With opening day now just three days away, we continue our quick glance look at all 32 NCAA Division I conferences with six more today.
The Big East will again be one of the best conferences top-to-bottom in the country and certainly the best secret among the biggies. That says more about viewers still adjusting to national sports network options than the league, which if one is watching they’ll see it still retains a good share of the charm from its golden days. Villanova is the favorite for another league title, but Georgetown and Butler are capable of wresting it away. Xavier will remain good, and watch out for Marquette with a talented freshman class, including McDonald’s All-American Henry Ellenson. Unfortunately for the league, it’s still quite conceivable that there once again are a lot of very good teams and no great ones, which would lead to questions after the NCAA Tournament once again.
The Big Sky will see some transition after Eastern Washington lost star Tyler Harvey and four starters in all, while Sacramento State and Montana also lost stars Mikh McKinney and Jordan Gregory, respectively. It could open the door for Weber State to re-emerge after an uncharacteristic off year, as the Wildcats are led by Joel Bolomboy and Jeremy Senglin. Expect EWU and Montana to remain near the top-and to stage some wicked individual matchups in the post between the Eagles’ Venky Joise and the Grizzlies’ Martin Breunig. Northern Arizona also will be there, while Southern Utah is a darkhorse with five returning starters.
Coastal Carolina and Winthrop have played for the last two Big South tourney titles, with the Chanticleers winning both times. The matchup could repeat itself for a third straight year, but perhaps the Eagles break through this time with electric 5-7 waterbug guard Keon Johnson supported by much improved frontcourt depth-the difference in the two teams last year. Coastal will remain tough on the boards with Badou Diagne and Tristian Curtis, while High Point also still has the superb John Brown, which means the Panthers also will have a say in who wins this league.
The Big Ten is all but assured to have a more competitive title race with Wisconsin coming back to the pack after a glorious two-year run. Maryland is the heavy favorite to win the league and has been (and will continue to be) much-discussed. Indiana is a chic pick for second despite struggling badly on the defensive end last year, while Michigan is expected by many to bounce back. Michigan State will finish anywhere from first-to-sixth in the regular season before making its traditional postseason run (though we’d guess the higher end, and wouldn’t be surprised if a league title is in the cards while Denzel Valentine becomes an All-American). Purdue is an appealing pick for a high finish too with its HUGE frontline, and of course Wisconsin will still remain a pest.
The Big West will again be one of the country’s best-kept secrets with some solid round-robin conference play. When it was finally healthy, UC Irvine nearly upended Louisville in the NCAAs last year, and if the Anteaters can keep everyone in action they could make more noise this year. Hawaii and UC Santa Barbara will be right there with the Anteaters, and don’t be surprised if Cal Poly or UC Riverside reprises the role of UC Davis, which last year went from nine wins to 25 and won its first league regular season title.
Hofstra is the hot pick in the CAA, and coach Joe Mihalich has yet another entertaining team with a quality backcourt including the slick-passing Juan’ya Green, Ameen Tanksley and Brian Bernardi. The Pride needs to be better defensively, though, or else this could be a race similar to last year when four teams tied for the top spot. Northeastern (the league’s NCAA tourney representative that nearly upset Notre Dame), William & Mary and UNC-Wilmington all lost key members from that quad-champion pool, but all return enough to again be at the top if replacements can pick up even some of the slack left by Scott Eatherton (NE), Marcus Thornton (W&M) and Addison Spruill (UNCW). Perhaps the best team of all, though, could be James Madison, which returns all five starters and also was part of the tie for first last year.
- It feels like this year has served up an inordinate amount of Division I schools being upset in preseason games, and it happened again last night as NCAA D-II Adelphi (N.Y.) surprised Manhattan 89-86. As always, take these results with a grain or three of salt, but it should be noted Adelphi went 6-20 last year and was picked sixth of seven teams in the Southwest Division of the Northeast-10 Conference (which, in true modern style for conference confusion, includes 15 teams). Also, West Georgia toppled Jacksonville State 87-78. At least JSU lost to a team that went 22-9 last year and made it to the NCAA Tournament before losing a close one to Florida Southern, the eventual Division II national champions.
- In other exhibition games, California defeated Carroll (Mont.) 93-58, while Indiana received a tussle from always-tough D-II Bellarmine (Ky.) before winning 73-62. Marquette also pulled away in the second half for a 98-57 win over Valley City State (N.D.) in a game that had a nice family angle.
Have a great Tuesday.