32 Conferences, 32 Days: MEAC

By Kevin Sweeney

The MEAC has become the butt of many jokes on twitter among college basketball writers (myself included) as one of, if not the worst conference in college basketball. However, while the teams may not stand up on paper to the teams at the highest levels of college hoops, the purpose of these previews is to give a look at every team in every conference in college basketball. And even though the league may not be destined for NCAA Tournament glory, it still will be an exciting one to follow this season.

Standings Projection:

  1. Morgan State: The Bears possess one of the most potent duos in college basketball in high-scoring guard Tiwian Kendley (21 ppg last season) and forward Phillip Carr (16.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg) and are coming off a 3rd-place finish a season ago. Their my pick to come out of a league that is very tough to predict.
  2. NC Central: Yes, this pick is a gamble given the amount of production the Eagles lose from last season. However, they have the best coach in the conference in LeVelle Moton, and he has brought in some incredibly talented newcomers who promise to wreak havoc in the MEAC.
  3. Norfolk State: One of the most consistent programs in the conference, the Spartans have won at least 17 games in 6 consecutive seasons. Look for that streak to continue this year, as NSU has one of the best point guards in the conference in Zaynah Robinson (13.5 ppg, 4.5 apg, 1.7 turnovers per game)
  4. Hampton: With perhaps the next star in the conference in Jermaine Marrow (over 15 ppg as a freshman) in fold, the Pirates look like a contender for the foreseeable future in the MEAC. However, if they are to contend this season, they’ll need a spark offensively to improve a unit that shot just 41% from the field as a team (322nd in D1).
  5. Bethune-Cookman: Very much a sleeper team for me, Bethune-Cookman has a few high-upside newcomers joining star guard Brandon Tabb. Watch out for former Fresno State signee Isaiah Bailey, who averaged over 16 ppg last season in junior college, and fellow JUCO transfer and former Nevada signee Shawntrez Davis.
  6. Maryland-Eastern Shore: The loss of Bakari Copeland definitely hurts, but the Hawks will have one of the better backcourts in the league in Ryan Andino, Logan McIntosh, and Dontae Caldwell.
  7. Florida A&M: Another team with a strong senior duo, the Rattlers will rely heavily on Desmond Williams and Marcus Barham to lead the way in the first season of the Robert McCullum era.
  8. Savannah State: The Tigers, which are in the process of changing to Division 2 athletics, still have a chance to be feisty this season. Dexter McClanahan is one of the more dangerous guards in the conference, a 3-point sniper who is also more than capable off the bounce.
  9. Howard: Definitely a hard team to predict given the youth on the roster (8 players will be in their first season of college basketball- 4 freshmen, 4 redshirt freshmen), but I like the look of some of these newcomers. Watch out for 3-star guard RJ Cole, who garnered offers from many mid-major programs coming out of historic St. Anthony High School in New Jersey.
  10. Coppin State: The Eagles have a new coach in former Maryland great Juan Dixon. However, he doesn’t inherit too much talent, so this opening season may be a struggle. He’ll need a huge year from sophomore shooting guard Dejuan Clayton, who averaged over 13 points during a terrific freshman season.
  11. South Carolina State: Last season was definitely a disappointing one for SC State, as they came in with title aspirations and finished 7th. They do bring back a versatile combo forward in Tashombe Riley, but will need contributions from a large group of backcourt newcomers to move up the standings.
  12. Delaware State: The transfer of point guard Devin Morgan to Youngstown State this offseason was a crushing blow for the Hornets. Senior Kevon Walker will carry the load offensively for DSU this season.
  13. North Carolina A&T: The Aggies were really, really bad a season ago, failing to earn a Division 1 win until February. With their leading scorer in Sam Hunt departing (NC State) it could be another very long season for the Aggies.

Champions: Morgan State

When you have two guys who could contend for conference player of the year honors in Tiwian Kendley and Phillip Carr, you immediately become a contender in your conference. However, to push the Bears over the top, they’ll need some solid production from the rest of their roster. One candidate is freshman guard Kyson Rawls, a 6-1 combo guard who was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Delaware last year. Another guy to watch is David Syfax, a versatile forward who showed flashes as a rotation player in his freshman campaign. If a guy like Rawls or Syfax can take the next step in their game, the Bears should be in outstanding position to win the MEAC.

Dark Horse: Bethune-Cookman

As I mentioned, I’m pretty high on this Wildcat team’s potential for this season. Brandon Tabb is an awesome starting point, a high-volume scorer with the potential to take over games. Then, add a pair of high-level talents in Shawntrez Davis and Isaiah Bailey from the JUCO ranks who will be mismatches at the MEAC level, and the roster begins to look more and more dangerous. Morehead State transfer PG Malik Maitland could also be an outstanding piece for them, assuming he’s eligible to play this season. First-year head coach Ryan Ridder has done a good job bringing in talent in a short amount of time, and it could pay dividends quickly.

First Team All-Conference:

  • G: Brandon Tabb (Bethune-Cookman)
  • G: Tiwian Kendley (Morgan State)
  • G: Zaynah Robinson (Norfolk State)
  • G: Jermaine Marrow (Hampton)
  • F: Phillip Carr (Morgan State)

Player of the Year: Tiwian Kendley (Morgan State)- Honestly, I don’t think you could go wrong choosing either Morgan State star for this one, but I’ll go with the dominant scorer in Kendley, who has a chance to be a top-10 scorer in all of college basketball this season. One thing he will need to tighten up are the turnovers, as he gave the ball away an unsightly 4.3 times per game a season ago. Those are the types of small adjustments that can go a long way for a team hoping to win a conference title.

Breakout Player of the Year: Logan McIntosh (Maryland-Eastern Shore)- The senior point guard from Atlanta seems poised to have a huge season to cap a strong 2-year career at UMES. A capable scorer and distributor, look for McIntosh’s scoring responsibilities to increase this season with leading scorer Bakari Copeland having graduated.

Newcomer of the Year: Dominique Reid (NC Central)- Reid resurfaces at NC Central, looking to revitalize his collegiate career following a promising start in 2014-15 at Niagara. Reid averaged nearly 10 points and 6 rebounds per game as a freshman for the Purple Eagles before leaving the team and eventually heading to junior college. Reid is the type of talent that could star in the MEAC if he returns to the form he displayed at Niagara. Don’t be surprised if we are talking about Reid as an all-conference player this season.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: MAC

By Kevin Sweeney

The MAC is another league that will be wide open due to player movement. 10 of the league’s 12 teams won’t return their leading scorer from a season ago, and 12 of the 15 all-conference honorees from last season are no longer in the league. Still, there is a lot of young talent in the MAC this year that will make it extremely fun to watch.

Standings Projection:

East:

  1. Buffalo- A pair of juniors will lead the way for the Bulls in guard CJ Massinburg and big man Nick Perkins. Combine that with the addition of some talented newcomers like Missouri transfer Wes Clark and the #2 JUCO player in the nation in Jeremy Harris, and this roster seems to be the most talented in the MAC.
  2. Ohio- The graduations of Antonio Campbell, Jaaron Simmons, and Kenny Kaminski hurt, but the young core of junior Jordan Dartis and sophomore Jason Carter should be able to carry the load. The big key is point guard play, as a pair of freshmen in Teyvion Kirk and Zach Butler will likely be looked on to fill the void left by Simmons.
  3. Kent State- Coming off their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2008, Rob Senderoff has done an excellent job bringing in talent for the Golden Flashes. With the graduation of Jimmy Hall, look for JUCO transfer Jonathan Nwankwo to see a big role, one I believe he’s more than capable of thriving in.
  4. Akron- It’s hard to find the right spot for the Zips with so many new faces this season, including head coach John Groce. Junior guard Jimond Ivey and Oregon State grad transfer Malcolm Duvivier will need to have huge years.
  5. Bowling Green- 2 senior double-digit scorers graduate, but BGSU has a strong young nucleus to build around in big man Damajeo Wiggins and and guard Dylan Frye, each of whom could find themselves in the discussion for being all-league candidates.
  6. Miami (Ohio)- Losing the Weathers brothers to transfer was a brutal blow for hopes of immediate contention under Jack Owens. Watch out for highly-regarded freshman guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands, who should have an opportunity to put up big numbers right away.

West:

  1. Ball State- I can’t say enough about the job James Whitford has done turning around this Ball State program. He has led the Cardinals to their first back-to-back 20-win seasons since 1992-1993, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Look for junior big man Trey Moses to become a double-double machine and Ball State to contend for a MAC title.
  2. Western Michigan- The battle between Ball State and WMU should be one of the more interesting ones to follow at the mid-major level. The Broncos bring everyone of significance except wing Tucker Haymond, and have the best player in the conference in Thomas Wilder. They’ll be an extremely tough out come March.
  3. Eastern Michigan- The Eagles will have one of the more underrated mid-major frontcourts in the country, as Robert Morris transfer Elijah Minnie joins James Thompson IV, who averaged over 14 points and 11 rebounds per game a season ago. The key will be guard play, as a trio of double-digit scorers graduate from last season’s backcourt.
  4. Toledo- The Rockets lose a pair of stars in double-double machine Steve Taylor and the high-scoring Jonathan Williams. That said, they are still an intriguing club, with the junior duo of Jaelan Sanford and Nate Navigato poised to claim bigger roles and the addition of Colorado transfer Tre’Shaun Fletcher, a versatile wing who will be a matchup nightmare in the MAC.
  5. Northern Illinois- The transfer of skilled big man Marin Maric was a crushing blow for NIU. They’ll have to rely on a solid young core that showed flashes a season ago to take big steps if they are going to climb the MAC standings.
  6. Central Michigan- This team is almost impossible to peg. They lose the conference’s top 2 scorers from a season ago in Marcus Keene and Braylon Rayson and have no clear replacements in terms of ball-handlers who can fill it up. It could be an ugly one for the Chippewas this season.

Champions: Buffalo

This is simply the most athletic and talented team in the conference. Nate Oats has done an outstanding job finding and landing talented kids on the recruiting trail. Take 3 of the newcomers on this roster who will play big minutes: freshman Jayvon Graves, JUCO player Jeremy Harris, and Missouri transfer Wes Clark. Graves attended the same high school as LeBron James, producing mixtape-worthy dunks while also flashing a game-ready handle. Harris, one of the top JUCO prospects in the nation, is a long and athletic wing who had offers and interest from numerous high-major programs. Clark was a very solid piece at Missouri before academic issues led him to leave school. Combine that type of strong newcoming group with a core like Massinburg and Perkins, and this team seems like it could be scary.

Dark Horse: Kent State

It seems odd to call the defending conference tournament champions a dark horse, but with a pair of stars graduating, the Golden Flashes just haven’t gotten a whole lot of publicity as a contender in the MAC this season. Junior guard Jaylin Walker is one of the premier players in the conference, and he’ll be joined by South Alabama transfer Taishaun Johnson to form a high-scoring backcourt. The frontcourt will relying heavily on newcomers, but a pair of well-regarded JUCO players in the aforementioned Nwankwo and and stretch-4 Akiean Frederick. This team has some upside, and I’ll be interested to see how they fare this season.

First-Team All-Conference:

  • G: Thomas Wilder Jr. (Western Michigan)
  • G: Jaylin Walker (Kent State)
  • G: Taylor Persons (Ball State)
  • G: CJ Massinburg (Buffalo)
  • F: James Thompson IV (Eastern Michigan)

Player of the Year: Thomas Wilder Jr. (Western Michigan)- Wilder is an NBA-type talent, and he’s poised to do special things in his senior season in Kalamazoo. A point guard with elite scoring ability thanks to his sweet stroke from beyond the arc, Wilder can take over games at any time. That combination of a devastating stroke with his outstanding quickness to blow by his man makes him virtually unstoppable. If the Broncos are going to win the MAC this season, Wilder will have a huge say in it.

Breakout Player of the Year: Jason Carter (Ohio)- I’m not sure if Carter should be considered “broken out” already, but regardless, he seems on his way to a massive season. After star center Antonio Campbell went down with a season-ending injury, Carter took over a starting role and delivered in a big way, averaging over 13 points and 8 rebounds per game over the final 15 games of the season despite only playing just over 25 minutes per game during that stretch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him average a double-double this season.

Newcomer of the Year: Malcolm Duvivier (Akron)- It’s incredibly rare at the mid-major level to be able to add a guy who has averaged double-figure scoring in at a power conference program, but that’s what John Groce is adding in Duvivier. He averaged over 10 points per game as a sophomore at Oregon State before seeing his role shrink as a junior and eventually looking to graduate and transfer. He’ll certainly have plenty of opportunity to score, with the Zips losing 5 of their top 6 scorers from a season ago.

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.