Let's take a quick look at 10 programs on the rise:
2009-10 record: 9-9 Horizon, 20-14 overall
Reason for optimism: Ray McCallum’s decision to play for his father not only gave the Titans one of the top point guard recruits in the nation, but also instantly made them contenders in the Horizon League. The elder McCallum laid the foundation by coaching the Titans to 20 wins one year after they had seven. Now with his McDonald’s All-America son running the show on the court, they have a team that can potentially put a scare into Butler and challenge for a postseason tournament bid. Far-fetched? Last season, without the younger McCallum, Detroit lost to Butler by two in overtime at home and by five on the road.
2009-10 record: 5-11 SEC, 14-17 overall
Reason for optimism: The first season for UGA coach Mark Fox featured wins against Illinois, Georgia Tech, Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and things are falling in place for a team trying to make it to the postseason in Year 2. Trey Thompkins decided not to enter the NBA draft and is now the SEC’s preseason player of the year. And when a coaching change was made at Clemson, forward Marcus Thornton, the state of Georgia’s Mr. Basketball, got out of his letter of intent and gave Fox another building block to work with, along with high-flying Travis Leslie and transfer Gerald Robinson.
2009-10 record: 7-7 WCC, 18-16 overall
Reason for optimism: The Lions played in their first postseason event in 20 years when they made the CollegeInsider.com tournament, and this season, they’re picked to finish second in the West Coast Conference. Yes, the road to an NCAA tournament bid goes through Gonzaga, but the Lions beat the Zags at home last season and return their top three scorers in Drew Viney, Vernon Teel and Jarred DuBois. If 6-foot-10 Edgar Garibay can get healthy, the Lions will be a team to watch during championship week.
2009-10 record: 8-10 MVC, 24-12 overall
Reason for optimism: The Bears tasted championship success by winning the CollegeInsider.com tournament last season and they bring back their top seven scorers, including Kyle Weems, a redshirt junior forward who led them in scoring and rebounding. For a team with experience and size -- and one that more than doubled its win total from the previous year -- there will be an expectation this season to challenge Wichita State for the Missouri Valley title and possibly get to the NCAA tournament.
2009-10 record: 17-1 OVC, 31-5 overall
Reason for optimism: The Racers played Butler down to the final possession in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but squandered the opportunity. This season, they hope to be the mid-major team that makes the deep run. The Racers have a balanced and versatile backcourt with B.J. Jenkins, Isaiah Canaan and Isacc Miles all averaging right around 10 points per game, and forward Ivan Aska doing the same in the frontcourt. Coach Billy Kennedy has this group accustomed to winning, something they will continue to do this season.
2009-10 record: 7-9 MAC, 22-15 overall
Reason for optimism: The glow of winning the MAC tourney as a 9-seed and then taking down Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA tournament apparently hasn’t worn off because now the Bobcats are the preseason pick to win the MAC’s East Division. Reigning conference freshman of the year D.J. Cooper is one of three starters returning, and the other two -- forwards Tommy Freeman and DeVaughn Washington -- were also double-digit scorers last season. The Bobcats could be a dangerous team to face in March once again.
2009-10 record: 13-3 A-10, 26-9 overall
Reason for optimism: The Spiders got upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but consider that the No. 7 seed they garnered as an at-large was their highest ever. From eight wins in 2007 to 26 last season is quite a jump, and there’s no reason to believe the upward trend won’t continue. A-10 player of the year Kevin Anderson withdrew from the NBA draft to return for his senior season, and coach Chris Mooney pulled his name out of consideration for the Boston College coaching job to sign a contract extension. Richmond will again be a player in the Atlantic 10.
2009-10 record: 6-12 Big East, 17-16 overall
Reason for optimism: Much has been made of new coach Steve Lavin’s recruiting success since taking over the Red Storm, but his current roster should have the experience to make an upward climb in the Big East in the meantime. Ten seniors are on the roster, including four who consistently started last season, and two of them (D.J. Kennedy and Dwight Hardy) averaged double-digit points. Also expect a Lavin recruit, the athletic Dwayne Polee II, to get plenty of playing time and set the tone for the future -- a future that will include what is already ranked as a top-10 recruiting class for 2011.
San Diego State
2009-10 record: 11-5 MWC, 25-9 overall
Reason for optimism: Never before have the Aztecs won an NCAA tournament game, but this season they could very well end the drought and maybe even make a deep run. All five starters are back, including do-it-all forward Kawhi Leonard after a Mountain West freshman of the year campaign. Coach Steve Fisher has the Aztecs ranked for the first time in school history, and they’re the preseason pick to win the conference. Even if they don’t win the MWC tournament, as they did last season, an at-large bid awaits if things go as planned.
2009-10 record: 15-3 SoCon, 26-9 overall
Reason for optimism: The Terriers nearly upset Wisconsin in their first trip to the NCAA tournament, and they’ll have a great chance to get back to the Big Dance. Reigning SoCon player of the year Noah Dahlman is back for his senior season and is one of four starters returning. They’ll have a chance to pick up nonconference wins against Minnesota, Clemson, Xavier and South Carolina. Beating some of those teams would give them a decent chance at breaking the school record for wins that was set just last season.