CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 24:  Gary Clark #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against the Tulane Green Wave at Fifth Third Arena on January 24, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

American Athletic Conference Preview: Cincinnati, UConn and SMU battle for the crown

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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 American Athletic Conference.

The American is going to look quite different this season as the league lost a few familiar coaches and some very talented players. Most of the teams we’ve grown familiar with atop the standings are back in the title picture for 2016-17 as teams like Cincinnati, UConn, SMU and Houston have NCAA tournament aspirations, while many others are in rebuilding mode or trying to be more stable.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The league has four new coaches: After helping SMU become a legitimate program, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown abruptly resigned in the middle of the July live evaluation period this summer, handing things over to former Illinois State coach and SMU associate head coach Tim Jankovich. While Jankovich was left with enough talent to make another run, Tubby Smith at Memphis, Johnny Dawkins at UCF and Mike Dunleavy at Tulane face rebuilding efforts. Smith has a habit of turning things around and should be able to help Memphis become nationally relevant again while Dawkins and first-time college coach Dunleavy have more to prove.

2. Cincinnati remains consistent: With six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, expectations are that Cincinnati makes it back this season. With senior Troy Caupain, junior Gary Clark and transfer Kyle Washington, the Bearcats have plenty of upperclass talent with experience. The question will be whether the Bearcats can make the second weekend of the tournament (or beyond) for the first time since 2012.

3. UConn is loaded with talent: Head coach Kevin Ollie lost quite a bit of firepower from last season, but he has plenty to be excited about. Senior guard Rodney Purvis has talented sophomore Jalen Adams and McDonald’s All-American Alterique Gilbert with him in the backcourt while Amida Brimah is back at center. The key for UConn’s season could be production at forward from players like VCU transfer Terry Larrier and freshman Vance Jackson.

4. Larry Brown didn’t lead the cupboard bare at SMU: Brown might have handed the keys to Tim Jankovich, but the Mustangs still have plenty of firepower. Double-figure scorers like Ben Moore, Shake Milton and Sterling Moore are all back while Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye and freshman center Harry Froling add more punch in the front court. The Mustangs have the talent to reach the tournament again and remain a consistent program for the future.

5. Houston has a chance to break through: While the league’s top three is Cincinnati, UConn and SMU, the Cougars also have a chance to make a NCAA tournament run if some newcomers can help. Junior guard Rob Gray and senior wing Damyean Dotson both return and sophomore guard Galen Robinson Jr. emerged as a starter last season. Junior college transfer and former Indiana forward Devin Davis might be the key to where the Cougars play after the season.

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

Memphis forward Dedric Lawson (1) goes up for a shot between Connecticut forward Shonn Miller (32) and guard Daniel Hamilton, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the finals of the American Athletic Conference men's tournament in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, March 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Memphis forward Dedric Lawson (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

PRESEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Dedric Lawson, Memphis

After a monster freshman season in which he averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, Lawson entered the 2016 NBA Draft. The combine in May was an eye-opening experience for Lawson as it showed he needed a lot of work to be a pro. As a sophomore, Lawson has even less help than last season and he should be regularly putting up double-doubles.

THE REST OF THE AMERICAN FIRST TEAM:

  • Troy Caupain, Cincinnati: One of the best senior floor leaders in the country, Caupain comes to play in big games.
  • Rodney Purvis, UConn: Purvis is coming off of his most consistent year shooting last season (38 percent 3PT) and played really well in the NCAA tournament.
  • Damyean Dotson, Houston: Dotson shot 36 percent from three-point range and averaged 6.8 rebounds per game as one of the conference’s most versatile wings last season.
  • Gary Clark, Cincinnati: The reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year will be a strong contender for Player of the Year if he improves his offensive production.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Jalen Adams, UConn
  • Shake Milton, SMU
  • Rob Gray, Houston
  • Jahmal McMurray, South Florida
  • Ben Moore, SMU

BREAKOUT STAR: UConn has a lot of options to choose from in its backcourt, but the Huskies are hoping for a big season from sophomore Jalen Adams. The 6-foot-3 guard has the makings of a high-level scoring guard who could be a nightmare to contain off the dribble. If Adams improves his perimeter jumper he might be a major weapon this season.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Orlando Antigua hasn’t had the turnaround he expected at South Florida as he’s 17-48 in two seasons with only seven conference wins. The Bulls also lost four starters from last year’s team and top recruit Troy Baxter opted to decommit on the eve of the school year.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The American might not have a lot of NCAA tournament-caliber teams this season, but the ones in the field are the type of teams that nobody wants to face.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Watching the UConn backcourt and the different combinations Kevin Ollie can use with all the talent he has. A perimeter duo of Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert would be a lot of fun to watch.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 17, Pittsburgh at SMU
  • Nov. 19, Cincinnati vs. Rhode Island
  • Dec. 1, Cincinnati at Iowa State
  • Dec. 5, UConn at Syracuse
  • Dec. 6, Houston at Arkansas

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @American_MBB

Connecticut guard Jalen Adams (2) celebrates a 3-pointer from half court at the end of the triple overtime to tie the NCAA college basketball game against Cincinnati in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference men's tournament Friday, MArch 11, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. UConn won104-97 in quadruple overtime. (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Connecticut guard Jalen Adams (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant via AP)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Cincinnati: The Bearcats have the league’s best returning duo in senior guard Troy Caupain and forward Gary Clark and N.C. State transfer Kyle Washington should help on the interior on both ends. Play from senior guard Kevin Johnson and sophomore Jacob Evans III could dictate whether this team can make the second weekend of the tournament.
2. UConn: This team is a bit of an unknown since so many new pieces will have to step up and contribute. If Jalen Adams or Alterique Gilbert play well and Terry Larrier adds frontcourt production, the Huskies will compete for the league crown.
3. SMU: Plenty of talent remains at SMU as this team has the wing talent to score and defend with the league’s best. If the frontcourt additions of Semi Ojeyele and Harry Froling come through, this team could be very tough.
4. Houston: Coming off of 22 wins and an NIT appearance, the Cougars have to replace guard Ronnie Johnson and productive forward Devonta Pollard. If Devin Davis and the other newcomers can help defend, Houston could be a surprise team.
5. Memphis: Dedric Lawson could be in for a big season and brother K.J. Lawson might see a jump in production as well. The Tigers need Coppin State grad transfer Christian Kessee needs to produce for an unproven backcourt.
6. Temple: The status of senior guard Josh Brown and his surgically-repaired Achilles could be the key for the Owls as they have some intriguing young talent. Freshmen Alani Moore, Quinton Rose and Damion Moore are talented.
7. UCF: Johnny Dawkins has a strong front court in A.J. Davis and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall and the Knights get former all-rookie selection B.J. Taylor back from injury.
8. East Carolina: The trio of B.J. Tyson, Caleb White and Kentrell Barkley are talented enough to make this team rise up the standings. The key for the Pirates is consistency in conference play.
9. Tulsa: Coming off the NCAA tournament and 20 wins, Frank Haith has 10 new players on his roster. Rutgers transfer Junior Etou will be expected to help starting wing Pat Birt.
10. South Florida: The loss of four-star freshman Troy Baxter will hurt but sophomore Jahmal McMurray is an all-league candidate who can really score. Transfer Geno Thorpe (Penn State) and Troy Holston Jr. should help.
11. Tulane: New coach Mike Dunleavy has some talent in the form of Malik Morgan and Melvin Frazier but this team needs a lot more talent to compete with the league’s best.

Atlantic 10 Conference Preview: Is it finally Rhode Island’s time?

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10:  Head coach Dan Hurley of the Rhode Island Rams celebrates a point against the Massachusetts Minutemen during the second round of the Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament at the Barclays Center on March 10, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Al Bello/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 Atlantic 10 conference.

Rhode Island and Dayton may both end up in the top-25 to begin the season. That should give a good indicator on how strong the Atlantic 10 should be this season. Outside the Rams and Flyers, the A-10 offers a host of competitors – remember, this was a conference that had a three-way tie for first place last season – that should contend for NCAA Tournament bids. A year after the A-10 saw Saint Joseph’s forward DeAndre Bembry selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, the league could end up having the nation’s leading scorer in Davidson senior guard Jack Gibbs. The 2016-17 season should be another notable one for the 14-team league.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Mike Lonergan Fired: The biggest story of the offseason was Mike Lonergan, who led George Washington to an NCAA Tournament appearance and an NIT Championship in five seasons, being removed as head coach following reports of alleged verbal and emotional abuse of players. The athletic department announced that Maurice Joseph, 31, was named as the interim coach just eight days before the season began.

2. E.C. Matthews Back: E.C. Matthews’ junior season lasted a grand total of 10 minutes. The 6-foot-5 guard tore his ACL in the opener, which stunted the Rams’ hopes of earning the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 1999. Matthews, who averaged 16.9 points per game as a sophomore, will rejoin a backcourt that includes juniors Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell.

3. Transfers: Several Atlantic 10 teams should benefit from transfers this season. Dayton, who saw transfer Charles Cooke (James Madison) emerge as an all-conference guard last year, welcomes in Josh Cunningham, a former top-100 recruit who logged 30.3 minutes per game for Bradley during the 2014-15 season. He has the versatility to play both the three and four for the Flyers, an area of they need to fill after the departure of Dyshawn Pierre. Jared Sina, the Seton Hall transfer, should take over the point guard role for George Washington. Stanford Robinson, the former Indiana guard, adds depth to Rhode Island backcourt that includes E.C. Matthews, Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell. St. Bonaventure, a darkhorse in the A10, adds Matt Mobley, who poured 17.2 points per game as a sophomore at Central Connecticut State, to a backcourt headlined by Jaylen Adams.

La Salle was the biggest benefactor of transfers. The Explorers added high-major transfers B.J. Johnson (Syracuse), Pookie Powell (Memphis) and Demetrius Henry (South Carolina) to a roster headlined by former transfer Jordan Price (Auburn).

4. Travis Ford Returns: Travis Ford took UMass to the NIT twice, ending as the runners-up in 2008, before taking the job at Oklahoma State. Nine years later, Ford is back in the Atlantic 10, this time taking over the rebuilding job that is Saint Louis. The Billikens were once the team to beat in the A-10. Ford will look to return to that status quickly. He has quickly made a presence on the recruiting trail by landing top-60 Jordan Goodwin.

5. NBCSN: More than 25 Atlantic 10 regular season games will be aired on NBCSN. That doesn’t include the A-10 second round and quarterfinals. All of these games will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports mobile app. The full schedule can be seen here.

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

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: Jack Gibbs #12 of the Davidson Wildcats celebrates a basket against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies during the Quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament at the Barclays Center on March 11, 2016 in New York, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

PRESEASON ATLANTIC 10 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jack Gibbs, Davidson

The 6-foot senior guard has a chance to lead the nation in scoring this season following a junior campaign which ended with him posting 23.5 points per game. During the 2015-16 season, Gibbs scored 30 or more points nine times and dropped 41 points twice — one of those games was a non-conference contest against Charlotte with Davidson great Steph Curry in attendance. He’ll log the same amount of minutes this season (35.5 per game in ’15-16) and will be tasked with making plays for the Wildcats on most possessions, so expect big numbers from Gibbs again this season.

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

THE REST OF THE ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM:

  • Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure: The 6-foot-1 junior averaged 17.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, while shooting 44 percent from 3-point range.
  • Tyler Cavanaugh, George Washington: One of the most impactful transfers from a season ago averaged 16.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 51 percent from the field (42 percent from three) and 83 percent from the free throw line.
  • Charles Cooke, Dayton: The James Madison transfer averaged 15.6 points per game, leading the Flyers during the 2015-16 season. His 3-point percentage jumped from 30 percent to 40 percent in his first season at Dayton.
  • E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: A candidate for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, Matthews tore his ACL 10 minutes into this past season. The 6-foot-4 lead guard averaged 16.9 points during his sophomore campaign.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Mo Alie-Cox, VCU
  • T.J. Cline, Richmond
  • Hassan Martin, Rhode Island
  • Jordan Price, La Salle
  • Josh Cunningham, Dayton

BREAKOUT STAR: Jarvis Garrett, Rhode Island

E.C. Matthews was ruled out for the season with an ACL tear in mid-November. During his absence, Jared Terrell stepped into a starring role, averaging 13.6 points per game as a sophomore. With EC Matthews back, along with senior forward Kuran Iverson, Rhody will need to share the touches on offense. That’s where Jarvis Garrett comes into play. The 6-foot-1 floor general could become a catalyst for a program which is looking to snap an NCAA Tournament drought since 1999.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Maurice Joseph, George Washington

Typically this section is reserved for coaches on the hot seat. While Joseph’s career isn’t in a make or break situation in 2016-17, it is still a pressure-filled debut. Joseph has only been a full-time assistant for three seasons. He’s inheriting a program, amid controversy, that reached significant heights during Mike Lonergan’s tenure. In five seasons, the Colonials reached an NCAA Tournament — the first time since 2007 — and won the NIT Championship. The cupboard is far from bare for the Colonials, a team that has the talent to contend for another tournament bid.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : You don’t want to be in the same bracket as Rhode Island or Dayton.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : A sleeper emerging

Last season, three teams were tied for first place in the Atlantic 10. Dayton was a team many foresaw retaining its status atop the A10. But did anyone expected VCU (post Shaka Smart era) and St. Bonaventure to accompany the Flyers? This year, Rhode Island and Dayton both have the talent to make them fringe top-25 teams, but there is a host of programs that could contend in the A-10. You can’t look past Will Wade and VCU after his stellar debut season with the Rams. Same goes for Davidson in Bob McKillop’s 28th season at the helm. La Salle is another team to monitor throughout the year, especially if its high-major talent can mesh quickly. Will George Washington rally together following the offseason controversy? Can St. Bonaventure make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 behind the leadership of one of the league’s top performers in Jaylen Adams?

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • November 19, St. Mary’s vs. Dayton
  • November 29, Rhode Island vs. Valparaiso 
  • December 4, Florida State vs. George Washington (Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.)
  • December 6, La Salle vs. Villanova (The Palestra)
  • December 17, Kansas vs. Davidson (Kansas City, Missouri)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: E.C. Matthews #0 of the Rhode Island Rams looks on during a semifinal game against the Dayton Flyers in the 2015 Men's Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament at the Barclays Center on March 14, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @CDiSano44

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Rhode Island: It feels like this has been coming for years, but 2016-17 should be the season the Rams claim the top spot in the A10 standings and advance to the program’s first NCAA Tournament in this millennium. EC Matthews, Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett comprise the best backcourt in the league, while Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson hold down the fort down low.
2. Dayton: The Flyers return Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith and Kendall Pollard among others. That said, there’s a lot of experience on this roster which is led by the league’s best coach in Archie Miller. Dayton boasted a top-15 defense last season, per kenpom.com, and retains one of the league’s biggest scoring threats in Cooke. Josh Cunningham, the Bradley transfer and former top-100 recruit, could have a big impact on the frontline, especially after Kostas Antetokounmpo was ruled ineligible.
3. VCU: Will Wade kept the program where his predecessor had left it in his first season back in Richmond. Gone is Melvin Johnson, the team’s leading scorer, but JeQuan Lewis, Jordan Burgess, Justin Tillman, Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed and Mo Alie-Cox return, while the program welcomes in heralded recruit De’Riante Jenkins. VCU went from Havoc to half-court defense, but it was still one of the top defenses in the league. That should be the case again this season, especially with one of the conference’s top backcourt.
4. Davidson: The Wildcats return the best player in the league in Jack Gibbs. They also have a formidable frontline. Peyton Aldridge, who averaged 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season, will be joined by transfer Will Magarity (Boston College). Davidson has always been an offensive-oriented program, but last season they dipped to sub-200 in the nation in defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com.
5. La Salle: Dr. John Giannini has reinforcements coming in after a last-place finish in 2015-16. Three high-major transfers — Pookie Powell, B.J. Johnson and Demetrius Henry — join Jordan Price and a crew of juniors who logged a ton of minutes last season. If everything goes to plan, this could be a scary team come conference play.
6. St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies shared the regular season title last year, but had no NCAA Tournament bid to show for it. A redemption tour of sorts begins with Jaylen Adams one of the top guards in the league. The backcourt will be bolstered by junior Idris Taqqee and transfer Matt Mobley (Central Connecticut State), which should help the Bonnies combat the loss of Marcus Posley.
7. George Washington: GW’s offseason has been documented above, but the Colonials have talent. Tyler Cavanaugh is arguably the best big in the conference, leading a frontline that includes Yuta Watanabe and Harvard transfer Patrick Steeves. However, GW has lost Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen and Joe McDonald, a trio that helped the program be balanced on both offense and defense over the last several seasons.
8. Richmond: The Spiders will look to bounce back from a 16-16 season behind the inside-out duo of big man T.J. Cline and guard ShawnDre’ Jones. Richmond’s defensive will need to return to form if the Chris Mooney’s team wants to contend.
9. George Mason: Otis Livingston II, one of several freshmen who had to play through mistakes last season, will lead the Patriots this year. After averaging 11.9 points and 3.9 assists per game, Livingston could be a breakout player in a backcourt that includes Marquise Moore and fellow sophomore Jaire Grayer.
10. Fordham: If you want to pick a deep sleeper in the A10, look at the Rams. Jeff Neubauer led the program to its first winning season in nine years. He returns A10 Rookie of the Year Joseph Chartouny and adds graduate transfer JaVontae Hawkins (Eastern Kentucky), who averaged 17.0 points per game last season.
11. Saint Joseph’s: The reigning A10 Player of the Year, DeAndre Bembry, went 21st overall in the NBA Draft. This is on top of Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown graduating. The Hawks will look to Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble as leaders.
12. Duquesne: The Dukes lost their top four scorers from a season ago. Tarin Smith and Rene Castro will need to step into big roles to fill the offensive production of Micah Mason and Derrick Colter.
13. UMass: Donte Clark will score points for the Minutemen, but UMass fans should look to the future as Derek Kellogg reeled in the top recruiting class, headlined by DeJon Jarreau and Chris Baldwin.
14. Saint Louis: The Billikens hired Travis Ford, who is recruiting at a high level. He’s already landed a top-60 recruit. Saint Louis has a promising future with Ford at the helm.

Mountain West Conference Preview: It’s San Diego State and everyone else … again

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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 Mountain West Conference.

The Mountain West has long been a haven for cast-offs. Coaches that ran afoul of the law or the NCAA could find a home and transfers that couldn’t cut it at bigger schools would get a chance to thrive. There was a stretch were the MWC was as strong as the Pac-12, getting as many as four bids to the NCAA tournament. In the last couple of years, however, the league has slid. It’s a step below the Power 5 conferences and has arguably fallen behind the Big East, the AAC and the Atlantic 10 in terms of conference strength.

It’ll bounce back at some point, but on paper, that doesn’t seem to be this year, the power atop the conference is condensed to one team.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. There is a ton of turnover in the league: Wyoming’s Josh Adams graduated. So did Fresno State’s Marvelle Harris. Boise State’s James Webb III is now in the NBA. SDSU’s front line graduated, as did Winston Shepard, while Colorado State lost their three best perimeter players. And all that comes before discussing UNLV, who saw Dave Rice get fired January, interim head coach Todd Simon leave for Southern Utah and Chris Beard take the job and leave for Texas Tech in the span of two weeks. That left Marvin Menzies to take over a program that had just two scholarship players.

2. San Diego State will be favored once again: To get an idea of where, exactly, the MWC was in the hierarchy of college hoops, think about this: San Diego State won the MWC regular season title by three full games. They went 28-10 overall on the season. And yet, the Aztecs found themselves in the NIT come Selection Sunday. The Aztecs should once again dominate the conference this season, as they bring back a loaded perimeter attack. Junior Trey Kell was sensational in MWC play, averaging 16.4 points and 4.4 boards while shooting 39.3 percent from three, and he’ll have plenty of help in the back court. Dakarai Allen is back. Jeremy Helmsley is back. Teki Gill-Cesear, a former top 50 recruit, is eligible. Throw in Matt Shrigley’s return from an ACL tear, and the competition for back court minutes will be fierce.

The ceiling for the Aztecs will be determined by their front court, where the graduation of Skylar Spencer and Angelo Chol will hurt what turned into one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Junior Malik Pope has all the talent in the world but has yet to find any kind of consistency. Sophomore Zylan Cheatham is another guy with potential that battled injuries last year. Throw in Indiana transfer Max Hoetzel and redshirt freshman Nolan Narain, and there are pieces there for SDSU to repeat in the MWC.

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - DECEMBER 5: Elijah Brown #4 of the New Mexico Lobos dribbles to the hoop as Dakota Mathias #31 and P.J. Thompson #3 of the Purdue Boilermakers defend at Mackey Arena on December 5, 2015 in West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue defeated New Mexico 70-58. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Elijah Brown of New Mexico (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

3. New Mexico lose Cullen Neal but will still be competitive: The only starter that the Lobos lost this offseason was Neal, the coach’s son, who left as a redshirt sophomore and graduate transfer due to the abuse he received from Lobo fans. But Elijah Brown, the league’s second-leading scorer, is back. So is Tim Williams, who was arguably the best offensive big man in the conference. Sam Logwood and Obij Aget both started every game last season and, presumably, will this year, too. There are some questions in the back court, but overall, this is the roster that is probably best-suited to push SDSU for the league crown.

4. Nevada is the program to keep an eye on: The year before Eric Musselman arrived, Nevada won nine games. In Musselman’s first year, they won 24 games and the CBI title. They lost Marqueze Coleman in the offseason, but that’s really it. They return D.J. Fenner and Lindsay Drew. They add a slew of talented freshmen and transfers to the mix. And, most importantly, they brought back Cam Oliver, a 6-foot-9 big man with legitimate NBA potential. As a freshman, Oliver averaged 13.4 points, 9.1 boards and 2.6 blocks. The Wolf Pack not only look like a top three team in the league this season, the program’s future is as strong as it has been since Mark Fox was still in town. Dave Rice and Yanni Hufnagel give Musselman elite west coast recruiters to bring in talent for the former NBA head coach to mold. If this staff can stay together for a few years, Nevada can do some big things.

5. The Mountain West looks like a one-bid league: The real measure of where the MWC was as a conference last season came on Selection Sunday, when a nationally-relevant program with a famous head coach and an even more famous alumni (Kawhi Leonard) was left out of the NCAA tournament despite winning the league’s regular season title by a full three games. Now, much of that was the result of the Aztecs losing a bunch of ugly games during non-conference play, but that would have been something they could overcome in the conference as a whole offered up potential big wins.

On paper, SDSU looks good enough to earn an at-large bid this season, so even if someone else wins the automatic bid, the Aztecs should be dancing. But they did last year as well, and we saw how that turned out.

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

PRESEASON MWC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Trey Kell, SDSU

I’m not sure that Trey Kell is the best player in the conference, but I would make the argument that he was the most valuable player on the best team – by far – in the conference last season, and I don’t think anything has changed. Throw in the fact that there isn’t the same kind of borderline NBA-caliber talent in the league this season, and Kell, coming off a year where he averaged 16.4 points in MWC play, is a pretty easy pick here.

THE REST OF THE MWC FIRST TEAM:

  • Cam Oliver, Nevada: If Kell is the most important player in the league, Oliver is the most talented player.
  • Elijah Brown, New Mexico: Along those same lines, Brown is the best player in the league. He should lead the conference in scoring.
  • Tim Williams, New Mexico: Williams is the most dangerous front court scorer in the MWC.
  • Jeremy Helmsley, SDSU: Helmsley had a promising freshman season and is primed to take a step forward as a sophomore.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Jalen Moore, Utah State
  • Dwayne Morgan, UNLV
  • Gian Clavell, Colorado State
  • Nick Duncan, Boise State
  • Marcus Marshall, Nevada
LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 11: Angelo Chol #3 of the San Diego State Aztecs drives to the hoop against Cameron Oliver #0 of the Nevada Wolf Pack during a semifinal game of the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 11, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
Cameron Oliver (Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

BREAKOUT STAR: Cam Oliver, Nevada

Trey Kell already had his breakout, in league play last season. I want to go with Helmsley here, but I’m not sure how much better his numbers can get this year with the way SDSU plays and the clogged back court. So I’ll go with Oliver, who I think has a chance to emerge on the radar of NBA teams this winter.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Craig Neal, New Mexico

I don’t think Neal is in danger of losing his job, but there are expectations at New Mexico. And considering that things got so bad last season that Craig had to ship his son off to the other side of the country, I think it’s safe to say that life in Albuquerque is never going to be easy for the Lobo coach.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The MWC has gotten one bid in back-to-back years.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Wyoming. Not the team or the state, but one day going to a game there. When I was running a site called Ballin’ is a Habit, I took a road trip with a guy named Troy Machir. We were in Lawrence, Kansas, after a Jayhawks game when we found out that SDSU had to spend 24 hours in an airport traveling to Laramie to play Wyoming. Laramie was an 11 hour drive and the game was in 24 hours. Troy was too soft to make the trip. Our friendship was never the same.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @theshowsdsu

PREDICTED FINISH

1. SDSU: They’re the best team in the league. No questions asked.
2. New Mexico: Elijah Brown and Tim Williams are the most dangerous 1-2 punch in the conference. Can they defend well enough to win the league?
3. Nevada: They are one of the most talented teams in the league, but it feels like the Wolf Pack are still a year away.
4. Utah State: Jalen Moore not only has one of the nation’s best heads of hair, but he may be the league’s most underrated star.
5. Colorado State: Larry Eustachy gets Gian Clavell, who averaged 20 points before getting injured, back for a sixth-year and returns Emmanuel Omogbo, who nearly averaged a double-double.
6. Boise State: The Broncos lose a lot from last season, but Leon Rice is a proven winner and I cannot pick against Nick Duncan, a three-point shooting offensive lineman.
7. Fresno State: Replacing Marvelle Harris is just not an easy thing to do.
8. Air Force: Dave Pilipovich returns a lot of pieces from last season, including Trevor Lyons, who injured his hand in a boxing class.
9. San Jose State: The Spartans have averaged six wins the last three years and seven wins the last five.
10. Wyoming: Fresno State lost Marvelle Harris from a team that reached the tournament. Wyoming lost Josh Adams from a team that won 14 games and changed head coaches.
11. UNLV: The Rebs will be back. It won’t be this season.

Big West Conference Preview: Who will replace Hawai’i atop the standings?

TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 22: Head coach Dan Monson of the Long Beach State 49ers gestures during the first half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on December 22, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. The Arizona Wildcats beat the Long Beach State 49ers 85-70. (Photo by Chris Coduto/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 West Conference.

Hawaii landed the Big West an NCAA Tournament win back in March when the Rainbow Warriors knocked off short-staffed Cal in the first round. Hawaii’s run ended two days later with a 73-60 loss to Maryland. The Rainbow Warriors are facing NCAA sanctions, which resulted in key pieces like Stefan Jankovic to declare for the NBA Draft, and potential returnees like Stefan Jovanovic – yup, that’s a different person – and Isaac Fleming transferring. Hawaii needs to replace the entire starting five, which likely means a new team will top the Big West standings in 2016-17.

Long Beach State was one win-shy from advancing to its first tournament since 2012. The 49ers should be in good position to end the short drought in 2016-17. Long Beach State has the best backcourt in the league. The 49ers return Justin Bibbins, the conference’s top point guard. They replace the production of conference first-teamer Nick Faust with the addition of transfer Evan Payne, who averaged 18.0 points per game at Loyola Marymount as a sophomore during the 2014-15 season. He rejoins ex-Lion Gabe Levin, who lacked the impact many expected following his transfer, but he is still someone who can be an all-conference forward. In a guard-heavy league, the 49ers have proven, veteran pieces, and the solid frontcourt presence, that makes them the favorites in the Big West.

Mamadou N’Diaye declared for the NBA Draft, but remember, UC Irvine once boasted the biggest starting lineup ever. The Anteaters’ roster includes the aguable best player in Luke Nelson. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 13.7 points, 3.9 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. Nelson headlines a perimeter that includes Jaron Martin and Brandon Smith, but the frontline is dominated by 7-foot-2 Iannis Dimakopoulos and Jonathan Galloway. UC Irvine has the best balance in the league, which makes the Anteaters the toughest competition for the 49ers.

UC Santa Barbara has been a familiar name atop the Big West standings. The Gauchos should content for the top spot behind Gabe Vincent, the 6-foot-3 swingman who averaged 14.1 points per game and shot better than 41 percent from three this past season. He’ll be joined in the backcourt by Eric Childress, a senior who has established himself as a three-point threat.

In a guard-happy league CSUN bolsters the top frontline. Outside of Kendall Smith, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 15.3 points per game, the Matadors add transfers Rakim Lubin and Dylan Johnson. The duo should help replace the team’s top rebounders. CSUN returns its top five scorers from a season ago, making the Matadors a trendy pick for sleeper in the Big West.

Cal-State Fullerton will have no shortage of perimeter options. Tre’ Coggins, the Air Force transfer, will be one of the top scorers in the league again this season. Khalid Ahmad also scored in double figures a season ago. But the Titans need to see solid performance from point guard Lionheart Leslie. Darius Graham and Arell Hennings lead a backcourt for UC Davis, but like the majority of the conference, the frontline serves as a question. J.T. Adenrele, who will anchor the frontcourt, will be the name to watch for the Aggies.

Without Jaylen Bland and Taylor Johns, defenses will focus on Secean Johnson for UC Riverside. The 6-foot-3 swingman, who averaged 12.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in 2015-16, could be a breakout player in the conference. However, the development of Alex Larsson and Menno Dijkstra could determine where the Highlanders are contenders or not.

Cal Poly has to replace four of its top five scorers, while Hawaii is depending on a host of newcomers to remain competitive during a season of NCAA sanctions.

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

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 20: Luke Nelson #10 of the UC Irvine Anteaters dribbles against the Louisville Cardinals during the second round of the 2015 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Key Arena on March 20, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

PRESEASON BIG WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Luke Nelson, UC Irvine

The lone returning member of the all-Big West all first team, Nelson averaged 13.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and  1.3 steals per game for the Anteaters during the 2015-16 season. The 6-foot-3 guard scored in double figures 28 times during his junior season.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON BIG WEST TEAM:

  • Justin Bibbins, Long Beach State: The diminutive point guard is the league’s top returning assist man.
  • Tre’ Coggins, Cal State Fullerton: The Air Force transfer is the conference’s leading scorer for the Titans at 15.6 points per game.
  • Secean Johnson, UC Riverside: Jaylen Brand and Taylor Johns are gone, which means Secean Johnson will be the focal point of the UC Riverside offense after averaging double figures as a sophomore.
  • Gabe Vincent, UC Santa Barbara: As a sophomore, the 6-foot-3 junior enters the 2016-17 season as one of the league’s top scorers. He posted 14.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game for the Gauchos this past season.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BigWestMBB

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Long Beach State
2. UC Irvine
3. UC Santa Barbara
4. CSUN
5. Cal State Fullerton
6. UC Davis
7. UC Riverside
8. Hawaii
9. Cal Poly

Big South Conference Preview: Winthrop’s favored in a season of change

BUIES CREEK, NC - MARCH 06: Head coach Pat Kelsey of the Winthrop Eagles directs his team against the North Carolina-Asheville Bulldogs during the championship game of the 2016 Big South Basketball Tournament at Pope Convocation Center on March 6, 2016 in Buies Creek, North Carolina. UNC Asheville defeated Winthrop 77-68. (Photo by Lance King/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 South Conference.

The Big South got hit as hard with departures as any conference in college basketball this offseason. It starts with Coastal Carolina, a perennial title contender and the former host of the league’s conference tournament, bolting for the Atlantic Sun. Then there were the transfers. Four potential first-team all-league players left for power conference teams: Presbyterian’s DeSean Murray (Auburn), Liberty’s Evan Maxwell (Kansas) and the freshmen duo of Dylan Smith (Arizona) and Dwayne Sutton (Louisville) from UNC Asheville all opted to leave.

Throw in the graduation of High Point’s two-time Big South Player of the Year, John Brown, and the league is going to look a lot different this season than it did last year.

The biggest change could be that Winthrop finally earns a trip to the NCAA tournament. The Eagles have lost in the Big South title game for three straight years, but they return enough talent that they should be considered the favorite to repeat as regular season champs. 5-foot-7 lead guard Keon Johnson, who averaged 20.7 points in league play, returns, as does 6-foot-8 Aussie Xavier Cooks. Replacing the scoring pop provided by Jimmy Gavin, who averaged 18.7 points and led the league in three-pointers made, will be tough, but Pat Kelsey’s club returns three starters in a league where returning talent is at a premium.

Once you get past Winthrop, however, the picture gets murky.

High Point not only lost Brown, they lost four starters in total. Scott Cherry has built himself a winner – Kansas, Gonzaga and Stephen F. Austin are the only other programs in the country that have won at least a share of four straight regular season titles – even if he was never able to get the Panthers to the NCAA tournament, but this has the makings of a rebuilding season.

It looks like UNC Asheville, the reigning Big South tournament champs, will have some rebuilding to do as well, which will frustrate head coach Nick McDevitt. Everything was set up for the Bulldogs to replace High Point as the league’s powerhouse – they made the NCAA tournament last season with two freshmen and two sophomores scoring in double figures – but both of those freshmen left for bigger programs. The good news is that both Kevin Vannatta and Ahmad Thomas returned for their junior season, and MaCio Teague headlines another promising recruiting class. But McDevitt has now lost four players to up-transfers in the last four years (Andrew Rowsey is now a junior at Marquette and Keith Hornsby just graduated from LSU) and his program is still winning titles. Imagine if they ever play at full strength?

The most interesting team in the league is probably Liberty. Former Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay returned from working on Tony Bennett’s staff at Virginia for his second stint, and took the Flames, who were picked last in the league in the preseason, to a 10-8 league mark and a fifth-place finish. They play a version of Bennett’s Pack-Line defense, and won 10 of their 13 games last season after Marquette transfer John Dawson became eligible. With four starters back, the Flames are an actual threat to win the league.

The best big man in the league resides in Boiling Springs, N.C. Tyrell Nelson was second-team All-Big South for Gardner-Webb as a junior, and the 6-foot-7, 235 pound low-post weapon should be in line for a big senior season. That’s because only one other starter returns – center L’Hassane Niangane – and he averaged 2.8 points. The Bulldogs have some young talent on the perimeter, but with their top four guards from last season graduating, Tim Craft is going to have to hope that his youngsters learn the ropes quickly.

Charleston Southern and Campbell are the other two teams to keep an eye on in the middle of the league.

Campbell brings back sophomore lead guard Chris Clemons, who could easily end up being the league’s leading scorer this season, while Charleston Southern will try and build around sophomore Armel Potter at the point. Radford lost six of their top eight from a team that went 9-9 in the league, while Presbyterian and Longwood, who finished tied for last in the conference race last season, lost Murray and four starters, respectively,

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

REALIGNMENT MOVES

Out: Coastal Carolina

PRESEASON BIG SOUTH PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Keon Johnson, Winthrop

He’s the best player on the best team, he’s the best returning player in the conference and he’s a guy that had a real argument to be named conference Player of the Year last season. With Gavin gone, expect him to build on the 20.2 points he averaged in league play last season.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SOUTH TEAM:

  • Xavier Cooks, Winthrop: I think there’s a good chance Winthrop wins the league by multiple games, and Cooks may actually be the second best player in the conference.
  • John Dawson, Liberty: He totally changed the Flames’ fortunes last season.
  • Chris Clemons, Campbell: The Camels may not be all that good, but Clemson is going to put up some insane numbers this season.
  • Tyrell Nelson, Gardner-Webb: The best big man in the conference.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BigSouthMBB

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Winthrop
2. Liberty
3. UNC Asheville
4. High Point
5. Gardner-Webb
6. Campbell
7. Charleston Southern
8. Radford
9. Presbyterian
10. Longwood

Big Sky Conference Preview: Weber State headlines, but league is strong up top

Weber State's Jeremy Senglin breaks through a pack of Northern Colorado players during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Ogden, Utah. Weber State defeated Northern Colorado 85-68. (Benjamin Zack/Standard-Examiner via AP)
Benjamin Zack/Standard-Examiner via AP
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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 Sky Conference.

Last season, the Big Sky once again came down to a battle between conference heavyweights Weber State and Montana, with the Wildcats, led by league Player of the Year and eventual second round draft pick Joel Bolomboy, winning the regular season and tournament titles.

Bolomboy is now gone, as is Montana’s star big man Martin Bruenig, which, in theory, would lead you to believe that the conference should be wide open this season.

And while it should be more competitive at the top, the Big Sky title will likely run through Ogden, Utah, again.

MORE: All-Americans | Impact Transfers | Expert Picks | Trending Programs

For my money, Randy Rahe’s Weber State team is once again the favorite to win the league. As good as Bolomboy was last season – 17.1 points, 12.2 boards, two-time defensive player of the year – it was Jeremy Senglin, another first-team all-Big Sky performer, that was the program’s leading scorer. Rahe’s teams tend to thrive when he has a superstar guard on the roster (ask Damian Lillard), and Senglin should be ready to fill that role. As far as replacing Bolomboy is concerned, that’s not going to be possible to do. He was that good. But 6-foot-9 sophomore Zach Braxton showed promise as a freshman, and 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman Jordan Dallas, a former three-star recruit, will be ready to go.

Throw in senior Kyndahl Hill and sophomore McKay Cannon, and the pieces are their for Rahe’s program to repeat.

Montana is going to have an even tougher time replacing the production of Bruenig on the interior, as Travis DeCuire doesn’t have as much size in the pipeline. What he does have, however, is a stable of guards that should be able to play a more uptempo, small-ball style. Walter Wright (13.2 ppg, 4.6 apg) is back for his senior season while Michael Oguine and Bobby Moorehead both return after promising freshman seasons. Throw in Oregon transfer Ahmad Rorie, a former top 100 prospect that spent last season as a practice player, and DeCuire has the most balanced perimeter attack in the league.

That won’t, however, guarantee Montana a spot in the top two, not with the amount of talent that returns for some of the other contenders in the conference.

Take North Dakota, for example. The Fighting Hawks improved from 4-14 to 10-8 in league play last season, and they did so with a rotation that included four freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors. Quinton Hooker (20.1 ppg, 3.5 apg) carried much of the load last season and did it in a hyper-efficient manner, and with sophomore Geno Crandall returning in the back court and Drick Bernstine back to anchor the front line, UND will be thoroughly in the mix.

As will Idaho, who returns their top six scorers from a team that won 20 games and went 12-6 in the Big Sky last season. Victor Sanders and Perrion Callendret are the two names to know, but the guy to keep an eye on is Brayon Blake. A third-team JuCo All-American, Blake averaged 21.2 points last season for North Idaho. For a team that finished well below the other contenders in offensive efficiency, that’s the kind of scoring boost that could make a difference.

The last two teams to really keep an eye on will be Idaho State and Montana State.

Idaho State is home to the league’s most exciting talent: Ethan Telfair, a Coney Island native and the younger brother of Sebastian Telfair. He averaged 20.2 points, 5.4 assists and 2.4 steals as a junior in his first season of Division I basketball, playing the starring role as the Bengals went from being predicted to finish last in the conference to the No. 4 seed in the Big Sky tournament. They lose a key role player in Ben Wilson, but the rest of the roster is back.

Montana head coach Travis DeCuire disagrees with a call in the first half of an NIT first-round college basketball game against Texas A&M Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Montana head coach Travis DeCuire (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Montana State loses Marcus Colbert, a second-team all-league player, but they return Tyler Hall, a sophomore guard that is the next superstar in the Big Sky. Hell, he may already be the best player in the conference. As a freshman, Hall, a 6-foot-4 off-guard, averaged 18.7 points while shooting 43.1 percent from three on more than 200 threes attempted. He’s going to score a lot of points in his career, but if the Bobcats are going to improve on their 9-9 mark in Big Sky play last season, they’ll need to find a point guard to replace Colbert and someone to man the paint.

Beyond that, there seems to be a fairly clear-cut delineation between the top and bottom halves of the league. Portland State finished below .500 in the conference last year and lost Cameron Forte. Eastern Washington, who may play the most exciting style of basketball on the west coast, lost Venky Jois to graduation a year after Tyler Harvey turned pro as a sophomore. They’re in rebuilding mode. Northern Colorado returned everyone from last season except their head coach, who was fired in the wake of an NCAA investigation. Sacramento State is not yet ready to contend, and Southern Utah and Northern Arizona are destined to once again compete to avoid finishing last in league play.

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

PRESEASON BIG SKY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jeremy Senglin, Weber State

There is a legitimate argument to be made for every single player we have listed as first-team all-Big Sky to be named the Preseason Player of the Year, but we’re going with Senglin for two reasons: He’s a proven star on a proven team that is the favorite to win the league and, with the loss of Bolomboy, has a real chance for increased production. You’d do worse than betting on Randy Rahe to find a way to get his stars to succeed.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SKY TEAM:

  • Quinton Hooker, North Dakota: Coming off a season where he averaged 20.1 points, Hooker is the star of a UND team that could push for a conference title.
  • Ethan Telfair, Idaho State: He was unreal individually last season, and it led to totally unexpected team success. What’s he have in story as an encore?
  • Tyler Hall, Montana State: It’s a law in the college hoops world that, when you average 18.7 points as a freshman, you’re a preseason first-teamer as a sophomore.
  • Walter Wright, Montana: Someone has to be the spark and replace Bruenig’s production for Montana this season.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @bigskybball

PREDICTED FINISH

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