32 Conferences, 32 Days: WAC

By Kevin Sweeney

The WAC has been slowly recovering from getting crushed by the last round of conference realignment, with intrigue around the league seemingly growing every year. That should only increase this season, with Grand Canyon’s transition into D1 complete and the Lopes finally eligible for the NCAA Tournament. They should be a top contender to reach the Big Dance, but they’ll face stiff competition from perennial power New Mexico State and some other solid challengers for the WAC title in what should be a very fun one-bid league to watch.

Standings Projection:

  1. New Mexico State- Chris Jans took over for Paul Weir this offseason at the helm of this NMSU program and did a wonderful job bringing in talent. The headliner of that group is Zach Lofton, a grad transfer from Texas Southern who was the SWAC POY last season. Jans also inherits a strong core, featuring talented guard Sidy N’dir, versatile point forward Jemerrio Jones, and double-double machine Eli Chuha. The Aggies deserve to be the favorite in the wide-open WAC.
  2. Grand Canyon- The graduation of DeWayne Russell certainly hurts, but this team has the depth and talent necessary to be an NCAA Tournament team. Dan Majerle brings in a terrific recruiting class and an experienced grad transfer in former Oregon guard Casey Benson to compliment WAC POY favorite Josh Braun and breakout candidate Oscar Frayer.
  3. Utah Valley- Kind of the forgotten man in the WAC title race, I’m a big believer in this UVU team to win 20 games and be a factor in the WAC. 5 of the Wolverines’ top 6 scorers return, and UVU adds a trio of transfers who could make an impact immediately. One guy to watch is Akolda Manyang, a 7-footer who transferred in from Oklahoma who should be a force down low in the WAC on both ends of the floor.
  4. Cal State Bakersfield- CSUB loses a lot of scoring punch from last year’s roster with the graduations of Jaylin Arrington, Dedrick Basile, and Matt Smith, but do have a solid returning core highlighted by POY candidate Daminye Durham, a solid point guard in Brent Wrapp, and forward Shonn Briggs. Look for a pair of newcomers in JUCO guard Ricky Holden and Jarkel Joiner to get provide some much-needed scoring as reserves. Also, the fact is we shouldn’t bet against Rod Barnes considering the job he has done at CSUB building this program into a consistent WAC contender.
  5. Seattle U- You have to love the job Jim Hayford has done so far at Seattle U, landing several talented transfers and recruits to put the program in great shape for years to come. For this year, he’ll have to rely on a talented center in Aaron Menzies and a trio grad transfers in Jordan Hill (Wisconsin), Richaud Gittens (Weber State), and Josh Hearlihy (Vermont) to try and climb the WAC standings.
  6. UTRGV- The Vaqueros have an outstanding scorer in Nick Dixon, a guy who is always capable of going off for 30 points if he gets rolling. The x-factor is Terry Winn, the UTEP transfer eligible at the midseason mark, who has the talent to be an all-WAC player.
  7. UMKC- UMKC is almost entirely unproven with the graduation of 5 starters from a season ago, but Kareen Richardson does bring in some intriguing newcomers highlighted by 3-star guard Brandon McKissic that will have to carry the load. If the freshmen don’t live up to expectations, it could be a very ugly season.
  8. Chicago State- This is probably the hardest place to win in college basketball at this point. The Cougars do have a star in Fred Sims who should put up huge numbers, but it will be hard to climb out of the league’s cellar without getting some help from the rest of the roster.

Champions: New Mexico State

The Aggies have the most talented core in the conference, with the additions of Lofton and Ohio State transfer AJ Harris to a group that already included Sidy N’Dir, double-double machine Eli Chuha, and do-everything point forward Jemerrio Jones. Jones is kind of the piece that makes all of this work, a great and versatile defender whose passing ability will free up Harris to score more at times. Meanwhile, N’Dir and Lofton’s games mesh perfectly, with N’Dir’s shooting ability complimented well by Lofton’s ability to get to the rim, using his physical frame to bully defenders. The forgotten man at times is Chuha, who very well might be the best player in the WAC. He provides an extremely efficient scoring threat in the low post and dominates on the glass. The question here is the transition of a new coach for the second straight offseason, as well as the reliance on a young group of newcomers to make up bench depth. However, this team has the talent not only to win the WAC but also challenge a high-major come March Madness.

Dark Horse: Utah Valley

As I mentioned earlier, I’m super high on this UVU team as one that could be in it until the end for the WAC title. There’s a lot of roster versatility for Mark Pope to work with, with the equally-appealing potential for twin-tower lineups with Manyang and Isaac Nielson or going small with one of the bigs at the 5 and 4 guards surrounding him. One area where they must improve is ball security, as they ranked last in the conference in turnover margin a season ago. However, the addition of BYU transfer Cory Calvert should help the Wolverines in that category. This is the year for Pope to lead UVU into true contender status in the WAC.

First Team All-Conference:

  • G: Joshua Braun (Grand Canyon)
  • G: Nick Dixon (UTRGV)
  • G: Sidy N’Dir (NMSU)
  • G: Damiyne Durham (CSUB)
  • F: Eli Chuha (NMSU)

Player of the Year: Joshua Braun (Grand Canyon)- Braun has been so key to this transition process at GCU, and now as a senior he has a chance to cap off his career with a WAC Player of the Year award, but more importantly, an NCAA Tournament berth. An elite shooter and crafty playmaker, Braun has an outside shot to get to 2,000 career points. His health will be critical though, as he has struggled with knee injuries throughout his GCU career.

Breakout Player of the Year: Oscar Frayer (Grand Canyon)- A high-major athlete who plays above the rim, Frayer’s upside on the wing is scary. He jumps out of the gym and is an improving shooter, the one aspect of his game he really struggled in as a freshman. I expect a big year from the sophomore, who I see as a future star in the WAC.

Newcomer of the Year: Zach Lofton (New Mexico State)- Lofton was highly sought-after on the grad transfer market this offseason, but he chose NMSU over a slew of high-major offers. He’s a proven commodity at the D1 level, a tough guard who can score at will on opposing defenses, and should be an excellent piece at the WAC level.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: SWAC

By Kevin Sweeney

I’ll be honest: the SWAC has probably been the least interesting conference to follow over the past 5 seasons. In that stretch, Texas Southern has won 4 of 5 regular season titles, 3 of 5 postseason tournaments, and had the conference player of the year all 5 times. Combine that with the league’s overall weakness (nearly every metric ranks it in the bottom 2 conferences in the country) and you just don’t have an incredibly appealing product to watch. That said, it should be intriguing to see if Texas Southern can continue their dominance over the rest of the conference into the 2017-18 season, or if someone can rise past the Tigers and claim the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

Standings Projection:

  1. Texas Southern- The Tigers are again the favorites in the SWAC, despite losing star wing Zach Lofton to transfer this offseason. They replace Lofton with a grad transfer of their own in former UMass guard Donte Clark, a supremely talented scorer who averaged over 16 points per game in the A10 as a sophomore. Combine him with sophomore PG Demontrae Jefferson, and you have an extremely dangerous backcourt.
  2. Alcorn State- 3 key rotation players graduate, but the Braves have the best returning player in the conference in Reginal Johnson (15.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg). Look for sophomore guard Maurice Howard to have a breakout year in the backcourt and help the Braves contend for a conference title.
  3. Southern- The Jaguars have very talented duo in senior big Jared Sam and versatile wing Chris Thomas that will win them a lot of SWAC games. The x-factor for this team could be a pair of transfers in Richard Lee, a shooter who transferred in from UT-Martin, and Sidney Umube, a transfer from YSU who should provide another interior presence up front.
  4. Jackson State- The transfer of Edric Dennis was a crusher for the Tigers, but they still have some intriguing pieces to build around. Look for senior guard Paris Collins to take on a huge scoring load offensively, but he’ll have to improve on his sub-30% 3-pt shooting to take the next step into a POY candidate.
  5. Prairie View A&M- PVAMU started the season 3-14 and 0-3 in conference play a season ago, but turned things around by winning 10 of their final 16 games and finishing in a tie for 3rd in the SWAC. This is a team that could surprise this season with a pair of returning double-digit scorers.
  6. Alabama State- 3 starters return for the Hornets, who could make a big jump this season after winning just 8 games last season. They’ll have to be more efficient offensively though if they are going to move up the conference standings.
  7. Grambling- A tough spot for first-year head coach Donte Jackson to enter with the program ineligible for the postseason this year and several key cogs departing. We’ll see if Jackson can bring over some of the offense his teams produced at Stillman College, where they averaged over 86 points per game.
  8. Arkansas-Pine Bluff- Pine Bluff was a rare team without a guy averaging double-digit scoring a season ago, but they do bring back a good amount of production from a season ago. The Golden Lions could climb in the SWAC.
  9. Mississippi Valley State- Unknowns are about for this Delta Devil roster, but Andre Payne’s club will rely on a glut of JUCO products to keep them them out of the cellar in the SWAC.
  10. Alabama A&M- Talented sophomore De’Edrick Petty will be looked to for a huge year in order to try and push AAMU up in the standings this season.

Champions: Texas Southern

This is the most talented roster in the conference, and the Tigers also have the league’s best coach in Mike Davis. Auburn transfer Trayvon Reed comes in to solidify the frontcourt, while stars in Clark, Jefferson, and Kevin Scott look to be dominant forces in the backcourt. An x-factor could be Derrick Bruce, a former 3-star recruit who was solid at Oregon State before transferring to junior college and landing at Texas Southern. This roster is full of high-level pieces that should help TSU keep their SWAC crown.

Dark Horse: Southern

While Texas Southern has been the dominant program in the conference of late, Southern has been a pretty solid #2. With a pair of double-digit scorers returning, the Jaguars have more than enough firepower to make noise in the SWAC title race. One area they must improve is outside shooting, where the Jaguars really struggled last season.

First Team All-Conference:

  • G: Demontrae Jefferson (Texas Southern)
  • G: Donte Clark (Texas Southern)
  • F: Zachary Hamilton (PVAMU)
  • F: Jared Sam (Southern)
  • F: Reginal Johnson (Alcorn State)

Player of the Year: Donte Clark (Texas Southern)- Clark is a high-major talent who hasn’t always had his head on straight during his time in college. However, the talent to go for 20 points or more any given night is most certainly there, and Mike Davis has done a tremendous job with guys like Clark in his time at Texas Southern. I expect a huge year from him.

Breakout Player of the Year: Reginald Gee (Alabama State)- After a freshman season in which he averaged over 8 points per game, Gee seems poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. I see him blossoming into one of the better scorers in the conference this season.

Newcomer of the Year: Donte Clark (Texas Southern)

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Sun Belt

By Kevin Sweeney

https://twitter.com/CBB_Central/status/924347188678922240

Yesterday was an impressive day for the Sun Belt, as a pair of teams expected to compete at the top of the conference took down a pair of high-major foes expected to be in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Georgia State took down Georgia Tech, with sophomore star D’Marcus Simonds the best player on the floor with 30 points. Meanwhile, Kevin Hervey and Erick Neal did their thing for UTA, leading them to an easy victory over Oklahoma by each posting double-doubles. These results just reinforce that whoever comes out of this league will be a very dangerous team to watch come March.

Standings Projection:

  1. UT-Arlington- This is the year for Scott Cross’s club to reach the NCAA Tournament. After being stunned in the conference tournament last season by Troy, the Mavs have 2 of the better players in program history as seniors and expectations are high. My concerns about floor-spacing were quelled by yesterday’s performance, as UTA shot a blistering 14-29 from beyond the arc.
  2. Georgia State- D’Marcus Simonds is going to be a star (if he isn’t already) and is going to win Ron Hunter’s team a lot of games. St. Bonaventure big man Jordan Tyson should provide some stability to a frontcourt that loses Jeremy Hollowell, but the backcourt should be so dangerous that they just need solid rebounding and defense from their bigs.
  3. Louisiana-Lafayette- The returning core of high-scoring guard Frank Bartley and double-double Bryce Washington are special, and ULL brings in a trio of high-level transfers that should make this team even more dangerous. I’m especially intrigued by Jakeenan Gant, an athletic big who could bring a shot-blocking element to the Ragin’ Cajuns.
  4. Troy- A team many are forgetting about as a contender in the Sun Belt, Troy stunned a lot of people with their run through the Sun Belt tournament to the NCAA Tournament last season. They have an outstanding do-it-all forward Jordon Varnado, as well as 2 other starters returning, and the Trojans have what it takes to be a factor in the Sun Belt.
  5. Coastal Carolina- Coming off a run to the CBI title game, Coastal Carolina looks like a dangerous sleeper in the Sun Belt. Star guard Jaylen Shaw combines with big man Demario Beck for a solid 1-2 punch. Combine that with a strong incoming recruiting class, and i think CCU could surprise.
  6. Georgia Southern- Pretty much everyone returns for Georgia Southern from last season, including the outstanding backcourt of Ike Smith, Tookie Brown, and Mike Hughes. However, they’ll have to improve significantly on the boards in order to contend for a league title.
  7. Arkansas State- For the second consecutive season, Arkansas State has a new coach, as Mike Balado replaces Grant McCasland, who left for North Texas after a 20-win season. The backcourt is talented, with Deven Simms, Rashad Lindsey, and talented JUCO transfer Ty Cockfield in tow. Balado has done an excellent job recruiting since he arrived in Jonesboro, and looks to be a strong hire for the future.
  8. Texas State- A lot of talent departs for the Bobcats, but they do have a star in the making in Nijal Pearson, who averaged over 13 points and 5 rebounds as a freshman a season ago.
  9. Little Rock- This is definitely a team in transition, with 5 of their top 6 scorers departing from last season. However, Wes Flanigan has brought in some intriguing newcomers, including some size in a pair of grad transfers from Ohio in Wadly Mompremier and Khari Harley who should step in as solid pieces right away.
  10. Louisiana-Monroe- A pair of versatile forwards in Travis Munnings and Sam McDaniel return for the Warhawks, but they’ll have to be more efficient on offense if they are going to make some noise this season.
  11. South Alabama- The jumbo frontcourt of sophomore Josh Ajayi and grad transfer Rozelle Nix will be tough to handle for opposing defenses, but may pose issues on the defensive end of the floor in dealing with pick-and-roll sets.
  12. Appalachian State- The Mountaineers have a talented volume scorer in Ronshad Shabazz, but he’ll need some help around him to take some pressure off and allow him to be more efficient.

Champions: UT-Arlington

While we shouldn’t take anything major away from preseason games, the UT-Arlington demolition of Oklahoma on Saturday demonstrated exactly why the Mavericks should be the favorite in the Sun Belt. Kevin Hervey posted 27 points and 13 rebounds, while Erick Neal compiled 25 points and 12 assists. Simply put, those two are more than capable of dominating games, and when they can space the floor and give Hervey and Neal space to operate, they are going to challenge any team in the country.

Dark Horse: Coastal Carolina

CCU has some intriguing pieces to contend. While they lost the commitment of grad transfer guard Donte Clark, they still have a very deep frontcourt and some talented pieces in the backcourt in Shaw, Artur Labinowicz, and JUCO prospects Ajay Sanders & Tyrell Gumbs-Frater. One breakout candidate is Amidou Bamba, who played solid minutes for a Canadian national team that won gold at the FIBA U19 World Cup.

First Team All-Conference

  • G: Erick Neal (UT-Arlington)
  • G: D’Marcus Simonds (Georgia State)
  • F: Jordon Varnado (Troy)
  • F: Bryce Washington (UL-Lafayette)
  • F: Kevin Hervey (UT-Arlington)

Player of the Year: Kevin Hervey (UT-Arlington)- Hervey is a legitimate NBA prospect. At 6-9, his versatile offensive game and floor-spacing ability makes him impossible to stop. Remember, Hervey was still getting back to full health after an ACL tear suffered in 2015-16, yet still averaged over 17 points and 8 rebounds. Expect a huge year from Hervey for the Sun Belt favorites.

Breakout Player of the Year: Deondre Burns (Little Rock)- Burns will be needed to have a huge jump in production for Little Rock with 5 out of their top 6 scorers departing. He’s an excellent shooter who has the upside to have a big season for the Trojans.

Newcomer of the Year: Jakeenan Gant (Louisiana-Lafayette)- Gant is the perfect big to play next to Bryce Washington. He’s extremely mobile, can protect the rim, and will do the dirty work, a very useful glue guy who could help the Ragin’ Cajuns be a true contender in the Sun Belt.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Summit League

By Kevin Sweeney

The Summit League has become one of the most interesting and competitive one-bid leagues in the country. However, it still lacks the coverage and attention it deserves due to its location. That said, it should be an outstanding conference to follow this season, and I’m looking forward to what I expect to be an extremely tight conference race. Of note: the Summit is down to 8 teams for this season, as IUPUI left for the Horizon this offseason and North Dakota joins the conference in 2018-19 from the Big Sky.

Standings Projection:

  1. South Dakota State- Mike Daum. That’s the reason SDSU is the favorite in the Summit this season. Coming off a season in which he averaged 25 points and 8 rebounds per game, Daum is an absolutely dominant force who makes the game easier for everyone else on the court (except who has to guard him). The Jackrabbits really came into their own as the season went on last year, and I expect that momentum to continue into 2017-18.
  2. Denver- I’m very high on Denver this season. They have an outstanding duo in junior guard Joe Rosga and senior big Daniel Amigo, and were in contention for a conference title last until they lost 5 of their final 6 games. Look for a jump from the Pioneers in year 2 under Rodney Billups into legitimate conference title contenders.
  3. South Dakota- In most conferences, Matt Mooney would be the preseason player of the year. The presence of Daum takes that off the table, but Mooney is an elite player in his own right. My question with the Coyotes is point guard play, as Trey Dickerson departed this offseason as a grad transfer to Georgetown. Sophomore Triston Simpson will have to step up in that role.
  4. North Dakota State- It’s hard for me to bet against this NDSU program given how strong it has been in recent years, but the departures of uber-efficient big man Dexter Werner and talented scorer Khy Kabellis give me cause for pause with the Bison. However, the core of Paul Miller and AJ Jacobson is outstanding and should lead NDSU to a lot of wins this season.
  5. Fort Wayne- Scoring punch won’t be lacking for the Mastodons despite the departure of the talented Mo Evans, as Bryson Scott and Kason Harrell are double digit scorers in the backcourt while John Konchar remains one of the best and most versatile players no one has heard of in college basketball. Where Jon Coffman’s team must improve is on the defensive end, where they ranked 250th in defensive efficiency a season ago.
  6. Nebraska-Omaha- Coming off a trip to the Summit League title game, UNO loses a ton of production, including star point guard Tra-Deon Hollins, scoring wing Marcus Tyus, and dominant big Tre’Shawn Thurman. Mitchell Hahn is a nice piece to build around as a stretch big, but they’ll need someone to step up and run the show in their breakneck-paced offensive scheme. I think that guy will be sophomore KJ Robinson, who scored 15 points and was a defensive catalyst with 3 steals in a hurricane relief scrimmage vs Creighton.
  7. Oral Roberts- Year one of the Paul Mills era in Tulsa will be one of transition, as he has a dominant big man in Albert Owens to rely on in the post, but not a ton of talent around him. Missouri State transfer Austin Ruder provides much-needed floor-spacing to give Owens and Emmanuel Nzekwesi some room to operate.
  8. Western Illinois- Who doesn’t love the Leathernecks? Unfortunately, it looks like another ugly year on the horizon, with their top 2 talents in Garret Covington and Mike Miklusak both graduating. Brandon Gilbeck returns as an elite rim protector (3 blocks per game) but will need to up his offensive game with the departure of that duo.

Champions: South Dakota State

The Fighting Mike Daum’s (trademark pending) are my pick to win the Summit. The addition of JUCO point guard Brandon Key, who averaged over 12 points and 7 assists in junior college, is the exact piece TJ Otzelberger’s club needed, a true table-setter for Daum who can space the floor as well. Daum himself will win the Jackrabbits a ton of games this season, but a guy like Key stepping up right out of the gates would be huge. One piece not to be forgotten about is Reed Tellinghuisen, who made a ton of key plays down the stretch last season, averaging 14 points and 5 rebounds on 36% from 3 in the season’s final 9 games.

Dark Horse: Fort Wayne

This team is really intriguing to me. Losing a guard who could score and distribute like Mo Evans obviously hurts, but there are still plenty of weapons on this roster. John Konchar doesn’t get the credit he deserves on the national level, a hyper-efficient scorer who rebounds extremely well for his size and also is a great passer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him step into a primary ball-handling role this season to allow guys like Harrell and Scott to focus on scoring off the ball. That dynamic would be super fun to watch, and while Fort Wayne will need to defend better than last season, they are going to score a ton of points and be competitive in pretty much every game in the Summit.

First Team All-Conference:

  • G: Matt Mooney (South Dakota)
  • G: Paul Miller (North Dakota State)
  • G/F: John Konchar (Fort Wayne)
  • F: Mike Daum (South Dakota State)
  • F: Daniel Amigo (Denver)

Player of the Year: Mike Daum (South Dakota State)- We’ve touched on Daum at length in this piece, but the 6-9 forward can do everything on the basketball court. He’s an elite shooter, unstoppable in the post, and an improving ball-handler. He is one of the leading candidates to lead the country in scoring this season, and it wouldn’t stun me if he averaged 30 points and 10 rebounds per game this season.

Breakout Player of the Year: Emmanuel Nzekwesi (Oral Roberts)- Assuming new head coach Paul Mills implements a style similar to the one he ran as an assistant under Scott Drew at Baylor, Nzekwesi should thrive. A strong-built 4 who can score inside and out, Nzekwesi posted impressive numbers as a freshman (over 9 points and 6 rebounds per contest) and compliments senior big Albert Owens perfect. Look for a huge year from Nzekwesi.

Newcomer of the Year: Brandon Key (South Dakota State)- Another guy I touched on earlier, Key is the type of distributor perfect for TJ Otzelberger’s free-flowing offensive system. I expect him to thrive and be a huge part of SDSU’s success this season.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Southland

By Kevin Sweeney

The Southland Conference has been one dominated by Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks have claimed 4 of the last 5 regular season titles, going undefeated in conference play twice and only losing more than 2 conference games once in that span. And while SFA was tripped up last season in a transition season with a new coach in Kyle Keller at the helm, the Lumberjacks are back and are the favorites once again in the Southland.

Standings Projection:

  1. Stephen F. Austin- Kyle Keller has done a tremendous job recruiting talent to Stephen F. Austin, landing one of the better mid-major recruiting classes in the country to compliment a returning core that brings back 4 starters. Look for freshman PG Cam Mack to have a huge year.
  2. Lamar- The Cardinals bring back their top 7 scorers from last season’s club, which went 10-8 in conference play. Undersized forward Colton Weisbrod is a conference player of the year candidate, coming off a season in which he averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds per game despite standing just 6-5.
  3. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi- This is a really tough team for me to predict this year. On one hand, losing the best player in the conference in Rashawn Thomas will be extremely difficult to replace. However, they still have a very talented guard in Ehab Amin and a solid recruiting class that features talented twins Sean and Deion Rhea.
  4. Southeastern Louisiana- This team is a team I think could really surprise. Star point guard Marlain Veal is one of the most fun players to watch in the country, making highlight-reel plays despite his 5-9 frame. They also bring back Jordan Capps, one of the better big men in the conference who seemed destined for stardom last season before seeing his season end after 2 games due to injury.
  5. Sam Houston State- Jason Hooten has quietly helped lead this SHSU program to 3 20-win seasons in the last 4 years, and I wouldn’t be stunned to see a 4th registered this season. A solid core of Christopher Galbreath and John Dewey should carry the load, but the Bearkats will need some newcomers to step up around them in order to contend for a title.
  6. New Orleans- Mark Slessinger’s team shocked the world last season as surprise winners in the Southland, claiming their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1996. 3 starters graduate, but the Privateers have a very solid big man in Travin Thibodeaux and a strong group of incoming guards who should play minutes from the get-go.
  7. Houston Baptist- Coming off a 12-6 mark in Southland play, HBU does lose 3 starters but brings back an excellent duo in junior guard Braxton Bonds and senior big man Josh Ibarra. Another team that could move up in the league’s middle tier.
  8. Incarnate Word- In their first season of full Division 1 status after 4 in transition, UIW has one of the more talented cores in the league in PG Jalin Hart, wing Shawn Johnson, and big man Simi Socks. This team is 1 piece away from being a very dangerous club.
  9. Abilene Christian- As a freshman, Jalone Friday averaged over 13 points and 5 rebounds despite only playing a little more than 20 minutes per night. This rising star will have to have a big year for ACU to move up in the standings.
  10. Nicholls- I’m not sure if Nicholls will be good this season, but they will definitely be interesting. They add a mass of transfers to the roster, with the headliners being former Maryland guard Roddy Peters and UNCG wing Tevon Saddler, each of whom are more than capable of averaging 15 points per game this season. This team has the talent to be a top 5 team in this conference.
  11. Northwestern State- The intrigue here is Jalan West, the 7th-year senior point guard who has missed the last 2 seasons due to injury but averaged 20 points and 7 assists as a junior in 2014-15. If he can return anything close to form, the Demons will be a tough out.
  12. Central Arkansas- Central Arkansas has the conference’s leading returning scorer in Jordan Howard, who is well on his way to 2,000 career points assuming he stays healthy. They also add a very talented freshman big in SK Shittu, a high-upside kid who could develop into a star in the Southland.
  13. McNeese State- 3 starters return for McNeese, but they do lose 2nd-leading-scorer Jamaya Burr. They’ll need a massive sophomore season from Kalob Ladoux, who was one of the more impressive freshmen in the conference a season ago.

Champions: Stephen F. Austin

I see SFA as a pretty clear-cut favorite in the Southland. With the exception of starting point guard Dallas Cameron, everyone of significance is back. Guys like TJ Holyfield, Leon Gilmore, and Ivan Canete all return as all-conference-level talents, and sophomore wing Kevon Harris is one of my breakout candidates in the conference. Meanwhile, there’s a ton of excitement about 3-star point guard Cameron Mack, a long, smooth guard who fill fit perfectly in the system Kyle Keller has implemented. This SFA team looks like it could make some noise on the national scale come March.

Dark Horse: Southeastern Louisiana

Whenever you have a dynamic open-floor playmaker like Marlain Veal leading the offense, you have a chance to win games. Combine him with a group of long, versatile forwards who can play on the wing or down low, and you get a roster that could be very dangerous. Capps and Keith Charleston, each of whom coming off redshirt seasons, should help the offensive flow as well as help the Lions on the boards.

First Team All-Conference:

  • G: Marlain Veal (Southeastern Louisiana)
  • G: Jordan Howard (Central Arkansas)
  • G: Ehab Amin (Texas A&M-CC)
  • F: Colton Weisbrod (Lamar)
  • F: TJ Holyfield (Stephen F. Austin)

Player of the Year: Ehab Amin (Texas A&M-CC)- Probably not the guy most will tab as preseason POY, but I love Amin’s game. He attacks the rim relentlessly from the off-guard position, fights on the glass, and is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. He averaged over 3 steals per game a season ago, the defensive catalyst for an Islanders team that won 24 games and reached the CIT title game a season ago.

Breakout Player of the Year: Kevon Harris (Stephen F. Austin)- A long, athletic wing, I’m a huge fan of Harris’ upside at Stephen F. Austin. With his 6-6 strong frame, Harris is a very capable slasher and defender who is an improving shooter as well. He could develop into a star this year for the Lumberjacks.

Newcomer of the Year: Cameron Mack (Stephen F. Austin)- There will be newcomers who put up bigger numbers than Mack will as a freshman, but I doubt anyone will make the same impact. Mack seems likely to step in immediately at point guard, and is more than ready for the challenge. Mack is a guy we will be talking about for many years to come at SFA.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: SoCon

By Kevin Sweeney

The SoCon projects as one of the more interesting mid-major leagues to follow this season. Each team at the top has a flaw, but has more than enough talent to win the league. There’s an overall veteran feel to the league this year as well, with multiple teams bringing back all their production from a season ago. This should make for one exciting race to follow.

Standings Projection:

  1. Furman- The loss of head coach Niko Medved is certainly something to monitor, but the Paladins have hired a capable replacement from within in Bob Richey. He inherits a roster that returns everyone except for versatile big man Kris Acox and former walk-on TK Hayes, including SoCon POY frontrunner Devin Sibley. A dangerous team to watch come March.
  2. Mercer- If you are looking for an experienced team, look no further than Mercer. Bob Hoffman’s club will send out 5 senior starters this season, including the special backcourt duo of Ria’n Holland and Jordan Strawberry. A definite contender in this SoCon title race.
  3. Samford- It is remarkable the job Scott Padgett has done building this Samford program, and this season, the Bulldogs are legit SoCon contenders. They return all 5 starters, and the trio of PG Christen Cunningham, wing Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, and big Wyatt Walker is as good as any at the mid-major level. Padgett also adds a very interesting piece to the backcourt in Justin Coleman, who averaged more than 6 points and 3 assists per game at Alabama.
  4. East Tennessee State- There are a lot of question marks on this roster, but the Buccaneer’s have the best coach in the conference in Steve Forbes and some very intriguing newcomers that should compliment an all-league-level player like Desonta Bradford.
  5. Wofford- The Terriers have an outstanding scoring guard in Fletcher Magee, as well as a very solid big man in junior Cameron Jackson. My concern with them lies in point guard play, as 4-year starter Eric Garcia graduates after averaging 14 points and nearly 7 assists per game last season. I’d imagine sophomore Donovan Theme-Love and freshmen Tray Hollowell & Storm Murphy will duke it out for starting honors at the point.
  6. UNC-Greensboro- It can’t be understated how good a job Wes Miller has done atUNCG, winning 25 games and claiming a share of the league’s regular season title last season. They do lose 2 starters, but bring back talented Spanish scorer Francis Alonso and a potential breakout star in James Dickey. A team to not sleep on in the SoCon.
  7. Chattanooga- It was always going to be a bit of a rebuilding year for UTC with the amount of production they were projected to lose, but Matt McCall jumping ship for UMass and losing 2 highly-touted 2017 commits in Jalen Crutcher (Dayton) and Terry Nolan (George Washington) leaves this program in full rebuild mode. They’ll need a huge year from talented forward Makinde London in year 1 of the Lamont Paris era.
  8. Citadel- They may not win many games, but watching a Citadel game is an experience in of itself. They led the nation in scoring offense last season with 89.8 points per game. The only issue: they were worst nationally in scoring defense, conceding over 94 points per game. Perhaps year 3 of the Duggar Baucom era will be improved.
  9. Western Carolina- A lot of production returns for WCU from last year, but the Catamounts were horrifically bad offensively last season and will need to improve drastically in order to stay out of the cellar.
  10. VMI- The Keydets were nothing short of awful a season ago and lose star guard QJ Peterson. That’s not anyone’s recipe for success.

Champions: Furman

You can make a convincing case for a few teams to be champs, but I went with what I believe to be the most complete roster in the conference. Devin Sibley is one of the most underrated guards in the country, coming off a season in which he averaged over 17 points per game while shooting over 45% from 3 en route to being named SoCon Player of the Year. Meanwhile, Daniel Fowler is one of the more solid guards in the conference and does a little bit of everything for this club. The one concern I have beyond the coaching transition is replacing Kris Acox, but I think junior forward Matt Rafferty has the tools to do most of what Acox did a season ago.

Dark Horse: ETSU

Last season’s conference champions, it feels like ETSU is getting overlooked a bit going into this season. While TJ Cromer, Tevin Glass, and Hanner Mosquera-Perea all graduate, head coach Steve Forbes brings in Longwood transfer Kanayo Obi-Rapu in the backcourt as well as a pair of talented JUCO big men in Jeromy Rodriguez and James Harrison to compliment a returning core that includes the talented Desonta Bradford. Forbes will have his team ready to go, and I expect them to put up an excellent fight for the conference title this season.

First Team All-Conference

  • G: Devin Sibley (Furman)
  • G: Flethcer Magee (Wofford)
  • G: Ria’n Holland (Mercer)
  • G: Demetrius Denzel-Dyson (Samford)
  • F: Wyatt Walker (Samford)

Player of the Year: Devin Sibley (Furman)- It’s truly remarkable just how efficient a scorer Sibley was a season ago. He posted a true shooting percentage over 65% for the season, shooting nearly 60% from inside the arc and 45% from downtown despite drawing the attention of defenses all season. Sibley should be considered one of the best guards in all of college basketball.

Breakout Player of the Year: Demetrius Troy (UNCG)- With point guard Diante Baldwin graduating, Troy will likely take the reigns at that position. After 2 years of being a very solid role player, I expect Troy to thrive in his new role and have a big year for the Spartans.

Newcomer of the Year: Jeromy Rodriguez (ETSU)- A highly-touted JUCO prospect out of Northwest Florida State, Rodriguez was ranked 16th among all 2017 JUCO prospects by JUCOrecruiting.com. He should provide an immediate impact for the Buccaneers, who need help in the frontcourt with Glass and Mosquera-Perea graduating.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: SEC

By Kevin Sweeney

The recruiting level has ramped up to new levels in the SEC, and those successes should manifest themselves this season. Top to bottom, the conference has brought in as much talent in this recruiting class as any league in the sport. Excitement about the conference is as high as it has been in recent years, with the possibility for six to eight NCAA Tournament berths to come from the SEC this season.

Standings Projection:

  1. Kentucky- There’s a bit more unknown about this roster than even Kentucky is used to facing, but you can’t deny the top-tier talent. John Calipari brings in a remarkable 6! 5-star recruits in this season, and will once again have the best roster on paper in the SEC. The questions here lie in the leadership, where UK lacks that veteran presence to keep things together when things get tough.
  2. Alabama- I’m sticking with one of my bigger out-there takes of the summer, and that being Alabama finishing 2nd in the SEC. The addition of a pair of 5-star guards in Collin Sexton and John Petty should help the Crimson Tide’s offensive efficiency to increase, while maintaining a core that will make them stout defensively. I’m a big believer in the Tide to be perhaps a top-15 team this year if things break right.
  3. Florida- Mike White remains one of the more underrated coaches in the country, and he has assembled a top-15 type team again this season. The backcourt of Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen is nothing short of outstanding. Where my questions lie are up front, especially if it takes John Egbunu longer than expected to return to 100% from a knee injury he suffered last season.
  4. Texas A&M- This roster is so talented, from likely top-10 pick Robert Williams to experienced center Tyler Davis, to solid scorers on the wing in Admon Gilder and DJ Hogg. Things will all come down to point guard play for the Aggies, and they have a guy they are very excited about in redshirt freshman JJ Caldwell to run the show. Definitely a dark horse conference title contender.
  5. Missouri- If you had told me in late February of last season that I’d be picking Mizzou to be a top-5 team in the SEC this season, I would have said you were crazy. Yet here we are, with Missouri hiring Cuonzo Martin as their head coach and #2 2017 prospect Michael Porter joining the Tigers to give this team a chance to engineer a huge turnaround from their futility of recent years and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
  6. Auburn- An intriguing club to me this season, the Tigers took their lumps in SEC play, but that wasn’t unexpected given their top 4 scorers were freshmen. That young core of Jared Harper, Danjel Purifoy, Mustapha Heron, and Austin Wiley will now a be a year older and will be bolstered with two more 4-stars in Chuma Okeke and Davion Mitchell. This team has the talent to be an NCAA Tournament team this season.
  7. Arkansas- The losses of rim-protector Moses Kinglsey and floor-spacer extraordinaire Dusty Hannahs loom large, but the Razorbacks still have a talented backcourt pairing in Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon that will win them a lot of games. They’ll need steady play from 4-star freshman big Daniel Gafford to reach the Big Dance for the 3rd time in 4 years.
  8. Ole Miss- Andy Kennedy has so many good options to work with in the backcourt, whether it be high-volume scorer DeAndre Burnett, rising all-around-star Terence Davis, or Memphis grad transfer versatile wing Markel Crawford. The frontcourt is where concerns lie, as the Rebels will have to rely heavily on Drake transfer Dominik Olejniczak and JUCO forward Bruce Stevens to produce.
  9. Vanderbilt- Losing a stretch big who did as much as Luke Kornet is never easy, but when you have the talent that Vanderbilt has at guard, you will still be dangerous. However, I do have major concerns about their post play. Jeff Roberson will likely see the vast majority of time at the 4, but none of the 3 bigs on the roster have averaged over 2 points per game in Division 1 basketball. The Commodores will need someone to step up there if they are going to find themselves on the right side of the bubble come March.
  10. Mississippi State- Ben Howland has assembled an extremely talented backcourt, featuring junior Quinndary Weatherspoon, sophomore Lamar Peters, and freshman Nick Weatherspoon. However, the Mario Kegler transfer looms large now, as the sophomore now at Baylor would have fit in perfectly as a 4-man in this system.
  11. Tennessee- Grant Williams had one of the more underrated freshman seasons in the country a season ago, looking like a young Bonzie Colson at times while averaging over 12 points per game playing that undersized combo forward spot. The Vols also add former NCAA scoring champ James Daniel, who enters as a grad transfer from Howard.
  12. South Carolina- The Gamecocks lose so much, especially in the backcourt, from last season’s Final Four squad, but I won’t rule them out from moving up in these standings with a coach like Frank Martin who always gets the best out of his guys. One guy to watch is Delaware transfer Kory Holden, who averaged over 17 ppg in the CAA and will get plenty of opportunity to score for the Gamecocks this season.
  13. Georgia- The Bulldogs have one of the best big men in the country in Yante Maten. I’m just not sure there’s enough around him for UGA to make a push in the NCAA in what appears to be a critical year in Mark Fox’s tenure in Athens. With JJ Frazier having graduated, Fox will need some major contributors to step up in the backcourt to give Maten some room to work in the post.
  14. LSU- Will Wade has done a tremendous job recruiting talent since getting to Baton Rouge this spring, but I still think the Tigers are a year away from getting out of the cellar. Landing guys like 4-star guard Tremont Waters in the late period leave the Tigers if nothing else a much more interesting team for the 2017-18 season before a highly-touted recruiting class enters in 2018.

Champions: Kentucky

At some point, we just have to say that John Calipari has mastered the one-and-done system. He’s basically brought in an entire rotation of freshmen in his 8-man freshman class. The point guard is Quade Green, a true distributor out of Philadelphia. On the wing is the uber-athletic Hamidou Diallo and jumbo wing Kevin Knox, with PJ Washington and Nick Richards manning the frontcourt. Then there’s the bench, featuring impressive combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and shooter Jemarl Baker as well as injured combo forward Jarred Vanderbilt. That in of itself would be a scary roster. However, a pair of former 5-stars are also present in Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones who should play big roles. Gabriel has earned rave reviews this offseason, and the versatile wing will be looked to as a key glue guy for this UK team. The concerns of lack of veteran leadership or a clear star are valid, and that leaves the SEC a bit more open for the taking than usual. That said, Kentucky is still a top-7 team nationally on paper and is the rightful preseason favorite in the SEC.

Dark Horse: Texas A&M

This Texas A&M team certainly has the talent to win an SEC title this season. While last season’s 16-15 finish doesn’t exactly jump of the page as a team ready to contend for a title, they lost 10 games by 10 points or fewer. The only hole on the roster was point guard, and that spot should be resolved with the addition of JJ Caldwell, an elite passer from the point guard spot who is a perfect fit for what the Aggies want to do offensively. Combine that addition with the potential for a huge jump in production from Robert Williams, who averaged 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks in less than 26 minutes a night as a freshman and only scratched the surface of his potential. The Aggies are going to be very dangerous this season.

First Team All-Conference:

  • G: KeVaughn Allen (Florida)
  • G/F: Kevin Knox (Kentucky)
  • G/F: Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri)
  • F: Robert Williams (Texas A&M)
  • F: Yante Maten (Georgia)

Player of the Year: Michael Porter Jr (Missouri)- Porter has a very strong case to be the #1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. At 6-10, he handles and shoots the ball like a guard and as ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla put it on Sunday, Porter “scores like he breathes”. He immediately has given hope to a Missouri program that was quite frankly a dumpster fire a few months before. I wouldn’t be stunned if Porter has the best freshman season of any collegian since the one Michael Beasley had at Kansas State in 2008-09.

Breakout Player of the Year: Wenyen Gabriel (Kentucky)- Gabriel is such an intriguing talent. He’s super long, can defend pretty much anyone in the country, and has an improving offensive arsenal. Look for his role to increase as a scorer this season for sure, but the biggest impact he’ll make is as a glue guy and veteran leader for this UK team. I could see him averaging about 10 points and 8 rebounds per game this season.

Newcomer of the Year: Michael Porter Jr (Missouri)