Ultimate Rankings Countdown: 101-51

101. Rider: It wouldn't be a surprise if Ryan Thompson joined his brother, Jason Thompson, in the NBA next season. Thompson - whose brother had a sterling career at Rider - is one of the best mid-major players in the nation, and he and forward Mike Ringgold are a potent duo. But the Broncs don't look to have enough to be legit challengers for the league title. Rider has postseason hopes because of Thompson, but a CBI or CIT appearance is far more likely than an NCAA bid.

100. Bradley: The Braves have won at least 21 games in four straight seasons, the longest such streak in the MVC. Jim Les has made his alma mater into one of the better programs in the Valley. Bradley is trying to become just the fifth Valley team to win at least 21 games in five consecutive campaigns. The Braves like to employ a rugged man-to-man defense, but expect them to apply more pressure in hopes of forcing turnovers and pushing the action.

99. Evansville:  The Purple Aces went from 10th in the MVC in 2007-08 to fifth last season, but they could finish 10th again this season. Evansville must find a way to replace the top four scorers from last season. The Purple Aces advanced to the postseason (CollegeInsider.com Tournament) for the first time in 10 years last season, but another postseason appearance seems out of reach for coach Marty Simmons. The key this season will be finding guards who can complement what could be a strong frontcourt.

98. Nicholls State: If the Colonels' big men make their expected improvement, this should be the best team in the Southland. Coach J.P. Piper loses one terrific Australian (Ryan Bathie, 15.8 ppg) but has several others at his disposal, and Anatoly Bose (15.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is the best. Bose, guard Fred Hunter (10.6 ppg) and a solid collection of talent should earn an NCAA bid.

97. Temple: The Owls won't win the A-10 title, but they'll be in the hunt and beat a few teams they shouldn't. Temple fans should be spared the name-based puns, so let's say this plainly - guard Dionte Christmas is gone. After winning the A-10 tournament for the second season in a row, the Owls will try to return to the NCAA tournament without the conference's leading scorer. The Owls also lost starting center Sergio Olmos and point guard Semaj Inge.

96. Lehigh: The Mountain Hawks hope the league's best frontcourt propels them to the league title. The Mountain Hawks are coming off a disappointing season, but every key piece returns. Those pieces should be good enough to push Lehigh to the top. Zahir Carrington (14 ppg, 8.6 rpg) leads the league's best frontcourt and rebounding team. Marquis Hall (13.9 ppg) keys a backcourt that must become more productive overall.

95. Buffalo: Four starters return from a 21-win team, and the Bulls will be in the thick of the MAC title race. Buffalo features so many seniors in prominent roles that they ought to compete for the league title again this season. The Bulls probably could breeze to a title in the MAC West, but they're likely looking up at Akron and fighting it out with Kent State for second place in the MAC East.

94. Iowa State: Forward Craig Brackins is a big-timer. But will he get enough help this season? Brackins is one of four returning starters for a squad that also hopes to get significant contributions from a handful of touted signees. Iowa State should be able to compete with most Big 12 teams as long as Brackins is playing well. Still, for the Cyclones to move up in the standings, they need another player or two to step up offensively.

93. Utah: The Utes lost their top four scorers, so coach Jim Boylen has some work to do this season. Utah isn't the only MWC team that lost plenty of firepower in the offseason, but many of those other squads (e.g. UNLV, San Diego State) also brought in some proven transfers from four-year programs. Utah is relying more on junior college transfers and freshmen. The reliance on unproven players could cause the Utes to stumble a bit this season, though they still should contend for an NCAA bid.

92. Louisiana Tech:  The veteran Bulldogs have a shot at their first NCAA appearance since 1991. Louisiana Tech hopes to carry a late-season hot streak into the 2009-10 season. Helping the Bulldogs achieve that goal will be the return of their two best players, Kyle Gibson and center Magnum Rolle. Both tested the NBA draft waters before making the wise choice of staying in school. Behind that inside-outside combo, Louisiana Tech hopes to avoid the slow start that marred last season.

91. Arizona State: James Harden is gone. So is Jeff Pendergraph. And so are the Sun Devils' NCAA hopes. As with several teams in the Pac-10, Arizona State will have to rebuild. It will be difficult for the Sun Devils to play at the same level they did a year ago without Harden and Pendergraph. Working in their favor is the starting backcourt, which has played a major role in back-to-back 20-win seasons.

90. Texas Tech: If three junior college transfers blend in quickly, coach Pat Knight's team could finish in the upper half of the Big 12. The Red Raiders were one of the conference's hottest teams by season's end, with victories over NCAA tournament teams Kansas and Texas A&M and a near-win against Texas in Austin. With four key pieces returning and the addition of the three JC transfers, Knight's team should be a threat to anybody it plays.

89. Providence: The Friars appear to have lost too much firepower to contend for an NCAA berth. With seven newcomers, it might take a while for the Friars to come together as a team. Even when they do, their lack of experience and depth in the frontcourt could prove costly in the rugged Big East. Keno Davis, though, is one of the game's top young talents who is just two years removed from winning national coach of the year honors at Drake. Davis is great at getting a lot out of a little. He should have Providence back in the thick of things sooner rather than later.

88. Houston: The Cougars have a big-time backcourt, but the frontcourt is a huge question. Houston has had back-to-back 20-win seasons and three in the past four years but hasn't gone to the NCAAs since 1992. There looks to be a clear delineation between the Cougars and the top three teams in the league. Houston has made back-to-back CBI tourney appearances, and that may be all the Cougars can hope for this season.

87. Akron:  Four starters return from a Zips team that earned the school's first NCAA bid since 1986. Zips coach Keith Dambrot, the guy who coached LeBron James in high school, is making sure Akron is known as more than just his former pupil's hometown. Akron looks like the best team in the MAC once again. The Zips might even be good enough to earn an NCAA at-large bid if they fail to win the conference tournament.

86. Cornell: All five starters are back from a team that has made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. The Big Red ran away with the Ivy League title before falling 78-59 to Missouri in the first round of the NCAA tournament. A better NCAA showing is the focus this season. The Big Red should cruise to another bid behind Ryan Wittman (18.5 ppg), guard Louis Dale (13.0 ppg), center Jeff Foote (11.8 ppg) and the playmaking of Chris Wroblewski.

85. Texas El Paso:  Palmer is the best player in the Southland, and the key to the Islanders' title hopes. The Islanders will battle Sam Houston State for the top spot in the Southland's West Division. Kevin Palmer (18.2 ppg) is the toughest player in the league to guard. Justin Reynolds and Demond Watt are strong around the basket, and Shamar Coombs (8.1 ppg) is a solid point guard.

84. Illinois State: The Redbirds likely are a year away from making much noise in the MVC, considering there are eight newcomers. Illinois State is coming off consecutive NIT trips, the first time the program has gone to the postseason in back-to-back seasons since 1997-98, when the Redbirds went to the NCAA tournament twice. This is a speedy team that has good depth in the frontcourt and two strong guards.

83. Marquette: The Golden Eagles are going to fall a long way in the Big East after the loss of some key seniors. Buzz Williams did one of the nation's better coaching jobs in 2008-09 and might have won the Big East if not for a late-season injury to guard Dominic James. Williams will have his work cut out for him in his second season because of the Golden Eagles' inexperience. Still, judging by his performance last season and the way he continues to recruit, Williams seems to have Marquette headed in the right direction.

82. Troy: The Trojans' offensive game plan is simple - run down the court and fire away. The Trojans live and die by the 3-pointer, and they should be fine this season. Brandon Hazzard and Richard Delk have great range, and point guard Michael Vogler does a nice job running the offense. Troy actually played some tough defense at times last season, and that needs to continue.

81. Virginia: New coach Tony Bennett is going to need a season or two to get his new players used to his system. Virginia can't help but get better after returning eight of its top nine players from a year ago, but the Cavaliers might not make their biggest improvement until 2010-11. They should get a postseason bid outside the NCAA tourney this season before making a real move the following season, after they have better adjusted to Bennett's system.

80. Seton Hall: Jeremy Hazell, a junior, is a big-time scorer. If three transfers come through, the Pirates could be NCAA-bound. Predicting an NCAA tournament berth might be wishful thinking, but after finishing 11th in the Big East last season, the Pirates will make a push to finish in the top half of the Big East. It all depends on how well Seton Hall's three transfers jell on the court with their new teammates.

79. Oregon: Hey, here's something new - coach Ernie Kent is on the hot seat and needs a good season. By now, Kent is used to all the hot-seat talk, but he faces a critical season. A still-young roster needs to show improvement in 2009-10. The good news: After an eight-win season, it would be difficult for the Ducks not to take a step up. Eight of the top nine scorers return.

78. Penn State: The Nittany Lions won the NIT last season; they could get a chance to defend their title this season. Penn State basically was a three-man team last season. The Nittany Lions could end up being a one-man team in 2009-10. Guard Taylor Battle is a bona-fide star, but can coaches cobble together a capable supporting cast? They have to if they want to build on last season's success.

77. Wichita State: The Shockers' roster has just one senior as coach Gregg Marshall tries to restock the talent cupboard. Last season, Wichita State featured 11 players who were in their first season in a Shockers uniform. This season's roster will feature just one senior and four juniors. A big key to success this season will be taking better care of the ball. The Shockers also need to shoot with more accuracy from 3-point range.

76. New Mexico: The Lobos' home court, known as The Pit, provides a big advantage. But the Lobos have to play better on the road. New Mexico lost its top two scorers (Tony Danridge and Daniel Faris) from a team that went 22-12 and reached the NIT last season, but the Lobos return their other three starters. That makes them one of the conference's more experienced teams in this season of upheaval for the MWC.

75. Missouri: The Tigers lost too much talent off last season's Elite Eight team to be considered a legit Big 12 contender. The Tigers will have one of the better backcourts in the Big 12, but the key to their season will be how well the big guys perform. The good thing is that, after four years, Missouri's players seem to have bought into coach Mike Anderson's unorthodox system. Opposing teams have difficulty preparing for Missouri because the style is so different than any other program.

74. VCU: Coach Anthony Grant is gone. So is star guard Eric Maynor. But center Larry Sanders is a budding star. Look for new coach Shaka Smart - who, like his predecessor, was hired off the staff at Florida - to build around Sanders (11.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg). Guard play should be OK with Joey Rodriguez and transfer Jay Gavin, the MAAC co-rookie of the year at Marist in 2007-08 who sat out last season.

73. Duquesne: The Dukes' high-powered offense will bother some opponents, but they need to find an inside game. The Dukes made it to the NIT last season, the program's first postseason appearance since 1994. Duquesne also won more than 20 games for the first time since the 1970-71 season. This season, the Dukes will try to end a 32-year NCAA drought. There are four returning starters, but the guy missing is all-conference guard Aaron Jackson, who averaged 19.3 points.

72. San Diego State:  The Aztecs were close to an NCAA bid last season; to get one this season, a lot of newcomers must come through. San Diego State lost three of its top four scorers from the team that reached the NIT semifinals last season, but the Aztecs remain legitimate postseason contenders. The arrivals of junior college transfer Malcolm Thomas, Pepperdine transfer Tyrone Shelley and top-100 prospect Kawhi Leonard could help San Diego State withstand significant roster turnover.

71. Wright State: Defense-minded coach Brad Brownell has guided the Raiders to three consecutive 20-win seasons. Brian Gregory's Dayton Flyers aren't the only guys playing quality basketball in the city. Brownell's Raiders play the best all-around defense in the league and return four starters. The scoring is evenly distributed, with Todd Brown (11.9 ppg) taking the big shots.

70. Portland:  This season, the Pilots will be Gonzaga's main challenger in the conference. Coach Eric Reveno is building quickly and has the Pilots poised to battle it out with Gonzaga in his fourth season. Last year's JUCO sensation, 5-9 sniper T.J. Campbell (53 percent shooting on 3-pointers), joins Nik Raivio (16.0 ppg) in the league's best backcourt. There's quality size, too, in 6-10 senior Robin Smeulders and 6-8 Luke Sikma, the son of former NBA star Jack Sikma.

69. Southern Illinois: The Salukis, looking to bounce back from a poor season, need to become more consistent on offense. Eight newcomers - five freshmen, two junior college transfers and a four-year transfer - better make an instant impact on a roster that needs some offensive firepower along with some rebounding help. The hope is that as the roster gains experience, big things again will happen for SIU. The Salukis also need to recapture the in-your-face brand of defense that has been the hallmark of the program.

68. Arizona: New coach Sean Miller has a rebuilt roster, but the Pac-10 is down, so the Wildcats have a chance for an upper-division finish. Arizona isn't what it was during the 1990s or even earlier this decade, but through all the changes and challenges, the Wildcats' streak of consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament still stretched to 25 last season. Whether Miller can continue that trend in his first season as coach in Tucson will be one of the bigger stories in college basketball this season.

67. Northwestern: The Wildcats are the only team in a Big Six conference never to have reached the NCAA tournament. Northwestern is coming off its best season since 1982-83, when the Wildcats won a school-record 18 games. And the season could have been better if not for collapses against Purdue and Illinois. All but two scholarship players return, but the Big Ten is loaded this season and the Wildcats don't look to have quite enough to get into the NCAAs.

66. Utah State: Underrated coach Stew Morrill quietly will lead the Aggies to another 20-win season. Utah State is a consistent postseason team but hasn't made back-to-back NCAA appearances since 2005-06. Even without star forward Jimmy Wilkinson, the Aggies should be one of the top two teams in the WAC. If Nevada struggles adjusting to a new coach and junior college transfer Nate Bendall is a consistent replacement for Wilkinson, the Aggies could be NCAA-bound again.

65. LSU: The Tigers were surprisingly good last season, but they will fall back into the SEC pack this season. LSU has one of the SEC's top coaches in Trent Johnson and one of the league's best players in Tasmin Mitchell, but the Tigers have too many question marks elsewhere to have a realistic shot at winning the conference. Johnson clearly has this program headed in the right direction, but the Tigers likely will take a small step backward this season before taking a couple of giant steps forward in future years. A return to the NCAA tournament would represent a major accomplishment.

64. Notre DameLuke Harangody decided to stay for his senior season, and that gives the Irish hope for an NCAA bid. Notre Dame has plenty of talent, but as the Fighting Irish learned last year, that's not always enough. Mike Brey's squad has developed a reputation for being soft. Last season, it ranked 11th or worst in the Big East in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, 3-point field goal percentage defense, rebounding margin, blocks and steals.

63. New Hampshire: If everything works out, the Wildcats may be looking at an upper-division finish in the America East. Coach Bill Herrion finished 8-8 with his team last season, and nearly upset top-seeded Binghamton in the conference tournament semifinals. The Wildcats lost star guard Tyrece Gibbs (14.6 ppg), but guard Alvin Abreu (12.8 ppg) should be a good replacement. Add in the Wildcat's young, deep, supporting cast and New Hampshire could finish in the top six in the America East this season.

62. Northeastern: The best backcourt in the Colonial could guide the Huskies to the conference title. The Huskies continue their climb under fourth-year coach Bill Coen. Their College Basketball Invitational victory over Wyoming last season was the Huskies' first postseason win in 25 years. With the CAA's best backcourt -Matt Janning (14.3 ppg, All-CAA first-team pick) and Chaisson Allen - and forward Manny Adako, the Huskies have an excellent shot to climb to the top of the standings.

61. Richmond: Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez form one of the more underrated backcourts in the nation. Richmond is a difficult opponent because of its Princeton-style offense. If the Spiders get some low-post production, they will be a sleeper in the league race. Richmond's hopes of moving up the standings rest on Dan Geriot's surgically repaired knee. The Spiders were 20-16 last season with little to no inside game. The Spiders hope that problem is solved with the return of Geriot, a third-team all-league selection as a sophomore in 2007-08 who missed last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

60. Nevada: New coach David Carter has the best talent in the WAC. Can he get it to perform to expectations?Nevada took a proven route to fill its coaching vacancy - it hired one of its own. The move worked when school officials hired Mark Fox, who was a Nevada assistant before he took over the program in 2004. Officials hope Carter will have similar results. Nevada was the only team to have two players named first-team All-WAC, and both return.

59. Boston College: Four starters are back. But that one starter missing is star Tyrese Rice, and the ACC will be even better this season. BC is relying almost entirely on juniors this season, so the long-range future is bright. But the Eagles depended on Rice so heavily that they could struggle to adjust to his absence. Don't be surprised if the Eagles take a small step backward this season before making big strides in 2010-11. The Eagles figure to be on the NCAA bubble unless junior guard Biko Paris exceeds expectations.

58. UNLV: There are plenty of questions about Lon Kruger's team. Still, there is plenty of talent and he's an excellent coach. UNLV will be the site of a season-long chemistry experiment. The Rebels' roster includes three transfers and five freshmen. It's impossible to predict how UNLV will fare this year because the Rebels are relying on so many newcomers. If the newcomers and veterans blend well, UNLV could earn an NCAA bid.

57. Florida: It wouldn't be a surprise if the Gators miss the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season. Florida figures to spend Selection Sunday on the bubble once again. The arrivals of freshman Kenny Boynton and Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin could help make up for the loss of Nick Calathes, so perhaps the Gators won't be any worse than they were last season. The problem is that the SEC East has gotten a whole lot better. Instead of fighting it out with Kentucky and Tennessee for division supremacy, the Gators likely will be in the middle of the pack with Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

56. Niagara: The offense-minded Purple Eagles again will be Siena's main challenger for the MAAC title. The Purple Eagles won 26 games last season, and the return of Tyrone Lewis and forward Bilal Benn means they should win 20-plus games again. The only problem: Niagara isn't as talented as Siena. The graduation of defense-minded center Benson Egemonye hurts. Still, a postseason bid looms.

55. UTEP:  If Louisville transfer Derrick Caracter minds his Ps and Qs, UTEP could be in the NCAAs. There's enough talent on hand for the Miners to think realistically about an NCAA bid, which would be their first since 2005. Caracter's addition adds another dimension. The best part for coach Tony Barbee? There are no seniors on the roster.

54. Old Dominion: The Monarchs look as if they will reign in the annually underrated CAA this season. The Monarchs have earned five consecutive postseason berths. A trip to the NCAAs for the first time since 2007 will depend on the frontcourt. Gerald Lee (15.5 ppg, All-CAA first team) leads the way, and Ben Finney and Frank Hassell (CollegeInsider.com Tournament MVP) also return.

53. Lasalle:  The Explorers have the firepower and experience to make noise in the A-10 - and nab an NCAA bid. The Explorers were just 1-6 against teams that made the NCAA field last season. If freshman big man Aaric Murray is as good as expected, La Salle could contend for the regular-season title. Expectations are high because all five starters return. Murray is the No. 35 prospect in the country and the top incoming freshman in the A-10.

52. Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers lose key players each year, but coaches plug in someone else and return to the NCAAs. Four starters return, plus Western is bringing in the league's best recruiting class. A.J. Slaughter has league player-of-the-year potential, and the frontcourt should dominate league foes. Western is seeking its third consecutive first-round win in the NCAA tourney.

51. Virginia Tech: The Hokies have a shot at just their second NCAA bid in the past 14 seasons. The Hokies must provide more help for Malcolm Delaney and forward Jeff Allen, who seemed to wear down late last season. Their slumps helped cause Tech to lose eight of its last 11 games. If the Hokies get more balanced production, they finally will have reason to celebrate on Selection Sunday. If not, they can get ready to cross their fingers and bite their nails all over again.

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