32×32: 2018-19 Southland Conference Preview

By Kevin Sweeney

The Southland has been Stephen F. Austin and everyone else since the later years of the Danny Kasper era, with Brad Underwood taking the program to new heights and Kyle Keller doing his best to keep SFA among the nation’s best mid-major programs. This year, it appears the team best-suited to challenge the Lumberjacks for Southland supremacy is Southeastern Louisiana, but catching SFA seems like a daunting task to say the least.

#1. Stephen F. Austin

The clear choice here, SFA just flat-out recruits circles around the rest of this conference and brings back a bunch of production from a 28-win club last season. Adding Minnesota grad transfer Davonte Fitzgerald is the icing on the cake for a team that already features a pair of dynamic players in Kevon Harris and Shannon Bogues. I wouldn’t be surprised if this team wins an NCAA Tournament game.

Here’s an interview myself and my partner Brad Cavallaro recorded with SFA Head Coach Kyle Keller this offseason:

#2. Southeastern Louisiana

Jay Ladner gets diminutive dynamo Marlain Veal back for one more season, and as a result has a legit contender for the Soutland title in 2017-18. Replacing Jordan Capps will be tough, but the Lions should be stingy on defense once again and add another capable scorer to the backcourt in Tulane transfer Von Julien.

#3. Abilene Christian

Joe Golding has gradually built this ACU program as they’ve went through the difficult transition to D1 basketball, finally getting to .500 last season in year 5 of the transition. Now, ACU gets a chance to take the next step, returning 4 of its top 5 scorers from last season. Fixing their free throw margin (ACU sent their opponents to the line a lot but didn’t get to the line much at all) could be all it takes for this team to take the next step, especially if talented big Jalone Friday continues to improve.

#4. McNeese State

Heath Schroyer’s career arc has been an interesting one to say the least, seemingly mastering the “quick flip” rebuild before departing for greener pastures. His most recent head coaching reclamation project came at Tennessee-Martin, where he won more than 20 games in each of his 2 seasons there before departing for an assistant job at NC State. Schroyer appears to be looking to do similar work at McNeese, bringing in a slew of JUCO players and D1 transfers that should translate to winning over the next 2-3 years. I see this program following a similar trajectory to what Richie Riley did at Nicholls, and Schroyer bringing lots of short-term success to a program with little history but is unlikely to stay long.

#5. New Orleans

Mark Slessinger has done an underratedly-excellent job with this New Orleans program the last 2 seasons, winning 11 conference games last year after bringing the Privateers to the Big Dance in 2016-17. This year’s club takes on a different look, as the graduations of Travin Thibodeaux and Makur Puou leaves behind questions in the frontcourt. Instead, the backcourt seems like the strength of this club, with the young pairing of Bryson Robinson and Troy Green appearing to have a bright future for Slessinger’s group.

#6. Lamar

The Cardinals dipped into the transfer market to fortify their backcourt, with Jordan Hunter (New Mexico), LaQuarious Paige (Indiana State), and Michael Kolawole (UIC) all profiling as useful options for Tic Price next to returner Nick Garth. Losing Colton Weisbrod won’t be easy, but the Cardinals still have a solid frontcourt headlined by Josh Nzeakor and should be considered a legit dark horse in the Southland.

#7. Sam Houston State

This projection feels a little low given how consistently solid Jason Hooten’s clubs have been in recent years at SHSU, but I am a little concerned about how they create offense without John Dewey running the show. JUCO imports Chad Bowie and ZaQwaun Matthews will be looked to as immediate contributors, and it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if the BearKats outperform this projection.

#8. Nicholls

Richie Riley departs for South Alabama after a wildly successful short stint as head man for the Colonels, and assistant Austin Claunch takes over. Claunch, just 28 years old, appears to be embracing a similar “Transfer U” approach to recruiting that Riley employed, bringing in a trio of sit one, play one transfers in Nico Clareth (Siena), Dexter McClanahan (Savannah State), and D’Angelo Hunter (West Virginia) that should give this group a major talent injection in a year’s time. For now, he’ll rely on a pair of grad transfers in Gavin Peppers (Central Michigan) and Jeremiah Jefferson (Jackson State) along with some JUCO products to hopefully keep the Colonels’ heads above water in a transition campaign.

#9. Texas A&M– Corpus Christi

Losing a potential building block in combo forward Sean Rhea after his freshman season to JUCO is certainly a blow, but there’s still plenty of interesting young talent on this Islander club. They’ll have to find a way to be more efficient on offense though, or it will be tough for this club to take the next step.

#10. Central Arkansas

Over 2,500 points later, Jordan Howard has finally graduated and departed Central Arkansas for good, leaving Ross Pennell’s club with a gigantic hole in the backcourt. The good news for Pennell is that he has one of the more unique talents in mid-major basketball in Hayden Koval, a 7-footer who blocked over 3 shots a game as a freshman while also showcasing the ability to stretch the floor. Koval could be establish himself as a household name in the Southland with a big year this year.

#11. Houston Baptist

After several consecutive middling campaigns, HBU bottomed out in 2017-18, winning just 6 games and conceding over over 84 points per game. To make matters worse, the one bright spot from such a disappointing campaign in star freshman David Caraher transferred to St. John’s after the season. The good news is that the Huskies get back double-double machine Josh Ibarra, who was averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per game before getting injured in the team’s 10th game last season. While that injury hurt last year, it was fortuitous timing given playing in an 11th game would have stopped him from being eligible to redshirt last season.

#12. Incarnate Word

After doing a pretty good job of making the Cardinals relevant during their 4-year D1 transition period, Ken Burmeister was fired after a brutal 2017-18 season that saw UIW win just 3 D1 games all season. His replacement is intriguing in former NAIA head coach Dr. Carson Cunningham, who brings in a 6-man freshman class that should set the tone for his tenure. The returning core of Charles Brown, Christian Peevy, and Keaton Hervey is a nice start, but they are going to need a lot of help to move up the standings.

#13. Northwestern State

The Demons were beyond bad offensively last season, shooting a putrid 28% from downtown on the season and averaging under 65 points per game. Ish Lane is a nice piece in the frontcourt, but this roster is just not very good.

All-Conference First Team:

  • Marlain Veal– SLU (12.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6.1 apg, .446/.360/.753)
  • Shannon Bogues– SFA (15.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.4 apg, .505/.352/.795)
  • Kevon Harris– SFA (14.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, .480/.426/.680)
  • TJ Holyfield– SFA (12.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.9 apg, .548/.412/.748)
  • Hayden Koval– Central Arkansas (8.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.9 apg, .454/.330/.627)

Player of the Year: Kevon Harris (SFA)

There’s a chance all the star power for SFA “splits the votes” and this award goes to another deserving candidate in Veal, but to me, there’s no one better in the Southland than Harris. One of Kyle Keller’s first recruits at Stephen F. Austin, Harris has established himself as a prototypical pro-level wing who can shoot the ball and attack off the bounce. He’s a huge reason the Lumberjacks are heavy favorites in the conference once again.

Breakout Player: Hayden Koval (Central Arkansas)

I talked about Koval earlier, but I’m super excited to see his progression in his second year at UCA. He’s such an intriguing talent. One of just 5 players since 1992 to average at least 3 blocks per game while making at least 25 threes at a 33% or better clip, Koval is just simply a guy you don’t find every day, especially at a program like Central Arkansas.

Newcomer of the Year: Davonte Fitzgerald (Stephen F. Austin)

Kyle Keller gets Fitzgerald back after coaching him in his freshman season at Texas A&M, a season in which Fitzgerald was an all-conference freshman. Since, his career has been repeatedly been put on hold by injuries, but he possesses significant upside with his combination of size and athleticism. He should have a huge year in his final season of college basketball.

32×32: 2018-19 SoCon Preview

By Kevin Sweeney

In recent years, the SoCon has continued to assert itself as one of the more competitive one-bid leagues in college basketball. While the depth of the league may be a little down this year, the coaching remains outstanding. Wes Miller (UNCG), Steve Forbes (ETSU), and Mike Young (Wofford) have seen their names come up in discussions for bigger jobs in recent years, with Miller and Forbes especially likely to move up the ranks in the near future. For now, those top coaches should make this league fun to watch once again.

Standings Projection:

#1. UNC-Greensboro

A team that should be showing up on everyone’s preseason Cinderella lists, the Spartans have gotten better every year under Wes Miller and should be exceedingly dangerous again this season. UNCG returns 4 of its top 5 scorers, including pure scoring guard Francis Alonso and criminally underrated big man James Dickey, while also adding a pair of big bodies in Eric Hamilton (Wichita State) and Mohamed Abdulsalam who should give this team the ability to match up better with high-major clubs. Hamilton is an x-factor here, with high-level athleticism and even some shooting ability built into his 6-9 frame. If he can stretch the floor, it could make for an especially intriguing twin-tower look next to Dickey.

#2. East Tennessee State

My annual “Steve Forbes is an absurdly good coach” shout from the skies has arrived. Forbes took a team that lost a ton in 2016-17 and took it back to the top of the SoCon, and I have no doubt that he’ll do it again this season. A JUCO-heavy group of newcomers joins holdovers Bo Hodges & Mladen Armus, with a trio of former top-35 JUCO prospects joining the fray along with highly-touted freshman Carlos Curtis and App State transfer shooter Patrick Good. On paper, this team is deep, athletic, and supremely talented.

#3. Wofford

Virtually everyone is back for the Terriers, which stunned North Carolina in the non-conference last season but stumbled a bit in SoCon play to a still-respectable 11-7 mark. We all know the shooting and scoring exploits of Fletcher Magee, the hyper-efficient scoring guard who shot 44% from 3 on 10! attempts per game last season. It’s more than just Magee in the backcourt, with Nathan Hoover, Trevor Stumpe, and Storm Murphy all good shooters. I just don’t see how a defense that struggled last season gets much better this season, as the same size and athleticism flaws will be apparent on that end of the floor. That may cap this team’s ceiling a bit, but I certainly wouldn’t want to deal with the Terriers in March.

#4. Furman

This year is when Bob Richey really gets tested, as the 2nd-year head coach of the Paladins loses the entire backcourt he inherited from Niko Medved. Losing 3 guys who could score and initiate the offense likely means that the offense will run through big man Matt Rafferty a lot more– an excellent passer with a unique skillset at the mid-major level. Furman should be good again on defense, but needs at least one of its guards to take a big step forward in the scoring department to help out Rafferty.

#5. Mercer

Graduating 5 seniors that accounted for over 2/3 of the Bears’ offense last season is always a challenge to replace, but I’m not selling all my Mercer stock yet. A solid backcourt seems to be in place in Ross Cummings (8.7 ppg) and breakout candidate Marcus Cohen (4.2 ppg), and the Bears bring in a solid 6-man freshman class that will be massive for the future of the program. That freshman group needs to provide some rebounding and overall depth for Mercer this season, but if they can do that, a top-5 finish seems reasonable.

#6. Samford

The Bulldogs thoroughly collapsed last season after being picked by many as a dark horse in the SoCon, losing 22 games and finishing 7th in the conference. That drop-off was mostly due to being a complete trainwreck on defense, allowing opponents to shoot 49% from the field for the season after conceding just 43% of shots in 2016-17. With an impressive group of newcomers, there’s reason for optimism this season, with holdover Josh Sharkey running the show, a quartet of highly-touted guards in Brandon Austin (Alabama), Myron Gordon (JUCO), Steven Fitzgerald (4-star freshman), and Deandre Thomas (freshman) surrounding him, and USF transfer Ruben Guerrero anchoring the frontcourt. This team has the makings of a dark horse once again, but I have to see the defense improve before I can move them into my top 5.

#7. Chattanooga

I’m still a believer in Lamont Paris despite a brutal year one and some momentum-crushing offseason departures. Paris retools with perhaps the SoCon’s best recruiting class headlined by multipositional wing/forward Kevin Easley, PG Maurice Commander, and a pair of high-level transfers in former ASU big Ramon Vila and Fairfield import Jerry Johnson Jr. There may be some bumps in the road this season, but if Paris can keep this core together, the future is bright.

#8. Citadel

Duggar Baucom’s breakneck-paced offenses haven’t brought the same success at Citadel as they did at VMI as he enters year four of his tenure. It’s hard for me to see this being the breakthrough year– this system isn’t one that is likely to change how this team played at either end last season. They’ll score a ton of points at a fairly inefficient clip, concede a ton of points, and probably lose 18-22 games again.

#9. Western Carolina 

I’m a fan of the Mark Prosser hire for the Catamounts, taking over for long-time head man Larry Hunter. Prosser brought in a few solid newcomers late in the cycle, including bruising JUCO big man Carlos Dotson who should play key minutes right away. Pairing Dotson with Marc Gosselin should form a pretty good frontcourt for WCU, but this team’s best chance of moving up the standings is getting better guard play than they got last season and that doesn’t appear likely.

#10. VMI

Running it back from a bad team is always tough to evaluate, and that’s what the Keydets do this season. Bubba Parham should be one of the conference’s top scorers after averaging over 14 per contest last season, but I’m just not sold on the rest of the roster. Success this year would be staying below the 20-loss plateau for the first time in the Dan Earl era.

All-Conference First Team:

  • Fletcher Magee– Wofford (22.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, .484/.439/.907)
  • Francis Alonso– UNCG (15.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.9 apg, .412/.401/.869)
  • Zane Najdawi– Citadel (15.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, .513/.407/.711)
  • Matt Rafferty– Furman (11.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, .598/.333/.719)
  • James Dickey– UNCG (8.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.3 apg, .536/.000/.583)

Player of the Year: Fletcher Magee (Wofford)

The defending POY Magee is the clear choice again here. He’s one of the elite pure shooters in recent CBB history, making big shot after big shot after being just completely smothered by opposing defenses. He’s on pace to eclipse 2,500 career points, which would be quite an achievement.

Breakout Player: Marcus Cohen (Mercer)

Cohen broke into the rotation as a true freshman last year on one of the most veteran teams in the country, and should be penciled in as the Bears’ starting point guard. He just has to prove that he can shoot the ball after only making one 3 last season. If he can’t at least threaten the defense from outside, it will hurt the flow of the offense.

Newcomer of the Year: Isaiah Tisdale (ETSU)

Tisdale comes to Steve Forbes’ group from one of the best JUCO programs in the country in Vicennes University, where he averaged over 17 points per game en route to earning All-American honors last season. Ranked #15th nationally among JUCO products per JUCORecruiting.com, Tisdale should slot in at point guard from day one and contend for all-conference honors.

32×32: 2018-19 SEC Preview

By Kevin Sweeney

The SEC has proven once again that college basketball is all about coaching. Over the last few years, the league as a whole has made strong coaching hire after strong coaching hire, and recruiting up and down the conference has taken a massive step forward. Now, the conference has a legitimate case for the best conference in college basketball, with 6 likely top 25 teams in the preseason and a few other clubs that should contend for NCAA Tournament berths.

#1. Kentucky

For the first time in seemingly ever, Kentucky actually has some roster continuity. PJ Washington, Quade Green, and Nick Richards return for their sophomore campaigns, with Washington on an All-American trajectory and Richards shining on the Wildcats’ trip to the Bahamas this summer. Combine that returning group with one of the nation’s best grad transfers in double-double machine Reid Travis and a loaded freshman class, and Kentucky has a legit case not only for #1 in the SEC, but for #1 in the country. Spacing remains a bit of a concern for me, especially after John Calipari elected to start Washington at the 3 next to Travis and Richards in their exhibition vs Transylvania, but the talent level with this group is so high that I’ll bet on them to figure things out.

#2. Tennessee

The Vols return virtually everyone from a team that was a mainstay in the top 25 every week after December 4th last season, including defending SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and bruising wing Admiral Schofield. Rick Barnes’ team plays extremely unselfish basketball and does an outstanding job on the defensive end, and should be in everyone’s preseason top 10.

#3. Auburn

One of the biggest surprises of the college basketball season last year, Bruce Pearl galvanized a Tiger club reeling from the losses of Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy to suspensions in connection with the FBI investigation into college basketball and led the Tigers to the SEC regular season title. Now, Pearl gets both of those guys back to add to a strong returning core that developed last season, and the sky is the limit for this Auburn club. Purifoy likely steps into the role Mustapha Heron (St. John’s) played last season as a big-bodied playmaking wing, while Wiley provides a low-post scoring threat the Tigers didn’t have last season. However, I do have concerns that perhaps the Tigers lose a bit of the us-against-the-world mentality that Pearl instilled last season and experience a bit of regression from last year’s dream run.

#4. LSU

Will Wade has proven in the short time he’s been in Baton Rouge that he’ll be a force to be reckoned with on the recruiting trail. Bringing in Tremont Waters late during his transition class was as important a recruiting coup as any in the country, as the former Georgetown pledge carried this offense and is now one of the best guards in the country. Now, Wade brings in one of the nation’s best recruiting class, with a pair of dynamic forwards in Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams along with combo guard Javonte Smart joining the fray. This is another club with clear Final Four talent, if Wade can put all the pieces together.

#5. Florida

I’ve been coming around to the Gators as the season gets closer, thanks in no small part to the Gators having what I believe will be one of the best backcourts in the country. Part of that is my bullishness on freshman PG Andrew Nembhard, the mature floor general who averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 assists for Canada at the FIBA U18 Americas event this summer. While Nembhard is unlikely to provide the defense and leadership that Chris Chiozza provided, he’ll combine with KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson for a fearsome guard unit that should be explosive on offense.

#6. Mississippi State

With their top 6 scorers returning from a team that won 25 games and reached the semifinals of the NIT last season, optimism is sky-high in Starkville. Floor spacing remains the biggest concern, as only one rotation player shot better than 34% from downtown last season in big man Aric Holman and none of the incoming recruits seem likely to drastically change the Bulldogs’ spacing situation. However, with the amount of on-ball talent that the Weatherspoon brothers and Lamar Peters possesses plus the sky-high potential a frontcourt rotation of Holman, Abdul Ado, and top-50 freshman Reggie Perry possesses, this team should enter the season in the top 25.

#7. Alabama

I’m not going to overreact too much to the Crimson Tide’s drubbing at the hands of Jacksonville State yesterday and keep Avery Johnson’s club where I had them earlier this month.

The Tide lose Collin Sexton but return a lot of talent from last season’s club that went dancing, plus add former Texas star Tevin Mack and high-level reclassified freshman Kira Lewis. On paper, the athleticism of guys like Herbert Jones, Mack, and Dazon Ingram should make this team incredibly switchable on defense.

#8. Vanderbilt

Bryce Drew hit a grand slam with his 2018 recruiting class with a pair of 5-star freshmen in PG Darius Garland and big Simi Shittu along with top-75 wing Aaron Nesmith. The fact that a group combined with an excellent sophomore guard in Saban Lee and Notre Dame transfer Matt Ryan won’t be picked above 8th in the SEC speaks to the depth of this conference. The x-factor here could be Yanni Wetzell, a transfer from D2 St. Mary’s (TX) who averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 41% from 3 as a sophomore.

#9. South Carolina

The Gamecocks still don’t have a clear point guard, but Frank Martin’s club has the pieces to get back to the Big Dance. Top-150 recruit AJ Lawson should pair nicely with lefty slasher Justin Minaya on the wing, while Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar form a sturdy frontcourt for USC. Georgetown grad transfer Tre’ Campbell and returner Hassani Gravett should compete for the starting point guard spot, though neither has shown to be a NCAA Tournament-level starting option in their collegiate careers.

#10. Ole Miss

Kermit Davis inherits a solid returning group in year one leading the Rebels, with Breein Tyree, Terence Davis, and Bruce Stevens all having averaged double figures last season. Davis is the headliner, a physical scoring guard who can make plays at all 3 levels. Newcomers like JUCO products Brian Halums & Zach Naylor along with highly-rated freshman Blake Hinson have to step up, but if they do, this team could surprise in year one.

#11. Arkansas

It’s definitely a transition year in Fayetteville, with 6 of the Razorbacks’ top 7 scorers departing and a highly-touted 8-man class incoming. The good news for Mike Anderson is that his one holdover, Daniel Gafford, is a projected lottery pick. Who will surround Gafford is a major question, with New Mexico transfer Jalen Harris likely to compete with freshman Desi Sills for starting point guard duties and guards Isaiah Joe, Mason Jones, and Keyshawn Embery looked to as bucket-getters. I question whether Gafford is wired to be played through in the post, or if he’s better off just bringing energy and rim protection as a rim-running big.

#12. Missouri

Losing Jontay Porter was simply a crusher, as the likely lottery pick and SEC POY candidate tore his ACL and MCL during a secret scrimmage last weekend and will miss the season. Jeremiah Tilmon and Kevin Puryear will lead the frontcourt in his absence, a solid group but certainly not a dominant one, and the backcourt lacks talent as well. Adding former highly-rated recruit Mark Smith after he earned a waiver to play right away after transferring in from Illinois is big, but this might be a rough year in CoMo as the Tigers learn to live life without Jontay.

#13. Texas A&M

A big stylistic shift seems likely this year for the Aggies, as Billy Kennedy loses his twin towers in Tyler Davis and Robert Williams along with “big wing” DJ Hogg, who’d likely have played the 4 for most clubs. An Admon Gilder/TJ Starks/Wendell Mitchell backcourt is enough to keep the Aggies afloat, though Starks will have to be much more efficient and take better care of the ball as the point guard for this club. A pair of transfers in the frontcourt in Josh Nebo (St. Francis PA) and Christian Mekowulu (Tennessee State) will be looked to as solid options, but won’t be played through the way Davis or Williams was.

14. Georgia

Tom Crean takes over in Athens after an uninspiring run under Mark Fox, but the talent level isn’t where Crean needs it yet. The graduation of Yante Maten leaves the Bulldogs without a high-level SEC player. In year one, a solid sophomore class that features Rayshaun Hammonds, Speedy Claxton, and Taishaun Hightower, along with late add freshman Ignas Sargiunas and holdovers Willie Jackson and Tyree Crump. I don’t see the Bulldogs scoring enough points to win games, but I believe in Crean long-term.

All-Conference First Team:

  • Tremont Waters– LSU (15.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.0 apg, .417/.351/.801)
  • Jared Harper– Auburn (13.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 5.4 apg, .360/.355/.822)
  • Quinndary Weatherspoon– Mississippi State (14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, .484/.313/.771)
  • Grant Williams– Tennessee (15.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.9 apg, .470/.120/.764)
  • PJ Washington– Kentucky (10.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, .519/.238/.606)

Player of the Year: Tremont Waters (LSU)

Waters carried an undermanned LSU team to 18 wins last season, making big shot after big shot despite not having much help. With so much more talent around him this year, Waters will transition into more of a natural point guard role, orchestrating the offense and helping the Tigers get out and go. He’s going to be incredibly fun to watch this season.

Breakout Player: Jordan Bone (Tennessee)

Bone flew under the radar last season for the Vols, but was quietly a huge part of their success last season. He’s expected to take the next step in his game this season, adopting a bigger scoring role as a lead guard in Rick Barnes’ offense. He was a surprise inclusion on the Bob Cousy Award watchlist this preseason, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he winds up in that discussion this season.

Newcomer of the Year: Andrew Nembhard (Florida)

I touched on Nembhard in my Florida writeup, and while he may not be the best newcomer in the conference, he might be the most important. Taking over for Chris Chiozza, Nembhard has to run this team efficiently in Mike White’s offense. I believe he will, as he’s an excellent passer and steady shooter who should make tons of plays.

32×32: 2018-19 Patriot League Preview

By Kevin Sweeney

The Patriot League has been mostly run by Bucknell since the closing stages of the Pat Flannery era, and that dominance has continued into Nathan Davis’s time as head coach. The Bison have won the conference’s regular season title all 3 seasons Davis has been the head man in Lewisburg. However, this is the first year Davis won’t have his star-laden frontcourt of Zach Thomas and Nana Foulland to help run his club, and the league feels wide-open as a result.

#1. Lehigh

After a sluggish start to Patriot League play, the Mountain Hawks turned on the jets late in the season with an 8-game win streak before stumbling in the conference tournament. Now, they return all but one contributor from last season, though that loss is a big one in Patriot League all-time assists leader Kahron Ross. The backcourt is still loaded, with 3 capable ballhandlers likely to share the floor in Lance Tejada, Kyle Leufroy, and Jordan Cohen, while a young frontcourt that blossomed down the stretch should be even better this season. In a wide-open Patriot League, Lehigh should be seen as the favorite.

#2. Bucknell

Despite losing perhaps the best senior class in program history, the Bison are a legitimate contender at the top of the conference once again. When healthy, Kimbal MacKenzie is one of the best guards in the conference, a high-level shooter and crafty playmaker who wasn’t at full strength for much of last season, while big man Nate Sestina was productive in the shadow of stars Nana Foulland & Zach Thomas and should star with additional floor time this season. Nathan Davis has done a nice job on the recruiting trail in recent years, and that should help soften the blow of losing about 50 points and 20 rebounds worth of production per game.

#3. Boston University

A young team with no scholarship seniors, Boston U has a nice two-year window to contend for a conference title. Without a true point guard, much of the Terriers’ offense runs through sophomore point forward Tyler Scanlon, who did a nice job in that role last season. Pairing Scanlon with a productive big in Max Mahoney should give BU one of the better frontcourt units in the conference, and a pair of versatile wings who starred as freshmen in Javante McCoy and Walter Whyte have major promise. If Joe Jones hit a couple more home runs in his 2018 class, the Terriers could be atop the conference for a long time.

#4. Colgate

Matt Langel finally broke through in his 7th season at Colgate, winning 19 games (the most in the program’s D1 history) and reaching the Patriot League title game. Losing a pair of double-digit scorers in Jordan Swopshire and Sean O’Brien won’t be easy, but Langel has a solid core in place that should keep the Raiders in contention. Stretch 4 Will Rayman is one of the conference’s best players, an elite shooter and solid glass-eater that makes life easier for his teammates. Sophomore Jordan Burns was outstanding last season, and should be the full-fledged lead guard for this club with O’Brien gone. The x-factor here is the eligibility and health of Northwestern transfer Rapolas Ivanauskas. A former top-100 recruit, Ivanauskas missed all of the last 2 seasons with shoulder injuries and is applying for a waiver to play right away. If immediately eligible and back to his high school form, he’d be a steal for Langel’s club, with a lot of skill for a big man who could play the 4 of the 5.

#5. Holy Cross

The Crusaders virtually run it back from a 12-19 season, with the main reason for optimism coming from the strong rookie campaigns by a trio of freshmen in Austin Butler, Jacob Grandison, and Caleb Green. Like any Bill Carmody team, Holy Cross is going to grind it out, winning with the Princeton offense that prioritizes cutting and efficient offense but not the 3-point shot. If one of the now-sophomore core can become a go-to offensive option, the Crusaders could be a dark horse.

#6. American

Balancing that the Eagles were one of the nation’s worst basketball teams last season and that they return a ton of production from last season is always a tough thing to do in preseason polls. Preseason POY Sa’eed Nelson is already one of the league’s best despite only being a junior, while wing Sam Iorio was also excellent as a freshman and should contend for all-league honors. That type of pairing should keep you in a whole lot of basketball games, but team around them has to provide more support on both ends. Freshman big man Josh Alexander should help a frontcourt that was brutally overmatched last season, as should the return of Mark Gasperini, who missed last season. John Brennan needs his club to show significant improvement this season or he may be looking for a new job this spring.

#7. Army

I’m always a big fan of multi-ballhander backcourts, and that’s exactly what Jimmy Allen has in his pairing of Thomas Funk and Jordan Fox. Both are high assist guys who take care of the ball, and have now played a significant amount of basketball in their collegiate careers. Unfortunately, the Black Knights were a mess on defense and on the boards last season, and it’s a bit disconcerting that Army showed no improvement last season despite bringing everyone back.

#8. Navy

Ed DeChellis’ solid defensive schemes have played well in the Patriot League, and last year was no different with the best scoring defense in the conference. They’ll need that defense to remain sturdy this season without their top two shot-creators from 2017-18. Sophomore Cam Davis could be ready for a breakout season.

#9. Lafayette

While they weren’t able to turn Matt Klinewski’s senior season into a winning one, one clear positive came out of the Leopards’ 2017-18 campaign. Frank O’Hanlon found his backcourt of the future in Alex Petrie and Justin Jaworski, and that duo has to make Lafayette feel good about its chances to contend in the future. This season might be a bit rough as they learn to play without Klinewski, who was a major offensive focal point for the last 3 seasons.

#10. Loyola (MD)

The Greyhounds replaced G.G. Smith with Tavaras Hardy this offseason after Smith struggled to build any sort of momentum in the post-Jimmy Patsos era at Loyola. Hardy is an intriguing hire: he has some ties to the DMV recruiting hotbed from his time at Georgetown, but perhaps more importantly understands how to work at a high-academic school. Hardy played at Northwestern, worked on Wall Street for a short time after his playing career ended, then worked on the staffs of Northwestern, Georgetown, and Georgia Tech before getting his first head coaching gig. For a program that left a better conference in the MAAC for a higher-academic league in the Patriot, hiring a guy who understands that type of program was critical.

As for his team this year, Hardy inherits some solid guard talent in Isaiah Hart, Chuck Champion, and Andrew Kostecka. Things are dicey in the frontcourt though, as a unit that wasn’t a strength last season loses by far its best player in Cam Gregory. I’m a fan of the Hardy hire, but it will take time to get this roster where it needs to be to compete with Bucknell and Lehigh.

All-Conference First Team:

  • Sa’eed Nelson– American (18.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.1 apg, .443/.292/.681)
  • Lance Tejada– Lehigh (14.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, .434/.453/.759)
  • Kimbal MacKenzie– Bucknell (8.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.5 apg, .351/.350/.966)
  • Will Rayman– Colgate (14.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, .447/.418/.807)
  • Pat Andree– Lehigh (12.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 0.7 apg, .458/.429/.852)

Player of the Year: Lance Tejada (Lehigh)

From a pure statistical perspective, Nelson is the pick here. If American finishes in the top 5 of the conference, I have little doubt he’ll win this award. But given the track record of stars on bad teams not winning awards, I decided to give my preseason nod to Tejada, who should have an excellent senior season. An absurdly good shooter, Tejada will have a bigger role in creating offense for the Mountain Hawks with Kahron Ross gone, and I expect him to thrive.

Breakout Player: Jimmy Sotos (Bucknell)

Sotos showed promise in his freshman campaign despite being blocked for minutes. Capable of playing either guard spot, Sotos is a solid shooter who should pair nicely with Kimbal MacKenzie in the backcourt.

Newcomer of the Year: Nic Lynch (Lehigh)

If eligible, my choice here would be the aforementioned Ivanauskas. But given the uncertainty, I went with Lynch, a talented big man who had an offer from Washington but chose Brett Reed’s Mountain Hawks. It might be tough for him to find early frontcourt minutes, but he’s definitely a high-end long term piece for Lehigh.

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.