SOUTHEASTERN: Every year, some unlikely SEC team up and beats everyone else in the conference tourney. Beware the Vols of March. Tennessee bagged 6'11" freshman Doug Roth from Knoxville, and gets defense and excitement from 6'7" Rob Jones and 6'2" Tony White, respectively. Alabama's Buck Johnson can play with any forward in the league—and this is a league of very good forwards.
METRO ATLANTIC and ATLANTIC 10: Sick of slinking in the shadows of the Big East, these two conferences will stage their postseason tourney finals together, under the bright lights of New Jersey's Brendan Byrne Arena. Last season in the MAAC, a revolt of black players rocked Holy Cross; Fairfield sacked coach Terry O'Connor after students wore BAG O'CONNOR bags over their heads; and Fordham and Iona players engaged in so many rancorous extracurriculars that increased crowd interest has forced their regular-season games into larger, off-campus buildings. All of the above helped to overshadow the Cross's Jim McCaffrey, a 6'3" Division II transfer from Rutland, Vt., who is the best player in the conference. Iona, however, is the early favorite, with 6'9", 240-pound Bob Coleman holding down (and taking up) the middle. Much is expected from Fairfield if new coach Mitch Buonaguro can teach five returning Stag starters how to play defense.
In the Atlantic 10, Temple coach John Chaney did a certain Big East coach one better by attracting two big men from the Caribbean: 7'2" Robert Liburd (Trinidad via the Bronx) and 6'10" Ramon Rivas (a University of Puerto Rico transfer). But a rare heart condition disabled Liburd, and Rivas remains raw. The Owls' wisdom, as ever, is in their backcourt, led by Nate Blackwell. At West Virginia the news is subtraction, not addition, as a result of school rules violations that will sideline three Mountaineers until Dec. 21 and two others for the season. And George Washington lost more than just an all-international Semitic front line—Israeli national team members Moti Daniel and Menachem Atlas could start—when 6'9" Soviet émigré forward Max Blank suffered a knee injury.
SUN BELT: Several notches behind UAB and ODU in the Sun Belt you'll find Virginia Commonwealth, which lost almost everybody, including its coach (Mike Pollio replaces J.D. Barnett), and Jacksonville, which has everyone back, including its coach, Bob Wenzel, who has fully recovered from surgery for a brain aneurysm that he claims was really a "John Wooden brain implant." Western Kentucky coach Clem Haskins has four new guards he'll try to meld with a splendid frontcourt that includes junior forward Kan-nard Johnson. Jeff Mullins, a 12-year NBA veteran, stopped selling cars to become UNC Charlotte's new coach. He'll try to erase memories of last season's 1-13 league mark with a stable of fine frosh. At South Alabama, 6'10", 240-pound transfer Alan Kortokrax is the center of attention; at South Florida, where Sun Belt career scoring leader Charlie Bradley is gone, Curtis Kitchen has all the utensils but may not be able to stand the heat.
INDEPENDENTS: Dayton welcomes back forward Ed Young, out all last season with a knee injury, to a frontcourt already anchored by 6'8" team MVP Dave Colbert. How effectively Marquette soph Michael (Pops) Sims can get the ball to three frontcourt returnees will determine the Warriors' success. Southwestern Louisiana opens its new 12,000-seat Cajundome without leading scorer and rebounder George Almones, but with everyone else. The waters may not be terribly inviting at Miami, where the Hurricanes renew basketball with a schedule including Duke, Notre Dame, Marquette, UCLA and maybe North Carolina. New Orleans has a roster that looks like a bowl of gumbo (including four Tulane refugees); unfortunately, no one's a jumbo.
SOUTHERN: With two out-sized inside types in Tom Curry and Jeff Guthrie, both 6'9", Marshall should take its third straight conference crown. Tennessee-Chattanooga will challenge, even with the two men most responsible for the Mocs' recent success—coach Murray Arnold and guard Gerald Wilkins—having choo-chooed off to the NBA.
WEST COAST ATHLETIC: "Things are mighty fine at the 'Dine," allows coach Jim Harrick, meaning that his Pepper-dine squad is loaded. The Waves have five double-figure scorers back from a 23-9 team that won 17 of their last 20 games. Conference MVP Dwayne Polee is the best of five fifth-year seniors. Loyola Marymount could challenge if new coach Paul Westhead can get 6'3" guard Keith Smith and 6'7" forward Forrest McKenzie, who, unlike their twice-fired mentor, are both pro prospects, to play together. San Francisco has been out of basketball since '82, but coach Jim Brovelli should keep the Dons out of the cellar.
SOUTHLAND: "We might go into the conference season looking bad," says Lamar coach Pat Foster, referring to an early-season schedule that includes heavyweights Villa-nova, Washington, LSU and Duke. "But we'll come out looking good." That's because the Cards have their own bruiser, 6'8", 278-pound sophomore James Gulley, who loves to eat, hates to fly and averaged 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in 1984-85. Five returning starters, notably center Michael Saulsberry (13.9 points per game), will boost Northeast Louisiana, while new Louisiana Tech coach Tommy Joe Eagles tries to figure out how to deliver the mail sans Karl Malone.
MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: "There isn't a whole lot of size in this conference," says Howard coach A.B. Williamson. "Guards are its strength." Thus North Carolina A & T coach Don Corbett, after witnessing the effectiveness of his third guard, 5'8" walk-on Thomas Griffis, benched his center and went with a three-guard offense. Unfortunately, Griffis lost his two running mates, and this may be the season in which Howard, led by guard Fred Hill and 6'8", 25-year-old erstwhile soccer player Derek Caracciolo, finally knocks off A & T in the conference tourney. Or perhaps Delaware State, which has four starters back, will take out both of them.
IVY: The league of name schools finally features some name players. John Thompson III, the Georgetown coach's son, will start at Princeton, and Walt Frazier Jr. is at Penn. Even without Li'l Clyde's help, the Quakers should successfully defend their conference crown. New coach Tom Schneider has a team that is out of its league, especially with 23-year-old junior Perry Bromwell, the redoubtable Manhattan (College) Transfer, in the backcourt.