Turnarounds: 31 Teams to Watch: Part Four
SEC: South Carolina
2007-08 Record: 14-18 (5-11)
There hasn’t been a whole lot of optimism around the Gamecock basketball program since a group led by Renaldo Balkman won its second straight Postseason NIT title a couple years back. But into the desk left open by the retired Dave Odom slides Darrin Horn, who led Western Kentucky to four straight twenty-win seasons and a Sweet 16 this past season. Given what we saw from the likes of Courtney Lee and Tyrone Brazelton during the Tournament, maybe Horn can add a little more to the game of Devan Downey and unleash some of the athletic talent in the South Carolina frontcourt. While it would be far-fetched to expect the Gamecocks to win the SEC East, look for them to make a return to postseason play next year.
Southern: College of Charleston
2007-08 Record: 16-17 (9-11)
It’s tough when you’re in the same division as Davidson, but for the Cougars to finish below .500 in conference play last season had to be a disappointment for Bobby Cremins and his staff. Four players, led by Tony White Jr., averaged double figures in scoring and they’ll all be back in 2008-09. Davidson will still be the odds-on favorite to win the Southern Conference, but don’t expect Charleston to simply roll over for the Wildcats. And the scary thing is that they may be even better the following season.
Southland: Nicholls State
2007-08 Record: 10-21 (5-11)
The Colonels are another team that suffered due to its lack of experience last season. But with Adonis Gray being the lone departure, look for Nicholls to repay some of the teams who took advantage of their youth this past season. Head coach J.P. Piper should have a full complement of players at his disposal next season, including three signed recruits and Michael Czepil for an entire season. And given the fact that they’re in the division opposite Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State, the Colonels can make a run at a division title.
2007-08 Record: 11-19 (9-9)
Head coach Rob Spivery loses two seniors from last season’s team, Geri Guillory and Joe Holliday, but his top three scorers will all be back in Baton Rouge. Chris Davis led the Jaguars in scoring at fifteen per game, and look for Barry Honore and Steffon Wiley to increase their production in order to become better compliments to Davis on the offensive end. The key in the SWAC, like the MEAC, is to not get buried by those “guarantee games” that many of the member schools have to play for the sake of their athletic department’s finances. I think Southern will have enough returning experience to make sure they don’t suffer that kind of letdown next season.
2007-08 Record: 10-21 (4-14)
The Centenary Gents struggled mightily at times last season, and if not for South Dakota State they would have finished last in the conference. They only lose one senior from last season’s squad, and he (Iman Shokouhizadeh) averaged a mere four minutes per game. Three players averaged double figures in scoring, led by Tyrone Hamilton and Nick Stallings. They’ll both be back, and will be focal points as head coach Rob Flaska looks to move Centenary to the top half of the Summit League, if not win the automatic bid itself.
Sun Belt: Denver
2007-08 Record: 11-19 (7-11)
The Pioneers will have quite the task this season as their location doesn’t even remotely fit into the geographical footprint of the rest of the Sun Belt. But second-year head coach Joe Scott should be more familiar with his roster and each player’s strengths and weaknesses. The Pioneers lose four seniors, most notably David Kummer and Adam Tanner, but I think they can improve their standing within the West Division thanks to key losses incurred by other teams within the division. A full off-season in the system that Scott wants to run should also help with the completion of the coaching transition.
West Coast: Portland
2007-08 Record: 9-22 (3-11)
Personally, I thought that the Pilots should have performed better than their 3-11 record within the WCC. But with their only senior loss being Sherrard Watson, I think this could be the year in which Portland get to the middle of the pack in the WCC. Nik Raivio, who led the team in scoring last season, will be back along with fellow guard Taishi Ito and forward Rob Smeulders. Look for head coach Eric Reveno to have a vastly improved team in his third season at the helm.
WAC: Louisiana Tech
2007-08 Record: 6-24 (3-13)
Kerry Rupp heads into his second year in Ruston with a lot of young players returning after getting a taste of the “hard knock life” in 2007-08. Add to this group LSU transfer Magnum Rolle combined with other WAC teams losing some key contributors and you may have a team that can move up to the middle of the conference standings in 2008-09. In regards to competing for the conference title, that may be a little premature at this stage. But the cupboard certainly won’t be bare for the Bulldogs in 2008-09.
Part One: ACC, Big East, Big Ten etc
Part Two: Big 12, CUSA, etc
Part Three: MVC, MWC, Pac-10, etc