With the off-season now upon us and the spring signing period well under way, this is a good opportunity to attempt to forecast some of the teams who could make the jump next season. Is there a team out there like this past season’s Drake Bulldogs, who went from ninth place to a dominating run through the Missouri Valley? Or how about Arizona State, a team that went from dead last in the Pac-10 to fifth place and could have the makings of a conference title run this season? With one pick for each conference, here are 31 teams you should keep an eye on next season.
America East: Maine
2007-08 Record: 7-23 (3-13)
With their top three scorers from last season all returning (as tri-captains no less), I think the Black Bears have a chance to make a move up the America East standings. Mark Socoby, mid-season transfer Kaimondre Owes and Junior Bernal will lead the way for head coach Ted Woodward next season, giving Maine a three-pronged attack on the perimeter. Their ascension up the standings will depend on what they can get from the frontcourt, most notably Phil Tchekane Bofia and Sean McNally. I’d say a move to the middle of the pack at least from Maine, but a title? Maybe a little premature on that, but you never know.
ACC: Wake Forest
2007-08 Record: 17-13 (7-9)
Not like this pick is a surprise, but the combination of a highly-touted recruiting class led by Al-Farouq Aminu and returnees such as Ish Smith, James Johnson and Chas McFarland could mean a top-four finish in the ACC for Dino Gaudio’s Demon Deacons. They weren’t too far off this season either, with five of their nine league losses being by seven points or less. And given the muddled picture that was the middle of the ACC standings last season, snatching a first-round bye in the 2009 ACC Tournament certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Atlantic Sun: Campbell
2007-08 Record: 10-20 (5-11)
Even with two of their top four scorers out of eligibility (Reggie Bishop and Jake Wohlfeil), the Camels have a good shot at improving their 5-11 league record. Only provisional members USC Upstate and North Florida were below them in the standings (Upstate actually had five wins as well), and Florida Gulf Coast had one more conference win. But they do return forward Jonathan Rodriguez, who averaged twenty points per game on his way to snatching up Mid-Major All-America honors from CollegeHoops.net and CollegeInsider.com. And with the solid recruiting class being brought in by head coach Robbie Laing, Campbell should have the tools necessary to make a move in the A-Sun.
Atlantic 10: George Washington
2007-08 Record: 9-17 (5-11)
I don’t think there’s any way the Colonials can be as bad as they were in 2007-08. From an Atlantic 10 Tournament title to not even reaching the conference tournament, GW couldn’t continue the momentum. Even with three players gone (Maureece Rice to graduation; Cheyenne Moore and Miles Beatty were dismissed on Wednesday by head coach Karl Hobbs) from last year’s team, the Colonials could make a move up the standings with many of the teams ahead of them going through roster turnover as well. Whether or not they get to the middle of the A-10 pecking order will depend on who becomes their go-to guy on the offensive end of the floor. But they should be a balanced group, which may work out just as well for the Colonials.
Big East: Providence
2007-08 Record: 15-16 (6-12)
Another season of underachievement led to the departure of longtime head coach Tim Welsh, who was replaced by National Coach of the Year Keno Davis last month. Just as important a development for the Friars may be the return of guard Sharaud Curry, who was a medical redshirt last season. As seen with Drake last season, Coach Davis puts a high value on perimeter players who can shoot the ball from the perimeter. Guard Dwain Williams has received permission to talk to other schools, but even with his loss the Friars should be well-stocked on the outside with the likes of Curry, Weyenmi Efejuku, Brian McKenzie and Jeff Xavier.
And don’t forget about jack-of-all-trades Geoff McDermott and pivot Randall Hanke. The hype for this team won’t reach what it was a couple seasons ago, when a team featuring Ryan Gomes thought to be a player in the Big East didn’t even reach .500, but they will be good. The question is just how far they can go in a loaded Big East.
Big Sky: Eastern Washington
2007-08 Record: 11-19 (6-10)
Last season was indeed a tough one for the Eagle program. Head coach Kirk Earlywine didn’t get the job until late June, and under his command was a nine-man roster featuring six players with no previous Division I playing experience. While they didn’t qualify for the Big Sky Tournament in 2007-08, six of their ten conference losses were by five points or less. Granted, replacing an all-conference player like Kellen Williams will have an effect, the four transfers who sat out last season along with the returning experience should make for a better season in Cheney, Washington.
Big South: Charleston Southern
2007-08 Record: 10-20 (4-10)
With the return of rising sophomores Omar Carter (Big South Freshman of the Year) and Jamarco Warren (member of the Big South’s All-Freshman Team), the Buccaneers should be a good bet to improve their last place finish of a year ago. Guard Chris Moore has graduated, but he’s the only loss of note for head coach Barclay Radebaugh, who has also signed a solid recruiting class. Guard Jaden Isler (Clovis, NM) could fit right into the guard slot left open by Moore’s departure, and the other three commits are no slouches either. Competing for the conference title may be a year away, but some of the teams who finished ahead of them in the standings last season have taken on some key losses due to graduation.
Big Ten: Illinois
2007-08 Record: 16-19 (5-13)
Once Eric Gordon decided to head to Indiana instead of Illinois, things went downhill for Bruce Weber’s Fighting Illini. With the cornerstone of last year’s recruiting class gone, Illinois scuffled on the offensive end of the floor, but the fight was still there as this group was a mere forty minutes away from an NCAA Tournament berth. Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle are both out of eligibility, but every other key contributor from last season is slated to return, along with three newcomers. Stan Simpson was a standout performer at Chicago Simeon, and Coach Weber also received a commitment from Top-20 junior college talent Dominique Keller. After the first semester, Kentucky transfer Alex Legion will also be eligible. I don’t see this team losing thirteen conference games again this season.
Part Two tomorrow: Big 12, CUSA, Horizon, etc