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MAC Preview: Is the West where the MAC’s power lies?

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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 MAC.

The MAC is in a strange position entering the 2017-18 season. While the league’s East Division has been the dominating force among the league’s two divisions the past few years this year the West Division, led by Western Michigan, is receiving a bigger share of the preseason buzz.

Speaking of Western Michigan, they became the favorite as soon as senior guard Thomas Wilder opted to pull out of the 2017 NBA Draft. A top-100 player in college basketball this season, Wilder is the runaway favorite for Preseason MAC Player of the Year after leading the MAC in three-point shooting while putting up 19.3 points and 3.8 assists per game. Besides having a pro prospect on the roster, the Broncos have depth on the interior and some promising sophomores to keep tabs on. Centers Seth Dugan and Drake LaMont can be tough to contain and sophomores Brandon Johnson and Reggie Jones both showed flashes of strong play last season.

Staying in the West Division, Ball State is quietly coming off of back-to-back 20-win seasons as head coach James Whitford returns quite a bit of production. Junior guard Tayler Persons is a very strong mid-major floor leader while center Trey Moses and floor spacers like Francis Kiapway and Sean Sellers are back as well.

Buffalo is the preseason favorite for the East Division as they combine talented newcomers with solid veterans. All-league candidate C.J. Massinburg is back for his junior season at guard while forward Nick Perkins should also see a bigger role. The Bulls also received some solid additions with Missouri transfer Wes Clark in the backcourt and highly-touted JUCO prospect Jeremy Harris on the wing. With NCAA tournament experience from the upperclassmen on the roster, it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see Buffalo make another postseason run.

After making a surprising NCAA tournament appearance, Kent State has a chance for another strong season. All-MAC forward Jimmy Hall is gone by MAC Tournament MVP Jaylin Walker is back after a very good sophomore season. To maximize their potential, the Golden Flashes need production from newcomers Akiean Frederick and Jonathan Nwanko in the frontcourt.

Toledo has had a tough time winning close games the past two seasons as the Rockets return junior wing Jaelan Sanford and sophomore center Luke Knapke from the starting lineup. Junior forward Nate Navigato is an intriguing floor spacer and Toledo gets some transfer help from Tre’Shaun Fletcher (Colorado) and Willie Jackson (Missouri).

Losing Jaaron Simmons to Michigan was tough for Ohio but they still have a few starters coming back. Sophomore forward Jason Carter has the upside to be a major factor in the MAC while junior guard Jordan Dartis is one of the league’s best shooters.  Eastern Michigan gets back the league’s top big man in James Thompson IV as the double-double machine is only a junior. The Eagles lost a ton this offseason but senior wing Tim Bond is back and Robert Morris transfer Elijah Minnie is a player to watch in the frontcourt.

Bowling Green remains a young team but they have a lot of returning experience. Sophomore guards Dylan Frye and Rodrick Caldwell gave the Falcons a boost when they were inserted into the starting lineup last season while junior big man Demajeo Wiggins is an all-league threat.  

Hit hard by offseason transfers, Northern Illinois still returns some intriguing, but unproven, players. The frontcourt of juniors Jaylen Key and Levin Bradley could be solid and sophomore guard Eugene German gets backcourt help from JUCO All-American Dante Thorpe.  Akron now has former Illinois coach John Groce at the helm as they have eight newcomers on the roster. Junior guard and double-figure scorer Jimond Ivey returns and Oregon State graduate transfer Malcolm Duvivier should also help.

Despite having the scoring prowess of Marcus Keene last season, Central Michigan still floundered to 6-12 in the MAC as they lose Keene and Braylon Rayson. Sophomore forward David DiLeo and senior forward Cecil Williams could be a solid frontcourt but the Chippewas have to replace a ton of scoring while also improving defensively. Miami gets a new head coach in former Purdue assistant Jack Owens as he takes over a very depleted roster to begin the rebuild. Senior forward Logan McLane is a returning bright spot for the RedHawks.

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

PRESEASON MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan

One of the most complete guards in the country, Wilder is back for his senior season as he could be a sleeper pro prospect. Leading the MAC in three-point shooting, Wilder was also third in assist-turnover ratio, fourth in scoring and top-ten in assists and steals. The 6-foot-3 Wilder is capable of big scoring nights but also versatile enough to fill up the box score.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON MAC TEAM

  • James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan: Averaging a double-double during his freshman and sophomore seasons, this junior big man is one of the more underrated post players in the country.
  • Jaylin Walker, Kent State: Last year’s MAC Tournament MVP was strong down the stretch as he could be in for a big season if he improves his efficiency as a shooter.
  • Tayler Persons, Ball State: A former ASUN Freshman of the Year at Northern Kentucky, Persons lived up to the hype in the MAC, putting up 15.5 points, 4.9 assists and 3.9 boards per game last season.
  • CJ Massinburg, Buffalo: A junior guard with NCAA tournament experience, Massinburg had a great sophomore season as he put up 14.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @HustleBelt

POWER RANKINGS

  1. Western Michigan
  2. Ball State
  3. Buffalo
  4. Kent State
  5. Toledo
  6. Ohio
  7. Eastern Michigan
  8. Bowling Green
  9. Northern Illinois
  10. Akron
  11. Central Michigan
  12. Miami

 

CBT Podcast: Creighton’s Greg McDermott, plus a preview of the weekend

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Rob Dauster was joined on Thursday by Creighton head coach Greg McDermott to discuss, among other things, how his philosophy as a head coach has changed since he made it to Omaha from Northern Iowa as well as what it’s like being an NBA dad with a program of his own to run. We also attempted to re-cast White Men Can’t Jump. The second half of the podcast, Rob is joined by Sam Vecenie of The Athletic and the Game Theory Podcast to roll through the weekend’s games and betting lines.

College Basketball Futures Watch Part III: Syracuse through Xavier

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Over the course of the next three days, we at College Basketball Talk will be cruising through the best, the most surprising and the most disappointing teams in college basketball.

As of today, how should we view the 45 most interesting teams in the country based on preseason expectation? 

Are we more confident in them? Less confident? Still unsure?

We used five different labels here to help define how we feel about each of the 45 teams mentioned:

  • Bet The Mortgage
  • Raise
  • Check
  • Fold
  • Get Your Stuff And Go Home

Today, we go through everyone from Syracuse to Xavier.

Let’s get into it.

SYRACUSE: Check

I thought Syracuse was going to be awful this year. They are decidedly not awful … but I’m not quite sure if they are good, at least not yet anyway. Matthew Moyer has been a pleasant surprise, as has Oshae Brissett, but are we sure their centers are any good? Can Tyus Battle actually make his teammates better? I’m not sure. So I’m saying let’s wait and see what happens. (Rob Dauster)

TCU: Raise

The Horned Frogs are barreling toward conference play with an undefeated record and a juggernaut offense. Jamie Dixon has transformed his alma mater into a Big 12 contender in just year two on the strength of an offense that makes 43.7 percent of its threes and 58.9 percent of its twos. The defense isn’t elite, but it may be good enough to make TCU a true threat to Kansas in the Big 12. (Travis Hines)

TENNESSEE: Check

I was high on this Tennessee team entering the year, and they’ve made me look smart for saying they could push for an NCAA tournament berth. Grant Williams is a problem, but the rest of the guys on this roster are talented try-hards. Put another way, I think that the Vols are punching above their weight right now, and while I think the way they play works for them – they are going to out-effort and out-tough just about everyone – the reality is that they’re at something of a talent deficit. They’re a good team, but at No. 20 in the AP Poll, they’re right at their ceiling. (RD)

TEXAS: Check

The loss to Michigan at home last night was bad, but that loss also came without Andrew Jones on the floor. He’s their most important piece offensively. Until he’s back in the lineup, it’s really hard to get a full sense of what this team is moving forward. I was very high on them at the start of the year, but Mo Bamba has not quite had the impact I expected him to have defensively. We’ll see. (RD)

Tyler Davis (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

TEXAS A&M: Raise

The Aggies slipped up against a wounded Arizona team last week, but there’s a lot to like with Billy Kennedy’s team. The defense is among the best in the country with Robert Williams and Tyler Davis patrolling the paint, and the offense is steady as well. (TH)

TEXAS TECH: Fold

Texas Tech blasted Northwestern last month by 36 points, but lost to Seton Hall and needed OT to beat a solid Nevada team at home. Chris Beard has his team playing a lot of defense, but they’re not making a lot of shots. The defense should translate against a tougher schedule, but getting more buckets seems unlikely. (TH)

UCLA: Check

I certainly wouldn’t say that UCLA won’t be an NCAA tournament team; they should be. But this season was thrown for a loop from the start thanks to some “sticky fingers” in China, and that may have upset the Bruins’ routine during the first month. Now that a personnel move has been made, maybe Steve Alford’s team can use this time to refocus as they prepare for conference play. There’s some good young talent, most notably Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, and Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh are two experienced options who can earn all-conference honors at season’s end. This isn’t a “fold” or “run away before you blow your mortgage payment” situation, but it’s isn’t one where you throw more money into the pot or go all-in, either. (RJ)

UCONN: Get Your Stuff And Go Home

This is rough to say as someone that grew up a UConn fan, but at this point there are no more excuses for Kevin Ollie and the Connecticut program. They’re just not good enough. If the 35-point blowout against Arkansas wasn’t enough of a sign, it was struggling to overtime wins against 1-10 Columbia and Monmouth at home. It’s hard to think that less than four years ago, the Huskies were in the process of winning their second national title in four years. (RD)

USC: Check, but I’m ready to fold

The reason why I’d check when it comes to the Trojans is the sheer amount of talent on the roster. Jordan McLaughlin, Chimezie Metu, Bennie Boatwright, Elijah Stewart, etc. Andy Enfield has a host of options who can get the job done offensively, making USC a tough team for opponents to defend. That being said, if anything we’ve learned just how important DeAnthony Melton is. On a roster filled with guys who seemingly fill one particular role, Melton was the guy who served as the “mixing agent” on both ends. He can play with or without the ball in his hands on offense, and defensively he can take on a variety of assignments as well. When (or if) he returns USC becomes a better team immediately, but with there being no set time frame who knows if Melton will suit up. And if he were to be ruled out for the rest of the season as the school looks to stay in the NCAA’s good graces, that would be the time to get out. (RJ)

VILLANOVA: Bet The Mortgage

They’re the best team in the country, particularly is Mikal Bridges is going to continue to be a go-to scorer for them. If he’s a guy that can get Jay Wright 17-19 points a night, Villanova is scary. The one place where I think they can be taken advantage of is up front. I’m not totally sold on Omari Spellman as a defender yet, and I don’t think that they’ve been fully-tested with the schedule they’ve played. (RD)

VIRGINIA: Raise

I’ll take the L on this one. I did not see a way for the Cavaliers to be able to continue to be as good as they’ve been defensively with the number of young guys on this roster, and I did not think that Kyle Guy was ready to be a go-to scorer in the ACC just yet. I was wrong. KenPom, who has them ranked 3rd nationally, is way too high on this group – I think Virginia is the new Wisconsin, where there’s something weird about the formula that makes them pop in his metric – but they might be better than where they are sitting in both polls (16th). Wa-Hoo-Wa. (RD)

Kyle Guy (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

VIRGINIA TECH: Check

It’s hard to tell if Virginia Tech is legitimate since their schedule has been so weak. Sporting the No. 340 non-conference strength of schedule in the country, the Hokies have only played one true road game, an unimpressive OT win over Ole Miss. This team might be good, but it’s hard to tell since the schedule is so bad. (SP)

WEST VIRGINIA: Raise

The Mountaineers have come a long way since getting worked by Texas A&M in their season opener. West Virginia has won nine-straight since that drubbing, including a victory over Virginia. Press Virginia has been as good as ever with a 27.9 percent defensive turnover percentage. The question will be if the offense can shoot it well enough to not depend solely on those takeaways. (TH)

WICHITA STATE: Bet The Mortgage

The Shockers are really, really good. A one-point loss to Notre Dame is the only thing keeping them from a clean sheet, and they look to have a team as capable as any Gregg Marshall has fielded in Wichita. Now in the AAC, the Shockers are going to be more battle-tested then ever and should be in line for a high seed, making them a threat to return to the Final Four – and maybe even win the whole thing. (TH)

WISCONSIN: Fold

I just don’t think it’s going to happen for the Badgers this year. They have too many young guards and not enough reliable shooting or playmaking around Ethan Happ. The biggest issue that the Badgers now face is that they did not do anything in the non-conference and now enter the Big Ten season, where the conference as a whole is down. Forget finishing top four in the league, will they be able to rally like they did in 2016 and make the NCAA tournament? (RD)

XAVIER: Bet The Mortgage

Besides for a loss against red-hot Arizona State, the Musketeers are 9-0 with night double-digit wins this season. With a star in senior Trevon Bluiett and a rotation that goes nine deep, Xavier has capable players at every position and a ton of March experience from last season’s Elite Eight run. (SP)

Weekend Preview: Oklahoma-Wichita State, North Carolina-Tennessee

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THE WEEKEND SHOWDOWNS

*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via Kenpom.com)

No. 7 NORTH CAROLINA (-1) at No. 20 TENNESSEE, Sun. 3:00 p.m.

The game of the weekend, as the Vols host the Tar Heels in a rematch of what was a thrilling game at the Dean Dome last season. This one will be decidedly different, as UNC is missing the majority of last season’s roster. As it would happen, Luke Maye has grown into one of the best players in college basketball – seriously – while Joel Berry II is humming along as one of the nation’s best point guards. To me, the bigger question here is going to be the Vols. Tennessee is tough, they’re scrappy, they defend like hell. They are not a fun team to play against, and Roy Williams will certainly have his hands full.

The name to know for Tennessee is Grant Williams, an undersized four-man that will hopefully get matched up against Maye is one of the most fun individual matchups of the weekend.

  • PREDICTION: I think North Carolina gets the win here, but given the size of the UNC fan base, I would not be surprised to see this line move more towards the Heels. If that’s the case, Tennessee might end up being the better bet. For now, it’s UNC (-1)

OKLAHOMA at No. 3 WICHITA STATE (-9), Sat. 4:00 p.m.

The best individual matchup of the weekend will be between Landry Shamet and Trae Young. Young looks like arguably the best point guard in college basketball – and potentially the National Player of the Year – while Shamet is the first opponent that Young will face with this kind of size and length; Shamet is 6-foot-5. Wichita State’s defense has not been as good as it has been in past years, but Gregg Marshall knows how to scheme. This will also be the first true road game in a rough environment that Young has experienced as a collegian.

  • PREDICTION: Nine points is a lot of points, but I think that the Shockers will cover that. I also expect the line to be less when it comes out. Wichita State (-9)

VIRGINIA TECH at No. 8 KENTUCKY (-6), Sat. 2:00 p.m.

The most important game of the weekend in the sense that we are going to get a better sense of just how good both of these teams are. Virginia Tech has been putting up some impressive shooting and scoring numbers, but they haven’t really played anyone of note yet this season. Kentucky is, in theory, a terrific defensive team, but the only test they’ve had this year is a Kansas team that was worked at home by Arizona State. I think both of these teams are really good. We’ll find out how correct those thoughts are on Saturday.

  • PREDICTION: I like Virginia Tech plus the points. I elaborated on why I do on the podcast. Listen to it hereVirginia Tech (+6)

No. 25 CINCINNATI (-3) at UCLA, Sat. 3:30 p.m.

This is a game that both of these teams really, really need to win. UCLA’s season has been something close to a disaster through the first month. It’s not quite as bad as, say, Wisconsin or UConn, but it is clear that this is not the Bruin team we saw last season. The Bearcats, on the other hand, lost to both Xavier and Florida in the last two weeks. They need to start adding to their non-conference résumé and should not have an issue doing so against a team that should not be able to handle their toughness.

  • PREDICTION: I think the Bearcat bigs are too physical for UCLA in this game. Cincinnati (-3)

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

  • BUTLER vs. No. 17 PURDUE (-7), Sat. 12:00 p.m.: I think Purdue is really, really good, and while I do have faith that LaVall Jordan will get this thing figured out for Butler, this is not the matchup for it. Purdue (-7)
  • SYRACUSE (-1) at GEORGETOWN, Sat. 12:30 p.m.: I don’t know if Syracuse is all that good. I don’t think Georgetown is good at all. I also don’t think Georgetown has much, if any, home court advantage at the Verizon Center. Their undefeated record is a mirage. Syracuse (-1)
  • DAVIDSON at No. 16 VIRGINIA (-14), Sat. 2:00 p.m.: The way to beat Virginia’s Pack-Line defense is to make tough jumpers over the top of it. Davidson, if nothing, can shoot the laces off the ball. Davidson (+14)
  • INDIANA vs. No. 18 NOTRE DAME (-9), Sat. 2:30 p.m.: As good as I think Notre Dame is, I think the Hoosiers will keep this one close. I like the way Archie Miller’s team is playing. There’s a scrappiness to them, and I think they matchup as well as you can with the Irish. Indiana (+9)
  • No. 22 FLORIDA (-4) vs. CLEMSON, Sat. 4:30 p.m.: This is technically a neutral court game, but it is being played in Florida. The Gators also seemed to answer some of their issues last weekend, and I’m not convinced Clemson is actually good. Florida (+4)
  • No. 13 KANSAS (-9) at NEBRASKA, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Nebraska is tougher than you realize at home. They put 15,000 fans in seats, and you know those fans will be well-lubricated with the Jayhawks in town. Timmy Miles gets it done. Nebraska (+9)

THE REST OF THE WEEKEND’S ACTION

Louisville vs. Memphis, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
Middle Tennessee State vs. Auburn, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
No. 23 Arizona at New Mexico, Sat. 8:00 p.m.
Utah at BYU, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
Vanderbilt at No. 5 Arizona State, Sun. 2:00 p.m.
No. 2 Michigan State vs. Oakland, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 6 Miami at George Washington, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
No. 15 Seton Hall at Rutgers, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
East Tennessee State at No. 10 Xavier, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
Oklahoma State at No. 19 Florida State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Self says he’s “optimistic” about Preston playing for Jayhawks

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There hasn’t been much new good around Lawrence lately with Kansas dropping its last two games, but the Jayhawks apparently have reason for hope.

Kansas coach Bill Self said he is “optimistic” that freshman Billy Preston, who has been held out of competition while the school investigates the financial background of a car he has been driving, will play for the Jayhawks this season, according to the Kansas City Star.

“I think our school has done a great job in creating, getting, all the information that could possibly be pertinent to his situation,” Self said, according to the Star. “The other thing you don’t know … they (NCAA officials) could come back and say, ‘We need more information.’ They could come back and say, ‘OK good to go.’ They could come back and say, ‘No it’s not good to go.’.

“Who knows what the response will be because it will be determined by somebody else. The reality of it is us putting a total package together from every scenario … we’ve done a good job. Hopefully, whatever information that is given to the deciding parties, it’ll be a quick turnaround … but we don’t know that yet either.”

Preston, a top-20 recruit in 2017, has yet to play for the Jayhawks after being suspended for the team’s season opener and then because questions were raised about a car he was driving when he was involved in a single-car accident. The Jayhawks could use the 6-foot-9 Preston in the lineup to help right the ship after these back-to-back losses that have, in part, shown just how thin up front the Jayhawks are.

There is also the possibility that Silvio De Sousa, a 6-foot-9 2018 commit, could enroll this semester.

“There are questions, but the answers will probably take place I would say in the next week to 10 days.”

Former NBA star Mark Price fired by Charlotte

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The college basketball coaching carousel now has three openings just over a month into the season, as Charlotte announced that head coach Mark Price has been “released from his contract.”

“We appreciate all that coach Price has done for our program,” said athletic director Judy Rose. “His background and knowledge were assets to our young players and we appreciate him sharing his talents with our team. This was a difficult decision, especially as we make plans to open conference play, but we do feel it is in the best interest of our basketball program.”

Assistant coach Houston Fancher has been tabbed as the interim coach.

Charlotte is 3-6 this season. Through two and a half years, Price had a record of 30-42 with the 49ers and was 16-20 in Conference USA play.

East Carolina’s Jeff Lebo and UTEP’s Tim Floyd both resigned earlier this season.