Best of the Rest: Xavier, New Mexico among top non-BCS teams
With the impact non-BCS teams have made on the last few NCAA tournaments -- four Final Four teams in the past six years -- there's no denying the level of talent that has landed on teams outside the football majors. This season is no different and you could very easily see a team (or two) from this list pop up in New Orleans. Here's a quick primer to make you a truly national fan of the college game:
The no-brainer pick of this list, Holloway should make a run at National Player of the Year honors. He's tough, gritty, ballsy, good and fun to watch. We just saw UConn ride a score-first lead guard to glory (as his cast grew up around him). Why not a similar story in Cincinnati, where the Musketeers are loaded?
Because everyone focuses on Holloway in the A-10, Moore doesn't get enough credit for his role in carrying the Owls. When a team doesn't turn the ball over, doesn't foul much and doesn't allow opponents to score two-point baskets, a lot of the credit should go to the high-usage guards.
An actual NBA prospect in Olean? What in the name of Bob Lanier is going on here? The Canadian forward has quietly impressed over the last couple of seasons and the Bonnies have enough talent around this year that a strong finish in a wide-open A-10 is possible.
What more can you say about the past 12 months for the coach's kid? Had a great rookie campaign, did well over the summer in the U-19s and now is expected to be the Player of the Year in the Valley. Should lead the Bluejays to their first NCAA win since 2003.
He got his feet wet in a solid way last season after becoming eligible in January after leaving UCLA. Now he's the primary inside scoring threat for a Lobos team that should win the Mountain West and could position itself for a high NCAA seed with a very manageable nonconference slate.
Remember him? He was that guy on the Cougars' bench during the NCAAs when everyone wanted to see what they could have done with him in the paint. Now without Jimmer and Jackson around, he'll carry a much larger burden of the shot load in a less athletic conference. Davies should do damage.
Weems took almost 30 percent of the Bears' shots during his 32 minutes a game and will have to carry a similarly heavy load for the Bears after significant personnel losses. Good thing he can score both inside (53 percent on twos) and outside (40 percent from the arc).
A high-efficiency, double-double machine who has carried the Owls the last couple of seasons. He's also a statistically dominant rebounder at both ends of the floor, especially the defensive end, where his 30.8 percent rebounding rate was second in all of Division I last season.
An extraordinarily high-usage wing (34.7 percent of UCSB's shots while he's on the floor) who also is very efficient. He gets to the line a lot, shoots 40 percent from three and shares the ball decently, as well. A one-man wrecking crew (with sidekick James Nunnally) who could derail Long Beach State in the Big West.
Someone on the Tigers will take the lessons learned from last year and make a big sophomore leap, and the smart money's on Barton, who wasn't far away from leading Memphis in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals last season. If he can refine his shot selection a bit, even better. Barton jacked up 390 shots last season, which was 135 more than any other Tiger.
The Patriots' second-leading scorer last season now has a chance to put up very big numbers as a senior after leading scorer Cam Long exhausted his eligibility and Luke Hancock transferred to Louisville.
The Rebels are now Marshall's team with the departure of Tre'Von Willis, and that's a good thing. He'll have a new option in the frontcourt in UCLA transfer Moser, who would have been the team's best big man last season and should create havoc in Dave Rice's system.
He can go get it on the offensive glass and he can swat it at the other end, both very important traits for a Memphis team long on athleticism but short on offensive efficiency and length. If he bumps a bit from his 22 minutes a game last season, averaging close to a double-double may be in the cards.
With Mickey McConnell moving on, the Gaels' primary perimeter potency will come from this Aussie junior, who's also solid from inside the arc and deadly from the foul line. Expect a solid scoring bump.
A forgotten man nationally after an off-court incident cost him last season, he returns to lead a still-young but seasoned Billikens team that could finish third in the A-10 and squeeze into the NCAAs. As a sophomore, Mitchell took over 30 percent of SLU's shots while he was on the floor and had a true shooting percentage of over 55 percent.
The CUSA freshman of the year has a chance to explode on the national scene this season if he can cut down on the turnovers and convert a few more jumpers. He was second on the Herd in scoring, rebounding and assists and first in steals last season.
Marshall steps into the void left by stalwart forward Matt Howard. Working with lanky Andrew Smith inside, Marshall could emerge as the Bulldogs' best player. He was very effective last season in small stints, especially getting to the offensive glass.
Maybe you know the name, but Glover could be one of those mid-major guys who gets a big March showcase should the Gaels live up to billing. The best player in the MAAC made over 61 percent from the field last season and is a handful on the glass on both ends.
The coach's son had a pretty solid freshman campaign and now big things are possible for the Titans as Butler's come back to the pack in the Horizon. He scored unusually well inside the arc for a young, small guard, so if he cleans up his free throw shooting and makes a few more 3s, the numbers will pop.
The ball hawking leader of the 49ers, he'll get some national showcases early with LSBU's insane nonconference schedule. Then he'll likely lead them to the Big West crown. Shoots it well from everywhere but also gets everyone else involved and takes the rock from foes at a huge rate.
Pickpocket guard (led D-I in steal percentage last season) is instrumental in the Bruins' ball hawking defense (second in D-I in turnover rate, at 27.5 percent). He's back and so are most of the 30-win Bruins.
Ready to take the next step, as are the Crimson. If they want to resonate nationally, they'll need Curry to be able to beat major-conference guards off the bounce and create scoring opportunities for others.
Expected to be an immediate impact player at Missouri last year before eligibility issues landed him in Denton, the high-profile forward now will do significant damage in the Sun Belt.
Injured early last season and missed the chance to help the Wildcats rebound from a couple of crushing Big Sky tourney defeats, Lillard returns (and remains) the league's best player.
Opened a lot of eyes as a freshman as a dominant offensive rebounder in the always rugged MAC, he also carried a very heavy shot burden and converted at a very solid rate for the Bulls.
He makes tempo-free wonks drool with his combination of ultra-high possession usage and high efficiency scoring. He also maintains a tremendous assist/turnover ratio for a guy who handles the ball that much.
The Golden Grizzlies lose a lot, including stalwart center Keith Benson, which means the diminutive Hamilton might go HAM. Last season, he used almost 30 percent of Grizz possessions while on the floor and converted an incredible 62 percent from inside the arc (125-202). He also shot 37 percent from the three.
With Bucknell big man Mike Muscala, the Patriot League may have two future pros. McCallum is a huge-usage (35 percent of Lehigh's shots) scoring/rebounding guard who won the league's POY (and ROY) two seasons ago. Now he wants that title -- and the league one -- back from Muscala and the Bison.
Backcourt mate J.P. Primm is the other half (and virtual equal) in the Bulldogs' strong backcourt, but Dickey is the better offensive player. He didn't look out of place at all against Pitt in the NCAAs.
The Racers lost their coach and much of their core from the last two seasons, which means Canaan could emerge as more of a leading man. He shot 40 percent from three last season.
The best of the non-football bunch and a legit threat to make the Final Four if everyone (read: Tu Holloway) stays healthy. The X-Men have size, experience and shooting to go with one of the nation's top players. As an aside, the Crosstown Shootout should be ridiculous this season.
The Lobos return four starters, including Drew Gordon, who could emerge as the league's best player this season. If they figure out a capable replacement at the point for Dairese Gary, the Lobos have the talent and the schedule to compile a gaudy record and land a very good seed in the NCAAs.
Nothing fancy, just another very solid edition of the Owls crafted by Fran Dunphy, with underheralded guard Ramone Moore leading the way. The Owls are really stingy with the ball and make it difficult to score. That's a solid formula for extended success.
The team with the widest variance range in the country also boasts a more experienced version of a team that had top-15 talent and top-150 maturity last year. Memphis could have everything come together and be a legit Elite Eight threat -- or mimic last season's performance with worse "luck" and miss the NCAAs altogether.
With a frontcourt duo in Doug McDermott and Greg Echenique that would be the envy of a lot of larger programs, the Bluejays should be able to fight their way back to the top of the Valley. Good balance, underrated perimeter complements to go with their strong pair of forwards.
The transition to Dave Rice's preferred style may take a while, but this year's team should be more balanced and cohesive than last season's. As mentioned above, Anthony Marshall and Mike Moser could have big seasons, and the Rebels have a lot more options than that.
A bit victimized by their own success, the Bulldogs have a pretty strong roster back and not a lot of preseason buzz. Robert Sacre and Elias Harris head a really formidable frontcourt. Is the perimeter shooting there, though? With Steven Gray gone, no returning Bulldog took more than 72 threes last season.
The 30-win Bruins return almost everyone and they should lay a similar hammer job on the Atlantic Sun in their swan song season before moving to the Ohio Valley. An incredibly balanced team that forces a ton of turnovers. Watch for them early when they visit Duke and Memphis.
The Gaels get the nod over BYU by the slimmest of margins, returning ample perimeter prowess (despite the loss of Mickey McConnell) to go with wing Rob Jones. Randy Bennett is a top-shelf coach who has this program humming and should enjoy what looks to be a very deep WCC this season.
This could have been George Mason or even Old Dominion, but for a taste of something different, put your faith in a rabid rebounding team that maybe --possibly during this season -- will learn how to make a shot or two. As is, they could win the league. If the offense even becomes passable? Look out.