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2012-2013 College Basketball Preview: Part 1

November 13, 2012 Front Page, Sports 1 Comment

While the college basketball season really started on Friday night, the unofficial tip-off of the college basketball season to me is ESPN’s 24 hours of college basketball which started at Midnight and continues throughout the day and night Tuesday (schedule here). To get you ready for the college basketball season, here is part one in our college basketball preview. In part 1, we will look at some of the mid-major conferences and some teams from those conferences who you should watch out for this season. Part 2 tomorrow will then feature the major BCS conferences and our Sweet 16, Final Four, championship, and awards predictions.

Atlantic 10 Conference:

VCU: The Rams enter their first season in the A-10 just two years removed from their magical Final Four run with expectations of reaching their third straight NCAA championship. Even though they enter a much tougher conference, they should immediately be considered contenders as they have gone 15-5 over the past 10 seasons vs, A-10 opponents. Coach Shaka Smart is one of the best in the country and continues to turn down offers from bigger schools. Guards Darius Theus and Troy Daniels are one of the best backcourts in the country and VCU led the country in steals last season. Juvonte Reddic is the star of the frontcourt. The Rams like to play with four guards and are usually small and athletic, but they have a nice combination of returning talent and newcomers that will suit them well in the A-10 which is one of the best of the non-BCS conferences.

Saint Louis: Coach Rick Majerus was forced to step down in August due to health issues, but this is still a very talented roster. The Billikens return six of its seven top scorers from a team that reached the third round of the NCAA tourney last year. New coach Jim Crewes is a former Bob Knight assistant and will need to keep the team together. G Kwamain Mitchell is their best returning player, but he is out with an ankle injury until around December. Mike McCall and freshman Keith Carter should hold down the backcourt until Mitchell returns. STL is solid down low with Evans and Roe. As long as the Billikens can start the season strong without Mitchell, they should once again be contenders for the conference title and an NCAA appearance.

Temple: TU is looking for one final conference title run in its last season in the A-10 before they jump to the Big East next season. The Owls lost a lot of scoring from last season but return second leading scorer Sr. G Khalif Wyatt. Cummings and DiLeo are the other guards. Also returning is Sr. F Scootie Randall who missed last year with an injury. Hollis-Jefferson and Lee will split time down low. But the key to success for TU could be their two transfers, Jr. from WVU Dalton Pepper and Sr. from Boston Jake O’Brien. The Owls also have three freshmen who may be able to contribute right away. Temple will look much different from past seasons, but Coach Fran Dunphy should have his Owls in the hunt for one final A-10 championship.

St Joseph’s: This is Coach Phil Martelli’s best team since the 2004 team, which was a #1 seed in the NCAA tourney, so expectations should be high at St Joe’s. Big-time scorer Sr. G Carl Jones leads an offense that returns 99 percent of its production from last season’s NIT team. G Langston Galloway joins Jones in the backcourt. Up front, the 6’9″ Jr. F C.J Aiken is one of the best shot blockers in the country. He’s been playing since he was a freshman and if he bulks up his thin frame a bit could become even more dominant. Halil Kanacevic the team’s top rebounder also returns for the Hawks. St Joe’s may not have a Jameer Nelson or Delonte West on this team like they did in 2004, but this team capable of not only getting back to the NCAA tourney, but making some noise there as well.

UMass: In the ’90s, the Minutemen made the NCAA tourney seven times, but UMass hasn’t been back to the tourney in 14 years. Things could change this year as Coach Kellogg’s squad returns 89 percent of its offense from a team that went 25-12 and made a deep NIT run last season. UMass up-tempo offense is led by 5’9″ spark plug Chaz Williams and defensive specialist, Jesse Morgan. Forwards Terrell Vinson and Raphiael Putney are solid but UMass must find a way to replace the graduated C Sean Carter’s production. Fourteen years is a long tournament drought for a once nationally-relevant program, but Coach Kellogg has UMass on the verge of a return, and it could very well happen this season.

Butler: The other newcomer in the A-10 this season, the Bulldogs program has taken a step back from the team that was NCAA runner-up in 2010 and 2011. However Coach Brad Stevens is one of the best coaches in the country and Butler should remain competitive in the A-10. Arkansas transfer G Rotnei Clarke will be asked to contribute as a shooter right away and will be key to the Bulldogs success this year. Starting G Chrishawn Hopkins was recently dismissed from the team so freshman Kellen Dunham could be asked to contribute right away. Khyle Marshal is solid down low. Butler will be competitive in the A-10 right away and a return to the NCAA tournament is a possibility.

Big Sky Conference:

Montana: Big Sky teams have had some Cinderella success in the NCAA tourney. The Grizzlies had the look of one of those teams until Big Sky player of the year Will Cherry broke his foot and is out indefinitely. He could be back by conference play, but who knows if he will be 100 percent. G/F Kareem Jamar is another talented player and if Cherry returns close to 100 percent they are a very dangerous duo. However, if Cherry doesn’t come back healthy or decides to red-shirt, Montana will have competition for the conference title from the team below them. 

Weber St: Star PG Damian Lillard is gone (Portland picked him 6th in the NBA draft) but they are a still a deep and talented team. G Scott Bamforth is the conference’s best shooter and C Kyle Tresnak is the best scorer down low. Transfer Davion Berry was a big time scorer at the D-2 level & his game should transfer over. Weber St only has two seniors, so while they could contend this season, they will be even better next year. Montana and Weber St look by far to be the best in the Big Sky this season, and one of these teams could pull an upset in March.

Big West Conference:

Long Beach State:  The 49ers lost three all-conference players from last year’s team that made the NCAA tourney, but coach Dan Monson has three key transfers who could make this year’s team just as good. Dan Jennings (West Virginia) is eligible right away, while Keala King (Arizona State) and Tony Freeland (Depaul) are awaiting their eligibility which could be in December. James Ennis is the lone starter who returns from last year and So. PG Mike Caffey will now play a bigger role. Coach Monson has found success at this small school like he did at Gonzaga and Long Beach State should be a strong program as long as he’s there.

Cal State Fullerton: If anyone is going to challenge the 49ers, it’s the Titans of Fullerton. They finished second last year and bring back two of the conference’s best players in G/F Stephan Hicks and G D.J. Seeley, who could be the conference’s best player. Coach Bob Burton, winningest in school’s history, resigned in late June so the pressure is on interim coach Andy Newman. If Long Beach State’s transfers don’t come through, the Titans could win the division and scare someone in the NCAA tournament.

Colonial League:

Drexel: The Dragons are the favorites in the CAA after only losing one player from a team that went 29-7 last year and was on the tourney bubble. Samme Givens their all-time leading scorer is gone, but the team returns four other starters including PG Frantz Massenat and last year’s conference rookie of the year Damion Lee. The Dragons defense should be just as good as last year, when they had one of the best defenses in the country last year and set a school record for wins. Yet they did not hear their name called on Selection Sunday. If the Dragons fail to win an automatic bid again this season, they could still make the tourney as an at large team.

Delaware: Two other teams in the CAA could challenge Drexel this year, and the Blue Hens are one of them. Delaware returns four starters which includes a talented backcourt of guards Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt who helped to guide the hens to an 18-14 record last season. Jamelle Higgins led the conference in rebounding and is becoming a real threat down low. The Blue Hens are ready to take the next step as a program, and Delaware should challenge for the CAA title.

George Mason: George Mason lost three key players from last year’s team that went 24-9, however they are still a threat to win the conference. The athletic and talented Johnny Williams missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, he could be one of the best players in the conference if healthy. G Sherrod Wright should see an expanded role this year, and Seton Hall transfer F Anali Okoloji should contribute right away. Never count out George Mason, as Coach Paul Hewitt continues to keep the program on track.

Conference USA:

Memphis: Before the Tigers head off to the Big East next season, they will be looking for one last Conference USA title. They are the overwhelming favorites to win the conference however making noise in the NCAA tournament is a different story. Coach Josh Pastner has done a good job keeping program relevant since John Calipari left for Kentucky, but he has yet to win a game in the tourney. Sophomore forward Adonis Thomas could be playing in the NBA next season and freshman Shaq Goodman was a high school All-American last season. A trio of very talented juniors Joe Jackson, Tarik Black, and Chris Crawford will likely keep Memphis in the top 25 all season long and the Tigers should win their first NCAA tournament game in the Josh Pastner era.

Marshall: While it will be extremely difficult to beat out the Tigers for the conference title, the Thundering Herd have a shot. G Deandre Kane is one of the conference’s best. A lot will be asked of freshman PG Kareem Canty, but he has a lot of upside. F Dennis Tinnon is a great rebounder and a double-double machine. They likely won’t win the conference, but an at large bid is very possible for Coach Tom Herrion’s team. Marshall hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1987 but a return is very possible this year.

UTEP: Coach Tim Floyd has the Miners headed in the right direction in his third year as head coach. Floyd has been good every where he has coached and the Miners could surprise this year. UTEP is led by 6ft10 C John Bohannon and G Jacques Streeter. They have a brutal non-conference schedule that will toughen them up, and if they can win a few of those games, could make them an NCAA bubble team.

Horizon League:

Valparaiso: Valpo should be considered the favorites to win the Horizion as they return five starters including reigning conference player of the year Australian F Ryan Broekhoff. Broekhoff is one of the most underrated players in the country. F Kevin Van Wijk from the Netherlands is also one of the best players in the conference. Indiana transfer Bobby Capobianco is expected to make an impact immediately. Valpo is coached by Bryce Drew, who is famously remembered for his shot in the 1998 tourney for Valpo when, as a 13 seed, they upset Ole Miss. Valpo has a good enough team this year to become a Cinderella again this March if they reach the tourney.

Detroit: While Valpo won the regular season title last year, Detroit beat them in the conference tourney and made it to the NCAA tournament. Ray McCallum Jr. returns for his father’s team. McCallum chose playing for his father over big time programs, and could use this season to help him reach the NBA. Two other starters, Jason Calliste and Doug Anderson return as well for the Titans. Western Michican Transfer Juwan Howard Jr won’t have a long NBA future ahead of him like his father, but he should be a solid contributor for this Detroit team. The battle between Detroit and Valpo in the Horizon league should be fun to watch.

Green Bay: The Phoenix may not be as talented as Detroit or Valpo, but they could surprise some people. The reason being is 7ft1 center Alec Brown who is one of the best defenders in the country. He had 11 blocks in a game last season and along with Brennan Cougill, Green Bay is scary down low. Brown needs to become a little more assertive on offense, if this happens Green Bay should be playing in some postseason basketball tournament this year.

Mid American Conference:

Ohio: All nine regular players return for the Bobcats who made it to the Sweet 16 last year where they lost to North Carolina in overtime. The Bobcats should win the MAC, but Ohio must replace Coach John Groce who left for Illinois. Jim Christian replaces him and he knows the MAC well since he once coached at Kent St. Star PG DJ Cooper may be the best player in the conference. Nick Kellogg (son of Clark) is a very good shooter. Ivo Baltic and Reggie Kelly bring strong experience and contribution as well. The Bobcats were the Cinderella of last year’s NCAA tournament, and they should be just as good this year. Ohio proved they can win on a big stage, but now it’s all about living up to the expectations put on them this year.

Akron: If there is a team that can challenge Ohio, it’s Akron. The MAC hasn’t had a second NCAA tournament bid since 1999 but Akron could challenge for one. Center Zeke Marshall at 7′ tall is a defensive force. Alex Abreu runs the point well for the Zips. Seven contributors from last year’s team that made it to the NIT return and Akron should be playing in a post-season basketball tournament this year.

Toledo: Very talented but ineligible for NCAA tournament due to NCAA ban because they didn’t meet the NCAA’s new academic requirements.

Missouri Valley Conference:

Creighton: Junior F Doug McDermott is one of the best players in the country and his should live up to his pre-season All-American honor. C Greg Echenique is a defensive force and his play with the Venezuelan national team will help him become even better. Sophomore Austin Chatman will take over at point and it will be his job to keep everyone in this dynamic offense happy. Creighton has nine of 10 players from last year’s NCAA team back. They not only want to return to the NCAA tournament, but they want to play into the second weekend. This team is very capable of doing just that led by future NBA draft pick Doug McDermott.

Northern Iowa: You may remember the Panthers from their 2010 tourney appearance where they knocked off Kansas and this year’s Northern Iowa team could return to the NCAA tournament. NI returns six of their seven top scorers with four of them being seniors. C Seth Tuttle was freshman of the year in the conference last season. Senior G Anthony James is suspended for the first three games and needs to come back and play focused. The Panthers have a tough early season schedule that should get them ready for tournament play. The MVC was a two bid conference last year, and should at least be that again this season.

Illinois State: The Redbirds looked good at the end of last season and they’ll hope that transfers over this year. This off-season their head coach left and took his starting PG with him, but Illinois State could very well still be an NCAA tournament team. Sr F Jackie Carmichael has improved his play every year and should lead the team this year. Sr G. Tyler Brown is a solid shooter, but the most important thing for new Coach Dan Muller will be the point guard play. Freshman Kaza Keane will be the difference between the Redbirds playing in the NCAA tournament or the NIT.

Mountain West:

UNLV: The Mountain West is the best of the non-BCS conferences and the Runnin’ Rebels are the top of the class. Jr. F. Mike Moser is an athletic freak and an all conference player Moser is likely too thin to play PF in the NBA, but he could be a SF, a position he should play more of this season. Pitt transfer Khem Birch will be eligible in December and USC transfer Bryce Dejean Jones should play once he recovers from an injury. Senior G Anthony Marshall will be the floor general from UNLV. Coach Dave Rice brought in recruiting class led by F Anthony Bennett and G Katin Reinhardt, which is ranked as one of the best in the country. UNLV basketball was huge in the ’80s and early ’90s, and Rice has UNLV back to that level of excitement. Big things are in store for the Rebels but how quick the freshmen and transfers jell together will determine just how good UNLV will be this season.

San Diego State: SDST Aztecs could be just as good as UNLV and will battle the Rebels in the conference all season long. Jr. F Jamaal Franklin may be the best player in the conference. Combine Franklin with Sr. G Chase Tapley, and SDST has one of the best duos in the country. Transfers forwards JJ O’Brien (Utah) and Dwayne Polee (St. John’s) should contribute right away. Another transfer and solid post player James Johnson (Virginia) will be eligible to play come December. Freshman F Winston Shephard is one of the biggest recruits in school history. He was ranked in the top 25 and should play right away. The Aztecs are just as loaded as UNLV and the battle between them will be a fun one to watch this season. The Aztecs and Coach Steve Fisher should easily reach their fourth straight NCAA tourney and could make a deep run once there.

New Mexico: The MWC will have multiple teams in the NCAA tournament this year, and the Lobos will likely be one of them.  The Lobos will miss F Drew Gooden from last year’s team that barely lost to Louisville in the NCAA round of 32, but they return three starters in the back court. Guards Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, and Hugh Greenwood make up a very solid back court. The Lobos will be set on the perimeter, but they must replace the production lost down low. So. C Alex Kirk, at 7′ tall, is back from injury and will need to stay health and produce. Kirk will be joined by Jr. F Cameron Bairstow and three freshman big men. NM could play four guards as well this season. Coach Steve Alford has a 126-46 record at New Mexico and they should be right in the thick of things again this season

Colorado State: CSU has ambitions to return to the NCAA tournament after losing last year to Murray State in the first round. New Coach Tim Miles returns four starters from a team that went 20-12 last season. They are led by guards Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green. Sr F Pierce Hornung plays hustle defense and rebounds well. Sr. transfer C Colton Iverson (Minnesota) will provide the Rams with much-needed size down low and could be a key to their return to the tourney. Transfer So. Daniel Bejarano once a top recruit at Arizona, also will contribute well for the Rams. Colorado State would really like to be one of three or four MWC teams in the NCAA tournament this year, and it’s definitely a strong possibility.

Ohio Valley:

Murray State: The Racers must replace four starters from last year’s team that made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. However, reigning player of the year and possible All-American Isaiah Canaan returns, and that means a lot in a small conference. Canaan is an explosive scorer with a NBA future. UAB transfer G Dexter Fields is eligible after sitting out last season and will start right. Senior F Ed Daniel will need to step up more on defensive but is a great senior leader. Murray State is the best in the Ohio Valley and as long as Canaan is playing should be a lock for the NCAA tournament.

Belmont: The Bruins are used to being in the NCAA tournament as they won the Atlantic Sun conference five of the last seven years, so they will be ready to challenge Murray St in their first year in the Ohio Valley. Senior guards Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark return and they were the team’s top scorers last season. Belmont will be a solid shooting team, but replacing a lot of lost production down low will be the team’s biggest issue. Belmont should challenge Murray State all season long and could find their way into the NCAA tournament again this year.

Patriot League:

Lehigh: As I predicted, Lehigh made their entrance on the national scene last year when they upset Duke in the NCAA tournament. Lehigh is a team to watch again this year in thanks to the return of Sr. G C.J McCollum. McCollum led the league in ppg (21.9) and his team in rebounding and steals. McCollum is a future first round NBA draft pick, that alone makes Lehigh very dangerous. Lehigh’s coach Dr. Brett Reed is one of the best young coaches in America. Add in senior F Gabe Knutson, and junior Gs Mackey McKnight and B.J. Bailey, and Lehigh is a slight favorite over Bucknell in the Patriot league, and they could again pull an upset come tourney time.

Bucknell: The Bison could be just as good as Lehigh, and though the Patriot league likely won’t get two NCAA invites, they should. One very talented team could be playing in the NIT instead of the NCAA. Bucknell, who had a successful NIT run last year, is led by F/C Mike Muscala who is a very talented and skilled big man who could also have a future in the NBA. Combined with F Joe Willman, Bucknell is very tough and talented down low. Jr. G Randy Ayers (son of Randy) is a solid outside shooter and will be a key to Bucknell’s success this season. Bucknell has a solid non conference schedule that could help them land an at large bid if they can’t beat Lehigh for the league title.

Southern Conference:

Davidson: Last year they beat Kansas during the regular season and almost beat Louisville in the tournament. Because of their performance last year, expectations are high as Davidson returns eight of its best players. This includes reigning conference players of the year C Jake Cohen and F De’Mon Brooks who was all conference as well. Even if Davidson doesn’t win the SOCON, where they are the overwhelming favorite, they could possible grab an at large bid. These Wildcats are a team to watch out for.

Summit League:

South Dakota State: Senior G Nate Wolters is one of the best players outside of the major conferences. Wolters led his team in scoring (21.2), rebounding (5.1) and assists (5.9). He’s the only player in the country last year to average more than 20 points and five rebounds and assists. The Jackrabbits return all but one player from last year’s NCAA team that almost upset Baylor in the first round. The Summit league is theirs to lose, and the Jackrabbits and Wolters should be household names come March.

Sun Belt Conference:

North Texas: North Texas? Yes, North Texas. They are on this list for one reason: Tony Mitchell. The 6’8″ sophomore forward returns and is an absolute beast. He was the only freshman to average a double-double last year (14.7 ppg/10.3 rpg) and is a first round NBA draft pick whenever he decides to leave college. North Texas should have been in the NCAA tournament last year, but they lost to Western Kentucky in the conference final. North Texas also returns their top seven players. Remember North Texas and remember Tony Mitchell.

West Coast Conference:

Gonzaga: The Zags have a great sophomore backcourt of guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr who both played very well as freshmen last year. David Stockon (John’s son) provides depth at guard. Gonzaga also has F Elias Harris, best F in the conference, returning for his senior season.  Forwards Sam Dower and Guy Landry Edi will provide depth and production but so will two guys who didn’t play last year. Back from redshirting is 7′ Jr. C Kelly Olynyk who should make up for the graduation of Robert Sacre, now with the Lakers. 7’1″ freshman C from Polan Przemek Karnowski is intriguing and some believe he has NBA potential. Gonzaga is loaded with size, depth and experience this season. The Zags should easily make it back to the NCAA tournament where they could be a very dangerous team.

St. Mary’s: The Gaels return WCC player of the year Matthew Dellavedova,f rom a team that won the WCC last year. Dellavedova, who also played for the Australian national team at the London Olympics, is one of the best players in the country. G Stephen Holt, a defensive stud joins Dellavedova in the backcourt. Southern Utah transfer and another Australian Matt Hodgson is 6’11″ with a 7’6″ wingspan and will make up for the production lost in the graduation of F Rob Jones. F Brad Waldow earned conference all-freshman honors last year and could be even better this season. St Mary’s is a deep veteran team with 13 players from last year’s team returning. The Gaels should not only challenge Gonzaga for the conference title, but they should make a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

BYU: Sr. F Brandon Davies must shoulder a bigger load for the Cougars this season with the graduation of F Noah Hartsock. Davies is one of the better forwards in the WCC. PG Matt Carlino, a UCLA transfer joined the team as a starter last December and  had a very solid freshman season. Carlino needs to build off his freshman season if BYU wants to make it back to the NCAA tournament. So. G Tyler Haws, who had a great freshman year, returns from his two-year LDS church mission and should help Carlino in the backcourt. Freshman guards Cory Calvert and Cooper Ainge (Danny’s son) will provide depth at guard for the Cougars. Frontcourt production outside of Davies will be the most important question for BYU as they are a team that will likely be on the bubble for a tourney appearance.

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  1. [...] 1, which featured the mid, major, and small schools to watch out for this season, can be found (here). And here is part 2 of our yearly college basketball [...]

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