Report: Islands of the Bahamas Showcase Teams Released

By Kevin Sweeney

While much of today’s college basketball discussion will be in regards to the release of the brackets for the PK80 Invitational (exempt event honoring Nike founder Phil Knight), there was also another tournament field reported today. The Islands of the Bahamas Showcase will feature 8 mid-majors in a tournament on November 17-19, per @TheD1Docket on Twitter. Today, Josh Thomson of Lohud.com reported the field for this event. Bradley, Coastal Carolina, Duquesne, Iona, Northern Kentucky, UTSA, Vermont, and Weber State will be the participants, per Thomson.

UPDATE: Duquesne released its non-conference schedule today and will not be participating in the event. It’s unclear who will replace them in the event, as the field has not been officially announced. Weber State officially announced it would be participating in the event in its non-conference schedule release.

UPDATE #2: James Madison will be the 8th participant the event, per Vermont’s non-conference schedule release. 

The event is a win-win for all participants. As scheduling at the mid-major level is more difficult than ever before, it has become important for good mid-majors to schedule other good mid-majors. These types of games boost the RPI and other advanced metrics for these programs, while also providing experience playing against teams of similar caliber to the teams you will face in your conference tournament later that season.

Let’s take a look at the field of this event:

  • Bradley is likely to be in the upper tier of the Missouri Valley this season, as they bring back all 5 starters from last season’s squad.
  • Coastal Carolina should contend for a Sun Belt title, as they bring in a pair of talented grad transfers in Chas Brown (Coppin St), and Donte Clark (UMass) to compliment a talented returning core.
  • James Madison is coming off a rebuilding campaign but brings in some solid young talent, as well as Toledo transfer Stuckey Mosley. They should be in the middle of the pack in the CAA this season.
  • Iona has been one of the most consistent mid-majors in college basketball and will enter the season as the favorite in the MAAC.
  • Northern Kentucky is coming off the best season in program history and will likely be picked either 1st or 2nd in the Horizon League this season.
  • UTSA loses its top 2 scorers from last season, but brings back a pair of promising freshmen in Giovanni De Nicolao and Byron Frohnen.
  • Vermont brings back the vast majority of its production from last season, when they went undefeated in the America East and took Purdue to the wire in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Weber State is consistently one of the top teams in the Big Sky, and that trend should continue into 2017-18.

The bracket for the event has been released on the tournament’s Twitter page. The first round matchups include Vermont vs Bradley, Iona vs Weber State, Coastal Carolina vs UTSA, and Northern Kentucky vs James Madison.

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This will be one of the early-season tournaments I will be most excited for. The battle of some of these top mid-majors will be fascinating to watch unfold come mid-November. Hopefully we will see more of these style events for mid-majors in the future, rather than mid-majors participating in the larger tournaments in the form of a “buy game”. I’ll be sure to release more information about this event when I receive it.

Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25

By Kevin Sweeney

While this blog typically focuses on mid-major basketball, I decided to formulate my way-too-early top 25 now that all NBA draft decisions are in. Let me know your thoughts on these rankings by commenting below or sending me a tweet (handle is @CBB_Central)!

#1. Arizona

Just a few short days ago, the Wildcats weren’t my preseason #1. However, with talented wing Rawle Alkins returning to school and 5-star forward Emmanuel Akot reclassifying to join an already-stellar recruiting class, Arizona is now the best team in the country. With an all-American level wing in Allonzo Trier leading the way, a dominant post player in DeAndre Ayton joining the fray, along with an excellent supporting cast led by Alkins, PG Parker Jackson-Cartwright, and veteran center Dusan Ristic, the Wildcats may be the early leader in the clubhouse to cut down the nets in San Antonio in early April.

#2. Michigan State

The Spartans are another team that benefited greatly from NBA Draft decisions, as superstar forward Miles Bridges surprised most around college basketball by returning for his sophomore season. Bridges, along with fellow sophomores Cassius Winston and Nick Ward, make up one of the best trios in all of college basketball. Throw in a solid bench and one if the best coaches in college basketball, and it’s easy to see why the Spartans are likely to be one the of the best teams in the country this season.

#3. Kentucky

Another year, another incredibly talented recruiting class brought in by John Calipari in Lexington. 6 (yes, 6) 5-star prospects make up this year’s class, headlined by wings Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, and Jarred Vanderbilt. While it’s certainly possible that these recruits won’t live up to the considerable hype, I trust Calipari and his staff to do what UK does every year: turn “one and dones” into wins.

#4. Villanova

I have the Wildcats slightly higher than most national projections do, as the losses of Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins should hurt Jay Wright’s team. However, they still will have one of the top backcourts in the country, one featuring PG Jalen Brunson and wings Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges, and Donte DiVincenzo. Plus, the Wildcats add an element to their roster they simply didn’t have last season: a dominant low-post force. Omari Spellman, a 5-star prospect who had to sit out last season, will likely start at center and give those outstanding guards more space to work with on the outside.

#5. Duke

The most polarizing player in college baseketball, Grayson Allen, is back for his senior season. If he can get his act together, he is one of the premier players in college basketball. Surrounding him will be a group of youngsters headlined by Trevon Dural, a 5-star PG prospect who oozes with potential. The frontcourt is a question mark, as Mike Krzyzwewski will look to sophomore Marques Bolden and freshman Wendell Carter to man the interior. If those 2 perform well, the sky is the limit for this Duke team.

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Legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzwewski talks to his team during a time-out: By Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Flickr: 06) [CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

#6. Kansas

The Jayhawks lose national player of year Frank Mason, a lottery pick in Josh Jackson and steady center Landen Lucas from last season’s team, but KU will once again be favored to win the Big 12. Why? A big reason is the addition of talented guard Malik Newman, a transfer from Mississippi State who averaged double figures in scoring as a freshman 2 seasons ago in Starkville. Veteran guard Devonte Graham will likely move into the point guard role, with Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk filling out a talented guard rotation. Bill Self has won 13 straight Big 12 titles, and I have no reason to believe that streak won’t continue into next season.

#7. USC

When Andy Enfield inherited this USC program, the Trojans hadn’t won 20 games in 4 seasons. Now, as Enfield enters his 4th season in SoCal, his team is projected to be among the nation’s elite. Every major contributor is back from this season’s team, and the Trojans add Duke transfer Derryck Thornton and top recruit Charles O’Bannon Jr to a roster that already includes a talented core that features forwards Bennie Boatwright & Chimezie Metu and guards Elijah Stewart, Jordan McLaughlin, and Shaqquan Aaron. While USC isn’t a typical blue blood basketball school, don’t be surprised to see them near the top of the college basketball world all season long.

#8. Miami

There is perhaps no team in college basketball that intrigues me more than Miami. They feature one of the top pure scorers in the country in Bruce Brown, who should build on an excellent freshman season to become one of the nation’s biggest stars in 2017-18. Combine Brown with an excellent point guard in Ja’Quan Newton and 5-star prospect Lonnie Walker, and it’s easy to see why the potential for this team is so high. Watch out for the Canes in the ACC title race this season.

#9. Florida

I must admit, I am apprehensive about putting the Gators this high given the loss of Devin Robinson to the NBA Draft and Canyon Barry to graduation. However, Florida does have SEC Player of the Year candidate KeVaughn Allen and brings back key role players like John Egbunu and Chris Chiozza. Mike White will look to a pair of transfers in former Virginia Tech wing Jalen Hudson and former Rice forward Egor Koulechov to fill the void left by Robinson and Barry. If those 2 transfers can step up, the Gators can assert themselves as the top contender to Kentucky in the SEC.

#10. Wichita State

It’s rare that a team moving up in conference is expected to win its league in their inaugural season as members. However, that is the case for the Shockers, who have moved up from the MVC to the American for the 2017-18 season. The Shockers bring back virtually everyone from this past season, including superstar guard Landry Shamet, a player who will finally get the attention he deserves among the nation’s elite by playing in the AAC this season. WSU will be deep, talented, and experienced, a combination that all coaches dream about having.

#11. Louisville

In the aftermath of the national title game, many considered Louisville to be the way-too-early #1 team in the country. However, after an offseason that saw star guard Donovan Mitchell and forward Jaylen Johnson enter the draft early, the Cardinals were left with a massive void in their roster for 2017-18. They still have one of the top point guards in the ACC in Quentin Snider, but sophomore and former 5-star wing V.J. King must step up for Rick Pitino’s club if they wish to remain in the top tier of the ACC standings.

#12. Minnesota

The Golden Gophers were one of the biggest surprises of the 2016-17 season, finishing in the top tier of the Big 10 and earning a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With the talent they have returning, no one will be sleeping on Minnesota this season. Point guard Nate Mason is a steady hand who will lead this team, while talented forwards Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy continue to develop into Big 10 stars. The Golden Gophers also have one of the nation’s elite rim protectors in Jordan Lynch, who averaged over 3 blocks per game this past season. If players like Eric Curry, Isaiah Washington, and Michael Hurt can provide good bench play, Minnesota could establish itself as one of the elite teams in the country.

#13. UCLA

Betting on freshmen when you aren’t named John Calipari or Mike Krzyzwewski isn’t usually the best strategy, but it’s what Steve Alford will do this season with many key players departing. The good news for Bruin fans is that Alford has brought in an outstanding recruiting class that can be expected to contribute right away. While LiAngelo Ball won’t make nearly the same impact his brother Lonzo did, PG Jaylen Hands and wing Kris Wilkes will likely step into starting roles immediately. Combine them with the rest of a strong freshman class and a returning duo of Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh, and it is clear to me the Bruins won’t fall far from last season’s outstanding campaign.

#14. West Virginia

One thing that is always certain about a Bob Huggins-coached team is that they will play hard-nosed defense that will never give you a play off. No player embodies that more than Jevon Carter, the 21-going-on-40 point guard who is perhaps the best perimeter defender in college basketball. However, Carter is also an excellent guard at the offensive end, and is a big reason why expectations are so high for WVU. If talented forward Lamont West can take the next step in his game, this season has a chance to be a very special one for the Mountaineers.

#15. Alabama

Avery Johnson has brought basketball back to relevancy at Alabama, and this year is the year the Tide will showcase that to the world. A pair of 5-star guards in Collin Sexton and John Petty will likely be plug-and-play starters on the wing, with talented point guard Dazon Ingram returning to run the show and forward Braxton Key making a big impact with his scoring ability and versatility at the 4 position. The rise of the Tide, along with the improvement of many other programs, makes the SEC one of the most intriguing conferences to watch this season.

#16. Cincinnati

While this is, in my opinion, the most talented team Mick Cronin has had during his time at Cincinnati, I have one trepidation about the Bearcats: point guard play. While Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome is a dynamic scorer and playmaker, he isn’t a true point guard, referenced by his sub-1 assist-to-turnover ratio during his final season before transferring to Cincinnati. If Broome can run the show effectively, then the Bearcats will be one of the nation’s elite teams. After all, they have a scary big 3 in Jarron Cumberland, Jacob Evans, and Kyle Washington.  

#17. North Carolina

While it feels disrespectful to put the defending national champions this low in a way-too-early top 25, there are 2 major questions to be answered: who is going to put the ball in the basket and who is going to man the frontcourt. The Tar Heels do have one of the best players in the country in Joel Berry, but losing Justin Jackson and Tony Bradley to the NBA leaves a pair of big holes to fill. For some scoring punch, the Heels will look to the likes of Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams, and Seventh Woods to increase their production. Meanwhile, Elite 8 hero Luke Maye and freshman Garrison Brooks project to man the frontcourt in the early going. The talent is there in Chapel Hill, but whether or not it all comes together is another question.

#18. Seton Hall

At one point this offseason, it appeared that there was little to no chance star big man Angel Delgado would return to South Orange for his senior season. However, Delgado had a change of heart and will back with the Pirates this season, immediately making them a top-25 team. With Delgado back and a strong guard unit that includes the likes of Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, and Myles Powell also returning, Seton Hall could easily assert itself as the top challenger to Villanova in the Big East.

#19. Virginia Tech

What a job Buzz Williams has done in Blacksburg. In just a few seasons, Williams has turned a cellar-dweller in the ACC into a top 25 team, and things continue to improve every year. Highly-touted guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker joins a returning group that features 3 returning double-figure scorers from last season. The departures of Seth Allen and Zach LeDay will be difficult to overcome, but I believe that talented forward Chris Clarke will have a huge year to help make up for the loss of LeDay. 

#20. Northwestern

Northwestern basketball arrived on the national scene last season with their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. Wildcat fans shouldn’t have to wait nearly as long to hear their names called on Selection Sunday for a second time. 6 of the top 7 scorers on this past season’s team return, including the guard duo of Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey. They also have a weapon in Vic Law, whose length, versatility, and ability to knock down triples make him a unique piece at the college level. Center Dererk Pardon could be in for a breakout year as well, and will likely post numerous double-doubles this season.

#21. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish have a guy who should be a consensus preseason first team All-American in Bonzie Colson, who plays much larger than his 6-5 frame. Max Farrell, the fearless PG who is the heart and soul of this team, also returns. The biggest loss is shooting, as a pair of veteran sharpshooters in Steve Vasturia and
V.J. Beachem graduated after this past season. If highly-regarded freshman guard D.J. Harvey can make an impact right away, Mike Brey will have his team near the top of his weight.

#22. Purdue

Losing Caleb Swanigan hurts a ton, but there is still a strong core in place for the Boilermakers to remain near the top of the Big 10. Vincent Edwards and Carsen Edwards will be the stars, while Purdue can also expect key contributions from 7-2 center Isaac Haas and underrated wing sniper Dakota Mathias. There is no one player that can replace the contributions of Swanigan, but the Boilermakers have the talent and depth to still be a scary team. 

#23. St. Mary’s

Gonzaga’s near-undefeated season overshadowed what was yet another outstanding season by Randy Bennett’s squad. From that 29-win team returns 4 starters, including one of the top players in mid-major basketball in center Jock Landale. Landale nearly averaged a double-double this past season, posting 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest. Joining the fray is scoring guard Cullen Neal, a grad transfer from Ole Miss who can bring some offensive firepower for the Gaels. This year, the Gaels will once again be a team no blue-blood wants to play in March Madness.

#24. Providence

Ed Cooley has brought the Friars to 4 consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time in program history, and that streak should run to 5 this season. All 5 starters return, while the Friars also bring in top-50 recruit Makai Ashton-Langford. Kyron Cartwright is perhaps the most underappreciated point guard in the country; a true distributor who has grown as an offensive weapon over time. While Providence lacked a true center last season, freshman big man Dajour Dickens joins the team this year. If he can provide some toughness and rim protection, the Friars could find themselves much higher than 24th nationally when all is said and done.

#25. Oklahoma

Last season, this Sooner team could just never finish the job. The talent was there, but the young Sooners lost a whopping 12 games by 10 points or fewer. While point guard Jordan Woodard graduates, the rest of that talented core returns, with guys like Kameron McGusty, Rashard Odomes, and Kristian Doolittle only scratching the surface of their potential. Add to that one of the top recruits in the country in sharpshooting point guard Trae Young, and you can see why the Sooners could be in for a special season in 2017-18.

THE NEXT 5: Xavier, SMU, Texas A&M, Rhode Island, TCU

BREAKING: Texas Lands Mo Bamba

Shaka Smart has landed the piece he hopes will carry his Texas squad to the NCAA Tournament.

Mo Bamba, the 5-star big man who was regarded by most recruiting services as the best remaining player in the 2017 class, has committed to the Longhorns, he said in a piece in the Player’s Tribune. Bamba was also considering Kentucky, Duke, Michigan, and numerous other programs.

Bamba, a 7-footer from Harlem, NY, is expected to be a lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. DraftExpress lists Bamba as the 4th pick in the 2018 draft.

For now, Bamba will be focused on helping lead the Longhorns to significantly more success than they had last season. Texas stumbled to an 11-22 record and finished last in the Big 12. However, with a talented freshman class of 5 headlined by Bamba and PG Matt Coleman, along with the return of key contributors Andrew Jones (should he return to school) and Kerwin Roach Jr, Smart and Texas will have their eyes set on returning to the Big Dance. The Longhorns also add stretch four Dylan Osetkowski, a transfer from Tulane, to the mix for next season.

DraftExpress lists Bamba’s strengths as “Elite physical profile for a center prospect at 7’0, with a 7′ 9 wingspan and a 9′ 6 standing reach”, “Has the tools to be a monster defensively. Nimble enough to step out and switch ball screens, space defending and using his huge reach to contest. Quick enough to recover to blocks at the rim if beat. Length and quick leaping should help him develop into an excellent rim protector”, and “Solid footwork in the post. Can make a right-hand jump hook. Has touch around the rim”. – Source: http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Mohamed-Bamba-91224/ ©DraftExpress

Mid-Major Losers of the Offseason (So far)

By Kevin Sweeney

Yesterday, I profiled 5 mid-major teams I thought were winners of the offseason. However, not all programs have had a successful offseason. Many have seen key cogs depart and coaches move on to better opportunities, leaving once-optimistic fans already in “wait until next year” mode when this year hasn’t even begun. These programs have been left scrambling for talent at the end of the signing period, and the classes that they form through freshmen and transfers will determine whether this tough offseason will become the start of a long rebuild or a momentary hiccup on the way back to the top of their respective conference.

Losers

Rice

Everything was going perfectly for the Rice program. Former VCU assistant Mike Rhoades had taken the Owls to a 23-win campaign, and a strong core of talent was expected to return. The tides quickly turned when LSU hired VCU’s Will Wade as its head coach. Rhoades was quickly named the next VCU head coach, and with that departure came with a mass exodus of talent. Egor Koulechov graduated and transferred to Florida, Marcus Evans followed Rhoades to VCU, Marcus Jackson headed to UCSB, and Marquez Letcher-Ellis departed for Nevada. All of the sudden, new head coach Scott Pera was left with a roster lacking talent, and a team that was expected to be right in the thick of things in Conference USA this season is now facing a rebuilding campaign.

Dayton

Dayton’s inclusion is about timing as much as anything. The departure of Archie Miller to a high-major program seemed imminent for awhile, but having it happen in the offseason in which UD will already be replacing perhaps the greatest senior class in the school’s history is what makes this one hurt. Miller had an excellent freshman class lined up to enter the program, but 2 of these incoming recruits decided explore options. Those 2 players, PG McKinley Wright and scoring wing Nahziah Carter, were expected to play big roles this coming season. Now, the Flyers have huge questions to answer at the point guard position. They’ll hope that freshman Jalen Crutcher, a former Chattanooga commit who was brought in by new head coach Anthony Grant, and returning PG John Crosby can hold down the fort at point guard for the upcoming season. Otherwise, the Flyers won’t achieve the level of success they’ve come to expect over the past few seasons.

Illinois State

Even with an outstanding senior class graduating after the 2016-17 season, Illinois State looked like the favorite in a Wichita State-less MVC when the offseason began. However, with the departures of MiKyle McIntosh and DJ Clayton, the Redbirds are going to have to replace 5 of their top 6 scorers this season. The one saving grace for Dan Muller’s team is that many MVC squads will be “down” this year, so if ISU can get some contributions from the many newcomers on the roster, they should remain in the upper echelon of the Missouri Valley. Still, Redbird fans will rue what could have been if Clayton and McIntosh had remained in Normal.

Mount St. Mary’s

While the entire NEC has been walloped by the transfer epidemic affecting mid-major basketball, “The Mount” was hit hardest of any program. Coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance and having all 5 starters expected to return, optimism was very high. However, star guard Elijah Long left for greener pastures at Texas, freshman talent Miles Wilson is headed to a high-major (considering Auburn and Miami), and center Mawdo Sallah transferred to UNCW.

UNC-Wilmington

When Kevin Keatts was hired as the head coach at UNCW, he turned around a program that had struggled mightily over its previous 6 seasons immediately, bringing the Seahawks to a pair of NCAA Tournaments in his 3-year tenure. Now, with Keatts moving on to NC State, the program faces a critical moment. With Keatts departed an outstanding senior class led by Chris Flemmings, as well as CAA Player of the Year candidate CJ Bryce, who is transferring. All incoming players were allowed to explore their options elsewhere as well. While UNCW made a strong hire in longtime North Carolina assistant C.B. McGrath, the Seahawks may be in for a down year.

Mid-Major Winners of the Offseason (So far)

By Kevin Sweeney

As we reach the middle of May, teams are rapidly finalizing their rosters for the 2017-18 season. Nearly all the coaching vacancies have been filled, and many top transfers have found their new homes. While there are still plenty of teams still looking to add talent to their rosters for the upcoming season, it’s a good time to take a look at which mid-major programs have had the best and worst offseasons so far.

NOTE: I’ll do a post on mid-majors losers of the offseason tomorrow, so stay tuned for that.

Winners

Duquesne

If you had told me on or around March 20th so that I would be writing “Duquesne” under winners of the offseason, I would have told you that I was off my rocker. The Dukes had been rebuffed by several candidates for the job, and talented freshmen Isiaha Mike and Mike Lewis, along with many from a talented incoming class, had requested their releases to explore other options. However, that all changed when they hired former Akron head coach Keith Dambrot. While the entire incoming class and Mike still elected to depart, Lewis elected to return, and Dambrot has done an incredible job of assembling talent for 2017-18 and beyond. He added 2 of his former players at Akron in Michael Hughes and Tavian Dunn-Martin, 3 freshmen, a JUCO transfer, and 2 other “sit-out” transfers in Craig Randall (Memphis) and Marcus Weathers (Miami of Ohio). While the team will likely struggle this season, Dambrot has put this program on track for success for years to come.

Nevada

Nevada head coach Eric Musselman has revitalized the Wolf Pack program in his 2 short years in charge, so it’s no wonder his name was mentioned in connection to numerous head coaching vacancies this offseason. However, Musselman rebuffed Cal, among others, to return to Reno for another year. That in and of itself would have been considered a win for the Pack. However, the offseason victories didn’t stop there, as Musselman again added several talented players via the transfer market. The Pack added 2 guards and 2 forwards to their ranks, all of whom will be eligible beginning in 2018-19. The additions:

  • Bryant guard Nisre Zouzoua: 20.3 ppg, 37% 3pt FG%, 2 years of eligibility remaining
  • Portland guard Jazz Johnson: 15.8 ppg, 42% 3pt FG%, 2 years of eligibility remaining
  • Omaha transfer Tre’Shawn Thurman: 13.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1 year of eligibility remaining
  • Rice transfer Marquez Letcher-Ellis: 7.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2 years of eligibility remaining

The Pack also made a splash with the hire of former LSU head coach Johnny Jones as an assistant. Jones’ son John will also join the team. The younger Jones was a 3-time state champion guard in Louisiana who averaged over 15 points per game as a high school senior.

Iona

Iona had a few victories this offseason, but the biggest reason I put them down on this list is what happened to the rest of the MAAC. In a year in which many teams were already losing significant pieces to graduation, many of the other talented players departed MAAC programs. Fairfield saw guard duo Curtis Cobb and Jerry Johnson depart, a huge blow to a team many thought could compete for a MAAC title. Canisius lost star guard Kassius Robertson to Missouri as a grad transfer. Promising youngster Antwon Portley transferred from St. Peter’s to Fordham.

While the rest of the MAAC was seeing talented players depart, the Gaels were adding talent from the grad transfer market in UMass guard Zach Lewis and Tulsa big man TK Edogi. They also earned the commitment of Robert Morris transfer Isaiah Still, who will sit out this season. Finally, they held onto associate head coach and ace recruiter Jared Grasso, whose name was mentioned for multiple head coaching vacancies.

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Tim Cluess could have his team back in the MAAC Championship game in 2018, despite losing his top 3 scorers from this past season. By IonaSID (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Combine the additions to the Iona roster with the departures from the rest of the league, and the Gaels are the clear early favorite in the MAAC.

UC-Santa Barbara

Replacing longtime Gauchos head coach Bob Williams, the UCSB program handed the keys to its program to Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack in what was, in my mind, one of the most underrated hires of the offseason. Pasternack certainly hasn’t disappointed in his short time in SoCal, landing talented Rice grad transfer guard Marcus Jackson and former 4-star point guard Devearl Ramsey from Nevada. This year, Jackson and returnee Gabe Vincent will combine to form perhaps the best backcourt in the Big West, while Ramsey waits in the wings to take over the show in 2018-19. In addition, Pasternack added Boise State assistant John Rillie to his staff, a strong hire who should do a great job bringing in talent for UCSB. Even coming off a 6-25 season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see UCSB contend for a Big West title this year.

UNLV

The offseason had been fairly quiet for UNLV. Then came an approximately 24 hour period that changed the landscape of the Mountain West for the upcoming season. The first domino to fall was 5-star center Brandon McCoy committing to the Rebels in a somewhat surprising move. Then came the commitment of the top JUCO player in the country in Shakur Juiston. Shortly thereafter, 4-star guard Amauri Hardy committed to Marvin Menzies’ program. Those 3 additions make the Rebels one of the most interesting mid-majors in college basketball this season, and certainly one of the most talented teams in the Mountain West.

The Not-Entirely-Crazy Realignment Scenario

By Kevin Sweeney

Conference realignment is like a domino effect. All it takes is one team to switch leagues, and all the sudden programs are swapping conferences in rapid succession.

After Wichita State departed the Missouri Valley Conference for a new home in the American, I knew it was possible that a large realignment could occur. Now, with Valparaiso poised to take WSU’s spot in “The Valley”, the realignment picture has become clearer. Now, let me preface this by saying I don’t expect, nor do I have any knowledge that, this will happen. That being said, here’s a chaotic scenario that leads to a change in the mid-major college basketball landscape as we know it:

What If?

In the immediate future, the Horizon League holds all the cards. My scenario hinges on Commissioner Jon LeCrone being very aggressive and looking to add 3 teams. First, the Horizon adds Robert Morris, a top NEC program that makes sense geographically for the league and would probably be interested in leaving an NEC that has been decimated by transfers.

The second addition would be Nebraska-Omaha. After being considered but declined for a move to the Missouri Valley, Omaha departs the Summit League for the Horizon. While Omaha is relatively new to the Division 1 ranks and is struggling to establish a fan base for its basketball team, it has a beautiful new arena and has been fairly successful during its brief tenure in Division 1, with a win over Iowa and a trip to the Summit League title game this season.

The final (and most controversial) addition would be New Mexico State. No, that’s not a typo. NMSU is currently stuck in a conference that requires a lot of travel as it is, as I was told by a close source that NMSU already flies to all its road WAC games. With the WAC fairly weak and facing an uncertain future, it seems possible that the Aggies could explore a move elsewhere. Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News reported last May that the Horizon League had “expressed interest in NMSU”.

Those 3 moves would create the largest ripple effect.

With Robert Morris off the the Horizon League, the NEC is left with just 9 teams. To fill that void, they add former independent and current A-Sun member NJIT, which has enjoyed recent success on the hardwood. That would leave the Atlantic Sun with 7 teams, but that number is set to increase to 8 in the Fall of 2018 with the addition of North Alabama from the D2 ranks.

The response from the New Mexico State entrance is the most drastic. Worried that they will wind up stuck in one of the worst conferences in college basketball, Grand Canyon attempts to depart the WAC as well. The fit for GCU is the West Coast Conference, where the conferences jump at the chance to add one of the highest-upside mid-majors in the country to combine with other top mid-majors like Gonzaga, BYU, and St. Mary’s. While there would likely be some pushback by the WCC schools about adding a for-profit school in GCU, in this scenario, Grand Canyon heads to the WCC.

With both of the top programs in the WAC now gone, the conference as a whole begins to disintegrate (Sorry, WAC fans). Cal Bakersfield heads to the Big West, where they fit right in with the 8 other California public schools currently in the conference. Cal Baptist, which is expected to join the WAC once they become D1 in Fall of 2018, would also join the Big West. It’s also possible those schools could wind up as independents should the Big West not accept them. Needing a home, UMKC heads back to the Summit League, where travel costs are lower. Facing deep financial trouble and likely untouchable by other conferences, Chicago State decides to drop divisions or drop athletics all together rather than deal with life as a D1 independent. That leaves the WAC with just 3 members: Seattle U, Utah Valley, and UTRGV. While all 3 of these programs could wind up as independents if no other conference is willing to add them, UTRGV would make sense geographically in the Southland, while Utah Valley and Seattle fit best in the Big Sky geographically but the Summit League in terms of the sports they play.

So, let’s review what each of these conferences would look like:

Conferences

Could This Really Happen?

While it’s pretty unlikely for this to happen, it’s certainly possible. Obviously, the linchpin here is New Mexico State. If they make the bold move to the Horizon League, it could set off a chain of events similar to this one that would send shockwaves through mid-major college basketball.

Remember, this could only be the beginning. A realignment like this could cause numerous teams to look to move around in the near future.

What’s a More Likely Scenario?

While this plan is interesting for sure, it seems more likely that the Horizon League will draw from a more local group of schools. Robert Morris, Fort Wayne, IUPUI, Murray State, Belmont, UMKC, and Omaha will all likely be in the discussion. Adding up to 3 of those schools would set off a slight ripple effect, likely effecting the Summit League or Ohio Valley the most.

I’d love to see your thoughts on potential expansion in the Horizon League! Feel free to comment below or tweet me (handle is @CBB_Central) your thoughts on this scenario or Horizon League expansion as a whole!

UAB adds Detroit Transfer Jaleel Hogan

By Kevin Sweeney

With a pair of top frontcourt players in William Lee and Chris Cokley set to graduate after the 2017-18 season, UAB and head coach Robert Ehsan had to add an impact big man for the 2018-19 season.

Ehsan did just that today by adding Detroit transfer Jaleel Hogan, according to Jon Rothstein of FanRag Sports. Hogan will have one year of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2017-18 season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.

In Hogan, UAB adds a versatile 6-6 forward who put up excellent numbers this season for Detroit. He averaged 15.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game despite playing less than 27 minutes per game for the Titans. Had Hogan not had just one year of eligibility remaining, or had he been a grad transfer, I believe he would have been a highly sought-after commodity on the transfer market by a slew of high-major programs.

Hogan is a player who could really improve during his redshirt season. If he can improve his free throw shooting from a poor 54% and expand his range on his jumper, Hogan could be a star in the Conference USA. He could also make an impact by staying out of foul trouble, something he struggled to do this past season. He averaged 3.8 fouls per game and fouled out 11 times this season for Detroit.

UAB still has one scholarship remaining for the 2017-18 year with the departure of guard Javien Williams, which was reported today by Drew Champlin of AL.com. Their 2017 recruiting class, the first full class under Ehsan, includes guards Luis Hurtado and Zach Bryant, along with big man Makhtar Gueye. All 3 of those players had high-major offers, per verbalcommits.com.