As I always make a point to say…..
When I call this a notebook, that is exactly what it is. I’m not a psychic. I’m not good at making predictions. I’m merely a prognosticator that offers assessments, and that is all I’m doing here. As I’ve said before, it is routine that nearly half of all preseason predictions, even informed ones, are wrong. Half of the current preseason top 25 will not be ranked at all in the final top 25.
These are notes meant to help familiarize myself with teams and conferences as the season begins. Nothing more. Nothing less.
-Last year, this league sent half its teams to the NCAA Tournament. Not very many conferences can say that.
UNLV and San Diego State begin the season in the rankings. I really like this UNLV team and think they can compete for a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Colorado State returns three starters and is another team to keep an eye on. Unfortunately for them, they lost head coach Tim Miles to Nebraska, who was very instrumental in building up that program. Larry Eustacy, formerly of Southern Miss, takes over the reins.
New Mexico, who tied for first last year and earned a #5 seed in the NCAAs, has three starters back and will likely be dangerous again this year as well.
-This will be CUSA’s last year with its current lineup as Memphis, UCF, SMU and Houston will move on to the Big East. They will be adding Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Old Dominion, Florida International, Texas San Antonio and Charlotte next year as the league moves to a fourteen team format.
Memphis, who finished strong last year and has a lot of returning talent, begins the year in the rankings and appears to be the class of the league. Marshall, who appeared to be close to making the NCAA Tournament last year, is another team to watch for.
-Southern Miss also made the dance last year, but lost four starters and their head coach, so they appear to be in reset mode.
-Creighton had a great year last year, and should be strong again this year. Doug McDermott, who is one of the better players in the country, returns to their lineup. The Jays are kind of young, though, with six freshmen on the roster this year.
Illinois State and Northern Iowa are other teams to keep an eye on, as both have several key players returning from last year’s team.
-Ohio University is favored to win, and Akron is right behind them. Ohio was a Sweet Sixteen team a year ago who nearly beat North Carolina, which would have advanced them to the Elite Eight. All five starters are back. Someone who isn’t back is John Groce, who left to take the head coaching job at Illinois. That is kind of disappointing since his new team probably won’t be anywhere close to as good as his old one this year. This is a very dangerous team that is good enough to not need the automatic bid to get in this year.
-Akron is another team that was very good last year with, and that has a lot of their contributing players coming back.
-Butler, who has been the most successful and most recognizable program in the conference over the years, has moved on to the Atlantic Ten.
Valparaiso is the clear favorite in the Horizon League this year. They return all their starters and most of their contributing bench players as well. The team will travel to New Mexico and Murray State, but those are really their only shots at any sort of a statement win, so earning an at-large is possible, but it won’t be easy.
-Detroit, the winners of last year’s tournament, is another team to watch in this league. They had a strong finish last year and have three starters back, including Ray McCallum, who is perhaps the best player in the conference.
-LIU Brooklyn is once again the preseason favorite. Robert Morris, who lost to LIU in the championship game a year ago, is picked to repeat as runners up. LIU Brooklyn has really built their profile over the past two years, and with four starters returning from last year’s team, expect them to continue to move their program forward. They still don’t appear to be on the level of at-large caliber teams, but there are some heavyweights on their schedule so they’ll get a chance to prove themselves.
-Loyola, MD won the MAAC Tournament last year, and with four starters back they could repeat again.
-Iona was the first place finisher, and actually earned an at-large last year. They have three starters back, as well as a good portion of their bench.
-Harvard appeared to be the clear cut favorite, but that was before Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry left the team due to allegations of academic fraud. With those two, Harvard would have likely again been a solid NCAA Tournament team.
-Princeton is now the near unanimous favorite to win the league. Ian Hummer averaged over 16ppg and 7rpg last year, and is someone to keep an eye on. With no conference tournament, a first place finish will give Princeton the automatic bid.
-Savannah State, who finished first last year, is the hands down favorite to win it again this year. Savannah State lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament a year ago, and Norfolk State went on to win it. Norfolk State then went on to pull off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history when they beat #2 seeded Missouri. So, if Savannah State can finish ahead of a team like that in the standings, and return all of their starters, there is reason to hope. A very short time ago, Savannah State was the worst program in all of div1. That is not an exaggeration. They went through a stretch where they were 7-79 just a few years ago. The fact that they are now a conference frontrunner is a huge testament to the job head coach Horace Broadnax has done.
-There are five teams in this conference. Utah Valley appears to be the best, but the league does not have an automatic bid, and Utah Valley seems a long way off from being considered at-large caliber. This conference has, however, produced some of the most exciting conference tournaments that we’ve seen over the past two years.
-Welcome back New Orleans!!!! They join Cal State Bakersfield as the only two independent div1 teams. I don’t expect either to make the NCAAs. That’s kind of like saying you don’t expect to see the sun out at midnight.