We’re on the doorstep now-just one more day before the 2015-16 college basketball season officially commences. We continue our preseason peek at all 32 NCAA Division I conferences with six more today.
There is room for upward mobility right now in the Mountain West. San Diego State and Boise State are the two most expected to be at the top of the heap, but even they have flaws-the Aztecs famously struggled to score at times last year, while Boise will miss Derrick Marks and also plays a brutal early schedule in November with road trips to Arizona and a sneaky one at Montana, plus a loaded field in the Wooden Legacy. Colorado State is reloading while Wyoming is in an almost complete rebuild, so the time is now for Utah State and UNLV to make a move and challenge for an NCAA bid. Fresno State is also a popular darkhorse pick, though the Bulldogs need to rebound better to have a shot at a first division finish.
Playing a sticky zone and continuing to bring in talent that conference peers would be envious of, Andrew Toole has Robert Morris positioned to become the standard in the NEC. The Colonials have won at least one postseason game each of the last four years, and this year they return leading scorer Rodney Pryor, point guard Kavon Stewart and tempting prospect Elijah Minnie. Mount St. Mary’s is establishing itself as a consistent challenger, while defending regular season champs St. Francis (N.Y.) isn’t going away but must replace Jalen Cannon, the NEC’s best player last year.
The OVC is an improved league of late, performing surprisingly well in the postseason (15-8 mark in the four after-season tournaments over the last two years). Much of that has come in the CBI and CIT, but it still stands that the league has been more competitive with its peers than perhaps noted. Belmont stunned Murray State to win the OVC tourney in March, and the Bruins-led by Craig Bradshaw and Evan Bradds-are set for another very good year if they can make up for the loss of point guard Reece Chamberlain. Tennessee-Martin also was a great story last year in Heath Schroyer’s first season, coming from nowhere to win 21 games and make the CIT semifinals.
Could the Pac-12 be seeing a changing of the guard? Utah surged last year, California is getting a whole lot of preseason love with the return of an outstanding backcourt and the addition of an anticipated freshman frontcourt of Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown, and even Oregon State is on the way up after a nice first year under Wayne Tinkle and a quality recruiting class. Not so fast, though. Arizona will reload again, even if it takes a few lumps early, UCLA will remain a contender with Bryce Alford, and Oregon will remain a tough out coached slickly by Dana Altman. Add it up and you have improving depth and competition in what should be a very tough league.
Start-to-finish, no conference was more competitive than the Patriot League last year, where the difference between third and ninth in the 10-team league was three games. Lafayette was a surprising tournament champ from the No. 4 seed, but the Leopards are reloading after losing three starters. Bucknell won the regular season title last year but lost its coach-David Paulsen is now at George Mason. The Bison and Lehigh are the favorites entering this year, though, with Bucknell led by guard Chris Hass and the Mountain Hawks returning the league player of the year in Tim Kempton. Watch out for Army as well; the Black Knights return all five starters and have a serious player of the year contender in Kyle Wilson.
The SEC has been winning the press conference the last couple years, with widely lauded hirings like Rick Barnes, Ben Howland, Bruce Pearl and Michael White. Now, can anyone catch Kentucky? The Wildcats will reload again with another star-studded recruiting class, but there is plenty of opportunity if UK slips even a little bit. Vanderbilt is a chic pick, but LSU or Texas A&M are equally good bets, with their combinations of returning talent and newcomers. It’s also worth keeping an eye on Auburn, to see if the Bruce Pearl magic kicks in during his second year.
- It has not been a good week for Utah State. First, the Aggies lost to Cal State-Monterey Bay by 17 points in an exhibition game. Now, the school announced yesterday that sophomore big man David Collette has left the program and will transfer. Collette averaged 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game last year as a redshirt freshman coming off a two-year LDS mission. The quote from coach Tim Duryea in the school’s release is quite direct, with Duryea insinuating that tampering could be in play here. If there is any truth to it at all, then it just brings up once again an issue that college sports needs to address. Poaching needs to stop. It’s against NCAA rules and is wrong on any number of levels. The pro leagues don’t even allow it, and if coaches are supposedly so worried about the transfer culture in the sport, then there should be enough peer pressure to get this to cease. This also is the age of the popular term “student-athlete well-being,” and if major colleges are really trying to make a case that they are institutions of education and not just stop-on-bys for professional athletes-in-training…this isn’t helping.
- George Mason announced on Tuesday that senior guard Patrick Holloway has been suspended for the first six games of the season for “not meeting program expectations as a student-athlete.” Holloway was the Patriots’ No. 2 scorer last year and leading three-point shooter. Among the contests he will miss are GMU’s Friday opener against Colgate, trips to Mercer and Manhattan plus the Gildan Charleston Classic next week.
- At Manhattan, Jermaine Lawrence has been suspended for the first half of the season for testing positive for marijuana. According to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, Lawrence was previously informed he would be suspended one game for the test but later was told it was his second positive test, kicking in the half-season penalty. Lawrence is a 6-10 former Cincinnati transfer who averaged just under five points per game last year.
- Exhibitions are winding down, but one notable last night: Oakland routed Division III Heidelberg (Ohio) 130-72 with seven players scoring in double figures.
Have a terrific Thursday.