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October 1, 2011
League previews: Independents and Great West
It's Oct. 1, which means it's time to start truly getting ready for the 2011-12 basketball season. Preseason practice begins in a little more than two weeks, and the season opens Nov. 7.
To that end, Rivals.com today begins its league breakdowns for the season; we'll work backward from 32 to our top-ranked league.
The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.
32. GREAT WEST/INDEPENDENTS
By Mike Huguenin
We're grouping these nine teams together. There are three true independents and six teams in the Great West, which is made up of former independents and Division I newcomers whose membership in the league makes scheduling a lot easier.
Cal State Bakersfield, Longwood and Seattle are the remaining independents. Seattle, which counts NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor among its alums and enjoyed success nationally in the 1950s and 1960s, becomes a basketball-playing member of the WAC next season. CS Bakersfield, which hired former Ole Miss and Georgia State coach Rod Barnes to head up its program, was turned down in its quest for WAC membership.
The six-team Great West, meanwhile, ranges from New Jersey to Utah. It has a league tourney, and the winner gets an automatic bid to the collegeinsider.com tourney.
Utah Valley State, coached by former Ball State head man Dick Hunsaker, returns four starters and is looking to repeat as the league's regular-season champion. The key player is guard Isiah Williams, a Chicago native. North Dakota, though, won the league tourney, and the Fighting Sioux â€" who will move to the Big Sky next season â€" return a solid nucleus, including five key sophomores.
NJIT bears mentioning. The Highlanders were winless in 2007-08, won once in 2008-09, won 10 games in 2009-10 and improved to 15-15 last season. Their star is Isaiah Wilkerson, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season.
ORDER OF FINISH
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Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.