2014-2015 Northeast Conference Preview: Is it time for Robert Morris to dance again?

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole has guided his program to back-to-back 20-win seasons, although his Colonials have no NCAA tournament appearances to show for it. For two straight seasons, Robert Morris has been relegated to the NIT following an upset in its conference tournament at the hands of Mount St. Mary’s.

Despite having one of the best young coaches in the nation and arguably the conference’s top player again this season, the Colonials have had trouble navigating through the NEC field, and this season the conference could resemble a minefield.

The Colonials lose the back court of Karvel Anderson and Anthony Myers-Pate, but six returning players, led by all-NEC second teamer Lucky Jones, logged 15 or more during the 2013-2014 season. Toole also brings in a six-man recruiting class (two JuCo transfers), which should help add size up front and depth on the perimeter.

While Robert Morris looks to get back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2010, St. Francis (NY) is looking to qualify for the tournament for the first time in school history. The Terriers bring back six key contributors from a season ago, including all-NEC first team selection Jalen Cannon, who averaged 14.9 points and 8.2 rebounds as a junior. Bryant may be without Alex Francis and his 2,000-plus career points, but Dyami Starks gives Tim O’Shea a go-to scoring option for a team coming off a third-place finish.

One of the conference’s others top scorers, Kyle Vinales, was sidelined with a finger injury for Central Connecticut State last season. The 6-foot-1 Vinales is one of four returners for the Blue Devils, a team looking to jump from the middle of the pack to conference contenders. St. Francis (PA) also returns the bulk of its lineup, led by second-team selection Earl Brown.

Mount St. Mary’s, which reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008, has to account for the loss of three 1,000 point scorers. Wagner will be without the conference’s three-time defensive player of the year, Kenneth Ortiz and second-leading scorer, Latif Rivers. But both the Mountaineers and Seahawks have quality pieces that could continue to make this low-major conference and interesting one to track as the season shifts into March.

PRESEASON NEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Lucky Jones, Robert Morris

As a junior, playing alongside NEC Player of the Year Karvel Anderson, Jones averaged 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, earning all-NEC second team honors. The 6-foot-6 wing will carry a heavy load for Robert Morris this season: on offense, on defense and on the glass. He’s been a stable part of the program’s success from its two regular season conference titles to his 15-point performance in the Colonials’ NIT upset win over Kentucky in 2013.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON NEC TEAM:

  • Kyle Vinales, Central Connecticut State: Scoring averaged dipped to 17.3 points per game this past season. Missed nine games with broken finger.
  • Dyami Starks, Bryant: The top returning scorer in the conference at 18.9 points per game in his junior season.
  • Jalen Cannon, St. Francis (NY): Only returning first-team all-conference selection from 2013-2014.
  • Earl Brown, St. Francis (PA): Nine double-doubles last season. Averaged 14.4 points and 8.0 boards per game

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @pioneer_pride

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Robert Morris
2. St. Francis (NY)
3. Bryant
4. Central Connecticut State
5. Mount St. Mary’s
6. St. Francis (PA)
7. Wagner
8. Sacred Heart
9. Fairleigh Dickinson
10. LIU-Brooklyn

2013-2014 Pac-12 Conference Preview: League’s on the way back after rough three-year stretch

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

After placing six teams in the 2009 NCAA tournament the Pac-12 hit a rough patch. A really rough patch, receiving a total of eight bids to the Big Dance from 2010-12. Prior to the start of the 2012-13 campaign many expected more futility, but while the league still wasn’t at the level fans expect the fact of the matter is that the Pac-12 displayed signs of improvement. Look for more of the same in 2013-14, with there being eight programs who enter the season with realistic hopes of contending for the league crown. After going through a rough stretch on the court, look for the Pac-12 to reassert itself as a power conference in 2013-14.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. New additions will make Arizona a much better perimeter defensive team: Losing Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill shouldn’t be overlooked but the arrival of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and transfer T.J. McConnell now being eligible will make Sean Miller’s team a better defensive squad. After ranking among the nation’s best in defending the three for two consecutive seasons the Wildcats struggled in that department last season. Adding McConnell, an Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team selection at Duquesne, will help in this regard.

2. Colorado and Washington both have rebounding issues to address: Both the Buffaloes and Huskies need to account for the loss of their leading rebounders from a season ago, with CU’s Andre Roberson in the NBA and Washington’s Aziz N’Diaye out of eligibility. Who steps up? For Colorado, redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon and sophomores Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott will be key. As for the Huskies, who led the conference in rebounding margin, San Francisco transfer Perris Blackwell, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Desmond Simmons are some of the options.

3. Larry Drew II was more valuable to UCLA than many wanted to admit: The butt of many people’s jokes due to the way in which he left North Carolina, Drew ended up leading the Pac-12 in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio last season. With him gone, who will run the show for Steve Alford? Two of the three possibilities are freshmen (Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine), but the best option may be 6-8 sophomore Kyle Anderson. The right answer to this question will make the Bruins a threat to repeat as Pac-12 regular season champions.

4. Andy Enfield takes over at USC: After leading FGCU to the Sweet 16 Enfield took over at USC, and he’ll have his work cut out for him given the Trojans’ personnel losses from a season ago. Two transfers (guard Pe’Shon Howard and center D.J. Haley) will be asked to contribute immediately, and the same can be said for freshmen Julian Jacobs and Roschon Prince. But teams better get their shots in early, because with the strides the Trojans have made on the recruiting trail they likely won’t be down for long.

5. Oregon looks to continue its recent run of success with transfers: Dana Altman’s Ducks will once again be a factor in the Pac-12 thanks in large part to the return of guards Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Johnathan Loyd. Add in transfers Joseph Young (Houston) and Jason Calliste (Detroit), and Oregon is loaded on the perimeter. But if they’re to truly contend for a Pac-12 title a big season will be needed from Mike Moser, who’s immediately eligible after transferring in from UNLV. Injuries played a major role in Moser’s struggles at UNLV last season, and a less cluttered interior rotation should give him the room needed to return to the form he displayed in 2011-12 (14.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg).

PRESEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jahii Carson (Arizona State)

Arizona State insisted that they’d play at a higher tempo last season due in large part to the addition of Carson, and the point guard certainly didn’t disappoint as he led the nation’s freshmen in scoring (18.5 ppg) while also dishing out 5.1 assists per game. Now that the Sun Devils want to play even faster, Carson should be even more dangerous in his sophomore campaign. The question: can he lead Arizona State to its first NCAA tournament appearance than 2009?

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THE REST OF THE PAC-12 FIRST TEAM:

  • G Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado): Dinwiddie’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, and his size (6-foot-6) makes the Los Angeles native a tough matchup at the point.
  • G C.J. Wilcox (Washington): Wilcox averaged 16.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for the Huskies last season. With Abdul Gaddy and Scott Suggs gone, he may have to score even more as a senior.
  • F Aaron Gordon (Arizona): Incredibly athletic, the McDonald’s All-American will likely be a factor at both forward spots for the Wildcats. How much time he spends at the three will likely depend on how well he defends the position.
  • F Dwight Powell (Stanford): After averaging 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game Powell earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors and the league’s Most Improved Player award. He’s a serious threat to win Pac-12 Player of the Year this season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • G T.J. McConnell (Arizona)
  • F Xavier Johnson (Colorado)
  • G/F Damyean Dotson (Oregon)
  • G Justin Cobbs (California)
  • C Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State)

BREAKOUT STAR: F Xavier Johnson (Colorado)

As the 2012-13 season wore on the Mater Dei product became even more of a factor for the Buffaloes, who made their second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. With Andre Roberson off to the next level, Johnson (8.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg) will be needed to step up alongside guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker if the Buffs are to contend for the Pac-12 crown.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Johnny Dawkins (Stanford)

The conference has a few options for this selection, including Ken Bone (Washington State), Craig Robinson (Oregon State) and Herb Sendek (Arizona State). But the choice here is Dawkins, whose team is the best equipped of the four to reach the NCAA tournament. Anthony Brown’s back after missing all of last season, forward Dwight Powell is a league Player of the Year candidate and guards Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle should be productive as well. One can’t forget about Josh Huestis either, as he’s one of the Pac-12’s best defenders.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The Pac-12 is back to where it should be.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: The amount of young talent in the Pac-12, with multiple players being pieces their respective programs can build around.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • December 14: Arizona at Michigan
  • November 8: Colorado vs. Baylor (in Dallas)
  • November 8: Oregon vs. Georgetown (Camp Humphries, South Korea)
  • December 19: UCLA vs. Duke (in New York)
  • December 18: Stanford at UConn (in Hartford)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Arizona: The Wildcats will be better defensively thanks to the presence of McConnell, Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. But who makes jump shots on a consistent basis? Find a suitable answer (or answers) and this group can get to Jerry World.
2. Oregon: With four of their top five scorers gone the Ducks are sure glad they added transfers Jason Calliste, Mike Moser and Joseph Young. And that sophomore tandem of Dominic Artis & Damyean Dotson has the potential to be special.
3. Colorado: Andre Roberson’s a big loss, especially as a defender and rebounder, but Tad Boyle’s built himself a program that can be a consistent Pac-12 contender.
4. UCLA: Steve Alford won’t lack for talent in his first season in Westwood, but who takes over at the point for Larry Drew II? If freshmen Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine are ready, the Bruins will be fine.
5. California: Losing Allen Crabbe hurts but there’s still plenty of talent in Berkeley. If Richard Solomon is fully engaged in the action night in and night out, the Golden Bears will contend for the league title.
6. Stanford: Look for Dwight Powell to become a household name nationally, and if Rosco Allen’s European experience (Hungary’s U-20 team) put some “dog” in him he could break out as a sophomore.
7. Arizona State: Adding Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic to the equation certainly helps matters, and ASU will be deeper than they were last season. But who has the intangibles that the departed Carrick Felix provided?
8. Washington: The Huskies have some questions to answer in the paint, but there should be no doubting the long-term impact that Nigel Williams-Goss will have on the program. One word: winner.
9. Utah: Things are beginning to look up in Salt Lake City, and Jordan Loveridge should be even better as a sophomore. But there’s still much work to do be done before the Utes are a factor in the Pac-12.
10. Oregon State: Angus Brandt returns after suffering a torn ACL in November, which will help Devon Collier and Eric Moreland inside. With Roberton Nelson providing scoring punch on the perimeter OSU can move up if they commit defensively. Which has been said in each of the two seasons prior to this one.
11. USC: Given the roster turnover from last season USC’s newcomers will have plenty of opportunities as Andy Enfield looks to build an uptempo system like the one he had at FGCU.
12. Washington State: With the addition of Ike Ireogbu the Cougars have an option at the point they sorely lacked last season. But losing Brock Motum and Mike Ladd is kind of a big deal.

2013-2014 Southern Conference Preview: Can Elon unseat reigning champ Davidson?

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

When the realignment dominoes began tumbling the general consensus was that it would take a lot to impact the leagues that don’t sponsor FBS football. That assumption ended up being misguided, and the Southern Conference is an example of this. The College of Charleston is now in the CAA and four more schools, including Davidson, will leave at the end of the 2013-14 academic year.

But that won’t have an impact on the conference race this season, one that should be hotly contested. When discussing the SoCon, Bob McKillop’s Davidson squad has to be mentioned, but the Wildcats do have some key personnel losses to address. De’Mon Brooks, the team’s lone returning double-digit scorer, will be asked to lead the way and Miami-Ohio transfer Brian Sullivan should also have an impact after sitting out last season.

Even with the standard of excellence established by Davidson, the Wildcats aren’t seen as the favorites in the SoCon this season. Why? Because an Elon squad that won 21 games last season returns all five starters, including senior guard Jack Isenbarger. Add in forwards Ryley Beaumont (11.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Lucas Troutman (15.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and head coach Matt Matheny has a team more than ready to grab the league’s top spot.

Another program with the pieces needed to challenge for SoCon supremacy is Western Carolina, which returns its top five scorers from a season ago including the prolific Trey Sumler. But whether or not the Catamounts make a run at the title will depend upon their front court, with WCU finishing last season 11th in the SoCon in defensive rebounding percentage. Other teams with the potential to factor into the equation are Appalachian State, Samford and Wofford, with all three returning at least four starters from last season.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: None
Out: College of Charleston (CAA)

PRESEASON SOUTHERN CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: G Trey Sumler (Western Carolina)

Sumler averaged 18.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game as a redshirt junior, posting a solid offensive rating of 111.0. Sumler failed to reach double figures in points just three times last season, scoring a season-high 32 in a loss at Elon in late-January. Given his ability to put points on the board, look for the fifth-year season to take home SoCon Player of the Year honors.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • F De’Mon Brooks (Davidson): With Jake Cohen gone the Wildcats will need even more from Brooks (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg).
  • G Jack Isenbarger (Elon): The versatile Isenbarger (13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.6 apg) leads the way for the preseason favorites.
  • F Kyle Cain (UNC Greensboro): The Arizona State transfer possesses the tools needed to have an immediate impact after sitting out last season.
  • G Raijon Kelly (Samford): Kelly (14.1 ppg, 4.7 apg) is one reason why the Bulldogs should be much-improved in 2013-14.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Elon
2. Davidson
3. Western Carolina
4. Appalachian State
5. Wofford
6. Samford
7. Chattanooga
8. UNC Greensboro
9. Furman
10. Georgia Southern
11. The Citadel

 

2013-2014 Big West Conference Preview: Long Beach St., UC Irvine among the contenders

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

With defending WCC tournament champion Pacific now in the WCC, the conference will have a new representative in the NCAA tournament. Which teams have the best shot of earning that bid? Start with UC Irvine, thanks to the return of guard Alex Young and forwards Will Davis II and Chris McNealy. UC Irvine also adds a transfer in guard Dominique Dunning and 7-5 center Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in college basketball. However head coach Russell Turner does have to account for the graduation of key contributors Adam Folker, Daman Starring and Michael Wilder, so by no means is UC Irvine the clear favorite to win the Big West.

Despite losing four of their top six scorers from a season ago Long Beach State will once again be in the mix, with point guard Mike Caffey leading the way. Head coach Dan Monson added five junior college transfers to the mix, and UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb will be eligible to take the floor in December. UC Davis, Hawai’i, Cal Poly and UCSB should also be contenders this season.

UC Davis head coach Jim Les welcomes back the Big West scoring champion, junior guard Corey Hawkins, and three other starters who helped the Aggies improve their win total by nine games. Hawai’i loses center Vander Joaquim but forwards Isaac Fotu (shared Big West Freshman of the Year honors with Alex Young) and Christian Standhardinger return, and there’s optimism regarding the addition of San Jose State transfer Keith Shamburger.

Cal Poly and UCSB can both claim to have one of the league’s best forwards, with Chris Eversley leading the way for Cal Poly while Alan Williams controls the paint for the Gauchos. Joe Callero’s Mustangs have won 14 straight games at home, and they’ve led the conference in scoring defense in each of the last three seasons. As for Bob Williams’ UCSB squad, Alan Williams returns and sophomores Michael Bryson and Taran Brown will look to take the next step after proving to be valuable pieces as freshmen.

Long Beach State could very well manage to win the Big West for a fourth consecutive season, but the list of challengers may be the strongest they’ve faced during this current run of success.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: None
Out: Pacific (WCC)

source:
AP

PRESEASON BIG WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: G Corey Hawkins (UC Davis)

Hawkins averaged 20.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest in his first season as an Aggie, including a 41-point explosion in a win at Hawai’i. With a year in Jim Les’ system under his belt, look for Hawkins to emerge as the best player in the Big West.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • G Mike Caffey (Long Beach State): With leading scorer James Ennis out of eligibility Caffey (12.0 ppg, 3.8 apg in 2012-13) may be asked to score more this season.
  • F Chris Eversley (Cal Poly): Eversley (15.4, 7.0) posted seven double-doubles last season, including a 30-point, 14-rebound performance in a win over Cal-State Northridge in late-January.
  • F Christian Standhardinger (Hawai’i): In his first season at UH the former Nebraska forward posted averages of 15.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
  • F Alan Williams (UCSB): With averages of 17.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game last season, an argument can be made that Williams is the Big West’s best returnee.

PREDICTED FINISH
1. UC Irvine
2. Long Beach State
3. UC Davis
4. Hawai’i
5. Cal Poly
6. UC Santa Barbara
7. Cal State Fullerton
8. Cal State Northridge
9. UC Riverside

2013 Southland Conference preview

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This season, one of the best rivalries in any mid-major conference may be Stephen F. Austin/Northwestern State.

The two teams split the season series, taking their home games against one another with the total point differential being five points. Now, the Lumberjacks and Demons head into the Southland Conference tournament as the top two seeds and own byes into the semifinals as a result.

Individually, Stephen F. Austin has been getting most of the press clippings there year with their three overall losses. The lone non-conference loss came at Texas A&M, and they own wins at Florida International and Oklahoma.

But a team like Northwestern State has just as many games the Lumberjacks to get to the NCAA Tournament, and they know it. Oral Roberts is also a solid bet to open a few eyes in the coming days as well, while a few other teams have positive vibes they may be able to ride heading into the tournament.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

THE BRACKET

Where: Katy, Texas (Leonard E. Merrell Center)

When: March 13-16

Final: March 16, 8:30 EST (ESPN2)

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin

A three-loss team in any conference has already proven they are for real. The Lumberjacks, who at 26-3 overall, 16-2 in-conference have one of the more impressive records this season, are anchored by Taylor Smith, with the security of four seniors and five juniors playing high-level ball. They proved early in the season that they can play with the power conference teams — they only lost at Texas A&M by eight — and they carried that confidence into the conference season. They’ve got all the tools to easily take the tournament championship, plus the benefit of only needing two wins to do so.

And if they lose?: The Lumberjacks are one of only three teams in the nation with three or less losses, with the two conference defeats coming by a combined eight points. One of those losses came on the road at Northwestern State, who finished second in the conference at 15-3 and 21-8 overall. The Demons also gave the Lumberjacks a run in Nacogdoches, Texas on March 2, with Stephen F. Austin escaping with a 64-63 win. These two are as close as you can get to a lock to play in the tournament finals.

Sleepers: Despite their 12-17 overall record, Southeastern Louisiana handed the Lumberjacks one of their two conference losses this season. Oral Roberts is only one of three teams in the Southland to own an overall winning record. Central Arkansas has won four in a row heading into the tournament.

Studs:

Taylor Smith, Stephen F. Austin – He averages 15.6 points and nine rebounds per game, leads SFA in both categories. Also leads the league with three blocked shots per game.

Fred Hunter, Nicholls State – The conference’s leading scorer at 19.8 per game. He can fill it up.

Damen Bell-Holter, Oral Roberts – He’s fourth in the conference in scoring (15.8) and leads the league in rebounding at nine boards per game.

CBT Prediction: Stephen F. Austin. They’re one of the best teams of any one-bid conference in America and they have the confidence of a roster flooded with experience. Northwestern State has the benefit of a win over the Lumberjacks, but conference losses happen. Stephen F. Austin did everything they had to to get to this point and there’s no reason to believe they’ll stop now. 

Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten

Conference Preview: Utah St., New Mexico St. lead way in WAC

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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.

For all the concern about the health of leagues such as the Big East and Big 12, there’s no conference that’s had more to deal with from a realignment standpoint than the WAC. And things got even tougher when Idaho made the decision to move its non-football sports to the Big Sky in 2014, adding themselves to the list of schools that will be leaving the conference in the future. With six of the ten teams scheduled to leave the conference at the end of this academic year the WAC will look a lot different in 2013.

So who wins the league in 2012-13? At the top of the list have to be two of the programs that have ranked among the most consistent in the WAC in recent years. Utah State, which had a down year by its standards last season, is ready to once again contend with junior guard Preston Medlin leading the way. New Mexico State may have lost a few key contributors led by Wendell McKines but guard Daniel Mullings is back, and the Aggies are talented enough to return to the NCAA tournament.

The newcomer that’s most capable of winning the WAC? That would be Denver, who was one of the better teams in the Sun Belt last season and will rely on forwards Chris Udofia and Royce O’Neale. UT Arlington is also making its WAC debut on the heels of a 24-win campaign and a Southland regular season title, and even with the loss of their top two scorers the Mavericks will be a formidable team.

Louisiana Tech and Idaho both return players who received postseason honors last year, with WAC Freshman of the Year Raheem Appleby back in Ruston and senior center Kyle Barone leading the Vandals. Guard Kannon Burrage and forward Jeromie Hill return to a UTSA squad that won 18 games last season, and three of the Roadrunners’ top four scorers from last season are back.

San Jose State, Seattle and Texas State all have major questions to answer, which will make it tough on them to have a significant impact on the title race. Enjoy this group of schools while you can, because the WAC is going to look a lot different come 2013.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Raheem Appleby (Louisiana Tech)
G Daniel Mullings (New Mexico State)
G Preston Medlin (Utah State)*
F Chris Udofia (Denver)
C Kyle Barone (Idaho)

Predicted Standings
1. Utah State
2. New Mexico State
3. Denver
4. UT Arlington
5. Louisiana Tech
6. Idaho
7. UTSA
8. San Jose State
9. Seattle
10. Texas State

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.