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Big 12 Conference Preview: It’s Kansas and everybody 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 Big 12 conference.

The Big 12 is in a bit of a year of transition, but one things remains the same as it ever has: Kansas is the class of the conference. The Jayhawks have won at least a piece of 12 straight league titles and are the heavy favorite to claim a 13th this season. In many years, there’s a clear contender to the crown, but this season there’s not a lot of separation between programs after Kansas. Texas, West Virginia and Iowa State all have arguments as the league’s preseason No. 2 while Baylor and Oklahoma are tricky to predict as well.

At the end of the day, though, they’re all looking up at Kansas.

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | ACC Pod | Big Ten | Big Ten Pod

Kansas' Frank Mason III (0), Landen Lucas (33), Devonte' Graham (4), Wayne Selden Jr. (1) and Perry Ellis (34) gather during the second half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. Kansas won 73-61. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Kansas’ Frank Mason III (0), Landen Lucas (33), Devonte’ Graham (4) (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. A league in flux: The Big 12 is going to have a different look to it this year. Not a single player from the all-Big 12 first team returns this season and just four from the three all-conference teams are back. The days of Buddy Hield, Georges Niang and Perry Ellis as the faces of the league are over. There’s still some familiar names like Frank Mason III, Monte’ Morris, Johnathan Motley and Wesley Iwundu, but the Big 12 is otherwise rolling over to a new generation.

2. Freshman infusion: The league, despite its losses, isn’t without some top-line talent, specifically in its freshman class. The Class of 2016’s consensus top player, Josh Jackson, committed to the Jayhawks and is already garnering Andrew Wiggins comparisons. He could be in the discussion as the top pick in June’s NBA draft. He’ll be teammates with a fellow McDonald’s All-American in Udoka Azubuike while Texas has a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans as well in Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones. Oklahoma’s Kameron McGusty is also a top-50 recruit, not to mention a serious all-name team candidate.

3. Who’s No. 2?: With Kansas in the fold, there’s not much discussion about who the league’s best team is. When it comes to the runner-up, there’s not much consensus. West Virginia was the conference coaches’ choice, but only 12 points separated them from fifth-place Baylor in the preseason poll. The Mountaineers lost Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams, but it’s hard to bet against Bob Huggins. Iowa State has preseason All-American Monte’ Morris along with senior starters Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas to boast one of the country’s best backcourts, but there are questions up front. Texas has tons of talent, but it’s young and they lost Isaiah Taylor somewhat unexpectedly to the pros. Johnathan Motley is one of the conference’s best pro prospects, but does Baylor have enough around him?

4. Kruger’s kids: The league’s makeover may not have hit any program harder than it did Oklahoma with the loss not only of National Player of the Year and everybody’s favorite always-smarting sharpshooter, Buddy Hield, but the Sooners also are without program stalwarts Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins. Can Jordan Woodard step into the void? What about sophomore Christian James, who looked to breakout as a serious threat in March? Forward Khadeem Lattin will also be asked to take on a much bigger workload. Lon Kruger is one of the sport’s most underrated coaches, which makes the Sooners’ new group super intriguing.

5. TCU rising: The Horned Frogs have eight Big 12 wins in four years since joining the conference in 2012-13. They’ve finished anything but last in the league just once in that time. Yet, there’s now belief the program could quickly jet up the standings. First, TCU invested more than $70 million to update its basketball facilities, then it acted aggressively in dismissing coach Trent Johnson and nabbing Jamie Dixon, an alum of the school who had major success at Pitt but found himself on the outs with a fanbase feeling stagnant. TCU is already recruiting at a higher level and should be playing at one soon enough as well.

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

TCU guard Michael Williams (2) defends as Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) leaps to the basket for a shot in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. Morris had 18 points and six assists and No. 19 Iowa State followed a win over top-ranked Oklahoma with a 73-60 victory over TCU on Saturday. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Iowa State guard Monte Morris (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

PRESEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Monte’ Morris, Iowa State

He’s not the league best pro prospect, but Morris is the top returning scorer and assist man in the conference and he’ll be taking on a huge role in a post-Georges Niang world in Ames. A preseason All-American, Morris shown flashes of the capability to score in bunches, something ISU will be asking him to do full-time this season. He’s got a legitimate shot at leading the Big 12 in scoring and assists.

THE REST OF THE BIG 12 FIRST TEAM:

  • Frank Mason III, Kansas: Josh Jackson may be Kansas’ most talented player, but Mason will be its leader.
  • Josh Jackson, Kansas: The freshman phenom should instantly be one of the league’s top players.
  • Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The 6-foot-10 junior’s task this season is to turn pro potential into college production.
  • Jarrett Allen, Texas: With few dominant big men in the league, Allen has a chance to make a major impact immediately.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Devonte Graham, Kansas
  • Phil Forte, Oklahoma State
  • Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
  • Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma
  • Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State

BREAKOUT STAR: Baylor’s Manu Lecomte shot 45.6 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore at Miami before transferring to Waco, where he’ll likely on the Brady Heslip Plan that should give him tons of opportunities to fire away.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: More than a few Kansas State fans wanted the Wildcats to dump Bruce Weber at season’s end for a run at alum Brad Underwood, who ended up in the conference at Oklahoma State. Weber and Kansas State have steadily trended downward since sharing a conference title in his first season four years ago. This may be the last year he has to reverse the slide.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : For the first time in some time, the Big 12 wasn’t the country’s best conference. They certainly won’t get seven bids like last season and it’s conceivable they only get four or five.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: As lame as it is, the race for second, as it seems unlikely anyone will challenge the Jayhawks but there could be a ton of competition behind them.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • November 15, Kansas vs. Duke
  • December 3, West Virginia vs. Virginia
  • November 11, Kansas vs. Indiana
  • December 1, Iowa State vs. Cincinnati
  • November 15, Baylor vs. Oregon

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @Big12Refs

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Josh Jackson (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Kansas: The question isn’t if Kansas can win the Big 12, it’s whether or not they can capture another national title.
2. Iowa State: Georges Niang is gone along with two other starters, but Monte Morris headlines an elite backcourt that should keep the Cyclones near the top of the league.
3. Texas: The somewhat surprising departure of Isaiah Taylor hurts, but Shaka Smart still has oodles of talent to work with.
4. West Virginia: This is a bet on Bob Huggins making it work with a roster without much wow-factor, but certainly some intriguing players.
5. Baylor: Johnathan Motley has to be big, but Ish Wainright and Al Freeman, along with Manu Lecomte, will have to be major contributors, too.
6. Oklahoma: It wouldn’t shock to see Lon Kruger maneuver this team further up the standings, but the roster doesn’t suggest a top-half of the league finish.
7. Texas Tech: Tubby Smith got this group to overachieve last year, and first-year coach Chris Beard will be hard-pressed to repeat that feat.
8. Oklahoma State: The cupboard isn’t fully stocked for first-year coach Brad Underwood, but with Jawun Evans and Phil Forte in the fold, they’ll pull off some upsets this season.
9. TCU: Jamie Dixon looks to be building something in Fort Worth, but he’s starting at the foundation and has a way to go before the Horned Frogs are ready to compete for an NCAA tournament spot.
10. Kansas State: If the Wildcats are going to finish closer to the middle of the conference – and keep Bruce Weber employed in Manhattan – some relatively average Big 12 players are going to have to show major improvement.

Missouri Valley Conference Preview: Wichita State stays the favorite even amid new era

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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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 Missouri Valley Conference.

It’s the end of an era in the Valley with the graduation of Wichita State’s Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, but it doesn’t look like the end of the Shockers’ reign atop the league. Coach Gregg Marshall is the constant and Wichita State figures once again to be ahead of the league once March rolls around, especially with sophomore Markis McDuffie around to run the conference ragged.

Wichita State also returns Connor Frankamp, the former top 50 recruit and Kansas player, who should be ready to step into a larger role in the back court, while Landry Shamet should be healthy after missing last season. Bet against Marshall at your own risk.

The Shockers won’t be without competition, however. Northern Iowa and Illinois State both look like serious contenders to the crown. The Panthers, whose epic collapse in the second round cost them a Sweet 16 trip, may be without last year’s senior trio of Paul Jesperson, Matt Bohannon and Wes Washpun, but wing Jeremy Morgan might be the best player in the conference and Klint Carlson figures to take a step forward to make UNI a problem for the rest of the league.

The Redbirds’ duo of Paris Lee and MiKyle McIntosh is one of the strongest in the Valley, and in total, they return three double-figure scorers and four starters from a team that finished tied for second in the league last season.

Missouri State returns four starters in a league that will be short on experience, making the Bears an interesting team compared to the rest of the conference. Coach Paul Lusk has two double-digit scorers back in Dequon Miller (12.7 ppg) and Chris Hendrix (12.1 ppg) for one of the better one-two punches in the Valley.

It’ll be interesting to see how Evansville moves on from D.J. Valentine and Egidijus Mockevicius era as those two were major cogs in the Purple Aces’ attack the last two seasons, when they won 25 and 24 games. Jaylon Brown is back after averaging 10.8 points and 2.8 assists per game last season. Southern Illinois will also be competitive. They won 20 games and finished 11-7 in the MVC a season ago and return three starters.

Indiana State (Brenton Scott) and Loyola-Chicago (Milton Doyle) both have potential first-team all-MVC performers that look stuck on bottom-half teams.

As a whole, the MVC will be in a year of transition, but it’ll be competitive at the top and one of the more interesting mid-major league races to monitor throughout the winter as the conference tries to dethrone the Shockers after a dominating three-year run.

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

PRESEASON MVC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa

The Panther senior averaged 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 40.7 percent from 3-point range. The 6-foot-5 wing will take over a huge role for UNI with the graduations of Paul Jesperson, Matt Bohannon and Wes Washpun.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON MVC TEAM:

  • Markis McDuffie, Wichita State:The post-Baker and VanVleet era is in good hands in last year’s conference freshman of the year.
  • Brenton Scott, Indiana State: The junior is the only returning player among last season’s first- and second-team all-conference selections after averaging 14.9 ppg.
  • Paris Lee, Illinois State: Lee is a capable offensive player, but his real talent is on the defensive end of the floor.
  • Reed Timmer, Drake: The Bulldogs’ hope of moving up the conference standings will rest on Timmer’s shoulders.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ValleyHoops

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Wichita State
2. Northern Iowa
3. Illinois State
4. Missouri State
5. Indiana State
6. Southern Illinois
7. Loyola
8. Evansville
9. Drake
10. Bradley

Big Ten Conference Preview: Michigan State and Wisconsin fight for the top spot

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/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 Ten conference.

The Big Ten will look much different this season but it will still have many of the same teams near the top of the standings. Wisconsin returns pretty much their whole Sweet 16 team while Michigan State will try to counter with a lot of talented freshmen. Purdue and Indiana will also be firmly in the Big Ten picture and Maryland gets Melo Trimble back.

It should be an interesting year of turnover in the league that could leave it wide open.

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

Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The league lost a ton of talent and experience: A lot of familiar players left the Big Ten from last year including Denzel Valentine, Caris LeVert, A.J. Hammons, Yogi Ferrell, four starters at Maryland and Jarrod Uthoff. So the conference will have a lot of new faces leading the charge this year and it could be a rare season in the Big Ten in which it’s the underclassmen that shine the brightest.

2. Wisconsin returns an entire team that went to the Sweet 16: The Badgers shook off a rough start and then-interim coach Greg Gard rallied a tough and experienced roster to the Sweet 16. The entire roster is back as seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are joined by redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ and a slew of quality role players. Now with Gard as a stable coach and a confident, experienced roster, the Badgers are hoping for a Big Ten title and tourney run.

3. Michigan State will rely on potential one-and-done freshmen: Many of Tom Izzo’s best teams at Michigan State have relied on experienced upperclassmen leading the way. That likely won’t be the case in 2016-17. Although the Spartans are still a major contender for the Big Ten title, they’ll rely a lot on five-star freshmen like Miles Bridges and Josh Langford. Four-star point guard Cassius Winston and four-star forward Nick Ward could be key pieces as well.

4. Melo Trimble has a new lineup to work with at Maryland: Junior point guard Melo Trimble will be dealing with an entirely new lineup again this season as Maryland will have four new starters with the amount of talent that departed last spring. Senior center Damonte Dodd is a former starter, so he should fit right in, but the Terps need more from juniors Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens. A talented freshmen class could be a key difference.

5. Indiana’s roster will have a lot of changes, namely no Yogi: Things are going to look a little different in Bloomington next season now that senior point guard Yogi Ferrell has exhausted his eligibility. Troy Williams is also gone, along with valuable reserves Max Bielfeldt and Nick Zeisloft. It leaves Indiana with a number of question marks. At point guard, Pitt transfer Josh Newkirk will get minutes, but he wasn’t a spotlight player for the Panthers and is coming off of a knee surgery. James Blackmon Jr. also has to improve defensively and dealt with his own knee issues last season.

PRESEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Thomas Bryant, Indiana

The sophomore big man could have easily been a first-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, but he’s back to work on his shooting, defense and consistency. Leading the Big Ten in field goal percentage at 68 percent last season, Bryant is a load to handle on the interior. He can also knock down threes and he plays as hard as anyone in the country, but Bryant needs to be more impactful on the defensive end. If he figures out how to help defend high ball screens, Indiana could ride him a long way.

THE REST OF THE BIG TEN FIRST TEAM:

  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble’s play dipped as a sophomore, but he’s still a potential All-American who isn’t afraid to take and make the big shot.
  • Peter Jok, Iowa: The senior guard should take a ton of shots and put up crazy numbers this season after averaging 16.1 points and 3.5 rebounds as a junior.
  • Malcolm Hill, Illinois: Hill put up numbers all over the board as a junior as he averaged 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He’s one of the most under-appreciated players nationally.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes have a higher profile, but Happ is a potential double-double machine and very good defender. Wisconsin always had good bigs.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State
  • Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
  • James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
  • Vince Edwards, Purdue
  • Derrick Walton, Michigan

BREAKOUT STAR: Indiana wing O.G. Anunoby has a chance to be a major contributor this season and he might be one of the best pro prospects in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-8 sophomore will see a lot of minutes in replacing Troy Williams as he can defend multiple spots on the floor.  If Anunoby shoots it anywhere near 44 percent from three-point range like he did as a freshman, he could be a major contributor on both ends.

Indiana's OG Anunoby (3) dunks in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Michigan in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Michigan won 72-69. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Indiana’s OG Anunoby (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Things haven’t gone very well for Richard Pitino at Minnesota since a promising first season. Transfers, off-the-court issues and a 2-16 record last season has the Golden Gophers fanbase getting restless. If things don’t turn around this season, Pitino could be searching for a new job.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The Big Ten wasn’t deep with NCAA tournament teams and doesn’t have the firepower to produce a serious title contender.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Seeing how good Wisconsin can be with a full Sweet 16 roster returning and their coach in place for the entire season.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 14, Purdue vs. Villanova
  • Nov. 15, Michigan State vs. Kentucky
  • Nov. 29, Wisconsin vs. Syracuse
  • Nov. 29, Michigan State at Duke
  • Nov. 30, North Carolina vs. Indiana

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @B1GMBBall

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Michigan State: This isn’t the typical senior-laden Tom Izzo team but he has perhaps the most talented freshman class he’s ever had. Eron Harris returns and could be a big scorer while five-star freshmen like Miles Bridges and Josh Langford take over.
2. Wisconsin: The Badgers return everyone from a Sweet 16 as they’re loaded with toughness and experience. Considering Nigel Hayes was very inefficient last season, Wisconsin could have room to grow as they add some redshirts like guard Brevin Pritzl and stretch forward Andy Van Vliet.
3. Purdue: Losing A.J. Hammons in the middle is going to be hard to replace, but the Boilers still have a loaded frontcourt that returns Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan, Vince Edwards and Basil Smotherman. Point guard play and perimeter shooting will once again be a huge key. Is Spike Albrecht healthy enough to provide anything in either category?
4. Indiana: Replacing Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams and some key rotation players will be tough, but the Hoosiers bring back Thomas Bryant and O.G. Anunoby and have a lot of firepower on the perimeter with James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. The key will be point guard play.
5. Michigan: Battling injuries the past few seasons, Michigan is relying on seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin to lead again. The development of junior forward Duncan Robinson and the team’s role players is key to another NCAA tournament run.
6. Maryland: Things will look very different from last season but point guard Melo Trimble does have talent around him. Big men Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky are experienced and Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley should help. The talented freshmen class could be the difference.
7. Ohio State: Transfers dominated the headlines for the Buckeyes in the offseason headlines by lots of talent is back. Marc Loving, Jae’Sean Tate, JaQuan Lyle and Keita Bates-Diop are all capable of breakout seasons.
8. Illinois: Illinois is hoping to stay healthy and make a run that could save head coach John Groce’s job. Point guard Tracy Abrams gives leadership while Malcolm Hill gets help from guard Jalen Coleman-Lands and center Mike Thorne Jr.
9. Northwestern: The Wildcats continue trying to build towards the NCAA tournament as point guard Bryant McIntosh has some talent around him. Sophomore Vic Law returns from injury along with forwards Aaron Falzon and Derek Pardon.
10. Penn State: Exciting times could be ahead for the Nittany Lions as they return the talented backcourt of juniors Shep Garner and Payton Banks and get a great recruiting class. Watch out for UConn transfer guard Terrence Samuel.
11. Iowa: The Hawkeyes will mostly be rebuilding and ride senior Peter Jok as far as they can. Nobody else returning to the team averaged more than six points per game as Iowa needs to find new impact players.
12. Minnesota: Transfers and freshmen are the key to a Golden Gophers team that needs to show progress. Center Reggie Lynch, forward Davonte Fitzgerald and guard Akeem Springs will all help, as will in-state wing Amir Coffey.
13. Nebraska: Losing Andrew White hurt as the Huskers need to find a new go-to scorer. Tim Miles could be on the hot seat with another bad season as senior guard Tai Webster needs help.
14. Rutgers: New coach Steve Pikiell has some talented guards in sophomore Corey Sanders and junior Mike Williams. If junior forward Deshawn Freeman returns well from injury, this team might be way better.

Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes (10) drives on Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Madison, Wis. Hayes had a team-high 21 points in Wisconsin's 79-68 win. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes drives on Ohio State’s Jae’Sean Tate (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

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

(Photo by Andy Lyons/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 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?

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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.