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October 25, 2008

SCS.comThe term "mid-major" is almost a curse word to some programs. Xavier chastised ESPN for labeling it a mid-major last year, and calling Memphis a mid-major is almost laughable. Still, as I mentioned in last week’s Low-Major Preview, our preview series is based on conference. That’s simply the most efficient way to analyze all of the Division I teams for the 2008-2009 season. With that said, here’s Part I of your Mid-Major Preview.

Atlantic Ten

Predicted Champion: Xavier Musketeers

This isn’t the same Elite Eight team from last season. Xavier will sorely miss departed seniors Drew Lavender (starting point guard), Josh Duncan (leading scorer) and Stanley Burrell (four year starter). Most Atlantic Ten teams would be crippled by the loss of that much experience and talent. Not Xavier. Coach Sean Miller reloaded by bringing in a top-notch recruiting class, which will compliment the Musketeers strong core of returning players, which includes forwards C.J. Anderson, Derrick Brown, and Jason Love. Up front, Xavier has nothing to worry about with those three, but the backcourt could be a different story. Point guard is especially worrisome, as the Musketeers will be relying on three freshmen— Mark Lyons, Terrell Holloway and Brad Redford-- at that position. Xavier may struggle early on with such inexperience at point guard, and another Elite Eight run would be a real stretch. But with the best frontcourt in the Atlantic Ten and the return of sharpshooting senior wing B.J. Raymond, Xavier may run away with this league.

Other Contenders

Temple has the best chance to dethrone Xavier with senior Dionte Christmas, the conference’s leading scorer last season. Without swingman Mark Tyndale, who led the team in rebounds and assists last year, Christmas’s play may suffer a bit. Charlotte returns all but one player from last year’s NIT team— unfortunately for the 49ers, that one player is Leemire Goldwire, who led the team in scoring last year at 18.6 points per game. Dayton and Massachusetts both have stars that could carry them toward the top of the league. The Flyers return emerging sophomore Chris Wright, while the Minutemen have a prolific scorer in junior guard Ricky Harris and a fine point guard in senior Chris Lowe. St. Joseph’s has some nice pieces from last year’s NCAA tournament team still remaining, including forward Ahmad Nivins, but losing Pat Calathes and Rob Ferguson will be too much to overcome.

All-Conference Team
G: Dionte Christmas, Temple
G: Ricky Harris, Massachusetts
G: Chris Lowe, Massachusetts
F: C.J. Anderson, Xavier
F: Derrick Brown, Xavier

Colonial Athletic Association

Predicted Champion: Virginia Commonwealth

Eric Maynor, who became a household name with his game winner against Duke in 2006, is now a senior and probably the best player in the Colonial Athletic Association. VCU lost some key players from last year’s NIT team, including Jamal Shuler, but the Rams have some sophomores capable of providing Maynor with the help he needs. Guard Joey Rodriguez and forward Larry Sanders both saw significant minutes last year as freshmen, and they will see even more time in their second seasons. VCU should have more than enough scoring options with Maynor and the emerging sophomores that surround him, but the Rams are also successful because of their stout defense. Anthony Grant’s athletic, pressing defense demoralizes CAA opponents, and that will be the key for VCU as it looks to capture a second straight conference championship.

Other Contenders

Old Dominion has a lot of young talent, but the Monarchs are led by junior forward Gerald Lee, who averaged 12.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore. The Monarchs will be inexperienced in the backcourt but will make up for that with strong inside play. George Mason must deal with the loss of Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell, but Jim Larranaga has an outstanding freshman class coming in. Northeastern finished just 14-17 last year, but has all five starters back. Georgia State has a number of impact transfers coming in this season, and the Panthers also return one of the league’s top scorers in Leonard Mendez.

All-Conference Team
G: Eric Maynor, VCU
G: Matt Janning, Northeastern
G: Marc Egerson, Delaware
G: Leonard Mendez, Georgia State
F: Gerald Lee, Old Dominion

Conference USA

Predicted Champion: Memphis

How easy was this pick? So easy, in fact, that a detailed explanation isn’t needed. Memphis obviously will take a step back from last year, and the Tigers will likely start out ranked near the bottom of the top 25. Still, that’s markedly better than any other Conference USA team, a conference that should be improved but is still a far cry from what it once was.

Other Contenders

Coming off a 25 win season, Tulsa may be the best bet to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large outside of Memphis. The Golden Hurricane’s inside-outside tandem of guard Ben Uzoh and center Jerome Jordan is deadly. Southern Miss could be a surprise team under Larry Eustachy, with a dynamic group of guards including All-Conference point guard Jeremy Wise. UAB and UTEP both have prolific players in Robert Vaden and Stefon Jackson, who could lead their respective teams to the post-season.

All-Conference Team
G: Robert Vaden, UAB
G: Stefon Jackson, UTEP
G: Ben Uzoh, Tulsa
F: Robert Dozier, Memphis
C: Jerome Jordan, Tulsa

Mid-American Conference

Predicted Champion: Kent State

Kent State was going to be good anyway, but the Golden Flash got a late gift when troubled guard Tyree Evans, one of the nation’s top junior college recruits, decided to walk on. Evans obviously brings baggage with him and character issues, but on the court, he also gives Kent State another scoring guard to compliment Al Fisher and Chris Singletary. The MAC was always Kent State’s conference to lose, but with Evans, the Golden Flash could be a real factor in the NCAA tournament. I’ve neglected to mention that head coach Jim Christian left for TCU, but with as much talent as this team has on the court, I’m not sure it will even matter that much.

Other Contenders

Western Michigan is the clear favorite in the West Division, as the Broncos return one of the MAC’s top players in guard David Kool. Replacing departed center Joe Reitz’ production down low, however, is an area of concern. But if anyone can knock off Kent State in the conference tournament, it would be Western Michigan. Miami (OH) brings back a solid core from last year’s 17-16 team, but the RedHawks just don’t have enough to seriously compete at the top of this conference.

All-Conference Team
G: Al Fisher, Kent State
G: Tyree Evans, Kent State
G: David Kool, Western Michigan
F: Michael Bramos, Miami (OH)
F: Anthony Newell, Ball State

Next week: check back for previews of the Missouri Valley, Mountain West, West Coast and Western Athletic Conferences.

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