Bubble Banter: Illinois, California the biggest movers

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It’s been a big two weeks for Illinois.  The Illini have won four straight, including victories over Indiana and Minnesota.  When combined with wins over Gonzaga, Butler, and Ohio State, it’s hard to imagine the Illini as a bubble team at this point in time.  Taking care of winnable games down the stretch should be enough.

La Salle continues to make a push, as does California.  The Bears have won three straight – including a huge road victory at Arizona.

At the same time, the bubble remains very fluid.  How many SEC teams will ultimately make it?  Maryland and Virginia are right there in the ACC.  The Atlantic 10 is deep, but only Butler, VCU, and Saint Louis have separated at this point.  What we do know is this: It’s going to be a busy few weeks until Selection Sunday.  Much can (and will) change between now and then.  The s-curve moves daily.

Our latest look at the bubble is a picture at this moment in time – through games played on Sunday, February 17.  Enjoy another great week of hoops.

UPDATED: Monday, February 18 | 10:00 p.m. ET

Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.

Automatic Bids (31): None at this time

  • Projected Locks (19): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (16): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (31): Teams projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (11): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
  • RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games completed on Sunday, February 17.  RPI and SOS data is credited to InsiderRPI at ESPN.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler | Should Be In: Saint Louis, VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Charlotte, Massachusetts, Xavier
  • Charlotte (18-7 | 6-5) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 98 | – Charlotte treaded water last week after a road split with Butler and Saint Louis (it’s worth noting that Butler played without center Andrew Smith). A victory over La Salle is the 49ers other NCAA-level win at this point. Wins over Davidson, UMass, and Xavier are worth mentioning. A weak non-conference schedule (No. 240) means Charlotte has to finish strong in the A-10. The schedule is somewhat favorable if the 49ers can win at home and take care of winnable road games.
  • La Salle (18-6 | 8-3) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 76 | – It was a two-win week for the Explorers – the best over Saint Joseph’s. A home win over Butler and a road victory at VCU highlight the Explorers’ resume. They also have a win over fellow-bubble dweller Villanova. La Salle is 5-5 vs. Top 100 teams, and the only blemish is an early November loss at CCSU. Road games at Temple and Saint Louis give the Explorers a chance to secure an NCAA bid provided they take care of business in their other games.
  • Massachusetts (16-8 | 6-5) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 63 | – UMass missed a golden opportunity this past week, falling to both VCU and Temple. While the Minutemen are 6-7 vs. the Top 100, they are just 1-6 vs. Top 50 teams. Time is running short as the only NCAA-level win left on the regular-season calendar is a home game with Butler.
  • Temple (17-8 | 6-5) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 59 | – The Owls continue to teeter on the bubble. Temple took a bad one-point home loss against Duquesne before bouncing back to win by one at Massachusetts. The victory over Syracuse continues to pay dividends, and the Owls also have wins over Saint Louis, Charlotte, and Villanova. Games with La Salle and Charlotte are up next. Winning both would certainly help Temple’s at-large position. It would be a close call if today were Selection Sunday.
  • Xavier (14-10 | 7-4) | RPI: 97 | SOS: 112 | – After a loss at Dayton, the Musketeers numbers took a major hit. That said, wins over Butler, La Salle, and Temple keep the Musketeers on the at-large list for another day. But it may not last long. Xavier has five sub-100 losses, including Wofford (No. 248). If there’s a reason for optimism, it’s this: Xavier closes with five potential NCAA opponents, one of which is Memphis. Put together a strong finish and the Musketeers have a chance entering the A-10 tournament. Odds of that happening? Not great at this point.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: NC State | Bubble: North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Florida State
  • Florida State (14-11 | 6-6) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 14 | – Florida State hasn’t won back-to-back games since beating Clemson and Maryland on the road in early January. Without a winning streak, FSU is likely headed for the NIT. The Seminoles are 1-6 vs. Top 50 RPI teams to go along with non-conference losses to South Alabama and Auburn. A sweep of Maryland helps some – especially if the Terrapins get it together. But how much it helps remains to be seen. FSU plays NC State twice along with UNC and Virginia down the stretch. Can the ‘Noles take advantage?
  • Maryland (18-7 | 6-6) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 101 | – The Terps picked up a huge victory over Duke this weekend. Combined with a victory over NC State, there are two NCAA-level wins on UM’s profile. The albatross, however, is a non-conference schedule (No. 295) that sticks out like a sore thumb. While the Terrapins have no “bad” losses, they lack quality wins. Even with the win over Duke, Maryland is 3-7 vs. Top 100 teams – and one of those is Stony Brook. Assuming the Terrapins can avoid an ACC upset, they close with North Carolina and Virginia.
  • North Carolina (16-8 | 7-5) | RPI: 30 | SOS: 13 | – Carolina ended a two-game skid by beating Virginia. That’s the good news. The bad news is a 1-6 mark vs. Top 50 teams (UNLV). Within the ACC, the Tar Heels have beaten Florida State, Maryland, and Virginia – none of which are guaranteed NCAA teams right now. While the good showing at Duke was nice, a victory would have been much better. The only “bad” loss on the Heels’ profile is at Texas. An NCAA bid is squarely on Carolina’s shoulders. UNC has remaining games with NC State, Florida State, Maryland, and Duke.
  • Virginia (18-7 | 8-4) | RPI: 77 | SOS: 181 | – After a week in which UVA beat Va. Tech and lost at UNC, the highlights and low-lights of the Cavaliers’ resume are well documented: some good wins (including one at Wisconsin) and a bunch of questionable losses (none more so than Old Dominion). While a 6-1 mark vs. Top 100 teams is impressive, Virginia has done most of its quality work in the ACC at home. And then there’s the non-conference SOS number (No. 319) that will test the Selection Committee’s value on quality scheduling. With upcoming games against Miami, Duke, and Maryland, Virginia does have some control of their post-season destination.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette | Should Be In: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame | Bubble: Villanova, St. John’s
  • St. John’s (15-10 | 7-6) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 18 | – It’s hard to penalize St. John’s too much for road losses at Syracuse and Louisville. Of course, a win would have helped. The Red Storm have a win at Cincinnati, a victory over Notre Dame, and are 5-7 vs. the Top 100. Outside the Big East, however, SJU’s best win is Detroit, so there’s not a lot of beef to fall back on. SJU has NCAA-level games left with Pittsburgh and Marquette at home, and Notre Dame on the road. Both of the Red Storms’ bad losses were early in the season (San Francisco and UNC-Asheville). It may very well come down to the Big East tournament.
  • Villanova (15-10 | 7-6) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 32 | – All-in-all, a road split with Cincinnati and Connecticut probably helps the Wildcats. Of course, it’s the back-to-back wins over Louisville and Syracuse that are really helping ‘Nova’s resume. That said, Villanova is 5-9 vs. Top 100 teams and Saint Joseph’s is the Wildcats’ best non-league victory. So there’s a lot of average on the Wildcats’ profile. Plus, there’s an ugly home loss to Columbia in November. That seems like a long time ago. So a late push would probably make it a mute point.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Illinois, Minnesota | Bubble: Iowa
  • Iowa (17-9 | 6-7) | RPI: 79 | SOS: 127 | – The Hawkeyes routed Minnesota over the weekend to collect another Top 50 win. Overall, Iowa has won three straight (Northwestern and Penn State were the other two). At the same time, a No. 325 non-conference SOS is hard to overcome and it drags down the Hawkeyes’ profile. The other problem is a 2-6 mark in true road games. Down the stretch, Iowa’s only two NCAA-level opponents are Indiana (away) and Illinois (home). Outside the Big Ten, Iowa’s best win is Iowa State. They lost big at Virginia Tech.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (15-9 | 7-5) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 27 | – Wins over St. John’s, and BYU are worth noting, but neither are likely to carry Baylor into the NCAAs. That leaves a home victory over Oklahoma State as the Bears’ highlight. That and an early win at Kentucky. So it’s safe to say Baylor has work to do between now and Selection Sunday. Three of Baylor’s final six games are away from home, so a 3-5 road mark is worth noting. Upcoming games with Iowa State and Oklahoma could be very important. The Bears also play Kansas and Kansas State down the stretch.
  • Iowa State (17-8 | 7-5) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 80 | – The Cyclones are pretty good at home – wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Baylor. The road is a different story. ISU is 2-7 away from home and their best road win is TCU. That could be a significant factor if the Cyclones find themselves on the bubble. There’s also a bad loss at Texas Tech. Like many other bubble teams, quality opportunities remain. It’ll be up to ISU to make it happen – or not.
  • Oklahoma (16-8 | 7-5) | RPI: 17 | SOS: 4 | – We could say similar things about the Sooners, who have home wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas and a 3-5 road record. Of course, winning at West Virginia is better than TCU. Oklahoma’s best non-conference win is Texas AM, and there’s not a lot of help coming from the Aggies. Given the Sooners’ RPI and SOS numbers, Oklahoma will get a long look from the Selection Committee. And 9 wins vs. Top 100 teams are a big help, too. If there’s an underlying issue for the Sooners, it’s their closing schedule. They get Iowa State and Baylor at home (which helps). But there aren’t any more chances for truly marquee wins.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Miss
  • Southern Miss (18-6 | 9-2) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 94 | – It comes down to this: Southern Miss has to beat Memphis at home this weekend and avoid any bad C-USA losses down the stretch. That will at least keep USM on the at-large board. Right now, their best win is Denver (RPI No. 92) and they are 1-6 vs. Top 100 teams. While the Golden Eagles have thus far avoided any sub-100 losses, an NCAA bid is very unlikely without beating an NCAA-level team.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: None | Should Be In: Creighton, Wichita State | Bubble: Indiana State
  • Indiana State (15-10 | 9-6) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 73 | – How many questionable losses can the Sycamores’ endure? ISU added two more to their profile last week, losing at Missouri State and Bradley. The losses dropped Indiana State’s power numbers into dangerous territory. What’s left is a neutral-court win over Miami-FL and MVC wins at Wichita State and home to Creighton. Add in a win over Ole Miss, and there’s a reason why ISU had NCAA aspirations. But the Sycamores’ overall profile is dwindling and only a home game with Wichita State remains as a boost. ISU needs a sweep of the Shockers and has to avoid further letdowns.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico | Should Be In: Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV | Bubble: Boise State, Air Force
  • Air Force (13-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 69 | SOS: 67 | – The Falcons’ beat UNLV at home but couldn’t pull off the double-down after losing to surging Colorado State. It leaves AF at 4-8 vs. Top 100 teams. More troubling, though, is a non-conference SOS ranked 250-plus in which a victory over Arkansas Pine-Bluff (No. 216) is the highlight. So far, all of Air Force’s trump cards have come at home. With trips to Boise State and San Diego State ahead, that can change. The Falcons’ also have a home date with New Mexico. They need a late surge.
  • Boise State (14-8 | 4-6) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 58 | – Like Air Force, a non-conference SOS in the mid-200’s won’t help. But unlike the Falcons, BSU has a non-conference road victory at Creighton. They also lost a close contest at Michigan State. Inside the MTW, Boise has managed only a win over UNLV at home, and a sweep of now-struggling Wyoming. Boise played New Mexico tough in Albuquerque but came up a bit short. Down the stretch, the Broncos have plenty of opportunities. Can they take advantage?
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona | Should Be In: Oregon, Colorado, UCLA | Bubble: Arizona State, Stanford, California
  • Arizona State (19-7 | 8-5) | RPI: 70 | SOS: 125 | – The victory at Colorado was huge following a sub-par loss at Utah. It gave ASU a sweep of the Buffaloes and raised the Sun Devils’ mark to 3-3 vs. Top 50 teams. Wins over California and Arkansas are also looking a little better. The real trouble is a 13-2 mark vs. sub-150 RPI teams and a non-conference SOS ranked No. 287. That could yet be a big hurdle to overcome. After visits from the two Washington schools, ASU closes with road trips to UCLA, USC, and Arizona. Those three games may decide the Sun Devils’ post-season fate.
  • California (16-9 | 8-5) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 35 | – For a team with a very average profile, three straight wins makes a big difference – especially with two of those wins being at Arizona and against UCLA. While a 4-9 mark vs. Top 100 teams isn’t great, it’s certainly a huge improvement from two weeks ago. The other plus on the Bears’ resume: no bad losses. If Cal can survive a trip through Oregon, the schedule is favorable for a solid close.
  • Stanford (15-11 | 6-7) | RPI: 73 | SOS: 42 | – Stanford’s hopes are fading fast after back-to-back home losses to USC and UCLA. Now it’s off for a swing through Oregon, and the Cardinal are just 3-5 in road games this season. The losses are mounting, and a sub-.500 record in the Pac-12 won’t cut it. Stanford needs a winning streak. The Cardinal are just 1-8 vs. Top 50 teams. That’s not exactly an endearing mark.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas
  • Alabama (16-8 | 9-3) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 70 | – While Alabama’s profile has plenty of holes (and suspect losses), the Crimson Tide played several of those games without Andrew Steele. How that plays out remains to be seen. With a 1-3 mark vs. Top 50 teams (that win being Kentucky), the Tide’s overall 9-3 SEC mark is somewhat deceiving. A non-conference win over Villanova is noteworthy. The rest is pretty average. It’s hard to tell how an 11 or 12-win SEC team will fare. What’s left that matters (really) are trips to Florida and Ole Miss.
  • Arkansas (16-9 | 7-5) | RPI: 75 | SOS: 85 | – We’ve established that Arkansas can win at home – Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri. What we’ve also established that to this point the Razorbacks can’t win away from home (1-6). Will a bunch of nice home wins be enough? Probably not. Arkansas also played a number of sub-300 RPI teams which is dragging down its RPI numbers. The Hogs have remaining road games at Florida, LSU, and Missouri. How they fare in those games will be important.
  • Kentucky (17-8 | 8-4) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 49 | – Without Nerlens Noel, Kentucky is 0-1 with a lopsided loss at Tennessee. While the Wildcats still have time to show what they can do without one of their best players, it’s not overly promising. UK had a mediocre profile before the injury (4-8 vs. Top 100 teams and 0-4 vs. Top 50 teams). If there’s good news, four of UK’s final six games are at Rupp Arena. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.
  • Mississippi (19-6 | 8-4) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 137 | – Ole Miss’ profile doesn’t have anything bad. But it also doesn’t have a lot of really good, either. The Rebels have home wins over Missouri and Arkansas and a sweep of Tennessee. But the rest is ho-hum. Outside the SEC, the Rebels’ best win is Rutgers. They lost to Indiana State and Middle Tennessee. There’s also a non-conference SOS ranked No. 280. Another issue? Ole Miss has one remaining game against a team with any realistic NCAA hopes: Alabama. Best recipe is to keep winning all winnable games.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s, BYU
  • BYU (18-8 | 9-4) | RPI: 68 | SOS: 103 | – At this point, the Cougars don’t have a lot to offer the NCAA Selection Committee. BYU’s best wins are Tennessee State, Montana, and Santa Clara. That made losses to San Diego and San Francisco all the more troubling. Without beating both Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga down the stretch it’s hard to imagine BYU getting much consideration.
  • Saint Mary’s (21-5 | 11-2) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 149 | – Saint Mary’s best RPI win is Harvard, although BYU might be better. Either way, the Gaels’ profile is largely empty despite a high volume of wins. Early losses to Georgia Tech and Pacific are there too. SMU has to beat BYU at home, and probably needs to beat Creighton to be in the mix heading to the WCC tournament. The Gaels were swept by Gonzaga.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Belmont, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech
  • Akron (20-4 | 12-0) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 175 | – The Zips have not lost since December 15 (at Detroit). That said, Akron’s only Top 100 win during that stretch is Ohio at home. An early win over Middle Tennessee State helps, giving Akron a 2-3 mark vs. the Top 100. The Zips are 16-1 vs. sub-150 teams – meaning all but three wins are against the lower half of Division I. Akron has to win an outright MAC title and probably reach the conference tourney final to have a realistic shot.
  • Belmont (18-6 | 11-2) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 64 | – Good scheduling and a 5-4 mark vs. Top 100 teams has put the Bruins on the radar for at-large consideration. A win over Middle Tennessee State is the Bruins’ best RPI win, although a victory at Stanford might be equally important. There are no “ugly” losses on the Bruins’ resume – although Northeastern isn’t great. If Belmont wins the OVC outright and makes it to the title game the Committee will have an interesting decision. From there, it depends on the overall landscape.
  • Bucknell (20-5 | 8-2) | RPI: 61 | SOS: 204 | – A victory over La Salle highlights a resume that shows a lot of wins but not a lot of high-quality W’s. Bucknell has beaten New Mexico St and won at Purdue. Unfortunately, the latter hasn’t helped quite as much as expected. The negatives are losses at Penn State and Princeton and a very weak overall schedule.
  • Louisiana Tech (23-3 | 14-0) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 261 | – La Tech’s strength of schedule is a major hurdle to overcome – reflected by 20 games (19-1 record) against sub-150 opponents. The Bulldogs’ best win is over bubble-dweller Southern Miss. There’s also an ugly loss at McNeese State. Despite a high volume of wins, an at-large bid is unlikely.
  • Middle Tennessee (23-4 | 15-1) | RPI: 25 | SOS: 107 | – An early win over Ole Miss helps but the Blue Raiders’ only other Top 100 win is Central Florida. Like some others on this list, a 15-0 mark vs. sub-150 teams is a drag on the schedule. Middle Tennessee also has losses to fellow bubble-dwellers Belmont and Akron – although both were on the road.

Arizona State lands four-star guard Luguentz Dort

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Arizona State landed a huge commitment on Wednesday night as four-star guard Lugentz Dort pledged to the Sun Devils.

The second commitment for Arizona State in the Class of 2018 in less than a week, the 6-foot-3 Dort is a big-time athlete on the perimeter as he selected the Sun Devils over his other finalists of Baylor and Oregon. Dort took official visits to all three schools during the process.

One of the better shooting guards in the 2018 class, Dort is a physically-imposing guard who should be ready to immediately contribute in the Pac-12.

Dort joins Finnish shooting guard Elias Valtonen in the Arizona State Class of 2018 recruiting haul.

Oregon sued by former recruit who tore ACL during official visit

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The University of Oregon and members of the men’s basketball staff, including head coach Dana Altman, are being sued by a former recruit who tore his ACL during an official visit to campus.

Crisshawn Clark, a junior guard at Portland, suffered his injury during an official visit to the Ducks which began on Oct. 16, 2015. At the time, Clark was a junior college recruit at Canada College and he suffered the injury as Oregon assistant coach Mike Mennenga ran him through a basketball workout during the visit. Clark was treated by an Oregon trainer, and after the injury was believed to be serious, an MRI confirmed a torn ACL.

Clark eventually committed to Pitt and sat out last season rehabbing his knee before ending up at Portland.

Even though Clark had a bad knee injury that required surgery, he is not seeking money for medical expenses. Clark’s lawsuit said that his medical expenses were paid for by Oregon. But Clark is suing for compensation for pain and suffering along with damages for the loss of future income. Clark estimates it will be over $100,000. And he might have a case.

That’s because the lawsuit alleges that Oregon violated an NCAA rule that prohibits on-campus evaluations of prospective student-athletes who are playing at a junior college. Oregon self-reported this violation in Oct. 2015, according to a report from Jack Pitcher of the Daily Emerald, citing athletic department spokesman Jimmy Stanton. The NCAA classified this as a level 3 violation.

If Clark was put through an illegal workout by Oregon — who admitted to violating a rule by self-reporting — then he might have a case. Along with Altman and Mennenga, Oregon assistant coaches Kevin Mckenna and Tony Stubblefield are also named in the lawsuit along with Oregon director of basketball operations Josh Jamieson.

Clark is sitting out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer rules as he is hoping for two years of eligibility after. Due to his torn ACL, Clark and Portland can apply for an extra year of eligibility for the 2019-20 season.

(H/t: Jack Pitcher, Daily Emerald)

Rick Pitino received subpoena in FBI’s college basketball probe

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Former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has received a subpoena in the FBI’s college basketball bribery scandal, his lawyer told the Louisville Courier-Journal on Wednesday.

Pitino’s lawyer, Steve Pence, confirmed the subpoena as Pitino joins Miami head coach Jim Larranaga as coaches to receive a subpoena this week in the FBI’s probe. Those two head coaches join Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State and USC as the six known subpoenas, so far, in the case.

“We’ve already acknowledged that the coach has a subpoena and he’s gathering documents for the … U.S. attorney,” Pence said of Pitino to the Courier-Journal.

While it was known that Pitino had voluntarily spoken with the FBI thanks to an affidavit submitted to the University of Louisville Athletic Association in a packet from Pitino’s lawyers earlier this week, the subpoena was not mentioned, according to the Courier-Journal. The packet also included results of a lie detector test and copies of text messages.

The subpoena for Pitino doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but coupled with the report of Larranaga’s subpoena, it sounds like the FBI is taking the next steps in its case.

Report: Miami coach Jim Larranaga receives grand jury subpoena for FBI’s college basketball investigation

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Miami head coach Jim Larranaga has received a grand jury subpoena as the FBI continues its investigation into corruption in college basketball. According to Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times, Larranaga received a subpoena for texts, emails and other items.

Larranaga’s attorneys told Fenno that the veteran head coach has done nothing wrong. “There’s nothing there,” Larranaga’s attorney said to Fenno. “We’re trying to get them to admit they made a mistake and move on.”

While Larranaga and Miami have previously cooperated with the FBI in turning over phone records and documents in a report from Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun Sentinel on Oct. 3, the news of a subpoena makes things far more serious.

FBI documents about the scandal don’t specifically mention Larranaga or Miami by name but the school was identified as one of the universities referenced with Adidas allegedly paying players. Miami confirmed the FBI investigation on Sept. 27, stating, “We have confirmed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that, at this time, it is investigating a potential tie to one member of our coaching staff and a student recruit.”

One wiretapped conversation, according to the FBI’s investigation, included a discussion into how much money it would take for a top recruit — believed to be North Carolina 2018 commit Nassir Little — to play at Miami as part of a bidding war.

Patriot League Preview: Can anyone challenge Bucknell?

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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 Patriot League.

The 2016-17 season in the Patriot League was one dominated by the Bucknell Bison, with Nathan Davis’ team winning the regular season title for the sixth time in the last seven years. Led by Patriot League Player and Defensive Player of the Year Nana Foulland, the Bison were the best team in the league with regards to both offensive and defensive efficiency and won the regular season title by three games. After winning 26 games and reaching the NCAA tournament as a 13-seed, the question for Bucknell entering the 2017-18 season is what can this group do for an encore.

The good news for Bucknell is that all four double-digit scorers from last season, led by Foulland and forward Zach Thomas, are back on campus. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season, with the versatile Thomas leading the Bison in scoring with an average of 15.9 points per contest. Add in guards Stephen Brown and Kimbal Mackenzie, and Bucknell has a rotation that won’t lack for talent or experience.

Given Bucknell’s recent track record and their returning contributors, there’s a simple question for the rest of the Patriot League: which team is best equipped to make a run at the Bison? One could argue that up to four teams are in the conversation, with there not being much to separate them on paper.

Despite losing an outstanding front court presence in Tim Kempton and another productive senior on guard Austin Price, Lehigh is one of those teams. Head coach Dr. Brett Reed will call upon an experienced backcourt to lead the way, with junior Kyle Leufroy averaging nearly 12 points per game last season and senior Kahron Ross leading the league in assists last season. The Mountain Hawks also add one of the Patriot League’s top newcomers in guard Lance Tejada, who sat out last season as a transfer after playing the first two seasons of his college career at East Carolina. With regard to the front court, the progression of sophomore forward Pat Andree will be key if Lehigh is to threaten Bucknell.

Also in the mix is Colgate, with head coach Matt Langel welcoming back six players who made at least 14 starts a season ago. At the top of that list are sophomore forward Will Rayman and senior guard Sean O’Brien, with Rayman being the Patriot League’s top freshman last season. In Rayman, O’Brien and Jordan Swopshire the Raiders return three double-digit scorers, and if Colgate can become a more efficient team on both ends of the floor look out.

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

Navy and Boston University should also be heard from in the Patriot League conversation, with the Midshipmen being led by senior guard Shawn Anderson. Ed DeChellis’ team won’t lack for depth, with the team’s top five scorers from a season ago back in Annapolis. As for the Terriers, Boston University has to account for the loss of two of the Patriot League’s best players in Eric Fanning and Justin Alston but the cupboard isn’t bare. Guards Cedric Hankerson and Cheddi Mosely return, as does all-rookie team forward Tyler Scanlon, which should make for a good foundation on which to build a possible contender.

Loyola (MD), Lafayette and Army West Point will look to fight their way into the upper half of the Patriot League standings, with the Greyhounds returning one of the Patriot League’s best guards in senior Andre Walker. Lafayette returns three of its top four scorers, led by the Patriot League’s top returning scorer in senior forward Matt Klinewski. And in his second season as the head coach at Army West Point, Jimmy Allen will look to make strides with a team that won 13 games in 2016-17. Guard Jordan Fox is back for his junior season, and in total five of Army’s top six scorers are back.

American, which won just eight games last season, returns its top two scorers in sophomores Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini. However, the Eagles do have to account for the loss of one of the top defenders in the Patriot League in wing Charlie Jones. Holy Cross, which won 15 games last season, will have to account for the loss of its top two scorers in Robert Champion and Malachi Alexander. Head coach Bill Carmody will look to juniors Karl Charles and Pat Benzan to step forward, but with no seniors on this season’s roster it will take the Crusaders some time to develop into a Patriot League contender.

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

PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nana Foulland, Bucknell

Not only was Foulland the Patriot League’s best player in 2016-17, but he was also its best defender. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game as a junior, shooting 63.0 percent from the field.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE TEAM

  • Kahron Ross, Lehigh: Ross led the Patriot League in assists (5.3 apg) last season while also scoring nearly ten points per game. With Tim Kempton gone, Ross will have more opportunities to score within the Lehigh offense.
  • Andre Walker, Loyola (MD): Walker averaged 14.6 points, 3.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds per night for the Greyhounds last season, and he also shot 38.0 percent from three.
  • Shawn Anderson, Navy: The 6-foot-4 senior guard saw his field goal percentage dip as a junior (41.8 percent after shooting nearly 50 percent as a sophomore), but he still averaged 12.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per night.
  • Zach Thomas, Bucknell: Thomas led the Bison in scoring (15.9 ppg) last season, while also averaging 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per night. His ability to score both inside and out will be key for Bucknell.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @PL_MBB

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Bucknell
2. Lehigh
3. Colgate
4. Navy
5. Boston University
6. Loyola (MD)
7. Lafayette
8. Army West Point
9. American
10. Holy Cross