Archive | October, 2015

2015-16 Atlantic 10 Preview

21 Oct

Five Atlantic 10 story lines to watch…

1) The obvious one here is Will Wade replacing Shaka Smart at VCU. Wade was very successful in his first head coaching stint at Chattanooga, and has already pledged to keep Havoc rolling in Richmond. There was some natural defection when Shaka left, but Wade has a ton of talent to work with, and the Rams should be just fine.

2) Davidson, picked 12th in the preseason last year, finished atop the A10 standings in their first year in the league. They lose Tyler Kalinoski, but McKillop has a bevy of lengthy shooters in the stable. A repeat performance is entirely within the realm of possibility.

3) The Dyshawn Pierre situation at Dayton is ugly, and doesn’t appear to be getting resolved any time soon. Perhaps Pierre returns for the second semester, but the relationship is strained, at best. With or without Pierre, Archie Miller’s Flyers are once again going to be at or near the top of the A10 standings.

4) Dave Paulsen and Jeff Neubauer join Will Wade as new coaches in the league this year. Paulsen will bring some on court discipline that George Mason has lacked in recent years, while Neubauer will bring an exciting, pressure heavy system to Rose Hill, and inherits a roster that should be able to adapt to it.

5) Rhode Island and St. Joe’s both have a lot of talent on their roster, but both need serious upgrades on the offensive end. The Rams especially look like a team that anything short of a trip to the NCAA Tournament (their first since 1999) would be considered a disappointment this season.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1) Davidson- I questioned how Davidson would perform in their first year in the A10 before the season started last year, and they finished 14-4, embarrassed the rest of the league with a 116.9 efficiency rating on offense, had the second lowest turnover rate in the country, and shot 39% from 3 while shooting them at the ninth highest rate in the country. McKillop loses Tyler Kalinoski, last year’s lead protagonist in the efficiency department, but returns a very good backcourt surrounded by lengthy shooters. Jack Gibbs returns 100% from his meniscus injury, and should be do for a monster year at the point in McKillop’s motion offense. Gibbs is a highly efficient point guard, an outstanding shooter, and a great on ball defender. He’ll have another volume shooter in Brian Sullivan with him in the backcourt, and Jordan Watkins returns after a fine a freshman year, and is likely to develop into yet another deadly shooter from outside. The frontcourt doesn’t offer much in terms of stopping teams from scoring at the rim, but they’re certainly going to draw you away from the lane on offense. A pair of sophomores, Peyton Aldridge and Oskar Michelsen, lead the way. Both shot over a hundred threes last year, but Aldridge is far more of a factor around the rim, on both ends of the court. Aldridge actually posted a fairly decent block rate, but the lacking interior defense from last year will be bolstered by the return of Jake Belford from injury and the development of SO Nathan Ekwu, who has the most athleticism around the rim of any of McKillop’s bigs. Andrew McAuliffe adds some depth to the interior, while jack of all trades and one of the most underrated players in the league, Jordy Barham returns. Barham is 6’4 but can legitimately guard 2/3/4/5, and is a major threat around the rim and on the glass because of his athleticism. The importance of his versatility to this team cannot be overstated. McKillop added a potential steal in the frontcourt in 6’10 Serbian Dusan Kovacevic, but unfortunately Kovacevic will miss the season after requiring knee surgery late last month.

2) Dayton- Obviously, the Dyshawn Pierre situation is ugly. If he comes back to play in the second semester (which seems less and less likely), great. But I’m sure Archie Miller is preparing to have him available at all this year. Even without Pierre, Miller still has a lot to work with. Kendall Pollard returns in the frontcourt, and proved to be a contact drawing machine last year, even without any help around him to keep defenses from doubling. He’s a solid rim protector and rebounder, and was the key to the frontcourt not falling totally apart after injuries and suspensions last year. That being said, the interior defense was non existent because the Flyers simply didn’t have the bodies. They relied on cleaning up the defensive glass and getting back in transition, and for the most part it worked, as the Flyers still had the 4th best efficiency rating on the defensive end in the A10. Pollard will actually have some help though with Steve McElvene finally eligible. McElvene is in great shape after missing last year, and brings some legit size to the frontcourt. Freshmen Xeyrius Williams, Sam Miller, and Ryan Mikesell will all see minutes as well. The Flyer backcourt is once again one of the better units in the A10, even with the loss of Jordan Sibert. The ever important Scoochie Smith is back at PG, Kyle Davis returns as one of the best on ball defenders in the conference, and Miller added Charles Cooke from James Madison, another outstanding defender with length and versatility who can get to the FT line. A big key for the Flyers is Darrell Davis continuing to shoot the ball well from outside. Expecting him to hit an absurd 45% from three again is too much, especially with Sibert gone and defenses able to focus more on him, but if he hovers around 40%, the Flyers will be fine.

3) Rhode Island- Anything less than a trip to their first NCAA Tournament since 1999 will be considered a disappointment for this Rams team. Hurley’s squad had the punishing, physical defense that was the best in the A10. That won’t change, but the offense needs to keep up with a defense that forces a ton of turnovers with their length, physicality, and big time shot blocker at the rim. To address that deficiency (9th in OE in A10 play, dead last in 3PT%), Hurley has two key transfers in Four McGlynn (most recently Towson) and Kuran Iverson (Memphis) coming in. Those two will provide an immediate upgrade to the Rams’ perimeter game. Iverson particularly adds a pick and pop dimension to the offense that the Rams sorely lacked last year. Hurley also added two less hyped floor stretchers in FR Nikola Akele and JUCO Andre Berry. They join a rock solid defensive frontcourt of Hassan Martin (15th nationally in block rate and a criminally underrated all around inside presence), Earl Watson, and Ifeanyi Onyekaba. The backcourt is just as outstanding defensively, with SO Jared Terrell leading the way. Terrell is perhaps the most physical on ball defender in the league. 6’5 EC Matthews leads the way offensively, and should see in uptick in his efficiency with a more potent surrounding cast. Matthews was essentially forced into taking a lot of contested shots, and that dreadful 27% 3PT shooting in A10 play should improve this year. FR Christion Thompson is the other key addition to McGlynn and Iverson in terms of aiding the URI offense. Jarvis Garrett was solid when handed the keys to the offense in January, and should continue to develop at PG. If the additions to the Rams offense click, this is a team that can unquestionably win the A10.

4) VCU- Will Wade was the right hire for VCU. He knows the area, he knows the fan base, he knows Havoc, and he proved in just two years at UTC that he can win. Yes, Weber and Graham are gone now, and Larrier didn’t want to stick around, but Wade has a ton of talent and depth to work with, and it would be a mistake to sleep on the Rams this year just because Shaka is in Austin now. We’ll start with with frontcourt, which isn’t big, but they’re athletic and mobile, perfect for Havoc. Mo Alie-Cox is the anchor, and was 2nd in block rate in A10 play and is an outstanding weak side offensive rebounder despite being just 6’6. Justin Tillman looks ready to make a massive leap in his SO year, while fellow SO Michael Gilmore has reportedly developed an outside shot. He has a chance to be a lite (but taller) version of Treveon Graham. Jordan Burgess meanwhile continues to develop and will see a significant uptick in his scoring this year, something Rams fans have been waiting on. The biggest addition to the frontcourt is Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed. Mohamed is a more traditional big who can operate in the halfcourt, giving Wade some options against bigger teams that can handle Havoc and score around the rim. Former Minnesota commit Jonathan Nwankwo fits in that vein as well. He isn’t a big scoring threat, but he brings rim protection and help side defense to a team that has routinely been exposed in that regard when teams can handle Havoc. Wade has a lot of versatility with this frontcourt, and can mix and match depending on the flow of the game. Now, that might come at the expense of Havoc and minutes for some “established” guys. The same can be said in the backcourt, where JeQuan Lewis is obviously the heir apparent to Briante Weber. Wade can also utilize talented Jonathan Williams at the point, as he has better ball skills in a half court setting. Melvin Johnson returns in his role as shooter extraordinaire, particularly deadly in transition, as does Dougie Brooks. Wade has two key additions in the backcourt with ORU transfer Korey Billbury and FR Samir Doughty. Billbury is a rim attacking guard who rebounds extremely well out of the backcourt. His ability to get to the FT line will earn him minutes, especially with Graham and Larrier gone. Doughty is a high scoring FR who might not see a ton of minutes, but has a ton of talent. The way Wade utilizes his depth at every position is going to be interesting. It seems to me that there’s a fairly clear cut Havoc roster, and a fairly clear cut half court roster. Wade’s juggling act between the two, without hurting feelings, is gong to be something to keep an eye on. If everything gels for the Rams, this team has more depth and talent than any other A10 team, by far.

5) Richmond- Replacing Kendall Anthony is one of the more understated tasks ahead of any head coach in terms of degree of difficulty, but I think Chris Mooney and the Spiders are going to be fine. ShawnDre’ Jones is actually a better passer and just as good of a ball handler than Anthony, and he’ll continue to run Mooney’s ultra modified Princeton offense with success. My biggest concern is whether Jones has anyone who can slide into his role last year. In other words, is there a proven scorer who can keep defenses off Jones, like he did for Anthony last year. The hope is that Josh Jones has a breakout year in his JR year (although he’s currently suspended from team activities for an indefinite time), and a healthy Khwon Fore and freshmen Julius Johnson and Jesse Pistokache provide some immediate help. Of the three newcomers, Pistokache has the most talent. He’s a high scoring combo guard out of Texas, but it will be interesting to see if he can work within Mooney’s patient offense. On the wing, Trey Davis is an outstanding versatile defender, but doesn’t offer much offensively. The frontcourt is led by Terry Allen. Allen isn’t the same shot blocker that Alonzo Nelson-Ododa was, but he’s more versatile and can pop out on the perimeter on both offense and defense. Deion Taylor is another excellent, versatile defender, but is essentially a one way player. TJ Cline proved to be the big shooter Mooney was looking for in his offense in his first year coming over from Niagara, as he hit 42% from deep in A10 play. Richmond’s defense is predicated on pressuring the perimeter and taking away the three point line. They’ll continue to do that better than anyone in the A10, but they’re even weaker around the rim than they were last year. However, that’s a minor complaint, as this team’s big are extremely versatile and mobile, and more so this year with the addition of 6’8 Marshall Wood from Virginia Tech. He’s not a shot blocker, but he’ll work well in Mooney’s system. At the very least, the Spiders are a bubble team. If the ball bounces their way through the course of the season, they’ll surely be dancing.

6) George Washington- The Colonials defense sunk their ship last season, which was a bit of a shock to see from a Lonergan coached team. That being said, I think GW bounces back in a fairly big way this season, especially because of the effectiveness the 1-3-1 could have under the 30 second shot clock. Kethan Savage is a big loss, but Lonergan added Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh to a solid returning core of Pato Garino, Joe McDonald, Kevin Larsen, and Yuta Watanabe. Cavanaugh is a 6’9 versatile big that can shoot from outside and get to the FT line. Lonergan also added a steady ball handler in Alex Mitola from Dartmouth to help spell oft injured and heavily used Joe McDonald. A big key for GW is the continued development of Paul Jorgensen. Jorgensen has a lot of talent and can shoot the ball. They’ll need him to be a major contributor in Savage’s absence. Watanabe and Garino on the wings give Lonergan almost unmatched athleticism and length at the 2/3/4 positions. The versatility of those two on both ends, particularly when both can be interchanged at the top of the 1-3-1, is a major reason why George Washington is an A10 sleeper. The frontcourt is led by SR Kevin Larsen, but the real talent lies with SO Matt Cimino and FR Collin Goss. Both will have understated roles on this team if George Washington returns to the big dance.

7) St. Joe’s- Anyone who followed St. Joe’s last year was just begging Martelli to add some help around do everything DeAndre Bembry. In A10 play, Bembry was 9th in defensive rebounding rate, 3rd in assist rate, 10th in steal rate, 22nd in block rate, shot 36% from 3, and basically never sat. The problem was he was surrounded by one of the worst offenses in the A10. Martelli has addressed that with the addition of two highly touted local freshmen guards, Lamarr Kimble and Chris Clover. Kimble could immediately displace Shavar Newkirk at PG, while Clover will provide immediate scoring. Cecco Oliva is an underrated addition because of his size and shooting ability. St. Joe’s sorely lacked a floor stretcher last year. The Hawks actually have a frontcourt this year with Markell Lodge eligible and Papa Ndao healthy, plus JR shot blocker Javon Baumann healthy. This is incredibly important, as Martelli hopefully won’t have to sag his defense nearly as much, and it will allow him to contest and pressure with a slew of talented wings (Bembry, Aaron Brown, and James Demery), and it allows 6’7 Isaiah Miles to roam the perimeter more. Miles was the lone offensive bright spot besides Bembry last year. The Hawks have a lot of depth at every position this year, and Martelli has the versatility to mix in different defenses and take advantage of the 30 second shot clock. If the talented freshman trio add some offense, a seventh place prediction could end up being a few spots too low.

8) St. Bonaventure- The Bonnies are an intriguing team, and Mark Schmidt is one of the more underrated coaches in the country, but some heavy losses in the frontcourt make me wary of picking this team any higher. With Youssou Ndoye gone (one of the best rim protectors and rebounders in the league), I think you’re going to see Schmidt mix in more pressure and less of his pack line principles on defense, similar to two years ago. Schmidt’s hand was forced even more so with the loss of Jordan Tyson for the season after an off season injury. Dion Wright is an efficient and underrated block scorer, but he doesn’t have much help inside. FR LaDarien Griffin will provide some immediate help defensively and on the glass, but he’s not ready to be a threat around the rim offensively. The strength of the Bonnies is certainly their backcourt, which is why I think you’ll see them with a top 20 defensive turnover rate, similar to two years ago. Marcus Posley and a healthy Jay Adams lead the way, and FR Nelson Kaputo will prove to be one of the more underrated additions in the league this year. Denzell Gregg is poised for a breakout year on the wing if he’s not forced to play out of position against bigger teams. JUCO wing Courtney Stockard is a nice addition too because of his versatility at 6’5 (but he’s going to miss 6-8 weeks with a broken foot [h/t @Jake_EZ]). The Bonnies, as usual under Schmidt, will be sneaky good, and a shift back to a slightly quicker pace will pay dividends with the 30 second clock. Schmidt always coaches to his roster and shows flexibility. This year will be no different.

9) LaSalle- The Explorers are a tough team to figure out this year. They lose Zack and Wright inside, but we know what Giannini can do with a smaller, perimeter oriented lineup, and he has a lot of backcourt depth to work with this year to surround Jordan Price. Price is going to get his buckets (15th nationally in % of shots and 16th in usage), but his efficiency could improve with a better stable of wings. Price is joined by returnees Amar Stukes and Johnnie Shuler, who will both see ball handling duties. Stukes, along with Cleon Roberts, provide the best defense on the perimeter. The wings are led by Roberts and Serbian Dusan Majstorovic, who should see plenty of minutes because of his shooting ability and length. Unfortunately, with the lack of depth in the frontcourt, Roberts, who is a plus shooter, might spend a good chunk of time playing out of position on both ends. Tony Washington is poised for a breakout year in the middle for the Explorers, but the lack of depth behind him hurts. A big plus for Giannini though is the eligibility of Yevgen Sakhniuk, a 6’7 stretch shooter with a massive wingspan. The big Ukrainian could prove to be a matchup problem almost immediately in A10 play. LaSalle will certainly compete for a top half finish and has the talent to do it this year, but they’re probably a year away from true contention, as Giannini has a few 3 star big men coming in (Jimbo Lull, Brock Bertram) and three major transfers in Demetrius Henry, Pookie Powell, and BJ Johnson, plus Price and Roberts will be seniors.

10) UMass- Derek Kellogg loses a lot of heft inside, but has an influx of talent coming in this year up front, although there are a few caveats. To replace Esho and Lalanne, 6’9 Antwan Space comes over from Texas A&M and Malik Hines and Rashaan Armstead-Holloway are now eligible. Space and Hines joins Seth Berger and Zach Coleman as mobile bigs who get up and down the court in Kellogg’s up tempo offense. Holloway is a massive 6’10 and nearly 300 lbs. He won’t be in game shape for a bit after another knee surgery in January, but when he’s healthy, he’ll provide some rim protection with Tyler Bergantino. The Minutemen might not be as athletic around the rim with Esho and Lalanne gone, but Space and Hines potentially give Kellogg more mobility and court spacing. The backcourt of Jabarie Hinds, Trey Davis, and CJ Anderson all have another year of experience playing in Kellogg’s offense, but Kellogg could use the Chaz Williams type of PG that flourished in his system. Kellogg that he had that with FR Luwane Pipkins, but unfortunately his eligibility is uncertain, and it appears he won’t be cleared for the first semester, at the very least. Hinds and Davis are both capable of handling the ball, but Pipkins would have thrived in the role. Donte Clark is the most talented player in the backcourt, and should build off a solid freshman year on the wing. This team has some talent this year, but they’re a year away from true contention, as Kellogg has a massive class coming in, plus Zach Lewis from Canisius (and potentially Pipkins after sitting out this year).

11) Duquesne- The Dukes are essentially Davidson’s under developed little brother. They’re efficient offensively, but a total train wreck defensively. Ferry’s zone was routinely shredded, the Dukes were dead last in defensive turnover rate, and the zone helped contribute to their league low defensive rebounding rate. Ferry wants to play fast, and the Dukes were actually an excellent transition offense last year, but it’s hard to get in transition when you don’t generate turnovers and you can’t rebound misses. The backcourt is the strength of the team with Derrick Colter at the point and arguably the best pure shooter in the country in Micah Mason. Mason was outstanding down the stretch, and if he can consistently produce like that this year, Duquesne could surprise some teams. The backcourt is bolstered by the additions of Rene Castro from Butler and former UTEP commit Mar’Qywell Jackson. Castro adds some depth to the versatility of returnees Jeremiah Jones and Eric James, but the real coup is Jackson, a physical, high scoring wing who can rebound out of the backcourt. That’s exactly what the Dukes need, as LJ Gill and Darius Lewis are the only capable rebounders on the roster. Gill can be a matchup issue because of his mobility, while Lewis had the highest block rate on the team during his inconsistent minutes. A big leap from Jordan Robinson and immediate help from FR Nakye Sanders could help Ferry move away from the dreadful zone of last year.

12) St. Louis- The Billikens will be improved from last year, but I don’t see a significant jump for what’s still a very young team without a lot of defined roles. The offense was the least efficient in the A10, and the defense wasn’t much better. SLU in general suffers from a lack of shooters, and it hurts that the only reliable returning shooter, Marcus Bartley (led A10 conference play with 45% shooting from 3 last year), was also the most reliable ball handler. I think the idea this year is to hopefully have Davell Roby, the most talented player in the backcourt, more on the ball and attacking off the dribble with Ach Yacoubou and Miles Reynolds (who basically shot a FT every minute he was on the court). With Roby and veteran scorer Yacoubou penetrating, Bartley and Mike Crawford should hopefully be freed up on the perimeter. Milik Yarbrough on the wing provides some versatility defensively, solid work on the glass (which was few and far between as a whole for SLU last year), and can score around the rim, but he doesn’t draw defenders away from the lane. Jim Crews needs a big leap from the athletic Reggie Agbeko, especially defensively around the rim. Agbeko played his best basketball the last month and a half of the season, and was great on the glass, but remarkably didn’t record a block the entire year. Brett Jolly was essentially the only rim protector last year, but he had trouble avoiding fouls, and he’s limited offensively. Crews has three versatile big men, all 6’9 or taller, who can play inside and out. Austin Gillman is the returnee, while Matt Neufeld and Elliott Welmer are big freshmen who could pose matchup problems. The issue with all three is whether or not they can defend against more athletic 4s and 5s in the A10. The offense should be improved with some lengthy shooters joining last year’s rim attackers, but I still have major concerns about the defense.

13) George Mason- Dave Paulsen is one of my favorite major conference hires this year. He’s exactly the type of coach George Mason needs. Paulsen’s Bucknell teams were disciplined on the court and rarely turned the ball over. GMU was dead last in the A10 in offensive turnover rate last year, so a more principled offensive system predicated on motion will certainly be welcome. The backcourt of Marquise Moore and Patrick Holloway is a veteran crew, but they have to reduce the turnovers. Paulsen is big on fundamentals, and Moore’s turnover issues and Holloway’s poor shot selection, if continued, will find them on the bench in favor of FR Otis Livingston and Kameron Murrell. The wings are iffy, as it appears lengthy 6’7 DeAndre Abram and Jaire Grayer will have amble opportunity to prove themselves this year. The frontcourt is anchored by the return of Shavon Thompson. Paulsen has a knack for developing big men, and Thompson could be poised for big year offensively if the guards can get him the ball consistently. Thompson scored a lot of buckets off putbacks from a lot of poor shots last year. Thompson finished with the fifth highest offensive rebounding rate and twelfth highest defensive rebounding rate in the country. Thompson is joined by JR Jalen Jenkins, another solid rim protector and rebounder, and capable scorer around the rim. 6’8 Julian Royal returns healthy, and Marko Gujanicic has added a lot of muscle in the offseason, giving the Patriots one of the biggest frontcourts in the A10. If Moore and Holloway pick up Paulsen’s motion early and can practice some ball control, the Patriots are going to be ok, and at the very least, a team worth watching.

14) Fordham- Jeff Neubauer brings his high pressure zone defense and three point chucking offense to Rose Hill. Neubauer’s EKU teams finished 2nd, 3rd, and 6th in defensive turnover rate and 4th, 9th, and 2nd in 3PT attempt rate the past three seasons. So, does he inherit a roster capable of playing this style? Sort of. The transfer of Eric Paschall hurts, but there are some guys who can potentially thrive in Neubauer’s system. The first guy that jumps out at me is Mandell Thomas, a capable shooter, but more importantly, he had the second highest steal rate in A10 play. Neubauer can certainly utilize Thomas and a revitalized Jon Severe in a Corey Walden type role. Severe particularly has to be licking his chops at the amount of three point attempts he’ll potentially see in this offense, but he has to play defense and be able to pressure the ball, otherwise he won’t work for Neubauer. Antwoine Anderson returns as well as something of a dual PG with Thomas. Three freshmen guards figure to see a lot of run, as Nych Smith, Joe Chartouny, and Jashire Hardnett are all high scoring combo guards who can really shoot it from outside. Hardnett is most likely to see the most run, but guard depth is a staple for Neubauer teams given the high pressure zone, so all will see ample opportunities. Neubauer doesn’t have the lengthy wings he likes to utilize on the perimeter and deploy in halfcourt traps defensively, but FR Jesse Bunting brings some athleticism, just not a polished offensive game. The frontcourt features Christian Sengfelder, who was stretch 4 skills with a pick and pop game and some developing back to the basket skills. Think Eric Stutz. Ryan Rhoomes returns as one of the most underrated rebounders in the league, while Ryan Canty is reportedly healthy and in the best shape of his career, which would be a huge boost to the frontcourt. There will be an adaptation period with Neubauer’s system, but the Rams are going to be better this year, and thus the league is bit stronger from top to bottom than last year.

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2015-16 Ohio Valley Preview

16 Oct

Five OVC story lines to follow in 2015-16…

1) Can Murray State reload after losing both Steve Prohm and Cam Payne? The Racers have proven why they’re one of the elite midmajor programs when put in this situation in the past. Prohm lost one OVC game and the Racers won an NCAA Tournament game in his first season replacing Billy Kennedy. Matt McMahon will keep the Racers at or near the top of the OVC.

2) Belmont has been to the dance seven out of the last ten seasons, and Rick Byrd’s squad is the definite favorite to win the OVC for the third time in just their fourth season in the conference.

3) Murray State isn’t the only OVC powerhouse replacing their head coach, as Eastern Kentucky has Dan McHale coming in to replace the departed Jeff Neubauer. Under Neubauer, the Colonels only had one losing OVC season and went to the NCAA Tournament twice, while also employing an exciting zone press and bombing away from three. Tough act to follow in Richmond.

4) Can UT Martin sustain the surprising success Heath Schroyer immediately brought to the table in his first season at the helm? The Skyhawks will certainly give the Racers a run in the West, but they’re not going to take anyone by surprise this year.

5) SIU Edwardsville is in a rebuilding year, but I think the program believes they can eventually compete with the OVC heavyweights, despite being new to D1. They fired Lennox Forrester for hometown product Jon Harris, straight off the Cuonzo Martin coaching tree. Forrester was as successful as could be reasonably expected, but Harris is a potential homerun hire. SIUE is in a unique situation for an OVC team. They’re close to a major city rich with talent, Harris knows the area well, and they practically have their own TV deal.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

EAST

1) Belmont- With all the change among the other OVC heavyweights, ever steady Rick Byrd and the Bruins are the team to beat. Plus it helps they have a ton of talent returning and add some key pieces. Byrd and the Bruins return four starters, but have to replace exceptional PG Reece Chamberlain. Is Austin Luke or FR Kevin McClain ready to take over the PG role in Byrd’s four out one in motion offense, or lead the break in his drag screen heavy transition offense? Besides the question at PG, the backcourt is loaded. Craig Bradshaw and Taylor Barnette return as the heart of an offense that was fifth in 3PT attempt rate. Those two combined to shoot over 400 threes and both hit at or near 40% for the season. Bradshaw is and excellent on ball defender, plus passer, and a capable ball handler, which might mean he shoulders a lot of the point guard duties, especially early in the year. That burden could be eased if highly touted FR Michael Benkert picks up Byrd’s offense early. Benkert is essentially a Bradshaw clone, which would make putting Bradshaw on the ball a much easier decision. Benkert is big guard who can fill it up from outside and attack the gaps created by the offense off the dribble. Josh Lester and Jeff Laidig return on the wing, and freshmen Alex Martin and Dylan Windler bring size and depth at the position. Windler could eventually carve out a Nick Smith type of role on the team. Speaking of Smith, he returns as the stretch 4 type that Byrd covets in his offense, but when he’s not hitting, he becomes something of a liability defensively and on the glass. Evan Bradds returns as a hyper efficient 15 feet and in scorer. Bradds shot 71% on 2PT attempts last year, and had the best defensive rebound rate in the OVC. He’s joined by Amanze Egekeze, a versatile defender capable of popping out and guarding the perimeter on switches and hitting from outside on the offensive end, and 6’9 Mack Mercer, who’s primed for a breakout year in the OVC. Mercer had a solid FR year around the rim, and his mobility is underrated. He’ll be bigger threat on the perimeter this year as well. 6’11 FR Seth Adelsperger is a legit rim protector, and could allow 6’10 Tyler Hadden to roam some more this year, which would give Byrd four 6’8 or taller players capable of hitting the three. This team could be absolutely lethal if the PG situation shakes out well, so basically just a regular old season for the Bruins.

2) Morehead State- There’s a steep drop from Belmont to the rest of the East, but I’ll go with Morehead State here. Strength of the team is certainly the backcourt, which plays well in a league dominated by outstanding guard play every year, and it plays into Sean Woods’ frantic, pressing and trapping style. Morehead State hasn’t dropped out of the top 50 in terms of defensive turnover rate since Woods took over three seasons ago. Because of that style, Morehead State commits an egregious number of fouls. Under Woods, they’ve finished 347th, 330th, and 350th last year in terms of defensive foul rate. The difference last year was that they didn’t offset that by getting to the FT line themselves, as they dropped from the 6th highest FT rate in the country all the way down to 240th. Woods has a strong quartet of guards who are capable of attacking the rim and applying pressure this year with Corban Collins, a versatile defender and penetrator, Brent Arrington, Miguel Dicent, and FR Malik Maitland. Maitland has the potential to crack the starting lineup in a three guard set from day one. JUCOs Xavier Moon and Ronnye Beamon provide some depth in the backcourt. The frontcourt is looking to replace one of the best rebounders in the country in Karam Mashour. Crashing the glass relentlessly on both ends has been a staple under Woods, but the frontcourt is thin and undersized this year, but not without talent. A healthy Lyonell Gaines will go a long way because of his versatility, and former DePaul recruit DeJuan Marrero will have a big role this year. Both can crash the boards and get up and down the court. 6’9 Anthony Elechi will see an increase in minutes and production, but there’s still a lot of question marks defensively with this group.

3) Eastern Kentucky– Dan McHale comes to Richmond off the Rick Pitino coaching tree to replace Jeff Neubauer, so dramatic shift from Neubauer’s high pressure zone seems unlikely. That defense led EKU to a top 5 defensive turnover rate nationally the past three years, but McHale has to replace Corey Walden, the chief thief, Denzel Richardson, and Timmy Knipp. Walden, along with departed big man Eric Stutz, were the heart of the Colonels. Walden was 2nd nationally in steal rate, shot the three at 37% and got to the FT line, while Stutz was an efficient big who could run the floor. Despite the heavy losses, the backcourt will remain the strength of the team under McHale. Isaac McGlone, a plus on ball defender and shooter but with questionable ball skills takes over at PG. Paul Jackson is an outstanding defender as well, but needs to improve offensively. Jaylen Babb-Harrison is the best shooter on the team when healthy (which has been an issue). The big additions to the backcourt are high major transfers KJ Bluford and JaVontae Hawkins. Hawkins is likely going to be the Colonels’ go to scorer because of his versatility at 6’5, and he’s already taken a leadership role on the team, while Bluford adds another shooting stroke to the mix. 6’7 Ja’Mill Powell is going to see plenty of scoring opportunities on the wing, while Tommy Matthews, JUCO transfer Cam Williams, Jon Hood, and FR Dujuanta Weaver (PG of the future) add some depth to a strong backcourt unit. The frontcourt however is a different story. A poor rebounding team (somewhat do to style) lost all their rebounding. URI grad transfer Jarelle Reischel comes in with freshmen Nick Mayo and Anthony Pratt and JUCO Greg King to form an entirely new frontcourt. McHale is going to have to rely on the versatility of Hawkins and Powell and win with speed.

4) Jacksonville State- James Green has a talented roster in Jacksonville, and missing the OVC Tournament for a fourth straight year with this team could spell the end of his tenure as the Gamecocks’ coach. That being said, Green has assembled as much talent as any team in the OVC, and a second place finish in the East isn’t at all an unrealistic ceiling. Green has to replace four starters, with Darion Rackley and DJ Felder being the most important, but SO Malcolm Drumwright is due for a breakout year, and Green added extremely talented D1 nomad Cam Biedscheid. The 6’7 wing will immediately become the most talented player in the OVC when eligible. I’m not 100% sure if the NCAA has ruled on his petition for full season eligibility yet, but he’s at the very least eligible for the second semester, and will be a massive addition for the Gamecocks, and could singlehandedly put them into the OVC Tournament and save Green’s job. Drumwright meanwhile is a great defensive player, solid passer, but needs to develop a jump shot. JaQuail Townser also returns in the backcourt. He’s a solid defender and capable shooter, but needs to improve his ball skills. 5’9 future PG Delfincko Bogan adds some depth to the backcourt in his FR year. A pair of 6’6 freshmen, Andre Statam and Christian Cunningham, could have an immediate impact on the wings and help out a very thin frontcourt. Felder and Jamal Hunter led JSU to the highest block rate in the OVC, but it didn’t translate to solid interior defense, and both are gone now anyway. Jeremy Watson showed flashes of being a capable scorer around the rim and rebounder, but his play dropped off dramatically when conference play started. He needs to have a breakout year for JSU to reach their ceiling. RS FR Ed Jones could be a starter in the frontcourt, and is joined by returnee Deitrich Cole and 6’11 project Ousmane Ba.

5) Tennessee State- The Tigers should see a fairly significant improvement from last year’s 2-14 OVC mark in Dana Ford’s first year. Ford recruited well and brought in some big time transfers to bring up the talent level, which should help improve the 347th worst offensive in the country and give enough depth to employ an effective zone press defensively. The backcourt will be entirely different, and significantly better, with Niagara transfer Tahjere McCall and Montana transfer Keron DeShields running the show. McCall is a big 6’4 PG and an outstanding on ball defender, while DeShields brings defense, rim attacking, and an outside shot. Ford also added a high scoring JUCO in Johnny Woodard who rebounds well out of the backcourt and can guard 2/3/4. Ford also added three talented FR to the backcourt in local rim attacker Jalen Duke, a pure scorer in Tripp Davis, and a future PG out of St. Rita’s in Chicago, Armani Chaney. That’s all in addition to returnees Xavier Richards, a versatile defender despite being just 6’2, and Darreon Reddick, a 47% 3 point shooter in OVC play, plus streaky SR volume shooter Marcus Roper, who dropped 32 on EKU last year. In short, Ford has depth and options in the backcourt this year. The frontcourt returns Christian Mekowulu and Demontez Loman, an athletic duo who helped TSU have a solid block rate but didn’t get much help in terms of overall interior defense, as the Tigers were dead last in 2PT% defense in OVC play. Those two have to improve their efficiency around the rim this year, as the new backcourt is going to create a lot more opportunities. LBSU grad transfer Christian Griggs-Williams adds some depth and experience, and former St. Francis Brooklyn 3/4 Wayne Martin will see a lot of minutes in the frontcourt as well. Ford landed another massive transfer in Jordan Reed, an elite rebounder from Binghamton who led the AmEast in rebounding in back to back seasons despite being 6’4. Reed can legitimately guard 1-5 and draws a ton of contact around the rim. He had a falling out with Tommy Dempsey at Binghamton, but could be a low risk, very high reward second half of the season addition for Dana Ford. The future looks bright for TSU.

6) Tennessee Tech- Steve Payne’s club is off a disappointing 4-12 OVC season, and failed to qualify for the OVC Tournament despite having one of the best frontcourts in the league with Dwan Caldwell and Charles Jackson. Simply put, the Golden Eagles didn’t have the backcourt to keep up with the rest of the OVC, and things don’t necessarily look any better this year with Caldwell and Jackson gone. The Golden Eagles were done in by turnovers and poor outside shooting, something of a recurring theme during Payne’s tenure in Cookeville. With the frontcourt gone, the team will be more perimeter oriented, which like I mentioned, doesn’t exactly portend a turnaround. The fate of TTU’s season likely lies with JR Shirmane Thomas. Thomas has the most talent on the roster, but is coming off a brutal year where he posted a 34% turnover rate, and shot 0-22 from 3 en route to a 67.6 ORtg. Unless he shows a massive improvement in efficiency, TTU won’t show a massive improvement in their win total. Thomas is joined by SR PG Torrance Rowe, a steady ball handler on a team of unsteady ball handlers, and he has a decent jump shot. Aleksa Jugovic is another potential ball handler and has potential as a shooter. High scoring JUCO transfer Hakeem Rogers will see immediate minutes, as will FR combo guard Tre Hansbrough. Savonte Frazier is eligible after a redshirt season, and could see some minutes at PG. There’s some length on the wing with Mason Ramsey, Markell Henderson, and Josiah Moore, and with all the backcourt depth, Payne would be well served to amp up the pressure and join the rest of the OVC. The new frontcourt is highlighted by a pair of freshmen in Courtney Alexander II and Micaiah Henry.

WEST

1) Murray State- The Racers are off a 29-6, undefeated OVC regular season, but suffered heartbreak in the OVC final in one of the best basketball games of the year. The Racers have to move on from the Steve Prohm/Cam Payne era, and there’s continuity with Prohm assistant Matt McMahon taking over, and it’s not like the Racers haven’t been put in this situation as a program before as a result of their sustained success. McMahon will keep the crowd and recruit pleasing uptempo offense, but there might be some rough patches without Payne leading the way and the athleticism of Jarvis Williams and big body of Jonathan Fairell gone. The story line last year was all about Payne, but Williams and Fairell were so key on the glass, particularly on the offensive end. With Payne and TJ Sapp gone, Jeffrey Moss will be relied upon to be the go to scorer. Moss was a 42% three point shooter last year, but can he keep up that up as he transitions from a complementary role to the go to role? Moss is joined by JUCO transfer Bryce Jones, who will take over the lion share of ball handling duties, along with Kedrick Flomo, who could be poised for a major jump this year. Justin Seymour, another 42% three point shooter, returns as well. Chattanooga transfer Gee McGhee is a solid rebounder and defender out of the backcourt and can really get to the rim and FT line off the dribble. He’ll play a key role for the Racers this year. The Racers will get a huge boost in the backcourt when Texas transfer Damarcus Croaker is eligible in the second semester. Croaker will immediately be one of the best raw talents in the OVC. The frontcourt has to replace Williams and Fairell, a tall order, but AJ Patty from Vincennes and FR Brion Sanchious will provide immediate help. Sanchious could be the best rim protector and rebounder on the team as freshman. With returnees Wayne Langston and Terron Gilmore, the frontcourt should eventually round into form. Once again, this is a reload, not a rebuild, in Murray.

2) UT Martin- Heath Schroyer led an unbelievable turnaround in his first year at the helm, taking the Skyhawks to a deep CIT run, as his sag off the three and have all 5 defenders crash the glass philosophy paid immediate dividends. The Skyhawks were 14th nationally in defensive rebound rate, and another strong season appears to be in order. However, one of the best three point shooting teams in the country lost two key components in PG Deville Smith and Marshun Newell, who shot over 300 three pointers combined last year. Biggest question is who replaces Smith at PG? It’s tough to envision Schroyer wanting to move Alex Anderson on the ball. Anderson shot 48% on 186 three point attempts, the 7th best mark in the country, which led to a 129.6 ORtg in OVC play. It’s not likely that Schroyer wants to tinker with that kind of efficiency by moving him on the ball. That leaves SR Terrence Durham and JUCO transfer Jalen Variste as the ball handlers. Schroyer added a pair of bruising 6’5 off guards in JUCOs James Harrison and Kedar Edwards, but the real key to the backcourt is possibly Richard Lee, who is poised for a breakout year and could lead the Skyhawks in scoring. The wings are strength for Schroyer with Twymond Howard returning. Howard can guard 3/4/5 and can move bigger defenders away from the rim on offense, and he proved to be and excellent rebounder in Schroyer’s system. The return of Myles Taylor from injury is an interesting facet of UTM’s season. Taylor was the star before Schroyer took over and an injury derailed his season. Hopefully Taylor accepts whatever role is available for him, because he can be an outstanding rebounder and explosive around the rim when healthy. The frontcourt is rounded out by glass crashers Javier Martinez, Chandler Rowe, and 7’2 project Nick Detlev. The Skyhawks should continue to build on the success of last season, but I’m not sure they have enough to catch the Racers in the West.

3) Eastern Illinois- Great year for Jay Spoonhour and the Panthers, as they finished at 9-7 and won a postseason game on the road. Spoonhour has to replace Reggie Smith and Chris Olivier though, with Olivier glass production being the toughest challenge, as a poor rebounding team lost their only effective rebounder. The good news is that a solid core returns with Lil T Johnston at the point. Johnston posted the third highest assist rate in OVC play, and shot 58% from 3 when opponents dared to back off him. 6’4 wing Trae Anderson returns and provides a little bit of everything, and is the best pure scorer on the team. 6’11 Luke Piotrowski has to be able to provide 20-25 minutes consistently this year, otherwise the frontcourt is going to be a mess. A healthy Luke Norman and Anthony Johnson are going to be relied upon to help Anderson with the scoring load. Key additions this year are lengthy shooter Aleksa Novakovic out of Findlay Prep, 6’8 big man Lucas Jones out of Kansas, and high scoring JUCO combo guard AJ Riley. Spoonhour also hit the St. Louis area hard, bringing in Aboubacar Diallo, Marshawn Blackmon, and Casey Teson.

4) Austin Peay- Dave Loos enters his 26th season at the helm in Clarksville, and things don’t necessarily look much better than seasons 23-25, which saw the Govs fail to qualify for the OVC Tournament. It’s fairly shocking to realize that Austin Peay hasn’t made an appearance in their own conference tournament since 2011-12, and they haven’t won a game since the 08-09 tournament. The heart of Loos’ team this year is big man Chris Horton, who averaged a double double last year. He’s the most dominant big in a guard heavy league, but Loos has to get things sorted out in the backcourt. Josh Robinson returns as the only capable shooter in the backcourt, and Khalil Davis returns on the wing, but it’s all new faces surrounding them. Point guard has been a major issue for Loos basically since Caleb Brown graduated four years ago. FR Zac Glotta and JUCO Terrell Thompson should fill the role this year. Thompson is a more transition oriented PG, while Glotta is a better shooter and probably works better in the half court. JUCO teammates John Murry and Kenny Jones figure to have an immediate impact on the wing for a team in dire need of consistent scoring options. A healthy Chris Porter-Bunton will help as well. Behind Horton, the frontcourt is thin. 6’8 Assane Diop came on strong at the end of last season, and basically provides the only option up front besides Horton. For a near long decade stretch, Austin Peay was a dominant force in the OVC. Now they’re looking to simply make the OVC Tournament. The Loos era may be drawing to a close, as the APSU has failed to keep up as the conference has improved with additions like Belmont.

5) Southeast Missouri State- Another disappointing SEMO season led to the dismissal of Dickey Nutt after 6 years. Rick Ray was given the job after a fairly bizarre hiring process, but was ultimately a good hire. Ray is a top notch recruiter, especially at the mid major level. Ray inherits a decently talented core with SO PG Marcus Wallace, SR shooter Isiah Jones (45% from 3 in OVC play), and versatile JR Antonius Cleveland. Cleveland is the key because of his versatility at 2/3/4 and he’s an efficient scorer around the rim for his size. The backcourt is rounded out by JT Jones and Jamaal Calvin, who could have a breakout year shooting the ball. The frontcourt was always a strength under Nutt because of Tyler Stone and Nino Johnson, but there figures to be a major shift towards a more backcourt oriented attack under Ray. FR Tony Anderson, JUCO Clyde Santee, and FAMU transfer Trey Kellum are likely to see the most minutes in a nebulous frontcourt.

6) SIU Edwardsville- It doesn’t look likely that SIUE is going to build on their first non losing OVC season (8-8 last year), as new head coach Jon Harris is in something of rebuild mode after the dismissal of Lennox Forrester. Harris was known as a frontcourt developer under Cuonzo Martin, and thus SIUE should show immediate improvement on the glass, an area of weakness last year. Harris simply doesn’t have a whole lot to work with this year, as all five starters from last year are gone. That being said, Harris brought in some immediate help in the frontcourt with UNC Wilmington transfer Yemi Makanjuola (who Harris initially helped bring to Tennessee). Makanjuola is a 6’10 rim protector and will make an immediate difference on the glass. Harris also has former Tulane big man 6’10 Grant Fiorentino, SO Jalen Henry, and 6’8 Michael Chandler to work with in the frontcourt. The backcourt is led by CJ Carr, who will take over for Donivine Stewart at the point. Carr was a fantastic on ball defender last year as a freshman, and was 7th in assist rate in OVC play, but he has to reduce the turnovers. 6’6 shooter Jake Newton should have a larger role this year, as will 6’6 Keenan Simmons. Burak Eslik, a 6’4 product from Turkey, is my early pick to lead the team in scoring. Josh White, a South Dakota State transfer, returns home to Edwardsville and will help the backcourt when he’s eligible for the second semester. The Cougars may struggle in Harris’ first year, but I think you’ll see an improved commitment to rebounding and protecting the rim.

2015-16 Horizon League Preview

1 Oct

Five Horizon League story lines to watch…

1) Northern Kentucky hops over from the ASun to join the Horizon League, giving the conference 10 teams again and making travel schedules more equitable.

2) Three new coaches enter the league as well, John Brannen with NKU, Linc Darner at Green Bay, and Steve McClain at UIC. All three appear to be solid hires, particularly McClain at UIC.

3) The talent level conference wide is increasing with big time recruiting classes coming in this year, particularly at UIC, Valpo, Oakland, and Detroit. That’s good news for a conference that has held steady in the top half of ratings indices, something that wasn’t expected by most after Butler left the league.

4) Valpo is massive and loaded, and has a potential at-large bid type of roster, but a host of challengers right behind them, especially if they can’t stay healthy (already something of an issue).

5) What in the world is going on at Cleveland State? The mass defections are indicative of the type of talent Waters can bring to CSU, but the sheer volume of departures is troubling.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Valparaiso– Bryce Drew’s squad is loaded this year. The Crusaders can legitimately go 11 deep, and the second team could probably start for three or four of this year’s Horizon teams. They return everyone from last year’s title team and add PG Lexus Williams, who should be rounding into form at the end of November after missing all of last year. Valpo’s calling card this year is length and depth, from rim to perimeter. The Crusaders were 33rd nationally in defensive efficiency last year and 14th nationally in 2PT% defense (both tops in the HL), and have a chance to be top 10 nationally in both of those categories this year. The offense had some issues at time last year, particularly with turnovers, but with Williams back and Keith Carter healthy for a full season (hopefully), that should be less of an issue. The backcourt also returns 6’8 Swiss Army knife E. Victor Nickerson, but he’s out until at least November after requiring surgery on his right wrist, just a few months after surgery on his left wrist. Darien Walker and Tevonn Walker also return. Darien is a solid three point shooter while Tevonn can really attack off the dribble, but both might see a minutes reduction with the addition of 6’7 Shane Hammink from LSU. The athletic wing is almost an unfair addition to already loaded squad, and I haven’t even mentioned David Skara yet, another wing with absurd height at 6’8. The frontcourt is just as loaded, if not more so. Vashil Fernandez was granted another year of eligibility, which means the 6’10 Jamaican could repeat as the HL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Fernandez was sixth nationally in block rate last year. 6’9 Alec Peters returns, and the junior should have a massive year with all the other options to keep defenses off of him. Peters is more than a “stretch 4” despite shooting 47% from 3 last year. He was 4th in the HL in defensive rebounding rate, 9th in offensive rebounding rate, and draws a ton of contact against smaller defenders. He posted an absurd 124.7 ORtg last year. The frontcourt is bolstered by the return of 6’7 Jubril Adekoya and the addition of 7’1 (and potentially still growing) Derrick Smits. The depth at 4 and 5 could allow Peters to play more 3 this year, and abuse smaller defenders even further, and create a ton of matchup issues when Drew wants to go jumbo. The one area I’m concerned about is Valpo’s offense in a 30 second shot clock. This team was 284th in pace last year, and they like to grind you to pulp with their height. They don’t rely on ball pressure and they don’t get out in transition a lot. The game against Carleton on their Canadian trip highlighted some of these fears, as the 24 second shot clock there played into the hands of the smaller, quicker Carleton, who won with a barrage of three pointers, something I’m sure Greg Kampe took note of at Oakland (Drew rested Peters and Fernandez though, so those fears are quite tempered). That being said, I think the Crusaders are a heavy favorite to repeat as HL champs, and with nonconference games against Iona, at Rhode Island, at Oregon and Oregon State, and a home and home with Belmont, they could make a case for an at large bid with a few wins, if necessary.

2. Oakland– Greg Kampe’s Golden Grizzlies are something of an antidote to Valpo’s monolithic height. They’re smaller (although Kampe added some major frontcourt help), quicker, and more efficient offensively. That’s all thanks to point guard Kay Felder, one of the best in the country. No one played higher percentage of their teams’ minutes in the entire country than Felder did last year. He was sixth nationally in assist rate with an absurd 41.3 assist rate in HL play, all while scoring 18.1ppg (mostly by getting to the FT line whenever he wanted to). Joining Felder in the backcourt is two Big12 transfers, Sherron Dorsey-Walker from Iowa State and Martez Walker from Texas (although Walker’s eligibility is shrouded in a bit of mystery, he made the offseason trip to Spain, but didn’t play). Felder, Dorsey-Walker, and Walker all played together at Detroit’s Pershing High, so chemistry won’t be an issue. Sharp shooters Max Hooper and Nick Daniels will settle into specialty three point shooter roles, giving Oakland a dynamic backcourt built for the 30 second shot clock. The frontcourt should be solid as well, despite the losses of Corey Petros and Dante Williams. 6’8 Tommie McCune returns as an athletic 4 who can step out and hit the three. An unspecified violation of team rules kept him from playing in the trip to Spain. Hopefully it’s nothing more serious. 6’7 Jalen Hayes returns as well after a promising FR year. Hayes is a versatile defender who needs to up his rebounding game with the loss of Petros. 6’9 Percy Gibson returns home from Iowa State and could start immediately. Kampe did an outstanding job of addressing a weakness with the addition of Gibson and FR Xavier Hill-Mais and 6’11 Brad Brechting, who Kampe raved about after the trip to Spain. Femi Olujobi returns as well to add some depth to the front line. Kampe was able to force Valpo into their highest possession game in Oakland’s OT win over the Crusaders, but were pummeled in the frontcourt in the rematch at a speed more suited for Valpo. Oakland is just as loaded in the backcourt with Felder leading the way, but are beefed up in the frontcourt. This should be an interesting race in the Horizon.

3. Milwaukee– Rob Jeter and Panthers finished 9-7 in the HL in a year that they knew couldn’t result in a trip to the postseason, and that was without 6’6 wing Austin Arians, who returns from an ankle injury this season. The Panthers won their final 4 games, three of which were on the road, and seem primed for another under the radar Horizon run. The return of Arians is big, as his shooting and length on the perimeter was a key to the Panthers’ HL title run two years ago. The backcourt has a big question mark though in terms of replacing do everything PG Steve McWhorter. SO Justin Jordan is the most likely candidate to slide into that role, but he won’t be able to replicate McWhorter’s numbers across the board. JeVon Lyle is also a candidate at PG, but he’s far more effective off the ball. 6’5 Cody Wichmann is an efficiency monster on the wing because of his shooting, and he’s a solid, versatile defender who gives Jeter some nice length on the perimeter with Arians. Akeem Springs returns to the backcourt as well, and 6’4 RS FR Brock Stull is another pure shooter to add to the mix this year. Former Murray State commit JayQuan McCloud has the most upside in Jeter’s incoming class, and he could push Jordan and Lyle for minutes because of his ability to penetrate, a key with all the lengthy shooters the Panthers will have on the court. Last season was the first time since 2009 that a Jeter team didn’t finish in the top 30 nationally in 3 point attempt rate, and they only slipped to 54th. With Arians back, I fully expect them to be near the top of that category once again, but Jeter needs to find the PG that can get them the ball. The front court is thin, but returns Matt Tiby and JJ Panoske. Tiby led the HL in defensive rebounding rate and draws a lot of contact in addition to knocking down the occasional corner 3. Panoske is the only rim protector on the roster, but also capable of drawing his man away from the rim on the offensive end. The depth and athleticism is still lacking inside though, and no team gave up more points at the rim in HL play than the Panthers last year. That’s a big problem when you have to face Valpo.

4. Detroit– Juwan Howard’s eligibility at Detroit expired, which means Ray McCallum has a lot of offense to replace. Howard was 3rd in % of shots in the HL, 14th in % of minutes, shot 47% from three in HL play, and posted a 110.5 ORtg despite having the ball in his hands all the time. Despite all of that lost production, the Titans’ offense might actually run a bit smoother this year. Things often devolved into four guys watching Howard back down his man and take a jumper (Detroit was 34th in the country in terms of the amount of 2 point jump shots they attempted). McCallum has a lot of talent and athleticism on the roster, and shots should be distributed a little more evenly this year. That talent starts with Paris Bass, who returns for his SO year. Bass added 10 pounds of muscle to his frame in the off season, and looks like he could be an even more effective block scorer this year. He also proved capable of hitting the 3, going 12-25 from outside. Bass is explosive around the rim and has proven capable of being able to defend the three and four, and if he adds some ball skills to his offensive repertoire, he’s an NBA level talent. With the addition of 6’7 RS FR Aaron Foster-Smith and the return of 6’7 Chris Jenkins (who looked great at the end of the year), the Titans could have the most athletic frontcourt in the league. 6’10 Patrick Ackerman and 6’6 Jaleel Hogan round out the rest of the front line, which needs to show a major improvement in protecting the rim. The Titans’ 2PT% defense was among the worst in the country, and teams shot 69.8% at the rim against them, the third worst mark in the country. With the perceived improvement in the frontcourt, the biggest issue facing this team is the lack of a true point guard. Jarod Williams is the incumbent, and is unlikely to be unseated, but he had major turnover issues and doesn’t have a jump shot. Williams is capable off the dribble though. Underachieving Carlton Brundidge probably isn’t the answer at PG, but has the talent to provide a breakout year off the ball. FR Josh McFolley and and JR Matthew Grant are both capable of filling in at PG if Williams’ inefficiency continues to be an issue. 6’5 SR wing Anton Wilson is line for an uptick in scoring with Howard gone. Wilson shot 40% from three in HL play last year, and is a good decision maker when he has the ball. The Titans have as much talent and athleticism as anyone in the HL, it’s just a matter of finding a way to make it all come together. With the amount of mobile length McCallum has at his disposal, I expect some more ball pressure and for the Titans to continue to play at the fastest pace in the HL.

5. Cleveland State– Gary Waters basically lost all of his scoring and rebounding from a year ago. Anton Grady left for Wichita State, Trey Lewis for Louisville, Kaza Keane for Carleton, and Marlin Mason and Charlie Lee graduated. That’s 83% of last year’s scoring. The list of players leaving for high major conferences is indicative of the talent level Waters brings to CSU, but that list is disturbingly large, and a cause for concern. Andre Yates and Terrell Hales will likely take over in the backcourt this year. Yates isn’t the type of PG Waters usually utilizes in his three point heavy offense, but he doesn’t have much of a choice. The good news is that Yates and Hales are both excellent on ball defenders, and will thrive in Waters’ zone press. The success of the zone press will dictate if this CSU can score enough to win consistently this year. Kennesaw State transfer Myles Hamilton likely has a much larger role in the backcourt this year, as do returning wings Kenny Carpenter and Derek Sloan. The frontcourt features the return of Vinny Zollo, who is an effective roaming big, but has to be anchored more to the lane in Grady’s absence. The frontcourt does receive a significant boost with a solid influx of talent. Jono Janssen is 6’9 and can play on the perimeter, and could develop into one of the tougher matchups in the HL. Jibri Blount is undersized but effective around the rim, and Jeron Rogers is the best of the incoming FR, and could start immediately because of his versatility. 6’7 Demonte Flannigan could be poised for a breakout JR year. The frontcourt could develop into a major strength for this team, while the backcourt could struggle offensively, which is an odd thing to write about a Gary Waters team.

6. Green Bay– Linc Darner comes if from Florida Southern to replace Brian Wardle. Darner is fresh off a D2 title, and will bring a faster, more three point reliant style to Green Bay. Darner’s Florida Southern teams were successful with 3/4 court pressure and finding quick threes in transition, which is a nice philosophy to incorporate with the 30 second shot clock. Phoenix fans should expect to see a fairly significant departure from the Wardle era teams that routinely ranked in the 300s in the 3PT attempt rate. Darner’s first task comes in finding a new PG with the incomparable Keifer Sykes gone, but Carrington Love seems to be a natural fit for Darner’s system. Love will likely rely on JUCO transfer Charles Cooper as his running mate. Cooper has an excellent chance at leading the Phoenix in scoring this year. Darner is likely to almost strictly run three guard sets with Khalil Small being the third guard, especially since Small showed a nose for the ball defensively in his limited minutes last year. This pushes do everything Jordan Fouse to the “4”, which is ok because his athleticism and versatility could be problematic for more lumbering fours in the HL. Fouse is the heart of the team this year, and he’ll be highly effective in Darner’s up the line press and traps. Fouse was 9th in assist rate in the HL, 7th in block rate, 1st in steal rate, and 7th in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. His ability to play and defend anywhere on the floor is a huge asset for Darner in his first D1 season. The rest of the frontcourt is rounded out with Kenneth Lowe, who will likely be the starting 5. 6’7 Turner Botz will see minutes in Darner’s system because he can shoot the ball. Henry Uwadiae has a ton of size, but seems likely to be ineffective at the pace Darner wants to play. Things are going to look a lot different in Green Bay with Wardle and Sykes gone, but Darner’s style won’t turn fans off, and there’s a lot of upside on this roster within that style.

7. Wright State– Billy Donlon and the Raiders endured a brutal season that saw them slog through an obscene amount of injuries that culminated in losing their final 10 games of the season. They were the worst offense in the HL, they couldn’t rebound, and with the limited roster, Donlon couldn’t bring the ball pressure he normally employs. Fortunately for WSU fans, some key players return from injury, namely JT Yoho, and Donlon added Rhode Island grad transfer Biggie Minnis, a player who could thrive at the point in Donlon’s system. Minnis will be joined by Joe Thomasson, a solid defender who makes good decisions when backing down smaller 2s, and sharp shooting SO Grant Benzinger, who shot 44% from 3 in HL play in his FR year. The return of Yoho and Steven Davis from injuries gives Donlon a solid set of wings, and the addition of 6’8 Daniel Mortensen of Denmark gives WSU a potential stretch 4, something they’ve generally lacked in HL play. The rest of the frontcourt is rounded out with Michael Karena returning at the 5. Karena is a serviceable big, but incredibly foul prone, and there isn’t a lot of height behind him. With a full roster on his hands (for now), Donlon will likely amp up the ball pressure. Wright State was 124th nationally in defensive turnover rate last year with that injury limited roster. In Donlon’s prior 4 seasons at WSU, the Raiders finished 6th, 15th, 4th, and 12th nationally in defensive turnover rate.

8. UIC– The Flames ended last year on a bit of high note by winning their last 3 games with 2 wins in the Horizon League Tournament, including an upset over Oakland, all of which came without Paris Burns. That late season flourish wasn’t enough to save Howard Moore’s job though, and Steve McClain takes over after spending the last five seasons at Indiana as Tom Crean’s top assistant and game planner. McClain is the best hire in the Horizon in my opinion, and the talent level at UIC is already immediately on the rise. 6’7 Dikembe Dixson headlines the best freshman class in the HL. Dixson was offered by nearly every SEC school and DePaul, but brings his versatile slashing game to the Pavilion, which will help improve one of the worst 2PT% offenses in the country. Dominique Matthews is the other prized FR in the backcourt. The local combo guard could end up leading the Flames in scoring this year. McClain also bolstered the woeful frontcourt with 6’9 Julian Torres, who decommitted from Green Bay after Brian Wardle left, and another three star recruit, Hassan Thomas from Dallas. McClain also added Drew Hackett from Muncie, a high scoring prep PG who will back up Paris Burns this year. Speaking of Burns, McClain was able to convince him to return to the team after he left for the final four games of year. Burns was a pleasant surprise in HL play last year, racking up the second highest assist rate in league play when he was on the floor. Hopefully Burns has everything back in order, because he’s the only true PG on the team right now. Returnees Markese McGuire, Lance Whitaker, and Gabe Snider will be pushed by Matthews and Dixson for minutes at the 2/3. Snider and McGuire are decent perimeter shooters while Whitaker’s FR season was derailed a bit by injuries. In short, McClain has some options to work with in the backcourt. The frontcourt is likely to be much improved (really nowhere to go but up for that unit) with the addition of the FR Torres and Thomas to returnees to Jake Wiegand and TO Odiase. The enigmatic Wiegand could benefit from a new head coach, while Odiase hopes to build off a successful FR season with better health this year. Odiase is as athletic around the rim on both ends of the court as anyone in the HL, and we could got a glimpse of what he’s capable of when healthy in the HL Tournament. Odiase and Wiegand are key on the defensive glass, as McClain proved at Wyoming and as an assistant at IU that his teams thrive on pushing the pace after crashing the defensive glass, and focusing on taking away the three point line in the halfcourt. That’s a sound plan for a young, athletic team, and one that had the worst 3PT% defense (although luck plays a large part in that number) in the country last year. Things are looking up at the Pavilion.

9. Northern Kentucky-┬áThe Norse are making the jump from the ASun to the Horizon League, and with a new head coach, John Brannen, in their final D1 transition year. Brannen takes over for Dave Bezold in Highland Heights after six years with Anthony Grant at Alabama. Known foremost as a recruiter, Brannen should have the talent level at NKU up to Horizon League standards in short order (already has former Bama commit Jeff Garrett coming in next year). As for this year, Brannen will be without NKU’s star FR PG from last year, Tayler Persons, who transferred back home to Ball State. The loss of Persons is enormous, because it leaves the Norse without a true PG, and likely pushes Todd Johnson back on the ball. Johnson, along with Tyler White, thrived from behind the arc with Persons and Chad Jackson penetrating. Johnson will likely see his 38% three point shooting mark take a hit, but he’s the best ball handler and best on ball defender on the roster. Deontae Cole and Cole Murray return on the wing and have nice length at 6’6 and 6’7 on the perimeter. The frontcourt is led by undersized but highly efficient Jalen Billups. Billups hit at 70% on 2PTers last year, the third best percentage in the country, which led to a 120 ORtg. Billups is a great rebounder and rim protector as well. Billups will face stiffer frontcourt competition in the HL, but he remains the heart of the team. Jordan Garnett, Jared Bryant, and hefty FR Drew McDonald join him on the front line.

10. Youngstown State- Miserable year for Jerry Slocum and the Penguins last year, as they suffered through a two win conference season (three if you want to count their win over NKU at the end of non conference play). Slocum essentially has an entirely new team this year, as nearly everyone graduated or left the program. The frontcourt is the strength of the team this year, with Bobby Hain returning at the 5, the lone returning starter from last year. Hain is effective on the block, a solid if not flashy big in the HL. He’s joined by SO Sidney Umude and RS FR Bryce Nickels in the frontcourt. Umude and Nickels have the most potential on this team, and need to have breakout years if the Penguins are going to make any sort of significant move up the standings. The backcourt will likely be lead by 6’5 FR SG Jordan Andrews. Andrews is a smooth wing with a great shooting stroke, and should lead the Penguins in scoring this year in Marcus Keene’s role. 6’7 Matt Donlon, formerly at South Dakota State, will see a lot minutes because of his size and shooting ability, along with 6’2 Cameron Morse and 6’3 JUCO transfer Brett Frantz. The PG role will be filled by now eligible Francisco Santiago, a true pass first point guard who could be in store for a breakout year in the HL.