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2010-2011 COLLEGE HOOPS PREVIEW: MID-MAJORS
November 1, 2010

SCS.comIn one week, college basketball begins.

So you’d better start studying up. Here’s your 2010-2011 Mid-Major Preview:

THE BEST OF THE BEST

Temple

Despite a misstep against Cornell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Temple tore through the Atlantic Ten during the regular season last year enters 2010-2011 as the class of the league once again. As many as five teams could reach the NCAA Tournament from the A-10, but Temple, a pre-season top-25 team, looks primed to make a run in March. Lavoy Allen flirted with the NBA this summer but returned to school along with his valuable rebounding and defensive skills. Alongside Allen, Juan Fernandez is the other recognizable face on Temple after leading the team in assists last year and making 45 percent of his three-point attempts. Leading scorer Ryan Brooks graduated, but his spot in the starting lineup will be filled by reigning Sixth Man of the Year Ramone Moore. Fran Dunphy, no stranger to the NCAA Tournament at Penn, has now led his Temple program to the NCAAs three years in a row. Dunphy has never won a first-round game in his career—but this should be the year.

Memphis

By now, you’ve surely heard about Josh Pastner’s Memphis Tigers. They’re skilled and full of McDonald’s All-Ameicans—but they’re also very, very young. Freshmen guards Will Barton and Joe Jackson headline the recruiting class, which also includes forward Tarik Black and guard Charles Carmouche, a transfer from New Orleans. Although freshman Jelan Kendrick’s status is unknown due to a recent suspension, the newcomers will make or break Pastner’s second season. That doesn’t mean there’s no experience returning, of course. Wesley Witherspoon is the one returning starter after averaging more than 12 points per game last year, and veterans Angel Garcia and Will Coleman are back up front. Pastner has shown he can recruit with the best, but can he gel this team into a top-25 squad? Regardless, it’s obvious that Memphis is ready to take back the C-USA.

Wichita State

This is supposed to be The Year. It’s all been building toward this season for Gregg Marshall, who built a perennial conference champion at Winthrop before moving to Wichita State. No other Missouri Valley team can match Marshall’s frontcourt, which includes 240-pound J.T. Durley and seven-footer Garrett Stutz. Guard Toure’ Murray is back for his junior season and Wichita State’s depth, especially up front, is unrivaled in the league—watch out for yet another seven-footer in Ehimen Orukpe, an unpolished but talented Nigerian center. The only issue for the Shockers is point guard after the graduating of Clevin Hannah. Freshman Joe Ragland will get a crack at the position, as will sophomore Demetric Williams, Hannah’s former backup.

San Diego State

There’s no easier pick for pre-season prognosticators than a team that returns five starters from an NCAA Tournament squad. San Diego State is no exception. Kahwi Leonard headlines the returners after a stellar freshman season, but forwards Malcolm Thomas and Billy White were a big part of SDSU’s success last year as well. Throwing in point guard D.J. Gay, who started every game last season, Steve Fisher is as close to his Michigan Fab Five team as he’ll ever be at San Diego State.

Butler

Fresh off an NCAA Championship appearance, Butler is ready to prove that Gordon Hayward wasn’t the only part of that magical run. Hayward, drafted by the Utah Jazz in the first round of the NBA Draft, and forward Willie Veasley are the only notable losses for the Bulldogs. Guard Sheldon Mack has been billed as a potential All-American candidate, while Ronald Nored and skilled forward Matt Howard round out the starting lineup. This team may not be top-five good, but another appearance in the second weekend of the NCAAs appears likely.

Gonzaga

By now you’ve surely heard of Elias Harris, who spurned the NBA to return to Gonzaga for another season. Matt Boudin, the league’s Player of the Year, may have graduated, but Harris can carry the load—alongside a cast of other characters. Steven Gray is mostly known for his shooting, but he’s become a complete player both offensively and defensively. Center Robert Sacre and guard Demetri Goodson also return after starting last season—and if you’re counting, that’s four returning starters from a team that won 27 games.

CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Atlantic Ten
Champion: Temple

Other contenders: Xavier lost shooter Brad Redford to an injury, but point guard Terrell Holloway leads a squad that will grab yet another at-large bid this year… Dayton’s Chris Wright is one of the A-10’s top players, and his Flyers will hope to avoid another NIT appearance… Chris Mooney has Richmond on the rise, especially with Kevin Anderson back.

CAA
Champion: Old Dominion

Even without departed 1,000 point scorer Gerald Lee, Blaine Taylor has a strong nucleus in place. Frank Hassell and Kent Bazemore are part of that nucleus after playing the role of sidekick to Lee last season. Old Dominion’s defense got it to the NCAA Tournament last year, and it’ll do the same again in 2010-11.

Other contenders: Shaka Smart will deal with life without NBA Draft pick Larry Sanders in the frontcourt, but the rest of his team can contend for the CAA… William and Mary shocked everyone by knocking off a couple ACC teams last year in the non-conference and will look to build off the momentum of a 22-win season… George Mason’s young squad made the post-season last year and could be a sleeper to watch out for.

Conference USA
Champion: Memphis

Other contenders: Tim Floyd left USC in disarray but is back at UTEP, where he once was an assistant. This retread hire could pay dividends, considering the experienced Floyd has stud guard Randy Culpepper at his disposal… Southern Miss is the team everyone in the C-USA circles are talking about, thanks to the return of five starters from a 20-win team…

Horizon
Champion: Butler

Other contenders: Ray McCallum Jr., the son of coach Ray McCallum, is a big-time recruit who spurned major-conference schools to sign with Detroit.

MAC
Champion: Ohio

Yep, it’s those Bobcats—the ones that stunned Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year. Armon Bassett had some off-the-court issues and declared for the NBA Draft, but the 2009-10 MAC Freshman of the Year D.J. Cooper can take the reigns. Ohio is young, but the Bobcats do have senior DeVaughn Washington to rely on for some experience.

Other contenders: Like Detroit, Central Michigan coach Ernie Ziegler’s son, Trey, decided to sign with his father instead of pursuing an elite conference… Akron has plenty of upperclassman leadership to compete for the East with Ohio.

Missouri Valley
Champion: Wichita State

Other contenders: Everyone’s already forgotten about Northern Iowa because Adam Koch, Jordan Eglseder and Ali Farokhmanesh graduated. But what about Kwadzo Ahelegbe, who’s proven he can score consistently in this league? The Panthers have a ton of depth around Ahelegbe and could finish as high as second in this league… Creighton’s frontcourt, with Kenny Lawson Jr. and Rutgers’ transfer Gregory Echinique, will help Greg McDermott in his first season back in the Valley… Bradley’s Jim Les has taken all kinds of criticism since his Sweet 16 run earlier in the decade, and this is a big year for his program… Missouri State has everyone back from a team that made the post-season last year, but the pre-season buzz is a bit fishy for a team that only won eight games in the MVC.

Mountain West
Champion: San Diego State

Other contenders: BYU gets Jimmer Fredette back, who could find himself on an All-American list at the end of the year… UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis won’t miss much time after allegations of domestic violence—he’s only suspended for three games—so the Runnin’ Rebels have a shot to return to the NCAAs… New Mexico’s Darington Hobson decided to leave after one season, but Steve Alford welcomes transfers Emmanuel Negedu (Arizona, Tennessee) and Drew Gordon (UCLA) to the fold.

Sun Belt
Champion: North Texas

Eric Tramiel is the only starter missing from last year’s Sun Belt champs. North Texas lost in the first round to Kansas State by a wide margin, but the Mean Green have a shot to scare some people this year. Guards Josh White and Tristan Thompson, along with forward George Odufuwa, are all Player of the Year candidates. Johnny Jones has this program rolling—and 2010-2011 could be his best year yet.

Other contenders: Western Kentucky lost A.J. Slaughter and Jeremy Evans (currently in the NBA), but Steffhon Pettigrew and Sergio Kerusch are one heck of a one-two punch. Juan Pattillo, a former Oklahoma Sooner, will provide much-needed defense… Florida Atlantic’s extremely young team won 10 games in the Sun Belt last year and has scoring returning all over the place for Mike Jarvis’ up-tempo style… Arkansas State saw Brandon Reed transfer to Georgia Tech, but D-Ray Boone, who led the team in scoring two years ago and missed last year with a knee injury, got a waiver for a sixth year… South Alabama dealt with injuries most of last year, but Ronnie Arrow is a proven coach with the services of Tim Williams, one of the league’s top scoring guards.

West Coast
Champion: Gonzaga

Other contenders:

WAC
Champion: Utah State

The WAC may be dissolving, but it’s in place for 2010-2011—and Utah State is the frontrunner. Point guard Jared Quayle may have graduated, but forward Tai Wesley is an All-League performer after averaging 13.7 points per game. With that outstanding student section, the Aggies won’t lose many game at home. And it’s doubtful they’ll lose many on the road, either, with a senior-laden squad returning.

Other contenders: New Mexico State’s got a shot to knock off Utah State, but forward Wendell McKines just found out he’ll miss the start of the year with an injury… First year coach Leon Rice inherits a Boise State team with five senior starters… Nevada has Indiana transfer Malik Story and former Duke Blue Devil Olek Czyz entering the program.

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