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September 22, 2009

Best mid-major players take backseat to no one

A week ago, we introduced you - or re-introduced you - to the top 10 players in the low-major conferences.

This week, we highlight the top 12 players in the mid-major conferences. Some already are familiar to the hardcore fan. Several have enjoyed all-conference or national honors already, while others have been NCAA tournament heroes for a year or more.

In selecting the 12 players, we considered the following conferences to contain "mid-major" teams: America East, Atlantic 10, Colonial, Conference USA, Horizon, Metro Atlantic Athletic, Mid-American, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Southern, Sun Belt, Western Athletic and West Coast.

Of note: We did not include players from Gonzaga, Memphis and Xavier because those programs are too established to be considered "mid-majors."

F Luke Babbitt, Nevada
Particulars: 6-9/225, Soph./Reno (Nev.) Galena
Conference: WAC
Watch him on: Nov. 27 at VCU, Nov. 29 at North Carolina
The buzz: A four-star player coming out of high school, Babbitt elected to sign with the hometown Wolf Pack. He is an NBA prospect after averaging 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He and high-scoring point guard Armon Johnson will give David Carter a solid core in his first year as coach.

G Jimmer Fredette, BYU
Particulars: 6-2/195, Jr./Glens Falls (N.Y.) High
Conference: Mountain West
Watch him on: Dec. 8 vs. Arizona State, Dec. 28 at Arizona
The buzz: Fredette has played on two NCAA tournament teams (both lost in the first round to Texas A&M) in the shadow of fellow guard Lee Cummard. With Cummard gone, Fredette is the leading returning scorer in the Mountain West (16.2 ppg). A physical point guard, Fredette is a fan favorite who should be the leader on the MWC's leading tournament contender.

F Paul George, Fresno State
Particulars: 6-8/210, Soph./Palmdale (Calif.) Pete Knight
Conference: WAC
Watch him on: Dec. 12 vs. BYU (in Los Angeles)
The buzz: George was the second-leading scorer to Sylvester Seay (a fine mid-major player in his own right) on a poor WAC team last season. Now a sophomore, George is the major reason Fresno State could climb in the WAC standings. He has the athletic ability to be an NBA prospect. As a freshman, George averaged 14.3 points and 6.2 rebounds.

F Matt Howard, Butler
Particulars: 6-8/230, Jr./Connersville (Ind.) High
Conference: Horizon
Watch him on: Nov. 26-29 in the 76 Classic, Dec. 8 vs. Georgetown (in New York), Dec. 12 at Ohio State, Dec. 19 at Xavier
The buzz: Really, this is a toss-up for this spot between Howard and teammate Gordon Hayward. Howard gets the nod after earning conference newcomer of the year honors as a freshman and overall player of the year honors as a sophomore. He's a high-energy player who led the Bulldogs with 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds last season.

G Brandon Johnson, San Diego
Particulars: 6-0/200, Sr./Houston Willow Ridge
Conference: West Coast
Watch him on: Nov. 13 vs. Stanford, Nov. 25 vs. Oklahoma (Great Alaska Shootout), Dec. 31 vs. Mississippi State, Jan. 16 vs. Gonzaga, Feb. 13 at Gonzaga
The buzz: Johnson was the leading scorer for the Toreros' NCAA tourney team in 2008; he averaged 16.9 points that season, when San Diego won the West Coast tournament and shocked Connecticut in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But he missed all but eight games with a torn Achilles tendon last season. His return is the key to the Toreros' hopes of challenging Gonzaga in the WCC.

C Jerome Jordan, Tulsa
Particulars: 7-0/250, Sr./Melbourne (Fla.) Florida Air Academy
Conference: Conference USA
Watch him on: Dec. 2 vs. Oklahoma State, Feb. 25 at Duke
The buzz: Memphis could lose its four-year stranglehold on Conference USA in part because Tulsa returns Jordan, a native of Jamaica. A top shot blocker (234 in the last two seasons) and rebounder, Jordan improved his offensive game last season, averaging 13.8 points per game on 58.6 percent shooting.

F Gerald Lee, Old Dominion
Particulars: 6-10/250, Sr./Uusikaupunki, Finland
Conference: Colonial
Watch him on: Dec. 12 at Dayton, Dec. 19 at Georgetown
The buzz: Old Dominion could turn its 2009 CollegeInsider.com Tournament title into a 2010 NCAA tournament appearance. A member of the Finnish national team, Lee led the Monarchs last season with 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds, but he's also a skilled passer for a big man. Lee's dad, Gerald Sr., played at Dowling College in Oakdale, N.Y., before becoming the leading scorer in Finnish pro basketball history. His uncle, Ron Lee, is Oregon's leading career scorer and played six years in the NBA after being selected in the first round by Phoenix in 1976.

C Larry Sanders, VCU
Particulars: 6-11/235, Jr./Port St. Lucie (Fla.) High
Conference: Colonial
Watch him on: Nov. 21 vs. Oklahoma, Nov. 27 vs. Nevada
The buzz: The Rams lost their coach Anthony Grant and NBA first-round pick Eric Maynor, but Sanders is the main reason VCU will remain a team to watch in the CAA. Sanders is a defensive force after blocking at least 90 shots in each of his first two seasons and averaging 8.6 rebounds per game last season. His offense remains a work in progress after he averaged 11.3 points last season.

G A.J. Slaughter, Western Kentucky
Particulars: 6-3/180, Sr./Shelbyville (Ky.) Shelby County
Conference: Sun Belt
Watch him on: Dec. 2 at South Carolina, Dec. 11 at Vanderbilt, Dec. 19 at Louisville, Jan. 4 vs. Mississippi State
The buzz: The Hilltoppers, winners of three NCAA tournament games in the past two seasons, have a knack for passing the torch; it went from Courtney Lee to Orlando Mendez-Valdez and now to Slaughter. He led Western Kentucky in scoring at 16 points per game last season. Slaughter is one of three double-digit scorers returning to the Hilltoppers.

G Ryan Thompson, Rider
Particulars: 6-6/220, Sr./Mt. Laurel (N.J.) Lenape
Conference: Metro Atlantic Athletic
Watch him on: Nov. 13 at Mississippi State, Nov. 19 at Virginia, Nov. 21 at Kentucky, Dec. 15 at Rutgers
The buzz: The brother of 2008 NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson, Ryan Thompson picked up where Jason left off. Ryan led the Broncs at 18 points per game and finished in the top 11 in the MAAC in scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage, assists, free-throw percentage, steals, 3-point field goal percentage, 3-point field goals made, assist-to-turnover ratio, defensive rebounds and minutes played.

G/F Edwin Ubiles, Siena
Particulars: 6-6/204, Sr./Oakdale (Conn.) St. Thomas More School
Conference: Metro Atlantic Athletic
Watch him on: Dec. 2 at Georgia Tech
The buzz: Siena loses guard Kenny Hasbrouck, who was a key player on two NCAA tourney teams. But four starters are back, including Ubiles, who led the Saints in scoring at 15.0 points per game last season. He was at his best in the tourney with a 20-point game against Ohio State and a 24-point, eight-rebound effort against top-seeded Louisville.

F Chris Wright, Dayton
Particulars: 6-8/226, Jr./Trotwood (Ohio) Trotwood-Madison
Conference: Atlantic 10
Watch him on: Nov. 19-22 in the Puerto Rico Top-Off, Jan. 16 at Xavier, Feb. 6 vs. Xavier
The buzz: Dayton is in position to win its first outright Atlantic 10 title, thanks to the return of Wright and three other starters. With his 39-inch vertical leap and tremendous athletic ability, Wright is clearly the catalyst for the Flyers. After playing only 15 games as a freshman because of an ankle injury, Wright averaged 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds as a sophomore last season.

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