Saturday, March 25, 2006

2006-07 Preview: Small Conferences, Part I

The first installment of the 2006-07 Previews are here! They will start will the "Small" conferences, which are defined as conferences that are very likely one-bid leagues. The next category, "Mid-Major" conferences, are defined as non-BCS conferences that have received more than one bid in recent years and can be expected to challenge for at-large bids in the coming season. The final category, of course, will be BCS schools.

Each conference preview will be accompanied by an Excel breakdown of the conference from the past year. Conference records are regular season only. Overall records and the RPI are D-I only and do not include NCAA/NIT tournament games (though they do include in-season tournament and the conference tournaments). Finally, the "Returning starters" defines the starting five as the five players with the most minutes played per game throughout the season. BasketballPredictions does not want to have to put in asterixes for teams that switched lineups, or started seniors and then quickly replaced them with better underclassmen, or had injuries - so the starters will simply be the five players who averaged the most minutes throughout the season (assuming they played more than a couple of games total). With all that said, let's get to the previews:

Patriot League

Bucknell has dominated this league for the past couple of years, but this is going to be a different team without Kevin Bettencourt. Their other graduating senior starter, Charles Lee, was the team's leading scorer at 13.2 per game, but Bettencourt was always the leader in the stretch. The past two years they have made the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament purely because of Bettencourt. Unlike some other mid-majors (like Winthrop and George Washington), Bucknell is not a team that has been successful because of a great coach or system. They've been great because of the crop of players that they had - and Bettencourt was the most important player. That said, the crop is not completely depleted. The Bison return Abe Badmus (who really stepped up this year) and Chris McNaughton (their key presence in the paint). That should be enough to allow Bucknell to hang onto the Patriot League for atleast one more year. The most likely challenger will be Lehigh, on the back of rising-Senior guard Jose OIlivero (17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists per game this year). Holy Cross also can't be discounted, simply because they have more experience of winning conferences than Lehigh does. It's just hard to pick a team to play better the year that they lose their star - in their case, Kevin Hamilton's 18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals per game.

Southern Conference

Davidson made an outstanding run this year to get to the tournament and give Ohio State all that they could handle. That run, however, has come to an end. They lose four starters, and it would be surprising to see them repeat in the Southern Conference Tournament again. Georgie Southern, the reigning regular season champ, isn't hit quite so hard, but they do lose their star, 5'9" Elton Nesbitt (21.7 ppg this year). Taking those two teams out of the mix leaves us with the College of Charleston, Furman, Appalachian State and Elon as the four most likely teams to move up next year. Appalachian State returns the biggest star, 5'8" D.J. Thompson and his 19 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals per game. Elon also returns its best player, 6'8" forward Chris Chalko (13 points, 5 boards per game). College of Charleston has had a lot of tournament experience in recent memory and also receives one more year out of star Dontaye Draper, who plays just about every minute of every game and was good for 19 points per game this past year. No one, however, can boost the returning core that Furman has. Eric Webb, Robby Bostain and Moussa Diagne give them a guard, forward and center who scored 12.8, 14.1 and 11.8 points per game this past year. Those three rising-seniors will lead a team that was a bunch of close losses away from contending this past year, and that will be primed to make a serious run in 2007.

Southland Conference

Northwestern State ended up as one of the darlings of the 2006 NCAA Tournament, with their miracle victory over Iowa. Unfortunately, most of that team will be graduating (along with Clifton Lee's hair). So look for some new teams to challenge for the Southland Conference title. The logical successor is Sam Houston State, which graduates its top scorer but still retains its two best players - Jejuan Plair at the point and Ryan Bright on the inside. Throw in two more rising-seniors on the front line (6'8" John Gardiner and 6'7" Aaron Wade) and this Sam Houston State is going to dominate things on the inside. Stephen F. Austin will also be a threat, featuring star Josh Alexander who averaged over 14 points and 6 rebounds per game this year as a freshman. A darkhorse team will be McNeese State, which will potentially start a team with 4 experienced seniors. Teams like that are always difficult to beat. But based on the rosters, as currently constituted, Sam Houston State has got to be the early favorite.

Southwestern Athletic Conference

Southern cruised through the SWAC in '05/'06, but with 2/3 of their scoring composed of seniors, they probably shouldn't be expected to repeat in '06/'07. The thing is, however, there doesn't seem to be another team ready to take the mantle. Grambling and Alabama A&M are both going to lose their best players. Grambling senior Brion Rush was good for 25.8 points per game this year, 6th best in the nation. Meanwhile, Alabama A&M loses leading scorer Obie Trotter (19.3 per game) as well as daily double-double threat Joe Martin (13.9 points and a SWAC-leading 9.7 rebounds per game). The door is clearly open for another team to fill the void, and right now the most likely team is Jackson State. They return the nation's 11th leading scorer in Trey Johnson (23.8 per game), their two best rebounders (Johnson and Jeremy Caldwell, both with nearly 5 per game), and their three best assist men. Jackson State will be an experienced team walking into a year where it won't take that much to win the conference - they must be considered the favorites.

Sun Belt Conference

Western Kentucky and South Alabama were the two big dogs in the Sun Belt all year. Of the two, the Hilltoppers probably return the most talent, including 6'5" guard Courtney Lee, who has the potential to drop 20 points per game next year. The team most likely to crash the party at the top is Middle Tennesee State, featuring what will be a senior-heavy team looking for one last run. Denver, returning 4 of its 5 leading scorers, should be considered a darkhorse candidate. South Alabama is a short team that beats opponents on the outside, but Western Kentucky proved this year that they have the guard-play to match, with a regular season victory at Southern Alabama before losing in the Sun Belt Conference tournament. The key for the Hilltoppers will be replacing 6'8" center Elgrace Wilborn on the inside, as they return no other players (other Lee) with more than 4 rebounds per game. Since Lee will be occupied with scoring the bulk of the points, a key might will probably be 6'9" recruit D'Adarius Pegues. Pegues is a huge raw talent who was a star on the same AAU team as OJ Mayo, and who was considered by many to be the top big-man recruit in the entire state of Kentucky. If he continues to improve, expect Western Kentucky to finish the job next year and return to the NCAA tournament.


Anonymous said...

You are a fucking idiot. Your Patriot League post shows next to no knowledge of Bucknell or the legaue.

Anonymous said...

Wow, ok buddy. This site is insightful. It's not really possible to follow every conference, especially small ones like your beloved Patriot League. So he goes by the numbers. When you lose your best players, your team doesnt rise in pre-season rankings. Its common sense.

You are nothing.