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Which mid-major teams look poised to collect nonconference wins in November or make their marks in March? Here's a collection of 10 intriguing squads from the BracketBusters conferences you'll be hearing from as the season unfolds.
The Wildcats are "it" if "it" means recent success, returning starters from a 29-win team and multiple opportunities to shine against college basketball's elite. Bob McKillop's bunch is the top mid-major school to watch entering the 2007-08 season. With sophomore phenom Stephen Curry (21.5 ppg last season) leading a team with every scholarship player from 2006-07 coming back, the expectations are high at the Charlotte-area school. This squad might have enough "it" to live up to them.
The frontcourt of Randal Falker and Matt Shaw is easily the Valley's best, and the Salukis won't back down from anybody in the paint. The defense, which often borders on the good kind of unwatchable, will be there. If the supporting cast from last year's Sweet 16 squad steps up -- players like guards Wesley Clemmons and Joshua Bone, along with big NCAA first-round hero Tony Boyle -- SIU will be in the national conversation all season long.
The Braves played last season without the big linchpins of their 2006 Sweet 16 run. But Jim Les made do with what was left over, equaling that season's win total with 22 victories last season. The quick-footed backcourt that keyed that surprise follow-up success is back, and an influx of beef could help the Braves contend again in the Valley.
Steve Hawkins made the NCAAs in 2004, his first Kalamazoo campaign, with a 26-win season. But this could be the season the Broncos return to March's big corral, led by 6-7 preseason All-MAC Joe Reitz (a 10-time double-doubler in 2006-07) and a backcourt stocked with three legitimate perimeter threats.
Maybe former coach Porter Moser just ran out of time. He collected impressive talent but couldn't win with it. Tim Jankovich steps in at the helm and will try to guide the Redbirds to their top-division finish since 2002 and make ISU a Valley factor again. Remember this name: Osiris Eldridge. He's the 6-3 sophomore shooting guard who many MVC-watchers believe is a future player of the year candidate.
For the past decade or so, the Big South has been Winthrop this and Winthrop that, and the Panthers are sick of it. With significant personnel losses, both roster and coaching-wise, at Winthrop, High Point looks poised for a run at the ring. HPU is coming off a 22-win season and returns the conference player of the year in wild-haired Arizona Reid (21.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg in 2006-07).
The last school to force a two-bid WCC (in 2005) might be the next, if Gonzaga stumbles in March's league tourney. Diamon Simpson (14.1 ppg) is a 6-7 star in the making, the defense is solid and tiny Moraga, Calif., will host a four-man Aussie invasion.
Remember us? Two heroes of 2006, Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell, are seniors now. They'll lead a team that is stocked with recruits attracted to the Patriot Center by the school's Final Four success. The recent arrivals include highly touted 6-9 flexi-forward Vlad Moldoveanu, a Romanian product who helped his country win the Under-18 European Championship.
The Monarchs could have something to say about the way the CAA race finishes, especially if Finnish-born 6-9 sophomore Gerald Lee blossoms into the star he'll have every opportunity to become. And if early reports about the improved play of 7-3 project Sam Harris are true, ODU's postseason run could very well continue.
A one-win season in 2003-04 seems a lifetime ago, and Loyola is aiming for its first NCAA berth since the late Skip Prosser piloted the Greyhounds to the 1994 Dance. Senior guard Gerald Brown, last season's 10th-leading scorer nationally at 22.2 ppg, leads the charge. Add transfer Joe Miles (who averaged 10 ppg over two seasons at Marshall) into the mix, and the green and silver will be a fun group to watch.
Kyle Whelliston is the national mid-major reporter for Basketball Times and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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