Turnarounds: 31 Teams to Watch For: Part Three
2007-08 Record: 18-12 (11-5)
Yes, the Pirates finished tied for second in the MEAC last season, but they saw their season come to an abrupt end with a harsh 75-74 loss to eventual conference champ Coppin State in the MEAC Tournament. They do have to replace leading scorer Rashad West, but of the five leading scorers on last year’s team three will be back. Look for Vincent Simpson, Matthew Pilgrim and Michael Freeman to take on even more scoring responsibility next year in attempts to win the MEAC. I think they’ve got a shot at getting to the NCAA Tournament next season, but they will have a fight on their hands from the likes of Morgan State and Delaware State.
Missouri Valley: Creighton
2007-08 Record: 22-11 (10-8)
Head coach Dana Altman was in Fayetteville for about two days before he decided that he had to remain at Creighton. His decision worked out for all parties involved as the Blue Jays notched another 20-win season and won a Postseason NIT game in the process. But more can be done, most notably contend for the MVC championship. With the exciting P’Allen Stinnett and many other key contributors due back next season, Creighton can definitely contend for the crown in 2008-09.
Mountain West: Utah
2007-08 Record: 18-15 (7-9)
Make no mistake about it; UNLV and BYU (if Lee Cummard and Trent Plaisted both return) are the favorites to win the Mountain West. But the slots in the standings behind those two are practically wide open, and the Utes could be the team that moves to the top of that list. The lone contributor to leave was guard Johnnie Bryant, who moved to the bench to make way for JUCO transfer Tyler Kepkay when the season began. Along with Kepkay due back is seven-footer Luke Nevill, who can score with either hand on the low block. With the number of players they have due back, look for Jim Boylen’s bunch to make a move up the standings to an area close to where we’ve been accustomed to seeing their program.
Northeast Conference: Monmouth
2007-08 Record: 7-24 (4-14)
It would be easy to choose Central Connecticut State here and proclaim them a favorite to win the NEC. But why not go way out on a limb and expect a team that only scored 59.2 points per game to compete in the top half of the conference? Last year’s team featured seven freshmen, four sophomores and two juniors. Jhamar Youngblood led the team in scoring with twelve points per game, but the year of experience should help this entire team when it comes to winning basketball games. Not sure how good they can be, but don’t expect the Hawks to be anyone’s whipping boy when conference play rolls around.
Ohio Valley: Southeast Missouri St.
2007-08 Record: 12-19 (7-13)
The Redhawks will welcome back three of their top five scorers next season, most notably forward Jaycen Herring and guard Kenard Moore. And their top departing scorer, Brandon Foust, only played in eighteen games last season so the core of this team should be used to playing without him. Six of their losses last season, five of which were in OVC play, were by four points or less and a little change in luck could put them in position to challenge at the top of the league. A change in those five results gives them a 12-8 record in the OVC last year, which would have been good enough for third place in the conference. They’re not too far off; it’s just a matter of finishing the job in crunch time.
Pac-10: Arizona State
2007-08 Record: 21-13 (9-9)
After the abomination that was the Sun Devils’ 2006-07 season, not too many went into last season thinking that come Selection Sunday they’d be debating the NCAA worthiness of Arizona State. But we were, and with stars James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph both returning to Tempe, Herb Sendek may have a team talented enough to make a run at a Pac-10 title. Granted, UCLA will head into the season as the overwhelming favorite and they should. But this has the makings of a big year for Sun Devil basketball, and they should have no problem whatsoever reaching the NCAA Tournament.
2007-08 Record: 12-19 (6-8)
Talk about a shocker. Both the Bison and rival Holy Cross were the trendy picks to win the Patriot League; instead they both end up at the bottom of the standings. But the Bison went into the off-season on a positive, knocking off Navy in a Patriot League quarterfinal before losing at Colgate. John Griffin, who hit the miraculous game-winner at Navy, Darren Mastropaolo and Rob Thomas are the only departing seniors. The key to how much of an improvement the Bison make next season will be how they go about replacing head coach Pat Flannery, who retired after fourteen seasons on the job.
Part One: ACC, Big East, Big Ten etc
Part Two: Big 12, CUSA, etc
Part Four tomorrow: SEC, WAC, WCC