Saturday, November 10, 2007

College Basketball Conference Previews - RPI Rankings 7-14

PHSports RPI Projections by Conference

College Basketball Conference Previews - RPI Rankings 23-31

College Basketball Conference Previews - RPI Rankings 15-22

Horizon League
Conference RPI Projection: 14
Projected Champion: Butler
Player of the Year: Mike Green, Butler

It’s great to have the best player in the league on your team. It’s even better when you have the two best players and only lost one player from a team that made the Sweet 16 and bowed out to the eventual national champion. Despite losing head coach Todd Lickliter and two frontcourt starters, history shows that Butler has been very resilient in responding to coaching vacancies. To fill the void in the frontcourt, the Bulldogs have recruited Matt Howard, a 6’7” forward who will contribute immediately. Wisconsin-Green Bay and UW-Milwaukee each return their nucleus, and DaShaun Wood-less Wright State will be competitive given my knowledge of Brad Brownell’s track record following player losses when he was the head coach at UNC-Wilmington.

Mid-American Conference
Conference RPI Projection: 13
Projected Champion: Kent State
Player of the Year: Leon Williams, Ohio

Will the MAC ever get 2 bids? This may be the year, but their conference RPI must be stronger than the projected 13th spot on this site. Leon Williams and Jerome Tillman return to Ohio to lead a Big 6-worthy frontcourt, but they’ll have steady competition in the East Division from Kent State, Miami (Ohio) and Akron. Kent State returns all five starters from a program that’s been a fixture in the RPI top 100 for years. If balance and depth is the name of the game, then the Golden Flashes will be the team to beat. As for Miami-Ohio, they return the core (including MAC tournament MVP Tim Pollitz) of a tournament-tested squad and have stellar newcomers waiting in the wings. In Akron, the Zips are just that. They give up zip on the defensive end (61 ppg last season). Several players with significant experience return to a team that was 13-3 in the MAC last season. In the weaker West, Western Michigan is expected to set the pace with five returning starters and an inside/outside game to boot.

Mountain West Conference
Conference RPI Projection: 12
Projected Champion: Utah
Player of the Year: JR Giddens, New Mexico

The Mountain West is truly up for grabs. BYU is the odds-on favorite with the league’s best returning player, Trent Plaisted, as well as a bevy of talented players stepping into larger roles. UNLV and Air Force each lost 4 starters to graduation. As a result, three teams are on my MWC championship radar, none of them had winning conference records last season and all three have new head coaches. First, Wyoming returns the top backcourt and two preseason all-conference guards in juniors Brandon Ewing and Brad Jones. Second, Steve Alford takes over the reins at New Mexico and hopes to instill defensive principles to a team that is rich in talent but lacks defensive prowess (MWC opponents shot 49.4% from the field). Third, Utah is a kick-start away from remembering that they were excellent three years ago. Jim Boylen, a member of the Tom Izzo coaching tree, knows that four starters, but only one (junior center Luke Nevill) knows that his starting spot is safe.

Missouri Valley Conference
Conference RPI Projection: 11
Projected Champion: Southern Illinois
Player of the Year: Randal Falker

The days of the mighty Missouri Valley are over. Many of the league’s best players have graduated, and as a result, many experts consider this a rebuilding year for the conference’s elite programs. Despite losing their best player (Jamaal Tatum), Southern Illinois returns the trio of Falker, Shaw and Mullins and has plenty of talent ready to expand their roles. If it comes down to outstanding guard play, the Bradley Braves will take the league because of Daniel Ruffin and Jeremy Crouch. Head coach Jim Les has done wonders to recruit size. The other MVC staples, Creighton and Wichita State, are expected to struggle, but don’t be shocked if they’re on the heels of the Salukis. Missouri State and Northern Iowa are also candidates to win the conference, but bouts with inconsistency for both teams have scared make them easy targets in the hustle and bustle of February basketball.

Colonial Athletic Association
Conference RPI Projection: 10
Projected Champion: George Mason
Player of the Year: Eric Maynor, VCU

Don’t call it a comeback; they’ve been here for years. George Mason disappointed following their Final Four run, but they hit their stride at the CAA Tournament and raised expectations for this year with five returning starters including Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell. In Richmond, the VCU Rams are still thanking Billy Donovan for returning to Florida. Pellet-Rosa and Walker are huge losses (158 of 244 made three-pointers on the team), but a top 5 mid-major recruiting class gives VCU more bodies to press the opposition resulting in easy points. And oh yeah, Eric Amazing (13.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 6.4 apg) is back for more mischief. Old Dominion (Gerald Lee), Drexel (Frank Elegar) and Hofstra (Antoine Agudio) have lost key ingredients but have all-conference potential performers to be competitive and surprise the CAA Tournament finalists. And no one can forget about UNC-Wilmington. They absorbed many defeats, but all were without TJ Carter, who returns after being redshirted last season. Here’s a mini-prediction for just the CAA nuts: Delaware will not be horrible and finish with an overall winning record. Herb Courtney, Sam McMahon and the transfers will gel and perhaps break into the upper half of the standings. Here’s another: Bruiser Flint will be ejected at least twice.

Western Athletic Conference
Conference RPI Projection: 9
Projected Champion: New Mexico State
Player of the Year: Jaycee Carroll, Utah State

Despite the exodus of head coach Bill Fuller to the Sacramento Kings, optimism remains sky high in Las Cruces. With three starters and some role players returning, all the talk is about another player: freshman recruit Herb Pope. The additions of Pope and JUCO transfer Paris Carter round out the starting five and provide the Aggies with offensive balance. Speaking of offense, look no further than Utah State’s Jaycee Carroll (21.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 52.7% FG, 43.2% 3-pointers) who almost single-handedly elevated the other Aggies to the NCAAs last season. Carroll will receive help from seniors Kris Clark, Stephen DuCharme and Nick Hammer, but Utah State will need help from unidentified sources to succeed. And of course, one cannot forget about top dog. Yes, the Nevada lost 4 starters including Nick Fazekas and Ramon Sessions, but Marcelus Kemp will compete for the conference POY. If Nevada is dancing come March, consider it Mark Fox’s best coaching job ever.

Conference USA
Conference RPI Projection: 8
Projected Champion: Memphis
Player of the Year: Chris Douglas-Roberts

Welcome to the Memphis show. Ranked fifth according to Blue Ribbon, Coach Cal’s team will be quick, physical and deep. Already stocked at the guard position, freshman phenom Derrick Rose has the versatility to play both guard positions and has the ability to contribute in multiple ways. The best of the rest will be a three-way scrum between UAB, Houston and Southern Mississippi. UAB has an influx of monstrous talent led by transfer Robert Vaden, but head coach Mike Davis’s concern is and will be blending the newcomers with the pre-existing contributors. Southern Miss returns four starters and are due for an upgrade with five newcomers including RL Horton, the 2007 Mr. Basketball in Mississippi. Houston have the ability to reach the C-USA finals, but it will be a moot point unless they successfully battle the demons of inconsistency. Also, keep an eye on Marshall and Tulsa. Former Florida assistant Donnie Jones is the head coach in Huntington, so they’ll play an exciting brand of basketball. As for Tulsa, they return four starters from a 20-win team.

Atlantic 10 Conference
Conference RPI Projection: 7
Projected Champion: Xavier
Player of the Year: Drew Lavender, Xavier

One word describes the A-10. Intrigue. Very easily, this conference could boast as many as 4 NCAA bids, but just as easily, the A-10 could be limited to just one bid. Xavier, led by senior guard Drew Lavender, represents the most solid squad and once again has a torturous non-conference schedule. Transfer CJ Anderson will provide added scoring punch and a truckload of expectations. Saint Joseph’s is expected to have its best team since the days of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West. The Hawks return its core and the majority of its depth, an annoying mascot, and have added Iowa State transfer Tasheed Carr. Phil Martelli’s coaching can only be matched by one Rick Majerus, who despite his inability to pronounce the word “offense”, is a stellar X’s and O’s coach. An excellent backcourt gives the Billikens a great opportunity, but playing without its star center will change their style of play and be a test for Majerus. Rhode Island, Dayton and Fordham return a combined 13 of 15 starters from 18+ win from squads of yesteryear. One cannot automatically count out George Washington, who have a dynamic player in Maureece Rice (15.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg). Also under the radar goes Duquesne. After poaching some of his best players from former employer Northeastern, Ron Everhart now has his real team. Not short of bodies, Everhart imported forward Shawn James, who averaged 6.5 blocks as a freshman at Northeastern. The dismissal of troubled Stuard Baldonado hushed tournament talk, but the Dukes may prefer it that way.