The remainder of our quick rundown of each Division 1 conference before the 2014-15 season:
Stephen F. Austin was one of the best stories in the nation last year down in the Southland, which actually was last year and again this year at first glance is not a bad league at the top. Sam Houston State should give SFA a good run, Northwestern State will again push the pace and substitute like a hockey team, and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has one of the smoothest, most under-control point guards in the country in John Jordan.
Alabama State of the SWAC received a reprieve from the NCAA and is now eligible for the postseason. The Hornets nearly doubled their win total last year, going from 10 to 19, and are likely the league’s best hope this year after Southern received a one-year all sports postseason ban due to APR issues.
The Summit League has quietly improved its lot in Division I despite frequent shuffling. This appears to be something of a reloading year for the conference, but the return of Oral Roberts is a good move and perhaps Denver this season can fulfill the promise that it came into the league with last year. Those two and IPFW should make for another entertaining conference race, and that will be the case even moreso if North Dakota State and South Dakota State don’t slip much after graduation losses.
Georgia State is loaded and also lacks no shortage of motivation after letting the Sun Belt Tournament title slip through its grasp last year to Louisiana-Lafayette. The Panthers are primed for their best season since Lefty Driesell led GSU to 29 wins and its only NCAA Tournament win in 2001. The Sun Belt is another conference that has undergone wholesale changes in recent years, yet somehow remains competitive, and this year will be no exception with UL-Lafayette returning double-double machine Shawn Long and always pesky Arkansas-Little Rock returning an experienced team.
There may not be a more prohibitive favorite in a conference than New Mexico State is in the WAC this year, but beware of that; the Aggies were overwhelming favorites last year too, when Utah Valley stole the regular season thunder and NMSU had to rally in the conference tournament to win the league’s NCAA bid. Seriously, though, from what we know in the preseason it’s hard to imagine someone challenging the Aggies this year, and what we’re really curious to see is how many games this team can win against a non-conference schedule that includes games against Wichita State, St. Mary’s, Baylor and Colorado State as well as traditional home-and-home rivals New Mexico and UTEP.
Gonzaga of course is going to be the top story nationally in the WCC, but the view from here is the league is getting hosed a little bit in the preseason rankings and bracketology projections. At this point, two bids is the starting point for this conference, and three seems more likely. Where those bids come from after Gonzaga is up for debate (most likely BYU, then St. Mary’s, but San Francisco, Portland and San Diego could be in the mix too), but the top-to-bottom depth of this conference is good enough that the RPI ratings are going to be solid. The bigger key will be picking up some big wins out of conference that the WCC lacked last year.
- St. John’s freshman center Adonis De La Rosa has been tagged as a non-qualifier by the NCAA Eligibility Center, a blow to the Johnnies’ inside depth.
- Oklahoma defeated SW Oklahoma State 78-37 in an exhibition game. The Sooners pounded the galss to the tune of a 55-30 advantage. More adventures in lousy free throw shooting: SWOSU was 5-for-14 from the stripe.
- Kansas blew out frequent state exhibition game foil Emporia State 109-56. Jayhawks shot 58.2% and had eight-EIGHT-players in double figures.
- Vanderbilt rolled past Sewanee (Tenn.) 67-38 in an exhibition. Sewanee, like Vandy, was a charter member of the SEC, but the Tigers now compete in NCAA Division III.
- In one of those occasional exhibition stunners, Daemen (N.Y.), a former NAIA school transitioning to NCAA Division II, knocked off Canisius 83-81 in overtime. The Golden Griffins are in rebuilding mode this year after losing Billy Baron and a host of others.
- Central Florida defeated Georgia College 82-65 in an exhibition.
- Davidson outscored Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) 53-23 in the second half after trailing by three at halftime, eventually winning 83-56. The Bears shot an awful 9-for-25 from the foul line.
- UNC Charlotte shot 64.7% for the game and scored 61 in the first half alone on the way to ripping Newberry (S.C.) 112-86. The 49ers had 37 assists on 45 baskets-that’s sharing the basketball.
- All is quiet as opening day is now just two days away.