The College Basketball Notebook

November 18, 2009 2:00 PM

Running Through The Midmajors

Our preseason look-ins conclude today with a run through the midmajors. We already touched on Butler and Dayton in the national overviews, as the teams with the best chance to make some real noise. The landscape in this part of college basketball has changed this year. John Calipari has left Memphis and count me among those who believe the Tigers’ prominence over the past four years will disappear with him. The run of NCAA infractions that Coach Cal left for his successor clean up certainly won’t help and neither will the four double-digit scorers that new coach Josh Pastner must replace.

In Conference USA…

Tulsa is the heir apparent to Memphis, with three starters back from a team that went 12-4 in C-USA play. But watch out for Houston, who went 10-6 and won 21 games overall. The Cougars have an attack that will rival that of their football team when it comes to high-powered. I lean UH to win the league, but the bigger question is whether both of these programs can get the conference off the schneid of being a one-bid league.

In the Atlantic 10…

Xavier loses head coach Sean Miller and most of its best talent is gone as well. The battle for soul of western Ohio with Dayton won’t be quite as interesting this year. The best challenge in the A-10 may come from Richmond, which returns two 16ppg scorers and won 20 a year ago. The land that Dick Tarrant once trod is still producing consistently respectable basketball teams.

In the Missouri Valley…

Northern Iowa was the MVC’s tourney representative and has four starters back. Creighton is getting a lot of respect, and with their recent track record, including 27-8 last season, that’s appropriate. But I don’t see enough back to make real noise. The MVC’s a one-bid league again and that bid goes to Northern Iowa

In the WAC…

It’s a two-horse race between Utah State and Nevada. The Aggies won 30 games last year and have three starters back. I like the Wolfpack better though. Luke Babbit at power forward was outstanding as a freshman and he leads up a team that will win this conference and make some noise nationally. But Nevada fans beware—I also said that your football team would go 12-0 this year and make a BCS bowl game.

In The Mountain West…

This is the benchmark league for the midmajors in football and featured a balanced five-team race last year. It won’t be as balanced this year. San Diego State and New Mexico have lost the contributors that put them in the mix. Utah has a lot of rebuilding to do. So does UNLV, although my respect for Lon Kruger leads me to put them a notch above and into second place. But BYU is the clear frontrunner in this conference again. Jonathan Tavernari and Jimmer Fredette are a tough combo and the Cougars win it going away.

That wraps up our preseason look-ins. Unlike college football I’m not going to make preseason predictions. Basketball is so fluid, given the ability of newcomers to make instant impact, that I feel early predictions are pretty useless. This site will never back away from taking a stand, but nor will I just throw opinions out there for the sake of having one. College football is about preseason picks. College basketball is about your NCAA bracket and perhaps some conference picks come the New Year.

The first phase of the season will be the November tournaments that will start up tomorrow. Coaches vs. Cancer will run this week starting Thursday, and then we have more tournaments on hand for Thanksgiving week. The Maui Classic goes Monday thru Wednesday. The Preseason NIT has its semis the day before Thanksgiving and its championship the day after. The Old Spice Classic in Orlando and 76 Classic in Anaheim will be over the holiday weekend. The College Basketball Pub will cover them all. We’ll be back Friday to look back at the first big games.

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