Mid Continent Conference
Oral Roberts was a sexy upset pick in the NCAA first round. Even though the miracle didn't happen over Memphis, the team still had an excellent season. And there's no reason that the fun needs to stop for the Golden Eagles as they return their two top scorers, including the team's best player, Caleb Green (21 points, 9 boards per game). Their biggest graduation loss is probably Jonathan Bluitt, who has averaged over 4 assists per game for the past three years. Coach Scott Sutten will do his best to replace Green with two good recruits, Dominique Gaines and Jeremy Hazell. ORU can expect competition from the reigning regular season champions, IUPUI, led by star guard George Hill (19 points, 6 rebounds & 4 assists per game, 52% shooting from the field). The Jaguars also return a slew of rising-seniors who will be ready to make another push at the tournament. This conference will not be a two-horse race, however, with UMKC and Chicago State returning all 5 starters each. UMKC finished higher in the standings this year, but Chicago State should be considered the most dangerous for next year. After a slow start to the season, the Cougars finished on a roll with wins over UMKC and IUPUI (twice) in their final five games. Led by the tiny guard combo of Royce Parran (5'9", 18 ppg) and David Holston (5'6", 13 ppg), the Cougars should be primed to challenge for the conference title. But that said, the alphabet soup of ORU and IUPUI were clearly the dominant teams this past year, and ORU seems to lose more parts to graduation than IUPUI. So, IUPUI should be the preseason favorites to repeat as regular season champion.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Delaware State dominated this conference all year until Hampton got hot in the MEAC tournament. On top of that, the seven players with the most minutes played on the season were six juniors and a sophomore. This means that the Hornets will have a senior-dominated team chock full of talent (atleast as far as the MEAC is concerned). The team has everything, from a potent scorer to ball-handling to size on the inside. The only question is whether another team can challenge for the conference title. A logical choice would be Coppin State, a young team with zero seniors on the roster. They featured an outstanding sophomore class that includes their top 3 scorers, top 4 rebounders and top 3 assist men. Hampton probably graduates too many players to make another run. South Carolina State and Norfolk State both return most of their weapons from last year, but those teams went a combined 2-6 against Coppin State and Delaware State in the regular season, and neither has any huge recruit that will be enough to put them over the top next year. So, this leaves us with the Hornets and the Eagles in a two-horse race. And at that point, the favorite must be Delaware State. It's just logical to put faith in a senior-dominated team, when all else is even. That said, Coppin State is a pretty good pick to win the MEAC in 2007-'08.
There was a bottleneck atop the NEC this past year, with FDU coming ahead in the regular season and Monmouth coming through in the tournament. To make matters worse, all 4 top teams return 3 of their 5 starters. This means that a tersery analysis is pretty useless. Going deeper, it's clear that FDU is hardest hit (atleast of teams at the top of the conference) by graduations. Both them and Mt. St. Mary's lose their top scorer. Central Connecticut is one team that preserves most of its core, featuring Obie Nwadike's 12.3 ppg and 10.3 rbg (tied for 15th in the nation), and guard Tristan Blackwood's 14 points and 4 assists per game. Monmouth also returns a lot, having been a junior-heavy team. They had expected to have Tyler Azzarelli as their senior leader, but an injury kept him from being a major part of the team for a good chunk of the year, meaning that this year's success was done for the most part without an overwhelming senior presence. That bodes real well for next year. The team best prepared for next year, however, might be Robert Morris. The Colonials hung tough in the conference all year, splitting against Mt. St. Mary's, defeating Central Connecticut, and sweeping Monmouth. A.J. Jackson is a force on the inside, and is a double-double waiting to happen. One only needs to look at his performance in a win over Quinnipiac in Feburary: 39 points on 14/21 shooting, and grabbing 11 rebounds (including 6 on the offensive boards) while ducking outside for 3/6 from behind the arc. At this point, the most prudent prediction is A.J. Jackson leading Robert Morris to the NEC title.
Ohio Valley Conference
Murray State cruised through the OVC this past year, on their way to a near-upset of North Carolina in the tournament. The Racers ground out a lot of close wins this year, and despite returning most of their guards, they lose a lot of their inside force. That puts a lot of pressure on 6'7" Juco transfer Curtis Parker. They will face pressure from what will be a very deep Samford team. While most of the rest of the conference is seeing a lot of stars go for graduation, Tennesee Tech returns most of its best talent. Add all of that to a deep recruiting class, and the Golden Eagles could be a scary team to play. Still, Samford will be the team starting the year with the most talent. Expect Randall Gulina and 6'10" center Travis Peterson to lead Samford to the OVC title.