2017-18 Mid-Major Conference Previews

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Southland Preview: Can Stephen F. Austin regain the throne?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Southland.

The Southland finally saw Stephen F. Austin‘s dominant run end last season as New Orleans claimed the regular season title and NCAA tournament autobid. Although the Lumberjacks finished in second place in head coach Kyle Keller’s first season, expectations are in place for another potential conference title in 2017-18. Stephen F. Austin returns eight of their top nine producers from last season including Player of the Year candidate T.J. Holyfield on the interior. If Stephen F. Austin’s offense can get a boost then they could be in for another dangerous season.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has to replace the scoring punch of forward Rashawn Thomas but do-it-all senior Ehab Amin is back to lead the charge. Amin led the nation in steals last season while filling up the box score in many other ways as he’s flanked by guards Kareem South and Joseph Kilgore. Lamar made a leap last season as they won 19 games and made a CIT appearance. Senior forward Colton Weisbrod is a throwback undersized frontcourt presence while the backcourt of point guard Joey Frenchwood and shooter Nick Garth is among the league’s stronger returning duos.

Returning most of last season’s contributors, Abilene Christian is hoping to make a major leap up the Southland standings. Sophomore big man Jalone Friday is a promising player to build around while junior guards Jaren Lewis and Jaylen Franklin both put up double-figures in the scoring column last season. Incarnate Word is going to put up points but the Cardinals will need to figure things out on the defensive end. Jalin Hart, Simi Socks and Shawn Johnson are all returning upperclassmen who averaged at least 14 points per game each last season.

Southeastern Louisiana has a chance to make noise as junior point guard Marlain Veal and junior forward Moses Greenwood are a solid 1-2 punch. With a deep bench returning, the Lions have a lot of upperclass experience and could be a surprise team. The return of Jalan West for a seventh season is a major story for Northwestern State. The former Player of the Year candidate has to stay healthy but he’s joined by junior big man Ishmael Lane and senior guard Devonte Hall to form a solid nucleus.

Losing four starters will be tough for Sam Houston State but junior point guard John Dewey III is back to lead the team’s offense. Senior big man Chris Galbreath has a chance to be a breakout player. Central Arkansas has the Southland’s returning leading scorer in senior guard Jordan Howard but the Bears have to make major strides on the defensive end and controlling turnovers.

New Orleans has a lot of new pieces after last year’s run to the Big Dance as the Privateers need to replace three starters. Senior forward Travin Thibodeaux and senior big man Makur Puou are back along with a lot of question marks. After a CIT appearance, Houston Baptist loses five seniors and multiple transfers but senior center Josh Ibarra is an all-league threat.  

Nicholls lost seven seniors and needs to rebuild as senior point guard Jahvaughn Powell has a chance to have a big year. McNeese finished in last place a season ago but most of that group is back. Sophomore guard Kalob Ledoux has a chance to be one of the league’s better guards.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON SOUTHLAND PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ehab Amin, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

College basketball’s leader with 124 total steals last season (3.4 per game), this 6-foot-4 senior guard can also put up numbers all over the stat sheet. The Egyptian averaged 16.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game last season while shooting 46 percent from the floor. If Amin improves his 28 percent three-point shooting then he could be in for a monster season.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON SOUTHLAND TEAM

  • Colton Weisbrod, Lamar: Undersized at 6-foot-5 but great in the paint, this senior averaged 15.1 points and 8.1 boards per contest. Weisbrod shot 52 percent from the floor but only 16 percent from three-point range.
  • T.J. Holyfield, Stephen F. Austin: Versatile junior forward averaged 11.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor.
  • Jordan Howard, Central Arkansas: The senior has a chance to reach 2,000 career points after dropping 19.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game last season. Howard could stand to improve his shooting efficiency.
  • Jalone Friday, Abilene Christian: Intriguing sophomore big man had tremendous splits (52% FG, 45% 3PT, 82% FT) and put up 13.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season in only 21.7 minutes per contest.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @SouthlandSports

PREDICTED FINISH

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

SoCon Preview: Can Furman take over an unpredictable league?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the SoCon.

The SoCon has been one of the most unpredictable conferences in college hoops over the last several years. Last season saw a three-way tie for first place in the regular season and the conference saw its third unique NCAA tournament representative in three years. This season should be wild as well as the SoCon has many of the nation’s elite three-point shooters returning.

Furman has a new head coach as Bob Richey was promoted to take over for Niko Medved (Drake) as he inherits a strong roster that won 23 games and tied for first last season. Four starters return for the Paladins, including senior guard and reigning SoCon Player of the Year Devin Sibley along with double-figure scorer Daniel Fowler. If Furman can get more interior help for its guard-heavy team then they could be the team to beat.

Returning the top seven scorers from a 20-win team, Samford has a lot of positive momentum in head coach Scott Padgett’s third season. Senior Demetrius Denzel-Dyson is one of the league’s most versatile talents as he’s joined by three more returning double-figure scorers. UNC Greensboro loses some firepower from a 25-win NIT team but junior sharpshooter Francis Alonso returns along with a good amount of interior depth. Replacing point guard Diante Baldwin could be key.

Five senior starters are back for Mercer including the dynamic backcourt duo of Ria’n Holland and Jordan Strawberry. Small forward Demetre Rivers also returns along with the frontcourt of Desmond Ringer and Stephon Jelks. The Bears have a lot of size but they need to improve defensively. East Tennessee State was the league’s autobid last season but the Buccaneers lose six dynamic seniors from that group. Guard Desonta Bradford is the team’s only returning double-figure scorer while junior college transfer forward Jeromy Rodriguez has a lot of hype as a scorer.

Wofford could be an intriguing team to watch as junior scorer Fletcher Magee leads the backcourt. Junior forward Cameron Jackson also returns as the Terriers have the personnel to either play a perimeter-oriented attack or more of a traditional lineup. Good news for Western Carolina as all five starters are back from last season’s team. But the Catamounts struggled to a 9-win season as the offense only shot 39 percent from the floor. Haboubacar Mutombo, nephew of Dikembe Mutombo, headlines the returning core.

The Citadel should continue to play fast as double-figure scorers like junior forward Zane Najdawi and sophomore gunner Preston Parks return.  New head coach Lamont Paris comes from Wisconsin to Chattanooga, and he doesn’t have any starters coming back from a 19-win team. Junior big man Makinde London showed promise as a role player last season for the Mocs. VMI lost its top three scorers from a young roster. Senior forward Armani Branch is the team’s only returning starter.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON SOCON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Devin Sibley, Furman

The reigning SoCon Player of the Year, the 6-foot-2 Sibley was a big-time scorer for Furman last season. Putting up 17.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, Sibley’s efficiency stood out. Shooting 52 percent from the floor and 44 percent from three-point range, Sibley rarely takes a bad shot.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SOCON TEAM

  • Ria’n Holland, Mercer: With 11 20-point games last season, this 6-foot, 152-pound senior is small but he packs a powerful scoring punch.
  • Francis Alonso, UNC Greensboro: A lethal perimeter shooter, the 6-foot-3 junior hit 102 triples at a 46 percent clip last season while putting up 14.9 points per game.
  • Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, Samford: Capable of playing multiple spots, the 6-foot-5 senior averaged 16.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 46 percent from three-point.
  • Fletcher Magee, Wofford: The 6-foot-4 junior averaged 18.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season while shooting 42 percent from three-point range and 89 percent from the free-throw line.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @SoConSports

PREDICTED FINISH

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

Patriot League Preview: Can anyone challenge Bucknell?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Patriot League.

The 2016-17 season in the Patriot League was one dominated by the Bucknell Bison, with Nathan Davis’ team winning the regular season title for the sixth time in the last seven years. Led by Patriot League Player and Defensive Player of the Year Nana Foulland, the Bison were the best team in the league with regards to both offensive and defensive efficiency and won the regular season title by three games. After winning 26 games and reaching the NCAA tournament as a 13-seed, the question for Bucknell entering the 2017-18 season is what can this group do for an encore.

The good news for Bucknell is that all four double-digit scorers from last season, led by Foulland and forward Zach Thomas, are back on campus. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season, with the versatile Thomas leading the Bison in scoring with an average of 15.9 points per contest. Add in guards Stephen Brown and Kimbal Mackenzie, and Bucknell has a rotation that won’t lack for talent or experience.

Given Bucknell’s recent track record and their returning contributors, there’s a simple question for the rest of the Patriot League: which team is best equipped to make a run at the Bison? One could argue that up to four teams are in the conversation, with there not being much to separate them on paper.

Despite losing an outstanding front court presence in Tim Kempton and another productive senior on guard Austin Price, Lehigh is one of those teams. Head coach Dr. Brett Reed will call upon an experienced backcourt to lead the way, with junior Kyle Leufroy averaging nearly 12 points per game last season and senior Kahron Ross leading the league in assists last season. The Mountain Hawks also add one of the Patriot League’s top newcomers in guard Lance Tejada, who sat out last season as a transfer after playing the first two seasons of his college career at East Carolina. With regard to the front court, the progression of sophomore forward Pat Andree will be key if Lehigh is to threaten Bucknell.

Also in the mix is Colgate, with head coach Matt Langel welcoming back six players who made at least 14 starts a season ago. At the top of that list are sophomore forward Will Rayman and senior guard Sean O’Brien, with Rayman being the Patriot League’s top freshman last season. In Rayman, O’Brien and Jordan Swopshire the Raiders return three double-digit scorers, and if Colgate can become a more efficient team on both ends of the floor look out.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

Navy and Boston University should also be heard from in the Patriot League conversation, with the Midshipmen being led by senior guard Shawn Anderson. Ed DeChellis’ team won’t lack for depth, with the team’s top five scorers from a season ago back in Annapolis. As for the Terriers, Boston University has to account for the loss of two of the Patriot League’s best players in Eric Fanning and Justin Alston but the cupboard isn’t bare. Guards Cedric Hankerson and Cheddi Mosely return, as does all-rookie team forward Tyler Scanlon, which should make for a good foundation on which to build a possible contender.

Loyola (MD), Lafayette and Army West Point will look to fight their way into the upper half of the Patriot League standings, with the Greyhounds returning one of the Patriot League’s best guards in senior Andre Walker. Lafayette returns three of its top four scorers, led by the Patriot League’s top returning scorer in senior forward Matt Klinewski. And in his second season as the head coach at Army West Point, Jimmy Allen will look to make strides with a team that won 13 games in 2016-17. Guard Jordan Fox is back for his junior season, and in total five of Army’s top six scorers are back.

American, which won just eight games last season, returns its top two scorers in sophomores Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini. However, the Eagles do have to account for the loss of one of the top defenders in the Patriot League in wing Charlie Jones. Holy Cross, which won 15 games last season, will have to account for the loss of its top two scorers in Robert Champion and Malachi Alexander. Head coach Bill Carmody will look to juniors Karl Charles and Pat Benzan to step forward, but with no seniors on this season’s roster it will take the Crusaders some time to develop into a Patriot League contender.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nana Foulland, Bucknell

Not only was Foulland the Patriot League’s best player in 2016-17, but he was also its best defender. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game as a junior, shooting 63.0 percent from the field.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE TEAM

  • Kahron Ross, Lehigh: Ross led the Patriot League in assists (5.3 apg) last season while also scoring nearly ten points per game. With Tim Kempton gone, Ross will have more opportunities to score within the Lehigh offense.
  • Andre Walker, Loyola (MD): Walker averaged 14.6 points, 3.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds per night for the Greyhounds last season, and he also shot 38.0 percent from three.
  • Shawn Anderson, Navy: The 6-foot-4 senior guard saw his field goal percentage dip as a junior (41.8 percent after shooting nearly 50 percent as a sophomore), but he still averaged 12.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per night.
  • Zach Thomas, Bucknell: Thomas led the Bison in scoring (15.9 ppg) last season, while also averaging 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per night. His ability to score both inside and out will be key for Bucknell.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @PL_MBB

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Bucknell
2. Lehigh
3. Colgate
4. Navy
5. Boston University
6. Loyola (MD)
7. Lafayette
8. Army West Point
9. American
10. Holy Cross

2017-18 Missouri Valley Conference preview: Who steps up with Wichita State gone?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Missouri Valley Conference.

The biggest story regarding the MVC is the team that’s no longer in the league. Wichita State left the conference after winning at least a share of every regular season title since the league’s other stalwart, Creighton, bolted for the Big East in 2013. The Shockers’ departure is a serious blow to the conference, diminishing its national relevance and making it that much more difficult for the conference to earn a second NCAA tournament bid some years, and that was tough enough as evidenced by Illinois State’s exclusion after 28-7 (17-1) season last year.

The Shockers’ departure, though, does clear the way at the top of the league, and the program that may be best suited to fill the void is Northern Iowa, which has enjoyed the most success outside of Wichita State in the league in recent years. The Panthers had their first losing season in coach Ben Jacobson’s 11 years last year and lose all-conference wing Jeremy Morgan, but they look poised for a comeback season with Bennett Koch and Klint Carlson as potential all-league players. Jacobson’s teams have never been the most exciting offensive squads, but they’ve been efficient. That disappeared last year to a dearth of shooting. Adam McDermott, cousin of former Creighton national player of the year Doug McDermott, shot 40 percent from 3-point range at North Dakota before transferring to Cedar Falls and could help fix UNI’s shooting issues. If the Panthers can put the ball in the basket with more consistency, they could be looking at their third NCAA tournament in four years.

Despite going 17-16 overall and finishing in the bottom half of the MVC, Missouri State has the look of a contender this season thanks largely due to Alize Johnson, a first-team all-conference performer last year and the only returnee from the league’s top-two all-conference squads. Paul Lusk has three others returning from his 2016-17 starting lineup plus adds reinforcements from the transfer wire and junior college ranks. The defense will likely be the difference for the Bears, who were roundly mediocre at that end last season, allowing opponents to convert both inside and out.

Illinois State initially appeared as though it would be the team to step into the Shockers’ vacuum immediately, but, in addition to the scheduled departure of MVC player of the year Paris Lee to graduation, the Redbirds saw MiKyle McIntosh (Oregon) and Deontae Hawkins (Boston College) both headed out of Normal via grad transfer to put a serious damper on the team’s short-term prospects. Phil Fayne is the only starter back, but transfers Milik Yarbrough and Christian Romine should be able to make immediate impacts.

Loyola will also be in the mix with three returners – Aundre Jackson, Donte Ingram and Clayton Custer – who averaged in double-figures. The Ramblers rely heavily on the 3-point shot, but that trio of returners are all excellent from deep and should make the team incredibly dangerous on the offensive end.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

REALIGNMENT MOVES

  • In: Valparaiso
  • Out: Wichita State

PRESEASON MVC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Alize Johnson, Missouri State

The 6-foot-9 forward recorded 17 double-doubles, finishing the year averaging 14.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. He was one of the best defensive rebounders in the country last year as well as an inside-out threat, shooting 52.9 percent from inside the arc and 39.2 percent from outside it.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON MVC TEAM

  • Donte Ingram, Loyola: Shot 52.9 percent overall and 45.8 percent from 3-point range while averaging 13.6 points per game
  • Brenton Scott, Indiana State: A third-team all-conference performer last year, put up nearly 16 points and 5 rebounds per game.
  • Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso: The 6-foot-2 guard is the Crusaders’ best chance of instantly competing in a new league.
  • Bennett Koch, Northern Iowa: Needs to be more productive on the glass, but will be a big part of UNI’s offense

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ValleyHoops

PREDICTED FINISH

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

MAC Preview: Is the West where the MAC’s power lies?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the MAC.

The MAC is in a strange position entering the 2017-18 season. While the league’s East Division has been the dominating force among the league’s two divisions the past few years this year the West Division, led by Western Michigan, is receiving a bigger share of the preseason buzz.

Speaking of Western Michigan, they became the favorite as soon as senior guard Thomas Wilder opted to pull out of the 2017 NBA Draft. A top-100 player in college basketball this season, Wilder is the runaway favorite for Preseason MAC Player of the Year after leading the MAC in three-point shooting while putting up 19.3 points and 3.8 assists per game. Besides having a pro prospect on the roster, the Broncos have depth on the interior and some promising sophomores to keep tabs on. Centers Seth Dugan and Drake LaMont can be tough to contain and sophomores Brandon Johnson and Reggie Jones both showed flashes of strong play last season.

Staying in the West Division, Ball State is quietly coming off of back-to-back 20-win seasons as head coach James Whitford returns quite a bit of production. Junior guard Tayler Persons is a very strong mid-major floor leader while center Trey Moses and floor spacers like Francis Kiapway and Sean Sellers are back as well.

Buffalo is the preseason favorite for the East Division as they combine talented newcomers with solid veterans. All-league candidate C.J. Massinburg is back for his junior season at guard while forward Nick Perkins should also see a bigger role. The Bulls also received some solid additions with Missouri transfer Wes Clark in the backcourt and highly-touted JUCO prospect Jeremy Harris on the wing. With NCAA tournament experience from the upperclassmen on the roster, it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see Buffalo make another postseason run.

After making a surprising NCAA tournament appearance, Kent State has a chance for another strong season. All-MAC forward Jimmy Hall is gone by MAC Tournament MVP Jaylin Walker is back after a very good sophomore season. To maximize their potential, the Golden Flashes need production from newcomers Akiean Frederick and Jonathan Nwanko in the frontcourt.

Toledo has had a tough time winning close games the past two seasons as the Rockets return junior wing Jaelan Sanford and sophomore center Luke Knapke from the starting lineup. Junior forward Nate Navigato is an intriguing floor spacer and Toledo gets some transfer help from Tre’Shaun Fletcher (Colorado) and Willie Jackson (Missouri).

Losing Jaaron Simmons to Michigan was tough for Ohio but they still have a few starters coming back. Sophomore forward Jason Carter has the upside to be a major factor in the MAC while junior guard Jordan Dartis is one of the league’s best shooters.  Eastern Michigan gets back the league’s top big man in James Thompson IV as the double-double machine is only a junior. The Eagles lost a ton this offseason but senior wing Tim Bond is back and Robert Morris transfer Elijah Minnie is a player to watch in the frontcourt.

Bowling Green remains a young team but they have a lot of returning experience. Sophomore guards Dylan Frye and Rodrick Caldwell gave the Falcons a boost when they were inserted into the starting lineup last season while junior big man Demajeo Wiggins is an all-league threat.  

Hit hard by offseason transfers, Northern Illinois still returns some intriguing, but unproven, players. The frontcourt of juniors Jaylen Key and Levin Bradley could be solid and sophomore guard Eugene German gets backcourt help from JUCO All-American Dante Thorpe.  Akron now has former Illinois coach John Groce at the helm as they have eight newcomers on the roster. Junior guard and double-figure scorer Jimond Ivey returns and Oregon State graduate transfer Malcolm Duvivier should also help.

Despite having the scoring prowess of Marcus Keene last season, Central Michigan still floundered to 6-12 in the MAC as they lose Keene and Braylon Rayson. Sophomore forward David DiLeo and senior forward Cecil Williams could be a solid frontcourt but the Chippewas have to replace a ton of scoring while also improving defensively. Miami gets a new head coach in former Purdue assistant Jack Owens as he takes over a very depleted roster to begin the rebuild. Senior forward Logan McLane is a returning bright spot for the RedHawks.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan

One of the most complete guards in the country, Wilder is back for his senior season as he could be a sleeper pro prospect. Leading the MAC in three-point shooting, Wilder was also third in assist-turnover ratio, fourth in scoring and top-ten in assists and steals. The 6-foot-3 Wilder is capable of big scoring nights but also versatile enough to fill up the box score.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON MAC TEAM

  • James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan: Averaging a double-double during his freshman and sophomore seasons, this junior big man is one of the more underrated post players in the country.
  • Jaylin Walker, Kent State: Last year’s MAC Tournament MVP was strong down the stretch as he could be in for a big season if he improves his efficiency as a shooter.
  • Tayler Persons, Ball State: A former ASUN Freshman of the Year at Northern Kentucky, Persons lived up to the hype in the MAC, putting up 15.5 points, 4.9 assists and 3.9 boards per game last season.
  • CJ Massinburg, Buffalo: A junior guard with NCAA tournament experience, Massinburg had a great sophomore season as he put up 14.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @HustleBelt

POWER RANKINGS

  1. Western Michigan
  2. Ball State
  3. Buffalo
  4. Kent State
  5. Toledo
  6. Ohio
  7. Eastern Michigan
  8. Bowling Green
  9. Northern Illinois
  10. Akron
  11. Central Michigan
  12. Miami

 

MAAC Preview: Can Monmouth finally break through into NCAAs?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

There’s plenty of change in the MAAC this season, but the one that will be most visible could very well be the schedule. The league took steps in the offseason that they hope will help boost its members’ RPI. They’ve trimmed the conference schedule from 20 to 18 games, eliminating the true home-and-home round-robin in favor of pitting the top teams against each other and opening up non-conference opportunities (the top teams in the league are required to schedule top-250 RPI squads).

After seeing Monmouth put together back-to-back monster seasons without an NCAA tournament berth, it’s probably a good move for the MAAC to try to do what they can to improve an already strong league.

King Rice’s Hawks will face a tall task in trying to repeat their success of the last two seasons – and finally secure that NCAA tournament bid – after the graduation of MAAC player of the year Justin Robinson and second leading scorer Je’lon Hornbeak. Junior Micah Seaborn will be asked to step into the void, which means he’ll have to seriously improve his efficiency to keep Monmouth’s offense humming, especially with the Hawks having lost a good chunk of their shooting from last season.

After taking the league’s automatic NCAA tournament spot the last two years, Iona is in much the same spot as Monmouth – trying to replace program stalwarts. Jordan Washington, who had one of the highest usage rates in the country last year, is gone to graduation, as are guards Sam Cassell and Jon Severe. TK Edogi, a 6-foot-8 forward, moves from a small role at Tulsa to a potentially huge one with the Gaels, as does Massachusetts transfer Zach Lewis. The key for Tim Cluess’ squad is probably shoring up the defense. With Washington getting buckets inside, the Gaels were able to out-offense teams while their defense lagged well behind. The offense is likely to take a hit this season, so if the defense can make up some of the difference, Iona could be in the picture at the top of the league again.

Fairfield hasn’t finished in the top-three of the MAAC since 2012, but with Tyler Nelson back for his senior season, the Stags have a chance to push for a top spot in the league. Transfer losses of Curtis Cobb (UMass) and Jerry Johnson (Chattanooga) certainly hurt, but Nelson is the type of player that can help cover up a lot of issues. Plus, point guard Jerome Segura is adept at getting others involved, which may be the key as Nelson is sure to shoulder a heavy load, but won’t be able to do it all alone. Finding additional shooting will be critical for the Stags.

Niagara hasn’t made much noise in the MAAC in recent seasons, but the Purple Eagles have one of the top one-two combinations in the league in Matt Scott and Kahlil Dukes. Both need to improve their efficiency inside the arc, but it’s their 3-point shooting that helps move the needle. If the two of them are special, Niagara has a chance to do some damage.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON MAAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Nelson, Fairfield

The 6-foot-3 guard returns for his senior season as the MAAC’s top scorer after averaging nearly 20 points per game last season. He’s a near-40 percent 3-point shooter as well as an important distributor for the Stags. Expect a huge minutes and usage load for Nelson – and the big stats to match.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON MAAC TEAM:

  • Matt Scott, Niagara: Put up 17 points per game, but his 7 rebounds per game may be more impressive from a 6-foot-4 guard.
  • Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius: Crumpton is a 6-foot-6, 245-pound tank, but a skilled one who shot nearly four 3-pointers per game, hitting 42,9 percent of them, last season
  • Micah Seaborn, Monmouth: Will be tasked with a big scoring role after the departures of Justin Robinson and Je’Lon Hornbeak.
  • Kahlil Dukes, Niagara: The former USC Trojan shot 41.4 percent from the 3-point line and 92.1 percent from the free-throw line while averaging better than 15 points per game.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Iona
2. Monmouth
3. Niagara
4. Fairfield
5. Manhattan
6. St. Peter’s
7. Siena
8. Rider
9. Canisius
10. Marist
11. Quinnipiac