32 Conferences, 32 Days: MAAC

By Kevin Sweeney

The MAAC is one of the more difficult leagues for me to prognosticate as we enter the 2017-18 season, simply based on the number of unknowns so many of its teams face. 23 of the top 35 players in terms of win shares from a season ago depart, including stars such as Justin Robinson (Monmouth), Jordan Washington (Iona), and a quartet of 1,000 point scorers from Siena in Marquis Wright, Lavon Long, Brett Bisping, and Javion Ogunyemi. And while the league may see a down year as a result of these heavy departures, the incoming freshmen look strong and this season should be incredibly fun to watch.

Standings Projection:

  1. Iona- A fairly clear favorite, the Gaels will be loaded in the backcourt once again with the likes of Rickey McGill, Schadrac Casimir, Deyshonee Much, and EJ Crawford all returning. The only thing that could hold them back is a thin frontcourt that will be heavily reliant on a pair of newcomers in TK Edogi (Tulsa) and Roland Griffin (Illinois State via JUCO).
  2. Manhattan- This is where it gets tricky. With the return of Rich Williams (missed last season with a foot injury), this Jasper club has a lot of offensive firepower. Still, Steve Masiello’s club desperately needs to take care of the ball much better if they are going to produce one of the bigger turnarounds in college basketball after a last-place finish a season ago.
  3. Monmouth- The best player in program history and arguably the best class in program history departs, yet there is still reason for optimism in West Long Branch. After 2 seasons as the second option on offense, Micah Seaborn seems ready to step into a starring role, and highly-touted redshirt freshman Ray Salnave should make an impact. Combine that with a frontcourt that has the potential to be one of the better units in the league, and I could see this team being dangerous.
  4. Niagara- The Purple Eagles have 2 of the top 7 players in the conference in Matt Scott and Kahlil Dukes, along with some solid role players. Now that he finally has found (and kept) the pieces to contend, is this finally the year Chris Casey gets things done at Niagara?
  5. Siena- I had a chance to check out the Saints a couple times this summer, and they are a team that could surprise. They have perhaps the most talented player in the conference in Nico Clareth, a breakout candidate in Ahsante Shivers, and a strong freshman class that will be counted on to play minutes right away. Jimmy Patsos will have his team ready to compete.
  6. Fairfield- Probably the hardest team for me to place. The Stags have the favorite for Player of the Year in Tyler Nelson, as well as some intriguing newcomers who will add some length and athleticism for the Stags. However, their point guard play is suspect (senior Jerome Segura ranked worst in the MAAC among starting PG’s in PER & win shares a season ago) and their frontcourt isn’t very deep. Watch out for freshman wing Jesus Cruz, who shined for Puerto Rico in the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer.
  7. Canisius- This is both a talented and flawed Canisius team. Similarly to Fairfield, they have a star in Jermaine Crumpton who should be able to carry the load for the Golden Griffins this season. Also, look for Isaiah Reese to see a huge jump in production with Kassius Robertson graduating. That said, they’ll likely struggle on the boards and will miss Phil Valenti’s distribution skills sa a stretch 4 more than some think.
  8. Rider- 4 starters graduate for the Broncs, but Kevin Baggett’s team has one of the most talented point guards in the conference in sophomore Stevie Jordan. The Broncs will also be one of the more athletic teams in the conference, with a pair of transfers in Fred Scott (DePaul) and Devine Eke (Maine) likely stepping into the rotation immediately.
  9. St. Peter’s- I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I’m wrong on this pick, simply because John Dunne is one of the best coaches at doing more with less in the country. That said, with the graduations of their best point guard (Trevis Wyche), big man (Quadir Welton), and defender (Chazz Patterson), things are an uphill battle on paper.
  10. Quinnipiac- This season will almost certainly be a rebuilding one for the Bobcats under first-year head coach Baker Dunleavy after the departures of Mikey Dixon (St. John’s) and Peter Kiss (Rutgers). Still, the future is bright, with Dunleavy hitting the ground running with a strong 2018 recruiting class developing.
  11. Marist- It’s been 9 seasons since the Red Foxes finished above .500, and they’ve won 8 or fewer games in 5 of those seasons. With leading scorer Khallid Hart graduating from last year’s 8-24 team, it appears that another ugly season is on the Horizon for the Red Foxes.

Champions: Iona

Under Tim Cluess, the Gaels have become one of the most consistent mid-major programs in the country, and that trend should continue this season. While this team lacks the low-post scoring threat that has been a staple of Cluess teams (Mike Glover, David Laury, Jordan Washington), they still will have an extremely efficient offense that will be hard to guard. Guys like EJ Crawford and Deyshonee Much can hit 3’s and slash to the rim, while Rickey McGill is an excellent distributor from the point guard position who is the engine that makes this team go. Tulsa grad transfer TK Edogi will have to play huge minutes as the only reliable center on the roster, and the Gaels may struggle a bit on the glass. Still, the combination of having lots of weapons and a veteran winning pedigree will be too much to stop in the MAAC this season.

Dark Horse: Niagara

The Purple Eagles definitely showed flashes a season ago, with wins at Iona, St. Peter’s, and Canisius as well as a home triumph over Siena. However, they could never consistently find their stride. Now, with a pair of senior stars in Matt Scott and Kahlil Dukes entering their final season of eligibility, it’s now or never for Chris Casey’s club. Niagara has a solid rim protector in Dominic Robb, and some solid rotation pieces to compliment Scott and Dukes in the backcourt, but can they finally put it all together and make a legitimate push in the MAAC? That might be the biggest question to answer in the entire conference.

First Team All-Conference:

  • G: Rickey McGill (Iona)
  • G: Tyler Nelson (Fairfield)
  • G: Nico Clareth (Siena)
  • G: Micah Seaborn (Monmouth)
  • G/F: Matt Scott (Niagara)

Player of the Year: Tyler Nelson (Fairfield)- Nelson is everything you want in a star player at the mid-major level. A 4-year starter with a very real chance of eclipsing 2,000 career points at some point late in the season, Nelson is an efficient scorer at all 3 levels who makes big plays late in games. He’s also a willing distributor who makes winning plays for your basketball team. If Fairfield is to contend for a MAAC title this season, they’ll some people to step up around their senior star and lead them to the promised land.

Breakout Player of the Year: Ahsante Shivers (Siena)- There are a bunch of ways I could go on this one, but those who follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, do it @CBB_Central) know my love for Shivers. The physical 6-4 wing impressed as a freshman with his nose for the ball and timely buckets, and now with 4 1,000 point scorers graduating, Shivers will take on a bigger scoring load. He’s reportedly lost 10 pounds this offseason and has improved his perimeter game, making him the versatile player the Saints desperately need. Look for Shivers to do a bit of everything for the Saints this season, including playing the 4 as Siena looks to go smaller at times this season.

Newcomer of the Year: Prince Oduro (Siena)- Another one that had a bunch of good choices, but Oduro is definitely the most important newcomer in the MAAC this season. He’ll be looked to to play big minutes immediately for a Siena frontcourt that doesn’t have a ton of experience, but the highly-touted freshman seems up to the challenge. He’s incredibly strong for a freshman, and he works tireless on the glass and in the screen game. Jimmy Patsos has raved about his young Canadian big man, and the rest of the MAAC will see why soon enough.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Ivy League

By Kevin Sweeney

The Ivy League has certainly raised its game as a whole over the last few seasons. At the core of the league’s improvement has been the outstanding job Ivy League coaches have done recruiting high-level talent, and that trend seems to only be growing stronger in the last couple of classes. Combine this influx of talent with the added drama of the Ivy League’s addition of a 4-team conference tournament beginning last season, and intrigue around the Ivy is at an all-time high.

Standings Projection:

  1. Yale- There’s been a ton of debate among college hoops writers this offseason as to who should be the favorite in the Ivy, but I’m on the Yale bandwagon. The Bulldogs get Ivy POY candidate Makai Mason back after he missed all of last season with a foot injury, and he joins a strong young core that shined a season ago in Mason’s absence.
  2. Harvard- The Crimson’s top-25 2016 recruiting class mostly lived up to the hype as freshmen, and after a year of adjusting to the college game will be even more dangerous this season. Remember, this is a team that had 4 freshmen starting by the end of the season, yet didn’t lose a game by more than 4 points after January 2.
  3. Princeton- I disagree with those who are looking at the Ivy as a two-horse race this season, as in my opinion this Princeton club has a chance to be right up there at the top. They have perhaps the best player in the conference in wing Myles Stephens, a fearless playmaker in Devin Cannady, and a strong recruiting class that should give the Tigers good minutes from the start.
  4. Penn- AJ Brodeur (13.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.4 bpg) was sneakily one of the better freshmen bigs in the country a season ago. Combine him with a talented young backcourt and a good incoming class, and you get the feeling this Penn team could make some noise.
  5. Columbia- The loss of Luke Petrasek to graduation will be a difficult one to replace for sure, but I’m not as down on the Lions as some. They’ll definitely be a young club, but they have a scoring guard who makes plays in Mike Smith, one of the top breakout candidates in the conference in big man Patrick Tape, and a pair of freshmen in guard Tai Bibbs and big man Jaron Faulds who should be immediately productive.
  6. Dartmouth- Yes, the Big Green were very bad a season ago. However, I think this team could make a bit of noise this season. 4 starters, including double-double machine Evan Boudreaux, return for Dave McLaughlin’s club. The x-factor could be freshman guard Isaac Letoa, who put up strong numbers (8.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.6 apg) for New Zealand during this summer’s FIBA U19 World Cup.
  7. Cornell- Last season was definitely one of transition for the Big Red, as Brian Earl’s first season saw the beginning of a rebuild. I could see them making a few steps forward this season, as they have a pair of all-conference-level players in guard Matt Morgan and big man Stone Gettings.
  8. Brown- It could be a very difficult season for Brown, as their top 2 scorers from last season in Steven Spieth and Tavon Blackmon graduate. If nothing else, the Bears will be fun to watch, as they will likely sport one of the more exciting offenses in the conference.

Champions: Yale

The fight for the Ivy League title should be super fun to watch, but I am rolling with the Bulldogs. If Makai Mason returns at 100%, he is the best player in the Ivy League. Between Mason, junior Alex Copeland, and uber-talented sophomore wing Miye Oni, James Jones will have a ton of firepower to deploy in the backcourt. Combine that with a pair of versatile forwards in Jordan Bruner and Blake Reynolds, and this team will have the offensive weapons and defensive versatility to be incredibly dangerous.

Dark Horse: Penn

Penn has some really interesting pieces that will make them dangerous all year, especially in March when they host the conference tournament at the Palestra. The sophomore duo of Brodeur and Ryan Betley will be one of the better pairings in the league, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see freshman forward Jarrod Simmons (offers from Texas, VCU, Pitt, and Temple) to immediately contribute in a big way. The Quakers are certainly not a team to count out in this Ivy race.

First Team All-Conference:

  • G: Matt Morgan (Cornell)
  • G: Bryce Aiken (Harvard)
  • G: Makai Mason (Yale)
  • G: Myles Stephens (Princeton)
  • F: Evan Boudreaux (Dartmouth)

Player of the Year: Myles Stephens (Princeton)- I’m not sure people realize just how good Stephens was by the time Ivy League play came around a season ago. He averaged over 15 points and 5 rebounds per game in conference play on a hyper-efficient 56% from the field and 42% from downtown. He’s also an excellent defender. The scariest part: he was only a sophomore. A huge year is ahead for Stephens.

Breakout Player of the Year: Chris Lewis (Harvard)- Lewis, a super-athletic forward who posted a strong freshman campaign a season ago, seems ready to blossom into a star. In less than 20 minutes per contest, he averaged almost 8 points and 5 rebounds while blocking 1,3 shots per game. He has a chance to dominate the Ivy League at both ends and become a double-double machine this season.

Newcomer of the Year: Danilo Djuricic (Harvard)- I could have gone in a bunch of different ways, but I’ll go with Djuricic for this one. He may not have the highest upside of the newcomers in the Ivy this season, but he’ll immediately be an excellent contributor as a floor-spacing forward who can play the 3 or the 4. After a strong summer helping to lead Canada to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Cup, Djuricic seems ready to be the type of guy who makes winning plays and hits big shots. He’ll find a role on this Harvard team.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Horizon League

By Kevin Sweeney

Conference realignment hit the Horizon League this offseason, with the league’s premier program in Valparaiso departing for the Missouri Valley and the addition of IUPUI to replace them. It’s certainly possible that more additions are the Horizon (sorry, I had to) for next offseason, but for now, the league remains at 10 teams.

That said, the Horizon League seems in position to have an excellent 2017-18 season. There’s plenty of star power at the top, and a few teams that seem in position to really take the next step.

Standings Projection:

  1. Oakland- The Grizzlies are absolutely loaded this year. A pair of conference player of the year-level guys in Martez Walker & Jalen Hayes return along with elite rim protector Isaiah Brock, and Greg Kampe also adds Kendrick Nunn, an elite scoring guard who began his career at Illinois. This team could be top-25 good.
  2. Northern Kentucky- Kind of the forgotten man in this year’s race, NKU won the conference tournament a season ago and return 4 starters from that squad. Head Coach John Brennan has done an incredible job building this program, and NKU will definitely be a factor in Horizon race.
  3. UIC- Probably the only team that has the talent to stand toe-to-toe with Oakland is UIC. Star wing Dikembe Dixson returns after missing most of last season with a torn ACL, as does talented center Tai Odiase and young guard Tarkus Ferguson. If the Flames can improve on defense, watch out.
  4. Detroit- Year 2 of the Bacari Alexander era appears to be an intriguing one. Jaleel Hogan and Cory Allen are among the talented returnees, while former 5-star Kameron Chatman and a strong recruiting class enter.
  5. Youngstown State- The Penguins have a new coach, a new system, and renewed optimism going into the 2017-18 season. Jerrod Calhoun will bring his fast tempo and press to YSU, and the cupboard isn’t as bare as some might think. A team that could make some noise.
  6. Wright State- WSU has a strong backcourt in Grant Benzinger and Justin Mitchell, but the loss of Mark Alstork is huge. They’ll need some younger guys to step up to rise in the Horizon League standings.
  7. Milwaukee- A hard team to project given the loss of head coach LaVall Jordan to Butler late in the offseason, the Panthers do return 3 starters, including an all-conference-type player in junior guard Brock Stull. Can new head coach Pat Baldwin capture some of the magic the Panthers found in last season’s run to the conference championship game?
  8. Green Bay- One of the more consistent programs in the Horizon League, Green Bay seems headed for a down year. Marquette transfer Sandy Cohen (eligible after first semester) will have to have a huge year if Green Bay is going to remain a factor in the top 5 of the Horizon League.
  9. Cleveland State- Another team with a new coach, Dennis Felton takes over for the Vikings. However, the cupboard is pretty bare this season, and there isn’t much reason for optimism yet.
  10. IUPUI- A pair of stars graduate from last season’s IUPUI club in Darell Combs and Matt O’Leary. It could be a rough season in the Jaguars’ first in the Horizon League.

Champions: Oakland

As much as I like both NKU and UIC, Oakland is the clear top dog in the Horizon League this season. Greg Kampe’s club has an abundance of weapons, with 3 guys more than capable of averaging 20 points per game in Nunn, Walker, and Hayes, plus an elite rim protector in Brock who gives this team another dimension defensively. The biggest concern for the Grizzlies is the psychological aspect after being upset in their opener of the Horizon League tournament in consecutive seasons. If they can get over that hump, they are going to be a team no one wants to see in March.

Dark Horse: Detroit

The return of Jaleel Hogan, who had originally elected to transfer this offseason, is huge for the Titans. One of the better big men in the conference, Hogan averaged over 15 points and 5 rebounds per game despite playing less than 27 minutes per game due to foul trouble. Combine Hogan with a pair of talented guards in Cory Allen and Josh McFolley and the addition of a versatile wing-forward in Michigan transfer Kameron Chatman, and this team looks incredibly dangerous.

First Team All-Conference:

  • G: Cameron Morse (Youngstown State)
  • G: Kendrick Nunn (Oakland)
  • G: Martez Walker (Oakland)
  • G/F: Dikembe Dixson (UIC)
  • F: Drew McDonald (Northern Kentucky)

Player of the Year: Kendrick Nunn- I think people forget just how good Nunn was at Illinois when he wasn’t dealing with off-the-court issues. Nunn averaged over 15 points per game as a junior for the Illini, and should be absolutely unstoppable against Horizon League opposition, especially when you consider the amount of weapons around him. Don’t be surprised of Nunn winds up getting some NBA looks.

Breakout Player of the Year: Marcus Ottey (UIC)- Ottey is a super-talented guard coming off a terrific freshman season. Ottey averaged over 10 points per game for the Flames, and is one of the many options at head coach Steve McClain’s disposal offensively. The young core of Ottey, Ferguson, and Dixson around a senior center in Odiase is one of the most dangerous offensive units in the country.

 

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Conference USA

By Kevin Sweeney

Conference USA is definitely one of the league’s I’m looking forward to watching the most this season. There are just so many intriguing storylines to follow, whether it be Western Kentucky in the post-Mitchell Robinson era, Middle Tennessee State trying to stay at the top after a pair of Cinderella runs in March Madness, and so much more. There are several teams that I think could be really dangerous at the top of the C-USA. The only thing holding it back is the lack of overall conference depth, as the bottom of the league once again appears extremely weak.

Standings Projection:

  1. UAB- Last season was derailed after PG Nick Norton saw a knee injury end his season in the opener, but with Norton and highly-regarded freshman Zack Bryant giving the backcourt an immediate boost, the Blazers are my team to beat in the C-USA.
  2. Middle Tennessee State- The Blue Raiders do lose a pair of stars in Jacorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw, but Giddy Potts returns for Kermit Davis’ club along with some talented guys ready to make the next step. The x-factor may be Alabama transfer Nick King, a former top-50 recruit who has yet to truly find his stride at the Division 1 level.
  3. Western Kentucky- Definitely the hardest team to place at this point, simply because we have absolutely no idea how all of this is going to come together. That said, the Hilltoppers have a ton of talent even without Robinson or Jordan Brangers, and while the chemistry may be a concern, experience shouldn’t be (4 starters will be on their 4th or 5th year of college).
  4. Louisiana Tech- Kind of the forgotten man in this title hunt, LA Tech should be as dangerous as anyone. Jacobi Boykins is an excellent wing scorer, and point guard DaQuan Bracey is coming off a freshman campaign in which he was 4th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio.
  5. UTEP- 4 starters return for the Miners from a sneaky-good 12-6 conference slate a season ago, including star guard Omega Harris. They also add talented former SMU guard Keith Frazier to the mix to provide another scoring option. Point guard play is a question mark, but I’m pretty high on Evan Gilyard to take over as a full-time PG for UTEP.
  6. Charlotte- Charlotte has an NBA-caliber talent in point guard Jon Davis. However, frontcourt play was absolutely awful for the 49er’s a season ago. A lot of pressure will be on JUCO big man Jailan Haslem to solidify the center spot for Mark Price’s club. If he can, watch out.
  7. Old Dominion- We all know Jeff Jones’ club will play excellent defense, but being able to produce efficient offense was an issue a season ago. For me, much of that comes down to the play of point guard Ahmad Caver, a steady distributor and the Monarchs’ leading scorer who shot just 36% from the field a season ago.
  8. Marshall- Pretty much the exact opposite of ODU, Marshall is going to have no problem putting points on the board this season. Still, the frontcourt depth really concerns me, especially with the late transfer of Terence Thompson (Wake Forest).
  9. UTSA- A lot departs for the Roadrunners from a season ago, but they do have a pair of promising sophomores in Byron Frohnen and Giovanni De Nicolao to build around.
  10. Rice- Things looked so promising for Rice until Mike Rhoades left. Then, Marcus Evans, Egor Koulechov, Marcus Jackson, and Marqueze Letcher-Ellis all transferred. Scott Pera will do a good job there, but it looks like a rebuild to me.
  11. Southern Miss- Former 4-star guard Dominic Magee joins the Eagles after bouncing around for his first 2 seasons of college. If he can capture that potential everyone saw as a prep Champrecruit, he could give Sotuhern Miss a much-needed boost.
  12. North Texas- I loved the hire UNT made this offseason in Grant McCasland, who did a great job turning around Arkansas State in his only season in Jonesboro. This year is likely a rebuilding one, but the future looks bright.
  13. Florida Atlantic- Losing a pair of rotation players in Nick Rutherford and Jeantal Cylla certainly hurts, but FAU could definitely climb into the middle tier of the standings if sophomore combo forward Jailyn Ingram blossoms into the star I think he can be.
  14. Florida International- It’s going to be flat-out ugly this year for FIU. The Panthers lose their top 5 scorers from a team that finished 3-15 in conference play last season.

Champions: UAB

It was definitely a tough call, but I’m rolling with the Blazers at the top of the C-USA. They already have one of the best mid-major frontcourts in the country in Chris Cokley and William Lee, but the return of Norton and the addition of Bryant gives them firepower and playmaking ability that they just didn’t have a season ago. Norton was one of the better and more steady playmakers in the conference, a solid shooter who makes the right play and doesn’t turn it over. Bryant, who had visits in the works to multiple high-major programs before pledging to the Blazers, is a super-athletic guard who can play either guard position. One coach told me this summer he’d be the second best freshman in the conference behind only the since-departed Mitchell Robinson. Combine that with the fearsome pairing of Cokley and Lee, and it’s not hard to see why I think this UAB team has a chance to be special.

Dark Horse: Charlotte

Year 3 of the Mark Price era begins with reason for optimism, as the 49er’s have one of the best players in the conference in Jon Davis and a solid core around him. What really killed Charlotte a season ago was frontcourt play, as they were severely undersized all year, which took a toll on their defense and rebounding efforts. However, with the continued development of Najee Garvin and the addition of the aforementioned Haslem, that facet should improve. I really believe this Charlotte team has a chance to make some noise.

First Team All-Conference:

  • G: Jon Davis (Charlotte)
  • G: Jon Elmore (Marshall)
  • G: Giddy Potts (Middle Tennessee State)
  • F: Justin Johnson (Western Kentucky)
  • F: William Lee (UAB)

Player of the Year: Giddy Potts- This award could definitely wind up in Davis or Elmore’s hands, especially if their teams can register top-5 finishes. Still, I’m going with Potts, the senior guard who introduced himself to the college basketball world when he helped lead the Blue Raiders past Michigan State in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. With Williams and Upshaw graduating, Potts will be the clear alpha-dog offensively, and i expect him to post huge numbers in his senior season.

Breakout Player of the Year: Tyrik Dixon (MTSU)- Another guy who stands to see his role increase, Dixon was rock solid for the Blue Raiders as a freshman running the show for an NCAA Tournament team. Now, he’ll be asked to do a bit more scoring, and I believe he’ll thrive in that increased role. Dixon is an all-league trajectory in my opinion.

Newcomer of the Year: Lamonte Bearden (Western Kentucky)- Bearden, who began his career with a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances in 2 seasons at Buffalo, joins Rick Stansbury’s club in hopes of making them C-USA contenders. He’s lightning-quick in the open floor and tough to stop off the bounce. If he has improved as a jump shooter, Bearden will be impossible to stop.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: CAA

By Kevin Sweeney

Albeit expected, the news of the offseason in the CAA was the departure of head coach Kevin Keatts from UNC-Wilmington, as he took the same position at NC State. In his 3 seasons at UNCW, Keatts led the Seahawks to a 72-28 record, 3 consecutive regular season CAA titles, and a pair of NCAA Tournament berths. With Keatts also left CJ Bryce, UNCW’s star guard who had averaged over 17 points and 5 rebounds per game for the Seahawks before following Keatts to NC State.

That said, the UNCW program is in excellent hands with well-regarded new head coach C.B. McGrath, a long-time North Carolina assistant. And while the Seahawks aren’t likely to claim a 4th straight conference title, the CAA as a whole looks to be one of the better one-bid leagues in college basketball this season.

Standings Projection:

  1. College of Charleston: The Cougars are pretty clear favorites in the CAA. With all 5 starters returning from a team that won 25 games and earned an at-large bid to the NIT, College of Charleston is in position to have a special season. This is the type of team that could be everyone’s darling come March.
  2. Towson: I try not to put too much stock in preseason international trips, but the Tigers were VERY impressive during their August trip to Canada. They went 4-1 on the trip, and sophomore guard Zane Martin shined throughout (16.3 ppg). The Tigers will need some younger pieces to step up in the frontcourt, but if they do, watch out.
  3. Elon: Just like College of Charleston, Elon returns 5 starters from last year’s squad. They don’t do anything exceptionally well, but they don’t make many mistakes and have one of the most underrated big men in the country in Tyler Seibring. One thing the Phoenix must turn around was a whopping 4 conference losses by 3 points or less.
  4. Hofstra: This Hofstra club probably has the most offensive firepower in the conference. Guys like Justin Wright-Foreman (18.6 ppg) and Eli Pemberton (12.6 ppg) can flat-out fill it up on the wing. However, Joe Mihalich’s club was atrocious defensively a season ago, something that must change for the Pride.
  5. UNC-Wilmington: The Seahawks were definitely the toughest team for me to place. They still have one of the better mid-major bigs in Devontae Cacok, but his role will change drastically with a new system in place and being the focal point of the offense. The Seahawks will also need some guards to step up into much bigger roles after losing their top 3 playmakers from a season ago.
  6. Delaware: The fact that we aren’t talking about Delaware in the basement is a testament to what Martin Inglesby has done in a relatively short period of time since taking that job. The Blue Hens have a young star in wing Ryan Daly as well as a strong freshman class, and are definitely a team I think could surprise some people.
  7. Northeastern: Bill Coen has a strong recruiting class coming in, but the 2017-18 season may be a year of transition. The Huskies lose their top 2 players from a season ago in bona fide stars TJ Williams and Alex Murphy. Watch out for Tomas Murphy (Alex’s brother), a highly-touted freshman who is the anchor of this incoming class.
  8. James Madison: 7 seniors graduate, but that may not be such a bad thing for JMU, which has brought in some solid talent in this year’s recruiting class under 2nd-year head coach Louis Rowe. Look for Toledo transfer Stuckey Mosley to make a huge impact.
  9. William & Mary: 4 starters graduate for the Tribe, including a pair of 1,000-point scorers in Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon. Promising sophomore forward Nathan Knight needs to blossom into an all-league level player for W&M to move up the CAA standings.
  10. Drexel: The Dragons have the right man for the job in Zach Spiker, but I believe they are still a year away from climbing up the CAA standings. A pair of transfer guards in Troy Harper (Campbell) and Tramaine Isabell (Missouri) will have to step up.

Champions: College of Charleston

This College of Charleston team has a chance to be a legitimate top-50 team in college basketball. They have everything you are looking for in a good mid-major: an excellent defense, an experienced roster, and multiple guys who can get you a bucket when you need one. The trio of Joe Chealey, Jarrell Brantley, and Grant Riller is outstanding. The one thing that could hinder the Cougars is an inexperienced bench, but the top-end talent is enough to make this team super dangerous.

Dark Horse: Hofstra

There’s a lot to like about this Hofstra team in terms of its ability to climb the CAA standings. The aforementioned firepower on the wing combines with a frontcourt that features one of the best rebounders in the country in Rokas Gustys as well as grad transfer power froward Joel Angus (SEMO) who should be a nice rotation player. The 2 big questions marks are point guard play and defense, and both can answered with the addition of JUCO point guard Kenny Wormley, who began his career at Siena. Wormley is long, lightning-quick guard who should be a plus perimeter defender for the Pride. If he can run the show efficiently and provide Joe Mihalich as a perimeter stopper, it would be a huge boost for Hofstra’s title hopes.

All-Conference First Team:

  • G: Joe Chealey (College of Charleston)
  • G: Ryan Daly (Delaware)
  • F: Tyler Seibring (Elon)
  • F: Jarrell Brantley (College of Charleston)
  • F: Devontae Cacok (UNC-Wilmington)

Player of the Year: Joe Chealey- Chealey does pretty much everything you want from your lead guard. He handles the ball, defends, distributes when necessary, and is a hyper-efficient shot-maker. His numbers a season ago (17.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 apg) are even more impressive when you consider that he missed the entire 2015-16 season due to a foot injury. He’s a huge reason that Charleston is the heavy favorite in the CAA.

Breakout Player of the Year: Zane Martin (Towson)- After a solid freshman season in which he posted 4 double-digit scoring performances in 4 of his final 6 games, Martin seems poised for a big sophomore campaign. The Philadelphia native shined on the Tigers’ international trip this offseason, posting over 16 points per game. Look for Martin to see an increased role in the Pat Skerry’s offense, forming a potent backcourt duo in Martin and Mike Morsell.

Newcomer of the Year: Stuckey Mosley (James Madison)- A transfer who began his career at Toledo, I’ve heard rave reviews on Mosley all summer. He’s a true alpha-dog on the offensive end who can score from anywhere on the floor while also being a capable distributor. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Mosley as an immediate all-league-level player.

 

 

 

 

 

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Big West

By Kevin Sweeney

It’s hard for me to think of a league that is more “down” this year than the Big West. Looking up and down the league, I just don’t see the talent level we have seen in years past in this year’s group. That said, the Big West should be absolutely wide open this year (this was definitely one of the hardest ones for me to project) making it potentially one of the most fun to watch leagues in the country.

Standings Projection:

1.Long Beach State: Last season was a definite disappointment for “The Beach”, but a solid core of Gabe Levin and Temidayo Yussuf returns along with reinforcements in the backcourt in the form of grad transfer Bryan Alberts (Gonzaga) and JUCO point guard Deishaun Booker.

2.UC-Irvine: A young team with no seniors, UC-Irvine does lose a lot of production from a season ago. However, the Anteaters still have plenty of talent and a talented sophomore class that played a lot of minutes as freshmen.

3.UC-Davis: The Aggies return the clear top player in the conference in Chima Moneke, and should be right up there at the top of the Big West. Jim Les continues to do a great job building this program.

4.UCSB: The job that Joe Pasternack has done in a short time since taking over UCSB this spring has been outstanding. If Gabe Vincent returns to 100% health following an ACL tear.

5.Cal State Fullerton: A trio of double-digit scorers return for the Titans, including double-double machine Jackson Rowe. Don’t rule out the Titans in the Big West race.

6.Hawaii: Jack Purchase and Gibson Johnson form a formidable frontcourt pairing, but the Rainbow Warriors will need someone to step up in the backcourt if they want to contend in the Big West.

7.Cal State Northridge: The Matadors certainly have plenty of offensive firepower, but have to improve an atrocious defense to make noise in conference play.

8.Cal Poly: 3 starters graduate for the Mustangs, whose anemic offense held them back a season ago. They will have to create more efficient offense and rebound the ball better to stay out of the bottom of the conference.

9.UC Riverside: Last season was an ugly one for the Highlanders. However, if Boston College transfer Idy Diallo can make an impact in the frontcourt, it would give UCR a big boost.

Champions: Long Beach State

Last season did not go according to plan, as the favorites never got things going and wound up finishing 4th in the Big West. That said, things could have been a lot different with a couple of bounces going in the other direction, as LBSU was 0-4 in overtime games and lost several more games by single digits. The Niners are still a talented club despite some key departures, especially with the addition of Bryan Alberts from Gonzaga, a versatile guard who can shoot the 3, handle the ball, and defend. The Big West is wide open, but as of now I’ll put my bets on “The Beach” to take home the title.

Dark Horse: UC-Santa Barbara

UCSB made one of the best coaching hires of the offseason in Arizona Associate Head Coach Joe Pasternack, who has immediately set the Gauchos up for success now and in the future. For the short term, he has landed a pair of grad transfers who’ve averaged double-digit scoring at the Division 1 level in Marcus Jackson (Rice) and Leland King (Nevada). Add that to a healthy Gabe Vincent and the return of big man Jalen Canty, and this team could be the team no one in the Big West will want to see on their schedule.

First Team All-Conference:

⁃ G: Gabe Vincent (UCSB)

⁃ F: Gabe Levin (LBSU)

⁃ F: Tavrion Dawson (CSUN)

⁃ F: Jackson Rowe (Cal State Fullerton)

⁃ F: Chima Moneke (UC Davis)

Player of the Year: Chima Moneke– There really isn’t too much to debate on this one. Moneke is a rare example of a guy who redshirted after arriving as a JUCO transfer, but it’s been a move that has certainly paid dividends as he has blossomed into an instant star for UC Davis. He’s a force on the boards, and his offensive arsenal is very difficult to defend, especially as he has expanded the range on his jump shot. He’s definitely one of the most under appreciated stars in college basketball.

Breakout Player of the Year: Tommy Rutherford (UC Irvine)- The sophomore big man Rutherford was very productive as a freshman, and should see a much bigger role this season. He averaged over 6 points and 5 rebounds per game in under 20 minutes per contest while shooting nearly 60% from the field. Rutherford seems to be next in the line of great bigs at UC-Irvine in the Russell Turner era.

Newcomer of the Year: Bryan Alberts (LBSU)– Alberts and LBSU were a perfect match for each other this offseason. The talented Alberts was buried in the insanely deep Gonzaga backcourt, while LBSU was left in dire need of good guards following the premature departures of Justin Bibbins and Evan Payne. Alberts will provide and experienced, steady hand for Dan Monson’s team, and is a big reason I’m picking LBSU to win the conference.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Big Ten

By Kevin Sweeney

Next in our preview series (albeit a slightly delayed one due to that thing called school) is the Big Ten, one of the top conferences in the nation. I’m excited to increase my coverage of the league this year, as I am a student at Northwestern and will try to bring you guys as much coverage of the league as a whole as possible. Of note: so far no Big Ten teams have been wrapped up in the NCAA corruption scandal that rocked college basketball in recent days. Let’s get into it:

Standings Projection:

  1. Michigan State- National Player of the Year frontrunner Miles Bridges leads the way for a Spartan team that is as complete as any squad in the country. Look for a big jump from sophomore point guard Cassius Winston, who definitely showed promise as a freshman.
  2. Minnesota- I really like this Minnesota roster. They have a senior star in Nate Mason running the show, and the super-talented Amir Coffey poised to have a big year on the wing. Frontcourt depth is a bit of a concern with Eric Curry out for the year, so Reggie Lynch MUST stay out of foul trouble.
  3. Northwestern- A veteran club coming off its first NCAA Tournament berth in program history, the Wildcats should be even better this season. A legitimate top 25 club entering the year. One concern: how will playing home games 20 miles off campus at Allstate Arena affect this NU team?
  4. Purdue- Caleb Swanigan is gone, but plenty of talent remains for Matt Painter’s club. A pair of all Big Ten-level talents in Vincent Edwards and Carsen Edwards (no relation) should carry the load, but this Boilermaker team is deep and versatile.
  5. Maryland- I’m super high on the sophomore trio of Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter, and Justin Jackson. Even without Melo Trimble, I really like this Maryland team to make noise in the Big Ten.
  6. Iowa- Another team that features a loaded sophomore class in Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Tyler Cook, and Cordell Pemsl. After just missing the NCAA Tournament a season ago, look for the Hawkeyes to return to the Big Dance for the 4th time in the last 5 years under Fran McCaffery.
  7. Wisconsin- Such a tough team to call. I feel almost criminal betting against this Wisconsin program that is as consistent as any in the country. However, I have major questions about that roster beyond star big man Ethan Happ. Guys like sophomore D’Mitrik Trice & Brevin Pritzl must step up.
  8. Michigan- John Beilein’s club suffers heavy losses from last year’s Sweet 16 team, with Derrick Walton Jr, Zach Irvin, and DJ Wilson all gone. However, skilled big man Mo Wagner is a star and the Wolverines add backcourt reinforcements in Jaaron Simmons (grad transfer from Ohio) and Charles Matthews (transfer from Kentucky).
  9. Illinois- Year 1 of the Brad Underwood era is certainly one of transition, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this team make some noise. Highly-touted freshman guard Mark Smith has drawn comparisons to Thomas Walkup (who Underwood coached at Stephen F. Austin), while the Illini have the athletes to thrive in Underwood’s uptempo system.
  10. Indiana- Another team in transition in Archie Miller’s first season in Bloomington, the Hoosiers do have some solid pieces. Robert Johnson is an excellent scorer on the wing, and the frontcourt pairing of Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis could wind up being one of the better ones in the Big Ten. Josh Newkirk will have to improve as a point guard if the Hoosiers are going to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid.
  11. Penn State- This is the year for Pat Chambers to actually win some games at Penn State. Guys like Tony Carr, Shep Garner, and Mike Watkins all return from last year’s club. I’m just not sold on Chambers winning at the Big Ten level, but the team is certainly talented enough to make a push,
  12. Ohio State- This begins the clear bottom tier of the Big Ten. While Chris Holtmann has things going in the right direction, the late departure of Thad Matta left the cupboard pretty bare without many pieces out there to replenish it. Things may be a struggle in Columbus.
  13. Rutgers- Steve Pikiell has begun the long process of turning around this Rutgers program, but things will take time. Corey Sanders, Deshawn Freeman, and Mike Williams return as the centerpieces of this toster, and I’ve heard good things about freshman guard Geo Baker. One thing I do know: Pikiell will have his team playing hard and competing for 40 minutes.
  14. Nebraska- I don’t feel great about having the Cornhuskers last, but I just see too many unknowns at this point to have any confidence in them. Glynn Watson will have to step up huge with Tai Webster gone, and Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland needs to have a big season.

Champions: Michigan State

It’s scary to think how good this Michigan State team could be if things go the way I think they can. The core of the roster is star-studded, anchored by a future lottery pick in Bridges, Winston, and Nick Ward, with Josh Langford and 5-star freshman Jaren Jackson also making huge contributions. The bench is experienced, with senior leaders like Tum-Tum Nairn and Gavin Schilling giving the youthful Spartans a much-needed veteran flavor. What makes this team so dangerous to me is the versatility that Bridges in particular gives them. In small lineups, Bridges can play the 4 and let MSU run and space the floor with a mobile big at the 5. However, Bridges can also play on the wing and allow the Spartans to use their size to their advantage with a dominant force like Ward down low. Having a piece like that is so key in matching up with teams, especially once single-elimination games in March come along.

Dark Horse: Iowa

This Iowa team has some really interesting pieces. That promising sophomore class is complimented by Nicholas Baer, a versatile forward who really is the ultimate glue guy. However, the guy that could push this team over the top is Luke Garza, a top-100 recruit at the center position who posted ridiculous numbers during the Hawkeyes’ trip to Europe this summer. If he takes control of the center spot, it will allow Tyler Cook to have a more free-roaming role at his natural position (the 4) and should really improve Iowa’s rebounding. A top 4 finish in the Big Ten wouldn’t stun me.

All-Conference First Team:

  • G: Nate Mason (Minnesota)
  • G: Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern)
  • F: Miles Bridges (Michigan State)
  • F: Vincent Edwards (Purdue)
  • C: Ethan Happ (Wisconsin)

Player of the Year: Miles Bridges- I touched on Bridges earlier, but its absolutely scary just how good Bridges could be this season. Despite dealing with nagging injuries for much of the season, Bridges still averaged nearly 17 points and 8 rebounds per game at excellent efficiency. He’s just so strong and quick off the bounce that it makes him nearly impossible to stop, especially when he’s hitting his jump shots. The one area where Bridges could improve is getting to the free throw line. For a guy as physical as Bridges, the just over 3 free throw attempts per game from a season ago should be much higher. I wouldn’t be stunned if he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per game this season.

Breakout Player of the Year: D’Mitrik Trice (Wisconsin)- This pick is as much out of necessity as anything else. After a solid year as a freshman, Trice must step up and take the reigns as the starting PG for the Badgers with Bronson Koenig graduating. He won’t need to score a ton, but Trice must make plays off the bounce and make his teammates better for the Badgers to not drop too far in the Big Ten standings.

Newcomer of the Year: Mark Smith (Illinois)- Brad Underwood made a splash early in his time at Illinois with the late add of Smith, one of the better guards in the 2017 class. He’s tough, physical, and makes winning plays for your basketball team- a perfect fit for what Underwood is building.