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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The Hoops HD Report: Big 12 Conference Preview

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It is unanimous.  Kansas is the best team in the conference, and we also all feel that Kansas is the #1 team in the nation.  This is a league that routinely puts more than half its teams in the NCAA Tournament, and produced three Elite Eight teams and a Final Four team a year ago.  We think the league may be a little down this year.  We think that only six teams will make The Dance.  ONLY SIX!!  K State looks to be really strong as well, we disagree on how good West Virginia will be this year, and never count out teams like TCU and Texas Tech, who have a tendency to exceed their preseason expectations every year.  We discuss all ten teams in our preseason preview….

 

And for all you radio lovers, below is an mp3 version of the show…

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Conference Preview: Ohio Valley

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Murray State and Belmont finished 1-2 in the conference regular season standings again last season, with the Racers winning the OVC Tournament and heading to the NCAAs.  This seems to be the story almost every year in the Ohio Valley, and will likely be the tale again when the dust clears this season.  The one relative newcomer that will look to once again crash the party is Jacksonville State, where head coach Ray Harper has turned the Gamecocks into a legitimate threat to win.  Austin Peay could also be in the hunt this season and keep an eye on Morehead State as a team with a huge chance to improve after losing 21 games last year.  Unfortunately, much of the bottom half of the conference is teams in rebuild mode, so don’t be surprised to see a lot of bad overall records pulling down the Strengths of Schedule for the league’s top teams.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Belmont – Dylan Windler just barely missed averaging a double-double last season and could do so this year as he and his teammates will have to make up for the absence of Amanze Egekeze. With two other starters and key reserve Nick Hopkins also back this season, the Bruins have a great chance to claim the Ohio Valley championship.
  2. Murray State – Last year’s OVC Player of the Year, Jonathan Stark, may be gone, but the Racers have another guard ready to replace him in Ja Morant who averaged over 12 points and 6 rebounds per game as a freshman. There is no reason why the Racers will not be right back in the thick of the battle for first place.
  3. Jacksonville State – Ray Harper continued to work his magic last season, guiding the Gamecocks to 23 wins and a run to the semifinals of the CBI. The team returns four of its top six players and welcomes in a pair of transfers from high-major programs that should help – Detrick Mostella (Tennessee) and Ty Hudson (Clemson).
  4. Austin Peay – The Governors should be among the conference’s top teams, led by their sophomore backcourt pairing of Terry Taylor (last year’s OVC Freshman of the Year) and Dayton Gumm. Also keep an eye on freshman big man Matheus Silveira.  At 7-feet tall, the Brazilian import figures to be a force in the middle.
  5. Morehead State – The Eagles have a chance to be the surprise team in the OVC this season. Despite losing 21 games last year, all five starters return and head coach Preston Spradlin welcomes in some intriguing new recruits, including 6-11 Russian forward Sasha Sukhanov.
  6. Tennessee Tech – The Golden Eagles will likely take a step back this season with only one starter returning from last year’s 19-14 squad. They do welcome in graduate transfer Malik Martin (South Florida), who at 6-11 has a chance to make a major impact this season.
  7. Southeast Missouri State – The Redhawks might have been picked as a contender for the league title this year had Denzel Mahoney (19.3 points per game) not opted to transfer to Creighton. Even without him, this team should remain competitive thanks to sophomore guard Ledarrius Brewer.
  8. Tennessee State – With Dana Ford now running the show at Missouri State, the Tigers have hired Brian “Penny” Collins as their new head coach. He may have a tough time in his first season as only one starter returns from a .500 team.  Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey is eligible after transferring from Ole Miss, where he had been a highly regarded recruit that struggled during two seasons.  This could be a fresh start and chance for him to shine.
  9. Tennessee-Martin – The Skyhawks only won 10 games last season and could be in for another tough ride with leading scorer Matthew Butler gone. Keep an eye on senior forward Fatodd Lewis who will be a double-double threat just about every night.
  10. Eastern Kentucky – Nick Mayo is back for his senior season and should be in the mix for conference Player of the Year. Unfortunately, pretty much everyone else of note, including head coach Dan McHale, is gone from a team that went 11-20.  Mayo will be fun to watch, but don’t expect much else this year under new head coach A.W. Hamilton.
  11. Eastern Illinois – The Panthers will be in rebuild mode this season with only guard Mack Smith back from last year’s starting lineup. The good news is that Smith, who averaged over 12 points per game, is only in his second year and the experience he and newcomers gain this season could translate into wins next season and beyond.
  12. SIU-Edwardsville – The Cougars went 9-21 last season and do not return a single player that scored 10 or more points per game. That is not a recipe for success, and just avoiding the 20-loss mark may be an accomplishment.
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Season preview: HoopsHD interviews Mississippi State F Aric Holman

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We continue our season preview coverage with Mississippi State F Aric Holman. On the majority of college basketball teams the 6’10” Holman would be the tallest player on the roster. In Starkville it just makes him part of the crowd, as the Bulldogs have a whopping SIX guys on the team who stand between 6’10” and 6’11”. He certainly knows how to use his height on defense, finishing in the top-10 in the SEC in BPG during each of the past 2 years. HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Aric about his team’s NIT semifinal run last spring and how the rest of the frontcourt is looking this season.

You grew up in Kentucky: what made you choose Mississippi State? I just wanted to be different: most of the guys I grew up with wanted to stay close to home but I wanted to go out on my own path.

You play for Coach Ben Howland: what makes him such a good coach, and what is the most important thing that you have learned from him? He gets the best out of you and will teach you things that help you both on/off the court. If you are far away from your family he will help you grow/develop.

All of your shooting percentages went way up last year even though your minutes/game actually went down: what is the key to being a good shooter? Just staying in the gym, getting plenty of reps up, and building your confidence when nobody else is around: it paid off.

You have finished in the top-10 in the SEC in BPG each of the past 2 years: what is the secret to blocking shots? It is an instinct thing: I have cherished doing that since high school as an athletic big man and I tend to be pretty good at it.

Last December you scored a career-high 23 PTS/10-12 FG in a win over North Florida: was it just 1 of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were “in the zone”? I would say so. I was also trying to take as many smart shots as I could to make them all count.

In the 2018 SEC quarterfinal you had 4 BLK in a 3-PT loss to Tennessee: how is Nick Weatherspoon’s health at the moment (he hurt his neck in the 2nd half and had to be taken to the hospital)? He is doing fine now, has recovered from his injury, and is ready to roll.

In the 2018 NIT semifinal you had 10 PTS/4-8 FG/3 BLK in a loss to Penn State: what did you learn from that game that will help you this year? Just how dominant we are as a team when we are all on the same page. When we are out here having fun and playing hard we get good outcomes.

Your non-conference schedule includes games against ASU/Clemson/Cincinnati: which of these games do you feel will present your biggest test? I would add Dayton in there as well because they have a great home atmosphere. I think that our biggest game will be against Clemson: it is at a neutral site (Newark, NJ) and they had a great season last year (25 wins and a run to the Sweet 16).

You have a great returning backcourt including guys like Quinndary Weatherspoon/Tyson Carter/Lamar Peters/Nick Weatherspoon: what kind of help do you have in the frontcourt? We have a great forward in Abdul Ado, KeyShawn Feazell is only a sophomore, and we have some good freshmen as well.

What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? My goal is to help get my team to the NCAA tourney and make it a season that we all remember.

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