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October 20, 2009

League previews: Sun Belt and Colonial

Today, we continue our conference countdown. We're working backward, from our No. 31 league to the top league in the nation.

We provide a quick overview of the league, our projected order of finish, the preseason first- and second-team all-league picks and some other tidbits.

We started with the low-major leagues, unveiling three per day. Today is the final day of the mid-major leagues; each of the top 12 leagues will get a day to itself starting Wednesday.

14. SUN BELT

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
EAST
1. Western Kentucky
2. Troy
3. Middle Tennessee
4. South Alabama
5. Florida International
6. Florida Atlantic
WEST
1. North Texas
2. Denver
3. Arkansas State
4. Arkansas-Little Rock
5. Louisiana-Lafayette
6. Louisiana-Monroe
7. New Orleans
PRESEASON PICKS
First team
F Eric Tramiel, 6-7, Sr., North Texas
F Desmond Yates, 6-7, Sr., Middle Tennessee
G Brandon Hazzard, 6-2, Sr., Troy
G Nate Rohnert, 6-5, Jr., Denver
G A.J. Slaughter, 6-3, Sr., Western Kentucky
Second team
F Rob Lewis, 6-7, Jr., Denver
F Sergio Kerusch, 6-5, Jr., Western Kentucky
G Donald Boone, 6-5, Sr., Arkansas State
G Richard Delk, 6-4, Sr., Troy
G Tony Hooper, 5-11, Sr., Louisiana-Monroe
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
G A.J. Slaughter, 6-3, Sr., Western Kentucky
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
G Brandon Reed, 6-3, Fr., Arkansas State
Welcome to the Sun Belt Conference, proud home of Western Kentucky -- one of the best mid-majors in the nation.

The Hilltoppers advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second season in a row last season, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them make it that far again. Now the question becomes how long coach Ken McDonald will be at the school.

The Sun Belt also is the new home of Isiah Thomas, who was hired to coach Florida International. The hiring gave FIU a jolt when it comes to publicity, but can Thomas recruit enough talent to make the Golden Panthers a player in the league race?

The West Division race has some intrigue. North Texas and Denver look to be the best teams in the division, and both have numerous key players returning. Denver runs a version of the "Princeton offense," and the patient Pioneers can be tough to defend.

AT A GLANCE
Regular-season winner last season: Western Kentucky in the East, Arkansas-Little Rock in the West
Tournament winner last season: Western Kentucky (lost in second round of NCAA tournament to Gonzaga as a No. 12 seed)
2010 conference tournament: March 7-10, First round at campus sites, then Summit Arena, Hot Springs, Ark.

New coaches: Isiah Thomas, FIU.
Best frontcourt: Western Kentucky.
Best backcourt: Troy.
Coach on the rise: Ken McDonald, Western Kentucky.
Coach on the hot seat: Robert Lee, Louisiana-Lafayette.
Last NCAA tournament win: 2009, Western Kentucky won a first-round game as a No. 12 seed

13. COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Old Dominion
2. Northeastern
3. VCU
4. George Mason
5. Georgia State
6. Hofstra
7. James Madison
8. UNC-Wilmington
9. Drexel
10. Delaware
11. Towson
12. William & Mary
PRESEASON PICKS
First team
C/F Gerald Lee, 6-10, Sr., Old Dominion
F Larry Sanders, 6-11, Jr., VCU
G Matt Janning, 6-4, Sr., Northeastern
G Charles Jenkins, 6-3, Jr., Hofstra
G Cam Long, 6-4, Jr., George Mason
Second team
F Manny Adako, 6-8, Sr., Northeastern
F Rashanti Harris, 6-8, Fr., Georgia State
G Jawan Carter, 5-11, Jr., Delaware
G Joe Dukes, 6-1, Sr., Georgia State
G Chad Tomko, 5-11, Jr., UNC-Wilmington
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
C/F Gerald Lee, 6-11, Sr., Old Dominion
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
F Rashanti Harris, 6-8, Fr., Georgia State
When Eric Maynor missed a shot at the buzzer of a 65-64 loss to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament, it marked the end of an era at Virginia Commonwealth. That was the final college game for Maynor, who led VCU to three consecutive regular-season titles and was a first-round NBA pick. Coach Anthony Grant also left VCU for Alabama.

For the first time in CAA history, five teams -- VCU, George Mason, Old Dominion, James Madison and Northeastern -- earned postseason berths in 2008-09; they all can win the league this season.

The pick here is Old Dominion, which returns all five starters from its CollegeInsider.com Tournament title team. Northeastern, with its outstanding backcourt, is a close second. Don't count out VCU and George Mason, and Georgia State is a sleeper with incoming four-star big man Rashanti Harris.

AT A GLANCE
Regular-season winner last season: Virginia Commonwealth
Tournament winner last season: Virginia Commonwealth (lost in first round of NCAA tournament to UCLA as a No. 11 seed)
2010 conference tournament: March 5-8. Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, Va.

New coaches: Shaka Smart, VCU.
Best frontcourt: Old Dominion.
Best backcourt: Northeastern.
Coach on the rise: Bill Coen, Northeastern.
Coach on the hot seat: Pat Kennedy, Towson.
Last NCAA tournament win: 2007, VCU won a first-round game as a No. 11 seed.



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