Tony Mitchell, George Fant

Conference Previews: The Sun Belt is Tony Mitchell’s playground

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

North Texas.

Tony Mitchell

Those are the names you really need to know in the Sun Belt this season, because North Texas has enough talent that they could push their way into the top 25 this season and are led by Mitchell, who is all-but a lock to be the league’s Player of the Year and should play his way onto all-american teams and into the lottery. It’s not all that often that a player of Mitchell’s talent ends up on a team like North Texas, but it’s also not all that often that a top 20 recruit like Mitchell isn’t able to find a way to get eligible at a school like Missouri. Mitchell was in the Class of 2010, but he didn’t start his collegiate career until last December. And in that one semester of college ball, Mitchell managed to average 14.7 points, 10.0 boards and 3.0 blocks. He could end up making those numbers look paltry this year.

The scary thing is that he’s far from all that UNT has on their roster. Chris Jones is a talented sophomore point guard who will be joined on the perimeter by Alzee Williams and Jordan Williams. Justin Patton, a transfer from Grambling, is eligible this season, and Oklahoma State transfer Roger Franklin is back for another season as well. With Denver out of the picture (they bounced, off to the new WAC), the Mean Green are a lock to win the west and the overwhelming favorite to win the Sun Belt.

But don’t expect Middle Tennessee State to roll over and play dead. Laron Dendy is gone, but the Blue Raiders return a very good perimeter attack led by Raymond Cintron, Marcos Knight and Bruce Massey. MTSU was arguably the best mid-major in the country for much of last season before back-to-back losses in the regular season finale and the first round of the conference tournament derailed their hopes of making the dance. Hunger and redemption are powerful motivators.

Looking deeper, Arkansas State returns four of the five starters from a team that was picked to win the west prior to last season, Western Kentucky is coming off of a trip to the NCAA tournament and Florida International has added Richard Pitino as their head coach. But the sleeper in the conference could end up being South Alabama, but only if they find enough perimeter threats to take the pressure off of Augustine Rubit inside.

All-Conference Team (*denotes Player of the Year)

G: Chris Jones, North Texas
G: Marcos Knight, Middle Tennessee State
G: Greg Gantt, Florida Atlantic
F: Augustine Rubit, South Alabama
F: Tony Mitchell, North Texas*

Predicted Standings

West:

1. North Texas
2. Arkansas State
3. Arkansas-Little Rock
4. Louisiana-Monroe
5. Louisiana-Lafayette

East:

1. Middle Tennessee State
2. Western Kentucky
3. South Alabama
4. Florida Atlantic
5. Troy
6. Florida International

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Conference Previews: Oral Roberts takes the Southland by storm

Scott Sutton
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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Southland is going to look a lot different this year than it did last season.

Gone is regular season champ UT-Arlington, who, along with Texas State and UT-San Antonio, jumped to the WAC. Arlington won the conference by three games with a 15-1 record last year. Lamar may as well be gone, as they lose four starters, by rotation players and, essentially, everyone that made them the team to win the conference tournament title.

But the league will have a favorite, as last year’s Summit League champ Oral Roberts joins the conference. ORU loses a number of key players, including Summit Player of the Year Dominique Morrison, but they still have a lot of talent on the roster. Steven Rountree was one of the league’s most active and productive big men last season, and he’ll be joined in the front court by Damen Bell-Holter, who averaged 13.3 points and 7.8 boards in 2010-2011. Warren Niles, who was the team’s second-leading scorer last season, and Utah transfer Shawn Glover will also play major roles, but the key will be whether or not the point guard role gets filled this year.

Stephen F. Austin will probably be ORU’s biggest challenger, as the Lumberjacks not only have a winning nickname, but they always seem to be in the mix for the league’s regular season title. Second-leading scorer Antonio Bostic returns while Taylor Smith is a JuCo transfer that averaged 9.2 points and 6.3 boards in less than 20 minutes last year.

There are three other teams to keep an eye on in the league. Northwestern State brings back Shamir Davis and adds a couple of talented newcomers. Central Arkansas has LaQuentin Miles back, who is the league’s leading returning scorer. But Southeastern Louisiana may be the best bet for making a run to the league title. Brandon Fortenberry, who averaged 17.6 points in just seven games last year, is back, as is Roosevelt Johnson up front. Throw in Providence transfer Dre Evans, and the Lions have sleeper written all over them.

All-Conference Team (*denotes Player of the Year)

G: Brandon Fontenberry, SE Louisiana
G: Shamir Davis, Northwestern State
F: LaQuentin Miles, Central Arkansas
F: Damen Bell-Holter, Oral Roberts
F: Steven Rountree, Oral Roberts*

Predicted Standings

1. Oral Roberts
2. Southeastern Louisiana
3. Stephen F. Austin
4. Northwestern State
5. Central Arkansas
6. Sam Houston State
7. McNeese State
8. Lamar
9. Nicholls State
10. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Conference Preview: Its Nate Wolters or bust in The Summit League

Nate Wolters
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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

With the departure of Oral Roberts to the Southland Conference, the Summit League title is up for grabs, and the spotlight will shift from Tulsa, OK to Brookings, SD, home of Nate Wolters and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.  Remember how popular Damian Lillard and Isaiah Canaan were last year? That’s how big Nate Wolters is going to get this season.  I mean, we’re talking huge. Not quite to Jimmer-levels of pandemonium, but it’s gonna be close. The 6-foot-3 senior dynamo is one of the best scorers in the country and he has a savory touch from outside the arch. In short, he is everything you love about college hoops, and everything you need in order to become a superstar. Wolters does have some help (Senior forward Jordan Dykstra), but the Jackrabbits will ultimately go only as far as Wolters can take them.

But if for some reason the Jackrabbits stumble, the Bison of North Dakota State are there to steal the spotlight. The top three scorers from last season return, led by first team All-Conference guard Taylor Braun.  The 6-foot-7 junior was the team’s top scorer last year (15.6ppg) and has all the makings of a high-octane scorer that the Summit League is becoming know for. Since we’re talking about high scoring affairs and the Summit League, we cannot forget about Greg Kampe’s Oakland Golden Grizzlies. Last season the Golden Griz ranked ninth in the country in points per game (79.6ppg) and although Reggie Hamilton is gone, Travis Bader returns and is expected to do the majority of the scoring this season.

The Summit League also features a talented Western Illinois program that should be much improved this season, as well as a first-year program in Nebraska-Omaha.

Then there is the curious case of the shortened acronyms. The Summit League has long been known for housing some of the most interesting school and mascot names in the country. But league officials decided during the offseason that Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) will change to Kansas City, and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (IPFW) will change to Fort Wayne. Luckily, officials did not mess with Indiana Univeristy – Purdue Univeristy Indianapolis (IUPUI).

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Travis Bader, (Oakland)
G/F Taylor Braun, (North Dakota State)
G Ceola Clark III, (Western Illinois)
G Frank Gaines, (Fort Wayne)
G Nate Wolters, (South Dakota State)*

Predicted Standings
1. South Dakota State
2. North Dakota State
3. Oakland
4. Western Illinois
5. IUPUI
6. Fort Wayne
7. South Dakota
8. Kansas City
9. Nebraska-Omaha

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.