- Kyle Whelliston, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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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
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
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.