Wes Miller

Conference Preview: Youth vs. Experience in the SoCon

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Throughout the month of October (and part of November), CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

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These are the times that try institutions of higher learning’s souls. As the power conferences jockey for supremacy in football, realignment has opened up power vacuums in basketball conferences across the land. The CAA is losing three contenders to other leagues, so they’re looking to survive the torpedoing by calling in reinforcements from the USS SoCon. Davidson has said “no.” College of Charleston has said “let’s talk about it.” Some even think Elon and/or Appy State may jump ship, tie a square knot, or do some other important nautical thing demanded by this tortured metaphor.

In the meantime, all three programs are currently hanging around the upper echelons of the Southern Conference. Davidson, now several years removed from the Steph Curry ascendancy, looks to prove that team basketball and wily coaching can take them just as far as star power. Forward De’Mon Brooks is the linchpin, and he proved his worth last season in upset non-conference wins over Richmond and Kansas. Ace ballhandler Nik Cochran will keep the offense moving, and 6’10” senior Jake Cohen will do the dirty work in and around the half circle on both ends of the floor. Those three key pieces should keep the Wildcats in the hunt for the regular season crown throughout the season.

Charleston, led by British Olympian Andrew Lawrence, is expected to come in second to Davidson in the SoCon’s South division. The true threat to snatch the auto-bid is more likely to come from UNC-Greensboro, a team whose head coach – former Chapel Hill hardcourt standout Wes Miller – is just a few years older than his fourth-year players. Miller somehow won 13 games after a 2-14 start as an interim placeholder last season, and his ability to keep leading scorer Trevis Simpson in the fold and build a decent nucleus around him has the Spartans on track to win the North division. Elon and Western Carolina are nipping at Greensboro’s heels.

Will the Big Dance invite go to the grizzled veteran, Bob McKillop, or will tyro Wes Miller gain the upper hand? Will a wild-card emerge and deny them both? That’s what makes the SoCon season so much fun.

All Conference Team (*denotes Player of the Year)

G Trevis Simpson (Greensboro)

G Andrew Lawrence (Charleston)

F De’Mon Brooks (Davidson)*

F Trent Wiedeman (Charleston)

C Jake Cohen (Davidson)

Predicted Standings

1. Davidson

2. Greensboro

3. Charleston

4. Elon

5. Western Carolina

6. Appalachian State

7. Georgia Southern

8. Wofford

9. Furman

10. Chattanooga

11. Samford

12. The Citadel

(photo: Wes Miller/AP; Bob McKillop/Getty)

Conference Preview: Lehigh and Bucknell top the Patriot League

Patriot Lehigh Bucknell Basketball
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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

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National fame in the Patriot League has almost always accrued to the name on the front of the jersey. Basketball fans are more likely to remember that Bucknell upset Kansas and Arkansas in back-to-back NCAA tournaments than anything an individual player achieved.

That dynamic has changed a bit, following Lehigh’s monster upending of the Duke Blue Devils last season. The Mountain Hawks’ brown paper bag uniform has taken on an additional luster, because it is being worn by legitimate preseason All-American C.J. McCollum. McCollum’s incandescent personal attributes are folded into a tight-knit team coached by rising star Brett Reed. The Mountain Hawks are favored to win the league, despite the additional pressure on McCollum, because senior big men Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner are chomping at the bit to make aggressive defenders pay.

That’s not to suggest that Lehigh will run away with the league. The plucky Bucknell Bison are back atop the league hierarchy this season, and were the regular-season champs a year ago. The formidable one-two punch of 6’11” banger Mike Muscala and rangy gunner Cameron Ayers gave the Bison an 11-point NIT win at Arizona last season, and should be plenty to strike fear in any opponent Bucknell faces in the upcoming campaign.

The talent surplus at the top hasn’t quite filtered down to the rest of the league, though Army will have a puncher’s chance every night, thanks to the all-around game of 6’7” senior Ella Ellis. Ellis scored in double figures in every game last season, but the Black Knights can’t give him much help.

Gaining the league’s auto-bid will be tougher next year — thanks to one of the wackier realignment developments — when the Boston Terriers (America East)  and Loyola Greyhounds (MAAC) finally bring dog mascots to a league that had previously avoided one of the most dominant cliches in college sports.

All-League Team (*Player of the Year)

G *C.J. McCollum, Lehigh

G Cameron Ayers, Bucknell

F Ella Ellis, Army

F Gabe Knutson, Lehigh

C Mike Muscala, Bucknell

Predicted Standings

1. Lehigh

2. Bucknell

3. American

4. Holy Cross

5. Army

6. Lafayette

7. Colgate

8. Navy

Conference Preview: OVC adds Belmont, seeks multiple tournament bids

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

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The 2012-2013 season could be the Ohio Valley Conference’s finest hour. With the mid-major landscape in a state of flux, this could be the season that the OVC legitimizes itself as a basketball conference. The conference features a first team All-American, two 2012 NCAA tournament appearances, a future-Hall of Fame coach, and anywhere from two to six future-NBA players. A lot of things have to go right, but there’s a definite possibility the OVC sends at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament.

With the addition of Belmont, the OVC has split up into and East and West divisions. The Bruins enter the season as the prohibitive favorites to win the East division. Head coach Rick Byrd has compiled a 545-284 record in his 26 years at Belmont, and brings his squad into the OVC for the first time looking to do what they do almost every year, which is make the NCAA tournament. The Bruins joined the OVC because a) it made more geographical sense and b) the competition is better, plus they might actually tout the best back-court in the OVC, made up of Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark. Tennessee State returns four starters from the 2011-2012 that handed Murray State  it’s first and only loss of the regular season and will compete with Belmont for the top spot.  They are led by sharpshooting wing Robert Covington, arguably the conference’s best scorer not named Isaiah Canaan. Tennessee Tech has to replace Kevin Murphy, who was drafted by the Utah Jazz, but second year head coach Steve Payne returns forward Jud Dillard, a first team All-Conference selection last season. The Owls have talent and experience, two items essential in making a late season run.  Morehead State doesn’t have Kenny Faried anymore, but they have first year head coach Sean Woods, who did great things at Mississippi Valley State. The Eagles won’t be a title contender, but they will be a very difficult-out.

Murray State is the conference’s “golden goose”,  and the favorite to come out of the West division, led by first team All-American guard Isaiah Canaan. The senior guard torched the competition en route to the nation’s longest undefeated streak (23-0) and an conference record for wins (31-2). The question is, can he do it again? The Racers graduated three  significant pieces and lost another (Zay Jackson) to a season-ending suspension. If Ed Daniel and Latreze Mushatt can elevate their games, Isaiah Canaan is a special type of player. The west division is Murray State’s for the taking, but Southeast Missouri  has improved tremendously under third year head coach Dickey Nutt, and put up a very tough fight on both occasions against Murray State last season.  The Redhawks return All-OVC players in junior forward Tyler Stone and senior guard Marland Smith.

While Murray State and Belmont are the only two teams with real, legitimate at-large potential, there are at least three teams that have the talent needed to win the OVC Tournament. There’s a real possibility that the OVC has three representatives come March Madness time.

Take the time now to mark down your schedules for March 6-9 in Nashville, because the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament may end up being the most exciting three days of the college hoops season.

Don’t be shocked to see three OVC representatives in the Big dance.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Isaiah Canaan (Murray State)*
F Robert Covington (Tennessee State)
G Jud Dillard (Tennessee Tech)
G Kerron Johnson (Belmont)
F Tyler Stone (Southeast Missouri)

Predicted Standings
East
1. Belmont
2. Tennessee State
3. Tennessee Tech
4. Morehead State
5. Eastern Kentucky
6. Jacksonville State

West
1. Murray State
2. Southeast Missouri
3. Austin Peay
4. SIU-Edwardsville
5. Eastern Illinois
6. UT-Martin

Conference preview: Northeast Conference still LIU’s world

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.
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Long Island might’ve been the luckiest team in college basketball this offseason. Four players were involved in an on-campus brawl that ended with all players being charged with third-degree assault. They included the team’s top three scorers — last year’s conference Northeast Conference Player of the Year Julian Boyd, Jamal Olsawere and C.J. Garner. Fortunately, the charges only resulted in a two-game, conference play suspension for all of them. With that, they should be primed to repeat as conference champions.

Behind them, Wagner lost coach Dan Hurley, but new head man Bashir Mason gets four starters back, including leading scorer Latif Rivers (14.6 points per game) and forward Jonathon Williams (13.4 points, five rebounds per game). Robert Morris might’ve been one the most neglected 20-win teams in 2011-12 en route to a 26-11 record, including a 13-5 mark in NEC play. The Colonials get four of their starters back, including first-team all-conference guard Velton Jones. Quinnipiac could be in for its best season in school history after 18 wins last season and Ike Azotam returning. Expect Sacred Heart to make an impact with four starters coming back, including first-team All-NEC pick Shance Gibson and his 22 ppg last season, fourth in the country. Glenn Braica and the St. Francis (N.Y.) Terriers will get back guard Shane Calloway after a season-ending injury in 2011-12 and Monmouth is hoping to bounce back from a 20-loss season behind Jesse Steele (12.6 ppg) and five returning scorers.

Kyle Vinales is pretty much the only ray of light for a Central Connecticut State team that lost a lot of offensive firepower with the graduation of Ken Horton and Robby Ptacek. But Vinales led all freshman in the nation in scoring last season. Mt. St. Mary’s is hoping for new life under new head coach Jamion Christian while St. Francis (Pa.) is looking for more than the six wins they had last season under new coach Robbie Krimmel. Bryant lost 28 games last season, so there’s nowhere to go but up, really, behind forward Alex Francis (17 ppg, 7 rpg in 2011-12) and Frankie Dobbs’ 13.3 ppg. Fairleigh Dickinson is coming off the worst record in school history — 3-26 — and gets back only Lonnie Hays, from injury.

All-Conference Team

G: Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart

G: Velton Jones, Robert Morris

G: Kyle Vinales, Central Connecticut State

F: Jamal Olaswere, LIU

F: Julian Boyd, LIU*

*-Player of the Year

Predicted Finish

1.) LIU

2.) Wagner

3.) Quinnipiac

4.) Robert Morris

5.) St. Francis (N.Y.)

6.) Sacred Heart

7.) Monmouth

8.) Central Connecticut State

9.) St. Francis (Pa.)

10.) Mt. St. Mary’s

11.) Bryant

12.) Farleigh Dickinson

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Conference Preview: MEAC prepares for life after Norfolk State

Tahj Tate
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Kyle O’Quinn and the Norfolk State Spartans took the country by storm last season, ruining brackets everywhere with their stunning upset of No.2-seed Missouri in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With O’Quinn now in the NBA, programs in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference are back to where they usually are: A college basketball afterthought serving as non-conference filler for programs looking to pad their records.

Delaware State and Savannah State are the two teams most likely to contend for the MEAC championship in 2012-2013. Delaware State returns two of the conference’s top players, sophomore guard Tahj Tate and sophomore center Kendall Gray. Tate was the team’s leading scorer last season despite missing five games, averaging 16.1ppg. He is unquestionably the most dynamic player in the conference, and can single handedly take over the game. Gray is one of the nation’s premier shot-blocker, but was limited to just 17 games last season because of a knee injury. No other team in the MEAC boasts a inside-outside combination like Delaware State, and these two players will ultimately be the reason why the Hornets finish atop the standings.

But the Savannah State should not be left out of the discussion. The Tigers had the MEAC’s best record a season ago and return their top two scorers, senior forward Rashad Hassan (13.1ppg) and senior guard Deric Rudolph (10.7ppg). After the top two teams, the conference starts to get dicey. Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central could sneak in to one of the top two spots, and Howard has the talent to cause an upset or two. But inconsistent play and a lack of talent depth will restrict the success of many of the conference’s programs.

The most interesting component of Delaware State and Savannah State sitting atop the league is that the two programs won’t face each other in conference-play. So we may not see the two best teams in the MEAC play each other until the conference tournament. But it’s not a given. Both teams stumbled in the conference tournament a year ago despite playing the best basketball in the conference up to that point. So while we have a good idea of who should win it all in 2012-2013, in the MEAC, nothing is certain.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)

G Pendarvis Williams (Norfolk State)
G Tahj Tate (Delaware State)*
G Deric Rudolph (Savannah State)
G Adrien Coleman (Bethune-Cookman)
F Rashad Hasasan (Savannah State)

Predicted Standings
1. Delaware State
2. Savannah State
3. Bethune-Cookman
4. North Carolina Central
5. North Carolina A&T
6. Howard
7. Norfolk State
8. Morgan State
9. Florida A&M
10. Hampton
11. Coppin State
12. South Carolina State
13. Maryland-Eastern Shore

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

Conference Preview: The MAC is Ohio’s for the taking

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The Mid-American Conference went unnoticed for much of the 2011-2012 season but made up for it with Ohio’s magical Sweet-16 run. While head coach John Groce left for Illinois, sensational scoring guard D.J. Cooper returns for his final season, and will lead the Bobcats under new head coach Jim Christian, who served as head coach at Kent State from 2002-2008. The Bobcats return nine players from last year’s team including Walter Offutt and Nick Kellogg, and will be the heavy favorites to repeat as MAC champs in 2012-2013.

While Ohio may be the odds-on favorite to finish atop the MAC standings, they are not the only talented team in the conference. Akron actually finished with a better record last season, and return on of the few MAC players with real NBA potential, senior center Zeke Marshall. This season, the Zips will be shorthanded however. Quincy Diggs, the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year last season, was suspended in October for the entire season for violation the school’s code of student ethics.

Kent State is a difficult team to read in the East division this season. Much of their production is gone from a year ago, including Justin Greene, the team’s leading scorer. High-flying Chris Evans and senior guard Randal Holt lead a Golden Flashes team looking to find an identity.

In the West division things are just as interesting. Toledo is the most talented team in the division, but due to a low Academic Progress Rating (APR) score, the program won’t be eligible for post-season play. It is a real shame too, because this is arguably the most talented team Toledo has fielded since 1980, the last time the Rockets made the NCAA Tournament.

The Eastern Michigan Eagles should be the team that benefits the most from Toledo’s postseason ban. Former-Syracuse assistant Rob Murphy is in his second year as head coach of the Eagles and didn’t arrive to the MAC empty-handed, bringing along DaShonte Riley, a talented big-man who redshirted a year at Syracuse. Having sat out a season at Eastern Michigan, the 7-foot center will be able to impose his will on the rest of the conference this season. No team outside of Akron has a big-man as talented as Riley, and the Eagles should reap the rewards. But Riley isn’t the only transfer that Murphy reeled in. Wyoming’s Daylen Harrison and Arkansas’ Glenn Bryant will also be able to step in right away and provide an instant impact.

The rest of the west is suffering from key transfer losses. Western Michigan saw Matt Stainsbrook, their best big-man, transfer to Xavier, and Central Michigan two of their best players in Trey Zeigler (Pittsburgh) and Austin McBroom (Saint Louis).

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G D.J. Cooper (Ohio)
F A’uston Calhoun (Bowling Green)
C Zeke Marshall (Akron)
F Javon McCrea (Buffalo)
G Walter Offutt (Ohio)

Predicted Standings – MAC East
1. Ohio
2. Akron
3. Kent State
4. Bowling Green
5. Buffalo
6. Miami (OH)

Predicted Standings – MAC West
1. Toledo
2. Eastern Michigan
3. Western Michigan
4. Ball State
5. Northern Illinois
6. Central Michigan

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir