Turnarounds: 31 Teams to Watch For: Part Two
Big 12: Oklahoma State
2007-08 Record: 17-16 (7-9)
The Cowboys made some news during the Final Four, even though they weren’t playing in the event. Their desire for alum Bill Self to come back to Stillwater wasn’t hidden, but in the end the national champion coach decided that it was in his best interest to remain in Lawrence. Enter Travis Ford, who led UMass to back-to-back twenty win seasons and a spot in this season’s Postseason NIT title game. While there will be an adjustment period in the early going, the cupboard certainly isn’t bare with key contributors such as James Anderson, Byron Eaton and Obi Muonelo all coming back next season. This is a team that should make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth.
Big West: Pacific
2007-08 Record: 21-10 (11-5)
Not going out on a limb here with this pick, but I really like Bob Thomason’s Tigers to get back to the top of the Big West standings with seven seniors on the roster. No key contributors from 2007-08 were lost, which could make Pacific a popular choice in some circles to make some serious noise come March. Three players averaged double figures in scoring led by First Team All-Big West selection Steffan Johnson. Rising sophomore Terrell Smith was named to the conference’s All-Freshman Team, and Anthony Brown and Chad Troyer were both honorable mention All-Big West selections. All this coming back to Stockton makes the Tigers the early favorite to win the Big West…and maybe send some unsuspecting foe home come NCAA Tournament time.
2007-08 Record: 14-17 (9-9)
Bill Coen didn’t have a lot of experience to work with last season, having just one senior (forward Mark Washington) on the roster. Matt Janning, a second-team all-conference selection, will lead a cast that will have another season of experience under their belts. Guard Chaisson Allen was named to the CAA’s All-Rookie Team, having led all conference newcomers in assists and steals. This is one of those teams that while everyone may predict them to be “one year away” from a title, they’ve got just enough to let everyone know that next year is now.
Conference USA: SMU
2007-08 Record: 10-20 (4-12)
A move up the ladder in Conference USA won’t be easy for Matt Doherty and his young program, as C-USA stands to be even better as a whole in 2008-09. But the commitment from the athletics department is certainly there, something that couldn’t always be said in years past. But the young talent is definitely taking notice of the changes, with Coach Doherty inking top guard prospect Paul McCoy just last week. The Mustangs will have to replace two of their top three scorers from last season in Jon Killen and Derrick Roberts, but big men Bamba Fall and Papa Dia will both be back next season. If some of the returnees can step into the holes left by the loss of Killen and Roberts, they’ve got a shot at moving into the middle of the Conference USA pack.
Horizon: Wisconsin-Green Bay
2007-08 Record: 15-15 (9-9)
With their top five scorers all slated to return (there was only one senior on the roster in 2007-08), the Phoenix could end up being one of the chief challengers to Butler in the Horizon League. Mike Schnachter led the team in scoring last season, and received help from the likes of Ryan Tillema and Rahmon Fletcher. Fletcher did a good job of running the point, and should only get better with a full season under his belt. Caught in a logjam in the middle of the Horizon standings last season, look for UWGB to make that move up in 2008-09.
2007-08 Record: 8-22 (3-11)
Tommy Amaker’s first season at Harvard was highlighted by their home win over his former employer Michigan. Unfortunately for the Crimson, they received more attention for an article on their recruiting in the New York Times than they did their play in within the league. But with a lot of Ancient Eight rivals (Cornell pretty much has everyone back) losing key contributors to graduation, maybe they can move up a couple of slots. Jeremy Lin, a second-team all-conference selection, will lead the charge in 2008-09, and he’ll be helped out by the likes of Pat Magnarelli, Evan Harris and Drew Housman. By no means is this a prediction that the Crimson will compete for the Ivy’s automatic bid (I think Cornell’s a safe bet on that), but they should be drastically improved.
2007-08 Record: 12-19 (5-13)
I’m going with the Jaspers slightly ahead of Iona here, but I really like both to make move in the MAAC. Given the growth experienced in the MAAC Tournament by Barry Rohrssen’s club (a stronger commitment to defense and Devon Austin became more assertive as a team leader), and the fact that they return every key returnee leads me to believe that they can challenge for a spot in that 2-5 area of the standings. Antoine Pearson is one of the conference’s best point guards, and rising sophomores Chris Smith and Rashad Green should be ready to take the next step in their development. All that separates them from where they are and where they want to be is the consistency on the defensive end of the floor. And when that comes, look out.
MAC: Bowling Green
2007-08 Record: 13-17 (7-9 East Division)
While the change to Louis Orr didn’t mean an increase in overall wins (they won thirteen games in 2006-07 as well), it did mean four more league victories to get to 7-9. And while they’ll have to replace three of their top five scorers, led by Nate Miller, they should be improved with another year of seasoning under their belts. Chris Knight, who led the team in rebounding and was second in scoring, will be back next season along with guard Joe Jankubowski. Not too sure if the improvement will mean a jump in the MAC East standings, but the Falcons will be a better team next season.
Part One: ACC, Big East, Big Ten etc
Part Three tomorrow: MVC, MWC, Pac-10, etc