MVC, Horizon benefit from four-year players


No mid-major conference has enjoyed as much success as the Missouri Valley Conference over the last few seasons. Last season, the MVC finished the season sixth in the RPI ratings, ranking higher than any other non-BCS conference and ahead of the Big XII.

The conference sent one team (Southern Illinois) to the Sweet 16 in the 2007 NCAA tournament, after two teams (Bradley and Wichita State) made their way to the Sweet 16 in 2006.

Butler, which competes in the Horizon League, spent part of the 2006-07 season ranked in the top 10 and also made the Sweet 16 in 2007. Not surprisingly, shrewd and skilled recruiting played a major role in the achievements of these emerging programs.

As I stated in an earlier piece, mid-major programs typically do not have the luxury of stocking their rosters with McDonald's All-Americans. These programs have to rely on their ability to project what a prospect could develop into; the schools have a chance to "coach 'em up," in the words of the Steve Spurrier.

Mid-major programs typically get four years with their recruits, not losing them to early departure for the NBA. In turn, mid-majors have experienced, mature rosters and when you factor in that all of the teams that play in their conference generally have the same type of developed talent and cohesion, good mid-major teams come out of conference play battle-tested, ready to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

In the Big Dance, we sometimes see these mature, well-prepared mid-major teams beat immensely talented, yet inexperienced major programs that frequently lose talent due to early NBA defections. Consequently, it may not be as big of an upset as one thinks when the mid-major programs have talented, experienced and developed players at their disposal, while the major programs, due to NBA early entry, have to rely on talented, but inexperience and underdeveloped prospects.

In order to build on this recent success, the mid-major teams from non-BCS conferences will have to continue to project and develop undiscovered talent. As they enjoy more wins on the court and gain more nationwide exposure, these mid-major programs have started to "steal" some major recruits from the big boys. It will also help their recruiting efforts if some of the mid-major schools follow the lead of schools such as Creighton, Gonzaga and Southern Illinois -- pony up enormous cash as well as upgrade their facilities to keep their successful coaches from bolting for huge salaries and palatial facilities that come with major jobs.

These mid-major programs located in the Midwest have started to reap the rewards in recruiting due to their on-court success.

Missouri Valley Conference
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Southern Illinois, 4 commits
Coach Chris Lowery took his Salukis to the Sweet 16 in 2007 and, in the process, earned a lucrative contract extension to stay in Carbondale. He has taken this newfound security and converted it into recruiting success, snagging two ESPN Top 150 recruits as well as two other recruits to add depth to his roster. ESPN 150 6-8 combo-forward Anthony Booker (Florissant, Mo.) used the AAU circuit to announce his presence as one of the best players in the country. He can score from the perimeter as well as the interior and has very good athleticism. Booker has the talent to play in any major conference. With leading returning scorer Randal Falker departing after the upcoming season, Booker has the chance to step in and contribute immediately.

5-11 PG Kevin Dillard (Homewood, Ill.), another ESPN 150 recruit, has the ability to break down most any defender off the bounce. Booker's high school teammate, 6-1 SG Torres Roundtree, after first de-committing from Southern Illinois, will now join Booker as a Saluki. 6-3 SF Chris Parrish (Riverside, Ill.) will also play for Lowery in 2008.

Coach Lowery has established his connections in St. Louis and Chicago, two cities that have a considerable amount of talent. Expect Lowery to continue to build Southern Illinois into a national power.

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Creighton, 2 commits
After another trip to the NCAA Tourney in 2007, coach Dana Altman accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas only to return to Creighton the next day. The school has given Altman the financial security as well as newly-renovated facilities that will lure talent to his program. He has verbal commitments from two solid in-state point guards that will provide backcourt depth, 6-2 Josh Jones (Omaha, Neb.) and 6-0 Antoine Young (Bellevue, Neb.).

Altman has also shown an ability to get recruits from all over the country, with players from California, Iowa, New Hampshire, Texas and other states on his current roster.

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Northern Iowa, 2 commits
Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson inked a contract extension this past season and has an impressive group of recruits coming to Cedar Falls in 2008. 6-1 PG John Moran (Algonquin, Ill.) has very good point guard skills and the right temperament for the position. He looks to create for his teammates, but he has the ability to stick the perimeter shot to keep defenders honest. He also finishes well with both hands and competes at a very high level. 6-9 C Austin Pehl (Cedar Falls, Iowa) provides Jacobson with an interior presence who understands how to use his body for positioning for rebounding and scoring in the post.

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Wichita State, 2 commits
Coach Gregg Marshall left Winthrop to take over at Wichita State and has gotten off to a solid start recruiting. He has verbal commitments from 6-3 SG Toure Murry (Houston) as well as 6-0 PG Clevin Hannah (Marianna, Fla.). Murray consistently knocks down the perimeter shot and will develop into a better guard with added muscle and strength. Hannah will provide quality depth for the Shockers in the backcourt.

Atlantic 10 Conference
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St. Louis, 5 commits
Coach Rick Majerus has started out his tenure at the helm for the Billikens with resounding success on the recruiting circuit. He received commitments from ESPN 150 recruit 6-11 C Brett Thompson (Vienna, Ill.), 5-11 PG Kwamain Mitchell (Milwaukee, Wis.), 6-8 PF Brian Conklin (Eugene, Ore.), 6-9 PF Willie Reed (Shawnee Mission, Kan.) and 6-4 SG Femi John (Florissant, Mo.).

Thompson gives Majerus a highly-skilled big who scores effectively around the basket due to great positioning. He has soft hands, easily handling difficult passes in traffic. Thompson also does great work on the boards by using his body to carve out prime positioning for rebounding. Mitchell has the ability to score in bunches from the perimeter. He has a reliable jump shot, but he has great quickness that he uses to get to the basket with relative ease. Conklin has a very good motor and can step away from the basket to hit the jumper consistently out to 15-18 feet. Reed and John should also contribute when they arrive on campus.

With a new on-campus facility coming soon, expect Majerus to duplicate the success that he enjoyed at Marquette and Utah.

Horizon League
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Butler, 3 commits
Fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance in the 2007 NCAA Tournament as well as a top-ten ranking for part of last season, the Bulldogs have gained some good commits for 2008. Butler has two solid small forwards, 6-7 Garrett Butcher (Ellettsville, Ind.) and 6-7 Gordon Hayward (Brownsburg, Ind.), in addition to 6-3 SG Chase Stigall (New Castle, Ind.).
Coach Brad Stevens continues to discover under-the-radar in-state talent, while sprinkling in the occasional over-looked out of state prospect. With guard A.J. Graves scheduled to depart due to graduation in 2008, expect these recruits to get a chance to play early in their respective careers.

Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc.