Today is Big East preview day here at College Basketball Talk.
We published our league preview here, and below, you can listen to an in-depth breakdown of every team in the conference.
Earlier this week, we published the NBCSports.com Pac-12 preview.
Today, we’re giving you the Pac-12 preview podcast.
In 45 minutes, we give you an detailed breakout of each member of the conference and, since we love being wrong about things, a bold prediction for each team.
So join us, listen, and remember to let us know just how wrong we were.
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 Conference USA.
Nobody respected Conference USA entering last season’s NCAA tournament and it helped contribute to No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee’s shocking upset of Final Four contender Michigan State. The Blue Raiders followed in the footsteps of UAB after the Blazers’ win over Iowa State and both teams will once again be in the mix for what will likely be the league’s only tournament bid. But besides the top two contenders, there are a lot of talented teams in the equation this season.
It will be NCAA tournament or bust for preseason favorite UAB as they fell short of the Big Dance after falling to Middle Tennessee in the C-USA Tournament. The Blazers have a new coach in former assistant Robert Ehsan, but they return five starters from a 26-win team — including three all-league players. Middle Tennessee lost some key pieces from that tournament team but sharpshooting guard Giddy Potts and senior forward Reggie Upshaw return along with an intriguing graduate transfer in Arkansas forward JaCorey Williams.
The Stith brothers will lead the charge for Old Dominion as forward Brandan Stith returns after averaging nearly a double-double per game. He’s joined by Virginia transfer and younger brother Bryant Stith and all-freshman selection Zoran Talley to form an intriguing nucleus that could contend immediately. Dan D’Antoni brings back four scorers to a high-scoring Marshall team that went 12-6 in league play. The trio of Jon Elmore, Ryan Taylor and Stevie Browning can put up a ton of points but the Thundering Herd have to get stops to be among the league’s elite.
Western Kentucky will be fascinating under new head coach Rick Stansbury. While Stansbury is generating headlines for his Class of 2017 recruiting efforts, the team he’ll put on the floor this season includes some talented graduate transfers including Pancake Thomas (Hartford), Que Johnson (Washington State), Junior Lomomba (Providence) and Willie Carmichael (Tennessee). Those newcomers with returning forward Justin Johnson make for a talented team. Louisiana Tech loses talented point guard Alex Hamilton, but they get all-conference forward Erik McCree back along with guard Jacobi Boykins. Miami transfer Omar Sherman and the return of injured guard Qiydar Davis could be the key to the Bulldogs’ season.
Four starters are back for North Texas including the potent trio of Jeremy Combs, J-Mychal Reese and Deckie Johnson. The Mean Green also get former McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier (SMU) after first semester, but they have to be more consistent to beat the league’s top teams. UTEP will have to replace some key pieces but Dominic Artis, Omega Harris and Terry Winn are returning double-figure scorers. If the Miners can get more consistent play from their frontcourt, they could be a sleeper in this league. Rice has a potential league Player of the Year candidate in high-scoring sophomore guard Marcus Evans and he’ll receive help from guard Marcus Jackson this season as Jackson returns from injury.
Charlotte is still very young and perimeter-oriented by all-freshmen guards Jon Davis and Adrien White are back along with senior guard Braxton Ogbueze. Florida Atlantic has four starters back as they boast one of the league’s most productive front courts. FIU has senior guard Donte McGill back but no other returning player averaged more than eight points per game. UTSA has a new coach in former Oklahoma assistant Steve Henson as he inherits some talented pieces including the backcourt trio of Christian Wilson, J.R. Harris and Gino Littles. Southern Miss is finally finished with its two-year postseason ban but the roster still has a long ways to go to be competitive again.
PRESEASON CONFERENCE USA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: William Lee, UAB
The reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, Lee is a pogo stick forward who is one of the best shot blockers in the country. The 6-foot-9 junior averaged 2.9 rejections per game last season in only 24.8 minutes per contest to go along with 10.6 points and 6.2 rebounds. Lee also shot 49 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point range as he projects as the league’s best long-term prospect. If Lee sees more minutes this season he could be among the nation’s leaders in blocked shots as he’s trying to get the Blazers back to the NCAA tournament.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON CONFERENCE USA TEAM:
ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @Conference_USA
There may not be another conference in America with as much on the line from a bubble standpoint this week as the American Athletic Conference. With SMU on the sidelines as a result of NCAA penalties, the other ten members convene in Orlando with the top dogs all looking to sew up a bid to the NCAA tournament. Winning the automatic bid is the best way to do that, but with four teams harboring realistic hopes of earning an at-large bid some will likely have to sweat out Selection Sunday.
Temple managed to win the regular season title outright, but there’s still some work for Fran Dunphy’s team to do. The two-seed is Houston, whose non-conference slate likely puts them in a position where they need to win out in Orlando, and seeds three through five (Tulsa, Cincinnati and Connecticut) all find themselves on the bubble. That should make for an intense four days in Orlando, and only the winner will be able to breathe easy in the wait for the announcement of the NCAA tournament field.
When: March 10-13
Where: Amway Center, Orlando
Final: March 13, 3:15 p.m. (ESPN)
The Owls managed to win their first outright regular season conference title since 2012, when they were still in the Atlantic 10. This year’s group has done it with defense, as in conference games they ranked third in field goal percentage defense and first in three-point percentage defense. Offensively senior guard Quenton DeCosey’s led the way, with forward Obi Enechionyia being a tough matchup due to his ability to step outside at 6-foot-9 and emerging as one of the American’s most improved players. Add in contributors such as forward Jaylen Bond and point guard Josh Brown, and Temple has enough to win the tournament. Close games shouldn’t cause much concern either, as in conference games decided by five points or less they’re 7-2.
And if they lose?: Houston
The Cougars arrive in Orlando as one of the hottest teams in the American, as they’ve won nine of their last 11 games (6-1 in their last seven). Forwards Damyean Dotson and Devonta Pollard combined to average 28.3 points per game in American play, and on the perimeter Rob Gray Jr. is the team’s leading scorer (16.3 ppg overall) and the point guard tandem of Purdue transfer Ronnie Johnson and freshman Galen Robinson Jr. has been a positive as well. Kelvin Sampson’s rebuilding job has gone well to this point, and it wouldn’t be a shock if they landed the automatic bid.
Josh Pastner’s Tigers have the league’s top scoring duo in forwards Dedric Lawson and Shaq Goodwin, and there’s talent on the perimeter as well. But can they put it all together over the course of three days? That remains to be seen.
The Bubble Dwellers:
American Player of the Year: Nic Moore, SMU
Moore won the award last season and he’d be a good choice for the 2016 edition of the award as well. The senior point guard led the way for a team that was ranked for most of the season despite being ineligible for postseason play, averaging 15.9 points and 4.9 assists per game. A good case can be made for Temple’s Quenton DeCosey as well.
American Coach of the Year: Fran Dunphy, Temple
Sure, this can be seen as giving the award to the man whose team was picked to finish sixth in the preseason coaches poll. But Dunphy deserves this honor just as much for the way the Owls played once out of non-conference play. Temple began play in the American with an overall record of 5-5, only to take a considerable leap forward in conference play. Led by Dunphy and seniors DeCosey and Jaylen Bond, Temple won the American outright with a conference record of 14-4.
Second Team All-AAC:
Defining moment of the season: Temple hands SMU its first loss of the season
CBT Prediction: Houston continues its recent run of solid play, winning three straight to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.
We welcomed Brian Snow back onto the podcast to talk about the mid-major bubble teams and why he hates them, KenPom.com and why he hates Ken Pomeroy and the power conference tournaments and why he hates all of those teams.
In other words, listen to find out why no one should be allowed in the tournament, no one is a one seed and why no one is winning any league.
The regular season in the WAC played out the way many expected it to. Even with Grand Canyon and CSU Bakersfield well positioned to challenge reigning champion New Mexico State, in the end Marvin Menzies’ Aggies were simply too much for the competition. With the conference’s best player in Pascal Siakam leading the way, New Mexico State will arrive at the Orleans Arena the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets for a fifth consecutive season. And with Grand Canyon still in their Division I transitional period there’s one less challenger capable of stopping the Aggies from doing so.
When: March 10-12
Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Final: March 12, 11:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
Favorite: New Mexico State
The Aggies went 13-1 in WAC play, with the lone defeat being a four-point loss at Grand Canyon back on January 9. Siakam led the way, averaging 18.8 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game while shooting 54.6 percent from the field in conference games (all tops in the WAC). Guard Ian Baker is one of the conference’s best perimeter shooters, and the Aggies have a host of other contributors capable of stepping forward on any given night. Them not winning the tournament would be a significant surprise.
And if they lose?: CSU Bakersfield
If there’s one team in the field that has a shot at matching up with Siakam and the rest of the NMSU front court, it’s Rod Barnes’ Roadrunners. Veterans Aly Ahmed and Kevin Mays have been good all season long for the two-seed, which has four players averaging at least 11 points per game (guards Dedrick Basile and Damiyine Durham being the other two players). With a defense that is one of best in the WAC, Bakersfield is the team with the best shot at dethroning New Mexico State.
WAC Player of the Year: Pascal Siakam, New Mexico State
In conference games Siakam led the WAC in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocked shots. Regardless of what opponents attempted to do to slow him down, the sophomore was still productive and that benefitted his teammates as well.
WAC Coach of the Year: Marvin Menzies, New Mexico State
A case can be made for Grand Canyon’s Dan Majerle, whose team finished the regular season with a 25-6 record. But when your team is as dominant as New Mexico State was, with their lone WAC defeat coming by four points, you get the trophy. Menzies won his first Don Haskins Coach of the Year award last March, and given the work he’s done with this year’s team he should win it for a second consecutive season.
PREDICTION: New Mexico State takes care of business, earning another trip to the NCAA tournament.