Good Tuesday morning.
As the regular season is now just three days away, we continue Hoopville’s preseason rundown of all 32 NCAA Division I conferences:
The Northeast Conference in recent years is annually one of the most balanced leagues in the country. This year there is a clear favorite, though, as Fairleigh Dickinson returns almost everyone from last year’s freshmen and sophomore-dominated team that reached the NCAA Tournament. Wagner should provide FDU a stiff challenge while Bryant and Robert Morris will be intriguing to watch after both had rare off years. The Colonials in particular had a stunning fall, sinking to 10-22 after four straight 20-win seasons, so a major bounce back by Andrew Toole’s team would not be a surprise.
The Ohio Valley Conference has been on the upswing for the last several years, having a great deal of success in postseason tournaments outside the NCAAs. A lot of talent is gone-seven of the 10 on the all-OVC first team-but the race for the top ought to be hotly contested again, one year after the top six teams in the league were separated by a combined two games. Belmont is the favorite with the hyper-efficient Evan Bradds, whose low post shiftiness and moves had him lead the nation with a 71.4% shooting percentage. Also: watch Murray State. The Racers had a 17-14 record last season that was subpar by their lofty standards, but are absolutely loaded in the backcourt with Damarcus Croaker, Bryce Jones, Gee McGhee and Tulane transfer Jonathan Stark.
The Pac-12 had a superb regular season last year, sending seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. It’s postseason? Not so much. A 4-7 record in the NCAAs-carried mostly by Oregon advancing to the Elite Eight as a 1 seed-only gave ammo for those who considered the league to be a product of power ratings. This year is led by the Ducks, a deserved Final Four favorite, but after that it gets cloudy. Arizona and UCLA get the benefit of the doubt, expected to return to be top 15-20 teams because of their talent level, but the Wildcats have eligibility questions and the Bruins were just not very good last year. California, Oregon State and USC are all teams that could be as good as a year ago, but it will take returnees making a jump after all three teams lost significant contributors. The Pac-12 also will have as many freshmen to watch as any league, with future expected stars like Lonzo Ball at UCLA and Markelle Fultz at Washington.
Lehigh’s Patriot League opponents will take some comfort knowing this is the final year they’ll have to deal with Tim Kempton, the two-time player of the year. They’ve still got one more year of the supremely skilled big man, though, and the Mountain Hawks are the favorite in the league with Kempton joined by a solid supporting cast that includes all-conference performer Kahron Ross. Bucknell will be there, as usual, Boston University is a sleeper, and Holy Cross will look to prove it’s the team that blew through the Patriot tourney as a 9 seed winning four games on the road to make the NCAAs, not the club that went 10-19 in the regular season and 5-13 in league play.
- Duke has been nagged by injuries to its touted freshman class, with the most recent being Marques Bolden. The 6-foot-11 big man will miss the Blue Devils’ first two games this weekend against Marist on Friday and versus Grand Canyon on Saturday. Naturally, Duke is at home for both games, so the team likely will still be just fine even while facing a solid Grand Canyon team.
- Monday furnished a few exhibitions. Of note: Detroit Mercy-the school’s actual name, and now it wants to be known as such, not as ‘Detroit’-dropped its second straight exhibition to an NCAA Division II school, falling to Ferris State 85-79. Oregon, LSU, North Carolina State and Oakland all won exhibitions handily, while Texas-San Antonio needed a furious rally to top D-II Arkansas Tech 91-89 and South Florida slid past Nova Southeastern (Fla.) 72-64.
- A few teams are still playing exhibitions. Among the games are Arkansas-Monticello at Arkansas-Little Rock, Regis (Colo.) at Colorado State, Loyola Marymount hosting The Master’s (Calif.) and Methodist (N.C.) at Appalachian State.
Enjoy your Tuesday.