Conference Preview: Atlantic Sun

ATLANTIC SUN

The Atlantic Sun has long been one of our favorite conferences here at HoopsHD, and the battle at the top of this conference has a chance to be a ton of fun once again this year.  Lipscomb and Florida Gulf Coast enter the season on almost a 1A and 1B level, with many preseason publications leaning towards Dunk City, though we are going with the Bison.  Stetson is one of the few teams with a ton of returning players, and thus gets our nod for the darkhorse team to keep an eye on.  Beyond the top few, there is a sharp drop-off as schools like North Florida and Kennesaw State try to rebuild.  One team that will be rebuilding on the court is at least done rebuilding the court itself, as NJIT opens its brand new 3,500 seat Wellness and Events Center — a probable destination for a HoopsHD road trip at some point this season.

  1. Lipscomb – The Bison finished second in the conference standings last year and return their top eight players.  That is a great recipe for success.  The team will need to continue to hit the three-ball, as they were sixth in the nation last year in made shots from long-range.
  2. Florida Gulf Coast – The Eagles will have a chance to defend their A-Sun regular season and tournament championships with their entire backcourt returning, led by star Brandon Goodwin, and the addition of Michigan transfer Ricky Doyle in the frontcourt.  Also, keep an eye out for 5-3 freshman Darnell Rogers, son of former Atlantic Ten Player of the Year (at only 5-4) Shawnta Rogers.
  3. Stetson – The Hatters have a great chance to be this year’s surprise team in the A-Sun with four starters returning (led by Derrick Newton) and a ton of new talent, including 6-10 junior college transfer Ricky Gouety and 7-2 freshman Adam Webb.  There are few teams in this conference that can match up with that type of size.
  4. North Florida – Matthew Driscoll has done a great job in his eight seasons in Jacksonville, even if last year was a disappointment when the Ospreys finished 15-19 (though they did make a run to the conference tournament title game).  This year may be a rebuild with a ton of new faces on the roster and Dallas Moore’s 23.9 points per game gone.
  5. South Carolina Upstate – Head coach Eddie Payne announced his retirement just a couple weeks ago, and now the Spartans will have a new head coach for the first time since moving up to Division I.  There is cause for optimism coming off of a CIT season and led by guard Mike Cunningham, but there probably is not enough here to contend for the league crown.
  6. Kennesaw State – Al Skinner enters his third year as head coach for the Owls, and has yet to get the team above .500.  That will be tough again this season with Kendrick Ray’s 21 points per game gone, though senior Nick Masterson should shine.
  7. Jacksonville – The Dolphins made the CIT last season, but only return one starter, making this potentially a long season for head coach Tony Jasick’s team.
  8. NJIT – The Highlanders were a disappointing 11-20 last season, and now both Damon Lynn and Tim Coleman have graduated.  At least they have their brand new 3,500 seat arena opening this season.
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Season Preview: HoopsHD interviews UNC Asheville G Ahmad Thomas

CLICK HERE for all of Jon’s interviews, and the rest of our extensive and continuous preseason coverage

Most fans love offense but most coaches love defense.  Ahmad Thomas does a little of everything for the Bulldogs (as evident by his near-triple-double in an OT win over Gardner-Webb last New Year’s Eve) but defense is where he dominates.  As a sophomore he was #14 in the nation with 69 STL, and as a junior he set a school record with 99 STL and was named Big South Defensive Player of the Year.  His most excellent effort was a sensational 10-STL performance in a win over Warren Wilson last December.  HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Ahmad about being a great defender as well as a great scorer.  

You grew up in Virginia: what made you choose UNC Asheville? I did not grow up in a big city so when I got to Asheville it felt like home. It is a perfect fit for me.

You play for coach Nick McDevitt: what makes him such a good coach, and what is the most important thing that you have learned from him? He does so many things for us both on/off the court. He was a player/assistant here and his hard work shows how awesome he is as a person/coach. He is like a big brother for us, which a lot of people at other schools do not get from their coaches.

You played in 23 games as a freshman: how were you able to come in and contribute right from the start? At first I had to separate myself from high school.  We had an up-tempo pace and pressed a lot but now I just do what I do.

Last season you set a school record with 99 STL (including 10 in a win over Warren Wilson last December) and were named conference DPOY: what is the key to being a great defender? Grit! Some people will just let you score on them but I hate for someone to score a lot of points against me and think that they will have a mismatch against me. My 7’ wingspan also helps a lot.

You also scored a team-high 18 PPG and led the conference with 54.4 FG%: what is your secret for being a great scorer? My teammates/coaching staff always put me in the right spots. I learned a lot from our PG MaCio Teague and made enough open shots to build my confidence. I try to recognize mismatches and do damage from my position.

You also led the team with 6.6 RPG: how are you able to get so many REB as a 6’3” SG? As we say: “how bad do you want it?!” You just need to be a big-bodied guard: it is not a bad thing to bang around the boards. It is a big key for our team so that we can avoid giving up very many 2nd-chance points.

In the 2017 CIT you had 22 PTS/11 REB/3 STL in a loss to Tennessee-Martin: what did you learn from that game that you think will help you this year? We have to play 40 minutes of basketball.  It seemed like we only spent 20 minutes as a team so we have to understand that the margin of error is slim even against teams who you think that you should beat. UT-Martin was really good so when we came out sluggish in the 1st half we quickly found ourselves down by 20 PTS. It has to be 40 minutes of hell until the ball stops bouncing.

Your non-conference schedule includes road games against Rhode Island/Vanderbilt/Clemson/St. Mary’s: which of these games do you feel will present your biggest test? They all will. Rhode Island made the Sweet 16 last year and has a great guard in EC Matthews. St. Mary’s brings back 4 starters and has a 6’10” stud in Jock Landale who might be preseason conference POY. The SEC/ACC are great conferences as well so Vanderbilt/Clemson will also be fun. You have to play hard every game but if we can beat some of those teams then everyone will recognize that we have some dogs on our team even though we are a mid-major! We are growing a lot and it will take time but are just focused on our 1st game against Rhode Island.

You are 1 of 4 seniors on the roster: how important do you think all of that experience will be to your team’s success this season? It will be huge but we are counting on everyone on the roster to come in and contribute. You want to go out with a great experience as a senior. Sometimes the freshmen do not understand everything so we have to lead them both on/off the court, go hard, and leave it all out there. We have to dominate, do the right things, and let them know that we need all of them to succeed: we have to rock!

What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? The goal is always to win the regular season because hosting the conference tourney is huge.  The next jobs are to win the conference tourney, make the NCAA tourney, and then make a little noise to let people know that we worked hard. We want to win at least 25 games again and do the right thing: it will be hard but we have to click in.

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Happy College Basketball Season Soft Launch Day!!!

Each year, the second Friday in November is the day that marks the start of college basketball games that actually matter.  That’s the first day of the official season, and that is the full launch day.  But, each team is permitted two exhibition games (more on that later) and has the choice of playing a closed three hour scrimmage against another div1 team, or playing an official game that is in an arena in front of fans against a college team that is not a div1 team (so div2, div3, NAIA, etc).  So, at Hoops HD we always like to (sort of) welcome in the new season on the first day that there is actually a game between two college basketball teams that the public is able to go see.  AND THAT DAY IS TODAY!!!  So, let me wish all of you a HAPPY COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON 2017-2018!!!

Notre Dame will be hosting Holy Cross College, which is actually so close to Notre Dame’s campus that it is virtually on their campus.  If you have ever seen the movie Rudy, Holy Cross is where he went to school when he was still fighting to be accepted into Notre Dame.  It’s a game that has no impact whatsoever on the regular season, and it is a game that would be of very little interest even if it did count toward the regular season, and it’s a game that isn’t even going to be broadcast on TV (only Live Stats), but it is the first time two college basketball teams have played each other since last year’s championship game between Gonzaga and North Carolina.

There is something else about this game.  It is being played for charity, and it needed a waiver from the NCAA in order to happen.  The rules for exhibition games were (and really still are) what was mentioned above in regards to being allowed two contests.  Notre Dame, and many other schools, are actually playing three exhibition games/scrimmages.  The reason for that is back in August the NABC, and its new president Kansas coach Bill Self, had discussed the notion of adding a third exhibition game to the schedule that could be against another div1 team, and open to the public, and where all the proceeds given to charity in one form or another.  It’s my understanding that while the NCAA did not change the rules, what they did say was that schools who wanted to play in a charity game like that could file a waiver, and the NCAA would review all waivers on a case by case basis.

Now, what is a waiver??  It is rather self explanatory.  It is asking the NCAA for permission to be excused from having to follow one of their rules.  This could be because of an extenuating circumstance (IE player is academically ineligible, but has a 3.8 GPA and is only ineligible because his/her advisor told her to take the wrong classes), or a kid wants to transfer and doesn’t want to have to sit out a year because a family member is terminally ill, or something along those lines.  It is asking to be excused from an NCAA rule due to a reasonable circumstance.  Fortunately, in this case, the NCAA believes that an opportunity to make a lot of money for charity is a reasonable circumstance, and they have been approving nearly all of these waivers and allowing schools to play an additional exhibition game where the all money goes to charity.  A lot of these games will be benefiting disaster relief for the recent hurricanes and wild fires, so you cannot help but feel that these games are a very positive thing.  It is my hope that this soon becomes the rule, and that schools will no longer need to file waivers.  Specifically, I’d like to see the rules changed to where we have three exhibition games instead of two, and if a school so chooses all three can be against div1 teams that are open to the public and where all the proceeds are given to charity.

We are doing our best to keep up with the list of exhibition games.  More are being added every day, and seemingly every hour.  CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT OUR COMPREHENSIVE LIST

 

NEWS AND NOTES

-It goes without saying that college basketball has had a spectacular offseason for all of the wrong reasons.  We’ve got assistant coaches going to jail and facing federal corruption charges, we saw the six year North Carolina case finally come to an end with virtually zero penalties, and we are basically in a situation to where the NCAA and college basketball in particular is being criticized more heavily than I can recall at any point in my lifetime.  I do think that all of this needs to happen, and once we come out the other end things will be back to normal, but for now it kind of makes enjoying the season a little more challenging.  Some of us just want to relax and watch basketball, and that’s a little harder to do when you turn on the TV to watch a game and they’re talking about legal scandals instead of the game itself.  Ironically, these charity games that we’re seeing are creating some much needed good will and charity toward the NCAA as well as the causes that they are being set up to aid.  And, we’ve actually got people who are excited about exhibition games for perhaps the first time in history!!  Kansas and Missouri will play in Kansas City this Sunday, the game sold out almost instantly, and if you haven’t been following the fans on social media then you should because it has been amazing!!  I love that something charitable has created so much hostility between two fanbases over a meaningless exhibition game!

-Many are noticing that these charity exhibition games are not on TV and understandably questioning why that is.  So far as I know, there is nothing preventing them from being shown on TV.  Having said that, these are WAIVERS.  It could be that the NCAA would question approving a waiver if a game were to be shown on TV??  I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but I suppose it could be??  I understand wanting to sell as many tickets as possible and that putting a meaningless game on TV could effect ticket sales, but at the same time I think that putting an 800 phone number on the screen so people can call and make donations to whatever charity the game is being played for could also increase the amount of money that is being raised.  So, there is no rule saying they can’t be on TV, but none of them (so far) are for whatever reason. UPDATE: The Border War will be streamed. Check it out here.

-Chad Sherwood and Jon Teitel are once again doing an amazing job with our comprehensive preseason coverage.  CLICK HERE FOR ALL ARTICLES AND CONFERENCE PREVIEWS

-Our preseason conference podcast will begin next week.  So, in closing, let me once again say HAPPY COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON EVERYBODY!!!

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Conference Preview: America East

AMERICA EAST

The Vermont Catamounts went a perfect 19-0 against America East foes last season before losing a close game to Purdue as a 13 seed in the Round of 64.  That probably won’t be repeated this year — with almost everyone back this team could actually contend for an even better seed in the Big Dance and has a real chance to win a game once there.  In fact, the biggest battle in the conference could be between Catamount teammates Trae Bell-Haynes and Anthony Lamb for conference Player of the Year honors.  In other words, John Calipari’s young Kentucky team better be on guard when they host Vermont on November 12 during the season’s opening weekend.

As for the rest of the conference, all but one team returns at least three starters, which means that there should be a higher level of play and some very exciting contests, even if they are all only battling for second place.  New Hampshire, with star Tanner Leissner, Albany and UMBC are the top three contenders, though any of the top seven preseason picks could make some serious noise this year.  It will be especially interesting to watch UMass-Lowell, as the River Hawks will be eligible for the America East and NCAA Tournaments for the first time, and could be in line for the 4 seed and a home game in the conference tournament quarterfinal round.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Vermont – The Catamounts won all 19 games they played against America East foes last season, and return the majority of that team including conference Player of the Year Trae Bell-Haynes and Rookie of the Year Anthony Lamb.  This team could be playing multiple games in the NCAA Tournament this year.
  2. New Hampshire – The Wildcats could have the league’s best frontcourt with Tanner Leissner, Jacoby Armstrong and Iba Camara.  If they can find a way to make up for the losses of guards Jaleen Smith and Daniel Dion, they look like the team most likely to jump in if Vermont falters.
  3. Albany – The Great Danes may have the league’s best backcourt with David Nichols and Joe Cremo, but probably don’t have enough down low to overtake Vermont.
  4. UMBC – The Retrievers were last season’s surprise team in the America East, and with four starters and a deep bench returning, have a chance to move up even another step this year.  Jairus Lyles averaged almost 19 points per game and could make it more than 20 this time around.
  5. UMass-Lowell – The River Hawks return two senior and one junior double-digit scorers for their first NCAA Tournament-eligible season, led by double-double threat Jahad Thomas.  It would not be a total shock to see them finish even higher than this.
  6. Stony Brook – The Seawolves are likely to take a step back this season with three starters gone and a ton of questions in the backcourt.  Tyrell Sturdivant should be their go-to player and is poised for a huge season.
  7. Binghamton – Although we are picking them in 7th place, the Bearcats have a chance to be a surprise team with most of their rotation back.  The key will be keeping Willie Rodriguez and J.C. Show healthy and on the court, something they could not do last season.
  8. Hartford – The good news is the Hawks return four starters from last season.  The bad news is that Jalen Ross, who scored almost 20 points per game, is gone.  Hartford should be better than 9-23 last year, but maybe not much better.
  9. Maine – With all nine teams now eligible for the NCAA Tournament, one school will not qualify for the 8-team America East tournament.  Finding a way to avoid being that team would be a successful year for Maine, but even doing that may be a longshot with top scorer Wes Myers gone.
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Season Preview: HoopsHD interviews new UNC-Wilmington head coach CB McGrath

CLICK HERE for all of Jon’s interviews, and the rest of our extensive and continuous preseason coverage

No pressure at all for new UNC-Wilmington coach CB McGrath: he just has to replace a coach who has won each of the past 3 CAA regular season championships (Kevin Keatts) while bringing in the high expectations of having been a player/assistant for another coach who has won 3 NCAA titles in the past 13 years (Roy Williams).  Hired last April, he inherits a team who only has 1 returning starter in Devontae Cacok as he prepares to become the next branch on the Roy Williams D-1 coaching tree that includes guys like King Rice (Monmouth), Kevin Stallings (Pitt), and Mark Turgeon (Maryland). HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Coach McGrath about playing for Coach Williams and winning NCAA titles.  

You played PG for Coach Roy Williams at Kansas and were team captain in 1998: what is the key to being a good PG, and what is the key to being a good leader? I have always been a PG so I always had that mentality to be a leader, whether that is right or wrong. It is important to lead by example, which requires the respect of your teammates via hard work and the relationships you build. Some people are born leaders and some are not.

You went 58-0 at home during your career as a Jayhawk: how do you explain the environment at Phog Allen Fieldhouse to someone who has never been there? It is hard to explain: it is just a great venue where everyone is cheering for the team to win. We won some close games because of it: even if we did not have our best day they would get us going.

You have had approximately 20 family members attend Kansas: is everyone dying for you to put Bill Self on your schedule ASAP?! Most of them do not live there any more because they moved away after college but my parents are still there. I think at some point I would like that to happen…but I do not want to overload us right now.

You won 3 NCAA titles as an assistant to Williams at UNC: what makes him such a great coach, and what does it take to win a title? It takes a lot of things to win a title: health, talent, a great coach, etc. Winning is definitely not as easy as people think it is. Coach is great because he cares so much about his players and they work hard for him in return. He teaches everyone to be invested in all of the rewards that come their way.

In April you were hired as head coach at UNC-Wilmington: why did you take the job, and how does your approach change when you are taking over a 2-time-defending NCAA tourney team rather than a last-place loser? I took the job because I wanted it.  I have been looking at some head coaching jobs the past few years and was able to have some selectivity because I already had a good job at UNC. A winning mentality is hard to create but Wilmington has a lot of things going for it. It is easier to take over a good team but we lost a lot of starters from last year.

Your wife Kris played tennis at Kansas and was Big 12 POY: who is the best athlete in the family? She is, for sure. My kids are getting older so they might surpass her at some point, but she still plays tennis.

You have a few former Tar Heels on your staff including assistant coaches Jackie Manuel/Joe Wolf: how strong is the bond among all the former players? It is a family and that is not just lip service. It was important to me to have someone who played there because that is how I want to run our program: they know what I am about, the terminology, etc. I have enjoyed them on the staff and they have all done a great job.

1 of your biggest non-conference games this year is a trip to LSU: how will you prepare to face a team from the SEC like the Tigers? You put a game plan together for every game and just try to execute it to the best of your ability. Some people have more talent and you might have to do different things but there is no difference in preparing to try to win every game.

Your team only has 1 returning starter in Devontae Cacok after CJ Bryce followed Coach Kevin Keatts to NC State and the rest of your starting lineup graduated (Ambrose Mosley/Chris Flemmings/Denzel Ingram): what makes Cacok such a great player, and how are you going to try to replace all of that offense/experience? Devontae is a hard worker and an explosive athlete: he has a lot more touch/skill than even he knows he has. We lost a lot of scoring but we have guys who want bigger roles and we will get the most efficient scoring we can.

What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? I just want us to work hard every day to get better every day. If so, we will be a tough team to beat by the end of the season. I expect them to do that but I can live with whatever record we have: it is about the whole method and everyone supporting each other.

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Conference Preview: West Coast

WEST COAST

Last season, we here at HoopsHD officially elevated the entire West Coast Conference from its former “Under the Radar” conference status to the same level of leagues like the Atlantic 10.  The conference proved us correct when St. Mary’s and Gonzaga both made the Big Dance, and the Zags got Mark Few his first career Final Four, losing to North Carolina in the national championship game.  This year, the Zags have to rebuild a bit with several key pieces from their team gone, and that is why it is St. Mary’s that is (albeit narrowly) the pick to win the league.  The Gaels have a chance to be very special this year, and would not be a shock at all be be playing in the Sweet 16, if not deeper.

As for the rest of the conference, the pile of new head coaches that came in last season (Kyle Smith, Herb Sendek, Damon Stoudamire and Terry Porter) continue to try to grow their programs, but no one appears strong enough to catch up with the top two.   That really may be the top three, as BYU is once again clearly the third best team in the league.  The Cougars should have another very strong season, but they will need to make some noise in non-conference play and pick up a couple wins against the Zags and Gaels if they want to actually contend for a ticket to the Big Dance.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. St. Mary’s – The Gaels are absolutely loaded this year, led by arguably the nation’s best center, Jock Landale, along with Calvin Hermanson, Emmett Naar, Ole Miss graduate transfer Cullen Neal and more.
  2. Gonzaga – Last year’s national runner-up, the Bulldogs have to make up for some huge offseason losses as four double-digit scorers have moved on.  However, they should still be very dangerous, especially if players like Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell can play up to their potential, with the help of returnees Josh Perkins and Johnathan Williams.
  3. BYU – The Cougars could have made this a three way battle and an incredibly exciting season — if only Eric Mika had pulled his name out of the NBA Draft.  Instead, the star forward who averaged over 20 points and almost 10 boards per game is now playing pro ball overseas, and there are tons of question marks down low.  Still, BYU will be dangerous enough in the backcourt to make some noise with the combination of TJ Haws, Elijah Bryant and Nick Emery — assuming they can all stay healthy.
  4. San Francisco – Kyle Smith did a great job getting 20 wins out of this team in his first season as head coach.  Although they lose their top scorer, Ronnie Boyce III, the majority of the team returns and junior college transfer Erik Poulsen could be a big factor.  The Dons may not be able to crack the top three, but they will not be a pushover either.
  5. San Diego – The Toreros have a chance to surprise a few teams with this season with Olin Carter III back at guard and a pair of transfers, Isaiah Pineiro (Portland State) and Isaiah Wright (Utah), that could have big seasons.
  6. Santa Clara – Herb Sendek enters his second season as head coach of the Broncos, and will do so without his best player from last year, guard Jared Brownridge, who averaged over 18 points per game.  He still has a few weapons though, led by KJ Feagin at guard and Princeton grad transfer Henry Caruso, who missed most of last season with an injury.
  7. Pacific – The Tigers are one of several West Coast Conference teams that had close to a complete roster turnover this past offseason.  They do bring in Oregon transfer Kendall Small at point guard, and he will have a chance to shine here.  However, the talent and depth is probably not enough for an upper division finish, and will be hurt for a few more years due to scholarship reductions from violations under the prior coaching regime.
  8. Portland – Terry Porter’s team is almost a complete mystery heading into this season, with a ton of new pieces (11 of them if you count redshirts and walk-ons).  There is definitely some potential talent here, but it will probably take at least one full season for them to gel and learn how to win.
  9. Loyola Marymount – Mike Dunlap is entering his fourth season as head coach for the Lions, but it looks like he is going to be rebuilding once again with very few offensive options returning from last season.
  10. Pepperdine – The Waves only won 9 games last season, albeit in part due to a slew of injuries.  Their top three scorers from last season are now gone, and it is tough to see any serious chance of success this year.
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