More conference quick looks as we near the start of the college basketball season…
The Big Sky has typically been the domain of Weber State and Montana in recent years, and it may be again-Weber State in particular looks capable of continuing its excellence. But watch for Eastern Washington and Sacramento State. The Eagles return four starters, including high-scoring Tyler Harvey, while Sac State looks to have its best team in more than 20 years in Division I.
Coastal Carolina is a relatively big favorite in the Big South, and with good reason-the Chanticleers feature a high-quality backcourt (Josh Cameron, Warren Gillis, Elijah Wilson) that gets even better with Mount St. Mary’s transfer Shivaughn Wiggins. The Chants also have some nice size up front, but this still should be a good conference race. Radford returns everyone, Winthrop has become a tough out under Pat Kelsey, and High Point is the conference’s defending champion and has its best player in John Brown.
The preseason talk about the Big Ten starts and seemingly almost ends with Wisconsin, but it’s never that simple in this conference. For one, there is the unbalanced schedule. For another, Michigan and Michigan State will have something to say about who wins the regular season and tournament titles. We’re especially keeping an eye on Michigan. John Beilein’s team may not look like a top 10 outfit on paper, but wouldn’t be a surprise at all if they ended up there anyway.
The Big West is primed for its best year in a decade, even with the problems at Hawaii (see below). An at-large bid is a reasonable goal, with UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara both returning experience and star power, Long Beach State set to contend again and Cal State-Northridge on the rise.
Contrary to the prevailing narrative, the CAA’s recent slide isn’t solely because of the departure of George Mason, Old Dominion and VCU-it has almost every bit as much to do with the inability of schools like Drexel and Hofstra to reach heights they were at when those first three schools were still members. But it sure doesn’t look good when a team that finished 11-21 the year before (Northeastern) is your conference preseason favorite. It would be fun, though, to see the Huskies make their first NCAA tourney since 1991. It would be even more fun to see Tony Shaver’s entertaining William & Mary team make its first NCAA appearance ever in 66 year as a Division I member.
Conference USA teams have suffered their share of personnel losses this summer-UAB, UNC Charlotte, Southern Mississippi and UTEP all had serious changes. Much like UC Irvine in the Big West, it seems the time is now for Louisiana Tech to make serious run to the NCAA Tournament from Conference USA. The Bulldogs were ever-so-close last year, winning at Oklahoma and getting to the C-USA tourney final, and they get East Coast shots this year at Temple, Syracuse and N.C. State.
Wisconsin-Green Bay and Cleveland State figure to make for a good two-team race in the Horizon League. CSU’s Vikings bring the experience-four returning starters-while UWGB has the league’s top player, electric Keifer Sykes. If the Phoenix can reasonably replace Alec Brown’s unique inside-outside game, they may not slip much from their 24-7 mark of a year ago.
Finally, there still is a D-I independent in the New Jersey Institute of Technology, or NJIT. We miss the old days of college basketball when independents roamed the country, so a salute to the Highlanders, who in the spirit of former independents like U.S. International, Utica and Brooklyn College play a stretch with nine of their 10 games on the road from Nov. 24-Dec. 28. Jim Engles has done a nice job getting this program on solid ground. NJIT went 13-16 last year and returns four starters, and if it can survive that early season march it will play nine of 12 at home over January and February.
- Regarding some news from last week: the departure of Gib Arnold as coach at Hawaii is a blow for the Rainbow Warriors, obviously, coming so soon before the start of the season, and also for those who enjoy entertaining offensive basketball, as Arnold’s Hawaii teams were some of the more fun to watch the past couple years. It’s also a setback for the Big West Conference, which, as alluded to above, is a league to keep an eye on early this season. The Big West has some very nice teams and even some star power returning (Alan Williams, Mamadou Ndiaye) that has the league looking as good as it has in a long time. It’s even possible the conference could have an at-large bid contender for the first time in a decade, but the chances of that weren’t helped by the situation on the island. Hawaii, in particular, is a team that gets its fair share of chances against quality opponents at home during the non-conference schedule, and the Big West sure could use wins against teams like Pittsburgh and Nebraska that the Rainbows will be facing.
- In exhibition action, Wichita State debuted with a 112-55 win over Northwood (Fla.). That’s Northwood coached by Rollie Massimino, who has kept his team busy the past week. Massimino brought his team to face Villanova in a nice reunion exhibition earlier in the week on Fox Sports 1 (losing 93-50) and also lost to Iowa 92-51 just two days before that. The Seahawks actually are a perennial power at their level, with eight straight trips to the NAIA Division II National Tournament.
- Marquette defeated Wisconsin Lutheran 115-47 Saturday. Such results happen when a team shoots 77.1% in the second half, making 27 of 35 shots.
- Tennessee dumped Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) 77-49. Like many exhibition games, this was close for a while-the Vols led just 34-28 at halftime-before pulling away.
- Providence defeated Stonehill (Mass.) 93-49. Phil Kasiecki has more on the Friars here
- Elite 8 participant Dayton rolled past Southern Indiana’s Screaming Eagles 96-66. USI was where Bruce Pearl won an NCAA Division II national title, and the school still is a D-II power.
- Detroit steamrolled Marygrove (Mich.) 98-55.
- Speaking of the Big South earlier, Campbell received a tussle from Coker (S.C.) before prevailing 73-65.
Today’s Menu. More exhibition games:
- Kentucky hosts Georgetown (Ky.)
- Arizona plays host to Cal Poly Pomona. Pomona nearly defeated Stanford a couple nights ago
- Another Pac-12 team could get an exhibition challenge as Oregon faces Western Oregon. The Wolves defeated Oregon State on Friday
- Northern Iowa hosts Bemidji State (Minn.)
- Indiana State takes on Trine (Ind.)