Thursday , Nov , 11 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Independents

*** College Basketball Preview – Independents ***

The Sports Network

By Scott Haynes, College Basketball Senior Editor

OUTLOOK: The Division I Independents are growing each year and 2004-05 is no
different. The veteran members include the likes of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi,
IPFW, Texas-Pan American and Savannah State. Provisional D-I members include
Northern Colorado, Longwood, UC-Davis, Utah Valley State, North Dakota State
and South Dakota State. Northern Colorado, UC-Davis and Longwood are in the
second year of the four-year reclassification process. Utah Valley State is in
its second year of a seven-year process to be a fully-credited Division I
Member. North Dakota State and South Dakota State are in their first year of a
four-year process. The Islanders of Corpus-Christi enjoyed the most success at
the top level, finishing with their first winning season in their brief
history a year ago. UC-Davis also posted a winning mark and is ready to make a
bigger splash this season with more top Division I opponents on the docket.
The other teams certainly struggled last year, including a dismal showing by
IPFW. The Jackrabbits of South Dakota State have been a top team in Division
II and are coming off a highly successful 2003-04 campaign and along with the
Bison of North Dakota State, will ease into the ranks of Division I basketball
in 2004-05.

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

TEXAS-PAN AMERICAN – Bob Hoffman was considered a top-notch coach on the rise,
so it was no wonder that he left Texas-Pan American this past year to move on
as an assistant at Oklahoma. The departure leaves the team in the capable
hands of Robert Davenport, who served as the team’s associate head coach the
last three seasons. Instrumental in the Broncs’ recent success, Davenport
inherits a team that returns three starters from 2003-04, led by the play of
senior guard Sergio Sanchez, who has showed the ability to both score
(12.9 ppg last year) and distribute (4.5 apg). Senior forward Chris Fagan
(10.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is the most productive frontcourt returner, but the team
will definitely look to seven-foot Lithuanian Alvaidas Gedminas (3.4 ppg, 2.6
rpg) to play a more dominant role inside, with the lack of bulk that UTPA has
to start the season.

TEXAS A&M-CORPUS CHRISTI – Since starting in 1999, the Islanders have steadily
improved, culminating in last year’s 15-12 record, the first winning season in
their brief history. Head coach Ronnie Arrow loses two starters with some
scoring punch from last year in guard Brian Evans (12.4 ppg) and forward
Derrick Murphy (8.3 ppg), but there is enough returning to expect similar
results in 2004-05. There will be balance both inside and out for the
Islanders with the return of leading scorer Travis Bailey (14.2 ppg) in the
backcourt and leading rebounder Corey Lamkin (10.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg). Joining
Lamkin in the frontcourt is Thomas Bailey, who added 11.2 ppg a year ago.
Sophomore guard Taurean Mitchell will take over the point for the departed
Evans, but doing all the things that Evans did (all-time school leader in
assists and steal) may be too much to ask this season. In all, Arrow has
enough pieces in place to make another run at a winning campaign.

IPFW – Last season was a debacle for coach Doug Noll and his Mastodons, as the
team managed to win just three games compared to 25 losses. Although the team
will be without three starters from a year ago, including scoring forward
Terry Collins (12.5 ppg), this is a team that has to improve. It will
certainly help to have senior center David Simon back in the fold. After
impressing at NBA draft camps, Simon returned to school following an injury at
the Chicago camp. His stock was already high thanks to a junior year in which
he averaged 18.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per outing. Already the school’s
all-time leader in blocked shots, the 6-10, 260-pounder is poised to add to
his record this season. Sophomore guard Beau Bauer (7.7 ppg) was a real
surprise last season at the point, starting 27 games as a freshman. He could
take some pressure off Simon with his perimeter game. Juco transfer Quintin
Butler (6-6 forward) could help out down low.

UC-DAVIS – The Aggies are still a provisional program that won’t earn complete
Division I status until the 2007-08 campaign. Last season, with a schedule
that still reflected that limbo status, UC-Davis excelled under first-year
coach Gary Stewart, culminating in an 18-9 overall record. The team has
already been invited to play in the Big West, so the future is bright for the
Aggies. UC-Davis only loses one starter from a year ago, so a repeat of last
year’s win total is feasible. The backcourt returns senior guard Fowzi
Abdelsamad, who averaged nearly 13 points per game last year. The frontcourt
is in fine shape with leading returning scorer Ryan Moore (16.3 ppg) and
forward/center Thomas Juillerat (10.2 ppg). The 6-5 Moore can do it all for
UC-Davis, with great scoring ability, above-average rebounding (5.5 rpg) and a
knack for delivering the timely pass (2.3 apg).

UTAH VALLEY STATE – The Wolverines are another provisional team and while they
didn’t have a lot of Division I competition last season, that will change.
Last year, Utah Valley State dominated almost everyone on their schedule,
leading to an impressive 23-5 overall record. Head coach Dick Hunsaker has
another loaded team this season and while matching last season’s win total may
not be realistic (with more D-I foes this year), the Wolverines will still be
tough night in and night out. The squad returns four players from the 2003-04
squad, none more important than senior guard Ronnie Price, who is simply one
of the nation’s premiere offensive players regardless of the level of
competition. Price is coming off a season in which he poured in 20.2 ppg, all
while grabbing nearly four boards and dishing out over three assists per
outing. Junior Pierre Thomas is a nice complement to Price in the backcourt,
after averaging nine points per game last season. A lot is expected of
incoming freshman Josh Cottle, who was the high school player of the year in
the state of Utah.

NORTHERN COLORADO – The injury bug hit Northern Colorado hard last season,
with four of the team’s five starters being lost to one ailment or another.
The Bears have four starters returning this season, but it remains to be seen
if coach Craig Rasmuson can get his team to perform at a higher level than
last year’s 6-22 debacle. Senior guard Sean Nolan is one of those victims of
injury last year, but he in limited time last year, showed signs of being one
of the top point men in the nation. His 10.2 points per game showed his
ability to score, but his 6.8 assists per outing were much more impressive.
Forward Vincent Jackson (13.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.1 apg) is no longer in the fold,
but 6-4 senior Erik Olson (11.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg) can fill the void up front. With
a schedule that includes Syracuse, Oklahoma, Utah, Texas Tech and Gonzaga this
year, the Bears will certainly get a feel for what to expect on a yearly basis
at D-I level.

SAVANNAH STATE – In two seasons at Savannah State, Edward Daniels has had a
tough time of it, with the team managing just seven wins over that time. Last
year, the Tigers went 4-24 and while that was a one-game improvement on the
year prior, the Tigers will head into the season without last year’s top
performer Jamal Daniels (son of the coach), who was ruled ineligible. With
Daniels out of the picture, there isn’t much in the cupboard at Savannah
State. Senior forward Donald Carson is the top returning scorer, coming off a
season in which he netted 8.8 ppg. Forward/center Sherard Reddick is more of a
rebounding force (6.3 rpg) than scoring threat (6.9 ppg), but will need to
produce in both areas to keep the Tigers competitive. Senior guard Ajmal
Gordon came off the bench last year, but he should play a more prominent role
this time around.

LONGWOOD – This will be the Lancers’ second year of a four-year certification
process for Division I status and head coach Mike Gillian and his team have an
ambitious schedule to deal with, including three in-season tournaments, as
well as a February trek to Winston-Salem to battle powerhouse Wake Forest. In
last year’s inaugural season in at the D-I level, the Lancers won five games
against 22 losses. Of those five victories, only one came against a Division I
opponent, that being fellow provisional team Northern Colorado in the season-
finale. This young team will certainly go through another few years of growing
pains, but there is some talent onboard, led by sophomore Michael Jefferson
and his 15.1 ppg. Maurice Sumter (11.1 ppg) and Husein Pistoljevic (10.5 ppg)
will complement Jefferson in regards to scoring. Pistoljevic is the team’s top
sharp-shooter, as he knocked down 65 three-pointers a year ago, at a .355
clip.