Jimmer Fredette has seen enough magazine covers and online columns to know not to argue when I suggest he's the face of BYU basketball. So he did not argue when I suggested it to him this week, and I appreciated it because -- though I enjoy humility as much as the next guy -- I had no interest in listening to one of the nation's elite guards discount his relevance to a Mountain West Conference institution.
But Fredette did make a solid point, though.
"We've played really well all three years I've been here, and that isn't all me," he said. "I've been able to get some exposure and play some pretty good games. But without my teammates and without my coaching staff putting in the game plan and letting me have freedom, I wouldn't be in this position."
In other words, it's fair to call Fredette the star of BYU's team but wrong to think the program would be much less relevant without him. Truth is, BYU would probably be good regardless -- proof being how the Cougars started this string of four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances when Fredette was still in high school, continued it when he was nothing more than the team's fifth-leading scorer, and only truly benefitted from the New York native's stardom the past two seasons. So while some will compare Fredette's impact on BYU to Stephen Curry's impact at Davidson, that's not quite right. He'll similarly score a bunch of points in a bunch of ways, sure. But BYU was making NCAA tournaments before Fredette arrived on campus and will keep making NCAA tournaments when he graduates, which is why it should come as no surprise that the Cougars are again on CBSSports.com's preseason list of the nation's best non-BCS teams.
The best of the non-BCS
(Schools are ranked in order.)
Josh Pastner's heralded recruiting class is now on campus, and he'll use it to roll through Conference USA like John Calipari did before him. Looking at the schedule, it's difficult to envision a scenario that doesn't include the Tigers entering Selection Sunday with at least 28 wins. That kind of record will likely make Will Barton the C-USA Player of the Year, and earn Pastner a renegotiated contract worth twice as much money as he's making now.
|G - Jimmer Fredette (BYU)|
|G - Shelvin Mack (Butler)|
|G - Will Barton (Memphis)|
|F - Elias Harris (Gonzaga)|
|C - Kenneth Faried (Morehead State)|
|G - Joe Jackson (Memphis)|
|G - Kevin Anderson (Richmond)|
|F - Chris Wright (Dayton)|
|F - Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State)|
|F - Lavoy Allen (Temple)|
|G - Tu Holloway (Xavier)|
|G - Randy Culpepper (UTEP)|
|G - Tre'Von Willis (UNLV)|
|G - Steven Gray (Gonzaga)|
|F - Matt Howard (Butler)|
|Player of the year|
|Jimmer Fredette (BYU)|
|Newcomer of the year|
|Will Barton (Memphis)|
|Tu Holloway (Xavier)|
|Coach on the hot seat|
|Karl Hobbs (George Washington)|
Elias Harris won't have the same college career as Adam Morrison, but he'll likely have a better NBA career. That he has delayed that career for at least a year makes Gonzaga the West Coast Conference favorite again. Steven Gray and Robert Sacre give Mark Few two returning double-digit scorers in addition to Harris, who averaged 14.9 points per game last season.
The Owls being ranked all the way down at No. 23 in the coaches poll seems crazy considering they A) won 29 games last season, and B) return four of their top five scorers from last season, including Juan Fernandez (12.6 points per game) and Lavoy Allen (11.5 points). Honestly, I ranked them 15th in the preseason Top 25 (and one), and I felt like that might be too low.
The Bulldogs lost the label of Final Four favorites when Gordon Hayward turned pro early, and that's too bad. But with a nucleus of Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Ronald Nored, this is still a team that should win the Horizon League, make the NCAA tournament and threaten to advance deep again as Brad Stevens remains one of college basketball's hottest young coaching candidates.
5. San Diego State
I'm not typically a fan of "retread hires" because they don't usually work for a variety of reasons. But it's working at San Diego State. The Aztecs have won at least 20 games in five consecutive seasons under former Michigan coach Steve Fisher. They won 25 last season, and a similar total is possible this season with Kawhi Leonard (12.7 points and 9.9 rebounds) and Malcolm Thomas (10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds) leading the effort.
I'd feel better about the Cougars if Michael Loyd hadn't transferred out of the program, but this doesn't have to be a devastating blow. Fredette can and will still score on anybody, and that alone should give the Cougars an opportunity against most teams. If they win the Mountain West, I won't be surprised.
The Spiders managed to keep their coach (Chris Mooney) and best player (Kevin Anderson) from leaving the program after last season, so now they're picked to win the Atlantic 10. If it happens, the school will most likely have to figure out a way to keep Mooney all over again, but that's always a good problem to have, certainly better than trying to negotiate buyouts with bad hires.
Tre'Von Willis' offseason legal problems tempered expectations, but they probably shouldn't. The senior guard will only miss a few early games in connection with the domestic dispute, then he will get back to scoring just like he did last season. That's why the Rebels are a third team I could see winning the Mountain West. New Mexico, for what it's worth, would be a fourth.
It took Gregg Marshall a couple of seasons to transition from Winthrop to Wichita State, but now he's got the program right back to where it was during Mark Turgeon's best years. The Shockers won 25 games last season, and four starters from that team are back. They're the overwhelming pick to win the Missouri Valley Conference, having received 33 of the 39 first-place votes in the league's official preseason poll.
Chris Mack has been a nice hire in three very important ways -- specifically in the categories of on-the-court success, recruiting and public relations. None of that will make losing Jordan Crawford any easier, of course. But it does suggest the Musketeers will continue to annually compete for A-10 titles going forward, and they might actually do it this year despite the loss of Crawford, provided Tu Holloway makes the jump his coaches believe he'll make.
|2010-11 Season Preview/Conference Countdown Schedule|
|Fri., Oct. 15||Preseason Top 25 (and one)||Fri., Oct. 29||Conference No. 6: Pac-10|
|Mon., Oct. 18||Preseason All-Americans||Mon., Nov. 1||Conference No. 5: SEC|
|Wed., Oct. 20||Player rankings: Points/Combos||Tues., Nov. 2||Conference No. 4: ACC|
|Thurs., Oct. 21||Player rankings: Wings||Wed., Nov. 3||Conference No. 3: Big East|
|Fri., Oct. 22||Player rankings: Big men||Thurs., Nov. 4||Conference No. 2: Big 12|
|Mon., Oct. 25||Coaches on the Hot Seat||Fri., Nov. 5||Conference No. 1: Big Ten|
|Wed., Oct. 27||Best of the non-BCS||Mon., Nov. 8||Projections: Parrish | Palm|