Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on  in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
AP Photo/Paul Vernon

Sun Belt Conference Preview: Remember the name Kevin Hervey

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Sun Belt Conference.

The Sun Belt has had quite a bit of talent come through the ranks over the course of the last three or four years. In 2014, it was Elfrid Payton playing his way into the lottery and coming within a couple of minutes of upsetting No. 3 seed Creighton and Doug McDermott in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In 2015, it was R.J. Hunter that became a first round draft pick after hitting a game-winning three to upset No. 3 Baylor – and knock his dad out of his chair. And last season, Arkansas-Little Rock was turned into a 30-win team by Chris Beard, who departed for Texas Tech by way of UNLV after upsetting Purdue in the first round of the Big Dance.

In other words, there is always talent in this league, and this season will be no different.

The star that you need to be paying attention to this season resides at UT-Arlington. His name is Kevin Hervey. A 6-foot-7 forward, Hervey was generating attention from NBA scouts with a terrific start to his sophomore season when he tore his ACL while warming up for a showdown with Little Rock last winter. At the time, Arlington was coming off of wins over Memphis and Ohio State and looked like a real mid-major threat. The good news? Arlington brings back their entire starting lineup, including Hervey, who is expected to be back to 100 percent by the time the season gets into full-swing. There’s no reason that the Mavericks can’t make the kind of run that Little Rock made last season.

Speaking of Little Rock, losing Beard is going to hurt. Wes Flanigan is a local guy that had been on the staff for five years over two different tenures, but he’ll have his work cut out for him replacing Josh Hagins, whose heroics spawned the upset of Purdue. Marcus Johnson Jr. and Lis Shoshi will be asked to play bigger roles while transfers Oliver Black (Mississippi State) and Dayshawn Watkins (Florida State) will play major minutes as well.

Ron Hunter has made his name at Georgia State by relying on transfers, but that also means he has had to adapt to dealing with turnover every year. This season is no different, as the Panthers have to replace three starters. They do return Jeremy Hollowell, however, and the former Indiana Hoosier has the talent to challenge for Sun Belt Player of the Year.

Louisiana is not only going to have to replace Shawn Long, one of the best to ever play in the Sun Belt, and Kasey Shepard, a 1,000-point scorer, they’re going to have to do it with the death of incoming freshman Herman Williams hanging over the program. Williams died of a heart attack while working out this summer. Cliff Ellis started his four-decade coaching career in the Sun Belt and he’ll likely end it there as well as Coastal Carolina move to the conference this year. Ellis has a veteran backcourt that led the Chanticleers to a 12-6 mark in the Big South last season.

If there’s a sleeper in the league it’s Arkansas State. Devin Carter, the league’s second-leading scorer, returns, as does Donte Thomas, one of four players nationally to average 11 points, 5.5 assists and 5.5 boards. Keep an eye on Georgia Southern as well as Tookie Brown may be the best scorer in the conference and the Eagles return five starters that were freshmen or sophomores. Troy and South Alabama will be in the mix for a top-six finish thanks to Wesley Person and Ken Williams, respectively.

Appalachian State has a good sophomore class that Jim Fox needs to come of age quickly as he tries to replace three starters on a team that finished 7-13 in the league. Danny Kaspar is known for building programs from the ground up, but in year four at Texas State, the Bobcats haven’t finished above .500 yet. ULM finished second in the league last season but they lost four starters.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

 

PRESEASON SUN BELT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kevin Hervey, UT-Arlington

The Sun Belt always has at least one guy whose names bounces around NBA Draft circles and this season it is Hervey, whose torn ACL derailed what could have been a special season for the Mavericks. With everyone back, a healthy Hervey is a scary thing for opponents to hear about.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SUN BELT TEAM:

  • Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern: The former Mississippi State commit averaged 17.8 points as a sophomore.
  • Jeremy Hollowell, Georgia State: The former Hoosier is one of the most talented players in the league.
  • Erick Neal, UT-Arlington: The Mavericks have a chance to have a special season and Neal is the engine that makes them run.
  • Marcus Johnson Jr., Little rock: Someone needs to step-up with Beard and Hagins gone.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @sunbelt

PREDICTED FINISH

1. UT Arlington
2. Georgia State
3. Georgia Southern
4. Little Rock
5. Louisiana
6. Coastal Carolina
7. Arkansas State
8. Troy
9. South Alabama
10. ULM
11. Texas State
12. Appalachian State

Southland Conference Preview: Does Stephen F. Austin sustain success without Underwood, Walkup?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Southland Conference.

Things are going to look different in the Southland this season now that Stephen F. Austin has lost so many familiar faces. The three-time defending champion Lumberjacks lost head coach Brad Underwood to Oklahoma State and two-time Southland Player of the Year Thomas Walkup exhausted his eligibility as Stephen F. Austin tries to stay atop the conference with some new faces.

New head coach Kyle Keller is now in charge at Stephen F. Austin after a successful stint as an assistant coach with Texas A&M. Keller likely won’t match Underwood’s insane 53-1 Southland record with the Lumberjacks but he has plenty of talent and winning culture in place. The Lumberjacks have won a NCAA tournament game in two of the last three seasons as they return junior Ty Charles and sophomore T.J. Holyfield. Newcomers could be the key to the season or Stephen F. Austin as Keller brought in some talented transfers and junior college prospects.

Sam Houston State is once again knocking on the door as they return the top five scorers from last season. Senior forward Aurimas Majauskas and senior guard Dakarai Henderson both averaged 14.2 points per game last season as both players were All-Southland second-team selections. The return of talented point guard Paul Baxter, who missed last season with injury, could give the Bearkats six capable starters.

Coming off of a CBI appearance, Houston Baptist returns a lot of upperclass talent as they’re led by senior forward Colter Lasher. If center Josh Ibarra can return from injury and graduate transfer Atif Russell makes an impact from Pepperdine then the Huskies could be one of the Southland’s deeper teams. Texas A&M Corpus-Christi returns Player of the Year candidate Rashawn Thomas as forward as the senior will need help from a lot of new pieces. Seven seniors are gone from last season, but the Islanders are hoping guards Joe Kilgore and Ehab Amin can step up.

McNeese State has to improve its defense and rebounding but the Cowboys return a potent offense. Five of the top six scorers are back including senior guard Jamaya Burr and sophomores Jarren Greenwood and James Harvey and McNeese State should be one of the better perimeter shooting teams in the Southland. A young team who could be one to watch, Abilene Christian returns super sophomore guard Jaylen Franklin to lead the charge. The Wildcats only have one senior and need sophomores like Hayden Howell and Jaren Lewis to step up.

Things should be intriguing at Northwestern State as high-scoring guard Zeek Woodley is back but star senior point guard Jalan West is out once again with a torn ACL. Woodley is good for over 20 points a game but he’ll need more help this season. Senior guard Sabri Thompson was strong during a preseason trip to Canada. Head coach Jay Ladner returns seven of the top nine scorers for Southeastern Louisiana as the Lions should have plenty of scoring. Guard Joshua Filmore logged plenty of minutes last season while Southern Miss transfer Davon Hayes could provide another rotation piece.

Incarnate Word got hit hard by transfers this offseason as Jontell Walker and Derail Green left for other programs. Junior guard Shawn Johnson showed some promise late in the season and should be asked to lead. New Orleans returns three double-figure scorers in guard Christavious Gill, forward Erik Thomas and guard Nate Frye. The Privateers can make a jump if they  improve their perimeter shooting and get five new players involved.

After being banned from the postseason for a low APR, Central Arkansas is hoping for a better season. Junior Jordan Howard can pour in points and Derreck Brooks is a quality second piece. The Bears have to improve defensively after an abysmal 2015-16. Lamar is hoping that head coach Tic Price can get them back on track as leading scorer Nick Garth is back. The Cardinals will rely a lot on new pieces this season as they hit the junior college ranks hard for college-ready players. New coach Richie Riley takes over at Nicholls State as he signed five players this spring. Senior guard Ja’Dante Fry is back along with senior center Liam Thomas, the Southland’s leader in blocks last season.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON SOUTHLAND PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Rashawn Thomas, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

The reigning Southland Defensive Player of the Year was also top five in the league in scoring and rebounding a year ago as the 6-foot-8 senior averaged 16.6 points and a conference-leading 8.1 rebounds per game. Thomas also shot 55 percent from the floor and averaged 2.3 blocks per game as he’s one of the best all-around mid-major players in the country. On a team replacing a lot of experienced players, Thomas could put up huge numbers for the Islanders.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON SOUTHLAND TEAM:

  • Zeek Woodley, Northwestern State: Putting up 22.2 points per game the last two seasons, the 6-foot-2 senior has a serious chance at 2,000 career points.
  • Jaylen Franklin, Abilene Christian: The 6-foot-2 guard is reigning Southland Freshman of the Year after averaging 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds in his first season.
  • Jordan Howard, Central Arkansas: A bright spot for Central Arkansas, the 5-foot-11 junior put up 20.2 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.
  • Aurimas Majauskas, Sam Houston State: The 6-foot-7 senior shot 54 percent from the floor while averaging 14.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last season.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @SouthlandSports

PREDICTED FINISH

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

Southern Conference Preview: Chattanooga and East Tennessee State face off

Chattanooga head coach Matt McCall directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Southern Conference.

The rivalry between Chattanooga and East Tennessee State should be in full force this season as the two intra-state enemies should once again find themselves sitting atop the SoCon standings.

Chattanooga has to be considered the favorites entering the season. The Mocs went 29-6 last season. They won at Georgia, at Illinois and at Dayton. They won the SoCon regular season title at 15-3. They won the SoCon tournament title, beating ETSU in the process. They not only return four starters from last year’s team – including Tre’ McLean and Justin Tuoyo, who were all-league players last year – as well as Casey Jones, who was the 2015 SoCon Player of the Year and the 2016 Preseason SoCon Player of the Year before a dislocated ankle ended his season in December.

Think about that for a second. The Mocs did their majority of their damage last season without the guy the coaches thought would be the best player in the conference. And now he’s back, along with basically everyone else. Matt McCall will likely start his coaching career with two straight league titles.

But Steve Forbes and East Tennessee State won’t roll over easily, you can be sure of that. It wasn’t the least bit surprising that he was able to churn out a 24-12 season and a second-place finish in the league in his first year as head coach, mainly because he was able to stock the roster with high-major talent. This year, he adds former Indiana big man Hanner Mosquera-Perea and former Wichita State big man Tevin Glass to another former Hoosier, 7-footer Peter Jurkin. Throw in the return of all-SoCon guard T.J. Cromer and the addition of a handful of JuCon guards, including two JuCo all-americans, and the Bucs will be loaded as well.

Furman lost league Player of the Year Stephen Croome, but the Palladins return four starters from a team that won 11 league games. Niko Medved’s team should be in the mix to finish top four. Mercer lost a trio of starters from a team that finished 8-10 and dealt with the murder of a player in the middle of the season. It isn’t wise to bet against Bob Hoffman, especially when he adds the kind of JuCo talent he’s bringing in this year, but the death of a teammate is not easy to overcome.

Mike Young is one of the best coaches at the mid-major level, but after consecutive years of losing strong senior classes, it’s caught up to hi at Wofford. Fletcher MaGee is the Terrier to keep an eye on. Wes Miller has continually lost talented transfers, but this seems to be the year where UNC Greensboro has some stability. They bring back four starters from a team that won 10 games in the league.

Samford is the team to keep an eye on in the league. Christen Cunningham returns to provide a veteran scoring presence while Scott Padgett adds quite a bit of high-major talent: three high-major transfers will be eligible to play this year. Throw in a talented freshman class, and the Bulldogs have some potential.

Western Carolina graduated a four-man senior class that averaged a combined 52 points last season. The Citadel scores a ton of points but allowed an average of 92.6 points per game last season. Butler put 144 points on them. VMI struggled to adjust to new head coach Dan Earl, who replaced Duggar Baucom (who took over at The Citadel), but Q.J. Peterson might be the best scorer in the league.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

 

PRESEASON SOCON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: T.J. Cromer, East Tennessee State

Chattanooga has three players on their roster capable of winning the SoCon Player of the Year award. So assuming they cancel each other out, we’re going to go with Cromer, who should be the best player on an ETSU team that can push for the SoCon title.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SOCON TEAM:

  • Justin Tuoyo, Chattanooga: He’s the best defensive presence around the rim in the league.
  • Casey Jones, Chattanooga: The 2015 SoCon Player of the Year. Is he healthy?
  • Tre’ McClean, Chattanooga: He was the best player for the Mocs last season.
  • Q.J. Peterson, VMI: VMI should be better. Peterson will probably still average 20 point.s

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Chattanooga
2. East Tennessee State
3. UNC Greensboro
4. Mercer
5. Samford
6. Furman
7. Wofford
8. VMI
9. Western Carolina
10. The Citadel

Big 12 Conference Preview: It’s Kansas and everybody else. Again.

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big 12 conference.

The Big 12 is in a bit of a year of transition, but one things remains the same as it ever has: Kansas is the class of the conference. The Jayhawks have won at least a piece of 12 straight league titles and are the heavy favorite to claim a 13th this season. In many years, there’s a clear contender to the crown, but this season there’s not a lot of separation between programs after Kansas. Texas, West Virginia and Iowa State all have arguments as the league’s preseason No. 2 while Baylor and Oklahoma are tricky to predict as well.

At the end of the day, though, they’re all looking up at Kansas.

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | ACC Pod | Big Ten | Big Ten Pod

Kansas' Frank Mason III (0), Landen Lucas (33), Devonte' Graham (4), Wayne Selden Jr. (1) and Perry Ellis (34) gather during the second half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. Kansas won 73-61. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Kansas’ Frank Mason III (0), Landen Lucas (33), Devonte’ Graham (4) (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. A league in flux: The Big 12 is going to have a different look to it this year. Not a single player from the all-Big 12 first team returns this season and just four from the three all-conference teams are back. The days of Buddy Hield, Georges Niang and Perry Ellis as the faces of the league are over. There’s still some familiar names like Frank Mason III, Monte’ Morris, Johnathan Motley and Wesley Iwundu, but the Big 12 is otherwise rolling over to a new generation.

2. Freshman infusion: The league, despite its losses, isn’t without some top-line talent, specifically in its freshman class. The Class of 2016’s consensus top player, Josh Jackson, committed to the Jayhawks and is already garnering Andrew Wiggins comparisons. He could be in the discussion as the top pick in June’s NBA draft. He’ll be teammates with a fellow McDonald’s All-American in Udoka Azubuike while Texas has a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans as well in Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones. Oklahoma’s Kameron McGusty is also a top-50 recruit, not to mention a serious all-name team candidate.

3. Who’s No. 2?: With Kansas in the fold, there’s not much discussion about who the league’s best team is. When it comes to the runner-up, there’s not much consensus. West Virginia was the conference coaches’ choice, but only 12 points separated them from fifth-place Baylor in the preseason poll. The Mountaineers lost Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams, but it’s hard to bet against Bob Huggins. Iowa State has preseason All-American Monte’ Morris along with senior starters Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas to boast one of the country’s best backcourts, but there are questions up front. Texas has tons of talent, but it’s young and they lost Isaiah Taylor somewhat unexpectedly to the pros. Johnathan Motley is one of the conference’s best pro prospects, but does Baylor have enough around him?

4. Kruger’s kids: The league’s makeover may not have hit any program harder than it did Oklahoma with the loss not only of National Player of the Year and everybody’s favorite always-smarting sharpshooter, Buddy Hield, but the Sooners also are without program stalwarts Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins. Can Jordan Woodard step into the void? What about sophomore Christian James, who looked to breakout as a serious threat in March? Forward Khadeem Lattin will also be asked to take on a much bigger workload. Lon Kruger is one of the sport’s most underrated coaches, which makes the Sooners’ new group super intriguing.

5. TCU rising: The Horned Frogs have eight Big 12 wins in four years since joining the conference in 2012-13. They’ve finished anything but last in the league just once in that time. Yet, there’s now belief the program could quickly jet up the standings. First, TCU invested more than $70 million to update its basketball facilities, then it acted aggressively in dismissing coach Trent Johnson and nabbing Jamie Dixon, an alum of the school who had major success at Pitt but found himself on the outs with a fanbase feeling stagnant. TCU is already recruiting at a higher level and should be playing at one soon enough as well.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

TCU guard Michael Williams (2) defends as Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) leaps to the basket for a shot in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. Morris had 18 points and six assists and No. 19 Iowa State followed a win over top-ranked Oklahoma with a 73-60 victory over TCU on Saturday. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Iowa State guard Monte Morris (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

PRESEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Monte’ Morris, Iowa State

He’s not the league best pro prospect, but Morris is the top returning scorer and assist man in the conference and he’ll be taking on a huge role in a post-Georges Niang world in Ames. A preseason All-American, Morris shown flashes of the capability to score in bunches, something ISU will be asking him to do full-time this season. He’s got a legitimate shot at leading the Big 12 in scoring and assists.

THE REST OF THE BIG 12 FIRST TEAM:

  • Frank Mason III, Kansas: Josh Jackson may be Kansas’ most talented player, but Mason will be its leader.
  • Josh Jackson, Kansas: The freshman phenom should instantly be one of the league’s top players.
  • Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The 6-foot-10 junior’s task this season is to turn pro potential into college production.
  • Jarrett Allen, Texas: With few dominant big men in the league, Allen has a chance to make a major impact immediately.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Devonte Graham, Kansas
  • Phil Forte, Oklahoma State
  • Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
  • Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma
  • Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State

BREAKOUT STAR: Baylor’s Manu Lecomte shot 45.6 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore at Miami before transferring to Waco, where he’ll likely on the Brady Heslip Plan that should give him tons of opportunities to fire away.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: More than a few Kansas State fans wanted the Wildcats to dump Bruce Weber at season’s end for a run at alum Brad Underwood, who ended up in the conference at Oklahoma State. Weber and Kansas State have steadily trended downward since sharing a conference title in his first season four years ago. This may be the last year he has to reverse the slide.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : For the first time in some time, the Big 12 wasn’t the country’s best conference. They certainly won’t get seven bids like last season and it’s conceivable they only get four or five.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: As lame as it is, the race for second, as it seems unlikely anyone will challenge the Jayhawks but there could be a ton of competition behind them.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • November 15, Kansas vs. Duke
  • December 3, West Virginia vs. Virginia
  • November 11, Kansas vs. Indiana
  • December 1, Iowa State vs. Cincinnati
  • November 15, Baylor vs. Oregon

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @Big12Refs

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Josh Jackson (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Kansas: The question isn’t if Kansas can win the Big 12, it’s whether or not they can capture another national title.
2. Iowa State: Georges Niang is gone along with two other starters, but Monte Morris headlines an elite backcourt that should keep the Cyclones near the top of the league.
3. Texas: The somewhat surprising departure of Isaiah Taylor hurts, but Shaka Smart still has oodles of talent to work with.
4. West Virginia: This is a bet on Bob Huggins making it work with a roster without much wow-factor, but certainly some intriguing players.
5. Baylor: Johnathan Motley has to be big, but Ish Wainright and Al Freeman, along with Manu Lecomte, will have to be major contributors, too.
6. Oklahoma: It wouldn’t shock to see Lon Kruger maneuver this team further up the standings, but the roster doesn’t suggest a top-half of the league finish.
7. Texas Tech: Tubby Smith got this group to overachieve last year, and first-year coach Chris Beard will be hard-pressed to repeat that feat.
8. Oklahoma State: The cupboard isn’t fully stocked for first-year coach Brad Underwood, but with Jawun Evans and Phil Forte in the fold, they’ll pull off some upsets this season.
9. TCU: Jamie Dixon looks to be building something in Fort Worth, but he’s starting at the foundation and has a way to go before the Horned Frogs are ready to compete for an NCAA tournament spot.
10. Kansas State: If the Wildcats are going to finish closer to the middle of the conference – and keep Bruce Weber employed in Manhattan – some relatively average Big 12 players are going to have to show major improvement.

Missouri Valley Conference Preview: Wichita State stays the favorite even amid new era

FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2016, file photo, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Drake, in Des Moines, Iowa. At this time of year college basketball coaches often sound like political candidates looking for votes as they tout their teams' NCAA tournament worthiness.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Missouri Valley Conference.

It’s the end of an era in the Valley with the graduation of Wichita State’s Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, but it doesn’t look like the end of the Shockers’ reign atop the league. Coach Gregg Marshall is the constant and Wichita State figures once again to be ahead of the league once March rolls around, especially with sophomore Markis McDuffie around to run the conference ragged.

Wichita State also returns Connor Frankamp, the former top 50 recruit and Kansas player, who should be ready to step into a larger role in the back court, while Landry Shamet should be healthy after missing last season. Bet against Marshall at your own risk.

The Shockers won’t be without competition, however. Northern Iowa and Illinois State both look like serious contenders to the crown. The Panthers, whose epic collapse in the second round cost them a Sweet 16 trip, may be without last year’s senior trio of Paul Jesperson, Matt Bohannon and Wes Washpun, but wing Jeremy Morgan might be the best player in the conference and Klint Carlson figures to take a step forward to make UNI a problem for the rest of the league.

The Redbirds’ duo of Paris Lee and MiKyle McIntosh is one of the strongest in the Valley, and in total, they return three double-figure scorers and four starters from a team that finished tied for second in the league last season.

Missouri State returns four starters in a league that will be short on experience, making the Bears an interesting team compared to the rest of the conference. Coach Paul Lusk has two double-digit scorers back in Dequon Miller (12.7 ppg) and Chris Hendrix (12.1 ppg) for one of the better one-two punches in the Valley.

It’ll be interesting to see how Evansville moves on from D.J. Valentine and Egidijus Mockevicius era as those two were major cogs in the Purple Aces’ attack the last two seasons, when they won 25 and 24 games. Jaylon Brown is back after averaging 10.8 points and 2.8 assists per game last season. Southern Illinois will also be competitive. They won 20 games and finished 11-7 in the MVC a season ago and return three starters.

Indiana State (Brenton Scott) and Loyola-Chicago (Milton Doyle) both have potential first-team all-MVC performers that look stuck on bottom-half teams.

As a whole, the MVC will be in a year of transition, but it’ll be competitive at the top and one of the more interesting mid-major league races to monitor throughout the winter as the conference tries to dethrone the Shockers after a dominating three-year run.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON MVC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa

The Panther senior averaged 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 40.7 percent from 3-point range. The 6-foot-5 wing will take over a huge role for UNI with the graduations of Paul Jesperson, Matt Bohannon and Wes Washpun.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON MVC TEAM:

  • Markis McDuffie, Wichita State:The post-Baker and VanVleet era is in good hands in last year’s conference freshman of the year.
  • Brenton Scott, Indiana State: The junior is the only returning player among last season’s first- and second-team all-conference selections after averaging 14.9 ppg.
  • Paris Lee, Illinois State: Lee is a capable offensive player, but his real talent is on the defensive end of the floor.
  • Reed Timmer, Drake: The Bulldogs’ hope of moving up the conference standings will rest on Timmer’s shoulders.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ValleyHoops

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Wichita State
2. Northern Iowa
3. Illinois State
4. Missouri State
5. Indiana State
6. Southern Illinois
7. Loyola
8. Evansville
9. Drake
10. Bradley

Big Ten Conference Preview: Michigan State and Wisconsin fight for the top spot

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 19:  Thomas Bryant #31 of the Indiana Hoosiers celebrates defeating Kentucky Wildcats 73 to 67 during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 19, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big Ten conference.

The Big Ten will look much different this season but it will still have many of the same teams near the top of the standings. Wisconsin returns pretty much their whole Sweet 16 team while Michigan State will try to counter with a lot of talented freshmen. Purdue and Indiana will also be firmly in the Big Ten picture and Maryland gets Melo Trimble back.

It should be an interesting year of turnover in the league that could leave it wide open.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The league lost a ton of talent and experience: A lot of familiar players left the Big Ten from last year including Denzel Valentine, Caris LeVert, A.J. Hammons, Yogi Ferrell, four starters at Maryland and Jarrod Uthoff. So the conference will have a lot of new faces leading the charge this year and it could be a rare season in the Big Ten in which it’s the underclassmen that shine the brightest.

2. Wisconsin returns an entire team that went to the Sweet 16: The Badgers shook off a rough start and then-interim coach Greg Gard rallied a tough and experienced roster to the Sweet 16. The entire roster is back as seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are joined by redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ and a slew of quality role players. Now with Gard as a stable coach and a confident, experienced roster, the Badgers are hoping for a Big Ten title and tourney run.

3. Michigan State will rely on potential one-and-done freshmen: Many of Tom Izzo’s best teams at Michigan State have relied on experienced upperclassmen leading the way. That likely won’t be the case in 2016-17. Although the Spartans are still a major contender for the Big Ten title, they’ll rely a lot on five-star freshmen like Miles Bridges and Josh Langford. Four-star point guard Cassius Winston and four-star forward Nick Ward could be key pieces as well.

4. Melo Trimble has a new lineup to work with at Maryland: Junior point guard Melo Trimble will be dealing with an entirely new lineup again this season as Maryland will have four new starters with the amount of talent that departed last spring. Senior center Damonte Dodd is a former starter, so he should fit right in, but the Terps need more from juniors Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens. A talented freshmen class could be a key difference.

5. Indiana’s roster will have a lot of changes, namely no Yogi: Things are going to look a little different in Bloomington next season now that senior point guard Yogi Ferrell has exhausted his eligibility. Troy Williams is also gone, along with valuable reserves Max Bielfeldt and Nick Zeisloft. It leaves Indiana with a number of question marks. At point guard, Pitt transfer Josh Newkirk will get minutes, but he wasn’t a spotlight player for the Panthers and is coming off of a knee surgery. James Blackmon Jr. also has to improve defensively and dealt with his own knee issues last season.

PRESEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Thomas Bryant, Indiana

The sophomore big man could have easily been a first-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, but he’s back to work on his shooting, defense and consistency. Leading the Big Ten in field goal percentage at 68 percent last season, Bryant is a load to handle on the interior. He can also knock down threes and he plays as hard as anyone in the country, but Bryant needs to be more impactful on the defensive end. If he figures out how to help defend high ball screens, Indiana could ride him a long way.

THE REST OF THE BIG TEN FIRST TEAM:

  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble’s play dipped as a sophomore, but he’s still a potential All-American who isn’t afraid to take and make the big shot.
  • Peter Jok, Iowa: The senior guard should take a ton of shots and put up crazy numbers this season after averaging 16.1 points and 3.5 rebounds as a junior.
  • Malcolm Hill, Illinois: Hill put up numbers all over the board as a junior as he averaged 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He’s one of the most under-appreciated players nationally.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes have a higher profile, but Happ is a potential double-double machine and very good defender. Wisconsin always had good bigs.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State
  • Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
  • James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
  • Vince Edwards, Purdue
  • Derrick Walton, Michigan

BREAKOUT STAR: Indiana wing O.G. Anunoby has a chance to be a major contributor this season and he might be one of the best pro prospects in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-8 sophomore will see a lot of minutes in replacing Troy Williams as he can defend multiple spots on the floor.  If Anunoby shoots it anywhere near 44 percent from three-point range like he did as a freshman, he could be a major contributor on both ends.

Indiana's OG Anunoby (3) dunks in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Michigan in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Michigan won 72-69. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Indiana’s OG Anunoby (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Things haven’t gone very well for Richard Pitino at Minnesota since a promising first season. Transfers, off-the-court issues and a 2-16 record last season has the Golden Gophers fanbase getting restless. If things don’t turn around this season, Pitino could be searching for a new job.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The Big Ten wasn’t deep with NCAA tournament teams and doesn’t have the firepower to produce a serious title contender.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Seeing how good Wisconsin can be with a full Sweet 16 roster returning and their coach in place for the entire season.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 14, Purdue vs. Villanova
  • Nov. 15, Michigan State vs. Kentucky
  • Nov. 29, Wisconsin vs. Syracuse
  • Nov. 29, Michigan State at Duke
  • Nov. 30, North Carolina vs. Indiana

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @B1GMBBall

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Michigan State: This isn’t the typical senior-laden Tom Izzo team but he has perhaps the most talented freshman class he’s ever had. Eron Harris returns and could be a big scorer while five-star freshmen like Miles Bridges and Josh Langford take over.
2. Wisconsin: The Badgers return everyone from a Sweet 16 as they’re loaded with toughness and experience. Considering Nigel Hayes was very inefficient last season, Wisconsin could have room to grow as they add some redshirts like guard Brevin Pritzl and stretch forward Andy Van Vliet.
3. Purdue: Losing A.J. Hammons in the middle is going to be hard to replace, but the Boilers still have a loaded frontcourt that returns Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan, Vince Edwards and Basil Smotherman. Point guard play and perimeter shooting will once again be a huge key. Is Spike Albrecht healthy enough to provide anything in either category?
4. Indiana: Replacing Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams and some key rotation players will be tough, but the Hoosiers bring back Thomas Bryant and O.G. Anunoby and have a lot of firepower on the perimeter with James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. The key will be point guard play.
5. Michigan: Battling injuries the past few seasons, Michigan is relying on seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin to lead again. The development of junior forward Duncan Robinson and the team’s role players is key to another NCAA tournament run.
6. Maryland: Things will look very different from last season but point guard Melo Trimble does have talent around him. Big men Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky are experienced and Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley should help. The talented freshmen class could be the difference.
7. Ohio State: Transfers dominated the headlines for the Buckeyes in the offseason headlines by lots of talent is back. Marc Loving, Jae’Sean Tate, JaQuan Lyle and Keita Bates-Diop are all capable of breakout seasons.
8. Illinois: Illinois is hoping to stay healthy and make a run that could save head coach John Groce’s job. Point guard Tracy Abrams gives leadership while Malcolm Hill gets help from guard Jalen Coleman-Lands and center Mike Thorne Jr.
9. Northwestern: The Wildcats continue trying to build towards the NCAA tournament as point guard Bryant McIntosh has some talent around him. Sophomore Vic Law returns from injury along with forwards Aaron Falzon and Derek Pardon.
10. Penn State: Exciting times could be ahead for the Nittany Lions as they return the talented backcourt of juniors Shep Garner and Payton Banks and get a great recruiting class. Watch out for UConn transfer guard Terrence Samuel.
11. Iowa: The Hawkeyes will mostly be rebuilding and ride senior Peter Jok as far as they can. Nobody else returning to the team averaged more than six points per game as Iowa needs to find new impact players.
12. Minnesota: Transfers and freshmen are the key to a Golden Gophers team that needs to show progress. Center Reggie Lynch, forward Davonte Fitzgerald and guard Akeem Springs will all help, as will in-state wing Amir Coffey.
13. Nebraska: Losing Andrew White hurt as the Huskers need to find a new go-to scorer. Tim Miles could be on the hot seat with another bad season as senior guard Tai Webster needs help.
14. Rutgers: New coach Steve Pikiell has some talented guards in sophomore Corey Sanders and junior Mike Williams. If junior forward Deshawn Freeman returns well from injury, this team might be way better.

Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes (10) drives on Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Madison, Wis. Hayes had a team-high 21 points in Wisconsin's 79-68 win. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes drives on Ohio State’s Jae’Sean Tate (AP Photo/Andy Manis)