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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

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

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

Today, we are previewing the Southland Conference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON SOUTHLAND TEAM:

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

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @SouthlandSports

PREDICTED FINISH

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

Southern Conference Preview: Chattanooga and East Tennessee State face off

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

Today, we are previewing the Southern Conference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SOCON TEAM:

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

PREDICTED FINISH

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