Conference Preview: Southland

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  This statement is as true in the Southland Conference as anywhere.  After “taking a year off” in 2017, Stephen F. Austin returned to the conference throne last season, capturing the league’s automatic bid for the fourth time in five years, and then gave Texas Tech a real challenge in the First Round.  This season, expect the ‘jacks to also reclaim the regular season title as they return their top two players.  Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls State, the two teams that tied for first a game ahead of SFA last year, are both expected to take big steps back with significant offseason losses from graduation (both teams lost six key seniors).  Stepping in to give the Lumberjacks their best challenge this year may be Abilene Christian – one of only a small handful teams in this conference with significant returning starting minutes.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Stephen F Austin – The Lumberjacks won 28 games and gave Texas Tech all they could handle in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. The top two scorers, Shannon Bogues and TJ Holyfield, return this season and the two of them almost instantly make SFA the team to beat in the Southland Conference.
  2. Abilene Christian – The Wildcats could be poised for a finish near the top of the conference standings with four starters returning led by a trifecta of J’s — Jalone Friday, Jaren Lewis and Jaylen Franklin. All three averaged double figures in scoring and both Friday and Lewis are legitimate double-double threats.
  3. Houston Baptist – Despite having top scorer David Caraher transfer to St. John’s, the Huskies may be poised for a significant jump up in the standings following a 6-25 record last season. A pair of double-digit scoring guards (Ian DuBose and Braxton Bonds) both return but, even more importantly, center Josh Ibarra got an extra year of eligibility due to a medical redshirt after averaging a double-double over the nine games he played before his foot injury last season.
  4. Central Arkansas – The Bears had a solid record last season (18-17) but will now have to get by without their top two players including Southland Player of the Year Jordan Howard. One player to keep an eye on is 7-foot sophomore center Hayden Koval, a nightly double-double (or even triple-double with his shot-blocking ability) threat inside.  Koval was named to the conference’s all-defensive team last season.
  5. Sam Houston State – The Bearkats return only one starter from last year’s team so this may be a bit of a rebuilding season in Huntsville. Keep an eye on senior guard Josh Delaney who could emerge as the team’s top scorer as he moves into the starting lineup.
  6. Southeastern Louisiana – The Lions won 22 games last season but did that with six key seniors in the rotation. All will not be lost this year, however, as the conference assists leader, Marlain Veal, returns to run the point, and Moses Greenwood proved he could score coming off the bench last season.  How quickly five newcomers gel with the returnees could decide this team’s fate.
  7. Lamar – The Cardinals only return one starter from last season but should remain competitive thanks to a pair of double-digit averaging returnees (forward Josh Nzeakor and sixth man Nick Garth) as well as a host of transfers led by Jordan Hunter (New Mexico) and Laquarious Paige (Indiana State).
  8. New Orleans – The Privateers struggled to score last season, so losing leading scorer (and the only player on the team who averaged double digits) Travin Thibodeaux does not help. Unless this team finds a legitimate outside scoring threat, even qualifying for the eight-team Southland Conference tournament may be a struggle.
  9. McNeese State – The Cowboys welcome in a new head coach in former Portland State/Wyoming/UT-Martin head man Heath Schroyer. Schroyer will have his work cut out for him in his first season as the team’s top two players (leading scorer Kalob Ledoux and double-double averaging Quatarrius Wilson) are gone from last year’s 12-17 squad.  Eight solid newcomers join a couple of double-digit scoring returning starters, so McNeese should remain competitive at least.
  10. Northwestern State – The Demons struggled mightily last season, as 14 different players moved in and out of the starting lineup and overall the team only managed 4 wins. Hopefully, the experience gained by half a dozen freshmen will pay off this year with more victories.  The one senior to keep an eye on is the team’s leading returning scorer and double-double threat, Ishmael Lane (13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last year).
  11. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi – The Islanders will need to remain healthy this season if they want to find a way into the top eight in the regular season. They will also need to make up for the loss of leading scorer Joe Kilgore.  Some of the offensive load will be taken by guard Kareem South who was solid as a starting guard last year.
  12. Nicholls State – The Colonels were the surprise team in the Southland last season, tying for the regular season title and winning 21 games overall. Six key seniors are gone from that team, as is head coach Richie Riley who took the job at South Alabama.  Former assistant Austin Claunch is now in charge, but with only one starting player (sophomore guard Kevin Johnson) back, it looks like a rebuilding year for Nicholls.
  13. Incarnate Word – With two of the top three scorers gone from a team that went 7-21 last year, don’t expect much from the Cardinals this season. Carson Cunningham takes over as the new head coach and does have a roster filled with freshmen and sophomores – so experience this year could pay off in the future.
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Season preview: HoopsHD interviews Winthrop women’s head coach Lynette Woodard

We continue our season preview coverage with Winthrop women’s head coach Lynette Woodard. In basketball you have subs, role players, starters, and superstars: on a level beyond them all are the legends whose legacies are enshrined for eternity. Coach Woodard is such a legend: 4-time All-American at Kansas, 1981 national POY, all-time leading scorer in women’s basketball history, 2-time Academic All-American, 1984 Olympic gold medalist, and Hall of Fame inductee. HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Coach Woodard about becoming the 1st woman to ever play for the Harlem Globetrotters and how she likes being a coach.

You played for Hall of Fame coach Marian Washington at Kansas: what made her such a great coach, and what was the most important thing that you ever learned from her? She understood the game and was able to communicate it very well. I was gifted but still did not understand how to play the game until I had a great teacher like her who could break the game down because it was going really fast for me. She taught me to work hard, be committed to excellence, and not cut any corners. It was all fun and games at 1st but she taught me to believe in myself by being competitive.

You were a 4-time All-American at Kansas and the 1981 national POY: what did it mean to you to receive such outstanding honors? It makes me feel very proud even to this day, especially knowing where I began. After I was named an All-American for the 1st time Coach Washington took my head out of the clouds without beating me down and challenged me to improve.

You remain the all-time leading scorer in D-1 women’s basketball with 3649 career PTS: what is the secret to being a great scorer? Being determined, practicing, and loving the game. I figured that my offense could come from my defense so I got 5 SPG and that helped a lot. I wanted to be in better shape than anyone when I stepped onto the floor. In AAU ball I did not know that at first, but after seeing the guys running miles/stairs/hills I wanted to do that as well.

You also set school records with 1714 REB/522 STL: how did you balance your scoring with your rebounding with your defense? I just always hustled. Some people thought I just shot the ball all the time but I made sure to do other things like get some assists and hit the boards. I could jump/run and I was hungry for the ball so I wanted to be everywhere it was. I had a rhythm for the game and learned all the different aspects of the game by doing daily drills.

You were also a 2-time Academic All-American: how did you balance your work on the court with your work in the classroom? I was afraid that I was going to flunk out: I shared my fear with Coach Washington 1 day and she told me to organize my schoolwork and then get it done. I eventually learned some good study habits but at 1st I did not know what it took to be a student at that level. I enrolled in summer classes at Wichita State and completed all of my assignments but still had to get some self-confidence. When I finally started making good grades I realized that self-discipline was important.

You were selected to team USA for the Olympics in 1980 (but missed out due to a boycott) and 1984 (winning a gold medal as captain): how frustrating was it to not go to Moscow, and how excited were you to win a gold in Los Angeles? It was very disappointing to not go in 1980: I was stunned for a long time but the people around me said that I could just go back in 1984. It seemed like a long way away but I started counting my blessings because there were other players who would not get that chance. I saw all the good things that could come from playing in an Olympics in the US and it was a dream come true to have my family there.

In 1985 you became the 1st woman to ever play for the Harlem Globetrotters: why did you join the team, and how did that decision change your life (if at all)? They happened to be in the stands during the 1984 Olympics and have always been innovators. They even started the 4-PT shot: perhaps we will see that in the NBA 1 day! I dreamed about it as a child: they were always my team because I had a cousin who played for them (Hubert “Geese” Ausbie). When it was my time I read that the team was going co-ed and I called them and said that I was the 1. I was invited to tryouts and the rest is history. It did change my life. My mom Dorothy from Kansas had a dog named Toto(!) and I will forever be grateful.

In 2004 you were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and in 2005 you were inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame: where do those rank among the highlights of your career? You really do not know until you get to the ceremony but then you realize how humbling it is. You see all of the players in the room who you watched while growing up: I felt like Cinderella at the ball (and with the “ball”!). It was so amazing to feel all of the love/appreciation they had for what I had done. It is also about your family/friends because that is who they treat the warmest: they were forever touched by that.

In 2017 you were hired as head coach at Winthrop: what was the best part of year #1, and what was the not-best part? Coming into coaching was a lot different. I have very high expectations but it is a very young ball club so I focused on changing the culture. We have to understand what it will take for us to be competitive.

What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? I love the players’ attitude/renewed energy and they are buying in. If they all put in what they have to bring to the team then we can make the most of it. As long as we remain a team and cheer each other on and pick each other up when we are down then it will make the season fun. We are going to be a better ball club.

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Happy College Basketball Season Everybody!!! (sort of)

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Today is the official soft launch to the start of the college basketball season!  At least, that’s how we at Hoops HD look at it.

Some people consider the season to be in full swing on the very first day of practice even though there aren’t any games, and most players don’t like the beginning of practice because it’s still mostly conditioning.

Others consider the season started on the first day of meaningful games, which is November 6th this year.

Others don’t care until conference play start.

There are some that don’t really care until conference tournaments begin.

The way we look at it at Hoops HD is that the entrees do not arrive until the first day of meaningful games.  But, we’ve been seated at our table, and they’ve given us a basket of bread and crackers.  Today’s game between UAB and Georgia is not an official game, and there might not be that many people in the stands, and we may not even get to watch it because at the time I am writing this there is no indication that there will be any video streaming of the game.  But, for the first time since last year’s national championship game between Villanova and Michigan, two college basketball teams are playing each other!!  And (with the exception of this upcoming Saturday and Monday and Christmas Eve) there will be at least one college basketball game every day between now and the day after Selection Sunday!!  This is a great day, because the longest possible expanse of college basketball that we could possibly have is right in front of us.  So, HAPPY COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON EVERYBODY!!  (sort of)

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ENTIRE LIST OF ALL DIV1 OPEN EXHIBITION GAMES

PUPPET RAMBLINGS

-I really wish the NCAA gave a damn about charity.  They’ve certainly received enough of it via their tax exempt status, but I digress…

Last year we saw the NCAA grant waiver after waiver after waiver in which schools were allowed to schedule a third exhibition game so long as all the money raised from that event was given to charity.  Many thought (myself included) that we were getting to a point to where the NCAA would change the rules and allow all teams to play three exhibition games, so long as all the proceeds from open exhibitions against other div1 programs went to charity.  That would be a fantastic rule, wouldn’t it??  Last year I probably donated more money to more charities than I ever have before.  A lot of money was raised for a lot of good causes.  And, we all got to see basketball games that were far more exciting than your typical exhibition game.  So, doing that every year made all kinds of sense to me.  But, I guess the NCAA did not see it that way.

No waivers were granted this year.  Every school is once again limited to two exhibition contests.  What they did do is change the rules to where there are now three options.  Div1 teams can play open exhibition games against nondiv1 schools (div2, div3, or NAIA), they can play a closed three hour scrimmage against another div1 school, or they can play an open exhibition against another div1 school so long as all of the proceeds go to an approved charity.  While this is better than before, I don’t understand why we don’t just have three exhibition games.  I’ve wanted there to be three exhibition games for a while simply because just playing one more game gets teams more sharp for the start of the regular season, especially if they’re able to play that game against another div1 school in a game that’s open to fans.  While the way the NCAA decided to do it isn’t THAT big of a deal, and in two weeks no one will even care about it anymore, I do think that they’re doing it wrong.

As for tonight’s game between Georgia and UAB, it is for charity with proceeds going to the American Red Cross.  As of now there is no information about a video stream, but we should be able to listen to the game by CLICKING HERE

For those of you who end up watching, listening to, or attending some of these preseason exhibition games, I would encourage you do make at least a small donation to the charity that the games are supporting.  Three reasons: It’s a good thing to do, the more money that is raised the more likely the NCAA is to continue to approve them, and the more money that’s raised the more likely it is that schools will continue to schedule them.  Even if you just give $5-$10, which is only about what a crappy watered-down beer costs at most arenas, all that money can add up.

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Conference Preview: Southern

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The SoCon this season may be about the number zero.  That is the number of returning starters on four of the league’s ten teams (Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Mercer and Samford).  It means that programs across the conference will be in rebuild mode.  It also means that there is a great chance for one elite team to dominate, and just such an elite team exists.  The Wofford Terriers return all five of their starters from a team that shocked the college basketball world with a road win in Chapel Hill early last season.  Although UNC-Greensboro could challenge the Terriers, do not be surprised to hear about Wofford as one of the teams that no one wants to see matched up against them on Selection Sunday.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Wofford – The Terriers are primed to be one of the best Under the Radar programs in the nation this season with all five starters returning from a team that won 21 games, including on the road at North Carolina. Fletcher Magee won Southern Conference Player of the Year after averaging 22.1 points per game and is joined by three other returning double-digit scorers.  Wofford will get the chance to repeat last year’s huge win, this time at home, when they host the Tar Heels on Opening Night, November 6.
  2. UNC-Greensboro – The Spartans won the conference regular season and tournament crowns last season before battling Gonzaga, losing by only four, in the First Round. Leading scorer Francis Alonso is back, as are two other starters and a host of key reserves.  This team should once again be right in the thick of the conference race.
  3. Furman – The top three scorers are gone from last year’s team, so don’t expect the Paladins to win 23 games again. Matt Rafferty is a nightly double-double threat down low still and expect Jordan Lyons and Andrew Brown to both increase their scoring averages this season.
  4. East Tennessee State – The Buccaneers lost all five starters from last season’s 25-win team. However, this may be more of a reloading year than a rebuilding one with Jeromy Rodriguez back after a medical redshirt and several key newcomers coming in, led by two-time Juco All-American Isaiah Tisdale.
  5. Mercer – The Bears do not return a single starter from last season’s team, but they are not completely devoid of talent. Guards Ross Cummings and Marcus Cohen were both significant contributors off the bench and should step up their games this season to at least keep head coach Bob Hoffman’s squad competitive.
  6. Western Carolina – The Catamounts will be playing with heavy hearts this year after head coach Larry Hunter, just a couple months after resigning, passed away back in May. The new head man is Mark Prosser, son of late great coach Skip Prosser and former assistant to Pat Kelsey at Winthrop.  On the court, with only two starters back, neither of whom averaged more than 9 points per game, just equaling last season’s 13-win total would probably be a success.
  7. VMI – The Keydets return four starters and several key role players from last season. In a conference with a lot of teams rebuilding, this could be the season that this team takes a step up in the right direction.  However, to do so they must find a way to shoot better – they were under 40% from the field last season.
  8. Chattanooga – The Mocs went 10-23 last season and do not have a single starter back. A couple of transfers will help (Jerry Johnson from Fairfield and Ramon Vila from Arizona State, eligible after the first semester), but don’t expect much from this team.
  9. The Citadel – The Bulldogs return three starters from a team that went 5-13 in conference play last season. There is a chance for this team to move up, especially if Matt Frierson can keep hitting from long range – he was sixth in the nation in 3’s made last season.
  10. Samford – The Bulldogs will be in for another long season with no starters back from a team that finished the year 10-22 overall and just 6-12 in SoCon play. Josh Sharkey is the leading returning scorer at 7.2 points per game.  Keep an eye on Alabama transfer Brandon Austin to play a big role on this team.
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Conference Preview: Patriot League

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The Bucknell Bison have won four consecutive (and 7 out of the last 8) Patriot League regular season championships and each of the past two seasons they added in the conference tournament title and an NCAA bid as well.  In 2017, the battled West Virginia in the first round, losing by 6 points.  Last year it was Michigan State that defeated the Bison in the first round by only 4.  So, of course, this year . . . it won’t happen again.  The Bison enter rebuild mode with two former conference Players of the Year both having graduated (Nana Foulland and Zach Thomas).  That leaves the door wide open for another team to claim the crown, and there are at least half a dozen with aspirations to do just that.  The pick is Lehigh, but Colgate, Boston University and Army could all be contenders.  Also keep an eye on Holy Cross as the Crusaders seem to have themselves in line for a breakout season.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Lehigh – It is hard to figure out what the Mountain Hawks don’t have this season. Point guard Kahron Ross is gone, but they return five backcourt players who all contributed significantly last season and have a couple of strong forces down low led by junior Pat Andree.  The key to the team’s success will be guard Lance Tejada who led the Patriot League in 3-point shooting last season.
  2. Holy Cross – Picking head coach Bill Carmody’s team this high after they went 12-19 last year may be a stretch, but five freshmen got significant playing time last season and that experience should pay off this time around. There is a senior leader here too – leading returning scorer and defending Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Jehyve Floyd.
  3. Colgate – The Raiders won 19 games last season and could at least match that mark with their inside-outside combination of forward Will Rayman (14.6 points per game) and guard Jordan Burns (11.9 points per game). Jordan Swopshire and Sean O’Brien may be gone, but there is enough depth to fill in for them, and enough scoring talent to contend for the conference crown.
  4. Boston University – With four starters returning, led by Max Mahoney, the Terriers could be a factor in the conference title race. They also only have one senior of note on the team, so next year may be even better.  Of course, we could not preview this team without mentioning sophomore guard Water Whyte – is his nickname Heisenberg?
  5. Army – The Black Knights have experience with four returning starters. Jordan Fox and Tommy Funk will give them a backcourt that can matchup with pretty much every team in the conference, while Matt Wilson and Alex King will lead the way down low.  This team could be a surprise contender for their first ever NCAA Tournament bid.
  6. Bucknell – The Bison will be hard-pressed to win another league title this season given that two former Patriot League Players of the Year (Nana Foulland and Zach Thomas) have both graduated. One newcomer to keep an eye on is freshman Walter Ellis, whose father LaPhonso spent more than a decade in the NBA.
  7. American – The good news is that all five starters, three of whom averaged 14 or more points per game, are back. The bad news is that, with that same starting five, the Eagles were 6-24 last season.  Thing may prove to be a lot better this year, however, because big man Mark Gasperini, who missed last season due to an injury, is healthy.
  8. Lafayette – The Leopards struggled last season, finishing 10-21 overall. They must go forward this year without leading scorer Matt Klinewski as well.  The good news is that Alex Petrie, the Patriot League Rookie of the Year after averaging 15.0 points per game, is back and may be a contender for conference Player of the Year.
  9. Loyola – This is Loyola-Maryland, not Loyola-Chicago, so don’t expect any Final Four runs from new head coach Tavaras Hardy’s team. The Greyhounds do return three starters but lost a pair of double-digit scorers off of a 22-loss team.  Another long year may be in the cards.
  10. Navy – With only two starters back, neither of whom averaged in double figures last season, this looks like a rebuilding year for head coach Ed DeChellis and his team. They will at least have senior leadership at the point with Hasan Abdullah.
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Season preview: HoopsHD interviews South Dakota State G Skyler Flatten

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We continue our season preview coverage with South Dakota State G Skyler Flatten. He has to be 1 of the most experienced players in the nation: he arrived in the fall of 2013 and redshirted that season, played in 31 games as a redshirt freshman, missed all of the following year due to a knee injury, then played 62 games during the past 2 years. His teammate Mike Daum daum-inates most of the headlines but it is Skyler who has no limits from behind the arc, as he led the Summit League last year with 49.1 3P%. HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Skyler about being a great 3-PT shooter and making the NCAA tourney last March.

You grew up in South Dakota: what made you choose the Jackrabbits? This is in my backyard and it gives my family a chance to see almost every 1 of my games. The coaching staff is great and it is like a family environment here.

You play for Coach TJ Otzelberger: what makes him such a good coach, and what is the most important thing that you have learned from him? He is so personable and knows the game inside-out. He treats everyone like a family member and has taught me to get 1% better each and every day. At the end of the season it will add up.

After playing in 31 games as a freshman you missed all of the next season due to a torn patellar tendon in your left knee: how bad was the injury, and how excited were you last January to hear that the NCAA awarded you a medical hardship so that you can play this season? It was a tough injury: I knew something was wrong but decided to play on it until getting surgery. I am excited for the chance to redeem myself and show what I can do for our great program.

In your 1st few years on campus you only started 2 games but last year you started 31 games: what is the biggest difference between being a starter vs. coming off the bench? You feel like you are in the flow more and can let it all loose as a starter. Some players like coming off the bench but I just like going in as a starter and producing.

Last December you scored a career-high 18 PTS/7-10 FG in a win over Concordia: was it just 1 of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were “in the zone”? I think it was a flow thing: I felt confident every time I shot the ball so I kept taking more shots and it was great.

Last year you led the Summit League with 49.1 3P%: what is the secret to making shots from behind the arc? Just getting into the gym every day and making a certain number of shots. Confidence is key: you cannot shoot the ball just for the heck of it. You have to expect it to go in after putting in the time practicing your shot.

In the 2018 NCAA tourney you had 4 REB in an 8-PT loss to Ohio State: what did you learn from that game that will help you this year? I learned to be more aggressive and never take a possession off. You have to treat every opponent the same and play as hard as you can because anyone can beat anyone in the tourney.

Your teammate Mike Daum is the 2-time defending conference POY and 3-time defending conference tourney MVP: what makes him such a great player, and do you think that he can make it to the NBA next year? I certainly think he will make it to the NBA. He never gets too high or too low and comes to work every day. He is a great leader who sets an example for the younger guys and takes care of his business.

Your non-conference schedule includes games against Memphis/Nevada: which of these games do you feel will present your biggest test? Nevada is a preseason top-10 team and showed last year that they could make a deep run in the NCAA tourney. They have a really good ball club and hopefully we can beat them: it would be a big step for our program.

What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? I want to make it back to the NCAA tourney and hopefully make a deep run. We have been there before so now it is time for us to take the next step. I want to be the best teammate and do whatever I can to help us win.

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