Bubble banter: 15 spots up for grabs in NCAA tourney

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At some point, the bubble is going to start shrinking.  We lost three teams this week with several others on the edge of elimination.  There are still an amazing 15 spots up for grabs in our latest bracket projection.  Some are more secure than others.  If the next two weeks continue like the others, we’ll be in for a wild ride during Championship Week. 

Bubble Banter will be updated more often over the next couple of weeks.  Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble. If a team isn’t listed, they aren’t a bubble team at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to CollegeRPI.com.

UPDATED: Tuesday, Feb. 22

Automatic Bids (31): None decided | Total Spots (68): Number of total teams in the Field.

  • Projected Locks (17): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Some of these projected locks may become automatic qualifiers should they win their conference tournament.
  • Should Be In (11): While not yet locks, these are teams in good position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (34): Teams projected to be at or near the cutline for being selected as at-large candidates, or those whose profiles are not yet complete enough to be considered as Should Be In as of the this update.
  • Spots available (15): Number of available openings for the bracket based on spots reserved for automatic qualifiers, projected locks, and teams projected as Should Be In at this update.
  • Leaving the Bubble: Oklahoma State, New Mexico, UTEP
  • Joining the Bubble: Michigan
  • Below is a conference breakdown of the bubble picture
Atlantic 10
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: Temple, Xavier | Bubble: Duquesne, Richmond
  • Duquesne (16-8 | 9-3) | RPI: 77 | SOS: 118 | – Duquesne has a win over Temple at home, but little else is helping. The loss at Dayton knocked the Dukes a step behind the A-10 leaders. If Duquesne can win its last four games, they could still be in consideration heading into the A-10 Tournament. Anything else won’t be enough.
  • Richmond (21-7 | 10-3) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 132 | – The Spiders continue to hover right at the cutline. Richmond is just 1-2 vs. Top 50 RPI teams – the win over Purdue keeps on giving. At this point, however, the margin for error is razor thin. How the Spiders play in the A-10 Tournament will be critical – along with other developments in early March. Richmond closes the season at home vs. Duquesne; the loser could be eliminated.
ACC
Locks: Duke, North Carolina | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech
  • Boston College (16-10 | 6-6) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 19 | – BC came close but lost at North Carolina this past weekend and was one of the last at-large teams to make Monday’s bracket update. Other than the early win over Texas AM, there’s nothing out of conference helping the Eagles, and BC is just 1-6 vs. Top 50 RPI teams. Right now, the Eagles’ good SOS numbers are helping, but that will only last so long. Beating Virginia Tech at home also helps, the rematch is March 1. A sweep would be huge for the Eagles. BC has dropped 5 of its past 7 games.
  • Clemson (18-9 | 7-6) | RPI:65| SOS: 83 | – The win at Miami-FL keeps Clemson on the bubble ahead of a must-win vs. Wake Forest. Then it’s off to Duke before a home date with Virginia Tech. The Tigers have to beat both the Deacons and Hokies. The game at Duke is the Tigers’ last chance to post a marquis win, but winning that one doesn’t seem likely. Other than a home win over Florida State, the resume is light. Clemson has non-league losses to Old Dominion, Michigan, and South Carolina.
  • Florida State (19-7 | 9-3) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 101 | – The Seminoles are close to moving up and off the bubble, but with a testy trip to Maryland up next, we can’t quite take the leap. FSU also has a home date left with Carolina. A weak non-conferense SOS (no. 230), could still spell trouble if FSU stumbles down the stretch. The Seminoles are just 2-4 vs. Top 50 teams, but they do have a win over Duke – which helps. Finishing third in the ACC standings would likely be enough. That’s looking more and more promising.
  • Virginia Tech (18-8 | 8-5) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 98 | – Being swept by Virginia could prove very problematic for the Hokies – who were the first team “out” of Monday’s bracket. Sound familiar? Va. Tech is clinging to a wins over Florida State, Penn State, and a sweep of Maryland as its best assets. If that seems concerning, it is. Duke visits this weekend. The closing two are Boston College and at Clemson. Since Va.Tech lost at BC earlier, a sweep could be another roadblock. Win out and the Hokies will be in good shape. Going 2-2 will make the ACC Tournament very important.
BIG EAST
Locks: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, Louisville | Should Be In: West Virginia, St. John’s | Bubble: Cincinnati, Marquette
  • Cincinnati (21-6 | 8-6) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 94 | – Following up the home win over Louisville with a victory at Providence puts the Bearcats in a nice spot heading into a closing four-game stretch. UC meets Georgetown twice along with Connecticut and a trip to fellow Big East bubble dweller Marquette. On that note, the Bearcats control their road to the NCAAs. A split should be enough given the weak bubble surrounding UC. The Bearcats are 3-6 vs. Top 50 teams (Xavier, St. John’s, Louisville) which is acceptable – especially since UC is one of the few teams without a “bad” loss.
  • Marquette (16-11 | 7-7) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 33 | – Beating Seton Hall at home was must. Now, it’s off to Connecticut before home dates with Providence and Cincinnati. The Golden Eagles are 3-10 vs. Top 25 RPI teams – an amazing number of high-level games. Posting wins is still important, however, as Marquette is 5-11 vs. Top 100 teams. If Marquette wins the games it should down the stretch, the Golden Eagles may still Dance. But the margin for error is decreasing. Good losses alone aren’t going to be enough. If there is a bright side, it’s the overall weakness of the bubble. Marquette’s profile is still better than some other bubble dwellers.
BIG 10
Locks: Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State
  • Illinois (17-11 | 7-8) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 20 | – Illinois continues to tread water. With a trip to Purdue still on the calendar, it’ll be critical for the Illini to win remaining home games against Iowa and Indiana. Finishing 9-9 in the Big 10 might be enough without a bad loss in the Big 10 tournament, but the Illini won’t be comfortable on Selection Sunday. Adding a win over Purdue would make it a lot easier down the stretch. Good wins include N. Carolina, at Gonzaga, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. The losses at Indiana and UIC are sore points.
  • Michigan State (15-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 5 | The Spartans have won 3 of 4 and seem to be regaining a bit of momentum. Beating Illinois Saturday avoided a season-sweep by the Illini. MSU is still trying to capture its identity after the dismissal of Korie Lucious. Michigan State is 5-8 vs. Top 50 teams, but just 11-11 vs. the Top 200 – a stat lines that often suggests NIT. Can MSU get to 10 league wins? That might be what it takes to feel safe.
  • Michigan (16-11 | 7-8) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 24 | While there’s not a lot to love about the Wolverine’s profile (2-8 vs. Top 50 teams), they have won 6 of 8 to be on the fringe of consideration. Other than a win at Michigan State, the Wolverines best in-league hope is a sweep of Penn State. Up next is Wisconsin at home. Hold serve and the Wolverines stay. A loss probably eliminates them. After that, it’s a trip to Minnesota followed by Michigan State at home.
  • Minnesota (17-10 | 6-9) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 30 | The Gophers’ have lost 6 of 7 since the injury to Al Nolan and this isn’t the same team that posted early wins over UNC and West Virginia. The Selection Committee has to evaluate the current squad, and the results aren’t favorable. Thus, they are among the First Five Out this week. If there’s good news, it’s that two of the Gophers’ final three games are at home. These battles will decide who stays in the at-large picture and who doesn’t.
  • Penn State (14-12 | 7-8) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 6 | Penn State has a lot of work ahead to stay alive, but we’ll leave the Nittany Lions here for now. A strong SOS is helping, along with home wins over Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota. The flip side is that PSU was swept by Michigan and is just 1-8 in road games (the lone win at Indiana). Two of Penn State’s final three are away from home, so things don’t look promising. Up next a trip to Northwestern.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Texas | Should Be In: Missouri, Texas AM | Bubble: Kansas State, Baylor
  • Baylor (16-9 | 6-6) | RPI: 79 | SOS: 69 | – The Bears are back on the wrong side of the bubble after losing at home to Texas Tech. Their overall profile remains weak with a 1-4 mark vs. Top 50 teams and only 4 Top 100 victories (the best is at Texas AM). Out of conference, the Bears failed to win a Top 100 RPI game and their non-league SOS ranks No. 236. The closing four won’t be easy, so time if of the essence. Baylor may need to win 3 of 4 down the stretch to feel decent about it’s at-large chances heading into the Big 12 tournament.
  • Kansas State (17-9 | 6-6) | RPI: 31 | SOS: 10 | – Beating arch-rival Kansas in Manhattan gave K-State it first Top 50 RPI win (1-6 overall). But … one big win won’t keep the Wildcats in the Field of 68. K-State was swept by Colorado – we’ll see if that comes into play – should the Buffaloes make a late charge. So far, the Wildcats have avoided a bad RPI losss, something other bubble teams can’t necessarily say. Next up is a tough trip to Nebraska followed by Missouri at home. Get those two and K-State will be in decent shape heading to Texas.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: BYU, San Diego State | Should Be In: UNLV | Bubble: Colorado State
  • Colorado State (17-8 | 8-4) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 43 | – Missing a chance to sweep UNLV could be something that haunts the Rams on Selection Sunday. It could set up a clear divide between the Top 3 in the MTW and everyone else. CSU probably needs to beat San Diego State and/or BYU to feel good about its chances, and they can’t afford a loss to Utah or Air Force down the stretch. CSU is 2-4 vs. the Top 50 and 5-6 vs. the Top 100. Winning at UNLV was a high point, but losses to Sam Houston and Hampton are not.
PAC 10
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: Arizona | Bubble: Washington, Washington State, UCLA
  • Washington (19-8 | 10-5) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 51 | – The Huskies would feel alot more secure had they swept Arizona, but a one-point loss in Tucson is nothing to worry about. What’s important is winning out. After a stop over vs. Seattle, Washington closes with three at home vs. teams below them in the Pac-10 pecking order. Win all three and the Huskies can feel pretty safe on Selection Sunday. Drop more than one and it could be a very nervous week.
  • Washington State (17-10 | 7-8) | RPI: 81 | SOS: 96 | – Being swept by Arizona and Arizona State knockes WSU to the very edge of bubble consideration. Overall, WSU is just 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams and 5-7 vs. Top 100 teams. Next up is a trip to Washington – now a must-win for the Cougars if they want to remain in the at-large picture. In reality, the Cougars need to win their remaining three Pac-10 games. Odds are not looking good.
  • UCLA (19-8 | 10-4) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 44 | – The overtime loss at Cal wont’ be a big deal unless the Bruins can’t rebound at home against Arizona State and Arizona. Having won 6 of 7, the Bruins are good position with a second-place standing in the Pac-10. Victories over St. John’s and BYU are solid, although UCLA is still light on quality wins (2-4 vs. Top 50 teams). RPI and SOS numbers are good, but not outstanding. The Bruins’ only real blemish is an early defeat to Montana.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Kentucky,Vanderbilt, Tennessee | Bubble: Georgia, Alabama
  • Georgia (18-8 | 7-5) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 32 | – The Bulldogs’ win at Tennessee was huge because it moved them up the SEC East standings and added another Top 50 win to a resume in need of quality wins. Now, there’s also a little more breathing room on the trip to Florida. Besides Tennessee, UGA has an early victory over Kentucky and a win over UAB. All of the Bulldogs losses have been to teams ranked in the Top 40 of the RPI, so that’s a plus. A 2-2 finish might be enough provided Georgia doesn’t lost at home to LSU or South Carolina.
  • Alabama (18-8 | 10-2) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 128 | – How much wiggle room Alabama has depends largely on how the Committee views a dominant performance in the SEC West. Beating Auburn at home is must before a trip to Ole Miss. The Tide’s closing games are at Florida and home to Georgia. Winning one of those would be a big plus. Whether the Committee will overlook the Tide’s poor start (losses to St. Peter’s, Iowa, Seton Hall) largely depends on how the Tide finish. If they close out the SEC West by multiple games and win a couple of games in the SEC tournament, odds of an at-large bid should be pretty good.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: NONE | Bubble: Butler, Cleveland State, Missouri State, Wichita State, Old Dominion, George Mason, VCU, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, UAB, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Utah State
  • Butler (19-9 | 12-5) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 75 | – Butler has won 6 straight and could still earn the Horizon League’s top seed if Cleveland State were to lose one of its last two games – the Bulldogs swept CSU in the season series. Not that a shared title would bump the Bulldogs into the bracket, but it would mean home games in the conference tournament. A win over Florida State in Hawaii could still help, but the victory over Washington State is fading some. It’s the five league losses – including a sweep by Milwaukee – that’s holding Butler back. Getting to the Horizon League final would probably put BU right on the cutline.
  • Cleveland State (21-6 | 12-4) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 110 | – The loss at Old Dominion in the BracketBuster will make it tough for the Vikings to earn an at-large bid, especially since they were swept by conference foe Butler in the season series. The task at hand is winning their last two Horizon League games (Milwaukee, Green Bay) and securing the regular-season title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. The downside, of course, is that by hosting the tournament final, a loss – especially a third to Butler – would likely be a major issue.
  • Missouri State (21-7 | 13-3) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 134 | – Losing at Valparaiso in the BracketBuster may have ended Missouri State’s at-large chances unless they win the outright Missouri Valley title and reach their conference tournament final. The Bears’ best non-conference win is Pacific. The Bears host Wichita State on February 26 – a game that could decide first place. Whoever loses that game is likely off the bubble for good.
  • Wichita State (21-6 | 13-3) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 105 | – The Shockers are in real trouble after losing to VCU at home in the BracketBuster. Now,WSU has to win at Missouri State this weekend and try to capture the MVC title. That’s all that’s keeping the Shockers on the bubble. After that, it’ll take a visit to the MVC conference tourney final to stick around.
  • Memphis (21-7 | 9-4) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 41 | – Losing a lopsided game at Rice was no way to take charge of Conference USA. The good news is Memphis owns a season sweep of Southern Miss and and UAB, so it could be tough to bypass the Tigers in favor of either of those two. Memphis does have a road win at fellow bubble-dweller Gonzaga. The Tigers’ best bet continues to be an outright C-USA title. Next up is a trip to UTEP. The at-large margin is very thin. Memphis was blown out in its matchups with Kansas, Georgetown and Tennessee.
  • UAB (19-7 | 9-4) | RPI: 30 | SOS: 58 | – The Blazers would fall behind Memphis in the at-large pecking order (swept by Memphis this season). The only solution is winning an outright C-USA title. The process includes a road trip to Houston next, followed by one to Southern Miss. As the Blazers have lost to So. Miss once, another loss would eliminate them from any realistic at-large consideration. UAB is 0-4 vs. Top 50 teams (Duke, Memphis, Georgia, So. Miss), and their best non-conference win is VCU at home. There’s also losses at Tulsa and Arizona State.
  • Southern Mississippi (18-6 | 9-4) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 100 | – After a trip to Central Florida, the Eagles host UAB in a C-USA elimination game. So. Miss beat the Blazers early, so a sweep would be very helpful in developing a pecking order within the conference. Of course, So. Miss has been swept by Memphis, so work remains. USM is still just 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams. Losses to Colorado State and Mississippi won’t help; neither will a non-conference SOS ranked No. 248.
  • Old Dominion (22-6 | 12-4) | RPI: 27 | SOS: 63 | – Beating Cleveland State in the BracketBuster keeps ODU on track for an at-large bid, if needed. Solid non-conference wins include Xavier, Richmond, and Clemson. ODU also played Georgetown to within three points. A 9-5 mark vs. Top 100 teams will help as will a non-league SOS ranked No. 25. Closing the regular season on a 6-game winning streak would put ODU in a good spot heading into the CAA tournament.
  • VCU (21-8 | 12-4) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 124 | – Winning its BracketBuster matchup at Wichita State was a bubble saver for the Rams. Get the last two (@Drexel, James Madison) and VCU will remain an at-large candidate heading into the CAA tournament. VCU is 6-5 vs. Top 100 teams but would fall behind George Mason and Old Dominion in the CAA at-large pecking order.
  • George Mason (23-5 | 14-2) | RPI: 21 | SOS: 65 | – Beating Northern Iowa on the road pushes GMU to 12-0 in its last 12 games. The Patriots lead the Colonial by two full games, and winning the league by that margin should be enough to give GMU an at-large bid, if needed. The Patriots are 9-4 vs. Top 100 teams. The lone miscue is Wofford in November.
  • Gonzaga (18-9 | 9-3) | RPI: 73 | SOS: 90 | – Gonzaga has won 6 of 7 and makes the bracket this week as one of the final at-large teams – largely due to wins over Xavier, Marquette, and Baylor. The Zags’ home loss to Memphis could still hamper the Bulldogs’ at-large chances, but the big game is a trip to St. Mary’s on Thursday. Win that, and the ‘Zags are back in contention for a WCC title. A 1-6 mark vs. Top 50 RPI teams is still troubling as is a 9-9 mark vs. the Top 200.
  • St. Mary’s (20-6 | 10-2) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 127 | – The Gaels have somewhat hit the skids – losing at woeful San Diego before dropping a home game to Utah State in the BracketBuster. SMU’s at-large profile has taken a real hit, and an outright WCC title might be necessary. Other than a November win over St. John’s at home, the Gaels have beaten Gonzaga; that’s it. SMU is just 2-5 vs. Top 100 teams. Gonzaga visits Thursday and a sweep of the ‘Zags would go a long way toward pushing St. Mary’s back on track.
  • Utah State (24-3 | 12-1) | RPI: 20 | SOS: 109 | – Huge win for the Aggies at St. Mary’s. It gave USU a legitimate Top 100 RPI win and would likely push the Aggies ahead of St. Mary’s in the at-large pecking order. Even so, we can’t say USU has locked up an at-large yet. They need to win their last three WAC games and complete a dominant league run. Then, avoid an early flameout in the league tournament.

“It doesn’t happen with Nike,” Boeheim says of FBI investigation

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One of the prevailing thoughts regarding this opening salvo of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball is that while it’s currently adidas’ turn in the barrel, whatever malfeasance may be occurring is unlikely to be just isolated to that single shoe company.

When the FBI says they “have your playbook” in regards to alleged corruption,  it would seem they’re indicating at a systemic issue in college basketball rather than a single apparel company like adidas, which had two executives arrested amid the probe that shaken the hoops landscape.

Jim Boeheim, though, does not share those sentiments.

“It doesn’t happen with Nike,” Boeheim said at Syracuse’s media day, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard. “Nike has about 80 schools. The guys we’re recruiting, we’re recruiting against three or four Nike schools most of the time. (Nike) isn’t going to help one of those schools.”

Well, that settles it. Nike and its schools are in the clear. Even if the apparel giant’s grassroots hoops division was reportedly served a subpoena last month. And that Merl Code, one of the adidas executives arrested, worked for Nike previously.

Of course, there may be issues with some of the logic Boeheim employs here. While, as he says, Syracuse may often being going against other Nike schools in recruiting, there are surely times when adidas or Under Armour schools are in the mix. What happens then? Or even if it’s multiple Nike schools competing, the hypothetical money changing hands is illicit, and thereby under the table and unofficial, so it’s not like there wouldn’t be plausible deniability if a coach on the losing end of a recruitment  ever went to express his displeasure at any particular rumors. And how hard – or publicly – is a coach going to complain when his school is securing millions from Nike in cash and gear each year?

It’s also worth noting that not all schools are created equal, even if they’re under the same apparel umbrella. Ohio State’s contract is worth $16.8 million a year while someone like Kansas State’s is worth $1.9 million, according to Forbes. Nike may have an interest in helping one school over the other, theoretically.

Maybe Boeheim is correct, but it’s clear the entire system – and all the entities its made up of – are going to be under scrutiny. So the FBI probably isn’t going to exempt Nike, or any other apparel company, from its ongoing investigation, regardless of what a coach at a Nike school says. It’s also worth noting, in deference to full disclosure, that Nike has long outfitted Syracuse, and Boeheim has been very active as a part of Team USA basketball, where Nike is quite influential

“First of all, I think the FBI could do a lot better investigating criminals and terrorists than they can investigating college basketball,” Boeheim said. “In my opinion. I’m a tax-payer. There’s a few tax-payers here. I’d sure as hell rather have them looking into terrorism and not spending three years investigating AAU programs or shoe companies. That’s the least of our concern.”

 

Watch list released for Abdul-Jabbar award

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Twenty players were announced as members of the preseason watch list for the Karee Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year award.

Among the 20 are Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, Texas A&M’s Tyler Davis, Texas’ Mohamed Bamba, St. Mary’s senior Jock Landale and Purdue’s Isaac Haas.

“I would like to thank the Basketball Hall of Fame for the honor of being the namesake of this award,” said Abdul-Jabbar, a 1995 inductee of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and six-time NBA Champion, said in a release. “The student-athletes recognized have worked tirelessly to earn their spots on this list and I look forward to seeing how their hard work will pay off this season.”

Previous winners include Przemek Karnowski (2017), Jakob Poetl (2016) and Frank Kaminsky (2015).

The group of 20 (though players not included in the preseason watch list can be later included) will be trimmed to 10 in February and five finalists in March. The winner will be announced April 6.

2018 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award Candidates

Dusan Ristic Arizona
Austin Wiley Auburn
Kingsley Okoroh California
Tacko Fall Central Florida
Marques Bolden Duke
John Egbunu Florida
Jessie Govan Georgetown
Ben Lammers Georgia Tech
Nick Richards Kentucky
Omer Yurtseven NC State
Isaac Haas Purdue
Jock Landale Saint Mary’s
Angel Delgado Seton Hall
Michael Humphrey Stanford
Vladimir Brodziansky TCU
Mohamed Bamba Texas
Tyler Davis Texas A&M
Thomas Welsh UCLA
Chimezie Metu USC
Ethan Happ Wisconsin

 

Southland Preview: Can Stephen F. Austin regain the throne?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Southland.

The Southland finally saw Stephen F. Austin‘s dominant run end last season as New Orleans claimed the regular season title and NCAA tournament autobid. Although the Lumberjacks finished in second place in head coach Kyle Keller’s first season, expectations are in place for another potential conference title in 2017-18. Stephen F. Austin returns eight of their top nine producers from last season including Player of the Year candidate T.J. Holyfield on the interior. If Stephen F. Austin’s offense can get a boost then they could be in for another dangerous season.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has to replace the scoring punch of forward Rashawn Thomas but do-it-all senior Ehab Amin is back to lead the charge. Amin led the nation in steals last season while filling up the box score in many other ways as he’s flanked by guards Kareem South and Joseph Kilgore. Lamar made a leap last season as they won 19 games and made a CIT appearance. Senior forward Colton Weisbrod is a throwback undersized frontcourt presence while the backcourt of point guard Joey Frenchwood and shooter Nick Garth is among the league’s stronger returning duos.

Returning most of last season’s contributors, Abilene Christian is hoping to make a major leap up the Southland standings. Sophomore big man Jalone Friday is a promising player to build around while junior guards Jaren Lewis and Jaylen Franklin both put up double-figures in the scoring column last season. Incarnate Word is going to put up points but the Cardinals will need to figure things out on the defensive end. Jalin Hart, Simi Socks and Shawn Johnson are all returning upperclassmen who averaged at least 14 points per game each last season.

Southeastern Louisiana has a chance to make noise as junior point guard Marlain Veal and junior forward Moses Greenwood are a solid 1-2 punch. With a deep bench returning, the Lions have a lot of upperclass experience and could be a surprise team. The return of Jalan West for a seventh season is a major story for Northwestern State. The former Player of the Year candidate has to stay healthy but he’s joined by junior big man Ishmael Lane and senior guard Devonte Hall to form a solid nucleus.

Losing four starters will be tough for Sam Houston State but junior point guard John Dewey III is back to lead the team’s offense. Senior big man Chris Galbreath has a chance to be a breakout player. Central Arkansas has the Southland’s returning leading scorer in senior guard Jordan Howard but the Bears have to make major strides on the defensive end and controlling turnovers.

New Orleans has a lot of new pieces after last year’s run to the Big Dance as the Privateers need to replace three starters. Senior forward Travin Thibodeaux and senior big man Makur Puou are back along with a lot of question marks. After a CIT appearance, Houston Baptist loses five seniors and multiple transfers but senior center Josh Ibarra is an all-league threat.  

Nicholls lost seven seniors and needs to rebuild as senior point guard Jahvaughn Powell has a chance to have a big year. McNeese finished in last place a season ago but most of that group is back. Sophomore guard Kalob Ledoux has a chance to be one of the league’s better guards.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON SOUTHLAND PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ehab Amin, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

College basketball’s leader with 124 total steals last season (3.4 per game), this 6-foot-4 senior guard can also put up numbers all over the stat sheet. The Egyptian averaged 16.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game last season while shooting 46 percent from the floor. If Amin improves his 28 percent three-point shooting then he could be in for a monster season.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON SOUTHLAND TEAM

  • Colton Weisbrod, Lamar: Undersized at 6-foot-5 but great in the paint, this senior averaged 15.1 points and 8.1 boards per contest. Weisbrod shot 52 percent from the floor but only 16 percent from three-point range.
  • T.J. Holyfield, Stephen F. Austin: Versatile junior forward averaged 11.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor.
  • Jordan Howard, Central Arkansas: The senior has a chance to reach 2,000 career points after dropping 19.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game last season. Howard could stand to improve his shooting efficiency.
  • Jalone Friday, Abilene Christian: Intriguing sophomore big man had tremendous splits (52% FG, 45% 3PT, 82% FT) and put up 13.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season in only 21.7 minutes per contest.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @SouthlandSports

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. Stephen F. Austin
  2. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
  3. Lamar
  4. Abliene Christian
  5. Incarnate Word
  6. Southeastern Louisiana
  7. Northwestern State
  8. Sam Houston State
  9. Central Arkansas
  10. New Orleans
  11. Houston Baptist
  12. Nicholls
  13. McNeese

‘Border War’ exhibition to be streamed

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The 19,000 fans who secured tickets to the Sprint Center for the charity-inspired reignition of the Border War won’t be the only ones to be able to watch Kansas and Missouri play Sunday.

The exhibition game, whose proceeds will be used for hurricane relief, will be streamed live for those willing to spend $40, the schools announced Friday.

“Our first objective was to sell out Sprint Center,” the two schools said jointly in a release. “Once we achieved the sellout so quickly, our fans who could not get tickets expressed tremendous interest in having the game televised. We wanted to make sure that the charities we’ve identified would be the only entities to derive revenue from this game.  SIDEARM Sports has provided the platform to allow us to create a second stream of revenue via this telecast.”

The broadcast will feature Leif Lisec doing play-by-play and ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla and Holly Rowe as the analyst and sideline reporter, respectively. The trio are donating their time for the broadcast.

The Jayhawks and Tigers haven’t played since 2012, when Missouri bolted the Big 12 for the SEC. There certainly has been resentment from the move, which has kept the two from scheduling a non-conference tilt. Now, though, they’re hoping the layoff has built enough anticipation to raise upward of $1 million for the Houston Harvey Relief Fund, the Rebuild Texas Fund, the Florida Disaster Fund, Juntos y Unidos Por Puerto Rico and the Fund for the U.S. Virgin Islands after a devastating hurricane season in the United States.

The game will pit the perennial powerhouse Jayhawks, expected to be a top-five preseason team and strong favorite to win the Big 12, against an ascendant Missouri, which has the potential 2018 No. 1 NBA draft pick Michael Porter, Jr. headlining the roster reboot under first-year coach Cuonzo Martin.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for two schools to do something together for the better of the masses,” Kansas coach Bill Self said last week, “and be able to send a significant amount of money to people that are suffering right now. So that is going to come to fruition, and we’re real happy about it.”

College Hoops Contender Series: Can Michigan State’s sophomore class carry them to a title?

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Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.

Last week, we gave you our Final Four sleepers and talked about six different Final Four contenders – Louisville, West Virginia, Villanova, Wichita State, USC and Miami – that are just flawed enough that we can’t call them contenders.

There is a pretty clear-cut delineation between the four or five best teams, the clear national title challengers, and the rest of the country this season.

This week, we will be taking a deeper dive into five of those teams.

What makes them good enough to win a national title?

But why won’t they win a national title?

After looking at Kentucky, Kansas and Arizona, we’re on to my pick to win the national title: The Michigan State Spartans.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

Miles Bridges (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WILL WIN

We should start with Miles Bridges here, shouldn’t we?

Bridges is the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year. He averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 boards, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 38.9 percent from three on more than five threes per game as a freshman. He was a top ten pick in last year’s loaded NBA Draft and he made the decision to return to school. That doesn’t happen all that often, so it should come as no surprise that Bridges will enter the year as a potential top five pick and the star of a team everyone believes will be in the top five. ‘Who has the best player in college basketball?’ is a great starting point for trying to figure out who are the best teams in college basketball, and Bridges, on paper, is a good bet to be the best player in college basketball.

But there is more to this than the simple fact that Tom Izzo more or less lucked his way into not only having the local five-star prospect pick the Spartans over the likes of Kentucky, but then opt to stay with the Spartans over heading to the NBA Draft.

Bridges is so perfect for what the way that Izzo wants to play.

He’s arguably the best athlete is all of college basketball. He can guards threes and fours. He can protect the rim. He attacks the glass, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, and he can get out and run in transition. Defense, rebounding and the transition game are staples of the teams Izzo wants at his disposal, and Bridges can do all three things well.

Then throw in the rest of the Michigan State front court. Nick Ward is a throwback. He’s a 6-foot-8, 260 pound left-handed behemoth that is impossible to stop one-on-one on the block. He averaged 13.9 points in less than 20 minutes as a freshman. Freshmen aren’t supposed to do that. Sophomores aren’t, either. Ward will be paired up front with Jaren Jackson, who couldn’t be a more perfect compliment to Ward and Bridges. He’s a 6-foot-11 power forward with all the skills you expect out of a modern power forward: He protects the rim, he rebounds and he can space the floor offensively with his three-point shot. He may not have the hype of some of the other big men in the 2017 recruiting class, but he projects as a one-and-done lottery pick all the same.

I still haven’t even mentioned Xavier Tillman, another land-warrior freshman in the front court. He may surprise some people this season. Throw in Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling and Kenny Goins, and there may not be a more talented and deep front line in the country.

The back court is where the issues lie — we’ll get to that in a second — but there are some things to like about this group. For starters, both Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford were top 30 recruits in the Class of 2016. Neither were all that impressive during their first year in East Lansing, but the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. Langford shot 41.6 percent from three last year and Winston averaged 5.2 assists in just over 20 minutes. They are talented and they should continue to improve.

Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. is back for his senior season, and his ability to push the ball in transition has made him a favorite of Izzo, while Matt McQuaid is somehow only a junior. Assuming that both Winston and Langford take a fairly significant step forward, Nairn and McQuaid will be rotation players off the bench, and if that is the case, this Spartan roster looks as strong as any roster in the country.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Atlantic 10 PreviewMountain West Preview

Nick Ward (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WON’T WIN

There are two real concerns that I have with this Michigan State team heading into next season.

The first, believe it or not, is with Bridges. I don’t see anyway that you can question his ability. He’s a monster. But part of what made him just so effective as a freshman was because he is the prototype for what you look for in a college four in modern — read: small-ball — basketball. He’s big enough to guard power forwards defensively. He rebounds the ball, he protects the rim, he can switch onto anyone defensively and he just so happens to be a perimeter player on the other end of the floor. In other words, he can guard college power forwards but they cannot guard him.

That is an incredibly valuable weapon for a team like Michigan State to have.

And as a sophomore, he won’t be taking advantage of that versatility in the same way. He’ll likely end up playing the majority of his minutes at the three. Jaren Jackson is too good to keep on the floor, particularly when it would mean playing Matt McQuaid of Tum Tum Nairn over him, but Jackson is a full-blown power forward.

It begs the question: Just how effective is Bridges going to be if he is playing at the three? Will it be easier for college small forwards to cover him? Will he be able to take them into the paint if Ward is already occupying space down there? And what about his three-point shot? He made 38.9 percent as a freshman, but how many of those were a result of getting clean looks at the rim because the power forwards guarding him didn’t know how to guard a player like that on the perimeter?

I don’t think this will end up being an issue — hell, we have Bridges as the Preseason National Player of the Year — but it will definitely be something to monitor moving forward.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Cassius Winston (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The bigger question mark, however, will likely end up being Winston, and to a lesser degree Langford.

I love Tum Tum. I wrote a story on him when he was still in high school. His name is awesome. He’s a terrific personality with the kind of back story that makes you want to root for him. But he’s just not good enough to be the starting point guard for a team with national title aspirations. Last season, Nairn started 30 games at the point. Winston started five, and while Izzo had found ways to manufacture minutes for the duo to play to together later in the season, this much was clear: there was something that the Hall of Fame head coach didn’t quite trust about Winston.

Maybe it was his 23 percent turnover rate. Maybe it was Winston’s issues on the defensive end of the floor, or the fact that he didn’t lead the way that Izzo wanted his point guards to. Most likely it was all of the above, and as a sophomore, those are issues that Winston will have to fix.

And I think that he will.

Again, Michigan State is a consensus top three team for a reason. They’re my pick to win the national title this season.

But I can certainly tell myself a story where the Spartans don’t quite come together, and it starts with Winston’s issues at the point.

Langford I am less worried about. He will mostly be fine. Yes, he needs to be more aggressive as a scorer, and we saw some of that late in the season. But mostly he needs to be a guy that can knock down open shots, provide a consistent defensive threat and be a threat in transition, whether he’s spotting up for a three or finishing at the rim. He will be, at best, the third option for these Spartans offensively, and I don’t think it will be that hard for him to fill that role.


Miles Bridges (J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

PREDICTION

Michigan State is my pick to win the national title.

I’m sure I won’t be the only one to say that between now and the start of the season.

And as good as Tom Izzo is, it’s worth noting that when he has had a team projected as a title contender, the season usually ends up being disappointing. Since the Spartans won the title in 1999, there have been four seasons where they were considered to be a favorite to win the title at some point during the season. In 2009-10, they were No. 2 in the preseason top 25 and limped their way to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament; they would eventually get to the Final Four in Detroit that year. In 2010-11, they were again the preseason No. 2 team in the country and finished the year 19-15 with a loss to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

In 2013-14, they were the preseason No. 2 team yet again, living up to the hype for most of the year until a wrist injury suffered by point guard Keith Appling derailed their season; Sparty still found a way to win the Big Ten tournament and get to the Elite 8. Then in 2015-16, the Spartans quickly emerged as one of the nation’s best team before losing to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed.

Will this be the year that bucks that trend?