2013-2014 Season Previews


A heart-to-heart with Bob Huggins changed Juwan Staten’s outlook, career

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the Big 12.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

West Virginia’s Juwan Staten was one of the best players in the Big 12 last season, earning the honor of being named first-team all-Big 12 player over the likes of Joel Embiid and Georges Niang.

He was terrific, averaging 18.4 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 rebound despite being listed as a 6-foot point guard. Those numbers were good enough to convince the Big 12 voters to overlook the fact that the Mountaineers were only able to manage a 17-16 record and a trip to the NIT. They were also impressive enough to make you wonder: Where the heck did this come from?

As a sophomore, in Staten’s first season playing with the Mountaineers, he averaged just 7.6 points and 3.3 assists on a team that bookended a 13-19 season with a 34-point beat-down at the hands of Gonzaga on national television and a seven-game losing streak. That came after Staten had redshirted the 2011-12 following a transfer from Dayton. Before Bob Huggins made the decision to bring Staten into the program, he first made a call to Steve Smith, Staten’s head coach at Oak Hill Academy (Virginia), a prep school known for churning out as much basketball talent as anyone in the country.

That includes Ty Lawson, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Jennings.

“Steve said that he was probably the best point guard that he’s ever had,” Huggins told NBCSports.com this month, but through three seasons of college basketball, Staten looked anything but the part.

RELATED: NBCSports.com 2014-2015 Big 12 Preview Rick Barnes turns Texas around

That all changed when Huggins had a sit-down with Staten following the 2012-13 season. The message he needed to get across? If you don’t want to do things my way, then pack your bags.

“Coach Huggs, he basically told me that he needed me to be an extension of him,” Staten told NBCSports.com. “Some things that we have to do within our program, with me being around and knowing how things go, he just wanted me to step up and be a leader. Put guys in their place when they’re doing the wrong thing and give them encouragement when they’re doing the right thing. Let them know what we’re supposed to be doing here. Be that voice that the guys hear away from practice.

“All the players don’t always agree with everything that’s going on, but as a leader, it’s your job to find out what the coach wants and how to get the players to do that.”

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Huggins dismissed that heart-to-heart in a way that only he can — “If you look at what our record was that year, I had that conversation with a lot of people,” he muttered, which is about the best way to describe the twangy, choppy way that Huggy Bear speaks. “Like, all of them. Every single one of them.” — but in talking with Staten, it’s easy to see that his message got through.

“My mentality changed,” Staten said. “I didn’t really have the season that I wanted to have as a sophomore, and that tested me. It put things in perspective. Time’s running out. You either have to start putting it down or think about something else that you want to do with your life. I got a little more focused and serious about the game. It changed my approach. I started taking more of a business approach to the game, falling in love with the process.”

And what is “the process”?

For Staten, it was about more than simply getting in the gym and doing the same drills and workouts that he’s done throughout his career and will continue to do as long as he’s playing the game.

Huggins has been coaching this game for a long time — as Staten put it, “since before I was born” — and he’s had quite a few stars work their way through his Cincinnati and West Virginia programs. There were two, however, that piqued the interest of Staten: Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan. He got Huggins to bring him game film from when those two were playing in college, spending hours pouring over those tapes.

He wasn’t just studying their moves, however. His goal wasn’t to learn how to cross a defender over like Van Exel could or hit the same kind of pull-up threes that Logan shot. The sets that Huggins runs these days aren’t that different from what he ran in the 90s, and what Staten wanted to learn was when, in the flow of the offense, those two were able to attack.

“I just wanted to see where they got their shots from, where they were able to create out of and what opportunities the offense was able to open up for them,” he said. “After that it was pretty clear where I would be able to get my shots.”

It sure was.

The problem, however, was that all those shots and all that production led the Mountaineers to a first round ouster from the NIT. As good as Staten is, as bright as his professional future may be, the sport just isn’t as fulfilling when you’re not winning consistently, and Staten says there are two things that he can do to change that next season that go beyond extending his three-point range.

It starts with “grasping the concept of being a point guard,” he said. “Knowing the time and score, learning my teammates a little better, what situations do we run what plays in to get an easy basket.” He also hopes to be able to lead his team better in close games. Staten traveled to both the Point Guard Skills Academy in New Jersey and LeBron James camp in Las Vegas this summer, and the way he tells it, he has a better feel for “knowing how to close games”.

But if West Virginia is truly going to be able to earn an at-large bid this season, it’s going to be about more than just Staten.

“We’ve got to guard and we’ve got to rebound,” Huggins said. “There are two constants in basketball: the ability to defend and the ability to rebound. We got away from really what was the staple of what we were all about.”

“Everybody’s wants to win,” Staten added. “When you’re not winning, it makes things a little more difficult because people start questioning what’s going on. They want ot sart putting their own ideas into things.

“It’s all about trusting the process.”

Staten knows better than anyone.

2014-15 Season Preview: Kentucky’s loaded rotation leads nation’s best front courts

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Karl-Anthony Towns is just one piece of a loaded Kentucky front court. (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

High-level big men aren’t a dime a dozen, and with that being the case the programs that have the benefit of multiple interior options tend to do well in college basketball’s most important month. Below are our ranking of the top front courts in the country heading into the 2014-15 season, with factors such as skill level, production and depth being considered. And just like last year, a certain SEC plower claims the top spot.

1. Kentucky: Similar to last season, juniors Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress are the most experienced pieces in John Calipari’s interior attack. However unlike last year they’ve got company, with a slimmer Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis back in Lexington as well. Add in two projected lottery picks in freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns and the end result is the most talented and deepest interior rotation in college basketball. And Willis, who would see playing time for a lot of other programs, is expected by many to be on the outside looking in with regards to Kentucky’s expected “platoon” despite playing well during the team’s summer trip to the Bahamas.

2. Texas: Rick Barnes was assured of having one of the best front courts in the country when everyone, including Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley, decided to return after helping lead the Longhorns back to the NCAA tournament. And then he received a verbal commitment from one of the best big men in the Class of 2014 in Myles Turner. The Longhorns have both depth and talent inside, and they’re experienced as well. Among the other returnees are center Prince Ibeh and forward Connor Lammert, and freshman Jordan Barnett’s no slouch either.

3. Arizona: The Wildcats will have to account for the departure of Aaron Gordon, but Gordon spending just one year in Tucson was expected to be the case from the moment he committed to join Sean Miller’s program. The Wildcats have a nice balance of depth, experience and talent, with starters Brandon Ashley being juniors and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson entering his sophomore season. Add in freshmen Stanley Johnson (he’s listed as a forward but is likely to see time at the two) and Craig Victor, and the end result is a group that is one reason why Arizona is expected to be a national title contender.

4. Kansas: No Joel Embiid for the Jayhawks, but while Bill Self and his staff will have to account for that loss they don’t lack for options. Junior Perry Ellis is one of the best players in the Big 12, and he’ll lead the way in a rotation that doesn’t lack for talent despit not have as many options as the teams above. Jamari Traylor has been in Lawrence for a couple years now, as has Landen Lucas, and Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson gives them another options with Division I experence. And then there’s freshman Cliff Alexander, who arrives on campus as one of the most dominant players in the Class of 2014.

5. Wisconsin: The tandem of Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky was outstanding last season, with the latter’s virtuoso performance in the Elite Eight getting the Badgers to their first Final Four since 2000. Dekker’s in line to put together a breakout junior season, and senior Duje Dukan and Nigel Hayes will fill out the rotation for the preseason favorites to win the Big Ten.

MORE: The nation’s top perimeter attacks

6. Duke: There’s no denying the fact that the Blue Devils add the best big man in the Class of 2014 in the form of freshman Jahlil Okafor, who did just about whatever he wanted at the prep level. But he isn’t the only freshman who arrives in Durham amidst much acclaim, with Justise Winslow expected to factor into the rotation as well. Amile Jefferson provides intangibles for Duke, who needs one of either Marshall Plumlee or Semi Ojeleye to take a step forward in what will be a competitive ACC.

7. LSU: The Tigers lost Johnny O’Bryant III from last year’s team, but it can be argued that pieces currently at Johnny Jones’ disposal fit together better despite not having their leading scorer and rebounder. Jordan Mickey was one of the SEC’s best freshmen in 2013-14, and classmate Jarell Martin may be the one who benefits most from O’Bryant’s early departure. LSU also adds 7-footer Elbert Robinson III, slender Aaron Epps and burly 6-foot-6 banger Brian Bridgewater to their front court rotation.


8. Louisville: The Cardinals will play their first season in the ACC with one of the most explosive athletes in college basketball in junior power forward Montrezl Harrell. The question: who will step up alongside the All-America candidate? Rick Pitino has some young talented options at his disposal, including sophomore Mangok Mathiang and freshman Chinanu Onuaku.

9. Gonzaga: Mark Few lost Sam Dower from last year’s WCC champion squad, but he gets to slide Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer into the rotation. And Wiltjer isn’t the only talented new addition, with Domatas Sabonis also expected to compete for minutes. They join junior 7-footer Przemek Karnowski, who averaged 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season.

10. SMU: The Mustangs return one all-conference selection in Markus Kennedy, and after being less than 100 percent for much of last season senior Yanick Moreira is coming off of an impressive summer with Angola’s senior national team. SMU also adds Xavier transfer Justin Martin, who adds versatility to the front court ranks, and senior Cannen Cunningham gives them additional depth and experience.


  • 11. Colorado: Josh Scott may be the best center in the Pac-12, and Xavier Johnson’s no slouch either.
  • 12. UCLA: The Bruins won’t have Jonah Bolden, but they will have fellow freshman Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh, and junior Tony Parker is back as well.
  • 13. North Carolina: If Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson take a step forward, this ranking will turn out to be too low.
  • 14. Memphis: Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols lead the way for a group that should see a major increase in post touches.
  • 15. Virginia: No more Akil Mitchell, but Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey return for the reigning ACC champions.
  • 16. Iowa State: Georges Niang leads the way with Dustin Hogue and Daniel Edozie being experienced options as well. Freshman Giorgios Tsalmpouris could help, and the mid-year addition of Jameel McKay will be big.
  • 17. Syracuse: Losing C.J. Fair hurts but Rakeem Christmas returns, Tyler Roberson could be a breakout candidate, and freshman Chris McCullough is a newcomer to keep an eye on.
  • 18. Iowa: Starters Aaron White and Adam Woodbury, and reserves Jarrod Uthoff and Gabe Olaseni all return to Iowa City.
  • 19. Florida: Chris Walker’s an enticing talent who had the benefit of a full offseason with the program. Dorian Finney-Smith is their best bet from a consistency standpoint, and transfers Alex Murphy and Jon Horford will help as well.
  • 20. NC State: Like UNC, this ranking could turn out to be too low by the end of the season. BeeJay Anya’s in far better shape than he was last season, and players such as Jordan Washington, Lennard Freeman and Abdul-Malik Abu will be factors as well.

No longer supplementary pieces, two Texans will lead the way at Weber State

Randy Rahe
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source: AP
Weber State head coach Randy Rahe (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

In eight seasons at Weber State, head coach Randy Rahe has won 169 games (just over 21 wins per season) but prior to the 2013-14 campaign the Wildcats made just one NCAA tournament appearance under his watch. Thanks in large part to four seniors, led by Big Sky Player of the Year Davion Berry, that changed, with Weber State winning the Big Sky regular season and tournament titles. With their eyes on a repeat the Wildcats begin the season with just one senior, but their returnees have plenty of experience when it comes to contributing to a championship run.

The question for Weber State: can those supplementary options step forward into primary roles? The good news for Weber State is that the staff has done well on the recruiting trail in recent years, and players who hail from Texas make up nearly one-third of the roster entering the 2014-15 campaign. Looking for talent in areas they may not have hit hard in the past is something many programs do. In the case of Weber State, they’ve worked hard to build relationships within Texas and the efforts have paid off.

“We always want to be recruiting Utah first, going after the same guys who are going to BYU or Utah or Utah State. We don’t want to settle,” Rahe told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. “We’ve had a harder time beating those schools for some guys, so we’ve gone to Arizona where we’ve had some success and northern California where we’ve gotten guys like Damian Lillard, Davion Berry and Frank Otis.

“But we decided that we needed to go to another spot, and I told my assistant Phil Beckner [who’s now with the Oklahoma City Thunder], ‘I want you to dive into Texas and see what you can do.’ He did a great job of establishing inroads and getting to know people. The first guy we got out of there was Joel Bolomboy, who we found at an early age. By the summer before his senior year he was 6-foot-9 and all of a sudden Clemson, Auburn and New Mexico (were interested). But he hung with us and showed a lot of loyalty, and since then we’ve kept going down there.”

Bolomboy is one of two Texans who were a part of the starting lineup last season, with sophomore guard Jeremy Senglin being the other. Bolomboy contributed 8.7 points and a Big Sky-best 11.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore, with Senglin accounting for 10.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists at the off-guard position. Both were recognized by Big Sky coaches for their efforts at the end of the season, as Bolomboy was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and Senglin winning Big Sky Freshman of the Year honors.

Due to the departures responsibilities will change for both, especially for Senglin as he’ll be asked to move into the role of primary ball-handler.

RELATED: NBCSports.com’s Big Sky Conference Preview

“He didn’t have to be the main guy as a true freshman. He could fit in, and he filled that role really well,” Rahe said of Senglin. “This year obviously his level of responsibility in our program has to go up. From a scoring standpoint we’re probably going to need a bit more from him, and we’re going to need more from a leadership standpoint. I think he can be a very good point guard, and everything has to kick up another notch for him. Now he’s got more responsibility, and he’s going to have to mix in the scoring and getting his teammates involved.”

The process of moving into the role of primary ball-handler can be a difficult one, because there’s a lot more that goes into the process than simply thinking that one has to pass the ball more. The understanding of when to get your teammates the ball and where they should get the ball is key, as is the need to understand when it’s time to pursue your own scoring opportunities and when it’s time to run something to get someone else a shot. Senglin gained experience in both perimeter roles during his high school years, including a stint alongside Emmanuel Mudiay with the Texas Select program, and those are experiences Weber State expects to serve Senglin well as he adjust to a different role.

In regards to Bolomboy, his ability as both a rebounder and defender has been present since he arrived on campus, as he tallied 7.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a freshman in 2012-13 despite not starting a single game. The key for Bolomboy this offseason was to expand his game, and despite getting just a week and a half with Ukraine’s national team before suffering a bone bruise in his knee he was able to work on becoming a more consistent offensive player.

source: AP
Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy (AP Photo)

Last season, 45.3% of Bolomboy’s field goal attempts were two-point jumpers, according to hoop-math.com, and he made just 28.6% of those shots. The short amount of time Bolomboy worked under Ukraine head coach Mike Fratello helped the junior add some polish to his offensive skill set, and according to Rahe, the improvement has been noticeable since his leading rebounder returned to Ogden.

“He was playing with older guys,” Rahe said when asked how the summer experience helped Bolomboy. “He was being coached by coach Fratello, who is a great coach and knows what he’s doing. For us, it was great because now he hears another voice. It was good for him to hear some of the same things we’ve been telling him but from someone else, which kind of reinforces what we’ve been trying to get him to do.”

Bolomboy isn’t going to be a player who hoists up 20 shots a night, and that’s fine. Weber State doesn’t need him to be that kind of player. But they did need him to use this offseason to improve his offensive skill set, because in addition to Berry the Wildcats lost their second-leading scorer in Kyle Tresnak (11.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and a key contributor in Jordan Richardson (7.1, 2.3, 2.5 apg). With those losses, not to mention fellow senior Byron Fulton and junior Royce Williams, Bolomboy’s progression from supplementary offensive piece to primary option is one of the biggest storylines for Weber State as they look to repeat as Big Sky champions. What’s helped matters is the fact that Bolomboy has worked incredibly hard on his game.

“Joel is an extremely hard worker,” Rahe noted. “He wants to be as good as he can possibly be. When we first got Joel as a freshman, he was always very athletic and rebounded at a high level because of his athleticism, but he needed a lot of skill work. His ball-handling, his passing, his shooting, which then (if improved) would help him get a better feel for the game and how the game was played. His skill level and feel for the game as a freshman was not very good, so those were the two areas that we really tried to hit hard.

MORE: All of NBCSports.com’s conference previews can be found here

“Just improving his overall skill level and ball-handling; the better you can handle the ball, the better you feel about the game and you see the game better,” Rahe continued. “He’s really come a long way. He’s starting to feel the game better and his skill level has gotten very good for a 6-9, 235-pound player. He can now shoot the ball from three and we’re allowing him to do that, and he can now make plays off the bounce as well.

“He’s really come a long way in two years, and a lot of it has to do with his overall work ethic and how good he wants to be.”

Bolomboy and Senglin are the two players most will focus on when assessing the Wildcats’ chances of retaining possession of the Big Sky title due to the roles they filled a season ago. But it’ll take a lot more than just two players to accomplish that goal, with players such as sophomores Richaud Gittens and Kyndahl Hill also in spots where they’ll be able to contribute more. A team that was led by five seniors a season ago will have just one in 2014-15. But even with the relative lack of experience the standards within the program don’t change, with Rahe having three areas that he focuses on every season.

“The things I always worry about before every season are: 1. How tough are we?” Rahe said. “Are we going to be tough enough mentally? Physically? That’s something we try to hang our hat on up here. 2. How hard we’re going to play; and 3. how together we’re going to be. Those three areas are things that we try to keep consistent every year. It’s those intangibles that come through for us, and I believe that we have enough talent to be competitive.”

2014-2015 Season Preview: Weber State won’t lack for challengers in Big Sky

Weber State's Joel Bolomboy (AP Photo)
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Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The favorite to win the Big Sky 2014-2015 won’t come as a surprise, despite the fact that the program in question lost four seniors from last season’s NCAA tournament team. Randy Rahe’s Weber State Wildcats enter the season looking to make consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since their run of three straight from 1978-80. Gone are Big Sky Player of the Year Davion Berry, key contributors Kyle Tresnak and Jordan Richardson, and Royce Williams (transfer) and Byron Fulton. However even with those losses the Wildcats return some talented pieces, led by junior forward Joel Bolomboy and sophomore guard Jeremy Senglin. Bolomboy was an honorable mention All-Big Sky selection last season, but he’s poised to make a sizeable jump after leading the conference in rebounding (11.2 rpg).

As for Senglin, the Big Sky Freshman of the Year (10.9 ppg) will slide over into the role of primary ball-handler with Berry having moved on. Weber State will be more balanced this season when it comes to scoring, as they lose a player in Berry who factored into more than 30 percent of their possessions in 2013-14. Adjustments will need to be made, with Richaud Gittens (6.9 ppg) and Kyndahl Hill (4.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg) among the returnees who will need to step forward. But even with that being the case, Weber State is more than capable of winning the Big Sky again.

As for the competition, this will be a balanced race once again. Last year seven teams won between ten and 12 conference games (the Big Sky has a 20-game schedule), with the two teams that finished 10-10 (Eastern Washington and Sacramento State) failing to qualify for the postseason tournament. Both the Eagles and Hornets should qualify without much trouble this season, with Jim Hayford welcoming back four starters led by guards Drew Brandon and Tyler Harvey (21.8 ppg) and forward Venky Jois. In total EWU returns its top five scorers from 2013-14, which will make the Eagles a formidable group from an offensive standpoint. If they can get a little better defensively, Eastern Washington will be a contender.

As for Sacramento State, their experienced guard tandem of Dylan Garrity (13.2 ppg, 3.6 apg) and Mikh McKinney (16.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg) will be asked to lead the way. McKinney was a first team All-Big Sky selection in 2013-14 with Garrity receiving honorable mention status, and with guard Cody Demps and forward Zach Mills also returning the Hornets welcome back their top four scorers from a season ago. Two other players to watch for the Hornets: senior forward Alex Tiffin and sophomore center Eric Stuteville. Sacramento State broke even on the boards last season thanks to a group effort (seven players averaged between 3.1 and 4.2 rpg), and if Stuteville (5.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and Tiffin (4.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg) can step forward the Hornets will be better for it.

Northern Arizona is another team to consider, with head coach Jack Murphy doing a good job of rebuilding the program. Senior guard Quinton Upshur (15.3 ppg), who was the conference’s best newcomer last season, and fellow guards Aaseem Dixon and Kris Yanku will lead the way offensively with Yanku manning the point. Add in leading rebounder Gaellan Bewernick (5.9 rpg), and the Lumberjacks have the pieces needed to contend. Montana, even with the loss of do-it-all guard/forward Kareem Jamar, will be formidable and the same can be said for Northern Colorado, Portland State and Idaho as well.

The top eight teams qualify for the conference tournament, with the regular season champion playing the role of host. And just like last season, the race for those spots won’t lack for suspense this winter.


In: Idaho
Out: None

PRESEASON BIG SKY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Harvey, Eastern Washington

Harvey averaged 21.8 points per game overall last season, and he was even better in conference games (23.8 ppg) of the Eagles. And in addition to being one of the best scorers in the country as a sophomore Harvey was also one of its best shooters, shooting 44.3% from the field, 43.3% from three and 89.7% from the charity stripe.


  • Mikh McKinney, Sacramento State: In addition to the 16.6 points per game, McKinney was also third in the Big Sky in offensive rating amongst players who factored into at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions in 2013-14.
  • Quinton Upshur, Northern Arizona: Upshur was the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year, averaging 15.3 points per game.
  • Joel Bolomboy, Weber State: Bolomboy’s already a high-level rebounder, and he made strides in expanding his offensive skill set this summer.
  • Jeremy Senglin, Weber State: Sacramento State’s Dylan Garrity was another option, but the pick is Senglin due to his solid freshman year and what he can do in moving to a primary ball-handler role as a sophomore.



1. Weber State
2. Northern Arizona
3. Sacramento State
4. Eastern Washington
5. Montana
6. Northern Colorado
7. Portland State
8. Idaho
9. North Dakota
10. Idaho State
11. Montana State
12 Southern Utah

2014-15 Big West Preview: UC Irvine, UCSB lead highly competitive race

UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner (AP Photo)
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UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The 2013-14 season was a very competitive one for the Big West, with preseason favorite UC Irvine winning the regular season title. Big West Coach of the Year Russell Turner’s Anteaters were one of the nation’s best defensive teams and that was to be expected, with 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye anchoring their zone defense in the middle and defensive stalwart Will Davis II also figuring prominently in their plans. UC Irvine went 13-3 in conference play, finishing a game ahead of a very good UCSB squad led by Big West Player of the Year Alan Williams.

With those two teams combining to go 25-7 in Big West play they were a lock to reach the conference tournament final, right? Wrong.

The Anteaters and Gauchos received a painful reminder of how rough conference tournaments can be in one-bid leagues, as both were bounced from the Big West tournament with seven-seed Cal Poly getting hot at just the right time. Joe Callero’s Mustangs, who entered the tournament having lost five of their final six regular season games, beat UCSB and UC Irvine on consecutive days before holding off CSUN in the title game.

The favorite in 2014-15 will once again be a UC Irvine team returning nearly 84 percent of its scoring from a season ago. In addition to Ndiaye (8.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.1 bpg) and Davis (11.0, 6.4) the Anteaters also welcome back guards Alex Young (junior; 8.9 ppg, 4.6 apg) and Luke Nelson (sophomore; 11.8 ppg), the last two winners of the league’s Freshman of the Year award. UC Irvine will be favored to repeat as Big West regular season champs, and UCSB could once again be the Anteaters’ greatest threat.

The Gauchos also return four starters, with Williams (21.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.4 bpg) and junior guard Michael Bryson (11.5, 4.3) leading the way offensively. UCSB also has one of the steadier hands in the conference in point guard Zalmico Harmon, who ranked second nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.64). Yet even with the amount of talent returning at both UC Irvine and UCSB, as many as six teams harbor realistic thoughts of winning the Big West.

One team to keep in mind is Long Beach State, which will be led by senior guards Michael Caffey and Tyler Lamb. Those two combined to score more than 31 points per game last season, and the addition of FGCU graduate transfer Eric McKnight will help the 49ers in the paint. Dan Monson’s put together another brutal non-conference slate, so Long Beach State will once again be tested before the start of league play.

CSUN returns the tandem of Stephen Maxwell and Stephan Hicks, and Cal Poly returns three starters led by junior David Nwaba. UC Davis can’t be ignored either, as the Aggies are led by one of the more prolific perimeter scorers around in senior Corey Hawkins. There’s a lot of returning talent in the Big West, which should make for a highly competitive 2014-15.


UCSB’s Alan Williams (Getty Images)

Williams won the honor last season and with good reason, as he averaged 21.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots per game. Williams shot 53.3% from the field, and he was the best player in the Big West in both offensive (14.6) and defensive (26.9) rebounding percentage.


  • Corey Hawkins, UC Davis: Hawkins accounted for 18.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as a redshirt junior.
  • Michael Caffey, Long Beach State: Caffey’s been a first team All-Big West selection in each of the last two seasons, averaging 16.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in 2013-14.
  • Isaac Fotu, Hawaii: No Christian Standhardinger means even more attention for Fotu, who accounted for 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season.
  • Stephen Maxwell, CSUN: Maxwell was very good last season, shooting 54.7% from the field and averaging 17.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest.



1. UC Irvine
3. Long Beach State
5. Cal Poly
6. UC Davis
7. Hawaii
8. Cal-State Fullerton
9. UC Riverside

2014-15 SWAC Preview: Alabama State, Texas Southern lead the way

Texas Southern coach Mike Davis (Getty Images)
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Texas Southern coach Mike Davis (Getty Images)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

To say the least, the 2013-14 season was a difficult one for the SWAC. While the league had a clear regular season champion in Southern, the Jaguars were ineligible for postseason play thanks to low APR scores. That would be the case for three other SWAC programs as well, with those teams allowed to participate in the conference tournament. Ultimately Mike Davis’ Texas Southern Tigers, who were picked by some to win the regular season title, earned the NCAA tournament bid with well-traveled big man Aaric Murray leading the way.

Leading scorers Murray and D’Aris Scarver have moved on, which means that Davis has some significant holes to fill in order to lead Texas Southern back to the NCAA tournament. Davis welcomes back senior forward Jose Rodriguez while reloading with transfers. Nick Shepard (Long Beach State) and Nevin Johnson (Creighton) are ready to go while point guard Deverell Biggs (Nebraska) will be eligible at end of the fall semester. Will the “second chance” route once again work for Texas Southern? If it does, the Tigers will have the talent needed to win the SWAC automatic bid.

Even with those additions, however, Texas Southern likely won’t be the favorite to win the SWAC. That label will be affixed to Alabama State, with head coach Lewis Jackson welcoming back his top five scorers, led by guards Jamel Waters (14.1 ppg, 6.1 apg) and DeMarcus Robinson (11.5 ppg). What makes this more amazing is the fact that the Hornets are one of two SWAC teams ineligible for postseason play (Southern’s the other), and for many programs that marks the start of a mass exodus. With that not being the case for Alabama State, they’re more can capable of earning the SWAC regular season title.

Beyond Alabama State and Texas Southern the picture gets a lot murkier. Alcorn State returns two of its top three scorers from last season, junior guard LeAntwan Luckett (16.0 ppg) and senior forward Octavius Brown (13.5, 6.5 rpg). Luther Riley’s Braves went 9-9 in SWAC play last season, and with five newcomers (three junior college transfers) in the fold the hope in Lorman, Mississippi, is that this group can mesh in time for conference play. And of the four teams to finish below .500 in conference play last season Prairie View A&M is the one best equipped to climb into the top four, with senior guards John Brisco (12.2 ppg) and Montrael Scott (14.9 ppg) leading the way.

Head coach Byron Rimm II added seven newcomers to the program this offseason, so those two seniors will be important not just from a production standpoint but also in regards to the establishing of solid on-court chemistry. Not much seems all that certain in the SWAC at this time, and with Southern losing its top three scorers — led by leading scorer and rebounder Calvin Godfrey, who transferred to Memphis — it remains to be seen what the defending champions can produce given the departures and their postseason ban.

Will it be a two-team race between the reigning tournament champion Texas Southern and an Alabama State team that managed to hold onto its players post-APR ban? It certainly looks that way in October.


Of the five players to earn first team All-SWAC honors last season, Luckett is the only one who returns. The 6-foot-4 wing accounted for 16.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game last season, and he’ll once again lead the way for an Alcorn State team that can improve its standing within the SWAC pecking order.


  • Jamel Waters, Alabama State: Waters averaged 14.1 points and a SWAC-best 6.1 assists per game in 2013-14.
  • Jose Rodriguez, Texas Southern: With Aaric Murray and D’Aris Scarver gone, look for Rodriguez (11.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg) to step forward this year.
  • Montrael Scott, Prairie View A&M: Scott was the most improved player in the SWAC last season, raising his scoring by more than nine points per game (5.1 in 2012-13 to 14.9 last season).
  • Octavius Brown, Alcorn State: Brown, who averaged 13.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest last season, is one of the SWAC’s best returning front court players.



1. Alabama State
2. Texas Southern
3. Alcorn State
4. Prairie View A&M
5. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
6. Mississippi Valley State
7. Southern
8. Jackson State
9. Alabama A&M
10. Grambling State