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August 20, 2008

Curry just one of many mid-major stars

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll be working all summer to get you ready for the season and answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
Aug. 13: What's the point?
Aug. 5: Instant impact
July 29: Too much hype?

By now, even casual fans have heard of Stephen Curry. In fact, Curry is the reason many of them turned into temporary Davidson fans in March.

Curry ignited one of the best Cinderella stories in recent seasons by carrying Davidson to the Elite Eight of the 2008 NCAA Tournament. He averaged a remarkable 32.0 points in four tournament games.

But Curry is just one of many great players in the mid-major ranks, many of whom would be stars if they got the kind of exposure the high-major level often provides. In this week's mailbag, we pinpoint the top mid-major players in the nation.

Mid-major stars

Who are going to be the top mid-major players this season? I personally like Josh White from North Texas, who scored 25-plus against the likes of Oklahoma State and Texas.

Bobby from Baton Rouge, La.

Curry has to be at the top of anyone's list of the top mid-major players. He might be the second-best player in college basketball behind Tyler Hansbrough.

You have to look at Tennessee-Martin's Lester Hudson as well, even though he plays at what is probably considered a low-major program. Hudson put up big numbers against the likes of Memphis and Vanderbilt last season and had an insane stat line of 25.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game.

Here are some of the other guys I would put in the top 10: BYU small forward Lee Cummard, Cleveland State guard Cedric Jackson, Illinois State guard Osiris Eldridge, Saint Mary's guard Patrick Mills, Temple small forward Dionte Christmas, UNLV guard Wink Adams, Massachusetts guard Ricky Harris and Virginia Commonwealth guard Eric Maynor. New Mexico State sophomore Herb Pope and highly touted Nevada freshman Luke Babbitt just missed the cut.

I did not mention anyone from Gonzaga or Memphis because I don't believe they should be considered mid-majors.

Mills looks poised for a big season after putting together some impressive games for Australia in the Olympics.

White had a promising freshman season, but he isn't on the level of those guys. In fact, there are better players (Middle Tennessee's Desmond Yates and FAU's Carlos Monroe) in his conference.

A positive sign?

With the recent commitment of Darius Morris, is this a possible sign that John Beilein has Michigan headed in the right direction?

Jonathan Bell from Detroit

Obviously, it takes a lot more than one recruit to build a program. However, Michigan fans have reason to be particularly excited about Morris, who is a point guard. He is a top-100 prospect (No. 70 in the 2009 class) and he lives about 2,000 miles from Ann Arbor, in Los Angeles.

That tells you Beilein and his staff can recruit, which was a big question when the Wolverines hired him away from West Virginia. Going into southern California, perhaps the most heavily recruited area in the country, and convincing a prospect of Morris' caliber to come play for a program that hasn't won anything in quite some time is far from easy.

I don't expect any five-star recruits to start showing up at Michigan, but Morris' commitment tells me Beilein can win his fair share of recruiting battles and that more talent is on its way to Ann Arbor.

Winning the first big recruiting battle often is the toughest for a new coach. I wouldn't be surprised if the Wolverines make the NCAA Tournament in two or three years and we end up looking back at landing Morris as the turning point that got them there.

Fast starter

Which new coach do you think will have the best season?

Carlos from Houston

I think you have to go with Buzz Williams at Marquette. Williams is unproven his only head-coaching experience is a 14-17 season at New Orleans but he's stepping into a dream scenario.

The Golden Eagles return four double-digit scorers from a team that won 25 games and was a basket away from reaching the Sweet 16. That includes three senior guards Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews who will make up one of the nation's top backcourts.

The third or fourth assistant on any staff could take over that team and get them back to the NCAA Tournament barring significant injuries. I'm guessing Williams will take them to the second weekend of the Big Dance.

Searching for weakness

Can you break down what you consider to be the biggest weakness of each team you consider a true national championship contender?

Dave from Charlotte

You have to really dig deep to find a flaw with North Carolina, but the Tar Heels' defense is a bit of an issue. They lack a good shot blocker, and that isn't going to change. They can create turnovers, but getting stops consistently was a problem at times last season.

For Pittsburgh, I'd point to outside shooting. Levance Fields and Sam Young are 3-point threats, but the Panthers don't have anyone who can shoot like departing senior Ronald Ramon - who was nearly automatic when left open.

A lack of good outside shooters also could hold back Connecticut. The Huskies' best 3-point shooter last season was point guard A.J. Price, and he shot a relatively pedestrian 36.9 percent (52 of 141) from beyond the arc. Price, who tore his ACL in the NCAA Tournament, is expected back in time for the start of preseason practice.

For Notre Dame and Louisville, the biggest challenge may be surviving what is shaping up to be a historically brutal Big East.

For UCLA, which will be looking for its fourth consecutive trip to the Final Four, rebounding will be the biggest obstacle.

I'd label Tennessee a legit national contender as well. If the Vols are going to be that good, they must get better play out of their point guards.

Life after Beasley

How do you see Kansas State doing this season after the departure of Michael Beasley and Bill Walker? Also, what kind of season do you think point guard Jacob Pullen will have without them?

Dave from Wichita, Kan.

I was really impressed with Pullen last season. He was tough to cover for a lot of Big 12 guards, and he's probably better than anyone outside of Manhattan realized.

But the reality is that Wildcats are going to take a step back. This isn't like last season, when Texas got better without Kevin Durant. The best-case scenario for the Wildcats is a sixth-place finish in the Big 12, and that probably would take more than a few breaks.

As for the future, the Wildcats are on their way to putting together a great 2009 recruiting class. They already have commitments from five-star power forward Wally Judge and four-star shooting guard Rodney McGruder. Pair those two with Pullen and some more young talent, and the Wildcats could contend in the Big 12 again as soon as 2009-10.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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