Archive | August, 2015

2015-16 Summit League Preview

22 Aug

Five Summit League story lines to watch…

1. South Dakota State and North Dakota State should once again battle atop the Summit standings, but both lost absolutely key players in Cody Larson and Lawrence Alexander, respectively. Is that the opportunity Summit foes need to close the gap this year?

2. Nebraska-Omaha is finally done with their D1 transition period, and thus eligible for postseason play, giving the Summit a nine team tournament format, and the Summit brass has yet to address how that bracket will look, or if all nine teams will qualify. The league is naturally actively looking for a tenth member.

3. Jason Gardner has a lot of local talent returning to Indianapolis in his second season at the helm. Gardner has his guys in now, and IUPUI should be getting closer to the success they had under Ron Hunter.

4. Oral Roberts suffered a plethora of offseason injuries, including shoulder surgery for star and POY frontrunner Obi Emegano. ORU looked like one of the few legit challengers to SDSU and NDSU this year, but the new faces will need some time to gel with the veterans.

5. Jon Coffman, known for his recruiting ability under Tony Jasick, has an influx of talent coming into IPFW to offset some key losses, including big man Steve Forbes. Jasick and now Coffman have done a fantastic job making IPFW a recognizable name among midmajors on the recruiting trail, a seemingly impossible task just a few years ago. With ORU, they’re the team most likely to give SDSU/NDSU a run at the top of the standings.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1. South Dakota State– The Jackrabbits lost a heartbreaker in last year’s Summit title game to NDSU, and with 76% of their scoring returning, Scott Nagy’s team will be disappointed with another runner up finish. By nearly every metric, the Jacks were the best team in the league last year, leading the Summit in both offensive and defensive efficiency rating, and posting the best 2PT% defensive in the league, a stat usually dominated by NDSU. Unfortunately, the only real loss SDSU has to sustain is big man Cody Larson. Replacing Larson is Nagy’s biggest challenge this year, and it appears it’s going to be a collaborative effort with Ian Theisen, Connor Devine, Mike Daum, and Adam Dykman all likely to see early minutes to suss out the best option. I would expect Theisen to have the job early, but former Nebraska Mr. Basketball Dykman probably has the most upside. Outside of replacing Larson’s production on both ends, the Jacks are loaded. The backcourt returns score first point guard George Marshall, who shot 44% from 3 in Summit League play, off guard and elite and Summit scorer Deondre Parks, and point/wing Jake Bittle. Bittle is the key to the entire offense because of his versatility and passing skills. Plus he has a solid jump shot to keep defenses honest and allow Marshall and Parks to move without the ball. Nagy also returns 6’6 stretch “4” Reed Tellinghuisen, who I believe is primed for a massive year. Tellinghuisen has reportedly added a lot of muscle, which will help become a much more versatile threat inside, in addition to his remarkable 47% three point shooting as a freshman. The depth at wing is also solid with returnees Skyler Flatten and Lane Severyn. If Nagy can find a modicum of success in replacing Larson’s production, the Jacks are almost certainly the team to beat in the Summit.

2. North Dakota State– I’m going to save myself the embarrassment, but I could link to last year’s Summit preview where I declared the Bison would be “taking a dramatic step back” from the team that dominated the SL inside on both ends of the court and upset Oklahoma in the first round because of the loss of Taylor Braun, TrayVonn Wright, Marshall Bjorklund, and head coach Saul Phillips. As it turned out, the transition to Dave Richman was seamless and highly successful, while also representing a complete departure from what made Phillips’ teams so good offensively. Gone was the team that scored nearly every point at the rim, instead giving way to a perimeter based attack led by the incomparable Lawrence Alexander. Alexander was a 45% three point shooter with an absurd mid range game, which explains his 111 ORtg, all while playing the second most total minutes in the country and leading NDSU to a 12-4 (all four losses came on the road) SL mark and playing Gonzaga to a near draw for 35 minutes in the NCAA Tournament. While the offense transitioned to a more motion based perimeter attack with Alexander at the helm, the defense remained as saggy as ever, allowing teams to fire away from three while all five crashed the glass, leading to the third best defensive rebounding rate in the country. With Alexander gone, I suppose it’s time for another “rebuild” in Fargo, but more aptly a “reload”. Richman returns everyone except Alexander, and everyone is reportedly healthy as of right now, which is significant because the Bison won the league with nearly everyone being injured at some point in the season. A 100% healthy AJ Jacobson should pick up most of the scoring slack left behind by Alexander. Jacobson is essentially the second coming of Taylor Braun, a 6’6 wing who can do it all, and he’s just a sophomore. The Bison also return a potential breakout player in Dexter Werner. The nation was exposed to what the undersized block scorer can do when he torched Gonzaga inside, but his conditioning and foul rate has to improve dramatically, as his per 40 numbers are outrageous. If Werner can find a way to stay on the court for 30 minutes a game, NDSU will probably win the league again. Chris Kading returns with Werner to play the 4/5, as does versatile defender Kory Brown. Brown doesn’t provide much offensively, but he’s capable of guarding 1-4, and is the quintessential “glue guy”. The backcourt returns everyone with Carlin Dupree as a steady ball handler and Paul Miller as a potentially deadly 6’4 combo guard. If Miller builds off his successful freshman year and eventually takes over the point guard role, the Bison will have un-guardable length across the court, and I haven’t even mentioned 6’7 redshirt freshman Trey Miller, who could pose some serious matchup issues on the wing. Joining Dupree and the Millers in the backcourt is PG of the future Khy Kabellis out of California. Richman saw the effects of not having frontcourt depth last year and bulked up the front line with Deng Geu, Dylan Miller, and Spencer Eliason (Elliott’s brother) coming in. The battle between NDSU and SDSU should be one of the best season long midmajor throwdowns. It likely comes down to who stays the healthiest.

3. IPFW– Jon Coffman did a pretty marvelous coaching job last year given the circumstances. He led the ‘Dons to their second straight post season appearance after the sudden departure of Tony Jasick. Things got off to a rocky start though, as Steve Forbes battled some injury issues and IPFW started SL play at 1-5, with the defense leaking like a sieve. Then Forbes got healthy and Max Landis was finally given a more prominent role, and the ‘Dons rattled off 7 straight Summit wins. Nevertheless, the defense, particularly their overall lack of height and athleticism around the rim, remained an issue, and is without question the most pressing challenge facing Coffman in his second year at the helm. Coffman, known as the recruiter to complement Jasick’s x’s and o’s, did bring in some immediate help for the frontcourt. When 6’0 graduate wing Isaiah McCray leads your team in block rate, you know you have interior defense issues. 6’10 Andrew Poulter, formerly of UALR, should pair with big Brent Calhoun, who has supposedly slimmed down to sub 300 pounds in the offseason. If Calhoun is capable of providing quality minutes with Poulter, the ‘Dons could have a dominating frontcourt this year. I’m also intrigued by former USC Upstate commit Racine Talla out of Senegal. Talla is 6’9, but can move like a 3 from what I’ve seen. If Coffman and staff can develop his raw ability, he could be a major matchup issue in the Summit. The backcourt and wings shouldn’t be an issue this year, as Cathedral PG Mo Evans returns, as does hyper efficient Max Landis. Landis posted a 128.8 ORtg in SL play, and is a deadly shooter, in addition to being a solid defender who shoots a mere 91% from the FT line. The backcourt will be bolstered by newcomers DeAngelo Stewart, a capable scorer and Alabama State transfer, and freshman Kason Harrell, a big time prep scorer out of Pittsburgh. Michael Calder (16-33 on 3PTA last year) and Joe Reed will be asked to take leadership roles and provide wing scoring this year. As I mentioned, Coffman is a master recruiter and has a ton of talent coming in next year via transfer with Bryson Scott from Purdue, Leo Edwards from Louisiana Tech, and Xzavier Taylor from Bradley coming in. If everything gels probably, IPFW is the most capable challenger to SDSU/NDSU, but that’s a fairly sizable “if”.

4. Oral Roberts– ORU is probably right along side IPFW in terms of a second tier Summit team this year, but I fear off season injuries are going to delay the maturation of Scott Sutton’s squad. Star wing Obi Emegano had off season shoulder surgery, and returnees Brandon Conley, Darian Harris, and newcomer big Tre Vance were also unavailable for a trip to the Dominican Republic that was supposed to serve as a quick gelling process. Nevertheless, the trip saw ORU lose just one game, the opener, and allowed the for the emergence of newcomers like DaQuan Jeffries on the wing and uber athletic 6’9 frontcourt addition Javan White. The potential emergence of Jeffries is huge, as Bobby Word transferred and Kory Billbury was dismissed after a prolonged saga that had a certain negative effect on last year’s team. I’m not concerned about the backcourt, especially if Emegano is 100% by November. PG Aaron Young returns, and former Fresno State combo guard Aaron Anderson is eligible, plus local Tulsa product Chris Crawford figures to see immediate minutes. The frontcourt, however, is an issue. AJ Owens will be expected to take on a much larger role, and FR White is already being counted on for immediate production. If ORU gets healthy quickly and gels quickly, they are certainly a legit Summit contender, but more likely a team to fear come conference tournament time.

5. South Dakota– Craig Smith enjoyed a pretty solid first season at the helm in Vermillion, as the Coyotes posted a 9-7 league mark and won a SL Tournament game, which marks the most successful season in USD’s brief Summit League career. The Coyotes return a very capable backcourt/wing nucleus with Trey Norris at PG, Casey Kasperbauer at the 2 (shot 49% from 3 in SL play, 37-76, 93% from the FT line, and posted a 127.5 ORtg), and defensive stalwart Tre Burnett, who is arguably the best defensive player in the league, as he had the the highest steal rate in conference play to go along with the ninth best block rate. On top of that, Burnett was the best defensive rebounder in the league, and had the sixth highest offensive rebounding rate, proving to be one of the most unsung yet essential players in the league. Detroit transfer Shy McClelland and returnee DJ Davis give the Coyotes a solid overall backcourt once again, and the loss of Brandon Bos will be mitigated. The biggest issue facing Smith though is the lack of overall height and athletic length on the roster. 6’10 James Hunter departs, and I’m not sure Smith has the talent coming in to negate the frontcourt disparity between his team and the top half of the league, especially with the surprise transfer of Edson Avila. Smith has a team of Tylers (Hagedorn, Flack, and Borchers) coming in to provide some height, but I’m not sure of their collective effectiveness, and I’m not sold returnees Duol Mayot and Austin Sparks are capable of making a big jump in terms of production. Smith has some big time transfers coming in next year with Carlton Hurst from Colorado State, Trey Dickerson from Iowa, and Matt Mooney from Air Force, so the program appears to be on the right track.

6. IUPUI– I love what Jason Gardner is doing in Indy, and I think he’ll quickly be at the helm of a major program in 3-5 years. Gardner tried any and every lineup combination last year to see what he had, and somehow clawed out a 6-10 league mark despite a plague of injuries and suspensions. IUPUI’s non conference play was arguably more impressive than their SL play, as they won at UW-Milwaukee, nearly won at Richmond, then immediately traveled all the way across the country and beat Pepperdine in Malibu. They then followed that up with a win at IPFW to open Summit play, but the injuries and suspensions set in shortly thereafter. Gardner’s trial by fire attitude naturally has led to a lot of roster turnover this year, but he successfully used his local ties to lure some solid Indy/central Indiana talent to come back home. Gone to transfer are big man Josh James, Jalen McCallum, Elijah Ray, and PJ Boutte (the most difficult to replace because of his defense on the perimeter) and graduates Khufu Najee and DavRon Williams. But Gardner has a lot of midmajor transfer talent that he hand picked available this year. Combo guard Darell Combs from Eastern Michigan figures to start immediately at PG, while high scoring local product FR TJ Henderson and former Pike standout and Loyola transfer Jordan Pickett will join him in the backcourt. Speaking of Loyola, Gardner’s entire frontcourt is comprised of Rambler transfers, as Terre Haute North stretch four Matt O’Leary and and Muncie Central glass eater Nick Osborne take over inside. Yes, Gardner’s starting five likely includes three Loyola Chicago transfers. Kentucky prep Evan Hall also figures to see a lot of minutes inside as well. The Jags also have outstanding depth at the wings, as the returnees Mason Archie, Marcellus Barksdale, Leo Svete, and DJ McCall are all 6’5 and capable of wreaking havoc on the perimeter applying the ball pressure Gardner showed a propensity for in his first year. Gardner showed his recruiting chops by bringing in Hall and IU/Syracuse transfer Ron Patterson for next year. Patterson is Broad Ripple High’s all time leading scorer, and could dominate the Summit next year.

7. Nebraska-Omaha– Welcome to the show UNO! Derrin Hansen’s squad is finally a full fledged D1 member, but they’re likely a bottom half Summit team again this year. Hansen has to replace high scoring CJ Carter (he of 45 point fame against IUPUI last year) and glass eater/vocal leader Mike Rostampour. Hansen also has to hope Marcus Tyus, the likely burden holder of Carter’s points, is 100% recovered from a late season torn ACL. Tyus didn’t participate in games (he did go through drills) during UNO’s off season trip to Italy, which they dominated with scores like 107-31. Rostampour and Carter were catalysts for Hansen’s up tempo, heavy ball pressure scheme which led to the third fastest pace in the country last year. A healthy Jake White is likely able to replicate Rostampour’s production on the glass, while Dev Patterson returns at the point. Patterson was second in the SL in steal rate, but a large part of what made UNO tick last year was the dual PG option of Carter and Patterson. If freshman TJ Gibson, the best of Hansen’s incoming class, can provide that backcourt versatility, along with local JUCO Tra-Deon Hollins, the Mavs should once again be one of the fastest teams in the country. The frontcourt is fairly solid with returnee White and 6’7 Tre’Shawn Thurman, a do everything/versatile defender. 6’9 big man Daniel Meyer was impressive during the Italy trip, and if he can provide some legit frontcourt depth, UNO might surprise some teams.

8. Denver– I’m never sure what to say about Denver. They’re like a laboratory science. Joe Scott’s basketball philosophy is perfect in theory, but it’s entirely possible it’s ill suited for Denver because it doesn’t take full advantage of the natural home court advantage the elevation provides. From 09-14, Denver lost just 4 conference home games (most of which were in SBC play), but last year, they lost four SL games at Magness, including a stretch of three in a row that totally sunk their season. Scott has tough task ahead of him because he has to replace point/wing Brett Olson and his best defender Cam Griffin, plus Jalen Love, Darian Butler, and Cam Delaney left the program. It’s always tough to anticipate who will excel in Scott’s Princeton offense, so I’m clueless as to who contributes right away in this freshman class of interchangeable parts. CJ Bobbitt likely plays an immediate role because of his size and ability to stretch the floor, while Bradley George, Jake Holtzmann, Tommy Neff, and Joe Rosga are all the same type of player, and all are likely to see the same minutes as Scott works through lineups. The good news is that Scott isn’t totally devoid of talent that knows how to run his offense. Nate Engesser was something of a revelation when he was inserted into the starting lineup, and he’s the likely successor to Olson because of his shooting and passing ability, although he is three inches shorter. Marcus Byrd also returns as the requisite big corner three point shooter in Scott’s offense. Scott will also have the services of 6’10 Daniel Amigo for a full season, which could be a game changer. If Amigo can stay healthy, Denver might be in business, but they’re certainly a team to keep an eye on in terms of the effects of the 30 second shot clock. Denver was dead last in terms of pace last season, and without Olson this offense might look pretty wonky for a majority of the season.

9. Western Illinois– I’ll give Billy Wright this, his team last year was at the very least more exciting to watch than any Jim Molinari team. The Leathernecks went from 332nd to 70th in terms of pace, but that didn’t translate to a more efficient offense by any stretch. Only twelve teams were less efficient offensively than WIU, and perhaps a lot of that had to do with the massive amount of injuries they endured in the frontcourt, but even with a healthy frontcourt, I don’t see things making a dramatic turn in Macomb. WIU lost their last 9 games, and 14 of their last 15 to end the year, but I at the very least don’t foresee that happening again this year. Tate Stensgaard and potential stretch shooter Mike Miklusak are hopefully 100% to bolster the frontcourt, plus Wright added some major height with 6’8 James Claar, 6’11 Brandon Gilbeck, 6’10 Jordan Hughes, and 6’8 Pike product Jalen Morgan is eligible. Any and all are candidates to provide minutes with Jalen Chapman in the frontcourt. The backcourt, while highly inefficient, at least returns everyone and will provide experience. Almost all of the scoring was provided by Garret Covington and JC Fuller last year, and both return as high volume shooters. Jabari Sandifer returns at PG (he surprisingly had the highest assist rate in SL play), as does Jamie Batish on the wing. Batish is an intriguing player, as he went 33-66 from 3 in SL play, but his defense leaves a lot to be desired. With this group however, he has to remain on the court because of his offensive efficiency. Delo Bruster represents the best incoming talent for Wright, and he could be an immediate impact player as a combo guard.

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2015-16 WAC Basketball Preview

19 Aug

Five WAC story lines to watch…

1. New Mexico State has dominated this zombie version of the WAC for the past four years. In fact, there are no teams currently in the conference from the last time NMSU didn’t win the WAC. The Aggies lost a lot of senior talent, can anyone in the league catch up to them?

2. Thunder Dan has an exciting team at Grand Canyon, and they’re the most likely challenger to NMSU’s WAC dominance, but they’re still in a D1 transition year, and thus ineligible for the NCAA Tournament even if they were to catch up with the Aggies.

3. A lot of talented senior guards left the league, but UMKC could make up some ground with the best returning guard in the conference, Martez Harrison, who leads the Roos’ 3/4 court pressure defense, a big advantage with the 30 second shot clock, especially in the plodding, big man dominated WAC.

4. UT Pan American is now known as (after some controversy) the UT Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros. Not only is the team under a different name, but Dan Hipsher has a lot of new faces to go with it in Edinburg.

5. Mark Pope takes over for Dick Hunsaker after 13 years at Utah Valley. Hunsaker brought the UVU program into D1, but Pope should bring a more aggressive approach on the court both offensively and defensively after playing under Rick Pitino and coaching with Dave Rose.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1. New Mexico State– Despite losing outstanding PG Daniel Mullings, big man Chili Nephawe, and highly efficient wing Remi Barry, Marvin Menzies’ club once again has too much talent and too much height for the rest of the WAC. NMSU once again dominated the league defensively with an 86.9 defensive efficiency rating. To put that in perspective, Seattle was second with a 98.3 rating. Despite missing a third of the season, Mullings was a major key to that defense that held teams to the 2nd lowest three point attempt rate in the country, and he was eighth nationally in steal rate. Ian Baker will take over for Mullings this year, and he has shown the potential to be as good of a defender on the perimeter (although he’s reportedly been battling some offseason injuries per Las Cruces Sun beat writer Mark Rudi). Menzies has a slew of redshirt FR eligible this year, so they’ve been around the program and practiced with the team. The most notable of those is another Frenchman, former Texas A&M recruit Sidy Ndir. Ndir is expected to join Baker in the backcourt immediately, especially with Travon Landry on the mend from an ACL injury. Ndir and Rashawn Browne, another newcomer in the backcourt, should be a huge upgrade over DK Eldridge at the 2, who tended to chuck some ill advised threes. Replacing Remi Barry on the wing is likely the biggest challenge for Menzies, even with the loss of Mullings simply because Barry’s size/athleticism combo on the wing is so rare in the WAC. Menzies has size out there with returnees Braxton Huggins, Jalyn Pennie, and Matt Taylor, but none of them have the skill set of Barry. Perhaps former Richard Pitino recruit 6’7 Harold Givens is the answer. He has the athleticism and length, but I’m not sure he has the ability to stretch defenses yet. The strength of Menzies’ team this year is 6’9 sophomore Pascal Siakam, of the famous Siakam basketball brothers. Siakam is coming off a phenomenal FR year that saw him post an absurd 127.4 Ortg in WAC play, dominate the offensive glass, post the second highest block rate in the conference, and get to the free throw line at the fifth highest rate, all while knocking down 82% of the freebies… at 6’9. Oh he also shot 62% on two point attempts. Siakam is an NBA level talent, and the frontrunner for WAC player of the year. We all know Menzies loves to have a ton of height, and besides Siakam, he has 7’3 Tanveer Bhullar and 6’10 Johnathon Wilkins returning, and 6’11 Jose Campo coming in. Additionally, although there are still some concerns regarding his full season eligibility, 6’11 Bollo Gnahore (another Frenchman) comes in highly regarded. On top of that, Menzies and NMSU is supposedly still working on getting 6’8 Anthony January another year of eligibility, although it doesn’t look promising. However, the most talented newcomer is 6’9 Eli Chuha, who Menzies had stashed last year. Chuha has great length but moves like a 2. He’ll likely make an immediate impact and could quickly prove to be the most difficult matchup in the WAC (thanks to commenter Bozoo for the head’s up on Chuha). Thanks to an influx of talent in the backcourt to replace Mullings, and the return of Siakam, NMSU should once again be dominating the WAC.

2. Grand Canyon– Dan Majerle is making some quick strides in Phoenix, as the Antelopes were the most efficient offense in the WAC last year. Unfortunately they were also the worst defense in the WAC last year, mainly due to their lack of height. The Antelopes were absolutely buried by teams around the rim last season (49% of opponent FGAs came at the rim), and when league bully NMSU went for 1.27 and 1.16 ppp and went a combined 50-85 on two point attempts in their two wins over GCU last year, Majerle knew he had to spend the offseason bringing in some height (consequently, they were also a bad rebounding team last year too). Majerle lost three senior starters in Jerome Garrison, Royce Woolridge, and Daniel Alexander, but he’s been able to capitalize on his name appeal and bring in some high major transfers and D2 studs. 6’6 bulldog Grandy Glaze from SLU headlines the incoming frontcourt talent. Glaze will immediately bring some toughness to the glass that the Antelopes have lacked. 6’8 Coastal Carolina grad transfer Uros Ljeskovic also comes in, as does athletic Southern Idaho 4 Keonta Vernon, who should start immediately and allow the best shooter on the team, Josh Braun, to move back to the wing where he won’t be exploited as much on the defensive end. Kerwin Smith also returns to add some depth and experience, and we’ll see if Majerle’s staff can get anything out of 6’11 Senegalese project Boubacar Toure. All in all, Majerle did an excellent job of addressing a major weakness that was thoroughly exploited by the best team in the league last year. The backcourt should once again be the strength of the Antelopes, as DeWayne Russell returns at the point. Russell showed some efficiency and ball control I wasn’t sure he had coming over from Northern Arizona, and had a really solid season. Backup De’Andre Davis showed some definite flashes of being a future playmaker in the WAC, but unfortunately neither he or Russell have a jump shot, which makes it difficult to play them together. The addition of the frontcourt help Majerle brought in allows the best shooters on the team, Braun and Ryan Majerle, to move back to the 3 and 2 respectively. Incoming FR Kenzo Nudo will provide immediate help on the wing as well. Grand Canyon got better in the offseason (plus Majerle has Memphis transfer Dominic Magee coming in next year, a huge get), and will be closer to catching NMSU, but even if they do, they’re still in D1 transition, and thus ineligible for the NCAA Tournament even if they win the WAC.

3. UMKC– The Kangaroos are coming off their first winning conference season since 2005-06 when they were in the Mid Continent Conference, led by the great Quinton Day. Kareem Richardson loses 5 guys to transfer and 2 starters to graduation, but returns of the highest usage and ball dominating guards in the country in Martez Harrison. Despite being involved in nearly every UMKC possession, Harrison still posted an efficient 103 ORtg, and was 72nd nationally in assist rate, and is the key defensively to Richardson’s harassing pressure defense, which produced the highest turnover rate in the WAC last year. With backcourt mates Collin Jennings, Kevin Franceschi, and Deshon Taylor all leaving the program, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Richardson slide Noah Knight in beside Harrison in the backcourt. Knight wasn’t much of an offensive threat as a freshman, but he was a menace defensively on the perimeter, a big asset with a 30 second shot clock. If UMKC’s trip to Brazil this summer can provide any sort of insight into the upcoming season, it’s that Richardson is really going to crank up the ball pressure, and that’s why I expect Knight to see a lot of time on the court with Harrison. JUCO transfer Dashawn King should be able to provide some scoring punch for Richardson in the backcourt to make up for Knight’s deficiencies in that regard. While the backcourt was strong last year, the frontcourt, or lack thereof, was a major issue. There was no back end protection when teams were able to handle the defensive pressure, and it was also an issue offensively as they had the tenth worst FG% nationally on shots around the rim. Because of injuries, Richardson was often forced to use guys that were 6’4 and 6’6 at the 4 and 5. Naturally, that was exploited in a league filled with height, and they were killed on the defensive glass. Thaddeus Smith returns to the frontcourt this year, and should be healthy after battling nagging injuries, but the biggest addition is the return of Shayok Shayok from a season ending groin injury. Shayok’s versatility and length is a major key for UMKC this season. The return of Shayok also allows Darius Austin to slide back down to the 3 where he can really wreak some havoc defensively in this league. JUCO transfers Kyle Steward and Kem Eriobuna provide some much needed frontcourt depth as well. If the Roos stay healthy, they’ll be right with NMSU and Grand Canyon.

4. Cal State Bakersfield– Rod Barnes has spend the summer talking about how CSUB is really going to push the pace this year, but I’m not buying it. There’s absolutely no evidence in Barnes’ past at Ole Miss, Georgia State, or at CSUB to suggest it (a Barnes team has never been in the top half of country in terms of pace and they’re usually somewhere in the mid 200s…last year’s team was 344th in APL), and the roster makeup simply doesn’t allow for it. This is a team that has to have Aly Ahmed touch the ball in the paint on nearly every possession, or else they’re not going to score. So I’m fairly confident in saying that the offense is going to be slow again despite the 30 second shot clock. Fewer possessions might work through the post initially, but this is still an offense predicated on Ahmed. Additionally, this is a team last year that was 12th nationally in terms of limiting opponents’ transition opportunities. It’s in Rod Barnes’ DNA to play slow. Returning with Ahmed in the frontcourt is undersized by highly efficient scorer and rebounder Kevin Mays. Ahmed and Mays are the crux of the team, and Barnes, as Barnes does, has surrounded them with a ton of JUCO transfers. Justin Hollins, who was limited at San Jacinto last year with a knee injury, could be a steal and will provide immediate depth in the frontcourt. The backcourt is led by SO Brent Wrapp, who led the WAC in assist rate as freshman last year. Wrapp is also an outstanding on ball defender as well, and he cut down on the turnovers as WAC play progressed. He’ll have a much bigger role leading the offense with Tyrell Corbin gone, but needs to show at least the ability get a shot off from outside to keep defenses honest. Speaking of jump shots, I’m not sure anyone can hit one on this team. The wings are going to be a strength for this team with Matt Smith (Josh’s brother) eligible and relentless rim attacker Jaylin Airington back, but neither are jump shooters. With Javonte Maynor graduating and Dashawn Richmond leaving, JUCOs Dedrick Basile and Justin Pride are going to be relied upon to keep defenses honest outside, but both are undersized and lack versatility. [UPDATE: Damiyne Durham has been ruled eligible for this season. The former Baylor commit gives CSUB exactly what they need, length, versatility, and scoring on the perimeter.]

5. Utah Valley– It’s a new era in Orem, as Mark Pope replaces Dick Hunsaker, the only coach the Wolverines have known since becoming a D1 team. Hunsaker was known for being a rigid disciplinarian, and his tightly controlled motion offense should give way to a more up and down style of play that Pope learned at BYU under Dave Rose, and a way more conducive offense for the 30 second shot clock. Pope likely doesn’t have the roster to rival BYU’s quickest APL in the country from last season, especially with the lack of shooters, but they should be playing significantly faster this year. Marcel Davis returns at PG, and had a fine year last year, as he was third in the WAC in assist rate and can get to the FT line, but he has no jump shot. I expect Mark Pope will quickly insert Hayes Garrity into a Kyle Collinsworth type of role, assuming Garrity is 100% recovered from a blown out knee (all indications are that he is 100%). FR Telly Davenport and returnees Alex Carr and Jaden Jackson will look to replace Donte Williams at the two. Wing and occasional stretch 4 Zach Nelson returns to the frontcourt, but the rest of the pieces there are a big question mark. Mitch Bruneel was by far the most efficient offensive player for UVU last year, and Brenden Evans was the best rebounder, and I’m not sure Pope has the guys to replace them. 7’2 Leland Miller and 6’9 Andrew Bastien have a ton of height, but I’m not sure how effective it is. Boise State transfer Darrious Hamilton and Dayon Goodman are likely going to have to step up and shoulder the interior load. Look out for UVU next year when Pope has his roster in place with Xavier transfer Brandon Randolph, high scoring St. Cloud transfer Jordan Poydras, and BYU big man Isaac Neilson eligible. UVU will be a lot more entertaining this year, but they’re a year away from being a real force in the WAC.

6. Seattle– How does Cameron Dollar replace the sheer amount of minutes and volume of shots provided by departed seniors Isiah Umipig and Jarell Flora? Umipig and Flora shot nearly 500 threes last year, with Umipig shooting an incredible 42% on 300 attempts with a 112 ORtg. That’s truly an irreplaceable players. In addition to losing all that offense, Dollar also loses the three best defenders at the top of his zone, as Emerson Murray is gone as well. Dollar will attempt to replace that backcourt production with SO Jadon Cohee at the point and Jack Shaughnessy (who was stashed away last year for this very reason) and Hawaii transfer Manroop Clair. I’m not 100% sure of the status of Dollar’s top recruit, Malik Montoya, after he tore his ACL in his senior season last year. Dollar’s three guard lineup is likely to give way to more frontcourt dominated team led by William Powell and Jack Crook, and hopefully a healthy Deshaun Sunderhaus, who is coming off his second missed season in a row after a knee injury. Dollar also has 7’3 project Aaron Menzies coming in from Manchester, England. Crook, from the same academy in Manchester, will certainly take him under his wing. Ideally, 6’6 wing Emmanuel Chibuogwu developed a jump shot in the offseason, because offense from the perimeter looks like it will be tough to come by for Seattle this year. So not only do the Redhawks lose a ton of talent offensively, they basically have to undergo a fundamental shift in offensive philosophy. A repeat trip to postseason play seems unlikely.

7. UT-Rio Grande Valley– The basketball team formerly known as UT Pan American not only has a new name, but a lot of new faces coming in. Dan Hipsher lost a lot of his freshmen class from last year to transfer, as Elijah Watson, Moe McDonald, and Isaiah Hobbs all left the program. Watson was the big loss, as he was 2nd in the WAC in assist rate and leaves Hipsher without a returning backcourt with Shaq Boga graduating. On top of that, the most efficient offensive player for Hipsher last year and only consistent shooter, Janari Joesaar, left to pursue a pro career. That means that the Vaqueros returning roster went a combined 14-98 from three last year. Yikes. All is not lost though, as Hipsher has a ton of incoming transfers and some frontcourt help returning from injury. Houston and Southeast Missouri State transfer JJ Thompson will take over immediately at point guard, and Nick Dixon, who led all of D2 in scoring last year at Morton, will immediately start at shooting guard. Do everything incoming FR Walter Jones will also see immediate minutes. Despite having the best shot blocker in the conference in FR Dan Kimasa last year, UTRGV was miserable as a whole in terms of stopping teams from scoring inside. Shaq Hines returns with Kimasa in the frontcourt, but he’s way more of an offensive threat inside than a defensive stopper or glass eater. Former Furman big man Adonis Rwabigwi is eligible this year, and Christopher Ikuenobe returns from injury to provide some much needed depth, especially with Andreas Bigum also transferring. Hipsher also has Mike Hoffman from Lafayette, Dinero Mercurius from South Florida, Lew Stallworth from UTEP, and Ot Elmore from VMI eligible next year, so things are looking up in Edinburg.

8. Chicago State– Another offseason, another year of high roster turnover for Tracy Dildy. The backcourt is essentially all gone, as Clarke Rosenberg and Sean Hill graduated and backup PG Kurt Karis and promising FR Anthony Glover both transferred. The frontcourt suffered similar attrition, as Aaron Williams graduated and Josh Meier and Johnny Griffin transferred. As usual though, Dildy restocked the roster with fresh bodies to employ his incredibly frantic up the line pressing and trapping schemes, which indeed takes a lot of bodies (Chicago State was fifth in bench minutes last year). Clearly, Dildy’s pressure zones aren’t for everyone, but it did produce the 21st highest turnover rate in the country last year. Unfortunately, those turnovers didn’t translate into points, as only six teams were less efficient offensively than the three point chucking Cougars, who hit those threes at just 30% last year. The good news for Dildy is that one of the few returnees from last year is Trayvon Palmer, the only regular to sniff a 100 ORtg (96.4). Palmer is a capable shooter and a versatile defender that Dildy uses all over the court. The rest of the frontcourt consists of Quron Davis, JUCO transfer Jordan Madrid-Andrews, and D2 transfer Marcelo Ruediger. In short, it leaves a lot to be desired for a defense that was slashed inside when teams handled the hectic ball pressure. At the very least, the new height could allow Jawad Adekoya to play a more natural position on the wing this year, along with returnees Montana Byrd and Jared Dimakos, both of whom should see increased roles. The backcourt is totally unproven, but freshmen Anthony Eaves and Delundre Dixon will have ample opportunity to prove themselves until Bethune-Cookman transfer Clemmye Owens becomes eligible in the second semester. Owens will immediately be relied upon to be Dildy’s go to scorer. It looks like another long year of losing and long travel for Chicago State.

2015-16 MEAC Basketball Preview

15 Aug

Five MEAC story lines to watch in the 2015-16 season…

1) The league as a whole lost a ton of talent, which isn’t good for a conference that’s annually second from the bottom (only the SWAC is worse) in every ratings index. A play-in game for the tournament champion is a virtual lock.

2) The good news for the teams actually in the league is that there will be more parity, as North Carolina Central, who has dominated the the league the last three years, isn’t immune to the talent drop off.

3) Who emerges as stars of this league after extremely talented players like Mike Myers, Nimrod Hilliard, Jordan Parks, Amere May, Kendall Gray, Quinton Chievous, Sterling Smith, Taariq Cephas, and RaShid Gaston all left? The most likely source to regenerate the talent level is incoming transfers rather than freshmen.

4) The MEAC is a league of extreme disparity in pace, as it ranges from Coppin State (the second fastest team tempo wise last year) to teams like North Carolina Central and Bethune-Cookman, who take the air out of the ball offensively. Additionally, given that almost every team in the MEAC applies an above average amount of ball pressure and throws out a lot of zone defenses, the league will be an interesting one to keep an eye on in terms of the 30 second shot clock.

5) Is North Carolina A&T primed to be the league juggernaut this year? They return nearly everyone in addition to Cy Alexander bringing in a ton of talent. This squad is reminiscent of Alexander’s 2013 run to the MEAC title in his first year at the helm. That team featured seven seniors and put it all together at the right time.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) North Carolina Central- I guess I’m not quite ready to write off the Eagles after all. LeVelle Moton’s squad has been so dominant the last three years (they’ve lost just two regular season MEAC games in that span, although they have just one NCAA Tournament trip to show for it) and the rest of the league lost just as much talent, so I’ll trust the system and the defense here. That defense was by far the best in the MEAC, and they were the only team in the country to hold their conference foes to a sub 40 eFG% (39.9%, so just barely). Additionally, the Eagles were the most efficient offense in the MEAC last year. As a whole, they were a whopping .25ppp better than the rest of the league. However, NCC was the oldest team in the country, and only Mike Brennan at American used his bench less than Moton, so that’s a ton of experienced minutes to be replaced this year. Only Dante Holmes returns from last year’s starters, and thus he’s the only source of returning minutes. Holmes was the key to Moton’s perimeter defense though, and the frontcourt should be solid assuming Jay Copeland is back to 100% from his ACL tear. He’ll join Jeremiah Ingram in the frontcourt and they should be able to replicate Jordan Parks and Karamo Jawara’s production. When healthy, Copeland is also one of the best weak side offensive rebounders in the country. Unproven Nate Maxey and Enoch Hood will provide some depth around the rim as well. NCC won’t replicate holding opponents to 46% shooting around the rim like they did last year (the best percentage in the country), but they’ll once again be very stout in the lane defensively. Moton added a pair of immediate impact transfers in DaJuan Graf from FGCU and Jeremiah Worthem from Robert Morris (I believe Worthem is eligible immediately, but he might be a second semester clearance guy. I’m still not 100% on that and reliable MEAC news is tough to come by). Graf will immediately help with PG duties along with FR CJ Wiggins, while Worthem could immediately become an unstoppable scoring threat on the wing because of his size and skill set. On the surface, this looks like a rebuild, but in reality, Moton has done an outstanding job of quickly reloading (plus he has Patrick Cole and Delvin Dickerson coming in next year too). If Graf and Worthem both buy into Moton’s defense quickly and Copeland is back to 100%, I think the Eagles will be on top of the MEAC for the fourth straight year…but they certainly won’t go undefeated again.

2) North Carolina A&T– While everyone else in the league was losing talent, Cy Alexander was busy adding some to a team that was already returning practically everyone. There is no doubt that the Aggies are the deepest team in the MEAC. Now, that being said, this is a team that was pretty awful on both ends of the court last year, but they were exceptionally young. To help in that regard, Alexander brought in two grad transfers from highly successful programs, Ede Egharevba from Albany and Joshea Singleton from Bucknell. Both figure to start immediately on the wings, and Egharevba should probably lead the team in scoring. Alexander also brought in JUCO Mike Owona (via Fairleigh Dickinson), who will immediately improve the Aggies’ efforts on the glass. Sam Hunt, a Jacksonville transfer, is also eligible this year, and the lone incoming FR Deion James, from Tucson, should see immediate minutes because of his 2/3/4 versatility. So that’s five guys joining a returning starting five and a solid frontcourt of Bruce Beckford (an efficient interior scorer who can occasionally stretch defenses) and Steven Burrough, who had the highest block rate in MEAC play last year. Lengthy wings Khary Doby and Denzel Keyes return as well for some depth, as does the only capable outside shooter from last season, Arturs Bremers. Turnovers were a major issue last year, but Alexander is confident that Ahmad Abdullah and Austin Williams will drastically reduce that 22% rate in MEAC play with another year of seasoning under their belts. If the grad transfers can provide consistent offense and the newcomers can allow Alexander to be far less reliant on the soft zone he was forced to use last year, the Aggies could very well be the team to beat.

3) Hampton- Hampton proved last year both the plight and beauty of low majordom. They were 8-8 in MEAC play, but were clearly the best team in the conference when it mattered, and then steamrolled through the MEAC Tournament and the play-in game in the NCAA Tournament, while undefeated NCCU went to the NIT. To be frank, I could rank Hampton anywhere in this preview and it doesn’t really matter because ultimately, Buck Joyner’s team always buys into his harassing perimeter defense and lock down interior defense when it comes conference tournament time, so they’re always a contender to win the automatic berth. Joyner and the Pirates will mount their title defense without two key cogs from last year’s run, Quinton Chievous and Deron Powers. Chievous exhausted his eligibility, so his loss obviously isn’t a surprise, but his ability to bully his way to the rim will certainly be missed. The transfer of PG Powers was a surprise though, and replicating his production and steadiness will be difficult. The good news is that Joyner does have some important pieces returning. Dwight Meikle is back and healthy (his absence during the MEAC tourney made Hampton’s run all the more impressive). Meikle is a major force inside offensively and a beast on the glass, helping to ignite Joyner’s fast paced offense off the outlet. With Meikle back and healthy and an improving Jervon Pressley returning, the frontcourt should be solid, although lacking in depth. Reggie Johnson and Brian Darden return and represent the only proven perimeter threats on the roster, but one or both might have to help fill Powers’ role. The best on ball defender in the league returns as well in Ke’Ron Brown, but he offers little in terms of helping fill the vacant PG position in terms of offensive production. [UPDATE: Ke’Ron Brown was involved in a shooting in Savannah. Brown was treated and released and is expected to be fine, but tragically Brown’s friend was killed.] Ultimately, returnees Breon Key and Keith Carroll might be relied upon to step up in Powers’ wake, but incoming FR Kalin Fisher could be the best freshman in the league this year. Fisher is an attacking combo guard out of Proviso East (another Chicago kid brought in by assistant and recruiter extraordinaire Akeem Miskdeen) and is exactly the type of guard Buck Joyner loves. Hampton isn’t the best team in the league on paper, but they’re once again a legit contender to represent the MEAC in the NCAA Tournament.

4. Norfolk State- If I did this preview a few months ago, Robert Jones’ Spartans very well could have been at the top of this list. But the transfer of RaShid Gaston to Xavier is too significant to overlook. Nevertheless, the Spartans feature the best returning player in the league in hyperly efficient Jeff Short. Short was nothing “short” of spectacular in his first season in the MEAC after transferring from Fordham. Short sported a 119 Ortg in MEAC play thanks to shooting 37% from 3, 83% from the FT line (while frequently getting there), and an absurd 64% on 2PT FGAs as an off guard. Granted, he won’t have Gaston working inside with him to keep defenses honest, but there’s no question he’s the best returning player in the league. D’Shon Taylor also returns on the wing, giving NSU the best set of attacking/shooting wings in the MEAC. The big question is who takes over at PG for Jamal Fuentes and who takes over inside for Gaston. JUCO transfer Brian Kelley and returnee Zaynah Robinson will have first crack at PG, while Moses Toriola will be relied upon to help Hefeng Sun and undersized Jordan Butler inside. Toriola is incredibly raw offensively, but his 7’4 wingspan will make him an immediate threat as a rim protector. Fellow FR Alex Long will see minutes on the frontcourt right away as well. Short by himself makes NSU a contender, but the development of Toriola and Long will dictate whether or not NSU can actually win the league.

5. Maryland Eastern Shore- Bobby Collins probably should have received some national coach of the year consideration for the miracle he performed in Princess Anne last year. UMES jumped from 334th in KenPom to 191st, went from 4-12 to 11-5 in MEAC play with the 11 wins representing more than Frankie Allen had won in his last three seasons at UMES, and the 18 total wins was the most in the last 41 years for the Hawks. Unfortunately, I think building on that momentum is going to be bit more difficult this year. Buddy Myers is probably the most irreplaceable player in the MEAC because of his size/athleticism combination (he spent the summer trying out as a tight end for the Steelers). Myers had the highest FT rate in the country last year, and the 11th highest usage, in addition to being able to defend from rim to three point line. His one season at UMES was certainly a memorable one, and he almost singlehandedly resurrected a long dormant program. Dominique Elliott will try to do his best Myers impersonation, and he’ll be joined in the frontcourt by JUCO transfer Joshu’a Warren and versatile 6’6 FR William Tibbs. Replacing Myers isn’t the only challenge ahead of Collins, as Ishaq Pitt’s graduation leaves a huge hole at PG. Pitt had the 38th highest assist rate in the country and was a key component in Collin’s pressure defense. Travis Trim will take over at PG with some help from incoming FR Ahmad Frost out of Cincinnati. Collins also lost 39% three point shooter (on 183 attempts) Devon Walker and versatile defender Iman Johnson. The good news is that Dev Martin and sharpshooter Ryan Andino return on the perimeter, and they should be the heart of the team this year. I can truly appreciate the rebuilding job Collins has accomplished in just one season at UMES, but the loss of Myers and Pitt is likely too much to overcome to expect another leap this year. Special thanks to Mitchell Northam at Delmarva Now for some info on UMES’ incoming class this year.

6. South Carolina State- The Bulldogs were one of the least efficient offenses in the country last year, and it was a direct result of not being able to shoot the ball from anywhere on the court, as they really didn’t turn the ball over all that much despite being a very young team. They were particularly horrific shooting around the rim and at the FT line. Murray Garvin tried any and all combinations and rotations last year, which should help this year’s squad in terms of depth. 4 Patrick Kirksey, promising FR Gerdarius Troutman, and volume shooter Koran Wright all left the team, but everyone of consequence returns, including likely MEAC breakout star 6’7 Tashombe Riley. Riley is a great athlete who can defend anywhere on the court, but will have to develop offensively if my prescribed “breakout” status is to hold true. Darryl Palmer also returns in the frontcourt, while the backcourt is loaded with Jalen White back at PG, Ed Stephens reprising his role as the best on ball defender and three point shooter on the team, and a pair of JUCO combo guards in EJ Eaves and Rico Bonds joining the Bulldogs. The frontcourt is also bolstered by the return of DouDou Gueye and Luka Radovic from injury, and the addition of another JUCO, Mikeal Donaldson. The Bulldogs are certainly a team on the rise in a less top heavy MEAC this year.

7. Morgan State- I’m not sure what to really make of Morgan State. Todd Bozeman’s track record indicates he won’t follow up last year’s miserable performance with another dud campaign, but I also don’t really see the additions to the roster to make me think a significant turnaround is feasible. Bozeman’s Morgan State teams have been known for their instance on pounding the ball inside and scoring efficiently at the rim, but last year the wheels completely fell off, and they ended up shooting 46% at the rim, the worst mark in the ENTIRE country. It was really quite shocking to those who follow the MEAC to see that. On the other end of the court, Bozeman’s generally stout interior defense was also non existent. Perhaps some of it had to do with the issues revolving around seven footer Zech Smith, who was eventually dismissed from the team late in the year, but I’m also not confident the players surrounding Cedric Blossom (one of the most potent interior threats in the MEAC because of all the contact he draws) can accomplish what amounts to a 180 offensively. The combination of Cliff Cornish, Kyle Thomas, and Jeremiah Curtis just doesn’t look great on paper, especially when Cornish had the best 2PT FG% among that trio at 38% last year. The backcourt should be ok, as Donte Pretlow returns at PG, and the Bears only did two things well last year, and that was not turn the ball over and grab a high percentage of their many misses offensively. Replacing Blake Bozeman, the only real scoring threat from the perimeter last year, will be difficult as well. That will be up to Andrew Hampton and highly regarded newcomer Jacoby Davis out of Charlotte.

8. Howard- With James Carlton gone, there’s nothing stopping James Daniel from leading the country in field goal attempts. That could very well be a bad think for Kevin Nickelberry’s squad, but it’s going to be entertaining at least. Turnovers were a major issue for Howard last year, and I don’t necessarily see them decreasing by a significant number if Daniel is going to dominate the ball again. Nickelberry does return an important player from injury with 6’5 wing Prince Okoroh. Okoroh can get to the rim consistently and thrives defensively at the top of Nickelberry’s pressure zone. With Okoroh back to join James Miller, Damon Collins, and Tyler Stone, depth and length at the wings (all are 6’4+) is the strength of this Bison team, and should allow Howard to be a top 40 team in terms of defensive TO rate once again. The frontcourt is incredibly thin with the loss of Carlton. 6’10 Oliver Ellison is a capable rim protector, as is 6’11 Marcel Boyd, but both had issues staying on the court. Of the two, Ellison is the far more accomplished interior threat offensively. Overall, with the depth at wing and the introduction of the 30 second shot clock, I think you’ll see Nickelberry push the pace with a smaller, four guard lineup. Howard’s tempo has fluctuated wildly from year to year under Nickelberry, but I fully expect the Bison to be one of the more uptempo teams in the MEAC this year.

9. Delaware State- The Hornets were the 18th oldest team in the country last year, and Keith Walker’s team loses the May and Gray show, so I expect a steep regression from last year’s MEAC Tournament runner up finish. Led by one of the best pure scorers in the country, Amere May, and one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in the country, Kendall Gray, the Hornets stormed all the way to the title game after upsetting NCCU (and exacting some revenge after a highly contested regular season meeting) in the semifinals. Unfortunately, the Hornets looked flat against Hampton and were throttled in that title game, and now Walker has to rebuild and try to replace May and Gray, and I haven’t even mentioned that PG Kendal Williams, stretch 4 Tyshawn Bell, and Charles Burley are also gone as well. DeAndre Haywood likely takes over at PG, with the help of incoming FR Devin Morgan, while Todd Hughes and Kavon Waller look to pick up the scoring slack left behind by May. Waller is another likely breakout MEAC star this year as a 6’5 wing working off a very efficient freshman campaign. Scott Sill will try to emerge as a stretch shooter in Bell’s place, while Mrdjan Gasevic has to anchor the frontcourt offensively with incoming FR GodsPower Ogide. I think you’re likely to see Keith Walker stick with the 2-3 zone with this young, unproven frontcourt.

10. Bethune-Cookman- Only two players who saw playing time last year return for Gravelle Craig’s squad, so things aren’t exactly looking up in Daytona Beach, but I’m sure Craig will take whatever he can get as long as it isn’t a repeat of last year’s tumultuous season that saw leading scorer Clemmye Owens, Brandon Stewart, Tony Kynard, and Maurice Taylor all leave or be dismissed from the team before the half way point. Naturally as a result, the offense was pretty atrocious. The offseason wasn’t much better, as Quentin Brewer and DeLino Dear also left the program, leaving Craig without a frontcourt. However, there is reason for hope, as Craig has brought in three midmajor transfers who should start and contribute right away. Jordan Potts from UNCG will help Ricky Johnson play more off the ball, Mario Moody from Wagner will be a major contributor in the frontcourt ASAP, as will LaRon Smith from Georgia State. Wing Denzel Dulin is the other returnee with Johnson, while 6’7 Ulmer Manzie will be asked to contribute immediately as a freshman. Craig also has a slew of JUCOs coming in, and a trip to the Bahamas is on schedule this summer to help all the newcomers mesh. The Wildcats should benefit from the 30 second shot clock defensively, as Craig loves to extend pressure before falling into zone looks, which is perfect with five less seconds on the clock, but offensively they’ll struggle because they’re one of the slowest paced teams in the country year in and year out under Craig.

11. Savannah State- The Tigers are always a wonky team to play because of Broadnax Ball. They’re almost entirely reliant on getting the ball to the rim either by forcing a turnover or slowly working the ball inside. The extremes in their numbers is really remarkable. 50.4% of their FGAs come at the rim, the second highest rate in the country. They had the fourth highest defensive turnover rate, while also owning the fourth highest offensive turnover rate in the country. 64% of their points come via 2PT FG, the highest mark in the country, while they shot just 25% from three and 56% from the FT line, both the lowest marks in the country. That’s Horace Broadnax basketball. Terel Hall and Alante Fenner are both gone, which is a big loss for Broadnax as they supplied a lot of the ball pressure Savannah State relied upon, but sophomore Khaleen Pinkett returns, and he had the second highest steal rate in the MEAC last year. Incoming freshmen Kamil Williams and Isaiah Felder were recruited specifically for their quick hands, so they’ll see minutes immediately in replacing Fenner and Hall. The frontcourt lost Saadiq Muhammad, but returns the most efficient offensive player on the roster in Brian Pearson. Newcomer Lenjo Kilo will see significant minutes early too. The biggest addition for Broadnax though is Mt. St. Mary’s transfer Chris Martin, who should fit right into Broadnax’s scheme coming from Jamion Christian’s Mayhem pressure.

12. Coppin State- Michael Grant is basically starting over at Coppin State this year, and with as quickly as he likes to play (the Eagles were the second fastest team in the country last year) and with as many threes as they chuck up (20th in 3PTA rate), and as poor as their defense was last year (345th in defensive efficiency for the 16th oldest team in the country is really bad), this season could get really, really ugly. As I said everyone is gone…the quickest PG in the country Taariq Cephas graduated, do everything wing and 42% three point shooter Sterling Smith left for Pitt, stretch big Arnold Fripp is gone, as is rim attack Dallas Gary. Christian Kessee is the only regular returning, and he’ll be surrounded by a ton of JUCOs. The lone bright spot is the potential second semester eligibility of Western Kentucky transfer Jordan Green. Once eligible (hopefully), Green will immediately be the best player on the roster.

13. Florida A&M- The bottom of this league is really bad. The Rattlers are one of four teams facing an APR postseason ban, which is the second season in a row for Byron Samuels’ squad. The Rattlers were 2-14 in MEAC play last year, and were abysmal in just about every facet. There’s a whole lot of red staring at you when you pull up that KenPom page. To make things worse, Samuels lost his two best players to transfer in the off season. Jermaine Ruttley was the only player with a plus 100 Ortg. He left. Jorge Rosa was the only capable shooter and a promising FR wing. He left. Coming in is JUCO point guard Elijah Mays and his presence will allow Craig Bowman to move into the off guard spot. Manny Pellot represents the only known height on the roster, so FR Nick Severado will see immediate minutes. This should be another long year for Byron Samuels’ Rattlers. I genuinely feel for the guy, but he did add a three star recruit late in Isaiah Omoregie. Omoregie’s story is pretty incredible. He was literally left out in the cold by the now infamous Coastal Academy formed by Ian Turnbull. Turnbull allegedly forced Omoregie out of the team home, tried to force him to walk home in 20 degree weather and called the police when he wouldn’t leave the team “van”, and this is all while Omoregie was suffering from sickle cell anemia.

2015-2016 Patriot League Basketball Preview

5 Aug

Five Patriot League story lines to watch…

  1. New coaches take over at Bucknell (Nathan Davis) and Holy Cross (Bill Carmody is back!). Davis has a lot to work with left over from Dave Paulsen, but Carmody has some work to do installing his offense in Worcester.
  2. With the exception of Lehigh, the top of the league suffered either coaching changes or the graduation of several key players, while the young bottom half of the league last year returns practically everyone, resulting in what should be a lot of parity and unpredictability from game to game (even more so than last year).
  3. The Patriot League is an excellent test case to watch the effects of the 30 second shot clock this year because of the contrasting styles that range from one of the fastest teams in the country in Army to the slowest team in American (plus Carmody adds his own Princeton style offense at Holy Cross this year).
  4. Annual Patriot League elite Bucknell could be in for a total style makeover, as Paulsen’s stout fundamental, no gamble man to man gives way to a more aggressive, pressure heavy defense of Nathan Davis, an assistant under Pat Flannery who was passed over for the job when Flannery left.
  5. How far do Colgate and defending champion Lafayette fall down the standings? Both were hit hard by key seniors graduating, and Colgate’s incoming class isn’t exactly inspiring.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) Lehigh– Brett Reed essentially returns everyone of consequence from a solid team last year that included a lot of young talent, including big man Tim Kempton and outstanding FR point guard Kahron Ross. Ross was 10th nationally in assist rate as a freshman and could contend for conference player of the year this year. Austin Price returns to join him in the backcourt. Price shot 44% from three in Patriot League play last year, and is an outstanding, versatile defender capable of guarding 1-4. The Mountain Hawks also have depth in the frontcourt to help Kempton. Justin Goldsborough is an efficient interior scorer who also anchors Brett Reed’s zone defensively. Jesse Chuku can play the 3 and 4 and is the most athletic player on the team and sported the 8th highest block rate in PL play last year and was a big reason why Lehigh had the best 2PT percentage defense in the conference. However, Chuku’s offensive game hasn’t really developed the way I thought it would after seeing him for the first time a few years ago, and he could see his minutes cut into by preseason front runner for PL freshman of the year Matt Holba (out of Noblesville). Holba headlines an outstanding class brought in by Reed, which also includes 6’11 Caleb Sedore, who could turn out to be something of a “stretch 5”. That combination of returning talent and incoming talent makes Lehigh the team to beat to start the season in my opinion, but they’re going to need to see some more consistent outside shooting from wing Brandon Alston and for Ross’ jump shot to develop in his sophomore season.

2) Bucknell– Nathan Davis takes over for Dave Paulsen after he left for George Mason, and the cupboard certainly isn’t bare for the new head coach. Davis inherits the best returning wing in the league in Chris Hass, an efficient scorer who can both shoot from outside and get to the rim consistently. Davis also has a budding big man to anchor the interior in Nana Fouland, who was third in the PL in block rate and second in offensive rebounding rate, in addition to drawing a ton of contact around the rim and shooting 57% inside. Zach Thomas also returns, and he showed some offense in the second half of the season as an undersized stretch 4, but his defense is an area that needs rapid improvement with his likely increase in minutes. The backcourt loses PG Steven Kaspar to graduation and sharp shooter JC Show transferred to Binghamton, but I love the defensive upside of a Stephen Brown/Ryan Frazier backcourt. Both are plus on ball defenders, and I think you’ll see Davis incorporate a far more aggressive defensive approach with those two at the top, similar to what he employed at Randolph-Macon. Under Paulsen, Bucknell was known for their fundamentally sound man to man, which rarely emphasized gambling out of your lane for a turnover, and then offensively running a clock draining motion offense that relied on ball control and precision cutting and screening. I’m sure Davis will continue to incorporate motion aspects, but I think you’re going to see a substantial increase in transition opportunities, where Bucknell was 345th in terms of percentage of shots attempted last year (which of course largely stems from not gambling defensively: last three years the Bison were 347th, 346th, and 347th in defensive turnover rate). Bucknell also lost some depth this year with the natural defections following a coaching change (DJ MacLeay and John Azzinaro left [UPDATE: BOTH MACLEAY AND AZZINARO RETURNED TO BUCKNELL]), but a talented freshmen class is coming in, and should contribute immediately. 6’8 Nate Sestina should see substantial minutes right away, and 6’5 wing Nathan Jones is probably the best athlete on the team already. Jones is the son of Radford coach Mike Jones, and flew under the recruiting radar a bit. He could end up being a huge steal for the Bison. Despite the regime change, Bucknell should once again be at or near the top of the Patriot League, especially if they take quickly to Davis’ more aggressive, 30 second shot clock friendly approach.

3) Boston– Joe Jones’ Terriers should contend for the Patriot League title if two things happen…1) incoming FR Kyle Foreman proves to be the answer at point guard and 2) Jones’ very forgiving zone rapidly improves. Other than those two issues, the Terriers return a loaded roster. Bucket getter Cedric Hankerson returns in the backcourt (still recovering from a torn ACL in April, and will reportedly be ready by PL play), as does efficient rim attacker Eric Fanning and rising PL star Cheddi Mosley, who shot 43% from three in league play. The addition of Kyle Foreman will hopefully allow John Papale to move off the ball again and return to his absurd 53% three point shooting form in PL play two years ago when Mo Watson was running the point. When he’s not tasked with ball handling duties, Papale is the best shooter in the league, so Foreman’s early and rapid development is a major key to Boston’s season. Related, the Terriers also had the highest turnover rate in PL play   The frontcourt also returns everyone of consequence, but they need to show some improvement anchoring the back line of the zone. Justin Alston did a much better job of avoiding foul trouble and was 10th in block rate, but he was really the only source of rim protection. Nathan Dieudonne also returns, and he’s proven to be an efficient interior threat and a solid rebounder, and hopefully 6’11 Blaise Mbargorba can provide some defensive heft around the rim with an increase in minutes. If Foreman can come in and run the show right away and the frontcourt improves defensively, the Terriers have more than enough offensively to win this league.

4) Lafayette– The defending champs are likely going to have a hard time repeating, as the duo of Dan Trist and Seth Hinrichs graduated. The high-low sets Fran O’Hanlon ran with the 6’9 Trist and 6’8 Hinrichs were beautiful and nearly unstoppable, and impossible to replace this year. Also gone from the second most efficient offense in the league last year is dead eye Joey Ptasinksi, who shot 45% from three last year. O’Hanlon at least returns one of the better backcourts in the league, led by junior PG Nick Lindner. Simply put, Lindner can do it all. He gets to the rim/FT line routinely (where he shoots 85%), shot 40% from 3, had a top 100 assist rate nationally and a low turnover rate. All in all, he was one of the most efficient PGs in the country last year. However, with Trist and Hinrichs gone and being replaced by freshmen, those efficiency numbers are likely to take a hit with Lindner shouldering a lot more of the offense. Fellow 40% three point shooter Bryce Scott also returns in the backcourt, but Leopards fans are hoping SR Zach Rufer’s 47% three point shooting translates to a larger sample size this year. 6’5 wing Monty Boykins will also be expected to pick up a lot of the scoring slack this year as well. I think O’Hanlon’s roster is more equipped to replace Trist than they are Hinrichs, as I think SO big man Matt Klinewski is capable of something of a breakout year in Trist’s role. Michael Hoffman’s transfer is a blow to the Pards’ depth in the frontcourt, but O’Hanlon has a solid class coming in. 6’10 Sam Dunkum and 6’8 Tyler Barlow could immediately improve Lafayette’s interior defense, which was by far the worst 2PT% defense in the PL last season. The rest of the class is highlighted by two lengthy wings in 6’6 Auston Evans and 6’7 Paulius Zalys, who could eventually turn into the second coming of Seth Hinrichs. If the young frontcourt rounds into shape come conference tournament time and with Lindner leading the charge in the backcourt, the reports of Lafayette’s demise could be greatly exaggerated.

5) American– American’s season largely depends on the ability of two freshmen guards to quickly pick up Mike Brennan’s Princeton style offense and fill the roles of the graduated PeeWee Gardner and John Schoof. Those are obviously big shoes to fill, but James Washington and Delante Jones are more than capable. Washington is basically a taller version of Gardner, a plus passer with quick hands defensively. He’ll be perfect in Brennan’s offense and ball pressure heavy defense. Jones is a highly touted scorer out of Virginia who will help shoulder the scoring load with returning wing Jesse Reed. Jalen Rhea and Charlies Jones also return in the backcourt and are obviously already familiar with Brennan’s system, but I think the sooner Brennan turns the keys over to the more talented Washington and Jones the better. The frontcourt returns efficient but undersized Marko Vasic and a healthy Zach Elcano, as well as 7’0 project Gabe Brown. Brennan also added two high major transfers in former UConn forward Leon Tolksdorf and former George Washington big man Paris Maragkos. Brennan’s offense will be tested by the new 30 second shot clock, but it’s hard to question him after taking American to the NCAA Tournament in his first year and narrowly missing a repeat trip in his second season at the helm in DC. If Washington and Jones progress quickly, American is going to be a dangerous team come PL tourney time.

6) Holy Cross– Welcome back Bill Carmody! With Carmody in the league, American won’t be the only team running a Princeton offense, and Carmody will also throw out a lot of zones and a lot of ball pressure. Carmody takes over for Milan Brown after a disappointing season. When you have an NBA level talent like Malcolm Miller, finishing 8-10 in the Patriot League is nearly inexcusable. With Carmody at the helm, we’re going to of course see the Princeton offense and a lot of three point attempts, but Carmody will also bring his unique up the line pressure zones that the rest of the Patriot League will have to adjust to. For the most part, Carmody’s inherited roster is built to quickly adapt to his defensive philosophy with 6’4 Eric Green leading the way on that end. Green had the second highest steal rate in PL play, and is a defensive nuisance all over the court. Unfortunately, Green likely won’t be 100% healthy until January, at the earliest. Quick handed and hopefully healthy Anthony Thompson takes over at point guard and should be able to fill Justin Burrell’s shoes. He’ll be helped by two incoming freshmen, Pat Benzan and Matt Zignorski. Zignorski figures to be an immediate contributor in Carmody’s offense because of his shooting ability. He and Cullen Hamilton are likely to be THE shooters on this team. The big question I have is whether or not Malachi Alexander can turn into the big stretch shooter that’s so integral in Carmody’s offense (see Coble, see Shurna). Alexander shot 42% from three last year, but only shot 45 of them total. I’m also curious to see how Green fits in offensively. Obviously, his defense is stellar, but his slashing ability offensively figures to be mitigated this year, and he hasn’t displayed a jump shot at Holy Cross. 6’6 incoming wing Karl Charles figures to be an immediate contributor this year as well for Carmody. 6’11 Matt Husek is likely to be the anchor for Carmody in the frontcourt this year. It should be an interesting year in Worcester, and this team is capable of being a top half team if they pick things up quickly.

7) Army– Essentially, 4-9 are interchangeable, but I’ll go with Army here, despite a disappointing season last year. What started as a promising year for the Black Knights saw them lose 8 of their last 9 and then bow out to Navy in the PL Tourney, which concluded a three game sweep at the hands of their rivals. Zach Spiker had built up some goodwill with two consecutive winning seasons in league play, but another season like last year with a team that returns virtually everyone could lead to some changes at West Point. Spiker once again produced by far the most up tempo offense in the PL, but the problem was they were fast without being efficient. Having the fastest offense coupled with the second worst OE in the league made for some ugly basketball at times. Combine that with the fact that Army was also the second worst defensive team in the league and you kind of understand why they finished in last place. The good news is that they return all five starters, including one of the best backcourts in the league with Dylan Cox and Kyle Wilson. 6’4 wing Wilson led the Patriot League in scoring last year, but did it in a not so efficient manner while chucking up over 200 threes. Nevertheless, Wilson is a proven scorer and a capable rim attacker, and with PG Dylan Cox returning, the Army backcourt is undoubtedly a major strength. Cox’s efficiency helps make up where Wilson’s lacks. Cox isn’t a threat on the perimeter, but his 6’4 frame will bully right by you to the rim. Cox shot a ridiculous 60% on 2PT attempts, and he paired that with the 30th highest assist rate in the country last year. In short, Cox is one of the best point guards in a league filled with outstanding point guards (Ross, Walker, Lindner, Tillotson, Dunbar). Former PL All Rookie selection Maxwell Lenox was granted a rare (for Army) fifth year of eligibility and will provide some depth behind Cox, which is even more important with the transfer of Tanner Omlid. Omlid was expected to be a solid contributor, especially defensively, after missing last season due to injury. Unfortunately for Spiker, Omlid elected to leave the program. The Army frontcourt is also loaded, as stretch 4 Tanner Plomb is back. He and Wilson combined to shoot nearly 400 threes last year. 6’6 wing Larry Toomey returns as well, but the real key both offensively and defensively is 6’10 Kevin Ferguson. Ferguson is the only rim protector on the roster, plus he’s a prolific post scorer, shooting 64% on 2PT attempts and 72% at the rim. Unfortunately, Spiker’s pace tends to negate Ferguson’s efficiency, which is exactly what this Army team lacks. Ostensibly, the 30 second shot clock would lend itself to Army’s pace, but this same team finished dead last partially because they played out of control. The more offense that filters through Ferguson, the better.

8) Loyola– The Greyhounds were young and inconsistent last year, but they still surprised some of the top teams in the league, and GG Smith’s squad returns all five starters, three sophomores and two seniors. First and foremost, Smith has to improve the offense. The Greyhounds were the least efficient offense in the league, and shooting was an issue from everywhere on the court…3, 2, free throws. Everywhere. Loyola did do one thing well on the offensive end last year, and that was rebounding all those misses, as they had the highest offensive rebounding rate in the PL. The Greyhounds start with sophomore point guard Andre Walker, who is coming off a stellar freshman year. Walker is also the best on ball defender in the league and led Loyola to the second best defense in the league. Tyler Hubbard returns in the backcourt as well, and really represents the only consistent perimeter shooter on the team. 6’6 senior wing and vocal leader Eric Laster returns as well, but the backcourt could really use Canadian FR point guard Nevell Provo to provide quality minutes right away to allow Walker to work more off the ball. The frontcourt isn’t big, but they were effective defensively and on the glass. 6’4 “four” Chancellor Barnard turned some heads in the second half of his freshmen year, as he proved he was capable of guarding 2/3/4. Cam Gregory was a glass eater in his freshman year and showed flashes of being a capable post scorer. Senior Franz Rassman also returns for some frontcourt depth. If Loyola can start to knock down some jump shots, they could certainly catapult into a top 4 Patriot League team this year because the defense is already there.

9) Navy– Ed DeChellis could have the best interior defense in the league this year anchoring his zone. Will Kelly is one of the best rim protectors in the country, plus Edward Alade returns beside him in the frontcourt. The problem is with the offense. Solid point guard Tilman Dunbar returns, but the pieces around him are a huge question mark. Gone are Worth Smith, DeChellis’ best offensive player last year, and shooter/harassing on ball defender Brandon Venturini is gone as well. It’s up to Shawn Anderson and Zach Fong to take over those multi-faceted roles. Otherwise, Navy just isn’t going to score enough points to have a winning season, no matter how stout the frontcourt is defensively.

10) Colgate– Unfortunately for the Raiders, their window for an NCAA Tournament appearance is likely shut for a few years after last year’s team graduated nearly everyone, and I expect a precipitous drop in the standings. Matt Langel’s team was the third oldest in the country last year, so gone are Damon Sherman-Newsome, Ethan Jacobs, Matt McMullen, Luke Roh, and Pat Moore. Colgate shot an absurd 44% from 3 as a team last year, plus 56% on 2PT attempts, which is why they were the most efficient offense in the league. Expect a significant step back from those numbers this year. The good news is that point guard Austin Tillotson returns, but I expect his 42% three point shooting to take a hit since he’ll be the focus of every defense this year. Alex Ramon and Sean O’Brien will see a big increase in minutes, and Ramon was 12-19 from three last year, but that was as an auxiliary scorer. There’s basically no frontcourt to speak of at this point for the Raiders. John Fenton leaving the team hurt, and Langel will be almost totally reliant on newcomers, and there’s a lot of them this year. Of the freshmen big men coming in, Dave Krmpotich is the most likely to have an immediate impact. Bradley transfer Jordan Swopshire and James Madison transfer Tom Rivard are likely to see a ton of minutes immediately as well. Portuguese freshman Francisco Amiel is something of mystery, but for the sake of Raiders fans, hopefully he can provide some backcourt help for Tillotson.