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.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

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.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published,click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

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

kerron johnson
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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.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

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