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The Morning Dish – Friday, November 10, 2017

November 10, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

Good morning, and welcome to the 2017-18 college basketball season.

With games starting this morning already, we conclude Hoopville’s preseason rundown of all 32 NCAA Division I conferences:

It seems to matter not what Mike Davis returns each year at Texas Southern-the Tigers have become perennial favorites in the SWAC, reloading annually with a cavalry of transfers. That’s the case again this year, where he does return a quality backcourt of Demontrae Jefferson and Kevin Scott but otherwise will lean on newcomers like Massachusetts transfer Donte Clark to form a team good enough to pull off a surprise or two against an obscene schedule that opens with 13 straight road games and one name-brand school after another. Besides TSU, Alcorn State and Jackson State appear to have the best shot to challenge. Montez Robinson has built a solid program on The Reservation, while JSU can’t possibly have worse injury luck than last year

It made perfect sense that the Summit League wouldn’t match its lofty heights of the 2015-16 season, when it finished 12th in conference RPI, but the league still didn’t do half bad last year, between the scoring explosions from South Dakota State’s Mike Daum, the incredible rise of South Dakota from eighth to first in the regular season, and just about everyone else having their moments at some point (even cellar finisher Oral Roberts handily defeated Richmond and nearly knocked off Creighton, Michigan State and Mississippi). Expect more of the same this year, with Daum back for his junior year, USD still a threat, North Dakota State and IPFW lurking and Denver a darkhorse capable of contending.

If you’re looking for a darkhorse league to sneak out an at-large bid this year, keep an eye on the Sun Belt, which has a host of experienced, talented teams, many led by dynamite duos. There will be few better pairs anywhere in the country this year than at Texas-Arlington, where Kevin Hervey and Erick Neal are both good enough to receive All-America consideration, and we’re not exaggerating. That said, Louisiana-Lafayette (Frank Bartley and Bryce Washington), Georgia Southern (Tookie Brown and Ike Smith) and defending tourney champion Troy (Jordon Varnado) all have their own excellent 1-2 punches that are worth watching at any level. We pick UTA to back up its regular season title a year ago, but UL-Lafayette also is very much worth watching as a team with the combination of talent plus schedule to impress early.

The WAC is a league many thought would be gone by now, but it continues to survive and is even starting to thrive again. The league moved up to 19th in the RPI and had considerable postseason success, led by regular season champion Cal State Bakersfield making it all the way to the NIT semifinals from an 8 seed in the tourney. New Mexico State won the league tourney and the WAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and even Utah Valley advanced to the CBI semis. This should be another good year. NMSU and Grand Canyon should put on a show fighting for the title, but don’t count out Bakersfield or Utah Valley, which famously notched a win at BYU last year. The WAC tourney should take on a new level of excitement, too, as this will be Grand Canyon’s first year eligible for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The WCC had a banner season last year that included Gonzaga earning the league’s first Final Four appearance in 60 years. The Zags are reloading after just missing out on an NCAA title, and the door is considered open for Saint Mary’s to capitalize. The Gaels return four starters-including serious All-American candidate Jock Landale-several key reserves and add senior transfer Cullen Neal to an ultra-efficient team on both ends that couldn’t crack Gonzaga last year but did show well in a close NCAA second round loss to Arizona. We think SMC will miss Joe Rahon a lot more than people think, but the Gaels are still set up for another 25+ win season. Gonzaga isn’t going completely away, either, nor is BYU, and keep an eye on San Francisco. The Dons surprised last year in Kyle Smith’s first season, and they return enough experience and balance that they could move into the top three and should be a threat every time out.

Side Dishes:

  • Alabama will open against Memphis on Friday with a depleted roster. Out due to injury are Ar’Mond Davis, Braxton Key, Riley Norris. Also out is freshman Collin Sexton, but the Crimson Tide received good news that he will be held out only one more game, and will make his debut in Bama’s second game against Lipscomb on Tuesday.
  • One exhibition game last night: Temple held off legend Herb Magee’s Jefferson (Pa.) team 70-60.
  • We concluded on Thursday our pick for our favorite games for every day of the season, which you can take a look at here.

Today’s Menu: It’s a flat-out stuffed schedule to open the season, albeit one with few matchups of intrigue and a lot of chaff in the form of games vs. non-Division I opponents.

  • Your first game of the season is the Cougars of Spring Arbor at Eastern Michigan. Yes. The first matchup of Division I schools has run-and-gun Savannah State at rugged Cincinnati, while the first matchup with some intrigue is Lamar-one of the favorites in the Southland-at Tulsa.
  • North Carolina opens the defense of its national title at home against Northern Iowa, a team it blew out last year. Other biggies playing: Michigan State hosts North Florida, Duke welcomes a good Elon team, Utah Valley is at Kentucky and Villanova hosts Columbia.
  • Arguably the biggest name pairings include Texas A&M against West Virginia from Germany, Georgia Tech vs. UCLA in China, and Iowa State at Missouri in Michael Porter’s debut and a clash of former Big 8 rivals.
  • A Final Four team opens on the road as South Carolina goes to Wofford to open the Terriers’ new Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. Big credit to Frank Martin for scheduling this game, and a good article from earlier this week with Martin’s thoughts on it by John Del Bianco of The Big Spur website.
  • Big names on upset alert include Indiana hosting Indiana State, Wake Forest welcoming Georgia Southern and a good UNC Greensboro team at Virginia.
  • Samford-an experienced team with an excellent backcourt slated high in the Southern Conference-goes to reloading Arkansas, while Belmont heads to the Northwest to face Washington.
  • For best pure matchups of the day, take a look at Yale at Creighton or Louisiana-Lafayette traveling to Mississippi. Others that look great on paper: Iona at Albany, Southern Illinois traveling to Winthrop, IPFW at Oakland, Ball State going to Dayton, UNC Asheville at Rhode Island and Towson at Old Dominion.
  • Longtime Boston rivals Northeastern and Boston University resume their rivalry, one that is tied at 73-73 through 146 previous meetings and has been incredibly close in recent years-eight of the last nine matchups have been decided by six points or less or in overtime.

Have a superb opening day of the season.

 

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