on an improbable buzzer beater to Miami (OH) in the MAC conference tournament finals. The Zips lost their leading scorer from a year ago in forward Romeo Travis, but this squad still features seven seniors and should be a force in the MAC once again.

UC-Santa Barbara

Itís hard to keep track of all the universities in the California State University system that call the Big West their home. Even though there may be what seems like a million UCís in the conference, make sure not to overlook UC-Santa Barbara, who enjoys the presence of two outstanding seniors in guard Alex Harris and forward Chris Devine. Harris provides UCSB with top-notch production from behind the three point line, and Devine can bang in the post, evidenced by his 6.6 rebounds per game last season.

East Tennessee State

ETSU had its collective heart broken last season after losing the Atlantic Sun conference championship game, which was made even more disheartening considering the Buccaneers won the conference during the regular season with a mark of 16-2. This is the life of a low-major. Dominate your conference during the course of the year and miss out on the tourney because of one loss. Fortunately for coach Murry Bartow and the rest of the team, ETSU has a chance to make up for everything this season, as they return junior guard Courtney Piagram, who will lead what should be the conferenceís top backcourt.

Sacred Heart

Six of the top seven scorers for Sacred Heart are back this year, and the Pioneers enter the 2007-2008 campaign as the favorite to win the Northeast Conference. There isnít a star on this team, but expect a huge improvement over last seasonís modest 18-14 overall record.

ALL-LOW MAJOR TEAMS

First Team

G: Stephen Curry, Davidson
G: Bo McCalebb, New Orleans
F: Reggie Williams, Virginia Military
F: Arizona Reid, High Point
C: Jason Thompson, Rider

Second Team

G: Gerald Brown, Loyola
G: Alex Harris, UC-Santa Barbara
F: Charron Fisher, Niagara
F: Kyle Hines, UNC-Greensboro
C: Chris Daniels, Texas A&M Corpus Christi

WRAPPING IT UP

College basketball fans live for the upset. Whether it happens in November or March, or sometime in between, these are the teams that are most capable of providing it. At some point in this season, a high-major will fall at the hands of a low-major. Itís all just part of the magic of college basketball.

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