The start of the college basketball season is just days away. Saturday marked the start of Hoopville’s 15th year of covering the sport, and we couldn’t be more excited about it.
Why not? College basketball has certainly changed over the last 14 years, but there’s still something about it that pulls people like us in all the time. It still has plenty of outside factors, like the NBA and its constant pull, but the game itself is as enjoyable to cover now as it was 14 years ago.
As we bring back the Morning Dish for another season to start off each day throughout the college season, for the next few days until tip-off we will also give you a quick look at all of the conferences, a few each day.
We start with America East, where Albany comes in as a three-time defending champion fresh off tying a school record with 24 wins. The Great Danes should still be right there, as three all-conference selections return, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the title game ends up being a rematch as Stony Brook returns nearly everyone and will be right there again. Vermont and New Hampshire each return four starters and will be right there with them.
The favorite in the American Athletic Conference is certainly SMU, but the Mustangs won’t be eligible for any postseason play as a result of NCAA sanctions levied earlier this fall. Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy lead the way, and with the Mustangs out, look for the likes of Cincinnati, Tulsa and UConn to carry the flag. Memphis needs to bounce back, while Temple needs a few players to successfully move into new roles. The conference is also looking to rebound from a bad couple of months in non-conference play last year, which hurt them on Selection Sunday.
In the Atlantic 10, Rhode Island is ready to contend in Dan Hurley’s fourth season at the helm. The program has seen steady strides all leading up to this, and the Rams could break through and win it all. But it won’t come easily, as Dayton, Davidson and VCU should all be right there. Dayton will have to navigate at least the first semester without versatile wing Dyshawn Pierre, but James Madison transfer Charles Cooke should help right away. Davidson brings almost everyone back, while VCU has a new coach but a familiar face, and still plenty of talent.
The ACC should see familiar faces in the running for the top, as North Carolina is thought to be a national title contender and Duke still has plenty of talent, though much younger. Duke’s season will largely hinge on just how good Derryck Thornton will be at the point. Virginia should be the Tar Heels’ toughest competitor, though, while Notre Dame should still manage despite losing a ton with the departures of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. Miami and Florida State should both be better this season and push for the top spots. Louisville, NC State, Pittsburgh and Syracuse could all break into the top five or six, but right now appear to have more questions than answers.
The Atlantic Sun added NJIT, previously the last independent in Division I, but should still remain a battle between Florida schools. North Florida and FGCU battled it out last year and return a lot of key pieces, with the Ospreys placing four players on the preseason all-conference team. As for the new kid on the block, NJIT should be in contention right away. Jim Engles has done a great job basically with one hand tied behind his back in recruiting in Newark, but now that they have a path to the NCAA Tournament, he should really get that program going.
Lastly for today, the Big 12 has been the domain of Kansas for over a decade now. It hasn’t come easily, but the Jayhawks’ tremendous run of regular season championships means you pick them until someone knocks them off, and this year they have the pieces to contend for a national title, quiet as it’s been kept. They will earn it, though, as Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor and West Virginia should seriously challenge them, and Texas and Kansas State will give them all they can handle as well. The conference was very deep last year, and this year should be no different.
You won’t see Southern Miss in any postseason tournaments in March 2016, and that’s not a prediction of whether or not they’ll be good enough to get into one. On Sunday, the school announced that it will self-impose another season to its previously self-imposed postseason ban going back to events from Donnie Tyndall’s tenure at the school. The school received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA in July related to events during Tyndall’s tenure, and that was behind Tyndall’s firing after one season as head coach at Tennessee.
In exhibition action, Syracuse ran away from Florida Southern 96-54 behind six players who scored in double figures, while South Carolina cruised past Allen University 71-43 after jumping out to a big early lead.