Dickie Nutt looks to have his Arkansas State team ready for the grind of the Sun Belt season.
I am not Dookie V...who is now on the Carolina bandwagon....but I can read and reseach. And because of this....I give you my picks for Nine Mid-Major Conferences. -Sportz
WEST COAST CONFERENCE
TEAMS TO KNOW: Gonzaga will be ranked and should win the conference again. They’ve been to the tourny 6 straight years….only Arizona and Stanford have longer streaks out west. The Zags lost Blake Stepp but still have Ronny Turiaf, who was himself thinking about the NBA. They have Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, Illinois and Missouri on their schedule….so they’re non-conference schedule is solid. The Zags normal foe, Pepperdine, will again try to knock off the might Bulldogs. Santa Clara could be in the hunt as well…since the WCC tournament is on their home floor.
NAME TO KNOW: Ronny Turiaf. He’s the best NBA prospect in the conference….a matchup few in the WCC can cope with.
NAME YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW: Paul Westphal. The Pepperdine coach has made a name for himself as a player and coach with the Phoenix Suns..MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE
TEAMS TO KNOW: Southern Illinois were the hot mid-major team of 2003-2004. Only two starters return from their 25-5 team…and last year’s coach Matt Painter is now in Purdue to take over for Gene Keady. They are the strong favorite to make their 4th straight NCAA field. Wichita State and Northern Iowa both lag a little behind SIU…but could make a MVC tourny run, as Northern Iowa did last year to sneak into the tournament.
NAME TO KNOW: Darren Brooks. This SIU senior guard led the Salukis in scoring and rebounding last season and is an awesome defender.
NAME YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW: Tom Davis. Remember Dr. Tom Davis?? The former Iowa Hawkeye coach with 555 lifetime wins is in his second season at Drake.
MID AMERICAN CONFERENCE
TEAMS TO KNOW: Toledo has everyone back from a 20-win team and could make their first NCAA berth since 1981. They have a myriad of scorers and an overall quick team. Eastern Michigan, who had a great season last year, will again vie for the MAC title with Ben Reed and Marcus Austin. Also look out for possible surprises from Buffalo and Ball State…as well as MAC stalwarts Miami-OH and Kent State.
NAME TO KNOW: Keith Triplett. He led Toledo in scoring last season and a sweet shooter. When the Rockets need a hoop…he’s gonna provide it.
NAME YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW: Charlie Coles. The Miami coach is the dean of the MAC and seems to always get the best out of his Redhawks program.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
TEAMS TO KNOW: Manhattan is trying to become the Gonzaga of the MAAC. They have the resources and have signed their coach thru 2010. Niagara always plays Manhattan well….and could be the Jaspers’ foil this year. They could be good enough to upend Manhattan…especially with the tourney in Buffalo.
NAME TO KNOW: Keydren Clark, St. Peter’s. He led the nation in scoring last season with 26.7 ppg. The first sophomore to do so in 30 years. You have to guard him once he gets off the bus.
NAME YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW: Deng Gai. The Fairfield center was flirting with the NBA last season after an injury plagued 2003-4 season. He’s Emeka Okafor without the notice. And, you’ll know his name as “that Dang Guy!”
COLONIAL ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
TEAMS TO KNOW: There are a few teams that could win the CAA. My pick is George Mason. There is talent all over the floor and they are very well coached. Drexel and Old Dominion have players that could carry their team to the CAA title….but aren’t as well rounded. Last year’s champ, VCU, loses their top two scorers from a team that lost to Wake Forest by a point in the NCAA tourney.
NAME TO KNOW: Alex Loughton. The ODU center is a beast on the inside and could be a 20-10 guy this year.
NAME YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW: Jeff Capel. The VCU coach who had his team in the tournament last year is best known for his time as Duke point guard….and the guy who hit that half-court shot to send them to overtime in the classic game with North Carolina. Miami-FL and Auburn wanted his services after the Commodores nice run.
TEAMS TO KNOW: East Tennessee State is the cream of the crop here. A 15-1 league mark and another tourney appearance. ETSU is developing a mini-dynasty in the SoCo. Chattanooga loses coach Jeff Lebo to Auburn….but hosts the Southern Tourney. Davidson will be in the mix with their tough defense and great rebounding ability….things that can move you thru a conference tourney.
NAME TO KNOW: Brendan Winters. The Davidson guard will get lots of touches and the main option for the Wildcats.
NAME YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW: Tim Smith. The ETSU guard lit up Cincinnati in the NCAA tourney last year for 26 points. The 5-9 guard is quick and has a gun on him.
BIG WEST CONFERENCE
TEAMS TO KNOW: Utah State was 25-3 last year and didn’t get to the NCAA tournament. Their soft schedule may contribute to that…but USU was ranked in the top 25. They have a sizable from line to do damage in their final season of Big West play. The team that did get the bid was Pacific…who scored a first round knockout of Providence and tied with USU for top record in the conference. They return 7 seniors form last year’s team. UCSB and Cal-Northridge could make some noise….though not on the Aggies and Tigers scale.
NAME TO KNOW: Ian Boylan was the Big West tourney MVP as his Northridge team upset Utah State in the semifinals and lost by a mere 3 to Pacific in the title tilt. He can play both guard spots and swing-forward.
NAME YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW: Pacific’s Gillaume Yango had a huge NCAA tournament. He scored 18 and nabbed 5 boards against Ryan Gnomes and Providence in round one….then scored 22 on Kansas in their second round loss.
SUN BELT CONFERENCE
TEAMS TO KNOW: In a conference that ranges from Miami to Colorado….the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns seem to continue to be the league’s best. They did lose two head coaches in the off season….one to San Francisco and the other for lying on his resume. Middle Tennessee will struggle with Tommy Gunn [best name in basketball] gone. New Orleans and Little Rock could make a small challenge.
NAMES(S) TO KNOW: This conference has names to know. I told you about ex-MTSU guard Tommy Gunn. Well, their coach is Kermit Davis. Jaques Pate plays in South Alabama. The Cajuns have Robert “E” Lee as their new coach. The best, however, is Arkansas State’s coach, Dick Nutt.
NAME YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW: Former Illinois legend Lou Henson is in New Mexico State and working on his 762 career wins.
TEAMS TO KNOW: The ones with the hyphens. Illinois-Chicago look to repeat their NCAA bid season with two fifth-year seniors returning. And, just like last year, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Wisconsin-Milwaukee look to make their own runs. UW-M had the best Horizon record last year…but lose player of the year Dylan Page.
NAME TO KNOW: UIC’s point-man Cedrick Banks is a legit NBA prospect.
NAME YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW: Former McDonald’s All-American and Michigan State transfer Brandon Cotton should start at point when he becomes eligible after the first semester.