Category archive: Charlotte 49ers
There are consequences that come along with a departure. Being ineligible for the conference tournament is one of them for these leagues. Butler (Horizon) and Virginia Commonwealth (CAA) accepted that and got to the Atlantic 10 as fast as possible.
What school wouldn't do the same if the opportunity existed? Scheduling, television exposure and tourney access are the most important reasons -- outside of the financial benefits -- for being in a conference.
Take away the ability to play for an automatic NCAA tournament berth and the season can seem like a waste. Postseason bans, such as the one USC had recently and the one Connecticut will endure this season, take the air out of the season -- even if the schools and coaches do all they can to create a new goal of winning a regular-season title.
Even though both would likely be contenders for at-large berths, Butler and VCU took no chances.
Boston University, on the other hand, probably would leave for the Patriot League tomorrow if it could. The Terriers weren't pleased with the decision by the America East to uphold its bylaws, but they are stuck. The current team will have to deal with it.
Old Dominion and Georgia State were hoping the CAA would lift its ban, but it did not. Georgia State went as far as to explore trying to get into the Sun Belt sooner, but that didn't happen.
The Horizon, CAA and America East are actually not the norm historically.
After losing members in the past decade, the Big East, Atlantic 10, Big West, C-USA, Mountain West and WAC have not even broached the subject, much like the Big 12 didn't when it lost members to the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC. The Big East didn't block West Virginia from playing in the conference tournament a year ago after it announced its hasty departure to the Big 12. Perhaps the smaller conferences are worried that the league will have only one bid and don't want it to go to the school with one foot out the door.
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireSteve Fisher and the Aztecs will get a chance to compete in their final MWC tourney.
But when I asked some of the coaches playing in their final season in a conference, the question was met with near astonishment.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon wanted to know if I was joking. San Diego State's Steve Fisher said he hadn't even heard of these conferences not allowing schools to participate. Utah State's Stew Morrill said he didn't think the WAC would do such a thing since previous schools that left weren't treated in that manner. Memphis coach Josh Pastner said he would be incredibly disappointed if that occurred. (C-USA took away the conference tournament from the city of Memphis but didn't remove the Tigers' ability to play for the title.)
But what would happen if these conferences turned on the departing teams in 2013? It's too late to change the bylaws and isn't going to happen, but it's still fun to play the "what if" game.
What effect would it have had on the Big East to take Pittsburgh and Syracuse out of the tournament?
A serious blow. The league may be squabbling with the two schools -- and will do so in court with Pitt -- but it needs these two in the conference tournament as long as possible. Syracuse is a natural draw at Madison Square Garden. Taking the Orange out of the Big East would have been a major mistake. The Orange and Panthers still don't have a definitive arrival date in the ACC, but it's likely to be in the summer of 2013.
What would it have done to Syracuse and Pitt for a potential at-large berth?
Likely no issue at all. Both have teams that look like virtual locks for an at-large bid.
What would happen to the Atlantic 10 if Temple and Charlotte weren't allowed in the tournament?
Let's be honest: Charlotte won't be missed on its way back to Conference USA. But Temple's departure will be a hit, as the Owls have consistently been a major part of the A-10 tournament. Not having a Temple presence, prior to the Owls' exit to the Big East, would have hurt the tourney's debut in Brooklyn. Bringing in Butler and VCU will offset the loss, but Temple still is very much associated with the A-10 brand.
What if the Big West banned Pacific?
That would be just cruel. The Big West has had teams leave before, and it might happen again. Plus, this is coach Bob Thomason's final season after a quarter-century at his alma mater, and he said he has a team that could challenge for the Big West title. He has been a loyal member, and Pacific is leaving for the all-private WCC. No harm in letting the Tigers finish up, and it won't hurt the Big West one bit.
What if Conference USA blocked Memphis, SMU, UCF and Houston?
Then C-USA would have a tournament that lacked any sort of buzz. Marshall is a legitimate title challenger to Memphis, and UTEP should be in contention. If the Tigers had been blocked from being in the tournament, after it was taken from the city, C-USA's relevance during Championship Week would have been diminished even more. It's still hard to say how many Memphis fans will travel to Tulsa, Okla., but the Tigers do have a significant following. This was a smart move by the league to not play bitter politics with the departing members.
What would the Mountain West tournament be like without San Diego State and Boise State?
A bit less exciting. The Aztecs have been one of the consistent winners in the MWC with UNLV and New Mexico. Take SDSU, off to the Big West, out of the event in Las Vegas, and the tournament would lose luster. No offense to Boise, but no one would likely notice if the Broncos weren't invited. But SDSU matters a great deal. The Aztecs will be a top-25 team alongside UNLV. Taking them out of the conference tournament would have been a storyline the MWC doesn't need in March.
What would a WAC tournament look like without Utah State and San Jose State?
Not worth it. USU has been the benchmark program in the WAC since Morrill arrived. New Mexico State can't anchor the conference on its own. NMSU needs a rival, and Utah State has been that nemesis. San Jose State wouldn't be missed, but the Aggies' absence would have been a glaring omission in Las Vegas. Rebuilding Utah State will likely need the tournament to get a bid this season, but the WAC was in no position to be punitive. So the Aggies will have one final chance to represent the WAC before it joins SJSU and former WAC members Fresno State and Nevada in the Mountain West.
• Oregon is shooting large by going after Gonzaga's Mark Few, Pitt's Jamie Dixon and Florida's Billy Donovan. I'd be surprised if any of them were to take the bait. The money isn't as grand as what apparently is being bandied about. The facilities are expected to be beautiful, but Nike czar Phil Knight has always been about improving the infrastructure at Oregon more so than supplementing a coaching salary. Former Oregon AD Pat Kilkenny probably will be making the call. Oregon would likely go with a Nike coach and there is one that I think would be a great fit if the Ducks thought out of the box: BYU's Dave Rose, who has done a tremendous job with the Cougars. Everyone at the school from the president on down was superb in helping Rose out during his horrific pancreatic cancer battle over the summer. But it would be hard for Rose to turn down Oregon, if the Ducks were to look at him. Rose coaches an entertaining style that would be a great fit, and he's an A-plus person who would do wonders with the boosters. If not Rose, then non-Nike coaches Randy Bennett of Saint Mary's and Mark Turgeon of Texas A&M should be given a shot to at least decide if they want to move.
• I wouldn't be shocked if Tubby Smith listened to Oregon. But staying at Minnesota also makes sense with the Gophers poised to be in the Big Ten title chase next season. If Paul Hewitt were to leave Georgia Tech, that's the better fit for Smith.
• Hewitt to St. John's sounds great, but does Hewitt want to give up on Georgia Tech and the ACC? He has always told me how much his family loves Atlanta. He hasn't had problems recruiting talent to Georgia Tech. Unless it were a necessity, a coach shouldn't leave a football power-six school for a basketball-only school, regardless of its conference affiliation.
• There was no shot Donovan was leaving Florida for St. John's. I don't buy he's leaving Florida for anywhere at this juncture. He didn't go to Kentucky. He turned his back on the NBA. His family loves Gainesville. He's close with the top athletic director in the country, Jeremy Foley, and he makes $3.5 million a year.
•Houston coach Tom Penders was adamant that he was just resigning from Houston, not retiring. He said he has a lot of coaching left in him. Penders said the decision was his, not the school's. Penders, whose moniker is "Turnaround Tom" (not sure who coined that phrase), said he wants to coach again, as soon as next season. But he has to have a destination.
• Texas assistant Rodney Terry would certainly make a lot of sense at Houston. He has support. Let's see if he can get the gig. Keep hearing conflicting reports on whether Billy Gillispie of Kentucky, UTEP and Texas A&M fame can get the job. Marquette assistant Tony Benford, a native of Hobbs, N.M., and former Texas Tech player, has always recruited Texas well and deserves a look.
• Seton Hall alumnus Adrian Griffin, now an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks, has had initial conversations with the school about the opening. He is pushing his loyalty to the institution, his ties to the NBA, his MBA and his tutoring under Rick Pitino, P.J. Carlesimo, Scott Skiles, Jeff Van Gundy and others in the NBA. Griffin would likely be behind Siena's Fran McCaffery, Robert Morris' Mike Rice and Richmond's Chris Mooney. Still, the former Pirate will at least get a chance to be heard. He should since he's so passionate about the school.
• Central Florida's opening is creating quite an interest with Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Reggie Theus, Murray State's Billy Kennedy and possibly Marshall's Donnie Jones, who was an assistant at Florida.
• Boise State's list continues to be a solid group: former Montana coach Larry Krystkowiak, Portland coach Eric Reveno, Weber State's Randy Rahe and Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice.
• If DePaul is serious about an on-campus arena with approximately 8,000 seats, it could change the job for the foreseeable future. But the Blue Demons must put a shovel in the ground for potential coaches to feel like there can be serious movement on the subject.
• Jeff Lebo's bounce back from fired at Auburn to hired at East Carolina is one of the better moves for a dispatched coach.
• Former St. John's coach Norm Roberts would go back to Kansas if Bill Self had an opening on the staff. But he also would like to be a head coach again -- next season. Roberts had the Red Storm playing at a high level, but couldn't close out a number of close games.
• A number of NBA personnel officials expect a floodgate of players to declare for the NBA draft with plenty making poor decisions with only a short window (end of April to May 8) to withdraw under a new NCAA rule.
• Fordham getting Hofstra's Tom Pecora would be a great get for local ties within the city. But Pecora still never coached Hofstra in the NCAA tournament. You can't hide from that fact. That doesn't mean he shouldn't deserve a shot at another school, but Fordham needs someone who has experienced the NCAAs to rise up from the depths of the A-10. Pecora is well liked in the city and beyond but hasn't been able to get over the hump in the CAA since Jay Wright left for Villanova. Hofstra would be a coveted job if it were open and assistants like Pitt's Tom Herrion would be near the top of the list.
• Penn hasn't officially hired Jerome Allen yet. Does that mean Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon could be in the mix?
• UC Irvine has a wide net to cast and it should include BYU assistant Dave Rice, who is as well connected in the West as any other assistant.
• Iowa was once a plum job. The Hawkeyes could do no wrong going with Dayton's Brian Gregory or Utah State's Stew Morrill, but UTEP's Tony Barbee would also be an interesting call if he's not in play at DePaul.
• Charlotte is one of the top jobs open with a chance to move up quickly in the A-10.
• It's still early, but if a major job opened, the coaching carousel will spin at a much quicker rate. So far the job list isn't as high profile yet.
The coaching carousel is in full tilt for the spring, and there were plenty of rumors to chase this weekend. Many of them proved to be untrue. Here are some of the things I culled from various sources over the weekend:
St. John's: Rick Pitino told ESPN.com on Sunday that he intends to finish his career at Louisville. Florida coach Billy Donovan told ESPN.com he's not involved at St. John's and he's "happy where I'm at." Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley also confirmed to ESPN.com that he hasn't been contacted by St. John's, calling the bluff on any Donovan-to-St. John's story.
So where does that leave the Red Storm after the heavy hitters? Well, there is plenty out to choose from. If the Red Storm want Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg or Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt, they'll have to get them in a clandestine way without any kind of formal search. Can it be done? Possibly. But the money has to be large, with assurances that there is a real commitment in place. I concur with Dick Vitale. If it ends up being another solid coach who doesn't have national name recognition, even someone with strong New York ties, why get rid of Norm Roberts?
Seton Hall: Siena's Fran McCaffery and Richmond's Chris Mooney appear to be strong candidates. That doesn't mean they're the only candidates, but the Pirates are said to be looking for a fresh face with a clean track record after the Bobby Gonzalez debacle. If the Pirates push, they can probably land McCaffery, while Mooney might be harder to pry away from an elite A-10 job. But both may have to think twice, given the talent returning to their respective teams next season.
Oregon: Mike Bellotti's decision to step down as athletic director makes it even more clear that former AD and influential Oregon booster Pat Kilkenny will make the hire with the nod from Nike's Phil Knight, who has invested in Oregon as much as any high-profile alumnus at any other school. Don't be surprised to see the next Oregon coach coming from the family of coaches who work with Nike. The next Oregon coach has be someone who can sell the program to the boosters and aid in filling the arena and the boxes. Gonzaga's Mark Few gets first crack, and then it could down the line with elite Nike-sponsored coaches such as Minnesota's Tubby Smith and recent Nike addition Jamie Dixon of Pitt. The level of interest for any on these coaches is unknown.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes formed a search committee on campus. This isn't a search for a new professor. The basketball coach must be a fantastic recruiter and energize a sleeping fan base at this moment. But they also need a proven coach. That's why the Hawkeyes could do no wrong with Utah State's Stew Morrill or Dayton's Brian Gregory. According to sources, both would listen if called. Morrill has been one of the most underrated coaches in the country for over a decade. Gregory has Dayton as an A-10 contender. Gregory was once in the Big Ten as an assistant under Tom Izzo.
Central Florida: Three interesting names keep floating up here: Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Reggie Theus, former Alabama coach and current ESPN analyst Mark Gottfried, and Appalachian State coach Buzz Peterson. UCF needs to make a splash of a hire. Theus would certainly fit that description.
Boise State: Here's who is not going to Boise: LSU's Trent Johnson. I spoke with him Sunday, and he reassured me that any chatter of him going back to Boise was ridiculous. He said he has one of the top recruiting classes coming to Baton Rouge. Now, former Montana coach Larry Krystkowiak is a viable candidate and is seriously in the mix. But so too should be Portland's Eric Reveno. Weber State's Randy Rahe and Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice are on the radar. Boise State should be a coveted job since there could be a day in the near future when Boise State joins the MWC.
• If Penn hasn't hired interim coach Jerome Allen yet, there could be some movement with Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon. I'd still be surprised if Allen didn't get the job.
• IPFW's Dane Fife is expected to be in play at Toledo. But the more Ohio State wins, the likelier it becomes that you could see someone like Jeff Boals. Don't be surprised when the MAC looks to the Big Ten for hires.
• Hawaii hired former USC assistant Gib Arnold because of his strong local ties. His father, Frank, was the former coach there. Expect Arnold to keep up a mix of international players with mainland JC players and high school seniors to get the Warriors back to relevance.
• As for Charlotte, Buzz Peterson worked for the Charlotte Bobcats, so going to Charlotte from Appalachian State would make perfect sense. I've had a number of coaches say the Charlotte job is one of the best in the A-10.
• Houston coach Tom Penders resigned Sunday, according to multiple reports. While Texas assistant Rodney Terry should be in the mix, is there anyone who doesn't think former Kentucky and Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie gets the job?
• Fordham should just hire alumnus Mike Rice of Robert Morris. He's a sound, intense coach. Would they get a bigger name? Probably not.
The hot names: Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa; Steve Donahue, Cornell; Tony Barbee, UTEP.
Barbee should be in play at DePaul and Auburn if he chooses to leave what could be another CUSA champ at UTEP next season.
Jacobson should be patient and make sure he doesn't do something that doesn't make sense (such as going to a bottom-dweller).
Donahue needs to leave Cornell if he wants to climb. The Big Red may never be at this point again. But Donahue is comfortable, so if the right move isn't out there, he should be patient.
A few random thoughts from the first weekend:
• The Mountain West Conference did a sensational job of getting four teams in the NCAA tournament. All four teams represented well in either the first or second round. But not getting a team in the Sweet 16 still limits the MWC from being treated with true credibility as a proven elite league. The MWC must break through with a Sweet 16 team soon.
• Decisions abound for the NBA draft among players who were ousted in the first weekend. Remember, under a new NCAA rule, players have until May 8 to withdraw from the NBA draft. That means there will be roughly a week to make a decision on staying in the draft (the NBA deadline to withdraw is still 10 days before the draft). There won't be much time for workouts.
So from the teams that have lost, who has to make decisions about leaving for the NBA or at least testing the draft for a week?
Georgetown: Greg Monroe
Gonzaga: Elias Harris.
Florida State: Solomon Alabi.
UTEP: Derrick Caracter.
BYU: Jimmer Fredette
• For the record, Butler athletic director Barry Collier said he wasn't fired at Nebraska and left more than $1 million on his contract to return to his alma mater.
After a few wayward years in the A-10, Charlotte has found its footing after being a bit flustered from being forced to make a move out of Conference USA during the reshuffling of 2005.
The 49ers are on the verge of their first NCAA tournament berth since 2005, when they were in C-USA. The A-10 years have been somewhat awkward, like a teenager in middle school trying to find the right crowd.
Charlotte had winning league records twice -- 11-5 in 2006, 9-7 in 2008 -- but wasn't really in tune for a title.
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesBobby Lutz has Charlotte up near the top of the A-10 standings.
"I probably didn't handle the transition as well in recruiting," Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. "It was just different."
Lutz said the 49ers had found a recruiting angle that worked in C-USA, notably getting junior college players from Texas.
"It was an adjustment," Lutz said. "Now we're comfortable as to who we are regardless of the league. Did we struggle with talent the last couple of years? Yes."
What Charlotte did, according to Lutz, was recruit the best players it could get and Lutz said he felt like the 49ers nabbed those who were targeted. But in the early years of the move to the A-10, Charlotte wasn't getting those same type of players, injuries hammered the program and the 49ers were a bit irrelevant.
That has changed dramatically this season with Charlotte off to a 16-5 start with a road win at Louisville (even with three guards out for the Cards) and a 6-1 mark in the A-10 coming off wins over Temple and UMass. The 49ers are in step with Xavier (7-1) and Temple (6-1) for first in the A-10 and a game ahead of Rhode Island (5-2) and Richmond (5-2), making up the five most-likely NCAA at-large candidates (sorry but Dayton just doesn't have the résumé at this juncture).
Charlotte's No. 44 RPI is buoyed by five games against the Top 25 (although only one win). The 49ers did play at Duke (loss), at Tennessee (loss) and against Georgia Tech (loss) out of conference.
Charlotte's role as a major player in the A-10 appears to be solid. Xavier and Dayton have the facilities. Temple has a quality place to play, the Philadelphia interest and the tradition. Charlotte should be right there with those programs on a regular basis, especially with the move to add football in 2013 to increase its profile.
But to make the 49ers relevant in their own market and certainly nationally again, Lutz must get the program into the NCAAs again. Lutz said he has four years left on his contract and hasn't felt any issues in terms of job security. He has been highly successful in Charlotte and continues to make this team competitive.
The A-10 has traditionally been the one league outside of the power six that has been able to get an at-large berth.
What might be missing for the Charlotte faithful are the mega personalities, the villains that Charlotte fans had in C-USA with Bob Huggins, John Calipari and Rick Pitino.
"Fran Dunphy is a great coach, a guy that's it's hard not to like," Lutz said. "But like it or not, there were personalities that brought interest. Fran Dunphy can coach with anybody in this league. He's one of the great coaches in the country. But none of the coaches in the league have that persona that make fans come and hate them. They're all classy coaches and great guys. That's a compliment to the league."
Lutz isn't and wasn't inferring that Huggins (whom he considers a good friend), Pitino and Calipari aren't in that classy group. But they were an attraction that the coaches in the A-10 aren't in terms of headline names.
Regardless of who is on the opposing bench, Charlotte had to have a winning product on the court for there to be interest.
Boston College transfer Shamari Spears has found his niche with the 49ers. He struggled to hold on to the ball in key situations for the Eagles but hasn't had an issue with the 49ers in leading them in scoring (16 ppg, 5.7 rpg). Derrio Green, a transfer guard who has two more seasons of eligibility remaining after this season, is a big-time scorer in the mold of previous Charlotte players under Lutz. He is averaging 13.8 overall, but went for 34 in a win at UMass, 26 in the win over Temple and 31 in the loss to Georgia Tech.
The core of this team will be back next season, giving Charlotte even more reason to gloat that it is no longer an afterthought in the league.
Charlotte still has nine more games, including going to Dayton, hosting Xavier and finishing with games at Rhode Island and against Richmond. There is still plenty of work to do to ensure a berth. But for now the 49ers are relevant once again.
"We've won every game we're supposed to win," said Lutz. "If the Old Dominion game is at home, we're probably favored. Yes, Louisville was down a few players but we beat them bad, it might have been the worst loss of Rick Pitino's tenure. We were still learning at the time. We were adding new scorers to our program."
The 49ers have made two NITs in the A-10 but the injuries and the defection of point guard Mike Gerrity to USC were a setback. The waters are calm now and Charlotte should be poised for a run to March.
"We've had two NITs in the last four years and in some places that's good enough, but not here," Lutz said. "I'm OK with that."
2008-09 record: 2-14 ACC, 12-19 overall
Reason for optimism: The Yellow Jackets brought in arguably the best freshman center in Derrick Favors. He'll team with Gani Lawal to form a formidable frontcourt. Georgia Tech is healthy on the perimeter and deeper than it was a year ago. The Yellow Jackets also should finally know how to close out games. (Yes, I know they needed overtime to hold off Indiana of Pennsylvania in an exhibition game.) They're the only team in the ACC that will play North Carolina and Duke twice, so they should have the best power rating of any of the 12 ACC teams.
What could happen: Georgia Tech could win the ACC. Yes, the talent is in place for the team to go from two wins to the league title.
What's likely to happen: The Yellow Jackets should win nine to 11 games in conference play. That would be at least a seven-win swing, good enough to get them into the NCAA tournament.
2008-09 record: 4-12 Big 12, 15-17 overall
Reason for optimism: Craig Brackins returns to the Cyclones, and he has the potential to be a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate and All-American. Add junior college transfer Marquis Gilstrap, and the Cyclones could have one of the best one-two scoring punches besides Kansas and Texas in the Big 12. Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum also is one of the best home courts in the country. Don't be surprised if the Cyclones knock off one of the big boys at home this season.
What could happen: The Cyclones could pluck off a few key wins -- perhaps winning at least one game among Duke, Kansas (twice) and Texas to earn an NCAA tournament berth.
What's likely to happen: Iowa State should improve to at least a nine-win team in the Big 12 and be squarely on the tourney bubble in March.
2008-09 record: 2-16 in the Pac-10, 8-23 overall
Reason for optimism: Coach Ernie Kent is billing Jamil Wilson as one of the top freshmen he has coached. If Wilson is as good as advertised, the Ducks have a real shot to climb in what should be a shaky Pac-10. The return of senior point guard Tajuan Porter and the likely improvement of a sophomore class that underachieved last season should give this team hope. Adding assistant Mike Dunlap should help in game management, too.
What could happen: The Ducks have enough talent to finish third in the Pac-10, jumping from two wins to 10 or 11.
What's likely to happen: Oregon probably will be in a tussle with Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona to finish in some order of 3 through 6 in the conference and be on the NCAA tournament bubble. The problem is the Ducks' nonconference slate might not be ranked high enough to earn a bid.
2008-09 record: 6-12 Big East, 16-18 overall
Reason for optimism: The Red Storm are the only Big East team that returns all five starters. Coach Norm Roberts has focused on this season to be his best. Losing Anthony Mason Jr. for the start of the season hasn't hurt as much because Mason didn't play last season or on the team's trip to Canada during Labor Day weekend. This team already has learned how to play without him. The other thing going for St. John's -- if the Red Storm are ready to handle the pressure -- is the Big East is open to change this season. Plenty of moves could happen, with teams such as Marquette and Providence sliding to the bottom of the league, and that should allow the Red Storm to climb. That challenge will be daunting but nowhere near as imposing as it was a year ago.
What could happen: This is still the same group of players who finished 6-12 in the Big East, albeit in a stronger conference. Moving ahead of Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse would be quite a feat.
What's likely to happen: The Red Storm will be in the mix for a top-10 finish in the Big East and could move into the eight- or nine-win range in the league. But even that is likely to mean more of an NIT berth than an NCAA one.
2008-09 record: 1-17 in the Big Ten, 6-25 overall
Reason for optimism: The carnage of the Kelvin Sampson era has finally subsided, and under the leadership of coach Tom Crean, the Hoosiers finally can begin to rebuild. Indiana adds an experienced transfer in former Georgetown guard Jeremiah Rivers, who will team with sophomore Verdell Jones III. The Hoosiers still will be one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten, but there is plenty of fight in this group.
What could happen: The Hoosiers could move past Iowa and Penn State to finish at least ninth in the Big Ten with possibly five wins in the league.
What's likely to happen: The problem is the league may be the best it has been this decade. The Hoosiers draw tough road games at Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue and Minnesota. The only break is that Michigan State will visit Indiana, but the Hoosiers won't make a return trip to East Lansing. Indiana probably won't make the postseason, but it will show an improvement in the win-loss record in the league and be a peskier putout.
2008-09 record: 5-11 Atlantic 10, 11-20 overall
Reason for optimism: The 49ers are banking on Boston College transfer Shamari Spears to be their go-to inside scorer. He already proved to have soft hands during exhibition play. Finishing in practice was never an issue for Spears at BC, but when the lights were on, his fingers became butter at times. If he can be a lock for the 49ers inside, he'll prove to be the perfect balance to guards Ian Andersen and DiJuan Harris. Losing Lamont Mack hurts the scoring pop, but this team may be better-balanced.
What could happen: The Atlantic 10 will be dominated by Dayton, with Xavier and Richmond on the Flyers' heels. But don't dismiss the 49ers. They have the potential to make a significant jump into the nine- or 10-win mark. Charlotte will play Xavier twice and get two shots at Richmond. Playing at Dayton won't help, but the 49ers will have a chance to compete with the others for second.
What's likely to happen: Charlotte still should finish no higher than fourth, but it will earn enough good will through its record and ranking (playing at Louisville, at Old Dominion, home against Georgia Tech and at Tennessee) to earn a postseason berth of some kind.
2008-09 season: 3-13 WAC, 13-21 overall
Reason for optimism: Paul George. Can I say it again? Paul George. He is a star and one of the NEXT athletes ESPN has been pushing. The Bulldogs under Steve Cleveland have been all over the place, but there is a sense that things should settle down in a league that doesn't have an intimidating team. Sure, Utah State is the favorite in the WAC, and Nevada has Luke Babbitt, but it's not as if Fresno State can't climb from three wins to at least eight in the league.
What could happen: The Bulldogs should be in the mix, at least in the middle of the pack.
What's likely to happen: Expect Fresno State to affect the WAC race but fall short of a postseason berth.
2008-09 season: 4-12 in CUSA, 10-22 overall
Reason for optimism: The Owls recruited well under Ben Braun. The freshman class should increase the talent quickly in Houston.
What could happen: If the freshmen can produce quickly, a four-win improvement isn't totally out of the question.
What's likely to happen: The problem with moving up to eight wins is that the league is even more balanced this season with Memphis, UTEP, Tulsa and Houston capable of winning the conference.
2008-09 season: 2-16 in the Sun Belt, 6-26 overall
Reason for optimism: Owls coach Mike Jarvis is talking up freshman point guard Raymond Taylor as the next Shawnta Rogers, his former diminutive but highly productive scorer at George Washington. The Owls will be one of the youngest teams in the league, but they should be more talented and productive.
What could happen: The Sun Belt will be led by Western Kentucky, North Texas and Denver, but it's not as if any of those teams is intimidating. There is room for FAU to climb significantly in the league standings from two wins into the seven or eight range.
What's likely to happen: FAU will climb, but it won't be enough to yield a postseason berth. If there is improvement this season, then postseason could be in the discussion in 2011.
2008-09 season: 2-14 in the America East, 7-26 overall
Reason for optimism: Let's start with Binghamton's implosion. That should send last season's champ down to the bottom of the league, pushing up a team like Hartford. The rest of the conference is solid and has some noteworthy players, including Vermont's Maurice Joseph and Marqus Blakely. New Hampshire and Boston University should be in the mix for the title, too. But there is room for advancement for the Hawks. Newly named assistant Rick Brunson, a longtime NBA player, was added to Dan Leibovitz's staff and has raved about junior college transfer Milton Burton. Having a healthy Joe Zeglinski on the perimeter will help the balance. If this team can defend and rebound, it will have a shot to move into the eight-win range in the America East.
What could happen: Remember, the Hawks played for the America East automatic berth in 2008, and they'll host the first two rounds of the conference tournament this season. So a run to the title game isn't out of the question if they can make the Chase Arena at Reich Family Pavilion rock.
What's likely to happen: The Hawks will improve their win total but won't reach the postseason.