September 11, 2009 347 countdown: Nos. 301-347

College football is just getting into gear, but that also means the start of basketball practice is just about a month away.

To help you pass the time while waiting for the first jump ball, will begin its 1-347 countdown today with the teams ranked from 301st to 347th. We'll rank teams in groups of 50 after today until we get to the teams in the top 50, which will get full-fledged breakdowns.

301. USC Upstate
CONFERENCE: Atlantic Sun
BEST PLAYER: C Nick Schneiders
QUICK TAKE: As far as we know, this is the only Division I program that originally started as a nursing school.
BUZZ: As with Florida Gulf Coast, the Spartans won't be full-fledged Division I members until 2011-12. They play good defense but have to get better offensively. Three starters return, but no double-figure scorers are back. One returning starter is the 7-foot-3 Schneiders; while he is a good shot blocker, he still has a ways to go offensively and on the boards.

302. Georgia Southern
BEST PLAYER: G Willie Powers
QUICK TAKE: New coach Charlton Young is an alum, and he has a lot of work to do.
BUZZ: Young was a star point guard the last time the Eagles reached the NCAA tournament, in 1992. Now, he will try to take them back to the NCAAs as a coach. Powers (14.5 ppg), who played in the first 11 games before a knee injury ended his season, and Antonio Hanson (12.0 ppg) return.

303. Savannah State
CONFERENCE: Independent
BEST PLAYER: F Rashan Hassan
QUCIK TAKE: Coach Horace Broadnax is a former Georgetown player, and not surprisingly, he emphasizes defense.
BUZZ: The Tigers play tough, physical defense, befitting a team coached by a former Georgetown player under John Thompson. Savannah State didn't have a player average in double figures last season, but the Tigers played stifling defense and were 13-3 at home. Hassan, a sophomore, should emerge as the go-to guy.

304. Centenary
BEST PLAYER: G Chase Adams
QUICK TAKE: The school has one of the most distinctive nicknames - the Gents - in Division I. But the team itself is going to struggle.
BUZZ: The Gents almost rudely ruined North Dakota State's party in the first round of the league tourney last season, a narrow defeat that should give them some confidence entering 2009-10. This team plays good defense and has a terrific senior guard in Adams (14.6 ppg). But the loss of leading scorer Nick Stallings is a big one.

305. McNeese State
BEST PLAYER: G Diego Kapelan
QUICK TAKE: The Cowboys won five conference games last season and will be hard-pressed to equal that this season.
BUZZ: Massive C Kleon Penn and combo F John Pichon take about 20 points and 12 rebounds a game out the door with them, and a lot of intimidation in Penn's case. Kapelan (11.7 ppg) returns, but the Cowboys will need to make some discoveries to best last season's 5-11 league mark.

306. Wagner
BEST PLAYER: G Chris Martin
QUICK TAKE: The Seahawks lost their top four scorers, which means they're destined to finish near the bottom of the conference.
BUZZ: The losses are heavy for Mike Deane's Seahawks, who are coming off two winning seasons in a row but will need to find some difference-making newcomers to make it three. The team's top four scorers averaged in double figures, but all were seniors. Martin (6.1 ppg) will get a lot more looks after shooting 43.4 percent from long range as a freshman.

307. Eastern Michigan
CONFERENCE: Mid-American
BEST PLAYER: F Brandon Bowdry
QUICK TAKE: The return of G Carlos Medlock, who missed last season with a broken foot, lends some hope.
BUZZ: Eastern Michigan has three quality players in Bowdry, Medlock and F Justin Dobbins, but there isn't enough talent surrounding them. Medlock's return should assure that the Eagles don't lose 75 percent of their games again, but Eastern Michigan will have an extremely tough time reaching the .500 mark.

308. Maryland-Eastern Shore
CONFERENCE: Mid-Eastern Athletic
QUICK TAKE: The Hawks finished last in the MEAC last season, but they have a chance for a middle-of-the-pack finish this season if everything breaks right.
BUZZ: Coach Frankie Allen actually did some good things in his first season trying to turn around a dismal program. And a big jump from that 7-23 finish is possible. Allen has a dynamic forward in Pitt (16.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and a sophomore partner up front in Keishawn Mayes (7.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg). The Hawks still need much more shooting.

309. Southern
CONFERENCE: Southwestern Athletic
BEST PLAYER: F Barry Honore
QUICK TAKE: Four of the top five scorers return, but they're back from an eight-win team.
BUZZ: This team could flip-flop last season's 8-10 league record. The Jaguars' lone departure is a big one, though - top scorer and assist man Chris Davis (14.8 ppg). Steffon Wiley (9.9 ppg) and Honore (8.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg) have some compensating to do.

310. Charleston Southern
BEST PLAYER: G Jamarco Warren
QUICK TAKE: Barclay Radebaugh enters his fifth season as coach looking for his first winning season.
BUZZ: Radebaugh's first winning season at Charleston Southern won't come easy. While Warren (17.8 ppg) returns, Omar Carter (13.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg) decided to transfer. Kelvin Martin gives the Buccaneers an inside threat.

311. Western Illinois
BEST PLAYER: G David Nurse
QUICK TAKE: The team has a cool nickname - the Leathernecks - but not a lot of good players.
BUZZ: Jim Molinari got some work done in his first season with the Leathernecks, and now the goal is to finish in the top eight and play in the Summit tournament. That'll be tough without departing star David DuBois (17.9 ppg). Molinari is bringing in waves of players to help, and Nurse (8.4 ppg), a senior, will need to pick up some of the scoring load.

312. North Florida
CONFERENCE: Atlantic Sun
QUICK TAKE: New coach Matt Driscoll is a former Baylor assistant, so he knows all about tough rebuilding jobs.
BUZZ: Driscoll was hired off the staff at Baylor, where he helped oversee a massive rebuilding job. He has one of his own with the Ospreys, who are eligible for the league tourney for the first time this season. Four starters return, but UNF was awful on both ends of the floor last season. The first job for Driscoll is increasing the talent level.

313. Howard
CONFERENCE: Mid-Eastern Athletic
BEST PLAYER: F Paul Kirkpatrick
QUICK TAKE: The Bison return the bulk of their roster, but they've lost their leading scorer.
BUZZ: It's hard to figure the Bison, who lose star G Eugene Myatt (15.8 ppg) but bring back a lot of other pieces. This was a team that went 8-23 overall and 6-10 in the league, yet optimism is present. Kyle Riley (9.4 ppg) is the guy who will get a lot of Myatt's shots, while the 6-9 Kirkpatrick (7.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) has the ability to give more.

314. SIU-Edwardsville
CONFERENCE: Independent
BEST PLAYER: F Barry Wellington
QUICK TAKE: The Cougars become full-fledged members of the Ohio Valley Conference in 2012-13.
BUZZ: The Cougars return their top two scorers in Wellington, a guard, and forward Mark Yelovich. Both have 3-point range for a team that likes to fire it up from the outside.

315. Alabama A&M
CONFERENCE: Southwestern Athletic
BEST PLAYER: G Trant Simpson
QUICK TAKE: The Bulldogs have some OK guards. Will any frontcourt player help out?
BUZZ: Injuries and illnesses contributed to a disappointing eighth-place league finish for the Bulldogs, who can take a big step up if they stay healthy this season. Simpson (16.1 ppg) can do it all, and Cornelius Hester (12 ppg) is a nice backcourt complement who needs to improve his 3-point shooting (27.2 percent last season).

316. Delaware State
CONFERENCE: Mid-Eastern Athletic
BEST PLAYER: F Frisco Sandidge
QUICK TAKE: The Hornets won three MEAC titles in a row from 2005-07, but they're headed in wrong direction now.
BUZZ: Last season was rough for the program, and now top scorer Donald Johnson must be replaced. The Hornets will turn to Sandidge (10.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg), a talented interior player, with Marcus Neal (8.4 ppg) capable of doing more outside. Not enough to move this team up significantly, though.

317. Cal Poly
BEST PLAYER: G Lorenzo Keeler
QUICK TAKE: New coach Joe Callero, who had been at Seattle, takes over a team that has an OK backcourt but not much else.
BUZZ: Kevin Bromley's nine-year tenure is over after a 7-21 showing last season. Callero will have a tough time getting the Mustangs out of the basement because the rest of the league is solid, but he has some decent material with which to start. Keeler (12.7 ppg) and Shawn Lewis (11.7 ppg) will carry a team with little inside.

318. Dartmouth
BEST PLAYER: G Jabari Trotter
QUICK TAKE: The Big Green are coming off a solid season, but an Ivy League slide looks likely with the loss of their best player.
BUZZ: One of the league's pleasant surprises a year ago with a 7-7 finish, the Big Green now must face life without superb F Alex Barnett, the league's player of the year. Barnett scored (19.4 ppg), rebounded (5.6 rpg), hit 3-pointers (54 at 40.9 percent) and free throws (100 at 82 percent). Jabari Trotter (7.0 ppg) and David Rufful (6.3 ppg), a pair of solid freshmen a year ago, are due for a role expansion.

319. Fairleigh Dickinson
BEST PLAYER: G Sean Baptiste
QUICK TAKE: Longtime coach Tom Green was unceremoniously fired over the summer. Some people figure a bad finish would be karmic payback.
BUZZ: Green was fired as coach - in June, strangely enough - after a 7-23 season that was his 26th with the Knights. Assistant Greg Vetrone is the interim coach for a team with a chance to improve significantly. Baptiste (16.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is one of the league's best guards, and the interior will improve if 6-9 DeJuan Pursley is eligible.

320. Coastal Carolina
BEST PLAYER: F Joseph Harris
QUICK TAKE: Coach Cliff Ellis is a big "beach music" fan. His team might struggle, but he's in the right place to hear that type of music.
BUZZ: Ellis has advanced to the Sweet 16 as coach at Clemson and Auburn, but his two seasons with the Chanticleers (24-35) haven't gone well. He did get some good news when Harris, a first-team All-Big South selection, changed his mind and decided not to transfer. But Harris may not have much help this season.

321. Elon
QUICK TAKE: New coach Matt Matheny had been a Davidson assistant, so he's used to winning. He'd better get used to losing.
BUZZ: The Phoenix have had one winning season (15-14 in 2005-06) since joining the conference in 2003. So they hired Matheny - who was an assistant at Davidson since 1993 - to improve that statistic. It won't be easy. Long (7.2 ppg) is the top returning scorer.

322. Utah Valley State
CONFERENCE: Independent
BEST PLAYER: G Jordan Swarbrick
QUICK TAKE: Utah Valley is the first school to jump directly to Division I from the junior college ranks.
BUZZ: The Wolverines lose 23.8-ppg scorer Ryan Toolson and have no one returning who averaged in double figures. Utah Valley, recently granted full-fledged Division I status, will be dangerous because of its 3-point ability.

323. Loyola Marymount
BEST PLAYER: G Jarred DuBois
QUICK TAKE: This is the 20th anniversary season of the Lions' bittersweet Sweet 16 run behind Bo Kimble.
BUZZ: Things can only get better after a chaotic, injury-filled season that ended with a 3-28 mark. DuBois (13.5 ppg) is a promising sophomore point guard who led the team in scoring and assists as a freshman. DuBois had a negative assist-turnover ratio, though, and that has to change. Transfers Drew Viney (Oregon) and Larry Davis (Seton Hall) should help.

324. Mississippi Valley
CONFERENCE: Southwestern Athletic
BEST PLAYER: G Shannon Behling
QUICK TAKE: Former Kentucky guard Sean Woods is entering his second season as coach, and the Delta Devils should be on the rise in the SWAC.
BUZZ: Woods made a small splash in his first season, getting an upset victory over Jackson State and recovering from a 0-14 non-league showing to go 7-11 in the conference. Woods will have to do without standout C Eric Petty, but he has several returning contributors, including Behling (10.4 ppg).

325. Northern Illinois
CONFERENCE: Mid-American
BEST PLAYER: G Darion Anderson
QUICK TAKE: Former Colorado head man Ricardo Patton is coaching the Huskies, and they're struggling like the Buffs did.
BUZZ: Northern Illinois tied for last place in the MAC West Division a year ago, but there are some reasons for optimism. NIU returns four starters and welcomes Xavier Silas, a Colorado transfer who was the Buffaloes' third-leading scorer two years ago. But NIU must get tougher. The Huskies finished last in the conference in scoring defense and 11th in field-goal percentage defense last season.

326. Kennesaw State
CONFERENCE: Atlantic Sun
BEST PLAYER: F Jon-Michael Nickerson
QUICK TAKE: The Owls finally are eligible for the NCAA tourney after a transition period in the Atlantic Sun.
BUZZ: Kennesaw is eligible for the league tourney for the first time. The Owls started 5-2 last season, then won just two of their remaining 22 games. They were a young team last season, and coaches hope the added experience helps this season, especially on offense, where Kennesaw has struggled.

327. Chicago State
CONFERENCE: Independent
BEST PLAYER: F Carl Montgomery
QUICK TAKE: There are a lot of good basketball players in Chicago. Too bad more don't attend Chicago State.
BUZZ: Guards David Holston (25.9 ppg) and John Cantrell (19.8 ppg) are gone, so junior forward Carl Montgomery (11.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) becomes the go-to guy this season. Montgomery is a banger in the low post. Want proof? He fouled out 11 times last season.

328. Central Arkansas
BEST PLAYER: G Marcus Pillow
QUICK TAKE: One of the Bears' guards is Imad Qahwash, a native of Jordan who played for the Jordanian national team this season.
BUZZ: A program that is still transitioning to full Division I status has a long way to go to compete in the Southland. The top four scorers are back - led by Pillow (11.8 ppg) - and all averaged low double figures, so improvement is possible. The Bears still have little interior muscle and are a poor shooting team overall.

329. St. Francis (Pa.)
BEST PLAYER: F Devin Sweetney
QUICK TAKE: This is one of two St. Francises in the Northeast Conference - you know, the really bad one.
BUZZ: All hope is not lost, not with Sweetney (the brother of former Georgetown standout Mike Sweetney who averaged 16.3 points and 7.9 rebounds last season) back and some newcomers expected to make a difference. Santa Clara transfer Cedric Latimer, another 6-6 forward, should help out. Until the Red Flash can prove that things will be different, though, this is a program plagued by poor guard play and losing.

330. Alcorn State
CONFERENCE: Southwestern Athletic
BEST PLAYER: G Troy Jackson
QUICK TAKE: The Braves' coach is alumnus Larry Smith, nicknamed "Mr. Mean" in the NBA.
BUZZ: Smith enters his first full season as coach - he replaced Sam West early last season - and the former pro has a lot of work ahead of him. It helps that Jackson (20 ppg), the league's top scorer and one of its best players, returns this season. But JaMarkus Holt (6.3 ppg) can't do it by himself inside, and the Braves' minus-10.6 rebounding margin illustrates their lack of interior play.

331. CS Bakersfield
CONFERENCE: Independent
BEST PLAYER: F Trent Blakeley
QUICK TAKE: Maybe Bakersfield native Merle Haggard can pen a song about how bad the Roadrunners will be.
BUZZ: The Roadrunners should have a nice 1-2 punch in the frontcourt with seniors Blakeley and Santwon Latunde. Latunde is a low-post guy, while Blakeley roams the perimeter. Bakersfield needs to improve defensively.

332. Toledo
CONFERENCE: Mid-American
BEST PLAYER: F/C Justin Anyijong
QUICK TAKE: It'll be a long season for the Rockets, who have eight freshmen but no seniors.
BUZZ: Toledo's freshman class provides hope for the future, but the Rockets could take their lumps this season while the newcomers gain experience. Toledo will have a tough time staying out of the MAC West Division basement one year after sharing last place in the division and posting the conference's worst overall record (7-25).

333. Winston-Salem State
CONFERENCE: Independent
BEST PLAYER: G Brian Fisher
QUICK TAKE: Earl Monroe is a Rams alum. Trust us: There isn't any Earl Monroe on the roster this season.
BUZZ: The Rams will be full-fledged members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference next season. Fisher, a senior, is the leading returning scorer and a solid defender, but he's too sloppy with the ball and too in love with the 3-pointer.

334. Florida A&M
CONFERENCE: Mid-Eastern Athletic
BEST PLAYER: G Brandon Bryant
QUICK TAKE: The Rattlers have fallen of late, but this is a program that will contend for MEAC titles again soon.
BUZZ: Frontcourt inadequacies doomed the Rattlers, and three seniors - including top scorer Lamar Twitty (11 ppg) - are departing. Some unproven commodities will have to emerge for FAMU's prospects to brighten, although Yannick Crowder (4.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) has ability inside. Bryant (10.1 ppg) leads the perimeter group.

335. Stetson
CONFERENCE: Atlantic Sun
QUICK TAKE: The Hatters were pitiful on offense last season - and they've lost their best offensive player.
BUZZ: The Hatters shot just 38.4 percent from the field last season and lost their best offensive player, forward Garfield Blair. Guard A.J. Smith has some skills, and he'd better show them off this season because he is the only proven offensive player. There is a five-man recruiting class, with two from Australia.

336. Furman
BEST PLAYER: G Jordan Miller
QUICK TAKE: The Paladins haven't been to the NCAA tourney in 30 years. It'll soon be 31.
BUZZ: The Paladins' last postseason trip was the 1991 NIT. Despite the return of Miller (13.8 ppg) and forward Bryson Barnes, the postseason drought looks certain to continue.

337. Texas-Pan American
CONFERENCE: Independent
BEST PLAYER: G Nick Weiermiller
QUCIK TAKE: The Broncs won just six games against Division I foes last season. Will they even match that this season?
BUZZ: New coach Ryan Marks will count heavily on junior guard Nick Weiermiller, who could bump his scoring average from 10.7 into the high teens. Weiermiller is a good passer and has big-time range. But the Broncs have no proven low-post presence on defense.

338. Mo.-Kansas City
BEST PLAYER: F Spencer Johnson
QUICK TAKE: One question always has bugged us - why is a team in KC nicknamed "Kangaroos"?
BUZZ: Consecutive 20-loss seasons aren't sitting well at UMKC, so coach Matt Brown has some pressure to improve things immediately. In Johnson (10.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg), he has a go-to interior player, but top scorer Dane Brumagin (15.3 ppg) is gone. Overall sloppiness and porous defense killed the Kangaroos last season.

339. Lafayette
BEST PLAYER: F Ryan Willen
QUICK TAKE: Remember the "Lafayette, we are here!" cry from World War I? Now, it's "We're Lafayette, and we're down here!"
BUZZ: Lafayette can score in bunches but has trouble limiting others from doing the same. Leading scorer Andrew Brown is gone, but G Jeff Kari (10.7 ppg) and the explosive 6-8 Willen (9.4 ppg) can produce more. Still, the only way the Leopards are getting out of the basement is by figuring a way to get some stops.

340. Texas Southern
CONFERENCE: Southwestern Athletic
QUICK TAKE: The Tigers were 0-14 in non-conference play last season.
BUZZ: Tony Harvey's first season as coach saw some turbulence, including his dismissal of senior G Sollie Norwood from the team. Some key seniors have moved on, but Harvey has a top-notch guard returning in Hall (13.8 ppg). Ricky Boyles (7.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) will get more post touches and be asked to respond as a senior.

341. Southeast Missouri
BEST PLAYER: F JaJuan Maxwell
QUICK TAKE: SEMO plays in the "Show Me Center." The arena will showcase a lot of bad basketball this season.
BUZZ: The Redhawks were one of the worst teams in the nation last season, and they will be plenty bad again, as the three best players from last season are gone. Plus, the school faces NCAA sanctions. New coach Dickey Nutt has a huge rebuilding job. Maxwell looks to be the best building block.

342. Presbyterian
BEST PLAYER: G Chase Holmes
QUICK TAKE: The team's nickname? The Blue Hose. Yeah, that strikes fear into opponents.
BUZZ: Still in transition to Division I, coach Gregg Nibert seems likely to redshirt all-conference player Al'Lonzo Coleman (15 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Josh Johnson and Pierre Miller so they will be around when the Blue Hose are eligible for the conference and NCAA tournament in 2011-12. If that happens, Holmes (7.8 ppg) would be the team's leading returning scorer.

343. North Carolina Central
CONFERENCE: Independent
BEST PLAYER: G Vincent Davis
QUICK TAKE: Sam Jones, an NBA Hall of Famer, is a NCCU alum. Too bad there isn't anyone like him on this season's team.
BUZZ: The Eagles closed the season by winning two of their final three games. But they will be without guard Jamar Briscoe, who as a freshman last season was one of the best offensive players in the independent ranks; he has transferred to Charlotte. Who will score this season for the Eagles?

344. Houston Baptist
CONFERENCE: Independent
BEST PLAYER: C Mario Flaherty
QUICK TAKE: The Huskies won just five times last season, and their best player was a senior.
BUZZ: Three of the Huskies' five wins came in the final eight games, but they will miss forward Gordon Watt (17.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg), who began his career at Purdue. The Huskies struggled offensively last season, and coaches need two or three members of a six-player recruiting class to make immediate impacts.

345. Sacramento State
BEST PLAYER: C Justin Eller
QUICK TAKE: At least basketball fans in Sacramento can go to watch the NBA's Kings play.
BUZZ: The Big Sky's perennial doormat reached a new low last season. Brian Katz went 2-27 in his second season, 1-15 in the league, so the heat is on Katz - even in a place that is used to losing and losing big. Top scorer Loren Leath (15.6 ppg) has moved on, making Katz's job even tougher. Eller (10 ppg, 6.7 rpg) is the best remaining option.

346. Grambling State
CONFERENCE: Southwestern Athletic
BEST PLAYER: G Ariece Perkins
QUICK TAKE: The Tigers look as if they will be the worst team in the SWAC, which is the worst league in the nation.
BUZZ: Rick Duckett had a trying first season as coach, watching two key players quit a team that allowed opponents to shoot 46.5 percent from the floor. His second season will revolve around Perkins (11.3 ppg), a key junior college addition last season who was close to 2-1 on his assist-turnover ratio. Duckett needs a quality big man to help Perkins.

347. NJIT
CONFERENCE: Independent
BEST PLAYER: G Jheryl Wilson
QUICK TAKE: The Highlanders have won one game - combined - the past two seasons.
BUZZ: Wilson returns after leading the team in scoring, but NJIT was brutal offensively last season, averaging 49.8 points and shooting 34.2 percent from the field and 24.8 percent from 3-point range. They play OK defense, though.

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