Texas A&M-Corpus Christi made a name for itself when the Islanders knocked off the likes of Florida State, Old Dominion, TCU and Baylor en route to a school-record 20 wins last season. Ronnie Arrow was rewarded for his efforts, earning Independent Coach of the Year honors. The successful former coach of South Alabama and architect of the seven-year-old Islander program also picked up his 500th overall victory and 200th at the Division-I level last year. It looks like the program will reap the rewards of league play in the near future, as the Southland Conference is considering admitting the school in time for the 2006-07 season. But first, a tough task awaits Arrow and company, as the Islanders’ top four scorers from a year ago must be replaced. A pair of juniors, 6-foot-1 guard Taurean Mitchell and 7-0 center Chris Daniels, lead the returnees.
2. Texas-Pan American (12–16)
The Broncs stumbled to a 12–16 mark last season in Robert Davenport’s first season as head coach. Now he must replace seven of his top eight scorers, including dynamic point guard Sergio Sanchez (15.5 ppg), forward Chris Fagan and 7-0 center Alvaidas Gedminas. Senior Derrick East (7.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg), a 6-8 forward, is the top returnee, while sophomores Zach Trader, Dexter Shankle and Thomas Sanders have a chance to step up after seeing limited action a year ago. A cast of four junior college imports -- 7-0 center Colin Lien of Southeastern (Iowa), forward Cori Gaither of Southwestern (Texas) Christian, guard Larry Sheppard of Iowa Western, and combo guard Johnathan Chatman of Sheridan (Wyo.) College -- are expected to make an immediate impact.
3. IPFW (7–22)
Dane Fife became the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I when the 25-year-old was tabbed to lead the Mastodons following last season’s 7–22 campaign that will be remembered for the firing of head coach Doug Noll at mid-season. Fife, who officially takes over for interim coach Joe Pechota, has no prior experience as a head coach. But he has a fine pedigree, and he knows what it takes to win. Both of his brothers played collegiately, and his father coached and played at Michigan. Of course, Fife was a key player for Bobby Knight and Mike Davis at Indiana, helping the Hoosiers reach the Final Four in 2002 before assisting Davis the last two seasons. IPFW has to find a new go-to-guy after losing 6-10 All-Indy center David Simon. Sophomore Pete Campbell (11.1 ppg), a 6-7 forward who earned Independent Newcomer of the Year honors last season, is a solid candidate.
4. Savannah State (0–28)
Savannah State fired coach Ed Daniels after last season’s 0–28 debacle, only the second time in the last 50 years that an NCAA Division I team finished the season without a victory. Horace Broadnax, best known for his role as the starting point guard on Georgetown’s 1984 NCAA championship team, was tabbed as Daniels’ replacement. Broadnax, who had been practicing law in Orlando since ending a five-year tenure as the head coach at Bethune-Cookman in 2002, knows a little about turning programs around. His first BCC squad went 1–26, but he followed with 10 league wins the next season to earn Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors. It will be tough to duplicate such a turnaround this season, although the Tigers are slated to return their leading scorer in 6-4 guard Mark Williams (16.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and 6-7 rising sophomore forward Lazarius Coleman (5.1, 5.4).
Provisional members (with year of full-fledged D-I membership)
There’s really nowhere to go but up for the Lancers, who tied the NCAA Division I single-season record for most losses (1–30 record) last year, their second season of a four-year reclassification process. Coach Mike Gillian’s squad, which consisted of 14 freshmen and sophomores last season, enters the 2005-06 campaign having lost 19 straight.
Northern Colorado (‘07-08)
Northern Colorado will play a full schedule in the Big Sky in 2006-07 but won’t be eligible for the league title (or the NCAA tournament) until the following season. Until then, coach Craig Rasmuson will continue building for the future while playing another difficult schedule. Four of his top five scorers return off last season’s 8–21 squad, including 6-9 242-pound sophomore forward Kirk Archibeque (12.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg).
UC Davis (‘07-08)
The Aggies will play a full Big West schedule.
North Dakota State (‘08-09)
Coach Tim Miles must replace his top four scorers off last season’s 16–12 team that led Kansas State at the half and capped an 11-game winning streak with the National Independent Tournament Championship. Much of the scoring load will now fall on 5-11 senior guard Phil Hahn (8.7 ppg, 3.5 apg).
South Dakota State (‘08-09)
SDSU’s 10–18 mark last season included only one win against a full-fledged NCAA Division-I member (at Tennessee State). Coach Scott Nagy hopes the return of starting forwards Ben Beran (13.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Steve Holdren (12.5, 6.0) translates into more upsets this year.
Kennesaw State (‘09-10)
The Owls will play a full Atlantic Sun schedule.
N.J. Institute of Technology (‘09-10)
The NJIT Highlanders haven’t exactly dominated the Division II ranks, ending their era in that classification with an 11–15 mark last season. In fairness, that team had 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster. Forward Mark Milbourne Swan (15.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg), a 6-5 junior, is the top returnee for coach Jim Casciano.
North Florida (‘09-10)
The Ospreys will play a full Atlantic Sun schedule.
Utah Valley State (‘09-10)
The Wolverines finished 16–12 against their first Division-I schedule and proved to have a formidable advantage at the McKay Center, where Oral Roberts was the only visitor to win. Now coach Dick Hunsaker hopes junior forward David Heck (9.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg) can help ease the loss of guard Ronnie Price (24.3 ppg), the nation’s third-leading scorer.