The Mountain West: Gamblin’ on Vegas

All things considered from the preseason, it’s going to be a two-team race in the Mountain West Conference.

San Diego State and UNLV had players who were awarded preseason player of the year (Jamaal Franklin, SDSU), newcomer of the year (Dwyane Polee II, SDSU; Bryce DeJean-Jones, UNLV), freshman of the  year (Anthony Bennett, UNLV) and put three of the five on the all-conference team.

So there we have it, right? Nah, it’s a bit deeper than that.

Early on, it’s a totally reasonable thought to think it’s just two four-letter schools have a shot, but taking a look, this could turn into a three-team affair.

PRESEASON RANKINGS

UNLV- Dave Rice just has this team ready. A great leader in Mike Moser. Quality transfers in Bryce DeJean-Jones and Khem Birch. Role players who have been in the  system like Quintrell Thomas and Justin Hawkins. A serious freshman haul in Anthony Bennett and Savon Goodman. It’s all coming together on The Strip.

San Diego State – Jamaal Franklin  makes this team go. But don’t sleep on guys like shooter Chase Tapley, who poured in 15.8 points  per game in 2011-12 and hit 43.3-percent from three-point range. Xavier Thames returns and his 10.1 points per game returns as well. Dwyane Polee II makes his debut after coming over from St. John’s.

New Mexico – No one is talking about this team. It might come back to bite some people later on down the road. Kendall Williams paces the Lobos and coach Steve Alford. Hugh Greenwood provides depth at the guard spot. In the post, a thin line is anchored by 7-footer Alex Kirk and Tony Snell. Someone is going to have to provide more depth there.

Nevada – The Wolf Pack (yep, two words) will go as far as Deonte Burton will take them. Burton was a preseason all-conference member after averaging 14.8 points last season. Nevada also gets back 6-5 Malik Story and his 14.1 ppg from last season. Someone will have to replace Olek Czyz down low, along with Dario Hunt’s 10.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per. That might be a job for Kevin Panzer.

Colorado State – Larry Eustachy goes from a program that he could be mediocre with and keep his job, to the same kind of team in a bigger, better conference. Fortunately for the Rams, Eustachy doesn’t do mediocre. He resurrected his own career along with the program at Southern Miss. Now he takes a solid roster left by Time Miles and can go as far as he will take them. I do, however, have questions about the contrast in playing styles from last season to this one.

The Rest

Wyoming 

Fresno State

Boise State 

Air Force 

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

Mike Moser, UNLV – He’s by far the best player in the league with Drew Gordon gone. Moser can score (14.7 points) and rebound (10.5 boards) and can get his teammates involved (80 assists). He also led the Rebels with 68 steals last season. He’s a stat stuffer and should be a first round NBA pick after this season, barring something catastrophic.

Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State – Another recent product of coach Steve Fisher’s uptempo system. He could’ve come out after last season, maybe, and taken his chances in the NBA Draft. He averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds last season, taking complete control of the team after the graduation of Kwahi Leonard.

Kendall Williams, New  Mexico – Probably the best distributor in the MWC. He led the team with 142 assists (4.1 per game) and a lot of that last season was to one or two guys. This season, he’s got a more wide-open system with more free-flowing offensive structure. He should lead the conference in assists and add on to his 12.1 points per game.

Leonard Washington, Wyoming – If he wasn’t so good at getting in trouble, Washington would get more love. I don’t overlook guys like Washington. The former USC transfer averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 boards for the Cowboys in 2011-12, but was recently suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. He also led the MWC in blocks at 1.1 per game. He was brought back and the all-MWC second team pick can have the first-team all-conference season he’s capable of if he can keep his nose clean.

Colton Iverson, Colorado State – This guy is a total wild card, but I love his game. He’s a fifth-year senior with this being his only season with the Rams, but he averaged 5.4 points and 5.0 rebounds in the Big Ten (ok, I just want to call it B1G) last season at Minnesota, so I think the 6-10, 261-pounder can do some damage in the Mountain West. I can see an 11-and-10 season from him, enough to give him the nod. Though no one ever accused me of being smart.

MOST UNDERVALUED TEAM

New Mexico – In my writings on the Lobos, I got bombarded by fans of the program that I was foolish to think the team wouldn’t compete with the  league’s elite. They have a point. The Lobos have guard depth to spare with Williams and his 12.4 points per game at the point and Hugh Greenwood’s 83 assists last season. Jamal Fenton comes back after a three-game suspension in late November.  The only problem might be post depth. With Drew Gordon gone, Tony Snell (10.5 ppg) and company will need to step up.

MOST OVERRATED TEAM

Colorado State – Tim Miles did what not many before him could do: make a football school with limited resources in basketball, relevant. Larry Eustachy taking over gives the Rams great coach to work with, but his and Miles’ styles (rhymes!) are totally different. Miles loves to slow it down, Eustachy loves to shoot and run. Miles thrived on defense, and while Eustachy definitely doesn’t poo-poo the defensive side of the ball, he puts more emphasis on scoring (Southern Miss gave up and average of 65.1 points per game, 111th in Division I last season, while scoring 71.4, 89th in the nation).

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Yea, Mike, we’re thinking you’ll be Player of the Year, too.

Mike Moser, UNLV – The former UCLA transfer gets his year. He took a few people by surprise with 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds last season, but he’s possibly the best wing in the nation and could be spending his final season in college. A 17-and-12 season from him certainly isn’t out of the question.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Dave Rice, UNLV – Lon Kruger left a decent nucleus for the former UNLV role player to work with, but Rice has done a phenomenal job with this team. They’re the favorite to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and with good reason. Expect a lot from this squad now and in the future. Mike Moser, one of the most important transfers in Khem Birch who gets eligible at the semester break, not to mention Bryce DeJean-Jones, this team has been pieced together methodically, and Rice has done it in a way that would make Tark proud.

PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES/MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE


The Conference USA- Still Memphis’ conference

Much like the Missouri Valley Conference, Conference-USA has one dominant team, and several others looking up hoping and praying they will get an NCAA Tournament berth.

C-USA Preseason Rankings:

1. Memphis. The Tigers have all of the tools to not only easily win the conference, but to also make a deep tournament run for the first time in Josh Pastner’s reign. Memphis lost their best perimeter scorer in Will Barton, but an Adonis Thomas-led frontcourt will be the backbone of this team. The best news for the Tigers this year? They’ve got Shaq! Shaq Goodwin that is, a 6’8″ big man who was rated the 31st best recruit by ESPN. Replacing the scoring of Barton will be Joe Jackson, who averaged 11 a game last season. Chris Crawford will also be a key wing player for the Tigers. An easy schedule will benefit Memphis, at least until postseason play — Memphis plays only one team, Louisville, currently ranked in the top-25 in the nation.

2. Marshall. You’re going to want to learn DeAndre Kane’s name this year. After a stellar sophomore season for the Thundering Herd where he did a little bit of everything, including leading the team with 16.5 ppg., Kane is back for his junior year to lead Marshall. Joining him for Marshall will be Dennis Tinnon, who averaged a double-double last year (10 ppg., 10 rpg.). Marshall struggled in conference last year, going 9-7, this coming after beating Cincinnati in out-of-conference play and having a close game with Syracuse. The Thundering Herd have one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year, playing Kentucky, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Villanova.

3. Central Florida. The Golden Knights return three of their top four leading scorers, led by Keith Clanton who has averaged at least 14 the last two seasons. Isaiah Sykes will join in on the offense with Clanton. I like Sykes to be a big breakout candidate as he averaged 12 points and six rebounds last year, after not doing much at all his freshman year. He will need to pick up the offense with Marcus Jordan deciding not to return to UCF. If Sykes improves on his three-point field goal percentage (29 percent), he could very well be the team’s leading scorer this year. Unfortunately, UCF is barred from postseason play due to recruiting violations, so even an improvement off their 20-win season last year won’t take them dancing.

4. Tulane. No really, Tulane. Plagued by injuries last year, this team finished dead last in the conference, but I have reason to believe they belong in the top-five. Ricky Tarrant is fresh off of a 15 ppg. season last year, and he will be joined by Kendall Timmons, who only played half of the year last season after tearing his Achilles. Timmons is the long-distance threat Tulane needs (48 percent 3P%). With Jordan Callahan and Josh Davis returning, the Green Wave return almost all of their scoring, and will also likely get back Tomas Bruha, one of their big frontcourt weapons. An NCAA Tournament berth may be a stretch, but don’t be shocked if they make the NIT.

5. UTEP. There’s about five teams I could put here, and with expectations so high for the Miners I’m giving them the nod. UTEP returns five of their top seven scorers and four of their top five rebounders. If that wasn’t enough, they got high school All-American Twymond Howard, as well as fellow freshman Chris Washburn. I really like what UTEP is doing, and if all the pieces click, this could easily be a top-three team in the conference. Leading scorers John Bohannon and Julian Washburn both return for UTEP.

Preseason C-USA First Team

Adonis Thomas- Simply put, this man is a beast. At 6’7″ and 242 points, Thomas averaged just 8.8 points per game last season, but that was in his freshman season where he was only getting 24 minutes a game. Look for improvement in every category this year, and for his minutes to get over 30 a game. He needs to become a better rebounder, as he averaged just 3.2 a game last year. But this physical specimen has all of the tools to be a top contributor for the Tigers.

DeAndre Kane- This guy can do it all, probably because he has to. Averaging 16.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists is good enough to get on this list. He had very similar numbers his freshman year, which makes me believe if he still has room to grow. His field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages were all down from his freshman year, but if those go up he could be a guy that challenges for Player of the Year in the conference.

Keith Clanton- For a while it looked as if Clanton was on his way out, as the NCAA gave UCF heavy recruiting sanctions. Thank God he’s not, because there is no way the Golden Knights would contend for an NCAA Tournament berth without him. The double-double machine averaged 14.5 and 8 last year, and he can also hit from deep (1.2 three’s a game). A guy that can shoot in the post and from outside, as well as being a solid rebounder is a tough guy to guard.

Rick Tarrant- This sophomore guard will be the reason behind Tulane’s surge to the top half of the conference. Averaging 15 points, with 3 assists and 3 rebounds last year, Tarrant had a freshman season as good as anyone last year. He poured in 24 points and seven rebounds when Tulane beat Georgia Tech last year.

Dennis Tinnon- As a junior college transfer for his junior year, Tinnon averaged a double-double for the Thundering Herd. He, along with Kane will be counted on to keep Marshall in the hunt this season. He had 12 double-doubles last season, including an 18 and 11 performance in Marshall’s NIT loss to Middle Tennessee State.

Coach of the Year:

Ed Conroy- Tulane is going to surprise some people, let me tell you. Conroy is now in his third year at Tulane, and we all know the third year is when team’s make that big jump. They may not be the fourth best team in the conference like I’m predicting, but I guarantee they will be in the top half of the conference.

Player of the Year:

Keith Clanton- You know you’re good when you turn down the chance to play for University of Kentucky. Clanton could have jumped ship and went to Lexington this summer, but he decided to stay with UCF despite no chance at postseason play this year. UCF lost several key members of their team last year, so Clanton will be counted on even more this year. He led the team in points and rebounds a year ago.


David Harten:

My Valley preview, courtesy of CBT on NBC.

Originally posted on CollegeBasketballTalk:

Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

There’s one thing that everyone can agree on within the Missouri Valley Conference. That is that Creighton is the favorite to win the league. With a veteran starting line-up and a national player of the year candidate in Doug McDermott, there’s really no debate that the Bluejays are the team that every other MVC squad is chasing in 2012-13.

Now, to determine how the rest of the league will do, just post the rest of the team names on…

View original 1,354 more words


Atlantic-10 Preview

All of a sudden the Atlantic-10 Conference looks like a power conference. The arrivals of Virginia Commonwealth and Butler will bring a new sense of life into the conference for the 2012-13 season.

A-10 Pre-season Rankings

1. St. Louis:

A surprise team last year, most of last year’s Billikens will return, except of course head coach Rick Majerus, who is taking the season off for health reasons. Kwamain Mitchell should be one of the top scorers in the league, averaging 12.4 points a game in his junior season. Dwayne Evans, who averaged over seven points and seven rebounds a game last year, helping lead a defense that only gave up 57.6 points per game — eighth in the nation. Jared Drew, a talented freshman out of Indianapolis, will likely man that frontcourt with Evans. Expectations will be high with this St. Louis team, and they have the talent to be a top-15 team in the nation.

2. Butler:

After back-to-back trips to the NCAA Championship game, Butler didn’t get an NCAA Tournament nod OR an NIT invite in 2011-12, forcing the Bulldogs to settle for the CBI. Butler should be improved this year, only losing point guard Ronald Nored off of last year’s team. Andrew Smith, who apparently is never going to graduate, is back for his senior year, and will anchor the inside after his 2011-12 year with 10.7 ppg and 5.7 rebounds per game. But the best player on this team could be Rotnei Clarke, an Arkansas transfer who was second-team All-SEC his junior year. He will be eligible this year, so look for him to lead the Bulldogs in scoring. Khyle Marshall and Roosevelt Jones will also be key players for Butler.

3. VCU:

And here is the other newcomer, rounding out the top-three in their first year in the A-10. This is a very deep team, with no one star. They lost Bradford Burgess from last year’s team (13.5 ppg., 5.1 rpg.) but they will have his younger brother Jordan Burgess likely stepping up and making big contributions for his freshman season. A backcourt led by Darius Theus and Briante Weber will likely be the strength of this team, as thy helped force 17.9 turnovers a game last season — good for third in the nation. Their leading returning scorer is Juvonte Reddic (10.4 ppg.)

4. Temple:

If the Owls do anything for the 2012-13 season, it will be because of Khalif Wyatt, who returns for his senior season after averaging 17 points a game last year. He appears to be a lock for First-Team A-10, as well as a potential All-American candidate. But Temple lost three of their starters from last year’s team that won the A-10, meaning this season they may be closer to the bubble, if not off the bubble. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Anthony Lee will be two players the Owls will count on with the graduations of three of their key players, including Ramone Moore.

5. Xavier:

Even with losing Tu Hollowy, Kenny Frease and Mark Lyons, it’s hard to keep the Musketeers out of the top-five. The Musketeers will also have to cope with the expulsion of leading returning scorer Dezmine Wells. Helping to ease the graduations of Holloway and Frease will be freshman Semaj Christian and Towson transfer Isaiah Philmore. Xavier has made the NCAA Tournament every year since 2005, and this year will likely be the toughest year they have had to return.

The Rest:

6. St. Josephs

7. UMass

8. Dayton

9. St. Bonaventure

10. La Salle

11. Richmond

12. Charlotte

13. George Washington

14. Rhode Island

15. Fordham

16. Duquesne

All-Conference Team

Khalif Wyatt: One of the best scorers in the conference, this two-guard averaged 17 points a game last year. He scored 22 points and had 5 steals when Temple was able to upset No. 3 Duke this year. The Owls simply need to give Wyatt the ball and let him do the rest. He had 12 games last year with less than 10 shot attempts, and that won’t be acceptable this year.

Rotnei Clarke: The Arkansas transfer could be the go-to-guy in the Butler offense his first year for the Bulldogs. He could already be the best shooter in the conference, averaging over 42 percent from behind the 3-point line and making nearly three 3-pointers a game in his three years at Arkansas. He averaged 15 points a game his last two years as a Razorback, and it would be a surprise to see him not duplicate that in a weaker conference this year.

Kwamain Mitchell: With leading scorer Brian Conklin graduated from St. Louis, Mitchell will need to step up his scoring from last year (12.4 ppg.). He’s the best player on the best team in the conference, so you’d think he belongs on this list. Not only is he a solid scorer, but his 126 assists led the team last year.

Chaz Williams: If UMass contends for an NCAA or NIT berth, it will be because of Williams. Probably the best point guard in the conference last year, Williams averaged 16 points and six assists. The Minutemen haven’t made the Big Dance since 2997, and Williams will need to up those numbers for them to have a chance.

Chris Gaston: He may play for one of the worst teams in the conference in Fordham, but you can’t ignore this double-double machine. Last year he averaged 17 points and 9.9 rebounds, but he may need to get his team some more wins to get on this list at the end of the season.

Coach of the Year: Jim Crews

Crews, who takes over for Rick Majerus this year, is no stranger to head coaching responsibilities. He is the former head coach of Evansville and Air Force, and has NCAA Tournament appearances under his belt. This year he has the task of replacing a coaching icon, who brought St Louis to the top of the conference. They should stay at the top of the A-10 this year, and if they do it should be Crews who takes home the hardware.

Player of the Year: Khalif Wyatt

There isn’t a standout, runaway favorite to win this award, so I’m going with Wyatt. Temple has the makes of a bubble team, and Wyatt will do everything he can to push the Owls to the Big Dance. He may have to take over games at times, but he is certainly capable.


Big 12: The King (Kansas), stay the King

When someone asks you who you like in the Big 12 this season, go ahead and find the Big 12 standings from five years ago, or any year since, and tell them whoever is on top of them, is your team that you think will win. Because that will be Kansas. It’s a tale as old as Hug Hefner. Who still is doing better than all of us.

Anyway, to the rankings.

BIG-12 PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

1.) Kansas - This seems too easy, but I’m not one to look off a sure thing. Withey is back. Travis Releford at the point with Elijah Johnston in the backcourt. Perry Ellis is going to make a name for himself while Bill Self continues to prove he’s an elite coach even though he’s probably the most overlooked coach with a national title, in all of America.

2.) Baylor - It’s really a two-team race in the Big 12. Scott Drew has brought the Bears out of the depths of college basketball and continuously hauls in top recruiting classes. This season, Isaiah Austin will compliment Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip on the perimeter. Look at Duece Bello and A.J. Walton to have better season defensively for a Baylor team that really needs to disrupt passing lanes to stay competitive.

3.) West Virginia - We all keep forgetting that the Mountaineers have made the move to the Big 12. Coach Bob Huggins doesn’t mind. West Virginia has two key transfers eligible this season in LaSalle defector Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten from Dayton. Jabarie Hinds (7.4 ppg, team-leading 108 assists) and Deniz Kilicli (10.5 ppg, 5.3  rpg) return and as long as WVU can make up for the losses of Kevin Jones’ 19.9 ppg and 10.9 rpg and Darryl “Truck” Bryant’s 16.9 ppg — which will probably  happen by-committee — they should compete in their first year in the league.

4.) Kansas State - The Wildcats enter the Bruce Weber era with the promise of a team still coached by Frank Martin. I guess that’s a good  thing. Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez return, and what’s more, the leading-scorer Rodney MacGruder’s 15.8 points and 5.2 boards and 50 made three’s return, as does Will Spradling’s 9.3 points and 47 made three’s also makes its way back to Bramlage Coliseum. If the team can get even the gist of Weber’s system early-on, expect fireworks  and deep run into March for K-State.

5.) Oklahoma State - How does a team that went 15-18 last season make the Top 5? They return everyone but their leading scorer, at least all the guys that matter. And really, that’s one guy: LeBryan Nash and his 13.3 points per game. Marcus Smart hits Gallagher-Iba Arena and Markel Brown brings his numbers back. Travis Ford has a legitimate NCAA Tournament team on his hands. The only question is depth.

The Rest

6.) Texas

7.) Oklahoma

8.) Iowa State

9.) TCU

10.)  Texas Tech

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

Pierre Jackson, Baylor – Junior college players in big-time college basketball are normally quick-fix guys. Jackson is one of those exceptions. He averaged 13.8 points and 5.9 assists for the Bears last season and with the addition of Isaiah Austin, the lobs should still be aplenty. He’s quick, defends the perimeter well — leading the team with 68 steals — and has total control of the offense under coach Scott Drew. He’s headed for the Cousy Award.

Jeff Withey, Kansas – Seems like he’s been around forever, right? The talented shot-blocker for the Jayhawks is ready to take leadership with the departure of Thomas Robinson to the NBA. He averaged 9 points, 6.3 boards and had 140 blocks in 2011-12 and this season he’ll need more of the same now that he’s the sole guy in the post. Perry Ellis will take some of the burden off Withey, but it won’t stop him from being a human bruise.

Myck Kabongo, Texas – The sophomore has no choice. Kabongo learned for one season under J’Covan Brown and now school is out — on the court, at least — for the point guard. There isn’t a ton of hype on this team going into the season, so they’ve got that going for them. But that’s because the number of high-profile players is at one: Kabongo. More that likely, this will be it for him as a collegian, because this kid can lead the nation in assists (averaged 5.1 assists per game last season) if he minimizes the turnovers (102 in 2011-12).

LaBryan Nash – He’ll be the top offensive weapon for the Cowboys. He’ll be spelled by Markel Brown and Marcus Smart, but he’s the epicenter of this half-court-centric attack that commands discipline in the post. Nash has it after some freshman season bumps. This will more-than-likely be his final season in Stillwater, so leaving the program with an NCAA Tournament berth will be on his mind. A double-double year isn’t out of the question.

Jordan Tolbert, Texas Tech – The bright spot on an otherwise horrible team. Blame Billy Gillispie. Tolbert quietly had a serious season for the Red Raiders in BCG’s lone season, and now he’ll have to do the same under interim coach Chris Walker. He averaged 11.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg for the 8-23 Red Raiders and I expect him to do more now that he’s not being chain-whipped in practice by BCG (KIDDING!). Expect an 18-and-8 year from him, because he has to do it for Texas Tech to even sniff a .500 record.

MOST UNDERVALUED TEAM

Texas – No, this isn’t supposed to be below in the “overrated team” category. Rick Barnes is one of the best at getting average out of great talent. This season, he’s giving Myck Kabongo the keys to the system, and hoping that he does something right. This team lacks talent, and strangely, that’s why this team will do well. Prince Ibeh is the prize incoming recruit, and the Longhorns return Sheldon McClellan (11.3 ppg) and Julien Lewis (7.8 ppg) in terms of scoring to go along with Kabongo’s 9.6 ppg. They also bring back Jonathan Holmes’ 4.8 rebounds per game. If Kabongo can be the man that J’Covan Brown was last season, this team could shock the Big 12.

MOST OVERRATED TEAM

Kansas State – Forgive me, Bruce Weber. One of the nicest guys in the business inherits great talents in Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez, and he’ll get to the NCAA Tournament in his first season. But I think a lot of people overvalue Weber’s buffer time between getting his team to adjust to his style of play. Weber utilizes more zone than Frank Martin did, and that’s a lot tougher to get used to that one would imagine. It’s not going to be a bad first year for Wildcat fans under Weber, just not a great one.

SLEEPER IMPACT PLAYER

Romero Osby, Oklahoma – He’s not that traditional sleeper. Osby was third on the Sooners in scoring (12.9 ppg) in his first season since transferring in from Mississippi State in 2011-12. He also led the team in rebounding at 7.3 per game. The sleeper part of it is that he was on a 15-16 team. The Sooners should be better this season, but if that team is going to be good, Osby is going to be the reason why. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a double-double out of this guy.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

The TBBC Big 12 Player of the Year, Pierre Jackson.

Pierre Jackson, Baylor- I’m one of the most skeptical people when it comes to junior college players making the jump to Division I. The ones that make it normally are the ones that didn’t qualify out of high school, and even those have a tough time keeping it together for two/three years in D-I. Jackson is one of the exceptions. He’s got the speed and court vision and has commanded control of the Bears on the court since Day 1. He’s going to make some late-first-round team very happy in the 2013 NBA Draft.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Travis Ford, Oklahoma State – The Cowboys had the roughest of rough years in 2011-12. This year, a huge  recruiting haul for Ford including point guard Marcus Smart could create a deadly one-two punch with LeBryan Nash. Back comes Nash’s 13.3 ppg and 5 rpg along with Markel Brown’s 10.5 and 5.1 per. Don’t forget Jean-Paul Olukemi (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Brian Williams (9.6 ppg) making a return. Smart will be this team’s starting point guard with Brown moving to the two. If Michael Cobbins and Phillip Jurick (97 combined blocks) can improve their defensive presence, Ford could be a surprise  12-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

PHOTO: BIG 12 CONFERENCE


ACC Preview

The ACC will have a lot of familiar faces this season as 35 starters from last season return including 8 who received some type of ACC honor last season.

ACC Preseason Rankings

1. Duke How can you not pick the Blue Devils when Mike Krzyewski has four starters back from a squad that has 27 wins last season? Coach K sits at 927 wins, plus a few gold medals, I really don’t see this Duke team losing that many games, and will probably pencil them in right now as a team that we will see in Atlanta.

2. NC State – The Wolfpack also return four starters. C.J. Leslie (14.7 ppg) will be leading the way for Mark Gottfried’s squad that is the only team to return four players that were double digit scorers.

3. North CarolinaRoy Williams probably has the toughest job, needing to fill the void of four starters lost. The Tar Heels will rely on Dexter Strickland to be the leader. What may be a bigger story for college basketball fans is that Hubert Davis returns to Chapel Hill as an assistant coach.

4. Miami (FL) – Six of top seven scorers return for the Hurricanes. Reggie Johnson (10.8ppg, 7.3 rpg) will be among the senior leaders for Jim Larranaga. Julian Gamble is also back for Miami after missing last season from a torn ACL. A little fun fact since the NCAA approved the 3-point shot, Miami has made at least one three in 801 of 804 games.

5. VirginiaTony Bennett’s Cavaliers return three starters and six of the team’s nine top scorers. Joe Harris returns as the leading scorer from last season. Harris is joined by last season ACC All-Defensive Team member Jontel Evans.

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6. Florida State

7. Maryland

8. Clemson

9. Virginia Tech

10. Georgia Tech

11. Boston College

12. Wake Forest

Mason Plumlee – 4th in the ACC in rebounds, 5th in blocks and off rebounds last season.

C.J. Harris – 4th leading scorer last season

Lorenzo Brown – started all 37 games last year and led the conference in steals.

Dexter Strickland – returning from an injury during the middle of last season and is the team leader in scoring, assists and steals.

Ryan Anderson – led BC in scoring and rebounding as a Freshman.

Most Underrated Team – Florida State, four of the top five scorers return for the Seminoles.

Most Overrated Team – North Carolina, the Tar Heels have a lot to replace.

Player of the Year – C.J. Leslie, the junior earned second-team last year. He gets my nod, especially if he can lead the Wolfpack over Duke or UNC.

Coach of the Year – Tony Bennett, it would be too east to pick Coach K.

Sleeper Impact Player – C.J. Harris (35 min/game and 16ppg) really shouldn’t be a sleeper pick but with Wake being near the bottom of the ACC he doesn’t get the publicity that he deserves.


Big East Preview

Thanks to Louisville advancing to the Final Four last season the Big East has had a presence during the final weekend six of the last seven seasons, you can probably go on and pencil them in for seven out of eight, Louisville fans and the media seem to think that the Cardinals will be there.

Realignment will begin to take its toll on the Big East as West Virginia is gone and Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame to follow in the years to come. Jim Calhoun has retired from his post at UConn leading the way for Kevin Ollie to take over. Steve Lavin is set to return to the sidelines after taking last season off due to prostate cancer.

Big East Preseason Rankings

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Will it be all smiles in Louisville? (Google Images)

1. Louisville hard not to buy into the national hype. 3 starters return for Coach Pitino, as Peyton Siva guides the offense in his Senior season with help from Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng, and don’t forget about Russ Smith (11.5 ppg, 2.2 steals in 21 mpg). The problem could be injuries, it seems every year the Cardinals have more players in the training room than the bench early in the year, and have already lost Mike Marra who torn his ACL for the 2nd time in as many years.

2. Notre Dame – for the past two years the Irish have exceeded expectationsso maybe I am a little too high on the Irish. However with all of the starters back for Coach Brey it’s hard not to like the Irish especially when in the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion where they went 16-1 last season.

3. CincinnatiMick Cronin seems to have the Bearcats back on the national radar. Yancy Gates is gone but Cronin has Sean Kilpatrick who led the Big East with 92 3-pointers. Cashmere Wright also returns after averaging 10.9 ppg.

4. Pittsburgh – Sure Pitt missed the NCAA Tournament last year, they ended the year poorly but capped it off with a CBI Championship (a win is a win).Tray Woodall will lead the Panther’s who return five of their top seven scorers from last season.

5. Syrcasue – Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo have all departed but Syracuse has been so deep that they have players that return with experience. Brandon Triche will be ready to lead the Orange to what fans hope is a trip to Atlanta.

6. Marquette

7. USF

8. Georgetown

9. St. John’s

10. Rutgers

11. UConn

12. Providecne

13. Villanova

14. Seton Hall

15. DePaul

All Conference Team

Shabazz Napier – taking control for the new reign of the Huskies.

Sean Kilpatrick – if teams don’t shut him down behind the arc the Bearcats may do better than expected.

Gorgui Diend – let’s see a guy that can rebound, score and block shots, yeah I will give him a All Conference nod.

Tray Woodall – a healthy Woodall should do better than last seasons 11.7 ppg

Jack Cooley – after voted Most Improved last season, the Irish have high hopes for Cooley who average 12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds.

Most Underrated Team – Cincinnati, Cronin has his team bonding.

Most Overrated Team – Notre Dame, could the Irish just be riding a wave of recent success?

Player of the Year – Peyton Siva, last years MOP at the Big East Championship should win if the Cardinals run the conference.

Coach of the Year – Heart wants to say Steve Lavin, but my mind says Rick Pitino with Cronin in 2nd.

Sleeper Impact Player – 1a Cleveland Melvin, was the leading scorer in the league last season. I am going to say D’Andelo Harrison is 1b especially if Lavin has the Red Storm on upset mode.


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