Best of the Rest: Notable players, teams from the other 25 leagues
Top players: Butler's Shelvin Mack, Gonzaga's Elias Harris, BYU's Jimmer Fredette
Despite losing Matt Bouldin, Gonzaga has the talent to make a deep tourney run
Josh Pastner could have a Memphis team primed to do some damage in March
FIVE IMPACT PLAYERS (PLUS ONE)
Shelvin Mack, 6-3 junior guard, Butler (Horizon): With Gordon Hayward gone, the spotlight is now on the dynamic guard, even if he likes to deflect attention to his talented teammates.
Elias Harris, 6-8 sophomore forward, Gonzaga (WCC): A revelation as a freshman last season, he's now the best player on another solid Zags squad.
Tre'Von Willis, 6-4 senior guard, UNLV (MWC): The floor leader and leading scorer for a deep Rebels team that could have the size and skill to make a deep NCAA tournament run.
Kawhi Leonard, 6-7 sophomore forward, San Diego State (MWC): He could be an NBA lottery pick if he backs up his impressive freshman year, even if he's not a perfect positional fit at the next level.
Jimmer Fredette, 6-2 senior guard, BYU (MWC): One of the premier scoring guards in the country will have an even larger burden this season with some departures from the program.
Kevin Anderson, 6-0 senior guard, Richmond (A-10): Anderson was the A-10 Player of the Year last season for good reason and has a chance to lead a potentially more dangerous Spiders squad back to the NCAAs.
FIVE BREAKOUT CANDIDATES
Jackson Emery, 6-3 senior guard, BYU (MWC): The attention on Fredette and no Tyler Haws should leave lots of chances for the Cougars' other sharpshooting guard.
Kyle Weems, 6-6 junior forward, Missouri State (MVC): An explosive athlete and lead scorer who could push the Bears to the top of a competitive Valley with the help of Adam Leonard.
Ronald Nored, 6-0 junior guard, Butler (Horizon): Heretofore a defensive specialist, he should be more well-rounded this season and can get to the rack off the bounce with aplomb.
Anthony Marshall, 6-3 sophomore guard, UNLV (MWC): The highly regarded local product should shoot much better this season with an actual inside game balancing the Rebels' attack.
Kenneth Faried, 6-8 senior forward, Morehead State (Ohio Valley): A future draft pick who gets early opportunities against Florida and Ohio State to further showcase his skills. He went for 14 points and 21 rebounds in the '09 play-in game and then 14 and 11 in a first-round loss to Louisville.
FIVE DEEPER SLEEPERS
Keith Benson, 6-11 senior center, Oakland (Summit): Benson's Golden Grizzlies did make the NCAAs last season, and the 6-11 center went for 28 points and nine boards against Pitt.
Charles Jenkins, 6-3 senior guard, Hofstra (CAA): New coach Mo Cassara gets a great welcome present in the senior scoring guard who averaged over 20 points a game last season.
Andrew Goudelock, 6-2 senior guard, College of Charleston (SoCon): The do-it-all guard can flat-out shoot. Ask North Carolina. C of C was the first domino in the Heels' second-half collapse last season.
Orlando Johnson, 6-5 junior guard, UCSB (Big West): The sweet-scoring transfer from Loyola Marymount is the defending league Player of the Year and could lead the Gauchos back to the NCAAs.
D.J. Cooper, 5-11 sophomore guard, Ohio (MAC): He had huge numbers as a freshman and helped the Bobcats maul Georgetown in the NCAAs. Now he'll be the leading man with the departure of leading scorer Armon Bassett.
FIVE FRESHMEN TO WATCH
Will Barton, 6-6 guard, Memphis (C-USA): The lengthy wing is the prize member of the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, but classmates Joe Jackson and Jelan Kendrick (who was just cleared to practice after an indefinite suspension for allegedly threatening a teammate) should impress, too.
Ray McCallum, 6-1 guard, Detroit (Horizon): An elite point guard who is one of two kids in the state of Michigan to stay home and play for his father.
Trey Zeigler, 6-5 guard, Central Michigan (MAC): This highly regarded shooting guard is the other one. McCallum and Zeigler's teams face off on Dec. 18 at CMU.
Juwan Staten, 6-0 guard, Dayton (A-10): Another point guard with high expectations. If he can stabilize the Flyers' decision-making and support a talented core, they will be back in the NCAAs.
Dominique Ferguson, 6-9 forward, Florida International (Sun Belt): Ferguson could be eligible for the second semester, and if he is, a league that's used to athletic 6-7 forwards will have to deal with a lanky 6-9 one.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: 8
The number of at-large bids to the NCAA tournament for teams outside of football's BCS leagues had stayed level or dropped in each of the six years from 2004 (10 bids) to 2009 (just four) before doubling last season. The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 combined for five, and we got to eight with upsets in the WCC (Gonzaga), WAC (Utah State) and C-USA (UTEP) tournaments. Still, the MWC and A-10 (financially) are well ahead of the rest of their non-BCS brethren, so it will be an interesting subplot for the initial Field of 68 to see if any of those three extra bids go to true mid-majors, particularly teams that aren't regular-season league champs who stumble in a conference tournament.
1. Gonzaga (West Coast)
Despite losing do-everything guard Matt Bouldin, the Bulldogs have plenty to take on their typically brutal nonleague schedule and win at least a share of the WCC crown for the 11th straight season. Sophomore wing Elias Harris could be an NBA lottery pick in June with another standout season and he'll get help from senior sniper Steven Gray and junior 7-footer Robert Sacre. The key to the season could be the development of point guard Demetri Goodson, the fourth returning starter who didn't play up to his potential last season.
2. Butler (Horizon)
The Bulldogs will have to find a way to replace their two most versatile defenders after losing Willie Veasley to graduation and Gordon Hayward to the NBA draft. There should be enough weapons left between former Horizon Player of the Year Matt Howard inside and the dynamic guard tandem of Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored to make up for Hayward's offensive exploits. Butler also will be without Avery Jukes, who played some crucial minutes in the national title game, so size (and Howard's ability to stay out of foul trouble) will be key factors in Butler's toughest contests.
3. UNLV (Mountain West)
The Mountain West will be brutal at the top. San Diego State was picked to win the conference, but I like the Rebels a touch more now that leading scorer Tre'Von Willis will be available early in the season. With Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas and juco arrival Carlos Lopez, UNLV will have the size it lacked last season. Combine that with greater depth and the Rebels should be Runnin' a good deal more. That should allow for bigger things from sophomore guard Anthony Marshall and junior forward Chace Stanback. If everything falls into place, this is a sleeper team out West.
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