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October 13, 2009

Not too early to start conference previews

Today, we begin our conference countdown. We'll work backward, from our No. 31 league to the top league in the nation. (Actually, we're starting the countdown with the independents, but it's the same principle.)

We'll provide a quick overview of the league, our projected order of finish and the preseason first- and second-team all-league picks.

We're starting with the low-major leagues, so we will unveil three per day. We'll do two mid-majors per day, then each of the top 10 leagues will get a day to itself.

And lest you think this is mighty early for folks to be worrying about basketball, the first game is in less than a month.

INDEPENDENTS

There will be 15 Division I independents this season, with some full-fledged members and others still toiling in provisional status. The likelihood that any qualify for the NCAA tournament is zero percent. But two or three could reach the 20-win plateau.

Predicted order of finish
1. Longwood
2. South Dakota
3. Bryant
4. Seattle
5. North Dakota
6. Savannah State
7. SIU Edwardsville
8. Utah Valley
9. Chicago State
10. CS Bakersfield
11. Winston-Salem State
12. UT Pan American
13. North Carolina Central
14. Houston Baptist
15. NJIT

Preseason Picks
First team
F Trent Blakley, 6-4, Sr., CS Bakersfield
F Tyler Cain, 6-8, Sr., South Dakota
F Cecil Gresham, 6-5, Sr., Bryant
G Travis Bledsoe, 5-11, Sr., North Dakota
G/F Dana Smith, 6-5, Sr., Longwood
Second team
F Santwon Latunde, 6-6, Sr., CS Bakersfield
F Carl Montgomery, 6-7, Jr., Chicago State
F Mark Yelovich, 6-5, Soph., SIU Edwardsville
G Brian Fisher, 6-2, Sr., Winston-Salem State
G Nick Weiermiller, 6-1, Jr., UT Pan American

Player of the Year
G/F Dana Smith, 6-5, Sr., Longwood
Newcomer of the Year
F/C Papa Lo, 6-9, Soph., Bryant

31. SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

It was a tough season for a league that saw six of its members finish with single-digit victories and 19-plus losses; just three league teams had overall winning records. SWAC champ Alabama State didn't even get a true NCAA tournament experience, losing to Morehead State in the dreaded play-in game in Dayton, Ohio.

Jackson State is the team with the best chance to represent the league this time around, and star forward Grant Maxey is the main reason. Alabama State should stay near the top, but the loss of SWAC Player of the Year Brandon Brooks is a big one.

Watch out for Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Prairie View, which returns the league's top newcomer from a year ago, F Darnell Hugee. Coaching turnover has been heavy recently in the SWAC, and former playing stars Sean Woods (Mississippi Valley) and Larry Smith (Alcorn State) are just starting what could be major turnarounds at those programs.

Predicted order of finish
1. Jackson State
2. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
3. Prairie View
4. Alabama State
5. Southern
6. Alabama A&M
7. Mississippi Valley
8. Alcorn State
9. Texas Southern
10. Grambling

Preseason All-League Team
First team
F Darnell Hugee, 6-7, Sr., Prairie View
F Grant Maxey, 6-7, Sr., Jackson State
G Jonathan Boyd, 6-3, Sr., Alcorn State
G Terrance Calvin, 6-2, Sr., Arkansas-Pine Bluff
G Trant Simpson, 5-10, Sr., Alabama A&M
Second team
F Shannon Behling, 6-7, Sr., Mississippi Valley
F Garrison Johnson, 6-6, Sr., Jackson State
G Rod Melvin, 6-1, Soph., Jackson State
G DeAndre Hall, 6-6, Sr., Texas Southern
G Cornelius Hester, 6-3, Sr., Alabama A&M

Player of the Year
F Grant Maxey, 6-7, Sr., Jackson State
Newcomer of the Year
G Courtney Bell, 6-6, Fr., Prairie View A&M


Regular-season winner last season: Alabama State
Tournament winner last season: Alabama State (lost in the NCAA tourney play-in game)
2010 conference tournament: March 10-13, Fair Park Arena, Birmingham, Ala.

30. MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

A year after falling to Coppin State in an upset in the MEAC title game, Morgan State got it done, topping Norfolk State and enjoying its first taste of the NCAA tournament. Blake Griffin and Oklahoma limited the enjoyment, but the Bears figure to get more chances as long as Todd Bozeman remains on the sideline.

Despite some key losses, Morgan State has star guard Reggie Holmes and the "favorite" tag once again. After the Bears, six teams finished within two games of each other in the standings last season, and a similar logjam is likely.

Norfolk State appears to be the best bet again to challenge for the top spot, with scoring machine Michael Deloach back for one more year. At Bethune-Cookman, sophomore guard C.J. Reed - the son of the coach - is one of the most exciting players in the league.

Hampton, South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T will be solid again, while Maryland-Eastern Shore might be looking at a resurgence behind talented forwards Neal Pitt and Keishawn Mayes.

Predicted order of finish
1. Morgan State
2. Norfolk State
3. South Carolina State
4. Bethune-Cookman
5. Hampton
6. North Carolina A&T
7. Coppin State
8. Maryland-Eastern Shore
9. Howard
10. Delaware State
11. Florida A&M

Preseason All-League Team
First team
F Jason Flagler, 6-4, Sr., South Carolina State
F Kevin Thompson, 6-8, Soph., Morgan State
G Michael Deloach, 6-0, Sr., Norfolk State
G Reggie Holmes, 6-4, Sr., Morgan State
G C.J. Reed, 6-3, Soph., Bethune-Cookman
Second team
F Keishawn Mayes, 6-7, Soph., Maryland-Eastern Shore
F Neal Pitt, 6-6, Sr., Maryland-Eastern Shore
G Tavarus Alston, 6-0, Sr., North Carolina A&T
G Vincent Simpson, 6-1, Sr., Hampton
G Jimmy Williams, 6-4, Soph., South Carolina State

Player of the Year
G Reggie Holmes, 6-4, Sr., Morgan State
Newcomer of the Year
G Keith Spellman, 6-3, Fr., Morgan State

Regular-season winner last season: Morgan State
Tournament winner last season: Morgan State (lost to Oklahoma in NCAA first round as a No. 15 seed)
2010 conference tournament: March 8-13, Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem, N.C.



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