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.

“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?