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November 28, 2007

Mid-majors continue to improve talent level

Mid-majors, bracket busters, Cinderella stories. Call teams outside of the BCS conferences whatever you'd like. The truth is, teams outside of the six power conferences continue to land players that shine outside of the big spotlights.

Three teams cracked the top 30 national rankings. Nevada reeled in the nation's No. 23 class. Southern Illinois was right behind at 25 and Xavier checks in at 27.

Gonzaga, no strangers to landing top talent year in and year out, just missed the national top 30 while New Mexico, fueled by new head coach Steve Alford, and Memphis were also strongly considered for the top 30 rankings.

The bottom line is this: the non BCS conference schools are landing players that they used to miss out on. And, of course, the teams are always doing their homework and finding players that could easily be on national television once a week.

That is the beauty of mid-major recruiting. You never know who will creep up (Rodney Stuckey at Eastern Washington), who will emerge (think Stephen Curry at Davidson) or who will be drafted incredibly high in the NBA Draft like Adam Morrison did in 2006.

Who has next? We think we have a good idea.

Biggest recruiting coup

Nevada has produced three NBA draft picks since 2004 (Luke Fazekas, Ramon Sessions or Kirk Snyder), but none was ranked as high as incoming star-to-be Luke Babbitt.

Babbitt, a 6-foot-8 forward from Reno, pledged to Thad Matta and the Ohio State Buckeyes in March. The nation's No. 34-ranked prospect decided three months later that he wanted to stay home and play for the program that he grew up watching.

Babbitt's parents are happy their son will play his college ball down the road - not 2,400 miles away from home. Nevada coach Mark Fox is likely to develop Babbitt into another pro draft pick.

Budding rivalry

Best of the Mid-majors
Best perimeter scorer: Mark McLaughlin, Nevada
Best low post scorer: Anthony Booker, Southern Ill.
Best passer: Grant Gibbs, Gonzaga
Best shooter: Brad Redford, Xavier
Best rebounder: Luke Babbitt, Nevada
Best shot-blocker: Jason Washburn, Utah
Best defender: Jiovanny Fontan, Fordham
Most versatile: Angel Garcia, Memphis
Best in the clutch: Luke Babbitt, Nevada
Best basketball IQ: Luke Babbitt, Nevada
Best pro prospect: Angel Garcia, Memphis
Best speed: David Gibbs, UMass
Best motor: Kevin Dillard, Southern Illinois
Best strength: Kenny Frease, Xavier
Best leaper: Mark Lyons, Xavier
Impact player: Luke Babbitt, Nevada
Biggest sleeper: Josh Benson, Dayton
Sleeper class: Rhode Island
Gonzaga has recruited the Pacific Northwest as well as any program in America, but Pepperdine is giving the Zags a run for their money.

The Waves went to Oregon and secured a trio of prospects in the 2008 class. While Gonzaga didn't recruit Brad Tinsley, Paul McCoy or Ameer Shamsud-din, don't be surprised to see the two West Coast Conference teams tangle for players in the future. Pepperdine assistant coach Mark Campbell has ties in the Northwest and will likely take advantage of those ties in the future.

Biggest miss

Mid-major programs miss out on players all the time. It is part of the recruiting landscape of being a bracket-buster. So when a guy like point guard Andre Young comes along, the mid-majors get excited.

Young, a 5-foot-9 proven winner from Albany, Ga., has always been a top-flight floor general, and the mid-majors knew plenty about him. Butler, College of Charleston Cornell, Mercer, Tennessee Tech, Wichita State, Wofford and others recruited him hard.

A tremendous summer with the Georgia Blazers sparked a fire with the high-majors. Auburn, Clemson, Maryland, Purdue and South Florida all jumped in the mix for the No. 125 ranked player in the class of 2008. Eventually Young committed to Clemson, breaking the hearts of a number of mid-major programs.

Conference Rank: No. 1 SEC | No. 2 Pac-10 | No. 3 ACC | No. 4 Big East | No. 5 Big Ten | No. 6 Big 12

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