Commentary

Remember these mid-major names

Originally Published: November 7, 2007
By Kyle Whelliston | Special to ESPN.com

Some will star in headline-grabbing upsets, some will emerge as NCAA heroes, and some might even hear their names called next summer on draft night. Here's a list of 10 impact players from mid-major conferences who will play pivotal roles in the way the 2007-08 college basketball season plays out.

Herb Pope, New Mexico State
The 6-foot-9 Pittsburgh-area prodigy has made plenty of headlines already: He reportedly punched an AAU coach, was nearly fatally shot in March, and now there are questions about his high school transcript that are keeping him on the sidelines. Provided the NCAA allows him to play, a power forward featured on nearly every recruiting service's top-25 list likely holds the WAC race in his large hands.

Matt Howard, Butler
The Sweet 16 Bulldogs had significant turnover this past season, losing head coach Todd Lickliter to Iowa and reliable power forward Brandon Crone. Howard, the mop-topped 6-7 Hoosier, will step in as a freshman after turning down overtures from Indiana, Purdue and Xavier. If he clicks immediately with A.J. Graves and others, Butler might not miss a step.

[+] EnlargeCourtney Lee
Joe Robbins/US PresswireCourtney Lee's play this season has has caught the attention of NBA scouts, and he is projected as a possible first-round pick in the draft.

Tim Pollitz, Miami (Ohio)
Pollitz is big, barrel-chested and a little slow-footed, but smarter than your average post player. A lot smarter. The 6-6, 230-pound Redhawk is often seen carefully plotting out just the right path to the basket -- like when he single-handedly lifted Miami from a MAC No. 4 seed to the Big Dance, with combined 31-for-41 shooting over three tourney games. Then, on the national stage, he scored 21 in a two-point loss to Oregon. He returns as a senior.

Randal Falker, Southern Illinois
The 6-7 senior Saluki finds himself on the national Wooden Award 50-player watch list to start the season, a reward for a 2006-07 campaign filled with double-doubles (eight), a 59 percent shooting percentage and three solid games in the NCAAs. And in a Missouri Valley Conference filled with questionable and unproven size, Falker could dominate.

Eric Maynor, VCU
The 6-2 junior guard exhibited such a knack for late-game heroics last season, folks around the Colonial should start referring to game-winning shots as "Maynors." From the dagger in the CAA title game against George Mason to the Duke-killing shot in the NCAA first round, his reputation has been cemented. And he'll bring his 13.9 ppg and league-leading 3.1-to-1 assist/turnover ratio back for a junior campaign.

Jason Thompson, Rider
Mid-major stars with NBA bodies are usually downgraded as prospects for not being "a few inches taller," but this isn't a problem for this 6-10 Bronc senior. Another season like 2006-07, in which Thompson averaged a double-double and cut a wide swath through MAAC defenses, might necessitate the purchase of a nice suit for draft night.

Donte Minter, Appalachian State
This 6-8 trickle-down transfer from Virginia was coach Houston Fancher's secret weapon last season, but lingering effects of a knee injury meant that the Mountaineers' head coach had to keep him holstered a lot. Miller rarely played more than half a game but found the time to lead the Southern Conference in field-goal percentage at 64.2 percent. The knee is healed, his weight is down, and App State is ready for more upsets.

Courtney Lee, Western Kentucky
The man can score, as evidenced by his 17 ppg averages in the past two seasons. He can play a little defense, too; he finished seventh in the Sun Belt in steals in 2006-07 (1.5 spg) and averaged almost a block per game. Now, the senior swingman's leadership qualities will be tested, because the Hilltoppers will look to him to help WKU recapture a league title that has eluded the school since 2003.

Alex Harris, UC Santa Barbara
Harris won the Big West scoring title (21.1 ppg) as a junior playing for a team with good shooting, solid defense and one fatal flaw: no scoring depth. That issue has been addressed at the Thunderdome, so the 6-6 go-to Gaucho likely will spend his senior season on a conference contender.

Chris Daniels, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
Southland Conference coaches have had their nightmares haunted by the Islanders' 7-foot behemoth (15.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg), and casual fans were properly introduced to the league's Player of the Year in the NCAA Tournament when No. 15 seed Corpus won the first half against No. 2 Wisconsin. Daniels had 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting that day, and is the key to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's hopes of returning to the NCAAs.

Kyle Whelliston is the national mid-major reporter for Basketball Times and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Kyle Whelliston

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
Kyle Whelliston has contributed to ESPN.com's college basketball coverage since 2005. He covers mid-major programs for Basketball Times magazine, and will have a basketball travelogue of the 2008-09 season published next summer. Whelliston also founded midmajority.com and statistical database site Basketball State (bbstate.com).

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