Some will star in headline-grabbing upsets, some will emerge as NCAA
heroes, and some might even hear their names called next summer on
draft night. Here's a list of 10 impact players from mid-major
conferences who will play pivotal roles in the way the 2007-08 college
basketball season plays out.
Herb Pope, New Mexico State
The 6-foot-9 Pittsburgh-area prodigy has
made plenty of headlines already: He reportedly punched an AAU coach, was nearly fatally shot in March, and now there are questions about his high school transcript that are keeping him on the sidelines. Provided the NCAA allows him to play, a power forward featured on nearly every recruiting service's top-25 list likely holds the WAC race in his large hands.
Matt Howard, Butler
The Sweet 16 Bulldogs had significant turnover
this past season, losing head coach Todd Lickliter to Iowa and
reliable power forward Brandon Crone. Howard, the mop-topped 6-7 Hoosier, will
step in as a freshman after turning down overtures from Indiana,
Purdue and Xavier. If he clicks immediately with A.J. Graves and
others, Butler might not miss a step.
Tim Pollitz, Miami (Ohio)
Pollitz is big, barrel-chested and a little
slow-footed, but smarter than your average post player. A lot smarter.
The 6-6, 230-pound Redhawk is often seen carefully plotting out just the
right path to the basket -- like when he single-handedly lifted Miami
from a MAC No. 4 seed to the Big Dance, with combined 31-for-41
shooting over three tourney games. Then, on the national stage, he
scored 21 in a two-point loss to Oregon. He returns as a senior.
Randal Falker, Southern Illinois
The 6-7 senior Saluki finds
himself on the national Wooden Award 50-player watch list to start the
season, a reward for a 2006-07 campaign filled with double-doubles
(eight), a 59 percent shooting percentage and three solid games in
the NCAAs. And in a Missouri Valley Conference filled with questionable and unproven size, Falker could dominate.
Eric Maynor, VCU
The 6-2 junior guard exhibited such a knack for
late-game heroics last season, folks around the Colonial should start
referring to game-winning shots as "Maynors." From the dagger in the CAA title
game against George Mason to the Duke-killing shot in the NCAA first round, his reputation has been
cemented. And he'll bring his 13.9 ppg and
league-leading 3.1-to-1 assist/turnover ratio back for a junior
Jason Thompson, Rider
Mid-major stars with NBA bodies are usually
downgraded as prospects for not being "a few inches taller," but this
isn't a problem for this 6-10 Bronc senior. Another season like 2006-07,
in which Thompson averaged a double-double and cut a wide swath
through MAAC defenses, might necessitate the purchase of a nice suit
for draft night.
Donte Minter, Appalachian State
This 6-8 trickle-down transfer from
Virginia was coach Houston Fancher's secret weapon last season, but
lingering effects of a knee injury meant that the Mountaineers' head
coach had to keep him holstered a lot. Miller rarely played more than half
a game but found the time to lead the Southern Conference in field-goal percentage at 64.2 percent. The knee is healed, his weight is down, and App State is ready for more upsets.
Courtney Lee, Western Kentucky
The man can score, as evidenced by
his 17 ppg averages in the past two seasons. He can play a little
defense, too; he finished seventh in the Sun Belt in steals in 2006-07 (1.5 spg) and averaged almost a block per game. Now, the senior
swingman's leadership qualities will be tested, because the Hilltoppers will look to him to help WKU recapture a league title that has eluded the school
Alex Harris, UC Santa Barbara
Harris won the Big West scoring title (21.1 ppg) as a junior playing for a team with good
shooting, solid defense and one fatal flaw: no scoring depth. That
issue has been addressed at the Thunderdome, so the 6-6 go-to Gaucho
likely will spend his senior season on a conference contender.
Chris Daniels, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
Southland Conference coaches have had
their nightmares haunted by the Islanders' 7-foot
behemoth (15.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg), and casual fans were properly introduced
to the league's Player of the Year in the NCAA Tournament when No. 15 seed Corpus won the first half against No. 2 Wisconsin. Daniels had 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting that day, and is the key to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's hopes of returning to the NCAAs.
Kyle Whelliston is the national mid-major reporter for Basketball Times and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.