It’s been a long 7+ months-221 days since Duke edged Wisconsin in an exciting 2015 NCAA Tournament finale-but the 2015-16 college basketball season is finally here.
Today the season tips off with 156 Division I games (a number of them against non-Division I schools), starting with Vermont taking on Eastern Michigan at 11 a.m. Eastern time in Ypslanti, Mich. (It’s on ESPN3, if you’re looking to watch) Before the games start, we wrap up our alphabetical order preseason peek at all 32 NCAA Division I conferences with the last seven today.
All eyes in the Southern Conference are on Tennessee-Chattanooga, which returns two of the top players in the league (Casey Jones and Justin Tuoyo) from a squad that finished behind only Wofford last year in the regular season. The Mocs have a new coach in Matt McCall but should stay true to the Havoc style favored by previous coach Will Wade, who is now at VCU. Speaking of Wofford, the Terriers lost do-it-all star Karl Cochran but won’t go too far away after four NCAA tourney appearances in six years. Keep an eye as well on East Tennessee State, which should rise fast under new coach Steve Forbes, and Furman, which returns all five starters and nearly knocked out Wofford in the SoCon tourney final.
Stephen F. Austin has put together a dynamite two-year run in the Southland, and the Lumberjacks should make it three. Jacob Parker has graduated but Thomas Walkup returns and there is plenty of firepower for SFA to grab some eye-catching wins against teams like Baylor, Northern Iowa and UAB. Northwestern State is the top challenger and returns a pair of 20 ppg scorers in Jalan West and Zeek Woodley, and the Demons should be as much fun to watch as anyone in the country.
Texas Southern helped the SWAC receive some hard-earned recognition last year with its surprising wins over Michigan State and later Kansas State. Mike Davis will have to reload again, but his Tigers will still be one of the favorites. Southern has emerged as TSU’s greatest rival right now and has the carrot of NCAA tourney eligibility again after APR issues the past few years, while Alabama State also could threaten both of them behind point guard Jamel Waters.
The Summit League has belonged to North Dakota State and South Dakota State in recent years. This year appears to be the Jackrabbits’ turn with an outstanding backcourt returning in Deondre Parks, George Marshall and Jake Bittle. NDSU lost Summit top player Lawrence Alexander but led by swingman A.J. Jacobson and forward Dexter Werner could have an advantage inside over SDSU, which lost top big man Cody Larson. As for the rest of the conference, Oral Roberts appears to have the best chance to break through the league’s current Big Two.
The Sun Belt will be different this year, but for the third straight year not without NBA-caliber talent. R.J. Hunter is off to the pros after hitting his NCAA Tournament dagger helping Georgia State shock Baylor, but Louisiana-Lafayette has a double-double machine in Shawn Long who actually surprised his coach by not declaring for the draft. The Ragin’ Cajuns are the pick this year while Georgia State reloads, though the Panthers are reloading with more talented transfers. Also contending should be Louisiana-Monroe-one of the top defensive teams in the nation last year-and Texas-Arlington, where the Movin’ Mavs nickname applies again despite the loss of point guard Johnny Hill to a graduate transfer to Purdue.
Another year in the WCC and it’s a familiar story, with Gonzaga as a heavy favorite. The Bulldogs’ frontcourt is among the class of the country and should carry them even if the backcourt does struggle some. BYU will miss Marty Haws, while St. Mary’s appears to have slipped a bit and must replace all five starters, including big man Brad Waldow. Pepperdine could be primed to a move up as high as second if it can find enough scoring besides the excellent Stacy Davis.
Finally, the refrain is similar in the WAC, where New Mexico State is the clear class. Despite the loss of mainstays like Daniel Mullings and Tshilidzi Nephawe there is still no shortage of talent and size. Pascal Siakam could be a star as soon as this year, while Ian Baker will provide three-point shooting to take some pressure off the posts. There still does not appear to be a program capable of significantly challenging the Aggies. Grand Canyon and Cal State-Bakersfield look to be the best of the rest, and capable of knocking off the Aggies if they play well.
- Couple notes from Wednesday, with more bad news for schools that have had their share before the season. SMU has lost guard Ben Emelogu for the season due to a knee injury. Emelogu averaged just under three points and two rebounds per game last year but would’ve helped with depth in the backcourt. Also, St. John’s freshman guard Marcus LoVett has been ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA, and as such is eligible to practice but not to play games this season. LoVett was considered a key piece in the Red Storm’s building efforts this year.
- Thursday was the start of the fall signing period. The biggest news from the day was actually a pair of verbal commitments, as Kentucky received a commitment from point guard De’Aaron Fox, while UCLA also received a commit from T.J. Leaf, formerly headed to Arizona.
Today’s menu: The schedule has a lot of chaff, but there are some quality games in the stack.
- The Veteran’s Classic is a cool event because it’s held at the Naval Academy. This year’s has top-ranked North Carolina with a tricky game against Temple, as well as Florida taking on Navy.
- Pittsburgh takes on Gonzaga in Japan, while Texas will play Washington in China. Good games, but could be played about 12-18 hours closer to the teams’ homes. All solely in the name of experience for student-athletes, though, we are sure.
Colorado and Iowa State matches a pair of former Big 8 rivals, while James Madison and Richmond is a good renewal of two schools who were longtime CAA rivals.
- Stephen F. Austin is at Baylor. The Lumberjacks will always be competitive, but their one weakness last year was lack of size. That’s not a good thing against Rico Gathers, but this could still be interesting.
- Illinois State at San Diego State will feature two outstanding defensive teams that struggled to score at times last year.
Northeastern and Boston University meet for the 144th time in a glorious city rivalry. BU leads the all-time series 72-71.
- Two good slightly under-the-radar games have UAB going to Auburn and Belmont headed north to Milwaukee to face Marquette. In both games the road team might be a chic favorite, but the home teams in both cases may wind up much better than preseason prognostications are particularly expecting.
- Finally, three good really under-the-radar games in the west: Boise State at Montana, Utah State at Weber State and Pepperdine at Fresno State.
Have a terrific Friday.