Big West Conference
Long Beach State ran away with the Big West this past season, but I can't possibly imagine the 49ers repeating. With their top seven scorers lost to graduation, they don't return a single player who had more than 10 minutes per game this past season. And with their coach out, this program is really in flux. UC Santa Barbara, on the other hand, will also return a lot of talent, highlighted by rising-Seniors Alex Harris and Chris Devine (35 ppg, 11 rpg combined).
Cal Poly also returns a lot of talent, although I expect that they're still a year away from being able to win the Big West. In my mind, the most returning talent resides with Cal State Fullerton. They will have the speed and size and overall athleticism to play with anybody in the
Big West. The biggest question will be trying to replace the scoring of Bobby Brown (20 ppg), but I think they can do it. Cal State Fullerton is the pick.
Butler, obviously, was the story of the Horizon League this past season. This strong league should get even stronger as Valparaiso joins with a lot of talent of its own. Starting with the other contenders, Illinois-Chicago returns a lot of experienced talent. UW-Green Bay brings in another good recruiting class to go with its young roster. They probably don't have enough talent yet to win the Horizon, but they are clearly an improving program.
Certainly, Wright State had an outstanding year that was highlighted by a Tourney birth. They don't lose too much to graduation, but will likely have trouble replacing the scoring of Dashaun Wood (20 ppg, 5 rpg, 4 apg). With no returning double-digit scorers, expect the offense to be more spread out next year.
Either way, nobody in the Horizon will have Butler-level talent next year. Brandon Crone and Julian Betko will be important losses, but in a small conference you are in good hands with AJ Graves and Mike Green. The rich will get even richer as Butler has the strongest recruiting class in the Horizon, highlighted by 6'7" Matt Howard (Rivals: 21 SF). I don't know if they can expect another #5 seed, but a set of good out-of-conference performances could be enough to set up another at-large bid. Of course, I'm thinking Butler won't need the at-large bid next year.
No discussion of the Ivy League can ever begin without the Killer-P's. Of course, it's really been the Killer-P for the past two years. Princeton really struggled this year, and is going to have to suffer through yet another coaching change. It's very rare for a non-Princeton/Penn team to win the Ivy League, but it could very well happen in 2008. Not only is Princeton out of the picture, but Penn is really decimated by graduations. Ibrahim Jaaber and Mark Zoller have been the offensive go-to guys for a couple of years. And Steve Danley will be a major loss as well. Penn probably has the best recruiting class in the conference, but they will undoubtedly take a pretty big step backwards. They will have to prove that they can continue to dominate the Ivy League without Fran Dunphy's kids.
If Penn does indeed fall out of the top spot, there are a slew of teams to look out for. Brown will have a lot of good Senior talent. Cornell has a lot of young talent that they have been nurturing, but I think they need another year before they'll have enough experience to win consistently enough in the Ivy League. An intriguing team will also be a Columbia team that has been building for years. With their good set of John Baumann, "Big Ben" Nwachukwu, Mack Montgomery and Brett Loscalzo only having one year left, they have to be considered a serious contender. But it's been so long since Columbia has been able to win the 11 or 12 games needed to win the Ivies, it's just too much of a leap to pick them.
So that leaves us with a Yale team that also has been growing for years. It's not too much of a coincidence, since the Yale and Columbia coaches are brothers. This coming year, however, I think James Jones gets the best of Joseph. They return a lot of good talent and experience, highlighted by rising-Seniors Eric Flato and Caleb Holmes. It's always a risk to select a team that's name doesn't start with a P in this conference, but for now I'm going with Yale.
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
With the struggles of Manhattan and Iona, the MAAC was really thrown on its head this past season. They really got a raw deal in having Niagara stuck in the play-in game, as this conference generally deserves better than that. Marist won the regular season crown this past season, but they are really hard hit by graduation. They lose their three highest scorers and have almost 50 points per game to replace. Niagara, too, is pretty hard hit by Senior losses.
Looking at the next crop of teams, you see a lot of good sets of freshmen and sophomores. But there is a huge lack of experience. None of these teams will be really Senior-heavy, which suggests that no team will be able to run away with the MAAC. Don't expect to see any 16-2 or 15-3 teams next year. With schools like Siena and Loyola-Maryland having some of this good talent but without enough experience to win consistently, I have to fall back on one of the two historical powers.
Iona actually had a great freshman class this past year, and they were a lot better than their record. They lost a lot of close games, mostly due to a lack of experience (think UConn, but with less talent). They should be greatly improved next year, but obviously I'm not going to predict a 1-17 team to move all the way to the top of any conference. Rather, I'm thinking Manhattan. The Jaspers were up-and-down this past season without Bobby Gonzales, but they found a lot of consistency towards the end of the season. They still retain a lot of talent and should have the experience to regain the MAAC crown.