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October 1, 2011

League previews: Independents and Great West

It's Oct. 1, which means it's time to start truly getting ready for the 2011-12 basketball season. Preseason practice begins in a little more than two weeks, and the season opens Nov. 7.

To that end, Rivals.com today begins its league breakdowns for the season; we'll work backward from 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.

32. GREAT WEST/INDEPENDENTS

By Mike Huguenin

We're grouping these nine teams together. There are three true independents and six teams in the Great West, which is made up of former independents and Division I newcomers whose membership in the league makes scheduling a lot easier.

Cal State Bakersfield, Longwood and Seattle are the remaining independents. Seattle, which counts NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor among its alums and enjoyed success nationally in the 1950s and 1960s, becomes a basketball-playing member of the WAC next season. CS Bakersfield, which hired former Ole Miss and Georgia State coach Rod Barnes to head up its program, was turned down in its quest for WAC membership.

The six-team Great West, meanwhile, ranges from New Jersey to Utah. It has a league tourney, and the winner gets an automatic bid to the collegeinsider.com tourney.

Utah Valley State, coached by former Ball State head man Dick Hunsaker, returns four starters and is looking to repeat as the league's regular-season champion. The key player is guard Isiah Williams, a Chicago native. North Dakota, though, won the league tourney, and the Fighting Sioux " who will move to the Big Sky next season " return a solid nucleus, including five key sophomores.

NJIT bears mentioning. The Highlanders were winless in 2007-08, won once in 2008-09, won 10 games in 2009-10 and improved to 15-15 last season. Their star is Isaiah Wilkerson, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season.

ALL-"LEAGUE" TEAM
C Antwan Carter, Longwood (6-6/225, Sr.)
F Aaron Broussard, Seattle (6-5/205, Sr.)
G Stephon Carter, CS Bakersfield (6-3/180, Jr.)
G Isaiah Wilkerson, NJIT (6-3/225, Sr.)
G Isiah Williams, Utah Valley St. (6-1/180, Sr.)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Utah Valley State G Isiah Williams
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR:
Seattle F Eric Wallace
(6-7/233, Sr./transfer from DePaul)

ORDER OF FINISH
1. Utah Valley State
2. NJIT
3. Seattle
4. North Dakota
5. Longwood
6. Texas-Pan American
7. Cal State Bakersfield
8. Houston Baptist
9. Chicago State


MAKING A LIST
Best frontcourt: Utah Valley State
Best backcourt: NJIT
Coach on the rise: Seattle's Cameron Dollar C
oach on the hot seat: None

FACTS AND FIGURES
New coach: Cal State-Bakersfield's Rod Barnes (fired as coach at Georgia State)
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 1964, Seattle (in West Regional third-place game)
2012 conference tournament: Great West tourney is March 8-10, Chicago

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Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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