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MISSOURI VALLEY: A decade ago Jim Les cleaned the floor for Bradley as a ball boy. Now Les, No. 2 in the nation in assists last season, owns that floor for the MVC-favorite Braves, who lose only one player. Meanwhile, the rosters of the Valley's traditional powers have been gutted. Wichita State coach Gene Smithson and Illinois State coach Bob Donewald, neither of whom has ever had a losing season, face rebuilding years, as does new Tulsa coach J.D. Barnett. Indiana State forward John Sherman (Paint) Williams will be the conference's most accomplished artist, though with a new patron, deliberate coach Ron Greene, his 22.8-a-game pointillism may not be quite so gaudy.
ECAC NORTH ATLANTIC: If you had to go up against the Big East and Northeastern you would scour foreign lands for players, too. Thus the forays made by coaches in the ECAC-NA, where you'll find 7-foot Michele Pontalti of Italy at Niagara; France's Eric Fleury, another 7-footer, at Siena; 6'5" Virgin Islander Paul Hendricks at Boston University; and Amadou (Coco) Barry, a 6'8" Senegalese forward, at Maine.
ECAC METRO: Recruiters here are doing much the same as their neighbors to the north. Marist has five foreigners and could start a frontcourt of 7'3" Rik Smits (Holland), 7-foot Rudy Bourgarel (Guadeloupe) and 6'11" Miroslav Pecarski (Yugoslavia). One challenge will come from Loyola (Md.), where the players are all homegrown and short. The Greyhounds take their nickname literally, and press all game long. Fairleigh Dickinson, near conqueror of Michigan in the NCAAs last spring, has a foreigner in the middle—7'1" Torsten Stein, aus Berlin—and speed everywhere else. Wagner returns the conference's two leading scorers from last season, guard Terrance Bailey and forward Art Redmond.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: The rebellious South has seceded from the ECAC to form this new multisport confab. While seceding, it has succeeded—in retaining its automatic NCAA bid—as well it should, considering the wins and near wins that James Madison, Richmond and Navy have scored over heavily favored tourney foes in the past five seasons. The Colonial already leads all leagues in John Newmans—Richmond's (21.3 points per game) is a shade better than James Madison's (12.6). George Mason has a new 10,000-seat arena and a knack for beating Navy that right away singles out the Patriots as a conference dark horse.
MID-AMERICAN: The MAC is the only league that can boast two of the top three returning scorers in Division I and two of the top three returning re-bounders. All right—so the two scorers are the two re-bounders, Ball State's Dan Palombizio (26.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game) and Miami's Ron Harper (24.9 and 10.7). Harper's Redskins have everyone back from a 20-11 season. Northern Illinois feels Kenny Battle, last season's frosh scoring champ (20.1 points a game), is Harper's and Palombizio's equal.
BIG EAST: Among the Least of the Big East, Connecticut is the Beast. The Huskies return 6'1" pointman Earl (The Guess What) Kelley, who twice last season outplayed the more renowned Pearl from Syracuse. Thanks to some fine recruiting, Seton Hall figures to rise enough to be the Yeast of the East; the Pirates' star is high-flying Andre McCloud (20.8 points a game), who spent the summer interning for a congressional subcommittee on—of all things—surface transportation. Alas, Providence promises to be the Feast of the East, even if new Friars coach Rick Pitino has given over an office to recruiting operations and dubbed it The War Room.
BIG EIGHT: Which conference has led the nation in scoring for two seasons running? Surprise—it's the Big Eight. Missouri, behind sophomore swingman Derrick Chievous, will do its bit to help the league keep that honor, assuming no more than half of coach Norm Stewart's frosh quit school, which seems to be Norm's norm. Iowa State, with everyone back except all-conference forward Barry Stevens, will win 21 games once more, if you can believe coach Johnny Orr, who insists, "This is the best team I've had since I've been here." Nebraska, tired of NIT appearances (three straight), now has the supporting players to complement center Dave Hoppen's accurate (64.6%) poppin'. At Oklahoma State, names can fool you: Muhammad Akbar is homegrown; the import is 7'4" Alan Bannister, from England. Colorado, as always, will have great skiing.
PAC-10: When all four Pac-It-In representatives lost their first-round NCAA games last spring, many wondered how this once proud conference could attract good coaches but no players. "We're not playing with Lon Chaneys and cigar store Indians," protests Lou Campanelli, who takes over at Cal. In lieu of wooden chiefs, new Arizona State coach and former UCLA center Steve Patterson will install the Wooden system and vows, "If I can look a recruit in the eye, I want him." Oregon State coach Ralph Miller has added 6'10" Jose Ortiz of the Puerto Rican national team to a front line led by 6'9" Steve Woodside. And Arizona's Lute Olson and Stanford's Tom Davis each plucked at least one West Coast blue-chipper for the class of '89. The league must haul in more homeboys this recruiting season: According to one scouting service, six of the nation's top 25 high school seniors are Californians.
SOUTHWEST: Houston to the conspicuous contrary, SWC teams generally adhere to the 60-points-and-a-flurry-of-elbows style. Coach Dave Bliss will rein in his wild Ponies at SMU, which returns stud hoss Terry Williams and floor leader Butch Moore, and adds wingman Randy Jones, brother of the famous Grace. At Baylor, new coach Gene Iba inherits eight of the top nine scorers from last season. They're among the 10 returning Bears who petitioned the university to send his predecessor, Jim Haller, into hibernation. Texas Tech boosters rewarded coach Gerald Myers with a silver Eldorado for taking the Red Raiders to the '85 SWC title, but with all five of last season's starters gone, Myers will have to make do with spare parts.
TRANS AMERICA: The accent here is on Trans, as in transition. The league has had 13 different members in its seven seasons. There is little change, however, at Arkansas-Little Rock, which sabotaged regular-season champion Georgia Southern in the semis of the TAAC tourney before losing to Mercer in the finals. The Trojans, behind junior forward Michael Clark, should again best Georgia Southern, which loses all five starters. Similarly, Mercer lost TAAC scoring champ Sam Mitchell and two other starters, so the Bears' outlook is pretty grisly.