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May 29, 2008Fourteen teams improved by at least 10 wins this past season, including two each in the Pac-10 (Arizona State and Stanford) and Missouri Valley (Drake and Illinois State) and two with the nickname Seahawks (Wagner and UNC Wilmington).
At Wagner, veteran coach Mike Deane said there were contributing factors to his team's 11-win season in 2006-07 and that it all came together as the Seahawks posted a school-record 23 victories this past season.
"We had expected Durell Vinson to have the kind of year he had the year before, but he was not able to play in 2007 (because of academic issues)," Deane told Rivals.com. "You don't lose a guy who gets you 15 points (actually 13.6 ppg last season) and fourth in rebounds in the country (11.5 per game). You don't lose a guy like that at this level, in particular, and make up for it.
"Everybody had to bump up a position ? our small forward to power forward, our power forward to center. This year, he came back and that helped considerably. Then you had all of that experience the other guys got while he was out that helped."
Deane, who has been a head coach for 20-plus seasons at schools such as Siena and Marquette, said there are differences in predicting which teams might be capable of such turnarounds based on the conference in which they play.
"I think what happens in the one-bid leagues is that experience is the big prognosticator," Deane said. "What you have coming back is usually the key. We don't get freshmen who are complete players. They play if there is a void. They usually need a year or two to develop their games.
"There's a constant kind of renaissance in our league (the Northeast Conference). The teams that finish at the lower level are playing their freshmen and sophomores, and a couple of years later they are the teams with all of the experience. That's why I don't think our league has had the same champion two years in a row since the early 1990s."
Deane said if you're looking for teams who could improve by 10 or more victories next season, look for returning scoring and size. He likes teams with at least one legit post presence.
Based on those thoughts, a strong candidate for a 10-win turnaround in 2008-09 is Rod Barnes' Georgia State team. The Panthers went 9-21 in the former Ole Miss coach's first season in Atlanta, but they lost a whopping 11 games by six points or less. Colonial Athletic Association champ VCU, which went 15-3 in the league, beat GSU 49-47 in Richmond and 65-60 in overtime in Atlanta. The Panthers beat George Mason, the CAA's other NCAA Tournament team, 66-64 in their only meeting.
GSU returns four of its top five scorers, including Leonard Mendez, a third-team All-CAA pick who averaged 16 points per game from the 2-guard spot.
If that weren't enough, Barnes adds five high-major transfers to the roster, including 6-10 forward Xavier Hansbro. He came over from Ole Miss, where he was initially recruited by Barnes. Joe Dukes, a point guard from Wake Forest, also figures to be a factor immediately.
"I think we could have a great turnaround," Barnes told Rivals.com. "I don't know if we can improve by 10 games or more. That would be nice. But we do have the potential, I will say that. You know some of those one-point losses and two-point losses will have to go our way.
"We're trying, but we're in a tough league. We have those five (new) players, but they haven't played in this league."
Barnes said the Panthers will have a great deal more depth than they had last season, particularly in the frontcourt. He also loves the backcourt, where Mendez is a proven scorer, and he believes Dukes can step in and "be as good as any guard in our league."
"People are asking about us and talking about us, and that's a good thing," Barnes said. "It's been a while since that was the case here."
Which school will carry the nation's longest home-court winning streak into the 2008-09 season? (Answer at the end of the column.)
IRISH LAND ANOTHER BIG TRANSFER
Notre Dame's 2009-10 recruiting class will have more experience than most. Already armed with the commitment of Mississippi State transfer Ben Hansbrough, the younger brother of national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough, coach Mike Brey picked up Purdue transfer Scott Martin this week.
"It was just a good combination of things ? the quality of the school, the players, the coach," Martin told the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune. "Everything just really fit for me."
Martin averaged 8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 32 games for the Boilermakers this past season. He made eight starts, all of them before the Big Ten schedule started.
BACK TO SCHOOL
In case you missed it, the following players all have pulled their names out of the NBA Draft and will return for another college season: Antonio Anderson, Memphis; Josh Carter, Texas A&M; Alonzo Gee, Alabama; Stefon Jackson, UTEP; Jerel McNeal, Marquette; and Josh Shipp, UCLA.
"The feedback I received is that I would be taken in the second round, and I wasn't comfortable with that," Anderson said.
Anderson left with a team of Conference USA all-stars (including six Memphis teammates) for China this week for a three-game exhibition series with the Chinese National Team. He had six points in C-USA's 87-80 loss in game one. Tigers forward Robert Dozier, also expected to return for his senior season, and Southern Miss' Jeremy Wise led the C-USA team with 13 points apiece.
? Nebraska was counting on immediate help from Roburt Sallie, a former three-star shooting guard who had an outstanding season last year at City College of San Francisco. But the Big 12 has ruled that he cannot play for the Huskers or any other member institution because of Rule 6.2, which states that a student-athlete who enrolls at a conference school must meet initial eligibility requirements. Sallie enrolled at Nebraska part-time in 2006, and the classes he took then prohibited him, barring a waiver, from ever gaining eligibility. Schools such as Memphis and Kansas had offered Sallie, but he had stuck with the Huskers since committing to them in prep school.
? Former four-star shooting guard Tyree Evans, who averaged 21.2 points last season at Motlow State Community College in Lynchburg, Tenn., has asked for and received a release from his letter-of-intent at Maryland. Evans has a couple of drug-related arrests in his past, as well as other transgressions that will make any school that takes him the subject of intense scrutiny.
? Anthony Solomon, who was on Notre Dame coach Mike Brey's staff for his first three seasons in South Bend, has rejoined Brey and the Fighting Irish. He replaces Gene Cross, who left in April to take the coaching job at Toledo. Solomon departed Notre Dame after the 2002-03 season when he was named coach at St. Bonaventure. He spent last season as an assistant at Dayton.
BYU, which has a 47-game winning streak at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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