Conference Preview: Big South

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There was quite a lot of transition in the Big South during the offseason as two teams joined while two others left.  The new members are Hampton, coming over from the MEAC where they shared the regular season crown last year and should compete from Day One, and South Carolina Upstate, a team that is in rebuild mode.  Leaving were Liberty, which took Upstate’s spot in the Atlantic Sun, and UNC-Asheville – well not really.  The Bulldogs are still in the conference, but last year’s regular season champions lost their head coach and virtually their entire roster, so they must rebuild from the bottom up.

Hampton has a great chance to contend, but Radford is the pick to win the regular season title as the Highlanders return the top three players from their NCAA Tournament team.  Campbell, led by the amazing Chris Clemons, and Winthrop should also contend.  Keep an eye on Presbyterian as well, as the Blue Hose are primed to actually move out of the league basement this year.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Radford – The Highlanders won the Big South tournament title, and a First Four game by double digits over Long Island University, thanks to their defense last season. With their top three players back, along with a handful of key reserves, Radford has a chance to be even better this year and will be among the favorites to capture the regular season crown.
  2. Hampton – The Pirates move into the Big South this season and will try to prove that they are a force to contend with in their new league. Jermaine Morrow averaged over 19 points per game for the co-regular season MEAC champions last year and is one of four starters returning for head coach Ed Joyner’s team.
  3. Campbell – Chris Clemons chose to come back for his senior season and enters the year as the nation’s leading returning scorer (24.9 points per game). The question won’t be whether or not the Camels can score, it will be whether they can improve a woefully bad defense.  If they do, the league crown could be heading to Buies Creek.
  4. Winthrop – Winthrop may not be the favorite to win the conference, but this team should never be counted out. Pat Kelsey’s Eagles lost their top two scorers from last season, but do get Nych Smith, who missed the second semester last year, back.  Unfortunately, Smith was one of three players recently cited for marijuana possession, and the consequences of that are not yet known.
  5. Gardner-Webb – The Runnin’ Bulldogs return four starters from last year’s team that went 9-9 in Big South play, led by senior guard David Efianayi, who averaged over 17 points per game. If the team can improve its outside and free throw shooting, do not be surprised if they are in the race for the league title.
  6. High Point – The Panthers made a huge move in the offseason, bringing perhaps their most famous alum (with apologies to Austin Dillon) in as head coach – Tubby Smith. It would not be a surprise at all if Tubby has this team contending within just a few seasons, and the Panthers may even make some noise this year with four starters back, although top scorer Andre Fox is gone.
  7. Presbyterian – The Blue Hose have a chance to make a serious move up from perennial league doormats to at least the middle of the standings this season. Four starters and several key reserves return, led by point guard Davon Bell and forward Francois Lewis.
  8. Charleston Southern – Christian Keeling is a big-time scorer, who averaged over 17 points per game as a sophomore last year. There just may not be enough other pieces around him for the Buccaneers to make any serious noise.
  9. South Carolina Upstate – The Spartans move to the Big South from the Atlantic Sun this season and do so with a new head coach in Dave Dickerson. Deion Holmes averaged over 15 points per game last year and is one of two returning starters, but the team may be hard-pressed to significantly improve on last year’s 7-25 record.
  10. UNC-Asheville – The Bulldogs won the Big South regular season title last season. That team is now gone, pretty much completely.  With head coach Nick McDevitt now at Middle Tennessee, former Shaka Smart assistant Mike Morrell takes over and welcomes in basically an entire new roster of players.  This could be a long year in Asheville.
  11. Longwood – The Lancers welcome former UMBC assistant Griff Aldrich in as their new head coach, but don’t expect any instant miracles here. Isaiah Walton is a legitimate scorer at least, though just getting to 10 wins would be an accomplishment.

 

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Conference Preview: Big Sky

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Montana and Weber State.  Weber State and Montana.  That seems to have been the story for about a century or two in the Big Sky conference and it will likely be the story again this season.  The top two teams both return four starters each from last year.  Eastern Washington, a team that also returns four starters, has a chance to compete with the two big dogs, and don’t count out last year’s CIT champions from Northern Colorado.  One team likely to take a big step back is Idaho, as the Vandals enter rebuild mode after going 14-4 in the conference last season only to get upset in the conference tournament quarterfinals by 10 seed Southern Utah.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Montana – The defending regular season and Big Sky tournament champions return four starters, three of whom averaged at least 12 points per game last season. In addition, former Washington transfer Donaven Dorsey is hopefully healthy after missing all of last season with hip injuries and ready to be a big contributor.
  2. Weber State – Winning 20 games and finishing 13-5 in conference play was almost a disappointment last season for a team that is used to finding ways to win the league and contend for the league’s tournament bid. Four starters do return led by Jerrick Harding’s 22 points per game, so there is plenty of optimism for this season.
  3. Eastern Washington – The Eagles are another team that return four starters this season from a 20-15 team last year. The problem is the one player they lost – Big Sky career scoring leader Bogdan Bliznyuk.  Even without him, however, there is enough talent on this team to make a run at the league crown.
  4. Northern Colorado – Montana and Weber State may be the two teams that seem to compete for the conference title each year, but it was Northern Colorado that became the first Big Sky team to ever win a postseason championship last year when they cut down the nets as CIT champions. Andre Spight’s 22.5 points per game are gone, but Jordan Davis and Jalen Sanders are back and should make the Bears tough to beat every time out.
  5. Sacramento State – Even though Justin Strings and his almost 18 points per game are gone, all four other starters are back and Marcus Graves, who missed last year with a back injury, is hopefully healthy again. If he and his teammates can pick up the scoring load, this team should be much better than last year’s 7-25 version.
  6. Montana State – The Bobcats return four starters but had a ton of problems last season, finishing only 6-12 in conference play. Star guard Tyler Hall is back and should light up the scoreboard again, but they need to find some production down low if they want to make any serious move up in the standings.
  7. Idaho State – Three starters, all of whom averaged more than 10 points per game, do return, but 7 footer Novak Topalovic decided to transfer to Utah, and with him the team only managed to go 9-9 in conference play. The Bengals should be competitive, but don’t expect much better than another .500 league record.
  8. Portland State – The Vikings only have two starters back from last year, and only Holland Woods (who did win conference Rookie of the Year honors) averaged in double figures. They will need to get some serious scoring from a group of Jucos and transfers if they want to compete for an upper division finish.
  9. Idaho – The Vandals look to be in rebuild mode after 22 wins last season as their lone returning starter, Nate Sherwood, is dealing with injuries and may miss the entire season. If the youth on this team gets needed experience this year, do not be surprised to see them right back in contention by next season.
  10. Southern Utah – The Thunderbirds made a surprise run to the Big Sky semifinals last season, knocking off second-seeded Idaho along the way. Three of the top four scorers from that team are gone, however, and this is likely another rebuilding year in Cedar City.
  11. Northern Arizona – The Lumberjacks went 5-27 last year before seeing two of their top players transfer. It is hard to imagine being worse than just 5 wins, but this team may be just bad enough to do that.
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Conference Preview: Atlantic Sun

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Lipscomb captured the automatic bid out of the Atlantic Sun last season, losing by 18 points as a 15 seed to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  With all five starters back, the Bisons (who also swept their rivals from Belmont last season) are the pick to return to the Big Dance, though they should get some challenges.  North Florida also returns all five starters, and NJIT has four guys back including big man Abdul Lewis.  The biggest threat, however, may come from one of the league’s two newest members, Liberty, a team that won 22 games in the Big South before basically trading conference spots with South Carolina Upstate in the offseason.  The other new member of the league is North Alabama, as the Lions begin their four year transition to full D1 membership.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Lipscomb – The Bisons won 23 games, including the conference tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season. All five starters from that team, led by conference tournament MVP Garrison Matthews, are back.  A regular season conference title should be in the works this year as well.
  2. Liberty – The Flames won 22 games in the Big South conference last season and will look to make an immediate impact in the A-Sun with four starters back, led by forward Scottie James. If not for their unfamiliarity with their new conference foes, this team might have been the pick to win the league.
  3. North Florida – The Ospreys figure to be right in the hunt for the A-Sun title with all five starters plus their top reserve player returning. Five of those six averaged double figures in scoring last year, with the sixth, forward Wajid Aminu, just missing out at 9.9 per game.
  4. NJIT – The Highlanders return four starters from a team that finished 14-16 overall last year, led by potential NBA prospect Abdul Lewis, who actually tested the draft waters before returning to school. Leading scorer Anthony Tarke transferred to UTEP after the season or this team would be picked even higher.
  5. Florida Golf Coast – Michael Fly takes over as head coach after Joe Dooley moved on to East Carolina. With only one starter back, this looks like a rebuilding season, but keep an eye on UNLV transfer Troy Baxter, who could have a huge season.
  6. Jacksonville – The Dolphins return their top two players from last season, forward Jace Hogan and guard/conference Rookie of the Year JD Notae. They need to seriously find a way to shoot free throws better, as they converted under 66% from the charity stripe last year.
  7. Kennesaw State – Al Skinner’s team lost 20 games last season, and only 2 starters return from that squad. The one interesting player to keep an eye on will be freshman Pietro Agostini, a 6-9 forward from Italy.
  8. Stetson – With only one starter back from a 20-loss team, this could be another tough year in DeLand. The Hatters hope to get more production from the conference’s tallest player, 7-2 Adam Webb.
  9. North Alabama* – The Lions enter their first of four transitional years at the Division I level, and only return two starters from last year’s team that was barely above .500 at Division II. Expect the team to take some lumps in year one.

*North Alabama is not eligible for the NCAA tournament as a first year transitional school.

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Season preview: HoopsHD interviews new USC Upstate head coach Dave Dickerson

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We continue our season preview coverage with new USC Upstate head coach Dave Dickerson. It has already been quite an eventful year in Spartanburg, SC: the school fired head coach Kyle Perry in March after a 7-25 season, hired Coach Dickerson to replace him in April, switched conferences from the Atlantic Sun to the Big South in July, and (fortunately) avoided the wrath of Hurricane Florence in September. HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Coach Dickerson about having Len Bias as a teammate, winning the 2002 title at his alma mater, and how the new job is going.

In the 1986 ACC tourney as a freshman at Maryland, Duane Ferrell stole an in-bounds pass from Keith Gatlin with 5 seconds left and made the game-winning dunk in a 2-PT win by Georgia Tech: where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? I have not thought about that game in 30+ years! It was one of the most difficult losses of my college playing career. We were not a good team at the start of conference play but Coach Lefty Driesell did a good job of defining our roles. Len Bias was to be our 1st option…and the 2nd option…and the 3rd option…and the 4th option: once we accepted our roles we started to play much better!

A few months later Bias died of a cocaine overdose: what was your reaction like when you heard the news, and how did his death change your life (if at all)? I was actually at the hospital that June morning and heard the news along with the rest of the team. Being a 19-year old kid from a small town in South Carolina, it was a devastating part of my life and still is. Lenny was a big part of why I chose to go Maryland. His death forced me to grow up faster than I otherwise would have. It also caused a gray cloud to hang over the university and negatively impacted many of our basketball careers at Maryland.

In 2001 as an assistant to Gary Williams at your alma mater, your team blew a 10-PT lead to Duke in the final 54 seconds of a 2-PT home loss in January, then blew a 22-PT 1st half lead and lost to the eventual champs again in the Final 4: do you think it was a matter of bad luck, or a great opponent, or the refs, or something else? When you are up by 10 PTS with 1 minute left in a game and in another game where you have a 22-PT lead, you expect to win. During that season though we were able to go on the road to Cameron Indoor Stadium and avenge the loss at Cole Field House. This was Shane Battier’s last home game/Senior Night. I make no excuses for those losses but I have a lot of respect for that team because we were the first team in the history of Maryland basketball to reach a Final Four.

In the 2002 NCAA tourney title game you beat Indiana to clinch the title: what did it mean to you to win a title at your alma mater, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus? I originally went to Maryland because I wanted to play for an ACC and a National Championship. I did not get a chance to do that as a player but as a coach I was able to fulfill my dream by winning the ACC Tournament Championship in 2004 and the National Championship in 2002.

In the spring of 2005 you were hired as head coach at Tulane a few months before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans: how were you able to move forward while the region tried to recover, and how is Spartanburg doing after a visit from Hurricane Florence last month? The city of Spartanburg was not affected by Hurricane Florence. Our thoughts and prayers our with our neighbors in coastal North and South Carolina. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, we were able to move forward because of strong leadership at Tulane University. Athletics was able to carry the torch and be the face of the university while we were displaced at various universities in northern Louisiana and Texas for the semester.

As an assistant to Thad Matta at Ohio State you were a part of so many NCAA tourney games that went down to the final possession, both good (Aaron Craft’s 3-PT shot to beat Iowa State in 2013) and bad (Brandon Knight’s 15-footer by Kentucky in 2012): what makes the difference in March when the margin for error is so slim? Obviously I only remember the wins and not the difficult losses. In order to win a national championship you have to play your best basketball and be very lucky. The teams we had at Ohio State and the players we coached on those teams were a special group of young men who I will never forget.

You were hired as head coach at USC Upstate in April: why did you take the job, and how is it going so far? It was a chance for me to become a head coach again and run my own program. I was very impressed with our president (Chancellor Brendan Kelly) and his vision for the university and how athletics fit into that vision. Most importantly, it gave me a chance to return to my home state of South Carolina as a head coach. It has been 168 days and I am loving every minute of it! I have a lot of respect for our returning players who believed in me and committed to staying at Upstate when they could have chosen to leave. I am also very excited about my freshman class.

You have no juniors and 1 sophomore on the roster: I know you are focused on the season at hand but do you have any concerns about who you will turn to for leadership next season? I have no concerns about that. I have a great deal of respect for Thomas Booker (who will be a junior next year) and I see a great deal of leadership potential in my freshman class.

Your non-conference schedule includes games against South Carolina/NC State/Georgia Tech: which of these games do you feel will present your biggest test, and how do you feel about facing Frank Martin after stating last April that not joining his staff was “one of the worst mistakes” of your coaching career? When you take over a program that only won seven games the previous season, every game will present a certain level of challenges. In order for us to be a championship level program we have to be able to compete with programs like South Carolina, NC State and Georgia Tech. Every team we play in our non-conference schedule will help us to create our identity going into Big South play. I have a great deal of respect for Frank and we have a relationship that extends back to the recruitment of Steve Blake at Maryland.

What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? I want to provide our seniors (Deion Holmes/Jure Span/Malik Moore/Pat Welch) with the best year they have had at Upstate. I also want to raise the level of our basketball program to the level of our university and put our program in position to play for (and eventually win) championships.

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Conference Preview: America East

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The America East made history last season, as conference tournament champion UMBC became the first #16 seed ever to defeat a #1 seed in NCAA Tournament history.  What was lost about the conference in all of the Retriever madness was that Vermont had been the best team in the league all year, losing only one league game by a single point until the conference tournament final upset loss to the Retrievers.  This year, Vermont and UMBC should be in the battle for the league title, but it is a team that has never punched a ticket to the Big Dance that may just steal the show from both of them.  The Hartford Hawks return a veteran team that learned how to win games last season and seems to have all the ingredients to take the crown.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Hartford – The Hawks return six key seniors from a team that almost won 20 games last season. John Carroll is one of the best players in the conference and has a real chance to help lead his team to their first ever NCAA tournament bid.
  2. UMBC – The Retrievers pulled off arguably the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament last season and will look to follow that up with a return to the Big Dance this year. Even though star Jairus Lyles is gone, three starters do return and head coach Ryan Odom has added Providence transfer Ricky Council.
  3. Vermont – The Catamounts were upset at home by UMBC in the America East title game last year, and we all know what happened after that. With three double-digit scorers gone, going 15-1 in league will likely not happen, though Anthony Lamb is still a force.  Watch out for the three Duncan brothers, senior Ernie, junior Everett and freshman Robin.
  4. Binghamton – The Bearcats return four senior starters, led by J.C. Show and Thomas Bruce, and have a solid group of newcomers. This team has a serious chance to go from 20 losses last year to 20 wins this one.
  5. Stony Brook – The Seawolves were a disappointing 13-19 last season but do return their leading scorer in Akwasi Yeboah and the America East Rookie of the Year in Elijah Olaniyi. Look for an improved record this time around.
  6. Albany – The Great Danes were hit hard in the offseason when star Joe Cremo transferred to Villanova and David Nichols moved on to Florida State. Head coach Will Brown now has a rebuild in front of him, but one should never underestimate his teams in this conference.
  7. UMass-Lowell – Replacing three of their top four scorers from a 12-18 team will be difficult, though keep an eye on 6-9 forward Darius Henderson to make an impact in his first season.
  8. New Hampshire – It is hard to see any serious level of success in Durham this season as a 10-21 team from last year lost its two best players, Tanner Leissner and Iba Camara.
  9. Maine – Four starters do return for the Black Bears and new head coach Richard Barron, but the one that left (via transfer to Oklahoma) was their best player, Aaron Calixte. A successful season may be once again avoiding the league basement.
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The Hoops HD Report: Discussion with Ken Pomeroy

Chad, David, and Joby are joined by KenPom.com publisher/owner, college basketball rankings expert, advanced statistic expert, and expert on a lot of other things…Ken Pomeroy!!  We talk about his rankings and how he got in to publishing it, what the focal points of his rankings system are, and how the selection committee is now using them as part of their data when they evaluate teams.  We discuss the difference between predictive rankings and merit based rankings and speculate as to what the new NET is going to look like as it attempts to utilize both types of rankings.  All that, and much more!!

 

And for all you radio lovers, below is an audio only version of the show….

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