32×32: 2018-19 Pac-12 Preview

By Kevin Sweeney

The Pac-12 has seen better days. The league as a whole is down, and several of its premier programs have been implicated in the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. Last year, the conference didn’t win a single NCAA Tournament, with its losses coming to Buffalo, St. Bonaventure, and Syracuse, none of whom were top-10 seeds. Simply put, it was a brutal year for the conference, and the league will have to try and turn things around to avoid the label of worst Power 6 conference sticking.

#1. Oregon

With an elite recruiting class coming in and one of the best players in the conference returning in Payton Pritchard, Oregon is the preseason favorite in the Pac-12. They aren’t without question marks though, with no clear second scorer and a talented but inexperienced frontcourt. Bol Bol headlines the incoming group, a unicorn-type prospect who can shoot the ball and block shots, but may be too lean to deal with experienced post players. Louis King and Will Richardson will have to pick up big scoring loads as freshmen as well.

#2. Washington

After a successful year one under Mike Hopkins, the Huskies virtually run it back in 2018-19. I had some reservations about the top-25 hype UW was receiving, but the Huskies looked outstanding in a blowout win over preseason #7 Nevada in Reno this past weekend despite playing without perhaps their best player in Noah Dickerson. This team has a lot of offensive firepower and should continue to be solid on defense in the Syracuse-style 2-3 zone Hopkins deploys.

#3. USC

A season hyped up for so long fell off the rails before it began last year, when the Trojans were implicated in the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption. That investigation led to swiss army knife De’Anthony Melton being ruled ineligible for the season, and USC was never right. While this team loses some key pieces from that group, Andy Enfield has continued to recruit extremely well and this team has a ton of talent. Bennie Boatwright is back for seemingly his 15th year of college basketball, a star whose health has long been a concern. Enfield also brings in star freshman Kevin Porter, a dynamic 2-way wing whose NBA Draft stock continues to rise. The biggest question with this team centers around the point guard spot, where Jordan McLaughlin graduates. Duke transfer Derryck Thornton appears to be the guy, but he was unproductive last season. He’ll have to find a way to live up to his once-lofty recruiting ranking for this team to reach its lofty ceiling.

#4. Arizona

After a season filled with turmoil ended in an embarrassing NCAA Tournament defeat to Buffalo, Arizona virtually starts over. The WIldcats’ top 5 scorers depart, leaving Dylan Smith’s 4.3 points per game the leading returner for U of A. A trio of highly-regarded pieces from the 2017 class return in Brandon Randolph, Emmanuel Akot, and Ira Lee, but none of those players were impactful last season. Duke transfer Chase Jeter gets a fresh start and should start at center (perhaps next to Pitt grad transfer Ryan Luther), while Samford grad transfer Justin Coleman will compete with highly-touted freshman Brandon Williams for point guard duties.

I have no idea how these pieces will fit together, but there’s talent here.

#5. UCLA

A questionable inclusion in the preseason top 25, I don’t get the early love for the Bruins, especially in the aftermath of losing Shareef O’Neal and Tyger Campbell to season-ending injuries before play has begun. The loss of Campbell is especially impactful because it leaves Jaylen Hands as the only true ball-handler on the roster, and I don’t see Hands dominating the ball as a recipe for success for UCLA. Kris Wilkes should be excellent, and the Bruins have a lot of options (albeit mostly inexperienced) options up front.

Facing an NCAA-or-bust season, Steve Alford could very well be out of work in late March if he doesn’t finish higher than this.

#6. Stanford

It was an enigmatic 2017-18 for the Cardinal in year 2 of the Jerod Haase era, as a talented unit with some preseason hype fell to multiple Big Sky teams in the non-conference before going on a big run early in league play but cooling down the stretch. Losing Reid Travis to Kentucky is far from ideal, but I love how deep this backcourt is thanks to the additions of freshmen Cormac Ryan and Bryce Wills next to stat-sheet-stuffing Daejon Davis. Haase could trot out some super-intriguing lineups with Oscar Da Silva at the 5, KZ Okpala at the 4, and three guards.

#7. Arizona State

The Sun Devils branded themselves as “Guard U” thanks to their dynamic backcourt during their early-season run last season, but this year’s Sun Devil squad takes on a far different look. ASU still has plenty to work with in the backcourt with promising sophomore Remy Martin running the show and newcomers Rob Edwards (Cleveland State transfer) & top-50 freshman Luguentz Dort, but the strength of this team is up front. Bobby Hurley has loaded up on versatile combo forwards like high-end recruit Taeshon Cherry, SDSU transfer Zylan Cheatham, and returner Mickey Mitchell, and the Sun Devils also have 2 solid big men in Romello White and DeQuon Lake. How this stylistic transition goes will be interesting, but the Sun Devils have the pieces to move up in a wide-open Pac-12.

#8. Colorado

The last team in the league that I feel has a legitimate chance to earn an NCAA bid this season, Colorado is built around one of the best returning players in college basketball in McKinley Wright and some intriguing post players in Tyler Bey, Lucas Siewert, and Evan Battey. Battey is especially interesting, a heavy-set big man with an unorthodox skillset coming off suffering a stroke last season. It feels like the Buffs need one more good guard to push them over the top, and may have found the answer in JUCO product Shane Gatling. Gatling didn’t shine in his freshman season at Niagara, but was outstanding last season at Indian Hills and is known as a high-level shooter.

#9. Utah

Larry Krystowiak brings in an excellent recruiting class for the long term, but the Utes seem a year away to me. They lose 3 of their top 4 scorers, leaving behind only inconsistent Sedrick Barefield as a known commodity. Donnie Tillman breaking out in year 2 would be big, and Krystowiak’s teams are always solid, but this team seems like a pretty clear NIT team.

#10, Oregon State

Things have gone downhill quickly for Wayne Tinkle in Corvallis, as the Beavers’ head coach has struggled to consistently recruit Pac-12 talent. His son Tres should help keep them afloat, but beyond him and the Thompsons, there’s just not much meat on the bone beyond that. Tinkle’s seat is certainly warming, and there’s no guarantee he’d survive another middling season.

#11. Cal

Wyking Jones has done a solid job accumulating talent since taking over in a tough spot, but it’s going to take some time before they can move up the standings. He found two foundational pieces last season in sophomores Darius McNeill and Justice Sueing, and adding Boise State transfer Paris Austin to the mix at point guard should help as well. Jones has a nice 2019 class brewing, so that might be the year the Bears break through.

#12. Washington State

Losing Malachi Flynn to transfer was a crushing blow for a Washington State team that wasn’t very good to begin with. Robert Franks is a legit all-league player in that combo forward role, and Ernie Kent brings in several potential contributors from the JUCO ranks.

All-Conference First Team:

  • Payton Pritchard– Oregon (14.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.8 apg, .447/.413/.774)
  • McKinley Wright– Colorado (14.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.5 apg, .451/.304/.770)
  • Jaylen Nowell– Washington (16.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.7 apg, .451/.351/.800)
  • Kris Wilkes– UCLA (13.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, .441/.352/.655)
  • Bennie Boatwright– USC (13.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.0 apg, .415/.346/.726)

Player of the Year: Jaylen Nowell (Washington)

One of the best isolation scorers in college basketball, Nowell’s ability to consistently create offense for himself is hugely important for this Washington team. He’s capable of scoring at all 3 levels and taking over the game. If he can get to the free throw line more frequently this season, he can become an even bigger force in the Pac-12.

Breakout Player: Remy Martin (Arizona State)

Martin was excellent in a scoring role of the bench last season, but now likely steps in as the Sun Devils’ starting point guard. He’s electric with the ball in his hands and is a scrappy defender who recorded 5 steals in ASU’s win over Kansas last season. He should compete for all-conference honors this season.

Newcomer of the Year: Kevin Porter (USC)

Porter wowed scouts last year when invited as a practice player at Hoop Summit and was perhaps the best player in the scrimmage he participated in. He’s a competitive slasher with high-level athleticism who should make a big impact at USC this season and perhaps go one-and-done.

32×32: 2018-19 Ohio Valley Preview

By Kevin Sweeney

The annual Murray State/Belmont war for OVC supremacy saw another chapter written last season, when the Racers handled the Bruins in the OVC title game to get back to the NCAA Tournament. It was the first year of the league’s tournament being held in Evansville rather than Nashville, and that new location appeared to be a success, with strong fan turnouts especially from Racer nation. It should be a fun battle to watch again this year, but a few other clubs are lurking.

#1. Murray State

Perhaps no mid-major player has gotten more NBA Draft love this preseason than Ja Morant, the explosive lead guard who starred as a freshman in a supporting role next to Terrell Miller and Jonathan Stark. Morant will now be the unquestioned leader of this Racer club, with a supporting cast that features senior Shaq Buchanan and highly-touted redshirt freshman wing Tevin Brown. While the core around Morant is unproven, having a point guard who makes others better the way Morant does should help these guys along.

#2. Belmont

It’s almost a given that a Rick Byrd Belmont team will be at or near the top of the OVC. The 2018-19 edition of the Bruins is a younger one, but the return of Dylan Windler and Kevin McClain is an excellent starting point. Windler is one of the most underrated stars in mid-major basketball, with a combination of high-level floor spacing ability and strong rebounding. The key for the Bruins to get over the top and win the league will be point guard play, as long-time floor general Austin Luke graduates and will be replaced by redshirt freshman Grayson Murphy.

#3. Austin Peay

Matt Figger did a great job in year one as the head man at APSU, leading the Govs to a surprising 3rd place finish in the OVC. Finding 2 under-the-radar stars late in the process in Terry Taylor and Dayton Gumm helped make that happen, and those two now-sophomores will be complimented by a pair of highly-touted JUCO products in high-scoring point guard Isaiah Hart and steady rebounder Eli Abaev.

#4. Jacksonville State

Before Ray Harper, Jacksonville State had never finished over .500 in consecutive seasons. Since hired, he has won 20 or more games in both seasons and is on track for another competitive 2018-19 campaign. Harper’s group adds impact transfer Detrick Mostella to the mix, a sit one, play one transfer from Tennessee who averaged over 10 points per game for the Vols as a junior. A former top-100 recruit who dealt with off-the-floor trouble in Knoxville, Mostella is immediately one of the best players in the OVC. Add him to a core that also features Jason Burnell and Marlon Hunter, and this team has a chance to be dangerous.

#5. UT Martin

The future is bright at UT-Martin, thanks in no small part to the arrival of Parker Stewart to play for his dad after playing lots of minutes for Pitt as a freshman. While Stewart will have to sit out this season, the Skyhawks bring in a lot of immediately eligible talent that help this team be a sleeper in the OVC. Kevin Little (Maine VIA Colorado State) and Preston Parks (The Citadel) should form a formidable backcourt along with JUCO product Charles Henderson, while Fatodd Lewis is a solid piece up front. Early returns on the Skyhawks are strong after an excellent showing against a good Lipscomb team in a secret scrimmage:

#6. Eastern Kentucky

2 years removed from being a prep school coach, AW Hamilton takes over an EKU program that fell flat under Dan McHale after a strong tenure with Jeff Neubauer at the helm. Hamilton inherits an absolute star in Nick Mayo, a double-double machine whose efforts over the last 3 years have largely gone wasted. The sleeper here is Pedro Bradshaw, a high-level athlete on the wing who sat out last year.

#7. Morehead State

The good news for the Eagles is that they return a ton of production from last season. The bad news? Morehead State wasn’t good at all last season. One of the youngest teams in the country, MSU was largely inefficient on offense all year long, so fixing that is chief among Preston Spradlin’s concerns.

#8. Southeast Missouri State

Losing star wing Denzel Mahoney to Creighton was a crushing blow for Rick Ray’s program as Ray looks to build momentum with the Redhawks. Replacing him as the featured offensive option is Ledarrius Brewer, who starred as the second option behind Mahoney as a freshman. To move up the standings, Skyler Hogan, who starred at D2 Embry-Riddle for 2 years, will have to provide big production next to Brewer in Ray’s high-octane offense.

#9. Tennessee State

Penny Collins takes over for Dana Ford in Nashville, and the former Belmont star and assistant at ETSU certainly has the ties to the state necessary to win at TSU. Ole Miss transfer Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey should be a key cog right away, forming a solid backcourt next to Kamar McKnight and Armani Chaney.

#10. Tennessee Tech

With 5 senior double-digit scorers all graduating, this feels like a rebuilding year for the Golden Eagles. A pair of grad transfers in Malik Martin (South Florida) and Johnnie Vassar (Northwestern) will try to keep this club afloat next to senior combo forward Courtney Alexander. Vassar is almost a complete mystery, with his only collegiate action coming in a mere 70 minutes of action in the 2014-15 season at Northwestern before being allegedly “run off” by Chris Collins in a case now being handled in court. He stayed in school at Northwestern and graduated this past June before finding a home at TTU, and looks good in this workout tape:

#11. Eastern Illinois

Jay Spoonhour made headlines last year for one heck of a beard when the Panthers challenged Marquette and Nebraska in early-season contests.

However, things went south after those upset chances thanks to some brutal injury luck. EIU was so short on point guards that it had a converted team manager playing significant minutes, until he too got injured! Getting Terrell Lewis back to run the show is big, and Spoonhour has a strong piece to build around in sophomore scoring guard Mark Smith.

#12. SIU-Edwardsville

SIUE was mostly putrid on both ends of the floor last season, and it’s hard to see much improvement this season with the graduation of Jalen Henry. There’s just not a ton of talent on this roster top to bottom, though I do think Christian Ellis could take a nice step forward this season.

32×32: 2018-19 NEC Preview

By Kevin Sweeney

The NEC has become synonymous with the transfer bug in college basketball, but actually escaped without too much damage this offseason. Blake Francis and Dachon Burke were the headline departures, with Francis off to Richmond from Wagner and Burke departing Robert Morris for Nebraska. The league also lost some young talent that had a chance to become all-conference types in Jonah Antonio (JUCO), Noah Morgan (JUCO), and Donald Carey (Siena), but given the losses over the last couple years, it could have been worse. With some returning players, the league has a chance to be somewhat improved from last season.

#1. Saint Francis (PA)

Featuring an incredibly deep and talented backcourt, the Red Flashes have to be seen as the preseason favorite in the NEC. Keith Braxton stuffs the stat-sheet, a great rebounder and dynamic slasher at 6-4, and Rob Krimmel gets back a high-level scorer in Isaiah Blackmon, who missed much of last season with an injury. This team should be elite on offense, and Krimmel’s club should be improved on defense and on the glass thanks to an improving frontcourt pairing in Mark Flagg and Deivydas Kuzavas.

#2. LIU-Brooklyn

I love this roster’s versatility. UMass transfer Tyrn Flowers and breakout candidate Eral Penn gives LIU some intriguing frontcourt options to pair with combo forward Raiquan Clark and a outstanding backcourt. Derek Kellogg could deploy a 5-out offense with Flowers, a 6-9 athlete who can shoot 3’s, at the 5, Clark at the 4, and 3 guards, or they can go with high-level freshman big man Ousmane Ndim anchoring the defense at the 5.

#3. Fairleigh Dickinson

In a league that has become known for its roster turnover, FDU is the rare club that brings back almost all its production from the previous year. A Darnell Edge/Jahlil Jenkins/Kaleb Bishop/Mike Holloway core is a potent one, though defense remains a concern as it has throughout the Greg Herenda era.

#4. Wagner

Bashir Mason has done a terrific job in his time at Wagner, and it would surprise me if the Seahawks don’t contend once again in the NEC. Mason’s teams play great defense, win on the glass, and don’t make many mistakes. Losing Blake Francis was a crusher, but Wagner returns a fair amount of backcourt talent in Romone Saunders, Devin Liggeons, and Elijah Davis.

#5. Bryant

Hiring longtime Iona 2nd-in-command Jared Grasso was an absolute slam dunk for this Bryant program, and Grasso has them in position to make big strides in year one. Tim O’Shea leaves behind a talented guard pairing in Ikenna Ndugba and Adam Grant, both of whom are excellent fits in the guard-heavy offense Grasso will deploy. Grasso also brought in a trio of impact newcomers that fit his style of play, with Murray State grad transfer Byron Hawkins an all-league talent in the NEC, JUCO big man Juan Cardenas likely to step in right away up front, and freshman Joe Kasperzyk earning rave reviews early on.

This may be an ambitious rating for a team that won 3 games last season, but I’m a big believer in what Grasso is building in Smithfield.

#6. Robert Morris

No program in college basketball has been hurt more by transfers than Robert Morris. Marcquise Reed, Elijah Minnie, Isaiah Still, and Dachon Burke are among the players still playing college basketball who began their careers at RMU and are now at higher levels. Losing Burke this offseason leave Andy Toole picking up the pieces like usual, but he’s in a better situation than in previous years with key cogs Koby Thomas and Matty McConnell back. Meanwhile, Akron transfer Josh Williams has earned high praise since arriving, and freshman Philmon Gebrewhit has tons of potential. This team needs someone to step up and put the ball in the basket, but the pieces are intriguing.

#7. Central Connecticut State

JUCO product Tyler Kohl helped Donyell Marshall’s club make some positive strides in 2017-18, as the do-it-all wing was one of 2 players in the entire country to average at least 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. If he gets some help in the shot-creating department this season, the Blue Devils could surprise.

#8. Saint Francis (NY)

Losing talent out of your league to high-major programs is one thing, but it has to be frustrating to see some of your top players leave for Cleveland State. That’s what happened to the Terriers this offseason, when they lost sturdy wing Rasheem Dunn to the Vikings. That was a major blow to a club that had a chance to move up the NEC standings this season, especially given how important Dunn’s rebounding was to a team with questions in the frontcourt.

#9. Sacred Heart

Despite having one of the league’s best frontcourts, the Pioneers really struggled in 2017-18, and lose both senior starters from that forward rotation. D2 transfer Jarel Spellman has high upside as a rim protector, but I just don’t know if there’s enough guard talent to put the ball in the basket consistently. A 6-man freshman class showing promise is key for Anthony Latina’s job security.

#10. Mount St. Mary’s

The Mount lost their star young head coach in Jamion Christian to Siena late in the coaching cycle this offseason, and what was already going to be a bit of a reload became a full-on rebuild. Potential centerpieces Donald Carey and Jonah Antonio (who left before Christian) transferred out of the program, while Junior Robinson and Chris Wray were already graduating. New head coach Dan Engelstad did a great job at the D3 level, but winning games this year with perhaps the youngest roster in Division 1 basketball will be quite a challenge.

All-Conference First Team:

  • Jamaal King: St. Francis (PA)– (18.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, .473/.340/.816)
  • Tyler Kohl: CCSU– (16.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 4.1 apg, .422/.291/.788)
  • Romone Saunders: Wagner– (14.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.0 apg, .421/.343/.704)
  • Keith Braxton: St. Francis (PA)– (17.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.3 apg, .475/.367/.795)
  • Raiquan Clark: LIU-Brooklyn– (17.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, .556/.241/.750)

Player of the Year: Keith Braxton (St. Francis PA)

Braxton is one of my favorite mid-major players to watch in the country. He’s an excellent rebounder, is very athletic, and can defend multiple positions. He’s also an underrated shooter who is still getting better in that area of his game. I’m excited to see what he does this season.

Breakout Player: EJ Anosike (Sacred Heart)

The brother of former Siena star OD Anosike, EJ showed major promise as a freshman behind a pair of senior starters. Now, he gets a chance to shine. He’s not quite as tall or athletic as his brother, but his burly frame should play well in the NEC.

Newcomer of the Year: KJ Scott (Mount St. Mary’s)

The elder statesman on an incredibly old Mount St. Mary’s team, Scott was a steal at the NEC level after missing much of last season at Texas Southern with an injury. He should provide a lot of experience and scoring punch on the wing in a rebuilding campaign, and it would surprise me if he’s not in the running for all-conference honors this season.

32×32: 2018-19 Mountain West Preview

By Kevin Sweeney

The Mountain West is back on the rise. After 2 seasons of getting just one bid to the NCAA Tournament, Nevada earned an at-large bid last season, and the Pack are now national titles this season. Meanwhile, two of the league’s premier programs in New Mexico and San Diego State are back on the rise after short downturns, and the league has a great chance to get multiple bids again in 2018-19.

#1. Nevada 

Perhaps no mid-major (depending on how you classify Gonzaga) has entered a season with better national title hopes than the Wolf Pack, which enters the 2018-19 season a consensus top 10 team. Three stars in the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline return after flirting with the NBA Draft, and Eric Musselman added 5-star big man Jordan Brown along with elite grad transfer center Trey Porter to the mix this offseason. Nevada is deep, absurdly talented, and has tons of size (a weakness last season). Finding minutes for all this talent has been a consistent topic of conversation, but I’m more concerned with the potential floor-spacing issues playing 2 big men raises (though Brown has reportedly been adding a 3-pointer to his repertoire, which would help.

Watching Eric Musselman build this program the way he has in such a short period of time has been a joy, and the Pack will definitely be one of the most exciting teams in the country this season.

#2. San Diego State

After an up-and-down start to MWC play last season, Brian Dutcher’s club rattled off nine straight wins, including a pair of wins over Nevada, to earn the league’s auto-bid and go dancing. Stalwarts Malik Pope and Trey Kell graduate from that group, but optimism is high with the Aztecs this season thanks to the return of athletic big man Jalen McDaniels along with lead guard Devin Watson and swingman Matt Mitchell. The Aztecs got back to playing excellent defense while having plenty of offensive firepower, and the potential improvement of Mitchell and McDaniels has SDSU fans salivating. This team can contend for an at-large bid.

#3. New Mexico

The Lobos were dealt a crushing blow in recent weeks when Ohio State transfer JaQuan Lyle tore his achilles, ending perhaps their best player’s season before it could begin. However, there’s still plenty of reason for optimism in Albuquerque, with a pair of blue-chip transfers in Vance Jackson (UConn) and Carlton Bragg (Arizona State– 2nd SEMESTER ELIGIBLE) joining a strong returning core from a UNM team that overachieved in year one under Paul Weir. Weir now has the personnel to play his pressing defense, which struggled in virtually every facet but forcing turnovers last season. The biggest key will be the point guard spot, where JUCO import Keith McGee appears likely to get the call early. He won’t be what Lyle was, but he’s a highly-regarded prospect who played well down the stretch for one of the nation’s top JUCOs, South Plains College.

#4. Colorado State

Last year, Niko Medved inherited a Drake program with lots of returning talent and took the Bulldogs to a top-4 finish in the Missouri Valley, their best finish since 2011-12. Medved gets a chance to do something similar at CSU, where he spent time as an assistant before getting his first head coaching job at Furman. Left behind from the Larry Eustachy era is one of the conference’s best frontcourt pairings in double-double machine Nico Carvacho and athletic 4-man Alonzo Tyson, while Oral Roberts transfer Kris Martin has earned rave reviews this offseason and should see plenty of time on the wing. Medved will have to fix a defense that was an absolute train wreck last season, but if he can do that, the Rams will surprise.

#5. UNLV

Year 3 for Marvin Menzies in Las Vegas doesn’t look like the breakout year most programs hope for in a coach’s 3rd year, but this team does have more talent than some are giving them credit for. Shakur Juiston is a beast of a big man despite being overshadowed somewhat by Brandon McCoy last season, and UNLV can give him more space to operate by deploying him as a 5 this season instead of next to McCoy at the 4. The backcourt is unproven but has promise, with Akron transfer Noah Robotham hoping to make a similar impact on the Mountain West as his former running mate Antino Jackson had at New Mexico last season. Sophomore Amauri Hardy was highly-touted out of high school, and freshman Bryce Hamilton can really score the ball. This team has a ton of offensive potential.

#6. Fresno State

The good news for Fresno State is that they return one of the conference’s best guards in Deshon Taylor. The bad news? He’s the only returner who averaged more than 5.3 points per game, and the Bulldogs also lost coach Rodney Terry to UTEP this offseason. New head man Justin Hutson has earned a reputation as a prolific recruiter in the region, and he got to work immediately by landing a pair of high-upside freshmen in Aguir Agau and Assane Diouf, though Diouf has to sit this season for academics. In year one, Hutson’s team will be extremely guard-oriented, with transfers Noah Blackwell (LBSU) and Braxton Huggins (NMSU) complimenting Taylor to form a dynamic backcourt. The frontcourt will be very thin, however.

#7. Boise State

This feels a little low for a program as good as this Boise State team under Leon Rice, but I’m taking a cautious approach with this club as they deal with the departure of Chandler Hutchison. Hutchison did everything for the Broncos– he led them in points, rebounds, assists, and steals last season. Replacing him in the offense will be no easy task, with elite shooter Justinian Jessup likely to have to create more of his own offense and a pair of well-regarded JUCO players in RJ Williams and Pat Dembley taking on big roles on offense as well.

#8. Utah State

I loved USU’s hire of Craig Smith this offseason, as Smith comes to Logan after doing a terrific job at South Dakota. He inherits the outstanding Sam Merrill, a hyper-efficient combo guard who can be deployed similar to how Smith used Matt Mooney at USD. There are some question marks beyond Merrill thanks to the early departures of Koby McEwen and DeAngelo Isby, but Smith brings in a major x-factor in Portuguese big man Neemias Queta, who posted big numbers for his U20 national team at the European Championships this summer.

#9. Wyoming 

It’s an extremely young Wyoming roster beyond star senior Justin James, with 9 newcomers trying to buoy a group that loses 5 of its top 6 scorers. James is positioned for a monster senior season, reportedly gaining muscle this offseason as he continues his development as a dynamic 3-level scorer. He’ll need lots of help around him though, and the class Allen Edwards brings in isn’t exceedingly well-regarded by most recruiting services. Redshirt freshman Hunter Thompson is the easiest to project featuring right away, as he was a former 4-star prospect who chose the Cowboys over Creighton and Colorado, among others. If he can star out of the gate up front, Wyoming could sneak up the standings.

#10. Air Force

Dave Pilipovich hasn’t been able to build much momentum at Air Force, and this doesn’t look like the year the Falcons climb the standings. The wing duo of Lavelle Scottie and Ryan Swan-Ford is solid, but they just don’t have enough scoring firepower to consistently win Mountain West games. Luckily, they should stay out of the cellar in the Mountain West given SJSU’s struggles.

#11. San Jose State

SJSU was one of the nation’s worst teams last season, earning just 3 D1 wins all season in year one under Jean Prioleau. To make matters worse, Prioleau’s club loses its top 3 scorers from last season, a group that accounted for well over half the team’s scoring last year. SJSU is a really tough job, and Prioleau needs time to have a chance to build things. Right now, it’s not going to be fun.

All-Conference First Team:

  • Deshon Taylor– Fresno State (17.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, .439/.386/.833)
  • Cody Martin– Nevada (14.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.7 apg, .516/.294/.701)
  • Caleb Martin– Nevada (18.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, .454/.403/.749)
  • Justin James– Wyoming (18.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.1 apg, .472/.308/.726)
  • Jordan Caroline– Nevada (17.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, .474/.324/.709)

Player of the Year: Caleb Martin (Nevada)

Caleb won the award last season, and the All-American candidate should be seen as the clear favorite again this season. He’s a high-level shooter and shot-creator whose ability to space the floor will be massive for Nevada with their move to bigger lineups.

Breakout Player: Jalen McDaniels (San Diego State)

McDaniels probably deserves to be considered having already broken out, but I expect a big jump in production from him in his sophomore campaign. He’ll now be featured far more prominently in the offense with Kell and Pope having graduated, and McDaniels flashed an improved offensive game during NBA Draft workouts while he tested the waters. I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up a first-teamer this season.

Newcomer of the Year: Trey Porter (Nevada)

Porter has earned rave reviews since arriving in Reno from Old Dominion this offseason, showing off absurd athleticism and instincts at the center position. He completely transforms the Wolf Pack defense with his rim protection ability, and should be the recipient of plenty of lobs when the Pack gets out in transition.

Mid-Majors Preview!

Today on the show, Brad and Kevin break down the other 25 conferences they won’t get a chance to do full previews on. Significant time will be spent on the A10 (9:25), Mountain West (25:40), WCC (38:30), and Missouri Valley (45:07) and we’ll also hit on some of the best of the rest and try to get to as many conferences as we can without talking for too long.

We also touch on Jontay Porter’s season-ending knee injury and #SecretScrimmageSZN.

32×32: 2018-19 MEAC Preview

By Kevin Sweeney

The MEAC is always one of the toughest previews to write, given the lack of coverage the teams typically receive during the offseason. Some teams still haven’t even updated official rosters! Combine that with most of the recruits coming as unheralded prospects, and it’s just hard to evaluate teams going into the season. That said, I did the best I could with the information I had to put together a solid preview of the league.

#1. Bethune-Cookman

Ryan Ridder did as good a job as any first-year coach in the country last season, bringing a big-time talent injection to BCU and leading it to a share of the conference title. With 4-double digit scorers returning including do-it-all wing Isaiah Bailey, the Wildcats should be favored to repeat as champs.

#2. NC Central

The NCCU program has been incredibly consistent since LeVelle Moton took over, doing a great job of finding talent from all avenues and putting it together to make a MEAC contender. This year’s team will be built around star big man Raasean Davis, while a pair of transfers in JUCO product Randy Miller and former Drexel guard Rashann London should be expected to hold big backcourt roles.

#3. Norfolk State

With key cogs Steven Whitley and Alex Long back, the Spartans figure to have a good chance to contend in the MEAC. The x-factor here is the potential eligibility of Saint Louis transfer Jermaine Bishop, who sat out last season at SLU but shined as a freshman and early in his sophomore campaign. He’d be an all-league player if allowed to play right away.

#4. Howard

Howard has one of the nation’s most dynamic scoring duos in explosive point guard RJ Cole and high-scoring wing Charles Williams. The drop-off after that pairing was significant last season, but with highly-regarded freshman Michael Barber joining the mix next to talented rising sophomore Zion Cousins, a 3rd scorer might be in tow. If so, watch out.

#5. Florida A&M

FAMU took nice strides in year one under Robert McCullum, but fill have to fix a defense that was among the nation’s worst to make a further climb up the MEAC standings. Getting Isaiah Austin back, who missed much of last season with an injury, should help the frontcourt.

#6. Coppin State

Juan Dixon didn’t have much to work with in year one, and lost arguably his best player in DeJuan Clayton after just 6 games. Clayton’s return is a welcome sight for Dixon, as he’s a reliable scorer who hardly left the floor in those 6 games (averaged 39.8 mpg). Put him next to Lamar Morgan, and there might be something there.

#7. Savannah State

Savannah State was one of the sneaky-awesome stories in college basketball last season, earning a share of the MEAC title simply by shooting more shots than anyone else. Horace Broadnax’s club heaved 3 after 3 with a low success rate, but put up enough points to hang in every game. However, it’s been tough to recruit with an impending drop out of D1 coming after this season, so we’ll see if Broadnax is able to work some magic with a depleted roster.

#8. Morgan State

The Bears lose a pair of absolute stars in Phillip Carr and Tiwian Kendley, but return much of the rest of their rotation. Veterans Martez Cameron and Stanley Davis will have to step up in their absence, given that pairing was used on almost 60% of MSU’s offensive possessions last season

#9. South Carolina State

The early departure of Tashombe Riley (South Alabama) hurts here, as Riley would have paired nicely with Damani Applewhite to form an athletic, versatile frontcourt that would have been tough to stop in the MEAC. Applewhite should contend for all-league honors, but it isn’t enough to make the the Bulldogs contenders.

#10. NC A&T

NC A&T has been brutalized by unexpected grad transfers two years in a row, with Sam Hunt departing for NC State in 2017 before Femi Olujobi transferred to DePaul this offseason. The Olujobi loss was especially backbreaking given the Aggies had taken a chance on him as a little-known transfer from Oakland and turned him into a star, but such is life at this level of college basketball. Look for sophomore point guard Kameron Langley to break out.

#11. Maryland-Eastern Shore

Getting Dontae Caldwell back after he missed last season is big, but it isn’t close to enough to fix the train wreck that was UMES last season. Cam Bacote transferring to Indiana State hurts, as he looked like a foundational piece in the backcourt. Meanwhile, the program is going with an interim coach this season in former associate HC Clifford Reed after electing not to fill the position after Bobby Collins departed.

#12. Delaware State

DSU’s coaching search was equal parts adventure and mystery before eventually landing on UMBC assistant Eric Skeeters to take over. Skeeters is a solid hire, a guy who is well-respected in the DMV as a long-time assistant for several programs. However, the cupboard is bare as he waits for transfers John Crosby (Dayton) and Kevin Larkin (Niagara) to become eligible.

All-Conference First Team:

  • RJ Cole– Howard (23.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 6.1 apg, .394/.359/.770)
  • Charles Williams– Howard (20.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 0.6 apg, .446/.409/.782)
  • Isaiah Bailey– Bethune-Cookman (16.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.8 apg, .423/.275/.785)
  • Shawntrez Davis– Bethune-Cookman (14.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, .554/.377/.592)
  • Raasean Davis– NC Central (15.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 0.4 apg, .671/.000/.587)

Player of the Year: RJ Cole (Howard)

Cole was just flat-out absurd as a freshman, posting at least 12 points in every game and five 30+ point performances. He fits perfectly in Kevin Nickelberry’s offense that allows tremendous freedom to its guards, and if he stays at Howard for 4 years he has a chance etch his name in all sorts of record books.

Breakout Player: Kameron Langley (NC A&T)

Langley was incredibly impressive for a freshman point guard, making excellent decisions and scoring the ball efficiently for the Aggies in 2017-18. With so much production around him gone, look for him to be featured more prominently in the scoring plans.

Newcomer of the Year: Justin Steers (Coppin State)

Steers was a late signee for Juan Dixon at Coppin State, but packs considerable upside at 6-6. He had extensive mid-major recruiting offers and interest and profiles as a nice two-way wing for Dixon’s bunch.

32×32: 2018-19 Missouri Valley Preview

By Kevin Sweeney

Discussions of the Missouri Valley’s long-term place as one of the nation’s best mid-major conferences were quieted in March when Loyola went on its historic run to the Final Four. While LUC’s run certainly helped from both an exposure and fiscal standpoint, those questions still have to be answered. The conference’s hallmark program in Northern Iowa has been down the last couple of years, and Loyola hadn’t experienced much success since joining the Valley until last year’s run. It will be fascinating to watch how the league continues to change over the next several years, but this year’s edition features some outstanding teams at the top.

#1. Loyola-Chicago

I was lucky enough to cover the Ramblers multiple times before they became a national story thanks to their Cinderella run through March. While I certainly couldn’t have predicted they’d do what they did, you could tell from the get-go that this was a special team. Their chemistry was terrific, they embraced modern concepts, and had excellent veterans who kept the team together in rough moments. Key cogs Donte Ingram, Aundre Jackson, and Ben Richardson are all gone, but Porter Moser’s club has plenty to be considered Valley favorites once again. Clayton Custer will draw all the headlines (and rightly so), but Marques Townes was hugely valuable last season as a versatile 2-way wing, and the Ramblers were a different team when they could play through the post and Cameron Krutwig. Moser adds a high-level transfer in Aher Uguak (New Mexico) who brings explosive athleticism in a combo forward role, while Lucas Williamson showed some incredibly bright moments last season. I’m not quite buying some of the top 25 hype for this team, but they should be really good again.

#2. Illinois State

47.4 points. 16.7 rebounds. 9.3 assists.

When you are getting that type of production from 3 players, you have a chance to be special. That’s exactly what Illinois State got from its trio of Milik Yarbrough, Keyshawn Evans, and Phil Fayne. It’s a core built perfectly, with Yarbrough liking to handle the ball and distribute from the wing, Evans more of a scoring point guard, and Fayne willing to do the dirty work and be a terrifying dive man in the pick and roll. However, the depth to this unit took a pair of hits late this summer when promising guard Elijah Clarance turned pro following an explosive showing at the FIBA U20 Euros and high-upside big man Abdou Ndiaye was forced to take an academic redshirt. Without those two, ISU has to be seen clearly behind Loyola, but still has a chance to be incredibly dangerous.

#3. Southern Illinois

Despite finishing in the top 4 of the Valley in 3 of the last 4 seasons, questions have lingered about Barry Hinson’s long-term job security in Carbondale. This statement from the end of last season makes it feel like close to a “tourney or bust” year for Hinson.

Luckily for Hinson, he has an incredibly veteran unit coming off a 20-win season, with 5 starting-caliber seniors and an excellent junior in Aaron Cook. Getting back elite shot-blocker Thik Bol from injury is huge, giving Hinson the flexibility to go big with Bol next to Kavion Pippen and make scoring in the paint against the Salukis a possibility. That unit would be rough from a spacing perspective, but without a ton of high-level scoring talent on the roster, it might be the right call to go all in on D.

#4. Bradley

It’s been a textbook rebuild from Brian Wardle in Peoria, taking a team from 5 wins to 13 up to 20 last season. The loss of Donte Thomas hurts here, but otherwise the Braves have an outstanding group of veterans and one of the league’s most exciting young players in combo forward Elijah Childs. Wardle’s team plays outstanding defense thanks to some high-level athletes on the wing, and the continued offensive development of Darrell Brown, Childs, and Nate Kennell should allow for some improvement on that end for the Braves. Unfortunately, well-regarded freshman big man Ari Boya’s, who some thought would start over incumbent Koch Bar, season is in doubt with an ankle injury. That tempers my optimism a little bit, but this team still projects to win 20+ games and play in the postseason.

#5. Northern Iowa

Offensive inefficiency has led to a pair of down years for UNI, ranking 9th in the Valley in conference field goal percentage in each of the past 2 seasons. In each of those seasons, point guard play has been questionable, which is why the arrival of fringe top-100 recruit AJ Green arrives at the ideal time. It sounds like Green will get the keys from day one as he attempts to revitalize the Panther offense, with a pair of physical wing/forwards in Tywhon Pickford and Trae Berhow providing plenty of slashing and sharpshooting Wyatt Lohaus spacing the floor. The frontcourt is a bit of a question mark (unless Ben Jacobson elects to deploy Pickford as a small-ball 5), but Austin Phyfe and JUCO product Shandon Goldman both look capable of filling a role up front.

#6. Valparaiso

Last season was an odd one for Valpo. The Crusaders raced out to an 8-0 start (albeit against a weak schedule) as they prepped for their first year in the MVC, then won just 3 of their next 15 before finding some consistency down the stretch. The jump in competition can be given some credit for Valpo’s demise, as can the loss of Joe Burton to suspension and eventual transfer 10 games into the season. However, with some good newcomers coming in this season in Providence transfer Ryan Fazekas and well-regarded Javon Freeman-Liberty should provide a nice boost to a core featuring shifty point guard Bakari Evelyn and athletic wing Markus Golder.

Valpo could also get a nice boost thanks to the NCAA’s re-embrace of the hardship waiver, with a pair of outstanding transfers in Nick Robinson (St Joe’s) and Eron Gordon (Seton Hall) both coming much closer to their original homes. There’s little information about their potential for waivers to play right away, but if both (or even just 1) were eligible, it would catapult the Crusaders into contender status.

#7. Drake

Darian DeVries becomes Drake’s fourth coach since the beginning of the 2016-17 season, a nearly unprecedented level of turnover in college basketball. Unlike his predecessor Niko Medved, DeVries doesn’t inherit much of anything, with Nick McGlynn the only returner to average more than 4 points per game last season. However, DeVries brings in a trio of high-impact transfers in steady point guard Nick Norton (UAB), shooter Brady Ellingson (Iowa), and athletic combo forward Tremell Murphy (JUCO) who profile as immediate starters. Murphy had high-major offers, but chose to come to Drake when DeVries also offered his brother and added his JUCO coach to his coaching staff. That core is enough to be interesting in the Valley, but they’ll have to find some bench depth with so many inexperienced faces.

#8. Missouri State

Perhaps he wasn’t the flashiest hire, but Dana Ford and his staff have done an excellent job accumulating talent for both the short and long term since arriving in Springfield. With just 3 returning players along with redshirt Darian Scott and Xavier transfer Jared Ridder, Ford and his staff grabbed players from every avenue: international with the Wojcik brothers, sit-out transfers in Josh Hall, Tulio Da Silva, and Tyrik Dixon, a grad transfer in Texas Tech’s Josh Webster, and a pair of high-end JUCO products in Keandre Cook and Kabir Mohammed. How those pieces all fit together is unclear: sources have raved about the long-term potential of the Wojcik’s but fear they’ll be thrown into the fire this year, while hype about Ridder has been consistent since he matriculated last year. Regardless of what happens this year, I love the direction this program is going.

#9. Indiana State

Jordan Barnes exploded onto the scene in his sophomore campaign in Terre Haute, but questions abound beyond him and Tyreke Key for this ISU roster. A pair of mid-year transfers in Cooper Neese (Butler) and Christian Williams (Iowa) both possess considerable upside and could form a dangerous 4-out offense for Greg Lansing’s club. Integrating those talents are the key for the Sycamores’ hopes of climbing the Missouri Valley standings.

#10. Evansville

The Aces got their man in Celtics assistant Walter McCarty, but in the process lost a pair of studs in Ryan Taylor (Northwestern) and Dru Smith (Missouri). With those losses, it was always going to be a rebuilding campaign in year one for McCarty, and McCarty loaded up on high-end talent for the long term that won’t be eligible this year. The headliner of a 3-man sit-out class is former elite recruit Sam Cunliffe, a transfer from Kansas who was excellent at Arizona State as a freshman, but freshman DeAndre Williams (sitting because of academics) possesses considerable upside and CCU Artur Labinowicz is a proven rotation player at the D1 level.

As for this year, things look pretty rough. D3 grad transfer Shea Feehan lit it up against D1 competition in the past, but it’s hard to expect too much from a guy experiencing such a jump in competition level. This will likely be a forgettable season in Evansville.

All-Conference First Team:

  • Clayton Custer– Loyola (13.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 4.1 apg, .528/.451/.770)
  • Jordan Barnes– Indiana St. (17.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.6 apg, .415/.422/.853)
  • Armon Fletcher– SIU (14.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.7 apg, .486/.348/.731)
  • Milik Yarbrough– Illinois St. (16.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.8 apg, .453/.290/.804)
  • Cameron Krutwig– Loyola (10.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.7 apg, .598/.000/.735)

Player of the Year: Clayton Custer (Loyola)

Custer (other than Sister Jean) was the face of the Loyola Final Four run, the tough lead guard who made big play after big play for the Ramblers in March. He’s an elite shooter, makes great decisions, and takes what the defense gives him.

Breakout Player: Elijah Childs (Bradley)

Childs is a star in the making in the Valley. He’s athletic, can defend multiple positions, and showed off considerable offensive promise in his rookie campaign in Peoria. If he develops his 3-point shot, he’ll be an all-league player.

Newcomer of the Year: AJ Green (Northern Iowa)

The popular choice here will probably be New Mexico transfer Aher Uguak at Loyola, but there’s no newcomer more important than Green. The highly-touted freshman PG has a chance to single-handedly fix a UNI offense that has really struggled for the better part of the last two seasons. If he can do that, the Panthers become a serious sleeper in the Valley.