Yes. It’s time for the long (but not long enough!) haul of the NCAA Basketball season to soon start. The big story this year is insane amount of incredibly talented recruits, including already consensus #1 pick Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), the next great player out of Chicago in Jabari Parker (Duke), and Kentucky’s five top ten recruits, what is being hailed as the “best recruiting class ever” (take that Fab Five) by none other than Louisville coach Rick Pitino. The big name coaches occupy the top four spots in mostly everyone’s preseason picks, with Coach Calipari (UK), Pitino (Louisville), Izzo (MSU), and Krzyzewski (Duke), with others such as Roy Williams (UNC), Jim Boehiem (Syracuse), and Bill Self (KU) not far behind.
Arguably six NCDA schools could be preseason Top 25 this year depending on how you feel about Maryland, but almost certainly VCU will be in the high teens/lows twenties, OSU around #10, and MSU, Louisville, and UK will be top three.
The Mid-American Conference has a long standing tradition of being bad. Players ranked as the ten best in the history of the conference typically include standouts like Bonzi Wells, Dan Majerle, Wally Szczerbiak, and Antoino Gates. The conference typically does not get multiple berths to the tournament, and it is considered either a high low-major or a low mid-major. Last year’s champion was Akron, who actually had a really good season for a MAC school (minus the drug trafficking situation) before they got throttled? embarrassed? annihilated? clowned? is there even a word to describe what happens when you lose to VCU in the NCAA Tournament 88-42? Anyways, some of the teams in the MAC have had some success in this century at least- Kent State made it to the Elite 8 in 2002 before being taken out by Indiana, a Chris Kaman led Chippewas team took out Kyle Korver’s Creighton team in the 2003 NCAA First Round, and Miami made the tournament in 2007.
Tournament History: Bowling Green’s last NCAA Tournament appearance was 1968, but at least they’re not Northwestern right?
Returning Players: Chauncy Orr (son of head coach Louis Orr) averaged 7.5 ppg and 1.6 apg last season, leading the returning players in both.
Recruits: J.D. Tisdale and Zach Denny (both were two stars)
Stat to Know: BGSU was 270th in adjusted offense last year, and lost their top two scorers. Those scorers scored almost 50% of BGSU’s points last year.
Key Non-Conference Games: at Wisconsin, at Saint Louis, at Xavier, vs Western Kentucky, vs Detroit Mercy
Outlook: Bowling Green missed the NCAA Tournament last year, and losing a lot of their offensive firepower will undoubtedly hurt them going forward. I was impressed with the Falcons when I watched Michigan State go to their gym, as BG was able to fight for the majority of the game and stick around. However, I wasn’t impressed with a poor conference record. While there is always a shot to make the tournament with the automatic bids, BGSU is most likely going to need to improve significantly to make it to the tournament. A lack of major teams on the non-conference schedule certainly hurts their numbers as well.
Tournament History: Four appearances, none since 2003.
Returning Players: Chris Fowler put up some good numbers as a Freshman- 8.1 ppg and over a 2.0 assist to turnover ratio
Recruits: Three two star recruits- Josh Kozinski, Nick Carlos, and Braylon Rayson.
Stat to Know: Central Michigan’s adjusted defense ranked 327th in the country. They would give up 112 points per 100 possessions against an average offense. Louisville was first, with 83 points per 100 possessions.
Key Non-Conference Games: at Dayton
Outlook: CMU, like basically all MAC teams, will need to win the MAC Tournament if they want to play in late March. They are terrible defensively, and while Keno Davis is a good coach, he’s led one team (Drake in 2009) to the NCAA Tournament. The Chips should be being led by Trey Ziegler right now, a top recruit coming out of high school, but after his father was fired as the head coach of the Chippewas, he transferred to Pitt (he has now since transferred again to TCU.) Ziegler was the leading scorer for CMU as a freshman and sophomore (right around 16.0 ppg both years) and would have been a dominating combo guard in the MAC with his size and speed. Without him though, the Chips will need to make due with the talent they have. Improving defense needs to be the top goal, the secondary goal should be a .500 record.
Tournament History: Four NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite 8 run in 2002 and most recently in 2008.
Returning Players: Kris Brewer (9 ppg, including 42% behind the arc) and Darren Goodson (8.4 ppg out of a wing)
Recruits: Only a JUCO transfer in Devin Carter, a guy who average 17.5 ppg for Lake Land College
Stat to Know: Kent State averaged 71.3 ppg against the 144th ranked defensive schedule, which I would consider to be pretty good.
Key Non-Conference Games: at Temple, at Seton Hall, vs Bucknell, vs Cleveland State, at Princeton
Outlook: If Carter can step in and be an offensive weapon like he was at JUCO, Kent State can stay up near the top of the MAC. I love their non-conference schedule, they’re not going to face anyone who should smoke them, but they are getting a lot of tough tests. Kent finished third in their division last year, behind Ohio and Akron, and the MAC really rewards teams for good regular seasons in the MAC Tournament by giving the two top teams byes to the semifinals. I could see Kent making the tournament, most likely as a 12-14 seed, but it’s very doable.
Tournament History: Sixteen tournament appearances, including four Sweet Sixteens. They last made the tourney in 2007.
Returning Players: Will Felder, as 6-7 senior who put up 11.6 ppg on 52.1% shooting.
Recruits: Miami is attempting to become the Saint Mary’s of Ohio, as they added two Aussies in this year’s class. It’s worked great for the Gaels, we’ll see if it works out for the Redhawks.
Stat to Know: Miami averaged 29.4 rebounds per game. Quinnapac (the NCAA leader) averaged 42 rebounds per game. Obviously this depends on a thousand factors, but Miami was 335th in rebounding.
Key Non-Conference Games: at Notre Dame, at Arizona State, at Xavier
Outlook: Those three key non-conference games? They’re the three first games of the season for Miami. Miami was terrible last year, only three conference wins (in the MAC) and 9 wins total. They had a nine game losing streak in conference play. I feel like they will likely be worse this year.
The SEC may be one of the most top heavy conferences in the country. Kentucky is going to be amazing. Florida is always really good. Tennessee could be pretty good as well. Ole Marshall Henderson can win some games on his own. The rest of the conference though? Who knows who will make it to the dance. LSU, Mizzou, Bama are getting some noise as “potential tournament teams.” The bottom of the conference is garbage. But let’s focus on the Florida-Kentucky rivalry. It’s probably the worst rivalry in college football, but the talent between these two teams is incredible. They have two of the best recruiters in the country as their coaches. Both teams are bringing back great players. However, as good as UF’s recruits are (two five star players, both in the top five at their position), UK’s got them beat. That’s why UK will be my preseason favorite for the SEC, although a lot could come riding down to the last day of the season when the Wildcats travel to Gainesville for a monumental battle.
Tournament History: 52 NCAA Tournament appearances (most all time), 39 Sweet Sixteens, 34 Elite Eights, 15 Final Fours, and 8 Championships (latest in 2012.)
Returning Players: Willie Cauley-Stein, a mammoth low post player who can impose his will, and Alex Poythress, a versatile wing that can score in multiple ways.
Recruits: Julius Randle (#1 PF), Andrew Harrison (#1 PG), Dakari Johnson (#2 C), James Young (#3 SF), Aaron Harrison (#1 SG) are all in the top ten recruits in the country.
Stat to Know: In 2010, the Wildcats had five players drafted in the first round, including #1 pick John Wall.
Key Non-Conference Games: vs Michigan State (in Chicago), at Providence (in Brooklyn), at Baylor (in Arlington, TX), vs Boise State, at North Carolina, vs Louisville
Outlook: UK is going to, in typical UK fashion, have a lot of pressure and be under a lot of scrutiny this year. Last year, they had the #1 incoming class, but missed the NCAA Tournament after Nerlens Noel injured his knee. However, this UK team will be different. They have veteran leadership (in two sophomores) and a lot of depth. The #1 class this year is also incredibly better than last year’s class. The Wildcats are going to be really, really good this year. They’ll get tested early on with an incredibly tough non-conference slate, and will get some good games in SEC play. Their starting guards are 6’6″ twins that can score and distribute, as well as play solid defense due to size and athleticism. On the wing you have Poythress, someone who as wildly inconsistent last year. However, on this team he’ll be the third option at best, and he’ll be surrounded by people who can light up the scoreboard. This should free up an incredibly talented Poythress, and let him dominate the opposition. Julius Randle is a monster, and will be in a three person race for the Naismith Trophy this year. Cauley-Stein and Johnson are huge, and will be able to physically dominate the inside. Add in an incredibly talented bench, and it’s easy to see how anything but a National Championship might be considered a disappointment.
The CAA has had some great teams recently in the NCAA Tournament for a mid-major. Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason have both made the Final Four in the last decade, and both Old Dominion and Richmond have had a history of being a solid mid-major team. Unfortunately for the CAA however, none of those team compete in their conference anymore. The A-10 has been adding teams recently, poaching several CAA schools. Without these teams, the top dogs in the conference are Towson and newcomer Charleston, with Northeastern and JMU being the reigning regular season and tournament champions respectively. This could potentially be one of the last rodeos for the Dukes in the CAA, as they’re rumored to be making a move to FBS Football and possibly C-USA or the MAC.
Tournament History: Five Appearances, most recently last year. The Dukes have a record of 4-5 in the NCAA Tournament, and have only lost in one first round (64-62 to #3 Florida in 1994.)
Returning Players: Andre Nation (All-CAA Freshman Team in 2012-13, but suspended until January) and Andrey Semenov (Six Year Senior!)
Recruits: Jackson Kent (#147 SF), some International dudes, and Yohanny Dalembert (half brother of sometimes good NBA center Samuel Dalembert and also a graduate of Lower Merion High School where the second Bean Bryant played)
Stat to Know: In their first NCAA Tournament win in 30 years, the Dukes were able to hold the #5 scoring offense (79.5 PPG) and #10 overall shooting team (48.4%) in LIU-Brooklyn to 55 points and 35.6% shooting.
Key Non-Conference Games: at Virginia, at Milwaukee, vs Detroit, at Valpo, at Winthrop, at Richmond
Outlook: A couple of quick notes really quick. First, losing Andre Nation will not impact the chances of a NCAA Tournament berth for JMU. This conference will most likely be a bad one, and there will not be an at large berth on the line for a CAA team. As long as he’s playing by mid-February, he will be fine. Second, their schedule sucks. Most small conference teams that don’t have a lot of reputation end up playing a lot of road games in non-conference play. Some teams, like Mississippi Valley State, can’t really afford to have a team without the revenue of playing road teams, which leads to them playing ridiculous schedules (this year they play eight of their first nine games on the road against Power Six teams, as well as a total of seven home games over the entire season.) James Madison should not be in the same position as MVSU if they really want to go FBS. They have exactly two home non-conference games, and they play one Power Six team (at Virginia in the home opener.) Unless they have some crazy situation I am not aware of, why on Earth would you schedule yourself that way? Luckily, you can get season tickets for $50-$135 and single game tickets for $10-12. Good luck getting a single game ticket at UK for $50, and a single ticket in the upper deck for their rivalry game against Louisville is going for $300 (one is currently listed for $2,942 per ticket in the middle of the lower deck.) I don’t think James Madison will contend for the title this year, they were the fourth best team last year in CAA at 11-7, but were aided by a Towson team that didn’t really believe in the whole “school” thing, to get the three seed. Take away most of their more successful players, and I find it hard to believe that they will step up and win the CAA Tournament.
Tournament History: Two appearances, in 1990 and 1991 as 16 seeds.
Returning Players: Jerrelle Benimon (reigning CAA Player of the Year), and their other top four scorers.
Recruits: John Davis (#137 PF) and Walter Foster (Post Grad student from Fishburne), also adding Four McGlynn from Vermont as a transfer.
Stat to Know: 18 wins doesn’t sound that impressive, but when you apply that to a team who knows they’re not going dancing before the season even started it sounds better. Then, when you say that the team only had one win the year before, well, then you know that it’s a good year.
Key Non-Conference Games: vs Temple, at Villanova, at Kansas, at Oregon State
Outlook: Towson is getting a lot of early buzz this year as a bracket buster or Cinderella type team. Looking at their talent from last year, I honestly believe they will knock off Oregon State (not that that’s saying much) and Nova in their non-conference. I also think that they will make the NCAA Tournament by virtue of winning the CAA Tournament. If I had to take a guess, I’m thinking like a 14 seed against a Power Six team. Depending on the matchup, they could earn their first tournament win in school history as well. I am not buying the Cinderella talk, but I am buying the Bracket Buster talk. Towson was a phenomenal rebounding team last year (9th in the NCAA) which they will probably not reach again as they lost their #2 rebounder. I do really like the fact that this team went from absolute garbage for years to going to a #2 team in their conference. I like this even more when you see that they were just playing for pride and honor on their part due to their low APR scores (they had an 800 score two or three years ago. 925 is passing.) I compare that to UConn last year- 20-10 with some huge wins on the season. Neither team had much going on other than “Let’s just go out there and show that we can ball.” Both teams proved to their conferences that they can, in fact, ball. Both are being rewarded for it, with early season praise and some hype. Let’s see if the Tigers can live up to having expectations.
American Athletic Association
A brand new conference! With some spectacular rivalries! Who doesn’t love that Temple vs Houston history? Or the fact that easily the best, most important team in the conference is leaving after just one season? How about schools paying for trips from Southern Methodist to Connecticut? This is what happens when you try to poach too many teams, and when you reach too far for teams. Everyone knew the Big East was in trouble in football after the departure of many of their teams to the ACC, and WVU to the Big 12. One look at this conference says “Wow, there are literally maybe five good teams in this conference.” Luckily, you only need one look. SMU does have Larry Brown as their coach, but he has been there a long time (one year!) so he’ll probably jump ship soon. Rutgers is best known for all their off the court problems, and the fact that they can’t recruit in a basketball hotbed to save their lives. Houston used to be amazing (Phi Slama Jama!) but they have nine Final Fours with exactly zero championships, and they also haven’t really been relevant in 29 years. South Florida has two NCAA Tournament wins ever, and they are notorious for being amazingly awful at shooting from outside. Central Florida is so bad that their Wikipedia page lists their Division II Final Four appearances to try and deceive people that they in fact, have never won a D1 NCAA Tournament game, and they have yet to produce a notable player (their most notable player in Marcus Jordan, who chose to go to an Adidas school and tried to wear Air Jordans which started a huge fiasco. This is the most attention paid to UCF Basketball ever.) This brings us to the actual competitive teams part of the AAC. Louisville is the clear favorite, but not the predetermined winner, after winning the NCAA Championships last year and returning most key players. I personally am very high on Memphis, and UConn could always sneak in with the title as well. Temple and Cincy are both capable teams that should be dancing as well.
Tournament History: Three Time Champion (including last year), 10 Final Fours, and 39 Appearances.
Returning Players: Russdiculious Smith (All American), Luke Hancock (Final Four MOP), Wayne Blackshear, Chase Behanan, Kevin Ware
Recruits: Terry Rozier (Five Star PG out of a Post Graduate School), Anton Gill (#10 SG), Akoy Agau (#19 PF), Chris Jones (JUCO transfer)
Stat to Know: Louisville last year had the #5 AdjO and #1 AdjD in the country.
Key Non-Conference Games: either UNC or Richmond (in Connecticut), Western Kentucky, at Kentucky
Outlook: I didn’t highlight WKU because it’s a NCDA matchup. They are literally the third best team UofL will play this non-conference. Obviously UNC and UK are legit games, but still, get a couple more semi-legit games in there, especially when you know your conference RPI is going to be lower than it was the last few years. Louisville will be extremely solid, but I do have three worries. One: will UofL be able to play intense pressure basketball like they always have without Peyton Siva? Two: Point Guard Depth. If Ware is unable to go at any point due to injury, or Jones cannot run the offense effectively or gets hurt, you’re stuck with Russdiculous at PG. Three: Who steps up for Gorgui Dieng? Dieng was not only one of the best defensive players of the last few years, but he also stepped up offensively for the Cards. Having a huge body inside to impact the game was definitely a strength of UofL the last few years, and now that’s gone. Personally, I understand how UofL is getting Top Five preseason buzz. Obviously they just won the championship, and despite losing two all timer players, they picked up some great players as well. I still doubt this team winning the Championship, and possibly even the AAC. Memphis is legit, and they will attack the basket and play fast. I think in the end Louisville will get a 3 seed and lose in the Elite 8 or Sweet Sixteen depending on matchups.
This will be continued as soon as I can get it made in Part II.