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Big South Conference Preview: Nick McDevitt, UNC Asheville just keep winning

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big South Conference.

At some point, a big school is going to figure out that UNC Asheville head coach Nick McDevitt is better at his job than most coaches are at their’s. After reaching the NCAA tournament in 2015-16, McDevitt lost his two best freshman – Dylan Smith and Dwayne Sutton – to Arizona and Louisville, respectively. In 2016-17, despite losing those two, McDevitt’s Bulldogs won three more conference games and a share of the Big South regular season title.

Better yet, McDevitt returns almost his entire rotation from that team, which includes a pair of first-team all-conference performers in Ahmad Thomas and MaCio Teague. With veterans like Kevin Vannatta and Alec Wnuk back and Donovan Gilmore, a transfer from College of Charleston, eligible up front, there’s no reason to believe UNCA will do anything other than push for the league title once again.

After reaching the NCAA tournament a season ago, Winthrop very nearly lost head coach Pat Kelsey to UMass, but after agreeing to a deal and having a press conference scheduled to announce the hire, Kelsey backed out and returned to the Eagles. He’s going to have his work cut out for him repeating last year’s success, as Keon Johnson, who averaged 22 points, is gone, along with four of their top seven from last year. But Xavier Cooks is back, and Kelsey will have a veteran-laden roster around him.

If Winthrop takes a step back, look for Liberty to take a step forward in the conference standings. They finished 14-4 in the Big South and return a number of key pieces, including Ryan Kemrite, a fifth-year senior a,d Lovell Cabbil. Ritchie McKay will also have a couple of younger players looking for bigger roles, namely Myo Baxter-Ball, but their ceiling will be determine by the health of Caleb Homesley. He was averaging 12.9 points, 6.3 boards and 2.9 assists when he tore his ACL, the second such injury he’s suffered, in December.

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Another contender to keep an eye on will be Campbell, who got Chris Clemons back for his junior season. The 5-foot-9 Clemons was the third-leading scorer in the country a year ago, but it is his supporting cast that makes the Camels promising. A year ago, they were young, with the majority of their rotation being freshmen and sophomores. Now, guys like Marcus Burk and Cory Gensler are sophomores, while there is still a nice blend of veterans on the roster; Shane Whitfield, Mogga Lado, Andrew Eudy.

Radford will also be an interesting team to track. They return everyone of consequence from a team that went 8-10 in the league last season. Charleston Southern is going to be interesting with Christian Keeling, who averaged 17 points and seven boards as a freshman, returning with Cortez Mitchell, but losing Armel Potter to transfer was a blow. Gardner-Webb would have had a shot had they not lost LaQuincy Rideau to a transfer during the offseason. Ande Fox and Jamal Wright are both good young pieces for High Point, but it won’t be easy replacing three of their top four scorers.

Presbyterian is going to be hoping that a change in leadership will change the fortunes of the program, former Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns has taken the reins. Longwood won three games last season and lost their two best players this offseason.

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

PRESEASON BIG SOUTH PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chris Clemons, Campbell

This one was easy. Clemons, a dynamic 5-foot-9 scoring guard, was the nation’s third-leading scorer a year ago, checking in at 25.1 points per game. The Camels finished last season just 7-11 in Big South play, but they did make a run to the final of the Big South tournament and they do return essentially their entire rotation.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SOUTH TEAM

  • Xavier Cooks, Winthrop: Cooks proved to be one of the most versatile bigs in the league last season, averaging 16.5 points, 9.1 boards, 2.8 assists and 1.7 blocks for the Eagles as they reached the NCAA tournament.
  • MaCio Teague, UNC Asheville: No one is better at finding under-the-radar talent than Nick McDevitt, and he worked his magic again, as Teague averaged 15.4 points as a freshman with the Bulldogs.
  • Ahmad Thomas, UNC Asheville: Thomas was not only the leading scorer for last year’s regular season co-champions, but he also, at 6-foot-3, might have been the best perimeter defender in the conference.
  • Christian Keeling, Charleston Southern: As a 6-foot-4 freshman, Keeling averaged 17.4 points and 7.1 boards for the Buccaneers.

PREDICTED FINISH

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

Mountain West Conference Preview: Can the league get back to being a multi-bid conference?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Mountain West Conference.

Five or six years ago, the Mountain West was one of the most entertaining conferences in college basketball.

Maybe it was Kawhi Leonard leading the upstart San Diego State Aztecs to a top five ranking while competing for a league title with BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, who became must-see TV despite never actually playing on TV. Or maybe it was the Steve Alford-led New Mexico teams loaded with Pac-12 talent like Drew Gordon, or Kendall Williams, or Darington Hobson, or Tony Snell. Dave Rice had UNLV rolling, Leon Rice was just starting to build Boise State into something that could match the football program and Larry Eustachy took over from Tim Miles at Colorado State and kept the Rams squarely in the NCAA tournament picture. Fresno State had Paul George. Wyoming had Larry Nance.

The MWC had years where they rated as a top four basketball conference in the sport. There were years that they sent five teams to the NCAA tournament. In 2011, both BYU and SDSU were top three seeds.

And now?

It looks like the league will once again be a one-bid league come March.

So what happened?

Some of it is cyclical. Colorado State and Boise State aren’t always going to be NCAA tournament teams, and Fresno State and Wyoming aren’t always going to find late-bloomers with first round potential that often. Some of it was also luck. San Diego State just so happened to land the best coach they’ve ever had, who happened to land a future top five player in the NBA, at the same time that Alford was mining the Pac-12 for their castoffs and Jimmer, a once-in-a-decade player, was doing Jimmer things at BYU.

And maybe it was just as simple as all ships rising with the tide. Mastery of the RPI combined with an influx of coaching talent, a run of promising recruits outperforming expectations and an impressive amount of home court advantage keeping anyone at the top from running away with league titles meant their were balanced races where the teams in fourth and fifth place were landing themselves wins that looked great on a tournament resume.

The league today is not what it was then, not with three of the most successful programs in the conference over the last decade in the midst of regime changes.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t get back to that level one day.

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FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Nevada has it rolling: Things are still rolling for the Wolfpack under Eric Musselman has his ability to attract talented recruits has not slowed down yet. In addition to Jordan Caroline, who may just be the best player in the MWC this season, and Lindsay Drew, the son of NBA head coach Larry Drew, four former high-major transfers will be eligible this fall after redshirting last season in Reno: Kendall Stephens (Purdue), Hallice Cooke (Iowa State) and Cody and Caleb Martin (N.C. State). That doesn’t include Darien Williams, a grad transfer from St. John’s.

Nevada lost a ton of talent from last season – Marcus Marshall, Cameron Oliver, D.J. Fenner – but with the influx of players that Musselman has coming in combined with a returning star in Caroline and a veteran point guard in Drew, this team will enter the season as the heavy favorite to win the league and a team with the potential to make some noise in the NCAA tournament.

2. San Diego State replacing the man that built the program: When Steve Fisher took over the San Diego State basketball program in 1999, the Aztecs had been to just one NCAA tournament in the modern era (the first one) and three since becoming a Division I program in 1970. Fisher built SDSU into a Mountain West powerhouse with a rabid fanbase that could compete with some of the biggest names out west for recruits. He retired, and longtime assistant Brian Dutcher took over.

Dutcher was not left with the cupboard bare. The Aztecs probably have one of the best back courts in the league, as Trey Kell, Jeremy Helmsly and Montaque Gill-Cesear will be joined by San Francisco transfer Devin Watson, who could end up starting at the point. The enigmatic Malik Pope is back as well, while Max Montana – formerly Max Hoetzel – and Kameron Rooks, a grad transfer from Cal, join him up front.

The question isn’t the talent. It’s Dutcher. Can he right the ship for a program that has missed the last two NCAA tournaments after reaching the dance six years in a row?

Jordan Caroline (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

3. Can Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison make up for the loss of key pieces?: Hutchison is a very, very good basketball player, one that looks like he will lead the league in scoring this season. But he is also going to be the focal point for a team that just lost three of their four best players, including starting point guard Paris Austin. If the Broncos want to get back to the NCAA tournament, they are going to need Justinian Jacob and Zach Haney to have big years.

4. Can the basketball program survive New Mexico going through a regime change: The carnage runs deep at New Mexico, where scandal after scandal is getting exposed and it’s unclear what decision-makers are actually going to be left by the time the dust settles. Craig Neal already lost his job. In his stead is Paul Weir, who will have to try and find a way to earn back the fanbase’s trust. It might take a while, as a Lobo team with no depth lost their two best players last season. That’s why they had to go out and hire the coach from archrival New Mexico State.

The good news? There is talent transferring in; JaQuan Lyle, Vance Jackson, Antino Jackson. The bad news? That talent will have to sit a year.

5. Marvin Menzies might have something at UNLV: Menzies managed to win four MWC games last season after having to essentially rebuild the entire roster when he took over, and while he lost a number of key pieces from that team, he did get Jovan Mooring, the team’s leading scorer, back. More importantly, he landed a commitment from Brandon McCoy, a top 15 prospect and a potential one-and-done talent at the center spot. Whether or not there are pieces around McCoy to make a run is arguable. But there is McCoy, and he is good.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule
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PRESEASON MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chandler Hutchison, Boise State

Boise State got somewhat lucky this offseason, as Hutchison, a 6-foot-7 forward with three-point range that averaged 17.4 points and 7.8 boards, opted not to enter the NBA Draft. He probably was not destined to be a first round pick, but there are plenty of NBA scouts that do believe he has a shot at having a good professional career. Leon Rice’s club lost three of their top four scorers from last year’s team, meaning there are going to be more opportunities for Hutchison this season. If Boise is as good as I expect them to be, it will likely be because Hutchison turns in a phenomenal season.

THE REST OF THE ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM

  • Jordan Caroline, Nevada: It’s a toss-up for Player of the Year in the MWC between Hutchison and Caroline. I lean Hutchison personally, mainly because I think that he will put up much bigger numbers for a team that competes for top three in the league, but there’s a valid argument to saying that Caroline is the best basketball player in the conference. Picking him as POY is not the wrong choice.
  • Koby McEwen, Utah State: McEwen had a monster freshman season for the Aggies, and with Jalen Moore and Shane Rector gone, he’ll have that much more on his plate this season.
  • Justin James, Wyoming: James came off the bench for the Pokes last season despite being their best player. This year, Wyoming has a real shot to finish second in the league, and James is a major reason for that.
  • Brandon McCoy, UNLV: The 7-foot McCoy is the most talented player in the conference. The talent may not be there around him, but there aren’t any other potential lottery picks in the conference.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Trey Kell, San Diego State
  • Jaron Hopkins, Fresno State
  • Caleb Martin, Nevada
  • Hayden Dalton, Wyoming
  • Jeremy Helmsly, San Diego State

BREAKOUT STAR: Koby McEwen, Utah State

Down the stretch of the season, McEwen was arguably the best player on the Aggies. Defenses knew how to slow down Jalen Moore after four years in the league. McEwen was a new talent, one that will shine even brighter next season now that Moore and Shane Rector have graduated.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Brian Dutcher, San Diego State

Dutcher, by no means, is in danger of losing his job. He literally just got the job. But he is taking over for the greatest coach in the history of the program, a coach in Steve Fisher that built a perennial tournament team where a perennial cellar-dweller had resided. Being the guy to replace The Guy is never going to be easy, particularly when taking over a talented team that has underperformed expectations of late.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

The Mountain West is a one-bid league once again.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

Seeing if Wyoming can make the push to win a league title. Anyone that’s been to Laramie knows that it is not exactly the easiest place to recruit a player to, not if they visit during the winter.

FOUR NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • 11/13, Rhode Island vs. Nevada
  • 12/1, Boise State at Oregon
  • 12/2, Arizona at UNLV
  • 12/21, Gonzaga at San Diego State

POWER RANKINGS

1. Nevada: The Wolfpack are the reigning champions of the MWC and will once again be the most talented team in the league. That’s a good combination of things.
2. Wyoming: I’m going out on a limb with this one, but with the Pokes returning all but two of their rotation players, including Justin James and the underrated Hayden Dalton, Wyoming is going to sneak up on some people.
3. Boise State: Leon Rice is going to have to replace a lot of scoring and minutes this year, but the good news is that he will be able to do that while relying on Chandler Hutchison to carry the team.
4. San Diego State: The issue for the Aztecs isn’t going to be talent. As we discussed above, they have the pieces. The question is whether or not those pieces come together. The key may be Devin Watson, the San Francisco transfer. SDSU had three “point guards” that wanted to score last season. Can Watson embrace the role of distributor, or is he going to want to be a scorer as well?
5. Fresno State: Rodney Terry returned arguably his two best players with Jaron Hopkins and DeShon Taylor and has a handful of talented redshirts and transfers around them. If New Williams and Nate Grimes can live up to the hype they had in high school, the Bulldogs are a sleeper to push for the league title.
6. Utah State: This may be too high for a USU team that is losing two of their best players, but the Aggies have a pair of really promising sophomore guards in Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill  that played some of their best basketball late last season.
7. Colorado State: Larry Eustachy’s teams at CSU have been up and down: He’ll contend for the league one year, finish around .500 the next. They contended for the league last season, lost their two best players and now look destined for the middle of the pack as they reload.
8. UNLV: It’s hard to know what to expect from this group. Brandon McCoy should be awesome, but do they have the supporting cast to push for the top half of the league standings? Is there anyone on the team that can actually feed McCoy the ball where he can be effective?
9. New Mexico: The Lobos needed some new blood running the program, and I fully expect Paul Weir to get things turned around. That said, there is more talent redshirting this season than there will be playing.
10. Air Force: The Falcons have 23 players on their roster. They’re also Air Force. They’ll probably win a few games they shouldn’t – and beat UNLV, since they always do – but that’s about it.
11. San Jose State: Their coach left this summer after their best player transferred to Gonzaga, and now there is a lawsuit alleging the former coach verbally abused players on the team.

Big Sky Conference Preview: Will North Dakota repeat as league champs?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big Sky Conference.

The Big Sky has, in recent history, been dominated by Montana and Weber State, two of the best mid-major programs out west, but in two of the last three seasons, the conference has seen someone else win the conference.

In 2015, it was Eastern Washington that won the regular season and tournament title.

Last year, it was North Dakota that pulled off a dual-league title, but it will be tough for the Fighting Hawks to pull off a repeat of that feat. Not only did they lose Quinton Hooker to graduation, but Corey Baldwin and Drick Bernstine, who is a graduate transfer at Washington State, are gone as well. Geno Crandall should be in a position to embrace the role of superstar on this roster, and the likes of returnees Cortez Seales and Connor Avants along with transfer Marlon Scott (Creighton), Dale Jones (Iowa) and Jafar Kinsey (Robert Morris via JuCo) give Brian Jones a talent infusion.

In a league with no clear-cut favorite, UND will certainly be in the mix.

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The most entertaining team in the league may end up being Montana State simply due to the presence of Tyler Hall. A 6-foot-4 scoring guard, Hall averaged 23.1 points last season while shooting better than 43 percent from three. The Bobcats return seven of their top eight scorers from a season ago – notably Harald Frey, last year’s newcomer of the year – while adding Keljin Blevins, a 6-foot-6 forward who started for Southern Miss in 2015-16. Hall is good enough to carry MSU to a win on any given night, and he’s only now becoming an upper-classmen.

Both Montana and Weber State will contend for the league title as well. The Wildcats are going to have to find someone to replace Jeremy Senglin, who was significantly underrated from a national perspective, but they may have the guy with Jerrick Harding, a 6-foot-1 lefty lead guard that averaged 9.3 points in just over 17 minutes as a freshman. Zach Braxton is back to anchor the front line, along with Utah transfer Brekkot Chapman, while freshman Doc Nelson should provide some firepower off the bench in a role similar to what Harding played last year.

Montana will be led by Oregon transfer Ahmad Rorie, who had some blow-up games as a sophomore. In a league with a number of good-to-great guards, Rorie may actually be the best point guard of the bunch. Four of the Grizzlies’ five leading scorers returning, including Michael Oguine, while Washington transfer Donaven Dorsey and Cal-St. Fullerton transfer Jamar Akoh will be eligible.

Idaho will be a team to keep an eye on. They’re not one of the traditional powers in the league, but once Victor Sanders opted to return to school after flirting with the professional ranks, Idaho will return everyone of significance from a team that went 12-6 in league play, including their Big Sky Player of the Year favorite.

After that, there seems to be a bit of a drop off in the league. Eastern Washington will return some talent, namely Latvian forward Bogdan Bliznyuk, but replacing the production of Jacob Wiley would be too much for any mid-major program. Sacramento State does get Marcus Graves and Justin Strings back, but they lacked depth before losing Nick Hornsby and Eric Stuteville. Jordan Davis had a monster season for Northern Colorado a year ago, and getting Anthony Johnson, their leading scorer in 2015-16, back healthy will be key. Portland State, Northern Arizona, Southern Utah and Idaho State all finished near the bottom of the league last season and lost their leading scorers.

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

PRESEASON BIG SKY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Hall, Montana State

Tyler Hall has a chance to be the mid-major darling of college hoops this season. A rising junior, Hall has already scored 1,317 points in his two seasons with the Bobcats, including posting better than 23 points a night as a sophomore. A 6-foot-4 guard that shot 43 percent from three on more than eight attempts per game, Hall had eight games last season where he went for more than 30 points, including a 42-point outburst against Milwaukee. I’m not saying he’s Damian Lillard, but like the former Weber State star, Hall has a chance to go from the Big Sky to the first round of the NBA Draft before it’s all said and done.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SKY FIRST TEAM

  • Ahmad Rorie, Montana: The former Oregon point guard had a promising first season with the Grizzlies, and he should only get better as the Grizzlies add a pair of talented transfers to a roster anchored by the redshirt junior.
  • Victor Sanders, Idaho: Sanders is the second-leading returning scorer in a league that featured six players that averaged better than 20 points last season. The 6-foot-5 senior will anchor an Idaho team that returns essentially everyone from a team that finished tied for third.
  • Bogdan Bliznyuk, Eastern Washington: Bliznyuk actually led EWU in scoring as a junior, bettering the best player in the conference last season, Jacob Wiley. A skill, 6-foot-6 wing, Bliznyuk is also a talented playmaker.
  • Geno Crandall, North Dakota: Crandall played second fiddle to Quinton Hooker the last two seasons, but with Hooker gone, Crandall should step into a starring role for a UND team with real Big Sky title aspirations.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @bigskybball

PREDICTED FINISH

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

America East Conference Preview: Is this Vermont’s league to lose again?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the America East.

Once again America East won’t lack for quality at the top, but the question for the other eight teams as the start of the 2017-18 season approaches is a simple one: which team is best equipped to challenge (or dethrone) defending champion Vermont?

The 2016-17 season was a special one for the Catamounts, as John Becker’s team won 29 games and ran the table in America East. After going 16-0 during the regular season and winning the conference tournament as well, UVM returns four of its top five scorers including forwards Anthony Lamb (12.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Payton Henson (11.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg), and reigning America East Player of the Year Trae Bell-Haynes (11.2 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.7 rpg). But while the Catamounts have the tools needed to remain atop the conference, there won’t be a lack for challengers either.

A good place to start would be Albany, where head coach Will Brown welcomes back the best guard tandem in the league in juniors David Nichols (17.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 apg) and Joe Cremo (15.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.8 apg). Yet while Nichols and Cremo, both players who should factor into the conference Player of the Year race, are the leaders keep an eye on forwards Devonte Campbell, Travis Charles and Greig Stire as well. If they can take another step forward, the Great Danes are more than capable of winning America East.

UMBC should also be in the mix as four of Ryan Odom’s top five scorers from a season ago are back led by senior guard Jairus Lyles. Lyles, who began his college career at VCU, was second in America East in both scoring (18.9 ppg) and steals (1.7). Fellow guard K.J. Maura led the conference in steals (1.8), and forward Joe Sherburne and guard Jourdan Grant return as well. The Retrievers will have to account for the graduation of Will Darley, who averaged 16.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season, but he pieces are there to contend.

New Hampshire returns one of the conference’s top front court players in senior Tanner Leissner, a first team all-conference selection who averaged 17.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Leissner and fellow senior Iba Camara will led the way in the front court, but the Wildcats will need some perimeter options to step forward for Bill Herrion if they’re to work their way into the title chase.

The same can be said for Stony Brook, with both Lucas Woodhouse and Roland Nyama having moved on. Head coach Jeff Boals welcomes back senior forward Tyrell Sturdivant and sophomore guard/forward Akwasi Yeboah, which will help matters in the second season of Boals’ tenure. A team to watch with regards to jumping into the top half of the conference standings: UMass-Lowell, as Pat Duquette returns four of his top five scorers from last season led by guard Jahad Thomas (18.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.6 apg).

Of the three teams that finished at the bottom of the America East standings last season, Binghamton may be best equipped to make a jump. Tommy Dempsey welcomes back his top five scorers from a season ago, led by junior guard J.C. Show and senior forward Willie Rodriguez.

Hartford, which finished last season with nine wins (four in conference), will look to move forward without leading scorer Jalen Ross, who led America East in scoring with an average of 19.9 points per game. Junior guards Jason Dunne and J.R. Lynch will be key in that regard, as will senior forward Jack Hobbs. Maine is in a similar spot, with the Black Bears losing leading scorer Wesley Myers but returning forward Andrew Fleming and guards Aaron Calixte and Ilker Er.

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

PRESEASON AMERICA EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: F Anthony Lamb, Vermont

Lamb was the best freshman in America East last season, and he led the Catamounts in both scoring and rebounding. With a year of experience under his belt, it’s fair to expect even more from the sophomore forward.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA EAST TEAM:

  • G David Nichols, Albany: Nichols averaged nearly 18 points per game last season, and if the shooting percentages improve he could be even better.
  • G Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont: A very good case can be made for Albany’s Joe Cremo here. But we’re going with the reigning conference Player of the Year.
  • G Jairus Lyles, UMBC: Second in the conference in scoring last season, Lyles could catapult the Retrievers into title contention.
  • F Tanner Leissner, New Hampshire: A mainstay in the UNH lineup for three seasons, Leissner was a first team all-conference selection as a junior.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @RyanARestivo

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Vermont
2. Albany
3. UMBC
4. New Hampshire
5. UMass-Lowell
6. Stony Brook
7. Binghamton
8. Maine
9. Hartford

Atlantic Sun Conference Preview: Can FGCU reach their third straight NCAA tournament?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Atlantic Sun conference.

The ASUN features a potentially dangerous Cinderella that America is already familiar with and a few more teams that could be tough for any opponent during the 2017-18 season.

League regular-season favorite Florida Gulf Coast returns three really good perimeter scorers in Brandon Goodwin, Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell from an NCAA tournament team that only lost by six points to No. 3 seed Florida State. While the backcourt headlines Dunk City, the Eagles are also talented in the frontcourt with Michigan transfer Ricky Doyle expected to help on the interior along with returners like Antravious Simmons.

With back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, and experienced players talented enough to take over a game, don’t be surprised to see another Florida Gulf Coast upset this March if they stay healthy.

Also not to be taken lightly is Lipscomb.  Coming off of a 20-win season and featuring a prolific offense with five returning starters the Bison feature junior guard Garrison Mathews as he averaged over 20 points per game and is a serious Player of the Year threat in the A-Sun. Senior guard Nathan Moran and junior forward Rob Marberry are also returning double-figure scorers for Lipscomb as last year’s team averaged 85 points per game.

Prolific scoring guard Dallas Moore is gone from North Florida but the Ospreys return three starters as the program has gone to back-to-back conference tourney title games. Sophomore guard Garrett Sams and sophomore forward Wajid Aminu will be expected to score more after solid freshmen seasons.

Stetson returns three starters, including productive senior guard Divine Myles, but the Hatters need more help from its bench. USC Upstate is coming off of a 17-win season as senior guard Mike Cunningham and junior forward Malik Moore are both all-league candidates. Kennesaw State has two starters back and a promising young core as senior guard Nick Masterson is one of the league’s better players.

Replacing seven seniors and four starters will be tough for Jacksonville, as they’re coming off a .500 season and CollegeInsider.com tournament appearance. NJIT didn’t look good without senior guard Damon Lynn down the stretch but sophomore forward Anthony Tarke looks promising.

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

PRESEASON ASUN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Brandon Goodwin, Florida Gulf Coast

The league’s Newcomer of the Year and Conference Tournament MVP, the 6-foot-2 Goodwin returns for his senior season after a strong initial campaign for Florida Gulf Coast. Surrounded by a plethora of big men and two other talented perimeter options in Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell, Goodwin has a chance to put up numbers that are even better than last season when he averaged 18.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ASUN TEAM:

  • Garrison Mathews, Lipscomb: A unanimous first-team all-league selection last season, the 6-foot-5 junior put up 20.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
  • Mike Cunningham, USC Upstate: A solid sophomore campaign saw the 6-foot-1 Cunningham put up 13.4 points, 3.1 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting 38 percent from three-point range.
  • Divine Myles, Stetson: The senior guard puts up numbers across the board as he averaged 16.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game as a junior.
  • Christian Terrell, Florida Gulf Coast: More efficient of Dunk City’s two other double-figure scoring guards, the 6-foot-5 senior has shot 35 percent from three-point range the past two seasons.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ASunSports

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. Florida Gulf Coast
  2. Lipscomb
  3. North Florida
  4. Stetson
  5. USC Upstate
  6. Kennesaw State
  7. Jacksonville
  8. NJIT

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