32 Conferences, 32 Days: Big South

By Kevin Sweeney

The biggest offseason news in the Big South was the departure and subsequent return of Pat Kelsey at Winthrop. The 42-year-old former Xavier and Wake Forest assistant initially accepted the UMass head job this offseason and was seemingly minutes before being officially introduced at UMass before electing to return to Winthrop. The return of Kelsey, the best coach in the conference, was certainly huge for Winthrop. While the rest of the Big South didn’t have as a crazy an offseason as Kelsey, it looks to be a very interesting league to follow this year, especially at the top of the conference.

Standings Projection:

  1. UNC-Asheville: The star pairing of sophomore MaCio Teague and senior Ahmad Thomas should carry the Bulldogs to a Big South title. Frontcourt play is a bit of a concern though, with the team’s top 2 bigs from a season ago graduating.
  2. Liberty: The Flames return all but one key contributor from a 21-win team a season ago and bring in a solid recruiting class as well. A pair of sophomores in PG Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz and F Myo Baxter-Bell look like stars in the making.
  3. Winthrop: Kelsey returns, but WU still does lose their superstar PG Keon Johnson, who scored over 2,000 points in his illustrious career. Still, versatile forward Xavier Cooks will be one of the best players in the conference, and I don’t expect too much of a fall for the Eagles.
  4. Campbell: Things started to come together for the Camels late in the year a season ago, making a run to the conference title game behind Chris Clemons’ heroics before making it to the semifinals of the CIT. A potentially dangerous club this season.
  5. Radford: Nearly everyone returns for the Highlanders, including a double-double machine in undersized forward Ed Polite Jr. After a season in which the Highlanders lost 5 Big South games by 7 points or less, it wouldn’t take much for this team to make a big jump in the standings.
  6. Gardner-Webb: Losing starting point guard LaQuincy Rideau (transferred to USF) definitely hurts, but there are still some intriguing pieces there at Tim Craft’s disposal. Look for a potential breakout year from DJ Laster.
  7. High Point: A trio of double-figure scorers graduate for Scott Cherry’s club, but the Panthers could have one of the league’s best backcourts featuring sophomore Jamaal Wright, junior Andre Fox, and talented former Iona guard Jahaad Proctor.
  8. Charleston Southern: Wing Christian Keeling had one of the better freshman seasons in the country last year, averaging over 17 points and 7 rebounds per game in his first season. If he gets more help around him, this team could rise up the Big South standings.
  9. Presbyterian: The bad news is that Presbyterian was one of the worst teams in Division 1 a season ago. The good news is that a lot of pieces return from that club. If new head coach and former Wofford associate head coach Dustin Kerns can bring some energy to that program, things could begin trending up.
  10. Longwood: Losing your 2 best players after a 6-win season is not a recipe for success at any level of basketball. It could be a very rough year in Farmville.

Champions: UNC-Asheville

The Bulldogs thrive on ball control offensively and wreaking havoc on the defensive end. That’s exactly what they did a season ago (58th-fewest turnovers in the country while forcing the 11th-most in the nation). The anchor of that defense is senior Ahmad Thomas, a versatile wing who averaged over 3 steals per game a season ago. However, unlike many defensive specialists, Thomas is an elite offensive option, forming an incredibly high-powered duo with sophomore MaCio Teague. Frontcourt play is a concern with Giacomo Zilli and Will Weeks graduating, but look for College of Charleston transfer Donovan Gilmore to play a big role up front for the Bulldogs.

Dark Horse: Campbell

Chris Clemons. Enough said.

Simply put, the Camels have the best player in the conference and one of the best in the entire country in Clemons, a dynamic playmaker despite his generously-listed 5-9 frame. That in of itself will keep Campbell in a lot of games this season. Combine that with a lot of production returning for the Camels from a season ago, and you get a very intriguing team for the 2017-18 season. The team’s miracle run to the Big South title game followed by a pair of CIT wins certainly showed what they are capable of if they can pull all of that together for an entire season.

All-Conference First Team:

  • G: Chris Clemons (Campbell)
  • G: MaCio Teague (UNC-Asheville)
  • G: Ahmad Thomas (UNC-Asheville)
  • F: Ed Polite (Radford)
  • F: Xavier Cooks (Winthrop)

Player of the Year: Chris Clemons- As I touched on earlier, Clemons is just flat-out special. Coming off a sophomore campaign in which he averaged 25.1 points per game (good for 2nd nationally), Clemons will likely post even gaudier numbers this season. He’s lightning quick, a great shooter, and very bouncy, a combination that makes him easily one of the funnest players to watch in college basketball. Games like this gem below (courtesy of Campbell Athletics/YouTube) are what make him so special.

Breakout Player of the Year: Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz (Liberty)- After an excellent freshman season, Pacheco-Ortiz seems primed for a breakout sophomore campaign. The Puerto Rico native who represented his country at the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer concluded his freshman campaign with an 11 game stretch in which he averaged over 12 points, 4 boards, and 3 assists while shooting over 45% from 3. He’s certainly capable of posting those kinds of numbers this season, and is certainly on track to be a great player for a long time in the Big South.

Newcomer of the Year: Jahaad Proctor (High Point)- A slashing shooting guard who began his career at Iona, Proctor definitely showed promise in his freshman season in New Rochelle, posting 7 games with double-figure scoring including a 20-point outburst vs Fairfield. The big weakness in his game was 3-point shooting (29%), but if he made strides in that regard during his redshirt year, he could be a very nice player for Scott Cherry’s High Point club.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Big Sky

By Kevin Sweeney

The one thing that jumps out at me when I look at the Big Sky this season is the amount of star power. For a league that is generally considered to be one of the weaker leagues in Division 1, the conference houses a ton of incredibly high-level players. A remarkable 5 players return who averaged over 17 points per game a season ago. As a result, there should be some super interesting battles throughout conference play this season.

Standings Projection:

  1. Montana- The Grizzlies return a very strong nucleus from last year’s squad headlined by dynamic play-maker Ahmaad Rorie, who averaged over 17 points per game a season ago. Key will be the play of a pair of transfers in Donaven Dorsey (Washington) and Jamar Akoh (Cal State Fullerton).
  2. Idaho- Victor Sanders is one of the best pure shooters in the country, scoring over 20 points per game a season ago on 44% from downtown. Surrounding him is a solid frontcourt and an overall veteran-laden roster that should put the Vandals near the top of the Big Sky.
  3. Weber State- I have some questions about where all the pieces will fit, but I’ve learned during the Randy Rahe era to not bet against Weber State in the Big Sky. Former top-50 recruit Brekkott Chapman will team up with junior Zach Braxton to form what will likely be the league’s most formidable frontcourt.
  4. North Dakota- The defending champs lose one of the top players in program history in Quinton Hooker, but junior Geno Crandall seems ready to step into a starring role after playing Robin to Hooker’s Batman in his first 2 seasons.
  5. Montana State- This Montana State team intrigues me. A pair of 5-game winning streaks led the Bobcats to a 10-3 finish to Big Sky play after a 1-4 start, and all but one major contributor returns. Definitely a team that could make some noise this season.
  6. Eastern Washington- This was probably the toughest team for me to place in these rankings. On one hand, Bogdan Bliznyuk is one of the most underrated players in the country- a point forward who can truly do it all. Still, the Eagles lose a pair of high-level players including conference POY Jacob Wiley, while also seeing head coach Jim Hayford depart this offseason.
  7. Sacramento State- Another interesting club, Sacramento State has the best returning big man in the conference in Justin Strings, as well as an outstanding pure point guard in Marcus Graves. That’s a really nice core to build around. Plus, who doesn’t love a good Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa sighting?
  8. Northern Colorado- Point guard Jordan Davis got a lot of headlines this summer for his play with the Azerbaijan national team… despite not having any ties to Azerbaijan. He’ll lead the way for a UNC team that should be very fun to watch.
  9. Portland State- Former Santa Clara assistant Barret Peery takes over the Portland State program, and he inherits some interesting pieces. The senior trio of Deontae North, Bryce Canda, and Traylin Farris will be looked to to carry the load.
  10. Northern Arizona- Stanford grad transfer Malcolm Allen should play a big role for the Lumberjacks. A tough team to project at this time, but this team has the talent to climb the Big Sky standings.
  11. Southern Utah- Losing guard Randy Onwuasor to the grad transfer rule (LSU) after a season in which he scored over 23 points per game is absolutely crushing for Todd Simon’s club.
  12. Idaho State- Not much reason for optimism at Idaho State this year, with star guard Ethan Telfair graduating from a team that won just 5 games a season ago.

Champions: Montana

Last season’s Montana team was marked by inconsistency. There were certainly highs, like the 4-game winning streak early in conference play that included road victories over EWU & Idaho or winning 6 of 8 to conclude the regular season. However, there were also some bad moments, such as being swept by Sacramento State and several close losses. However, with a more experienced club this year and a star in Ahmaad Rorie leading the way, I believe Montana will be top dog in a wide-open conference.

Dark Horse: Montana State

Montana State has the best player in the conference in Tyler Hall, a promising rising sophomore in Harald Frey, and an impact transfer in Konner Frey (14 ppg, 7 rpg at Utah Valley in 2015-16). That’s the recipe for a potentially dangerous team, especially in a wide-open league like the Big Sky. Konner Frey should solidify a frontcourt that struggled on the glass a season ago, and Hall can flat-out score with anyone in the country. Watch out for the Bobcats in the Big Sky.

First Team All-Conference

  • G: Ahmaad Rorie (Montana)
  • G: Geno Crandall (North Dakota)
  • G: Tyler Hall (Montana State)
  • G: Victor Sanders (Idaho)
  • F: Bogdan Bliznyuk (Eastern Washington)

Player of the Year: Tyler Hall- Hall first came onto the college basketball scene in late 2015 when he went for 36 points in a New Year’s Eve battle with Southern Utah. Since, he’s done more of the same: score, score, and score some more. Hall is on pace to eclipse 2,000 career points at some point this season, and he’s only a junior! He may not play in the national spotlight, but Hall is definitely one of the best pure scorers in the country.

Breakout Player of the Year: Jerrick Harding (Weber State)- Harding provided instant offense for Weber State as a freshman, averaging over 9 points per game in under 17 minutes per contest. However, with star guard Jeremy Senglin graduating, Harding will likely see his role in the offense expand. He’s an excellent shooter who is more than capable of creating his own offense off the bounce, and I think he could be in for a big year.

Newcomer of the Year: Brekkott Chapman (Weber State)- It’s hard not to salivate at Chapman’s potential at the Big Sky level. A 6-9 skilled forward and former highly-touted recruit at Utah, Chapman will look to revitalize his collegiate career in Ogden. Chapman’s combination of size and versatility will make him a nightmare matchup in this conference. Check out this story from Brett Hein of the Standard-Examiner on Chapman and what he can bring to the table for the Wildcats.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Big East

By Kevin Sweeney

Villanova has dominated the Big East in recent years, claiming 4 consecutive regular season titles. The good thing is that steady control at the top hasn’t stopped the Big East from being one of the most entertaining conferences in college basketball, and this year should be no different. I could see the league getting as many as 8 NCAA Tournament bids come March, and a strong case could be made that 4 of the top 20 teams in the nation hail from the Big East.

Standings Projection:

  1. Villanova- Clear favorites in my book, the Wildcats are loaded in the backcourt once again. The addition of 5-star big man Omari Spellman will give them an elite offensive weapon up front that makes Jay Wright’s club even more dangerous.
  2. Xavier- It took me awhile to come around to the Musketeers as my #2 in the Big East, but the more I look at the roster, the more there is to like. If they get steady point guard play from Quentin Goodin, the sky is the limit for this Xavier club.
  3. Providence- One of the most veteran-laden teams at the high-major level, the Friars will likely trot out 4 senior starters in PG Kyron Cartwright, SF Jalen Lindsey, PF Rodney Bullock, and C Emmitt Holt. From there, look for a strong freshman class featuring top-50 guard Makai Ashton-Langford to push the Friars to the next level.
  4. Seton Hall- Sure, Angel Delgado is amazing. Khadeen Carrington & Desi Rodriguez are outstanding too. However, unless the Pirates’ point guard play improves, the upside of this team remains capped. Freshman Jordan Walker is a guy capable of claiming that role, and if he does so effectively, this team is very dangerous.
  5. Butler- While I don’t think many realize just how important Andrew Chrabascz was to this Butler club last season, the Bulldogs should still be fine with Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin leading the way. Coaching turnover always scares me, but I think the Bulldogs are in good hands with LaVall Jordan at the helm,
  6. Creighton- The Bluejays are an intriguing club to me. They have a star in Marcus Foster who can really fill it up (albeit at high volume) and one of the most underrated monsters in the country in Khyri Thomas. What comes after that duo determines how good Creighton can be this season.
  7. Marquette- In short, the Eagles can shoot the cover off the ball. Remarkably, they return 3 players who shot better than 44% from 3 on more than 2 makes per game in Markus Howard, Andrew Rowsey, and Sam Hauser. Frontcourt play is a concern, but Steve Wojciechowksi club will be fun to watch on the offensive end.
  8. St. John’s- The backcourt pairing of Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett should be outstanding once again, and excitement is high about transfers Justin Simon (Arizona) and Marvin Clark (Michigan State) who are fresh off a redshirt. If things break right, the Johnnies will be intently watching CBS come Selection Sunday.
  9. DePaul- Wait, DePaul’s allowed to not come in last? Color me surprised too. In all seriousness though, I actually like this roster. The backcourt is has some excellent pieces, with Eli Cain and Brandon Cyrus returning along with incoming former 5-star Austin Grandstaff and D2 transfer Max Strus, who has earned rave reviews. Dave Leitao will likely have to go small a lot, but this team is actually intriguing.
  10. Georgetown- I really don’t know how this Georgetown team will look this season in year 1 of the Patrick Ewing era. Landing 4-star forward Jamorko Pickett in the late period helps, but Ewing will need a huge year from big man Jessie Govan to be competitive in the Big East this season.

Champions: Villanova

Some people I’ve spoken to this season think that the gap has narrowed between Villanova and the rest of the conference this season. I disagree. The Wildcats are every bit a top-7 team in the country going into the year and a national title contender. Steady floor general Jalen Brunson is one of the smartest college players I’ve ever watched and is certainly in the discussion to be an All-American this season. Complimenting him is a deep unit of wings who can really score the ball, from Donte DiVincenzo to Phil Booth to Mikal Bridges (who is one of the best defenders in the country as well). Spellman gives them a potentially dominant frontcourt force, and Eric Paschall’s versatility at the forward spot allows the Wildcats to do so many different things defensively to create favorable matchups. I’m bullish on the Wildcats this season.

Dark Horse: Butler

The main reason I have for highlighting this Butler team is Kamar Baldwin. The talented sophomore guard is coming off a freshman campaign where he averaged over 10 points per game on efficient shooting while also being an elite perimeter defender. Most would consider him a breakout player this year, but in my mind he has already broken out. That said, word out of Butler is that Baldwin could see time at the point guard position, something that intrigues me a ton. If he adapts well to that role, this team has a ton of upside, already featuring a star in Kelan Martin and a slew of solid role players along with a solid incoming class of talent.

All Conference First Team:

  • G: Jalen Brunson (Villanova)
  • G: Marcus Foster (Creighton)
  • G/F: Kelan Martin (Butler)
  • G/F: Trevon Bluiett (Xavier)
  • F: Angel Delgado (Seton Hall)

Player of the Year: Jalen Brunson- In Big East play a season ago, Brunson averaged a remarkable statline of 16.1 ppg, 4.6 apg, and a 67!!% true shooting percentage (measurement of shooting efficiency on 2’s, 3’s, and free throws). He’s the unquestioned leader of a Villanova club that I expect to be in the national title conversation until the very end this season, and always seems to make the right play in the biggest moments. A lot of star power returns in the Big East, but Brunson is as good as it gets in the college game today.

20170213_villanova-depaul_jalen_brunson_bringing_the_ball_upcourt

Brunson is one of the best point guards in college basketball. Photo Credit: By TonyTheTiger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Breakout Player of the Year: Sam Hauser (Marquette)- Hauser was one of the more underrated freshmen in college basketball a season ago, averaging more than 8 points and 5 rebounds on 45% 3-point shooting on an NCAA Tournament team. With his strong 6-8, 225 pound frame, Hauser represents a really versatile option for Marquette, strong enough to play as a stretch 4 in Steve Wojciechowski’s free-flowing offensive system but athletic enough to play on the wing as well. A big year is ahead for the Stevens Point, WI native.

Newcomer of the Year: Omari Spellman (Villanova)- I’ve alluded to Spellman a few times throughout this preview, but there’s a reason for it. The 5-star freshman who had to sit out last season due to academic ineligibility is a special talent. A built 6-9 forward, Spellman can throw his body around and score at will in the paint. However, he’s also sneaky-quick laterally, which will allow him to slot right in to Jay Wright’s defensive sets. In prep school, Spellman flashed a developing face-up game as well, extending his range to the 3-point arc. If he can consistently hit long jumpers along with that devastating low-post game, he’s going to be a star.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Big 12

By Kevin Sweeney

We return to the high-major level today with the Big 12, which was one of the most difficult leagues to project for me. Kansas, which has won the league’s regular season an incredible 13 times in a row, comes in as the clear favorite to claim the crown once again. After that, however, I find myself debating strongly about virtually every spot. One thing is clear though: the Big 12 is strong once again.

Standings Projection:

  1. Kansas- At this point, it seems silly to bet against Bill Self. While the Jayhawks aren’t an exceedingly deep club, they have an absolutely loaded backcourt featuring senior star Devonte’ Graham as well as 5-star Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman. A definite Final Four candidate.
  2. West Virginia- “Press Virginia” will once again bother opponents with their high-intensity defense anchored by Jevon Carter. I have concerns up front, especially with Esa Ahmad suspended for the first half of the season. Bob Huggins always seems to find a way though.
  3. TCU- The fact that Jamie Dixon has this team as a potential top 3 team in the Big 12 this season speaks volumes to what he has done there in a short time. The Horned Frogs should return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
  4. Oklahoma- I’m a bit higher on the Sooners than most given they are coming off an 11-campaign, but Lon Kruger’s club has one of the brightest young cores in the country. They also add one of the elite guards in the 2017 recruiting class in Trae Young, whose highlights invoke the image of a young Steph Curry.
  5. Baylor- Honestly, I’m not in love with this Baylor roster. However, the Bears do have an excellent lead guard in Manu Lecomte, a rim-protecting big in Jo-Lual Acuil, and a coach in Scott Drew who always seems to get the job done.
  6. Texas- Shaka Smart has assembled an extremely athletic squad, but I’m not sure how well the pieces fit together. Freshmen Matt Coleman (PG) and #3 overall recruit Mo Bamba (C) will play huge roles, but the Longhorns will need to hit some outside shots this season to be an NCAA Tournament team.
  7. Texas Tech- Probably the team I had the toughest time placing. The Red Raiders have one of the better duos in the country in Keenan Evans and Zach Smith, but they lost a ton of close games a season ago. Transfers Brandone Francis and Tommy Hamilton should help with depth, but will TTU close games?
  8. Kansas State- The Wildcats have a really solid core in Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Dean Wade, and Xavier Sneed. Beyond that group is where major questions lie. The frontcourt has almost no returning production other than Wade, who does his best work away from the basket. Mount St. Mary’s grad transfer Mawdo Sallah will have to play solid minutes.
  9. Iowa State- With the graduations of Monte Morris, Naz Long, Deonte Burton, and Matt Thomas, the Cyclones are in for a rebuilding season. However, they do bring in a McDonald’s All-American in PG Lindell Wigginton and a few other solid recruits. Returnees Donovan Jackson and Solomon Young will have to make big strides as well.
  10. Oklahoma State- Losing head coach Brad Underwood was crushing for the Cowboys. Jeffrey Carroll is one of the top players in the conference, but I have a lot of questions about the rest of the roster. New head coach Mike Boynton may have his hands full.

Champions: Kansas

The streak continues to year 14, and shows no signs of letting up. While the Jayhawks graduate Frank Mason and Landen Lucas while also losing Josh Jackson to the NBA, Bill Self’s squad is loaded again. Mason’s partner-in-crime Devonte’ Graham will take over point guard duties for his senior campaign, while Malik Newman will be an explosive weapon offensively playing on the wing after sitting out last season. Frontcourt depth is a big concern, as the Jayhawks are thin behind sophomore Udoka Azubuike, but look for Self to deploy a lot of 4-guard lineups with either Svi Mykhailiuk or LaGerald Vick playing the 4 at times. I have Kansas as a preseason top 5 team in college basketball.

Dark Horse: TCU

While I typically wouldn’t choose a dark horse who I have picked 3rd in the conference, the term feels appropriate about the Horned Frogs since I’m not sure the average fan realizes how good this team could be. Big man Vladimir Brodziansky is incredibly skilled for his 6-10 frame and is one of the most efficient players in the country. Kenrich Williams is one of the most versatile players in the league, a 6-7 forward who is a force on the glass and can defend multiple positions. Turnovers were a bit of problem for the Horned Frogs a season ago, but those should improve with backcourt mates Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson entering their second year in the system. Don’t sleep on Jamie Dixon’s team this season.

All-Conference First Team:

  • GDevonte’ Graham (Kansas)
  • G: Malik Newman (Kansas)
  • G: Jevon Carter (West Virginia)
  • G: Jeffrey Carroll (Oklahoma State)
  • F: Vladimir Brodziansky (TCU)

Player of the Year: Jevon Carter- No one embodies Bob Huggins’ West Virginia teams quite like Carter, the feisty defender who has vastly improved as an elite offensive weapon as well during his time in Morgantown. Others may post gaudier numbers than Carter, but you can’t coach his knack for making big plays on both ends of the court when it matters most. Simply put, he’s the type of player that every coach in the country wishes he had.

Breakout Player of the Year: Udoka Azubuike (Kansas)- The hype surrounding Azubuike from the Jayhawk faithful is definitely apparent. The big man definitely showed flashes in his 11 games last season before suffering a season-ending wrist injury. The 7-footer is a load in the post, excellent on the glass, and blocked a ton of shots (more than 5 per 40 minutes) as a freshman. With an expanded role this season, look for Azubuike to be a double-double machine for the Jayhawks.

Newcomer of the Year: Malik Newman (Kansas)- Newman originally chose to stay in his home state of Mississippi, where he began his career in Starkville with Mississippi State under Ben Howland. Once seen as a one-and-done-type prospect, Newman didn’t have the best freshman campaign, shooting just 39.1% from the field. However, a year working on his game with Bill Self’s staff and learning from veterans like Mason and Graham definitely should help him reach his full potential in year 1 with the Jayhawks. I’m expecting a huge season from the dynamic guard.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Atlantic 10

By Kevin Sweeney

Mid-major, high-major, or something in between. Whatever you wish to classify the Atlantic 10 as, it is one of my favorite conferences to watch and cover in the college hoops landscape. It’s high-level college basketball mixed with mid-major type atmospheres and feel, whether it be St. Bonaventure fans packing Reilly Center or VCU supporters loading up “The Stu” with floods of gold. Overall, I see this season as a bit of a down year for the Atlantic 10, but it still should be a multi-bid league come NCAA Tournament time and one of the more intriguing leagues across the national landscape.

Standings Projection:

  1. Rhode Island- The Rams are a near-consensus favorite in the A10, boasting one of the nation’s top backcourts in EC Matthews, Jared Terrell, Jarvis Garrett, and others. If Dan Hurley’s club gets good frontcourt play, they could be a top 25 team.
  2. VCU- Mike Rhoades has had to revamp his roster a bit since arriving this spring, but he has assembled a talented group that fits perfectly in the pressing system Rhoades will implement. Long wings who can do a variety of things are all throughout the roster.
  3. St. Bonaventure- The senior guard duo of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley is one of the best in the nation. What the Bonnies get out of the rest of their roster will determine whether they are an NCAA Tournament-level team.
  4. St. Joseph’s– The Hawks are a team I am very intrigued by. They have a lot of really talented pieces, but health concerns for many key players (including conference POY candidate Shavar Newkirk). A sleeper title contender in my opinion.
  5. Dayton- Not as down on the Flyers as some in the post-Archie Miller era. Really like their wings and bigs, but point guard play is a MAJOR concern. Freshman Jalen Crutcher and junior John Crosby will have to step up.
  6. George Mason- Dave Paulsen has done a tremendous job at George Mason thus far, and his roster is full of really interesting pieces. The Patriots have a loaded backcourt, but massive question marks up front. Can highly-touted freshman AJ Wilson give them time as a small-ball 5?
  7. Davidson- The Wildcats lose Jack Gibbs, but bring in an excellent recruiting class featuring 4-star PG Kellan Grady. If they can improve defensively, Bob McKillop’s club could rise in the standings.
  8. St. Louis- Year 2 of the Travis Ford era is one full of excitement, as a trio of high-major transfers enter along with a pair of top-100 recruits. I believe the Billikens are a year away, but the talent is there for a top 4 finish.
  9. Richmond- A pair of all-conference performers in TJ Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones graduate, but the Spiders have a talented young core featuring a future star in De’Monte Buckingham.
  10. La Salle- I have concerns about their depth up front and their defense last season was atrocious, but the duo of BJ Johnson and Pookie Powell will win you games at any level.
  11. UMass- Rashaan Holloway has a chance to be one of the most dominant bigs in the country. However, the rest of the roster will have to give him a lot of help if the Minutemen want to move up the standings in year 1 of the Matt McCall era.
  12. George Washington- A lot of departures from last year’s squad between graduations and transfers, but Yuta Watanabe should be in for a big senior season.
  13. Duquesne- The Keith Dambrot hire was an absolute home run, and the Dukes have had an excellent offseason. However, with a lot of talent sitting out this season due to transfer rules, year 1 won’t see a ton of improvement in the win-loss column.
  14. Fordham- Joseph Chartouny is a really talented point guard, but I don’t see much talent on this roster. Could be a rough year for the Rams.

Champions: Rhode Island

Last season was certainly up and down for the Rams, as they went from being nationally ranked early in the season, to being almost certainly out of the at-large bid picture after a February home loss to Fordham, to being 3 points away from the Sweet 16. Now, the Rams come in as A10 favorites with a roster loaded with talent. The backcourt is absolutely loaded, but Dan Hurley will have to get creative up front following the graduations of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson. A few guys who could help fill that void are Cyril Langevine, an athletically-gifted sophomore who is a beast on the glass, and senior Andre Berry, who averaged 16.5 ppg on the Rams’ trip to the Bahamas. If those guys step up, watch out.

Dark Horse: St. Joseph’s

As I wrote earlier, I truly believe the Hawks can contend for a conference title this season. Now, this may seem crazy given that they finished tied for 12th a season ago. However, Phil Martelli’s team was riddled with injuries all season long, with their top 3 scorers all missing time throughout the season. If Newkirk can return to the form he was in prior to his ACL tear, this team has a TON of weapons. PG Lamar Kimble and forward James Demery are each all-conference type players when healthy, and Charlie Brown is coming off a fine freshman campaign that has many scouts thinking of him as a potential NBA prospect. Add some returning and incoming pieces to sure up the frontcourt, and this team looks super dangerous.

All-Conference First Team:

  • G: Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure)
  • G: Shavar Newkirk (St. Joe’s)
  • G: EC Matthews (Rhode Island)
  • F: Peyton Aldridge (Davidson)
  • F: Justin Tillman (VCU)

Player of the Year: Jaylen Adams- Exactly 1 player in college basketball averaged at least 20 points and 6 assists per game last season. It wasn’t #1 overall draft pick Markelle Fultz, nor UCLA freshman sensation Lonzo Ball. It was Adams, the St. Bonaventure star who enters his senior season as one of the top players in the country. He’s an elite shotmaker who can create for himself as well as others, and has quietly asserted himself as a potential NBA prospect. There is only one thing left for Adams to check off on his career milestone list: an NCAA Tournament berth.

Breakout Player of the Year: De’Riante Jenkins (VCU)- I could go in a lot of different directions for this one, but I chose to go with Jenkins, a former top-50 recruit who many inside the VCU program expect to have a monster year. The uber-athletic wing certainly showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman. Now, with a much bigger role to play on this years team, we could see a him assert himself as a star in the Atlantic 10.

Newcomer of the Year: Kellan Grady (Davidson)- One thing that is always a factor in newcomer of the year awards is opportunity. Grady will get plenty of that as a freshman, and the highly-touted point guard out of prep powerhouse Northfield-Mount Hermon appears ready for the challenge of taking over for Jack Gibbs in the line of great guards for the Wildcats. He has excellent size for the position at 6-4, while also being an excellent shooter who is more than capable of getting his teammates involved. A steal for Bob McKillop in the 2017 class.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: Atlantic Sun

By Kevin Sweeney

Florida Gulf Coast and everyone else.

That’s pretty much the general consensus prediction for the Atlantic Sun this season. The Eagles have dominated the conference of late, and that trend should continue into the 2017-18 season. Still, the reason I do this style of preview is to give you a look at all 351 Division 1 teams, and the A-Sun certainly has some intriguing clubs beyond just the powerhouse at FGCU.

Standings Projection:

  1. Florida Gulf Coast- As I mentioned at the top, the Eagles are HEAVY favorites to win the conference going into the season. Joe Dooley’s club returns a lot of talent from last season’s 26-win campaign, including A-Sun POY favorite Brandon Goodwin.
  2. Lipscomb- Probably the only team that can realistically challenge FGCU in the conference, the Bisons’ dynamic offense should make them a 20-plus win team with the potential of knocking off almost anyone if they get hot.
  3. USC Upstate- Carried by a talented junior class that features 4 players who averaged over 8 points per game a season ago, the Spartans have some quality pieces that could help the Spartans make some noise in the A-Sun.
  4. North Florida- The Ospreys lose the best player in program history in Dallas Moore, but a pair of talented wings burst onto the scene as freshmen a season ago in Garrett Sams and Wajid Aminu. Those 2 could turn into household names sooner rather than later.
  5. NJIT- The Highlanders have one of the better frontcourts in the league with Abdul Lewis and Anthony Tarke. With a new arena ready to open, excitement about the program is very high- something that would have been unthinkable to type a few short years ago.
  6. Kennesaw State- Al Skinner’s club loses its best player in Kendrick Ray, but a pair of talented guards in senior Nick Masterson and sophomore James Scott will make this team interesting.
  7. Jacksonville- The Dolphins lose their top 3 scorers from a season ago’s 5-9 A-Sun campaign. They will need a huge year from senior guard Devin Harris if they hope to be competitive.
  8. Stetson- Much of this offseason, I thought Stetson could be an interesting under-the-radar team this year. However, star big man Derrick Newton is no longer listed on SU’s active roster, a huge blow for the Hatters.

Champions: Florida Gulf Coast

The Eagles profile as one of the most dangerous mid-majors in the country this season for a reason. The backcourt is loaded with talent, from one of the top mid-major point guards in the country in Brandon Goodwin to solid pieces like Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell, as well as JUCO guard Dino Mercurius, who profiles as an elite shooter. The frontcourt isn’t all that experienced, but features high-major talents in Michigan transfer Ricky Doyle, Miami transfer Michael Gilmore (midseason eligible), and former Xavier commit Brady Ernst as well as returning contributor Antravious Simmons. If those frontcourt pieces come together, this team has a chance to be top-50 good.

Dark Horse: USC Upstate

The Spartans bring back a fair amount of talent from last year’s team, which finished over .500 at 17-16. What gives them dark horse potential to me is that I see a few potential breakout candidates on the roster. After an excellent sophomore campaign in which he averaged over 10 points and 5 rebounds per contest, wing Malik Moore could be on his way to stardom. If he takes the next step that I think he will, USC Upstate will have quite the pairing in Moore and fellow junior mike Cunningham. The big question: how do the Spartans respond to head coach Eddie Payne’s sudden resignation yesterday due to health issues? Associate Head Coach Kyle Perry will take the reigns on an interim basis, presumably for the entire season.

All-Conference First Team

  • G: Brandon Goodwin (Florida Gulf Coast)
  • G: Divine Myles (Stetson)
  • G: Garrison Matthews (Lipscomb)
  • G: Nick Masterson (Kennesaw State)
  • F:Rob Marberry (Lipscomb)

Player of the Year: Brandon Goodwin- Goodwin is one of the most efficient floor generals in the country, a guy capable of putting his team on his back by getting buckets late in games or getting all of his teammates involved. Look no further than his national ranks near the nation’s best in player efficiency rating and win shares from a season ago. Goodwin is the engine of an FGCU squad that will look to make its 3rd consecutive NCAA Tournament this season, this time with hopes of pulling an upset or two.

Breakout Player of the Year: Garrett Sams (North Florida)- Sams is a rare talent at the A-Sun level. At 6-6, he’s an elite shooter (42% a season ago) who can score from anywhere on the court. This year, with Dallas Moore graduating, Sams will take on a bigger role in the offense, and I expect his numbers to climb. Certainly a potential all-league candidate this season.

Newcomer of the Year: Ricky Doyle (FGCU)- For this award, I had plenty of options, mostly from the newcomers in the FGCU frontcourt. However, I chose Doyle, an experienced commodity who was a very solid rotation player for Michigan for 2 seasons before transferring to FGCU. He doesn’t do anything too special, but he’s an excellent finisher around the rim who will do the dirty work down low and rebound the ball proficiently for the Eagles.

32 Conferences, 32 Days: ACC

By Kevin Sweeney

Just last week, perhaps the biggest story in recent college basketball history rocked the college hoops world, and no program was hit harder in the early-goings of this FBI investigation than Louisville. Following an FBI affadavit stating that Adidas had coordinated with the Louisville coaching staff to deliver a payment of $100k to 5-star recruit Brian Bowen, legendary head coach Rick Pitino was fired along with AD Tom Jurich. Meanwhile, this investigation hangs over the heads of the rest of the conference, as other schools could be implicated at any time. This makes the ACC hard to project this year, but I give it a shot here.

I may update these projections if new information on the investigation becomes available.

Standings Projection

  1. Duke: Sure, this Duke roster has a few key flaws. Depth is a concern for me, but the Blue Devils are super talented and are a consensus top 5 team in college basketball going into the 2017-18 season. Can Grayson Allen lead this team to a national title in his senior season? 
  2. Miami: I’m very high on the Canes this season. Bruce Brown is one of the elite scorers in all of college basketball, and incoming 5-star freshman Lonnie Walker makes that backcourt even more dangerous.
  3. North Carolina: Big question marks up front, but the defending national champs have a Wooden Award candidate in Joel Berry and have a ton of options in the backcourt.
  4. Louisville: Hard to find the right spot for the Cardinals with all the uncertainty they face at this time. It will be a tall task for interim head coach David Padgett to get his team focused on basketball. That said, Louisville does have a top-10 roster nationally, even without Bowen, so a fall to 4th seems appropriate at this point.
  5. Notre Dame: The 5-7 spots were by far the toughest to project, but you have to love the duo of Bonzie Colson & Matt Farrell for the Fighting Irish. I trust Mike Brey to figure out the rest.
  6. Virginia: One of the more interesting teams to evaluate this preseason. If the pieces come together right, Tony Bennett’s squad could be very dangerous. Replacing London Perrantes won’t be easy though.
  7. Virginia Tech: Lots of talent in the backcourt, but injuries and transfers this offseason have taken a toll on the Hokies up front. Chris Clarke must stay healthy. Still, Buzz Williams continues to do an outstanding job in Blacksburg.
  8. Georgia Tech: Josh Pastner’s club stunned everyone by winning 21 games a season ago. Now, with a pair of potential all-ACC players in Josh Okogie and Ben Lammers returning, the Yellow Jackets have a real chance to go Dancing this season.
  9. NC State: I’m fairly bullish on the impact of a new, energized coach in Kevin Keatts could have, and Mark Gottfried leaves behind a lot more talent than some people realize. The Wolfpack could surprise some people.
  10. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have one of the most underrated stars in college basketball in Bryant Crawford, but are inexperienced up front. The play of junior Doral Moore and freshman Olivier Sarr will be critical if Danny Manning’s team wants to make another trip to the Big Dance.
  11. Syracuse: The amount of question marks on this Syracuse roster scares me, but I expect super sophomore Tyus Battle to have a big year and keep the Orange afloat. Still, I have major concerns about point guard play and frontcourt depth.
  12. Florida State: A lot departs from last year’s squad, but the Seminoles quietly bring in the nation’s 12th-best class highlighted by 5-star guard MJ Walker. He and Terrence Mann should form a dynamic duo on the wing.
  13. Clemson: The king of the close loss a season ago, we’ll see if the Tigers can finally get the job done this year. If not, Brad Brownell’s job may be in jeopardy.
  14. Boston College: The trio of Ky Bowman, Jerome Robinson, and Illinois State transfer Deontae Hawkins will keep Jim Christian’s team in a lot of games. It feels like the Eagles are a piece or 2 away from being a thorn in the rest of the ACC’s side.
  15. Pittsburgh: Kevin Stallings’ club loses a ton of production from a team that went 4-14 a season ago, with no clear replacements waiting in the wings. If a few of the 10 newcomers that are eligible to play this season don’t make a major impact, it could be a super ugly season in Oakland.

Champions: Duke

While I do have my trepidations about the Blue Devils this season in terms of them being the surefire #1 team in the country, I do still believe they are the best team in the ACC. Grayson Allen returns for his senior season as a Wooden Award candidate if he can keep his head on straight, while an absolutely loaded recruiting class that features 4 potential starters in PG Trevon Duval, SG Gary Trent, and big men Wendell Carter & Marvin Bagley should produce in a big way. My main concerns are sharing the ball and depth. Duval is known as a shoot-first point guard, while Allen will need the ball in his hands a lot and the bigs will certainly need their touches. Previous national title teams that relied on freshmen also had veteran role players who took on leadership roles. Will Allen let his numbers take the backseat and be a leader? That is my biggest question with these incredibly talented Blue Devils.

Dark Horse: Virginia

While there hasn’t been a whole lot of buzz going into the season about UVA, I truly believe this team has a ton of upside. If things go the way I think they can, a top 3 finish in the ACC and top 15 national ranking would be quite possible. With youthful guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome taking on increased roles in the backcourt, as well as the additions of Rutgers grad transfer Nigel Johnson and redshirt freshman wing DeAndre Hunter, this Virginia team might be the most talented offensive squad Randy Bennett has had in Charlottesville. Combine that with the fact that we all know the Cavs will be elite defensively, and I believe that there’s a good chance Virginia stuns a lot of people this season.

All-Conference First Team:

  • G: Joel Berry (North Carolina)
  • G: Grayson Allen (Duke)
  • G: Bruce Brown (Miami)
  • F: Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame)
  • F: Ben Lammers (Georgia Tech)

Player of the Year: Bonzie Colson- If I had told anyone when Bonzie Colson began his time at Notre Dame that going into his senior season he’d be a national player of the year candidate, they would have said I was crazy. Yet here we are, with the undersized forward who averaged more than 17 points and 10 rebounds a season ago ready to top those numbers in 2017-18. Colson’s long arms help him play much taller than his 6-5 frame would suggest, and as a result he is a terror on the glass. Colson and fellow senior Matt Farrell form one of the best duos in the country.

Breakout Player of the Year: Dewan Huell (Miami)- Miami’s backcourt looks absolutely loaded this season. However, there are question marks up front. Huell is the guy who can answer those with a breakout campaign. A former highly-touted recruit, Huell gave the Canes solid production as a freshman. If he can take the next step many think he will, Jim Larranaga’s team has a chance to be one of the best in the country.

Newcomer of the Year: Marvin Bagley (Duke)- I went real original here and picked the top player in the 2017 recruiting class and serious candidate for the #1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Bagley, a versatile 6-11 forward capable of doing just about everything on the basketball court, reclassified from the 2018 class to join the Blue Devils. He’ll be a matchup nightmare against collegiate frontcourts, too fast and athletic to be guarded by centers but too strong and powerful down low against quicker power forwards. A big year is in store for Bagley and the Blue Devils.