The Best of the Rest: Primer (Cont.)
Kerron Johnson, Belmont
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.
Brandyn Curry, Harvard
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.
Tony Mitchell, North Texas
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.
Damian Lillard, Weber State
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.
Javon McCrea, Buffalo
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.
Nate Wolters, South Dakota State
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.
Reggie Hamilton, Oakland
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.
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh
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.
Matt Dickey, UNC Asheville
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.
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
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.
1. Xavier (Atlantic 10)
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.
2. New Mexico (Mountain West)
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.
3. Temple (Atlantic 10)
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.
4. Memphis (Conference USA)
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.
5. Creighton (Missouri Valley)
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.
6. UNLV (Mountain West)
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.
7. Gonzaga (WCC)
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.
8. Belmont (Atlantic Sun)
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.
9. Saint Mary's (West Coast)
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.
10. Drexel (Colonial Athletic)
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.
Just missed: BYU, Harvard, George Mason, Long Beach State, Wichita State, Iona
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