UNLV, SDSU poised to shake things up with mid-majors on the rise
Several of the so-called major conferences should feature compelling action this season, but with an incredible depth of talent outside those leagues, the 2012-13 season could shape up as one for the littler guys. Here's a quick run-through of some (clearly not all) of the players and teams that will bear watching this season. You'll definitely want to remember this list come March.
What more can you say? A player from Murray State is a preseason All-American. A terrific talent who could put up huge numbers this season for a Racers squad that lost a good chunk of last season's rotation.
He was a deadeye sniper from the arc for three seasons at Arkansas and now, in his only year at Butler, Clarke will hope to provide the point guard play and marksmanship to propel the Bulldogs back into the national picture.
He combines with De'Mon Brooks to give Davidson a 1-2 frontcourt punch that's way too much for the Southern Conference and has proven to be a handful for just about any team on Davidson's schedule. Bonus stat: The 6-foot-10 Cohen shot 87.6 percent from the line last season. That's insane.
It feels like he's been around forever because he splashed onto the national scene during Ohio's resounding upset of Georgetown in the 2010 NCAA tournament. Now the diminutive Cooper is a senior on what should be a very dangerous Ohio team (assuming it can survive the MAC gauntlet).
Best known for the "Having Sex Scandal" that helped weaken BYU down the stretch of the Jimmer Season, Davies is an excellent player in his own right who should have an outstanding final season. He averaged 15.2 ppg and 7.7 rpg last season and BYU should be better this year.
Another West Coast Conference senior standout, he's the point guard engine that makes the Gaels' traditionally excellent offense run. Very good from the arc, great from the line, excellent at getting teammates involved. Just a terrific player.
Completely blew up last season, pouring in 17.7 ppg and grabbing 7.9 rpg at 6-5. He'll have to deal with high expectations this season, but he's also rolling with a deeper, more balanced Aztecs roster.
A straight-up sniper who knocked down 46.6 percent of his threes last season while taking almost 200 of them. He's far from one-dimensional, though. He's averaged around five rebounds a game for two years.
The point guard battle(s) between Johnson and Canaan in the OVC will be worth the price of admission. A very effective scorer and distributor who doesn't much rely on the three, he shot almost 52 percent from the field last season and also has notched 118 steals in the past two seasons.
After a moderately disappointing non-leap as a sophomore, expect bigger things from this talented guard, especially if he's smoothed out his jump shot and his temper. He'll be wearing No. 50 this season to honor his father, who died earlier this year of an aneurysm at that age.
The nation watched him tear Duke apart in the NCAAs, but he's been doing that to teams from all leagues for three seasons. Lehigh was a narrow pick to hold off Mike Muscala and Bucknell in the Patriot League. He has a big chance to make a statement on the first night of the season when Lehigh is at Baylor.
An incredibly efficient, high-volume scorer and the main reason the Bluejays are considered a solid threat to make the second weekend of the NCAAs. They're going to have to take care of business in the Valley in order to get a seed more suitable for that ambition.
Learn the name because he has the game and the Aggies may splash back onto the national scene come March as their young roster has started to mature. The Aggies usually run very efficient offense, but it helps when you have a guy who shoots 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from the arc.
He's the senior floor general who will be responsible for helping the Billikens live up to substantial billing, even without Rick Majerus on the sidelines this season. A solid all-around guard who has seen it all.
An almost certain first-round pick if he leaves for the NBA after this season, the 6-8 Mitchell should have the Mean Green positioned to challenge for the Sun Belt title. The former highly-touted Missouri recruit averaged a double-double last season as a freshman despite taking only nine shots a game.
Came out like gangbusters last season after a transfer from UCLA, but faded a bit (like the rest of the Rebels) down the stretch. His length, ballhandling and inside-outside game make him a matchup nightmare at the 4. He'll even play some 3 this season when the Rebels go big. That's just unfair.
The latest in a long line of excellent shooting Zags guards, Pangos had a terrific freshman campaign and looks poised to be a major player on what could be the best Zags team in a while.
It's now or never for the Purple Aces with Ryan and his cohorts entering their senior year. Ryan poured in over 20 ppg last season while also chipping in 4.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.9 steals a contest. His productivity should translate into more Valley wins this season.
The hero of quant-based CBB analysts for years, Wolters leads the heavily-favored Jackrabbits in the revamped Summit League. He was a member of the 20-5-5 club last season despite shooting surprisingly poorly from behind the arc, so there's upside left for his final season. 'Bama beware on opening night.
The Hawks have their best roster since the days of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, and Aiken's primed to burst onto the national scene. His length and ability to play on the perimeter will give Phil Martelli the flexibility to play big or small. He's not the Hawks' best player, but could be the biggest X-factor.
As if the Mountain West didn't have enough talent, here come the Wolf Pack and Burton, a diminutive guard who can shoot the three and dish. With a couple other high-volume shot takers having departed, watch Burton carry a now more-experienced roster this season.
He made 38 percent of almost 250 three-point attempts last season. With Bradford Burgess having moved on, Daniels is easily the best returning perimeter shooter on a Rams team that will jack up a lot of them in their debut season in the Atlantic 10.
One of the few rotation guys returning for the 49ers, this should be his time to shine. A crazy-athletic, lanky wing who has legitimate three-point range, he should see a major uptick in his stats from last season (10.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.6 spg).
As a freshman for the Dragons, he shot and rebounded well. For a team that's sometimes starved for scoring, expect more from him as a sophomore as the Dragons and George Mason look to handle the departure-depleted Colonial.
He's a huge key for the Rams in their move to the A-10. The only real size in the main part of their rotation, he'll have to be able to handle things on the glass against bigger bodies. If he takes a leap this season, the Rams will be uber-dangerous come March.
He made the list last season and didn't quite break out, so let's try again. He has the size, athletic ability and stroke to do more damage on the MWC than 10 ppg. With less frontcourt presence in Albuquerque this season, expect that to happen.
Thomas was having a nice freshman campaign before injury basically wiped out the second half of his season. The talented wing has the size and shooting ability to put up serious numbers on a team that won't have Will Barton to rely on for scoring.
All he did as a freshman was make 65 percent of his shots and average almost 10 points a game. The Panthers, now with a year more of experience, could pose a major threat to Creighton in the Valley and Tuttle will be a significant reason why if that happens.
The Minutemen's minute guard averaged 16.9 ppg and 6.2 apg last season after transferring from Hofstra, so he's already broken out in a stats sense. Now, with UMass poised for a potentially big year, he'll became a much more well-known name nationally.
Jason Brickman's point guard play may ultimately be the difference in LIU escaping a very competitive NEC, but Boyd's the Blackbirds' best player. He averaged 17.4 ppg and 9.3 rpg last season. Expect similar (or more) this year.
Another of the successful Aussies in college hoops, Broekhoff took on a larger role last season for the surprise Horizon League regular-season champs and thrived. With Valpo looking for a repeat, no reason to expect that Broekhoff won't deliver one himself.
Made a bit of a name for himself last season when the Tigers handed Murray State its first loss of the season, but he's going to keep popping up on NBA draft lists this season as he hurts the OVC with his 6-9 frame and sweet inside-outside game.
Arrives in Indy with a major rep as a shooter, which is exactly what the Bulldogs need to complement Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall inside. From early reports, he's going to make good on that promise.
If the Purple Eagles were any younger last season, their postseason banquet would have been at a prom. As a freshman, Green poured in 17.7 ppg along with 4.5 apg, and did so while maintaining very respectable efficiency for an inexperienced high-volume shooter. With a year under his belt, look out, MAAC.
The Aussie freshman's health was partly responsible for early-season MWC losses to UNLV and SDSU last season. Once he got back in a groove, the Lobos won 12 of their last 14, including the league tourney title. Efficient shooter and assist man who should grow in stature this season.
A multi-faceted forward who led the Tigers in multiple categories last season and now should lead them back to the NCAA tournament after suspensions have weakened rival Harvard. A strong favorite for league player of the year.
A shot-swatting, offensively efficient 7-footer in the MAC? Yup. As his minutes have grown, so have his stats and he should help anchor another solid Zips team this season. Great improvement at the free throw line is also a bonus, as he gets to the line a lot in his time on the floor.
High-volume gunner who can score in quick bunches. If he can throttle down the trigger a bit this season and trust the good talent around him, Delaware will be a significant CAA threat.
The overall stats won't blow you away because the Pioneers play so slowly on offense, but he's a major athlete who can score and board. Joe Scott's men could win the WAC in their debut season.
The talent level is there. The depth is there. If the Rebels' new faces mesh with the returnees and the guards can play at a level befitting the frontcourt's rep, this is a very, very dangerous team. What's as interesting, they weren't even picked to win their league thanks to ...
The Aztecs, co-league champs with New Mexico last season, also filled out their roster, fortifying last season's threadbare frontcourt with multiple transfers who should help balance things out. The battles in the top half of the MWC should be great this season.
They may not win the Atlantic 10 in their debut season, but if a couple heralded freshmen come good to combine with the four starters returning from last season, the Rams will be the A-10 team no one wants to draw in the NCAA tournament.
The Bluejays, with Doug McDermott, are one of the nation's most potent offensive teams. If they can improve even marginally on the defensive end, this looks like a second-weekend NCAA team. They need to take care of business in the regular season to get a seed that will support that ambition.
How much the transition from Rick Majerus to Jim Crews will affect the system-based Billikens in unanswerable at this stage, but if the answer turns out to be "not much," then Saint Louis could win the A-10 and could improve on last season's Round of 32 appearance.
This is a show-me year for Memphis. Josh Pastner and his core now have enough experience to iron out the inconsistencies of the past couple of seasons. The talent is there. They should handle a so-so C-USA and make an impact in the NCAAs.
If the loss of Robert Sacre's interior presence is offset by the arrival of Polish freshman 7-footer Przemek Karnowski, this could be the best Zags team in a number of seasons. There's a good blend of talent and experience on the roster.
The Bulldogs did not have good enough guard play last season and they were a horrid shooting team from the perimeter. Both those issues should be fixed this season with Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham in the fold, which in turn should make Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall more effective.
The Panthers were very young last season. Now they basically bring everyone back with a year's extra experience and the knowledge of what it takes to get through the Valley grind. They will be a very interesting team in the Battle 4 Atlantis Thanksgiving Week in the Bahamas.
If Carl Jones can provide quality point guard play, the Hawks have all the makings of a very dangerous team. They can play very big or they can go smaller, given the flexibility of C.J. Aiken. Last season was a taste of how good they could be, especially if they get better statistical luck this season, too.