Archive | August, 2016

2016-2017 Colonial Preview

26 Aug

TEAM TO BEAT: Defending CAA Tournament champs UNCW once again looks like the team to beat thanks to the return of 4 out of 5 starters and the addition of a few key players that really fit Kevin Keatts’ Pitino-esque, pressure heavy system that places a lot of emphasis on versatility and athleticism. Even with the dismissal of Trey Grundy, Keatts has tremendous guard/wing talent and depth, and can force a lot of mismatches at the 4 as well by sacrificing height for speed in a smaller lineup, especially in a league that doesn’t have a ton of offensive talent at that position. In the backcourt, Jordon Talley, Denzel Ingram, and MTSU transfer JaQuel Richmond are all capable of running the point, with Ingram being the best shooter of the three and Talley and Richmond being plus lane penetrators who can draw contact. Off the ball, Richmond is a capable spot shooter off penetrate and kick action, and as mentioned, Ingram can be lethal, shooting 43% from 3 in CAA play. Keatts also added former Old Dominion shooter Ambrose Mosely to the mix. Mosely was a volume three point shooter in an offense that shunned the three, and he’ll fit in defensively, where quick hands are valued in Keatts’ system. The top incoming FR for Keatts is Jaylen Fornes, who should see immediate minutes at the 2 because of his pure scoring ability, both around the rim and behind the arc. The wings in Keatts’ offense are capable of playing 2/3/4, and this unit is loaded with length, versatility, and athleticism. Chris Flemmings headlines this corps with his ability to shoot the 3, get to the line at a high rate, and defend in the paint and on the perimeter. His style of play is the embodiment of what Keatts wants to implement on both ends of the floor. SO CJ Bryce is burgeoning offensive talent at 6’5 (especially if his jump shot continues to develop, and he showed flashes that it would), and is arguably Keatts’ best perimeter defender. Flemmings and Bryce are also relied upon for the bulk of the glass cleaning duties in smaller, quicker lineups, and both performed admirably in that regard, but that area was a major weakness as a team. The frontcourt is basically a revolving door of whoever Keatts thinks is capable of running the floor that night. Chuck Ogbodo and Marcus Bryan both protect the rim well when they’re on the floor, but staying on the floor and out of foul trouble is a major issue for both, especially Ogbodo. Devontae Cacok could see a bump in minutes as a SO, especially since he’s the best rebounder of the three, and FR Matt Elmore will have his opportunities for minutes as well. Despite the seeming lack of contribution from the frontcourt, the Seahawks still had the best 2PT% defense in the CAA, and allowed threes at the lowest rate in the league. A lot of that is Keatts’ defensive scheme, but it’s also a testament to the athleticism and versatility the Seahawks have at the 3.

IF NOT THEM THEN: There are plenty of other viable contenders to take down UNCW, but it’s hard to overlook two teams that dominated the league offensively and the other defensively. Let’s start with Charleston, the CAA’s best defensive team. Earl Grant has turned the Cougars into a defensive juggernaut in just two seasons, and both with limited personnel due to coaching change turnover and then a rash of injuries last year. Despite losing his three top guards to season ending injuries, the Cougars finished with league’s best defense at .94ppp, which was good enough for 11th nationally. With essentially everyone back (Canyon Barry only played in 1.5 CAA games before his shoulder injury anyway), the Cougars should once again be one of the best defensive teams in the entire country. The issue will be how big of a jump can they make offensively, where they were the league’s least efficient unit. The dichotomy between the offensive efficiency numbers and the defensive efficiency stats are wide, as the Cougars had the highest TO rate on both ends, shut teams down at the rim but couldn’t score there themselves, and limited 3PTAs as well as any team in the league west of UNCW, but couldn’t shoot from outside. That should change this year, as C of C has a lot of backcourt talent and depth thanks to the return of two key guards from injury and the addition of two long freshmen who can shoot from outside. C of C is set at PG, as Joe Chealey returns from injury, pass first defense oriented Payton Hulsey returns (arguably the best on ball defender in the CAA), and rapidly rising SO scorer Marquise Pointer is back as well. With Chealey back, Pointer can move off the ball more, and Chealey gives the offense another potent penetrator as well. Off the ball, Grant Riller could prove to be the teams best pure scorer if he’s 100% healthy. Riller can score off the dribble and can be a lethal shooter. Additionally, Cam Johnson returns, bringing length and underrated versatile defense to the perimeter, in addition to his shooting ability. The wings get a boost with a pair of freshmen joining 6’6 spot shooter Evan Bailey and 6’7 burgeoning SO Jarrell Brantley. Brantley is the key piece there with his excellent rebounding ability and efficient mid range game, but 6’7 Jaylen McManus will help immediately because of his shooting stroke, as will 6’9 Chevez Goodwin, who gives Grant the stretch 4 he’s been looking for. Goodwin’s minutes will be interesting, because you’re not going to see the floor consistently for Grant if you can’t defend, and Goodwin doesn’t appear to be ready body wise defensively. The rest of the frontcourt is comprised of Nick Harris, a solid block scorer when necessary and capable rebounder and rim protector, and Terrance O’Donohue, an excellent rebounder when he can stay on the floor for ~20 minutes. This is unquestionably going to be the best defensive team in the league, so the question is whether the offense can make a major jump from the .958ppp they posted in CAA play last year. With Chealey and Riller back, I’m betting they can, and that arguably makes C of C the team to beat. Remember, the Cougars very nearly knocked off UNCW in the CAA tournament last year, despite being shorthanded. A jump to the top 4 of the CAA is the floor for this team, and a CAA title is the ceiling.

CONTENDERS: Tony Shaver’s 4 out 1 in high motion offense at William & Mary was the league’s most efficient for the third straight season, and that was despite losing Marcus Thornton. There’s little doubt that the Tribe will once again be the cream of the CAA crop offensively, even without do everything Terry Tarpey and hyper efficient big man Sean Sheldon, but the defense was a bottom half unit, and I don’t necessarily see how that improves dramatically this year. That offense though will be just fine with 6’7 inside/out threat Omar Prewitt leading the way, along with fellow SR sharpshooter Daniel Dixon. David Cohn returns at PG, where he had an outstanding first season in Shaver’s offense after transferring from Colorado State. Cohn had the second highest ORtg in the league, shot 47% from 3 in CAA play (best in the league), and had the 5th highest assist rate and 6th highest FT rate in the league, where he hit at 84%. 6’4 Connor Burchfield, a lights out spot up shooter returns to the backcourt, as does 6’6 Greg Malinowski, another 4 out option, and an underrated defender. Paul Rowley could have a bigger role on the wing as well, given his outstanding shooting ability. The Tribe were gashed at the rim (and from outside when Shaver went zone), and Jack Whitman and Hunter Seacat are the only returnees in the frontcourt, which isn’t necessarily a big deal given Shaver’s system. Whitman is a capable rim protector who fouls a ton, and Seacat showed some promise in a February stretch. The offense will once again be at or near the top of the league, but can the Tribe outscore opponents all the way to their first NCAA Tournament trip? Hard to foresee a major shift defensively, especially in the first year sans Tarpey.

Joe Mihalich loses the backbone of his Hofstra squad, with Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley graduating. That duo followed him from Niagara to Hempstead, and nearly took the Pride to the NCAA Tournament. No coach in the country had a shorter bench than Michalich last year, so replacing Green and Tanksley’s (and fellow SR Denton Koon) minutes and massive production is going to be a chore, but Mihalich has the talent in place to keep playing the efficient, up tempo basketball that he’s known for. Replacing one of the best PGs in the country will fall on Hampton transfer Deron Powers and SO Desure Buie. Powers is a perfect fit in Mihalich’s offense with his ability to attack off the dribble and keep defenses honest with a plus jump shot, while Buie is already a better defender than Green on the ball (hot take!) and his offense will come along. Off the ball, the Pride are going to be reliant on a couple of talented underclassmen to help SR sharpshooter Brian Bernardi. The highlight of Mihalich’s recruiting class is Eli “Pemba” Pemberton, an athletic 6’4 off guard who will fill Tanksley’s shoes immediately. Pemberton is already a better rebounder and defender than Tanksley, but might not have the jump shot quite yet to complement his dribble drive game. That said, few two guards or even threes can match up with Pemberton’s athleticism, and he’s an outstanding finisher at the rim. SO Justin Wright-Foreman should also see a major increase in minutes in his second season in Hempstead. The frontcourt is also solid with the return of Rokas Gustys, the best paint scorer in the CAA. Gustys shot an absurd 69% on his two point attempts in CAA play, and drew a ton of contact when he did miss. He also led the CAA in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate, while improving his block rate and significantly lowering his foul rate. If Gustys could improve his 42% FT shooting, he’d be a 20ppg scorer. In short, Gustys is a major stud who might see a dip in efficiency early while Powers and Buie settle in at PG. The talent around Gustys in the frontcourt sees a boost too with the addition of JUCO Ty Greer, who could start at the 4 immediately, given Mihalich versatility and athleticism at the position, and the return of veterans Andre Walker and Jamall Robinson. Walker is an athletic rim protector when he sees the floor, and Robinson can fill in gaps 2-4, the type of guy Mihalich’s bench could have used last year. FR Stafford Trueheart should see minutes at the 4 as well, giving Mihalich at least some semblance of depth this year. It appears Clemson transfer and floor stretcher Ibrahim Djambo isn’t going to suit up for the Pride after all, but if he does gain eligibility come second semester, that would be a major boon for Mihalich, as there aren’t a lot of 6’10 guys with his athleticism roaming the floor in the CAA. If the Powers/Buie combo is working at PG (and I think it will), Pemberton is as good as advertised, and Gustys stays healthy, there’s no reason to think the Pride can’t once again seriously contend for a CAA title, and they might be taking a few teams by surprise early if they think Mihalich has hit the reset button without Green and Tanksley.

SLEEPERS: You know what you’re going to get with Pat Skerry’s Towson squad, and it’s often not going to be pretty. They’re going to bully you on both ends and especially on the glass, where they rebounded at the highest rate in the CAA both offensively and defensively. The Towson Tigers haven’t been influenced in the slightest by the small ball, three point heavy revolution. They want to get the ball as close to the rim as possible, and ideally draw contact in the process, and crash all 5 to the glass when they don’t (10th highest off reb rate nationally, 11th highest FT rate). Skerry’s squad returns Arnaud Adala Moto, who became the embodiment of that style in his just first season at Towson after transferring from Wake Forest. Moto was 2nd in def reb rate, 9th in off reb rate, drew fouls at the highest rate in the CAA, and had the highest usage in the league as a 4. He’s joined in the frontcourt by fellow bruiser Walter Foster, who isn’t much of an offensive threat unless it’s a putback off a missed shot, but he’s arguably the league’s best rim protector and a physical presence in the paint. Johnnie Davis returns at the 3/4 as well, and is far more versatile and a much bigger threat offensively. JR Eddie Keith returns as Skerry’s best overall defender, capable of guarding 1-4 at 6’5, while FR bruiser JJ Matthews is what would happen if Skerry created his own player in a video game. Matthews should step into Timajh Parker-Rivera’s role immediately if he’s 100% healthy from an ACL tear last August. Two other key additions to the frontcourt are RS FR Dennis Tunstall and FR Justin Gorham, who can play the 3/4, and will immediately be the most athletic player on the team. The backcourt returns do everything scorer Mike Morsell, who will be relied upon for ball handling duties with Byron Hawkins leaving the team. Morsell is better served off the ball though, which is where former Cincy guard Deshaun Morman figures to see most of his time. Morman is a major upgrade in the backcourt, but he’s yet another rim attacker for Skerry, and I’m not sure who replaces Hawkins’ three point production. JUCO Brian Starr is a pure PG who should factor into the backcourt equation as well, but Skerry will have to turn to FR Zane Martin and veteran wing Jordan McNeil for any supplementary three point shooting, which of course isn’t really a priority in his offense anyway. Skerry’s frontcourt and wings are loaded with veterans and immediate impact newcomers,giving him his most talented 3-5 to date. That’s a “scary” thought (I’m sorry for that) for CAA opponents given Towson’s style of play. Skerry has traditionally been a no gamble defense guy (his Towson teams have annually finished at or near the bottom 5 in defensive TO rate), but he has some real depth and a lot of athleticism and length across the board, which leads me to believe he’ll amp up some man to man ball pressure, and you might see the Tigers play several possessions faster, something Skerry has mentioned doing several times over the years without showing any real on court results in that regard.

James Madison is moving on from the Matt Brady era, as former Duke Louis Rowe takes the helm, coming over from his most recent assistant job at Bowling Green. Rowe inherits a lot of returning talent from a 21 win team, especially a solid frontcourt, but he’ll have to replace one of the top PGs in the league in Ron Curry. That duty will likely fall to Joey McLean, an excellent shooter and capable ball handler, but not a great playmaker. JUCO VJ Holmes could also see a share of PG duties. Off the ball, fellow JUCO Terrence Johnson comes in as a legit perimeter threat and good rebounder for his size, but the bulk of JMU’s scoring is going to come from the wing, where Rowe inherits a lot of length and athleticism with Shakir Brown and Niagara transfer Ramone Snowden. Brown will be one of the CAA’s more electric scorers in his second D1 season, and is a matchup nightmare at the 4 in a smaller lineup. He’s also the team’s best defender. 6’7 Jackson Kent is a solid spot shooter with length as well. The frontcourt is set with the return of Yohanny Dalembert, who should have a resurgent season after playing hurt for much of last year and seeing a dip in his offensive efficiency. He’s also an elite rebounder and rim protector in the CAA. Tom Vodanovich is solid if unspectacular at the 4, while Dimitri Cabarkapa brings floor stretching ability at 6’10, and should also be fully healthy this year. Point guard is a bit of an issue for Rowe in his first season in Harrisonburg, but he’s known as a developer of perimeter talent, and the wings/frontcourt are among the best units in the CAA.

DEEPER SLEEPERS: Northeastern finished the season strong when Quincy Ford returned from injury, winning 6 of their last 8 and nearly knocking off UNCW in the CAA Tournament, but Ford, David Walker, and Zach Stahl are all gone, and while Bill Coen has a talented young frontcourt, the backcourt is severely lacking. Replacing Ford and Walker is going to be a challenge, as Ford was a matchup nightmare and Walker essentially ran the offense out of the “point forward” position, so Coen’s offensive structure is going to be drastically different this year, but it should return to a more inside out offense like the Scott Eatherton days. The Huskies’ 3PTA rate skyrocketed to the 28th highest in the country, and the highest by any Coen led team, but with Jeremy Miller being the focal point of the offense, they should get back to a more paint oriented scheme. That’s not to say that extremely talented SO Miller can’t hit the three, because he certainly can, but he’s incredibly efficient around the rim. Big things are expected from Quincy’s brother Sajon this year as well. He’s not the perimeter threat that Quincy was, but he has three extra inches on his brother at 6’11, and can be a force inside defensively even if his offensive game hasn’t quite developed yet. In the backcourt, TJ Williams returns as the only proven scorer and ball handler, but I’m skeptical of how efficient he’ll be with the ball in his hands more often and without a consistent jump shot to counter teams sagging off of him defensively. SO Red Gresham showed promise in his first year as a shooter and a plus on ball defender, while incoming FR Shawn Occeus could see major minutes immediately, as he’s likely Coen’s best perimeter scoring threat. Fellow FR Bolden Brace out of Santa Barbara is an intriguing prospect as a 6’6 do everything wing, and could pick up some of Quincy Ford’s production immediately as well. I’m wary of counting out a Bill Coen team, but next year the Huskies should be a legit contender with Tomas Murphy coming in, and PG Vasa Pusica eligible, who was seemingly built for Coen’s offense from what I saw from him at USD.

Matt Matheny’s Davidson style offense at Elon is rarely the issue for the Phoenix, but their defense hasn’t allowed them to consistently rely on simply out jump shooting their opponents. The Phoenix are going to spread the court and attempt threes at an extremely high rate (14th nationally), but stopping anyone at the rim has proven to be problematic. The good news is that the Phoenix return virtually everyone except sharp shooting wing Tanner Samson. Penetrating point guard Luke Eddy, owner of the 4th highest assist rate in CAA play, returns to the backcourt. SO Steven Santa Ana, who has the highest talent ceiling on the roster, should be poised for a breakout year in Samson’s role. Dainan Swoope and Dmitri Thompson return to the backcourt as well. Swoope is a solid jump shooter while Thompson brings versatility and athleticism to the 2/3. Christian Hairston returns to the frontcourt as the team’s best midrange scorer and best defender, while 6’9 SO Tyler Seibring had an outstanding year stretching defenses with a 44% CAA three point shooting percentage. 6’8 JR Brian Dawkins finished the year strong when healthy, and 6’11 Karolis Kundrotas provides some intrigue with his height/shooting touch combo. The Phoenix will once again be one of the better offensive teams in the league, and likely play at or around the fastest pace, but there’s no reason to think the defense makes a big jump and allows them to do much more than hover around .500 in the CAA.

Regime change in Philly with Zach Spiker coming over from West Point to take the helm at Drexel. Spiker is the philosophical opposite of Bruiser Flint in terms of offensive style. Flint’s Drexel teams were always among the slowest in the country, routinely playing in the low to mid 60s possession wise, while simultaneously shooting threes at a low rate. Flint’s teams focused on ball control and running halfcourt action with flex cuts shrinking the floor. Spiker’s Army squads routinely played in the 70s possession wise and were always a top 50 3PTA rate team, while utilizing a lot of drag screens in transition to find open shooters. Just last year, Drexel had the 28th lowest FGA rate in transition, while Army had the 10th highest. Obviously, this is going to be a “transition” year for the Dragons, as Spiker doesn’t necessarily have the roster in place to completely overhaul a team built to slug it out in the halfcourt, but it’s a more natural process (in my opinion) to go from methodical to up tempo than the opposite (ask Dan Earl at VMI). The good news for Spiker is that the cupboard at the DAC isn’t completely empty, despite the typical coaching change rash of transfers. Spiker convinced Sammy Mojica to stay, and he should be a nice fit in Spiker’s system. Spiker will also have former Wake Forest wing Miles Overton available. Overton’s a 6’4 shooter with athleticism, and will be the most talented player Spiker has coached. Spiker has a few options at PG… 1) Mojica is capable of running the point, although he’s better served off the ball 2) Major Canady returns from back to back season ending knee injuries (both before the season even began). If he’s healthy, he’s the best option and is exactly the bigger bodied PG Spiker prefers 3) Kurk Lee comes in from Baltimore as Spiker’s first recruit, and excels in transition, and could be the pick if Spiker wants to really amp up the tempo early. The frontcourt has experience, but completely lacks the long shooter that can thrive in Spiker’s offense. That said, Rodney Williams could see a lot of easy scoring opportunities if he’s willing to run the floor in the Kevin Ferguson role. Drexel’s going to be interesting this year, and certainly a lot more fun to watch, but Spiker needs another year of getting some of “his guys” in place.

THE REST: Should be another long year for Delaware, as the Hens also undergo a regime change with Monte Ross fired (in what seemed like the most protracted way possible). It took Delaware 2.5 months to replace Ross, finally landing on former Notre Dame assistant Martin Ingelsby (it didn’t help that Delaware was also replacing their AD simultaneously). Ingelsby immediately convinced a few key players to stay (although the most important, Kory Holden, left for South Carolina). Ingelsby also returns two key players from injury with outstanding shooter Chivarsky Corbett and 6’9 Eric Carter. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Corbett start at the 4 in a smaller, more offensively efficient lineup, and Carter at the 5. Champ Mosley will take over at PG, while Cazmon Hayes has to be more efficient from outside, as he was sub 30% while shooting nearly 200 threes, or else he could lose minutes to George Washington transfer Darian Bryant (although I’m sure we’re likely to see Bryant spend a good deal of time at the 3). Skye Johnson and Devonne Pinkard both missed large chunks of the season with injuries as well, and Johnson is the team’s best defender when he’s on the floor. Barnett Harris has the highest talent ceiling in the frontcourt, but here we are four years later and things have never really clicked offensively for him. Perhaps Ingelsby can get him going. FR Ryan Daly and Jacob Cushing are both Ingelsby recruits, so seeing the 6’4 guard and 6’8 wing get immediate minutes wouldn’t be a shock.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

  1. Charleston (going against the grain here)
  2. UNCW
  3. Hofstra
  4. William & Mary
  5. Towson
  6. James Madison
  7. Northeastern
  8. Elon
  9. Drexel
  10. Delaware

2016-2017 Big West Preview

22 Aug

TEAM TO BEAT: The top half of the league lost a lot of talent (although most reloaded nicely), while the bottom half has seemingly gotten stronger in the offseason, which means the league should see some parity 1-9. That said, Long Beach State has the most talent in the league, as Dan Monson has done his typical job of quickly stockpiling highly regarded transfers, but additionally has some high level incoming freshmen. The Beach lose Nick Faust (and Travis Hammonds), but the backcourt and wings are overflowing with talent. Justin Bibbins returns as the league’s best PG with his combination of exceptional court vision, speed, penetration off the dribble, and perimeter shooting. He’s the real deal, as he led the Big West in true shooting %, three point %, and FT rate (where he converted at 86%), was 2nd in eFG%, and 5th in assist rate. The talent around him in the backcourt is outstanding as well, and it includes multiple ball handlers like former LMU relentless penetrator (and ridiculous dunker at 6’2) Evan Payne, SO Noah Blackwell (who should have a bigger role than spot shooter this year), and two touted freshmen in Jordan Griffin, a pure scorer, and Cristian Jackson, a PG in the mold of Bibbins. The wing talent is high as well, especially if Roschon Prince plays up to expectations. Prince draws a ton of contact and can be a matchup nightmare at both the 3 and 4. When he’s healthy and playing with confidence, Prince has the highest talent ceiling on the team. Gabe Levin also returns as another foul drawing machine alongside Prince, and an outstanding offensive rebounder and rim protector, and FR Javonntie Jackson could have an immediate role because of his length and athleticism defensively. His shooting ability is a bit suspect, an aspect both Prince and Levin lack as well, and Monson needs someone to at least partially replace that production left behind by Faust and Hammonds. The frontcourt returns the raw but serviceable Temi Yussuf from injury, but SO Mason Riggins and RS FR LaRond Williams should see the bulk of minutes in the paint. Last year’s Beach squad played faster than any other Monson team, and I expect that to continue with the plethora of ball handlers and athleticism in the backcourt led by Bibbins, but with Williams joining the frontcourt, the rebounding and back end of the zone should be much improved as well, meaning the Beach should be at the top of the Big West standings this year. Monson has a typical Monson schedule lined up for OOC play, so the Niners are going to be tested early. If the freshmen wings buy in early defensively, this Beach team appears to be the clear class of the league.

IF NOT THEM THEN: UC Irvine loses a lot from the most decorated Eater class of all time with 5 seniors gone, including Alex Young and of course 7’6 Mamadou Ndiaye, but Russell Turner has reloaded around a core of Luke Nelson and Jaron Martin in the backcourt, who can both handle the ball and shoot from outside. That said, it might not be fair to pencil in Martin as a starter just yet when you consider the backcourt talent Turner has coming in this year (by the way, Michael Wilder is turning into an outstanding recruiter). Redshirt FR Max Hazzard brings exceptional quickness to the table as a PG, Eyassu Worku could be a dazzling scorer and start immediately, Darrian Traylor brings versatility and an outstanding penetration game at the 2/3, and Turner has two more guard/wings to spare with Evan Leonard and Justin Wertner. Leonard is a likely redshirt candidate, while Wertner is a rangy, 6’5 wing who just completed his Mormon mission, but if eligible would be the wing shooter Turner desperately needs (fellow FR John Edgar should help in this aspect as well). If Wertner is eligible, the Eater wing corps would be rivaled only by LBSU in terms of athleticism, as he would be joining rising 6’5 SO Brandon Smith, who arguably has the highest upside on a roster loaded with talent, and Traylor. The frontcourt sustains some huge losses (no pun intended), but with another rising SO in Jonathan Galloway at the 4 and the addition of Tommy Rutherford, a high energy, athletic 6’8 4 with blue collar scrappiness, the Eaters should be just fine. Plus the 7’2 Ioannis Dimakopoulos returns as well, which always helps. The Eaters are smaller, but way more athletic at 2/3/4, which could make Turner’s 3-2 zone a nightmare, but also gives him more flexibility on that end.

CONTENDERS: After years of speculation, academic impropriety, and ineligibility, it finally seems as though Reggie Theus has the roster he always envisioned having at CSUN, which means he has the depth and flexibility to play the up tempo, pressure heavy brand he prefers, something you saw in the second half of the season last year with the Dors. In fact, CSUN led the Big West with a 21.6% defensive TO rate, and generated 73 possessions per game, the fastest in the league. That’s saying something when you play in the same conference as Hawaii. The problem was that CSUN was horrifically inefficient shooting the ball, as they were sub 30% from 3 in league play. They also couldn’t rebound at all. Theus has potentially addressed both of those areas with some major conference transfers. Theus’ son, Reggie Jr, comes over from South Carolina, as does Darin Johnson from Washington. At 6’6, both should make an immediate impact in the league on the wing. Johnson struggled with his shot in Pac12 play, but Theus is hoping less pressure and more opportunities will revive his perimeter game. Theus and Johnson will join returnees Micheal Warren and Jerron Wilbut on the wings, who both thrived in transition, but struggled from the perimeter. Warren is a relentless penetrator, and Wilbut should have more high percentage looks with better talent around him. The ball handling situation at PG is solid with three veterans of Theus’ offense returning, led by former UNLV guard Kendall Smith, Aaron Parks, and Jason Richardson. The porous frontcourt gets a major lift with the eligibility of Si Sun, Rock Lubin (formerly of UConn), and Dylan Johns (formerly of Texas A&M). They’ll join returnees Zac Douglas and burgeoning SO talent Tav Dawson to give Theus something he’s rarely had at CSUN…depth. Assuming everyone stays healthy and eligible, the Dors should make a big move up the Big West standings this year. [UPDATE: Zac Douglas has indeed elected to transfer, after Theus had seemingly changed his mind.]

Bob Williams loses Michael Bryson and John Green from a UCSB team that rattled off 7 straight Big West wins to close the regular season, but he has arguably his most talented recruiting class coming into Santa Barbara. The big additions are wings Christian Terrell and Clifton Powell, and interior powerhouse Jalen Canty. Williams loves to utilize long, versatile wings at the top of his zone (which produced the league’s best defense last year), so if Terrell and Powell prove they can pick up his defense quickly, they’ll see immediate minutes in Bryson and Green’s void. They’ll be joined in the backcourt by a solid veteran nucleus of PG Eric Childress and sharp shooter Gabe Vincent. Vincent connected on 40% of his threes in BW play and is an outstanding rebounder for a 2, while Childress led the league with a 31% assist rate, and was a highly efficient perimeter scorer when he had to be. Unfortunately, it appears touted PG of the future Grant Troutt’s playing career is likely over after a devastating hip injury. A suspect frontcourt is really aided by the addition of the JUCO Canty. Max Kupchak and Jarriesse Blackmon are unproven offensively, but should have more opportunities as sophomores this year. Alex Hart returns as the team’s most effective rim protector at the base of Williams’ zone, while massive Tyler Jackson and Ami Lakoju both offer intrigue if they can develop their rawness. If the young wings can offer up similarish production to Bryson on both ends, there’s no reason to think the dean of Big West coaches won’t have the Gauchos contending for a league title again. Williams potentially has an even better class coming in next year, headlined by Ohio State transfer Mickey Mitchell and Marcus Shaver, so the future is bright in Santa Barbara, not that there’s ever much to complain about there.

SLEEPERS: Eran Ganot certainly exceeded expectations in his first year at Hawaii, as the Bows won the Big West regular season and tournament, and knocked off Cal in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This looks like a rebuild year mixed in with a little bit of reload though, especially with Hawaii ineligible for postseason play. Ganot loses all 5 starters from last year, with Janks, Bobbitt, Valdes, and Smith graduating, but then Fleming left the team and Mike Thomas, the fifth starter from last year, broke his wrist in the offseason and will take a medical redshirt. The good news is that Ganot did reload quickly, especially in the backcourt with FR PG Drew Buggs (who likely won’t be 100% recovered from knee surgery when the season begins), athletic 6’3 FR guard Leland Green who could start immediately at the 2, and former prized UTSA recruit Larry Lewis Jr, who can provide some three point shooting and is a plus perimeter defender. Ganot will rely on SO Sheriff Drammeh making a big leap this year from bench mob star to go to scorer as well. Ganot also has 6’6 Noah Allen hopping across the Pacific from UCLA as a grad transfer. With more minutes, Allen could be among the best wings in the league. The frontcourt figures to be a disaster without Thomas though, as former Auburn stretch 4 Jack Purchase and JUCO transfer Gibson Johnson are essentially the only options. Ganot did add Israeli Ido Flaisher late as a space/minutes eater in the paint. The backcourt is young and talented, but the frontcourt is thin and figures to be severely lacking defensively.

Dennis Cutts has assembled his most talented roster at UC Riverside since he took over for Jim Wooldridge in the 2013-14 season, and it’s mostly thanks to keeping local PG Dikymbe Martin in town. Martin should be able to wrest the starting PG job away from Malik Thames, who can move off the ball and be more of a shooter/slasher, where he showed promise last year. Former Arizona State slasher Chance Murray will also factor in heavily at the 2. Cutts also returns Secean Johnson on the wing, another major slasher who lives at the FT line. Johnson was a dreadful 9-40 from 3 in Big West play however, and with Jaylen Bland gone, the Highlanders really lack a perimeter shooter. Wings Murray, Johnson, and Gentrey Thomas are more or less the same player. Cutts could really use a major breakthrough from SO Eric Rwawhire, the highly touted Canadian wing who rarely saw the floor last year. The frontcourt should be reliable if unspectacular with Alex Larsson and Menno Dijkstra returning at the 5, but JUCO transfer Brandon Rosser should immediately factor in at the 4. He’s efficient around the rim and has a solid midrange game. Think Taylor Johns with more refinement in the paint. If UCR can get some perimeter shooting from someone, they could surprise some teams and leapfrog to a winning Big West season.

DEEPER SLEEPERS: Likely a make or break year for Dedrique Taylor at Cal State Fullerton, but there’s a good amount of talent in both the backcourt, and some of the off court drama (that also spilled over to the bench) has likely been cleared up with some departures. Let’s start with the frontcourt though, where the Titans were one of the worst 2PT% offenses in the country, and just dreadful defending the paint/protecting the rim in Big West play. Former Albany center Richard Peters could start immediately at the 5, as could late addition Darcy Malone, a 7 foot grad transfer from LSU.  JUCOs Arkim Robertson and JP Mejia should see immediate minutes at the 4. The entire frontcourt is essentially brand new, with FR Jackson Rowe and Davon Clare joining the transfers, but they can’t be any worse than last year’s unit. The backcourt is the clear strength of Taylor’s squad, especially if Lionheart Leslie is ready to take over full time at the point. Leslie was often forced to play out of position (especially in Taylor’s uninspired 1-3-1, where he somehow often ended up as the base) behind other more ball needy guards last year, but it’s clear Tre Coggins is better off the ball when utilized as the shooting component to rising SO Khalil Ahmad’s penetration (and to a lesser extent, fellow SO Kyle Allman). Taylor added a key piece to the Coggins/Ahmad/Leslie/Allman backcourt, as former Wisconsin wing Riley Dearring could be one of the toughest matchups at the 3 in the Big West this year, and gives Taylor a much needed lengthy three point threat. The Titans essentially were only consistently capable of scoring at the free throw line last year, and Dearring can certainly change that. It appears that Taylor also lost out on local three star PG Shacquille Dawkins, who is enrolled at NAIA Vanguard University. CSUF is essentially in the same boat as UCR, as they both need some transfers to bring some perimeter shooting to complement a set of slashers out of the backcourt, but the talent level is there to potentially pull off some surprises.

Cal Poly played about 7 possessions faster than they typically have under Joe Callero (still 275th slowest adjusted tempo nationally), yet they still turned the ball over at the 15th lowest rate in the country, another hallmark of Callero teams. That shouldn’t change with PG Jaylen Shead entering his SO year. Shead will quickly prove to be the most underrated PG in the league, and I expect a big jump this year in terms of his scoring ability. The Mustangs will be reliant on that jump too, as do everything wing David Nwaba and hyper athletic 3/4 Joel Awich have graduated. Ridge Shipley and Taylor Sutlive return in the backcourt as well, and those two steady perimeter shooters will be counted on to replace the deadeye shooting of Reese Morgan. Shipley’s also a capable ball handler beside Shead as well. Losing Nwaba and Awich also hurts Callero’s matchup zone defense (although it appeared to me in the games I watched that Callero actually used more man than I had seen in previous years), and Callero is going to reliant on a pair of JUCO wings, Josh Mishler and Kuba Niziol to contribute immediately. The frontcourt should be a relative strength this year, as Luke Meikle offers versatility and the ability to stretch defenses at the 4, while Josh Martin could turn into the best rebounder and rim protector in the league with his often unmatched athleticism. Callero will be happy to have Martin available for the entire year this season. Veteran Zach Gordon and the return of Aleks Abrams allows Callero to have plus frontcourt depth, and thus the luxury of mixing and matching his lineup in terms of defense for offense. I expect the Mustangs to get back on track defensively this year, as it would be pretty awful luck to see Big West opponents shoot an absurd 42% from 3 against them this year.

UC Davis returns a lot of perimeter firepower, which subsequently should allow Jim Les to return to his 4 out offense that was annually a top 50 3PTA rate team (of course having Corey Hawkins and Ryan Sypkens helps in that regard), until last year when only 41 teams in the country attempted threes with less frequency than the Aggies. With Darius Graham and Mr. Big Shot Silar Schneider returning in the backcourt along with Lawrence White and Brynton Lemar (who finally started to show some of the consistent offensive production that was anticipated when he arrived at UCD four years ago as one of Jim Les’ top rated recruits) on the wings. Graham and Schneider desperately need to reduce their TOs, which led to the Aggies having the highest TO rate in the league. Turnovers weren’t the only issue with the offense, as the Aggies were by far the worst 2PT% offense in the league, which coupled with the fact that they were shooting threes at an all time low rate for a Jim Les meant that they ended up being the Big West’s worst PPP offense at just .90 (for reference, the Aggies were farther behind CSUN, the league’s 2nd least efficient offense, than CSUN was behind UCI, the league’s most efficient offense). To help that lacking interior offense, Les has JT Adenrele coming back, but how much he can contribute after back to back lost knee surgeries remains to be seen. Highly anticipated big man Nolan Berry played just 9 games for Les last year, and subsequently left the program, and Josh Fox and Neal Monson both graduated. Essentially, Les has no option but to return to the prolific three point reliant offense of year’s past if the Aggies are going to avoid a bottom half league finish. Of the newcomers, I anticipate RS FR Joe Mooney and 6’6 wing Chima Moneke making the most immediate impact.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

  1. LBSU
  2. UC Irvine
  3. UCSB
  4. CSUN
  5. UC Riverside
  6. Hawaii
  7. Cal Poly
  8. Cal State Fullerton
  9. UC Davis

 

 

 

2016-2017 Big South Preview

15 Aug

TEAM TO BEAT: Last year’s Big South Tournament champion UNC Asheville certainly looked poised to return to the big dance with Sam Hughes being the only senior, but once again Nick McDevitt was hit hard by upward transfers with Dwayne Sutton and Dylan Smith leaving the program. McDevitt and the Bulldogs will quickly reload, but those losses mean co-regular season champ Winthrop is likely the team to beat again, especially with the return of spark plug Keon Johnson. The diminutive Johnson steered a Winthrop offense that played at the fastest pace in the Big South, shot 40% from 3, and 56% from 2. The Eagles played at the 20th fastest adjusted tempo in the country, a trend that has been evolving from Pat Kelsey since he took over in 2012-13. Under Kelsey, the Eagles have sped up significantly each year, from 327th to 215th to 117th and finally to 20th. Kelsey’s teams have always been good shooting, high volume three point attempt rate teams, and last year was no exception, but the Eagles do have to replace marksman Jimmy Gavin. Johnson and Gavin were a tremendous shooting/penetrating duo last year, but the Broman brothers (Anders joins Bjorn after transferring from South Dakota State) will see plenty of opportunities from outside at the off guard position. SO Adam Pickett showed potential in the backcourt, especially defensively, and FR Patrick Fisher should figure in the guard rotation as well. The loss of Gavin is significant in the backcourt, but if Bjorn Broman develops into half the volume scorer he was in high school, the Eagles are going to be more than fine. Broman had a rough FR year in terms of shooting the ball, but he did shoot the three significantly better when Big South play came around. The Eagles are loaded at the 3/4. Rod Perkins returns after missing all of the Big South season with an injury, and his athleticism on the perimeter is a big bonus defensively. Kelsey also welcomes back Tevin Prescott from a redshirt season, and the hard working former walk on should see plenty of open looks around the rim as the foil to the outstanding Xavier Cooks, a stretch 4 who forms the core of the Eagles alongside Keon Johnson. Cooks is a highly athletic 6’8 that’s comfortable popping out on the perimeter both offensively and defensively, as he shot 45% from 3 to go along with his 59% shooting from 2 in Big South play, and notched the third highest block rate in the league as well. He’s also the team’s best rebounder, but that’s an area Kelsey needs to dramatically improve overall with this squad. Senior glue guy Josh Davenport and the league’s best shot blocker Duby Okeke round out the frontcourt. With the versatility that the return of Perkins and Prescott gives Kelsey (and if the Bromans can make up Gavin’s production alongside Johnson), the Eagles are the favorite to represent the Big South in the NCAA Tournament, and finally get over the title game hump, where they’ve fallen in each of the past three seasons.

IF NOT THEM THEN: Let’s go with Liberty here. Ritchie McKay pulled off one of the more unheralded coaching jobs in his return to Lynchburg. McKay installed a pack line defense and the Flames went from 2 Big South wins to 10, while working in an almost entirely new roster. The fortune of the Flames also rose with the eligibility of Marquette transfer John Dawson, as Liberty hadn’t won a D1 game until he became available at the start of the second semester. Dawson did everything for the Flames as he had the 4th highest assist rate in league play and was one of the best rebounding guards in the entire country. With how quickly this roster bought into McKay’s defense, I expect the Flames to be the best defensive team in the league in year two of the pack line, which generally takes a few years to fully grasp. Dawson will be joined by SO Lovell Cabbil, a capable ball handler to move Dawson off the ball at times, a decent shooter, and a very good perimeter defender. Ryan Kemrite and Caleb Homesley form a solid 6’4 duo on the wing, with both being volume three point shooters for a team that had the 7th highest 3PTA rate in the country last year. Homesley is the more versatile of the two, and McKay’s best all around defender, capable of guarding 2-4. The rest of the frontcourt is a little murky and reliant on new faces with Evan Maxwell leaving for Kansas. AC Reid is a 6’5 perimeter threat with experience in McKay’s system, and 6’8 stretch 4 Ezra Talbert has the highest ceiling in the frontcourt. FR Myo Baxter-Bell is in the vein of VCU big man Mo Alie Cox. He’s not tall, but he’s athletic, wide, and physical. Ezra’s brother Josiah should also factor in, but the 6’7 FR Brock Gardner could be the x-factor for the Flames this year. He’s got perimeter skills and outstanding athleticism, and could be a matchup nightmare for smaller Big South teams.

CONTENDERS: Despite the losses of Sutton, Smith, and Hughes, you can’t count out Nick McDevitt’s UNC Asheville Bulldogs, as you know he’s going to have more interchangeable athletic wings he can plug into his pressure heavy defensive schemes, which resulted in the league’s highest TO rate and 12th highest in the country. Leading that pressure will be Ahmad Thomas, who had the 10th highest steal rate in the country last year. Thomas will have to be more consistent offensively though if the Bulldogs are going to have a realistic shot at repeating, but he’ll have some help in the backcourt with the return of David Robertson from injury and the addition of arguably the best incoming FR in the league, MaCio Teague. Teague is exactly the type of backcourt talent McDevitt specializes in, and he’ll be a factor for the Bulldogs immediately. High scoring Ohio prep Drew Rackley also figures to see plenty of minutes immediately as well. Kevin Vannatta returns to the backcourt as well, a key cog with his penetration ability, which helped lead UNCA to the league’s highest FTA rate. Vannatta, Thomas, and Robertson are all going to be responsible for “PG” duties, but McDevitt’s system really deemphasizes relying on a “primary” ballhandler. If you can create turnovers and wreak havoc on the perimeter, you’re going to see the floor. The frontcourt is small, but mobile with Will Weeks at the 4, a versatile defender and efficient scoring threat when healthy. Something to watch early with the Bulldogs is the playing time of Giacomo Zilli in the frontcourt. He was a major factor late in 2015, then in essentially disappeared last year.

SLEEPERS (basically everyone else): High Point, who has won or shared the Big South regular season title four years in a row without a trip to the NCAA Tournament to show for it, loses the most dominant big man in the league in John Brown (who missed the Big South Tournament last year with a foot injury, a brutal end to a brilliant mid major career), and three other key seniors. However, there is reason for optimism for Panther fans with a developing sophomore class led by Andre Fox and Ricky Madison potentially ready to take over. Fox is a slasher with an inconsistent jumper, while Madison is a versatile 6’7 who can expand his game to the perimeter this year. Scott Cherry is likely going to have rework the league’s most efficient offense around those two, as HPU obviously ran everything through Brown and relied on the shooting of Lorenzo Cugini when teams inevitably sagged and collapsed in on the paint. Anthony Lindauer returns as the best shooter on a team that didn’t shoot the three much at all with Cugini gone, but he doesn’t have the same length on the wing (but the 45% shooting in conference play certainly helps). With McIntyre and Weary both gone, Cherry loses the two best defenders at the top of his zone as well. JUCO PG Jalen Williams and SR wing Tarique Thompson will be relied upon to step into that role. FR Cliff Thomas and Luke Vargo are going to be relied upon in the frontcourt behind Madison. It was easy to play small and utilize Cugini as a stretch 4 when you had Brown in the middle, but obviously that’s no longer the case. The Panthers will have some kinks to work out on both ends, but Fox and Madison are capable of easing that transition if they continue to develop. This transition would have been aided by one time HPU commit Chris Orlina, who would have easily been the most talented incoming FR in the Big South this season.

Gardner-Webb returns a core of Tyrell Nelson inside and developing SO point guard Laquincy Rideau, but offense is going to be a major issue for a team that struggled in that regard last year, and now has to replace four members of the backcourt who combined to shoot nearly 600 threes (perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, as Tim Craft’s teams have always been reliant on the three at the cost of some solid block players, like Nelson for example). Rideau is arguably one of the best on ball defenders in the entire country, and a guy I’ve been excited about for a while, but his offense needs to take a major step forward this year if GWU is going to actually contend for a title. He’ll be helped by a couple of additions in the backcourt, namely sharp shooting JUCO Liam O’Reilly and likely secondary ball handler FR Christian Turner. The frontcourt is solid if somewhat underutilized (although GWU also posted the least efficient 2PT offense in the league last year). Returning with Nelson is major rim protector and major fouler L’Hassane Niangane, 6’6 slasher Brandon Miller, and athletic DJ Laster. 6’7 Patrick Zeck was a contributor on both ends on GWU’s mission trip to the Dominican Republic, so he likely factors into the frontcourt equation as well. GWU loses a lot of offense from last year, but how big of a net negative is that when they posted the lowest eFG% in the league? That said, I’m not sure I see anyone really being able to replace that production this season.

Longwood loses basically everyone, but I think the Lancers are going to have a lot more cohesion on the court with Nwogbo, Johnson, and White no longer jockeying with each other for shots. Nevertheless, that’s a lot of production for Khris Lane and the hopefully mentally reset Chris Shields to replace. However, Jayson Gee will have a little more flexibility and depth with this squad, even if he’s not exactly sure where the production is going to come from. Lane will be the key piece offensively this year with his ability to work inside and out offensively, and he’s one of the best all around rebounders in the league. Couple Lane with the 6’8 Shields, and you have arguably the most lethal wing duo in the league. Factor in the return of a healthy Damarion Geter and versatile FR JaShaun Smith, and the Lancer frontcourt/wing rotation looks like the clear strength of the team. The backcourt will be led by one of the best shooters in the entire country, 6’2 SR Darrion Allen. Allen shot 48% from three on the season (10th best rate nationally), and nearly 50% in Big South play, which led the league. Allen is incredibly athletic and versatile, capable of checking opposing 4s even, but his ball skills are going to have to show improvement this year with Gee’s PG situation a little murky. The rest of the backcourt features returning SR Isaac Belton, who can be something of a menace on the perimeter defensively when he’s on the floor…Gee’s son Bryan, who could handle primary PG duties this year…JUCO combo guard Kendrick Thompson…true FR PG Juan Munoz…and former UC Davis recruit Isaiah Walton, who should see immediate minutes because of his wingspan on the perimeter and ability to disrupt defensively, a plus when Gee utilizes his zone press schemes. Gee’s team barely resembles last year’s Lancer squad, but there’s likely going to be better ball movement and cohesion, and hopefully last year’s off court issues are a thing of the past as well. Things are looking up for the Lancers in general, with Mt. St. Mary’s transfer BK Ashe eligible next year.

Barclay Radebaugh is coming off his worst season at Charleston Southern since the 2008-09 campaign, but there’s reason for optimism at Chuck Southern, as Radebaugh added some backcourt firepower to complement his three point reliant, 4 out offense, and CSU should generally have more athleticism and depth this year. The Bucs’ backcourt rotation will feature burgeoning SO PG Armel Potter and volume shooters Patrick Wallace (former Ole Miss recruit) and Rae Robinson (73-177 from 3 last year, hit at the third highest rate in Big South play). However, the talent Radebaugh added should make the Bucs a bit more versatile and longer/more athletic at the top of Radebaugh’s zone. JUCOs Cortez Mitchell (athletic combo guard who can run the point with Potter) and Jamal Thomas (long wingspan and excellent defender) should see immediate minutes, while FR Christian Keeling showed flashes of being a significant contributor offensively in CSU’s 3 game Canadian trip this summer. In a thin frontcourt, Javis Howard (one of Radebaugh’s best ever recruits) should be ready for a breakout year, while RS FR Antwan Maxwell has the potential to be one of the toughest matchups in the league with his size/ball skills combo. The underbelly of CSU’s zone is extremely soft as teams shot a robust 67% at the rim against the Bucs last year, and there isn’t really much help in that regard this year. JUCO Abdul Sarki out of Nigeria has a lot of athleticism around the rim, but he’s incredibly raw. Nevertheless, he could be the only option for the Bucs in terms of rim protection.

THE REST: It was a rough year for Kevin McGeehan in his third season at Buies Creek, as Campbell’s shooting bottomed out, and when you run out a smaller spread motion, Princeton style offense, you have to hit your triples. The Camels shot just 32% from deep in league play, thus they won just 5 games and were bounced in the first round of the Big South Tournament despite being the host school. The Camels have to outshoot teams from three in McGeehan’s Chris Mooney system, because they’re going to get clobbered by anyone with size on both the glass and at the rim. That issue wasn’t really addressed in the offseason, with JUCO Mogga Lado being the only real rim protecting addition. Offensively, Shane Whitfield is the only block option with DJ Mason graduating. Whitfield can put the ball on the floor and draw a lot of contact, as he accrued the 5th highest FT rate in the country last year. That means we could see 5’9 sparkplug Chris Clemons hoist 300 threes in his SO season. Clemons is an electric scorer, but he doesn’t have much help, especially with Troy Harper leaving for Drexel. Kyre Hamer returns as the team’s best perimeter defender, and Khadre Lane has good length and athleticism on the wing, but neither really shoot the ball well enough to fully fit in McGeehan’s offense. Incoming freshmen Cory Gensler, Marcus Burk (Indy kid), and Nick Greely do though, so we could see McGeehan go with a youth movement, especially with his seat getting rather hot. The Camels began the Big South season with two huge wins, at home vs Coastal and then at Winthrop. They then proceeded to lose their next 10 league games. Clemons will be fun to watch again this year, but if the supporting cast doesn’t pour in the three as well within McGeehan’s system, the Camels will once again be blasted in the paint and on the glass by any Big South team with a frontcourt.

End of an era for Radford, as they sustain heavy graduation losses with Mr. Clutch Rashun Davis, Cameron Jones, and YaYa Anderson (although it was an ignominious end for the senior) all departing. You could sense when Radford lost to Presbyterian on a buzzer beater in the first round of the Big South Tournament that Mike Jones knew his window had shut for a while. Of course, I didn’t think the Highlanders would necessarily scratch out 9 wins in their first season without Green and Price, but this is now truly a rebuild year for Jones, both with on court talent and his coaching staff. This year’s Radford squad will revolve around Ed Polite Jr, a hyperly athletic SO wing who draws a ton of contact and can score on the block at just 6’5. As a freshman he was second in both defensive rebounding rate and block rate in the Big South, and he can legitimately defend 2-5. The only thing his game is missing is any semblance of a jump shot, and with Radford losing every one of their jump shooters with the exception of Justin Cousin, Mike Jones is going to need some quick development from SO wing Christian Lutete (who showed some brilliant flashes last year, both inside and outside), 6’6 Sterling Christy, who is coming back from a knee injury, and JUCO Christian Bradford. Highly touted FR PG Carlik Jones out of Cincy should start immediately at PG, so there’s going to be quite a learning curve initially for the Highlanders with a FR PG at the helm. The frontcourt is basically non existent, but that’s nothing new for Jones. If you can crash the offensive glass and get out on the perimeter defensively, where few teams crowd the three point line as well as the Highlanders, you’ll see the floor, which is precisely what FIU transfer Dominique Williams brings to the table. Radford loses a lot, but with Polite, a talented FR PG, and Williams, the Highlanders have a much higher ceiling than some of the other projected bottom half teams in the league.

Gregg Nibert embarks on his 28th season as Presbyterian’s head coach, but unfortunately it should be another bottom half finish for one of the nicest guys in the game. The Blue Hose lose do everything block scorer DeSean Murray to Bruce Pearl and Auburn, as well as Markus Terry, which means a lot of the scoring load falls on Reggie Dillard, a capable if inefficient playmaker and scorer at 6’4. SO Darius Moore showed promise at PG last year, and will have a bigger role, as will Jaron Withers, the team’s best perimeter defender in Nibert’s ubiquitous zone defense. Freshmen JC Younger and Myles McGregor were both high scoring perimeter shooters in high school, so they could see run immediately, especially with Murray gone from the middle, as few teams shot the three as infrequently as the Blue Hose. Nibert has shown he’ll mix in different offensive philosophies depending on his personnel, and with Ed Drew and Austin Venable being the only “proven” paint scorers, this looks like a more perimeter oriented team with opportunities abound for the freshmen.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

  1. Winthrop
  2. Liberty
  3. UNC Asheville
  4. Gardner-Webb
  5. Longwood
  6. High Point
  7. Charleston Southern
  8. Radford
  9. Campbell
  10. Presbyterian

 

 

2016-2017 Big Sky Preview

10 Aug

TEAM TO BEAT: Despite the loss of Joel Bolomboy, Weber State has all the pieces to repeat as Big Sky champs, especially with Jeremy Senglin returning as possibly the premier talent in the league. Senglin is a lights out shooter from 3 with plus ball skills. He also has a developing talent beside him at the point in McKay Cannon. Cannon’s TO rate will decline while his assist rate will increase in his SO year, and he’ll be a more confident offensive player to match his ball hawking on the perimeter, which is always a must if you’re a perimeter defender on Randy Rahe’s team (the past 4 seasons WSU has finished with the lowest 3PTA rate allowed twice, and the 14th and 7th lowest the other two seasons). Joining Senglin and Cannon in the backcourt is SR defensive stopper Richaud Gittens, volume sharp shooter Ryan Richardson, lengthy developing ball handler Dusty Baker, and SO Cody John, who showed a knack for drawing contact off the bounce his freshman year. 6’7 Kyndahl Hill returns for his SR year, and will once again be the league’s best all around defensive player. Rahe’s defense is always structured to have an athletic rim protector as a safeguard for a perimeter that aggressively shades the three point line, and losing Bolomboy certainly hurts in that regard, but Hill actually had the highest block rate on the team last year, and SO Zach Braxton is poised for a breakout year on both ends of the court for the Wildcats. The frontcourt will also add 6’10 Jordan Dallas, a prized recruit who redshirted last year, and the return of potential stretch 4 Kiko Stavrev from injury. The Wildcats have depth in all the right places, and while their top rated 2PT defense might take a hit without Bolomboy, you know they’re going to take away the three point line (a plus in a league that’s usually one of the best shooting conferences in the country), and offensively Senglin has some rapidly developing SOs around him inside and out.

IF NOT THEM THEN: When Weber State’s at the top of the league, you know Montana won’t be far behind them, and that’s going to be the case once again this year. The Grizzlies will be replacing their own dominant big man as well with Martin Breunig graduating (which also means I’ll finally be able to stop trying to remember if it’s “e” before “u” or the other way around when spelling his name). I’m interested to see what Travis DeCuire does with this roster in terms of style of play. DeCuire is a Mike Montgomery guy, which means the offense can be methodical and they work inside out. In DeCuire’s two seasons at Montana, they’ve been slower than slow. However, without Breunig, the strength of DeCuire’s roster this year clearly lies with the backcourt, which is headed by Mario Dunn (the best perimeter defender in the league when his scaphoid bone isn’t broken), Walter Wright, and Michael Oguine, who can can be a lethal shooter/slasher combo, respectively. That trio is lethal on their own, but Oregon transfer Ahmaad Rorie is eligible this year, and that means the Grizz are absolutely loaded in the backcourt. Add in the fact that DeCuire has three lethal perimeter threats on the wing with Brandon Gfeller, Jack Lopez, and Bobby Moorehead, and I think it’s absolutely imperative that this team speed things up dramatically and spread the floor in transition with the utilization of drag screens and essentially a three point guard lineup. Without Breunig, the frontcourt is going to have to adapt to being quicker and being able to run the floor, something I think Fab Krslovic and Alph Anderson are capable of doing. This is a team I have pegged for a dramatic turnaround in terms of tempo and offensive philosophy (essentially, they’re my Fairfield prediction from last preseason).

CONTENDERS: Speaking of loaded backcourts, North Dakota is right there with Montana, and you know Brian Jones loves to push the pace, and why not when you have the outstanding Quinton Hooker running the show, and a burgeoning supporting cast beside him with SOs Geno Crandall and Cortez Seales, and SR Corey Baldwin. UND is going to play full throttle Brian Jones ball, but they lost some key court spreaders in the off season with Adam McDermott transferring and his replacement, Albany transfer Wheeler Baker, being unexpectedly dismissed from the team. The frontcourt features some solid height with 7 foot rim protector Carson Shanks. Unfortunately, Shanks’ foul rate is even higher than his team leading block rate. Drick Bernstine at the 4 is a major glass eater and strong defensive player as well, capable of checking opposing stretch 4 while not being a perimeter threat himself on that end. SO Conner Avants has the capability to turn into that stretch 4 for Jones though. To my knowledge, Brian Jones was not offered a contract extension, and this is the final year of his current contract. Lame duck coaches are rare, but Jones has a loaded backcourt led by Hooker capable of getting him that extension. The addition of Creighton transfer Marlon Stewart for next year also bodes well in terms of Jones staying around in Grand Forks.

Idaho has the most athletic backcourt in the league with Perrion Callandret and Victor Sanders returning. That shooting/slashing duo is capable of carrying Idaho to the NCAA Tournament IF Don Verlin can find an answer at PG that can help limit the Vandals’ league high TO rate on offense. Think about this…Idaho went 12-6 in Big Sky play despite not having a PG and both Callandret and Sanders missing roughly half the Big Sky season with injuries. Additionally, big man Arkadiy Mkrtychyan never really reached 100% health with his knee. Pat Ingram (North Central grad) is the most likely option at the point, and Verlin brought in Myles Franklin as a future option at PG as well. Player to watch for the Vandals (besides Callandret and the exceptional Sanders, owner of a 115.2 ORtg while also taking the highest % of his team’s shots in BSC play)…wing Nick Blair, who could very well make the same jump that Sanders did in his SO year. If Blair does in fact show even half that improvement, the Vandals are going to be unstoppable on the wing. Verlin has solid if unspectacular pieces in the frontcourt to anchor his typical zone defense. Joining Ark are veterans Ty Egbert, Jordan Scott, and Nate Sherwood, and JUCO transfer Brayon Blake will see minutes assuming his eligibility issues clear up. If Ingram can keep Callandret off the ball, this backcourt (and I never even mentioned Chad Sherwood, who got some valuable minutes with all the injuries last year and shot an absurd 45% from 3 in conference play)/wing corps can carry Idaho to a BSC title.

SLEEPERS: Previously moribund Idaho State had a nice and unexpected turnaround season last year, and you can almost solely thank Ethan Telfair for that. Telfair was absolutely phenomenal at the point in his first season in Pocatello, so much so that he flirted seriously with going pro. Telfair led the BSC in assist rate, dominated defensively on the perimeter, led the league in usage, and even showed a consistent jump shot to pair with his devastating crossover. In a league with several outstanding guards, Telfair has the most talent and highest ceiling. Bill Evans only loses SR leader Ben Wilson from last year’s 11 BSC win team, which was a 7 win turnaround from the previous season. The backcourt pieces around Telfair are the strength of the team with Geno Luzcando, a slashing defensive whiz, and sharp shooting 6’4 wing Gary Chivichyan leading the way. Chivichyan showed he’s more than just a spot up shooter in the second half of the season, and could make a big leap as an all around talent in the BSC this year. Evans also added Utah Valley transfer Hayes Garrity to the backcourt. If Garrity can stay healthy (a major issue), he’ll be another solid shooter and very capable secondary ball handler to Telfair. With a deep and veteran backcourt led by the electric Telfair, look for Evans to maintain the significantly faster pace he employed last season, especially with an iffy at best frontcourt. 6’8 Kyle Ingram is the linchpin in the paint, as he tallied the second highest block rate in the league, and proved to be a capable if inconsistent back to the basket scorer. 7 footer Novak Topalovic can anchor Evans’ ubiquitous zone when he can stay on the floor, and SO Stephen Lennox has defense stretching potential. With Telfair at the helm, ISU’s ceiling is high, but it’s going to take some significant leaps from Luzcando, Chivichyan, and Ingram for ISU to make a real run in the BSC tourney.

DEEPER SLEEPERS: Montana State loses outstanding PG Marcus Colbert in Brian Fish’s third season, but I’m totally on the Fish bandwagon, especially with a more athletic Tyler Hall entering his SO season. Hall posted an absurd 118 ORtg in his FR year, but he’ll have to play with the ball in his hands this year without uber penetrating table setter Colbert around. Can Hall play a majority of minutes at the point is probably the biggest question for Fish this offseason, but he has other options with Mandrell Worthy healthy and Norwegian import Harald Frey. This is a perimeter oriented team on both ends that’s going to spread the floor with 4 guards and a stretch big (Sarp Gobeloglu, who hit 52 threes last year), so defense was a major issue last year. Quinton Everett is the only trustworthy perimeter defender with experience, but because of the lack of height, his versatility often saw him forced out of position against opposing 3s and even 4s. Fish hopes he addressed some of those deficiencies with JUCOS DeVonte Klines and Joe Mvuezolo, who bring some athleticism and length, respectively, to the perimeter. MSU could also get a boost if the NCAA clears UVU transfer Konner Frey, a proven scorer at the D1 level at the 3/4. Frey’s eligibility has added importance with Tyson Kanseyo leaving the team late this summer, which leaves an already thin frontcourt even more vulnerable.

Despite a late season swoon, Jim Hayford managed to guide Eastern Washington to a 10-8 BSC record and another postseason appearance in the first post Tyler Harvey year. Now we’ll see what Hayford (the subject of several coaching carousel rumors) can do in EWU’s first post Venky Jois season. The EWU offense didn’t really miss a beat without Harvey, as they were once again the most efficient in the league, and by an even larger margin as they shot and made threes at rates among the highest in the country. The issue, in a major way, was the defense, as opposing offenses were able to get the ball to the rim at will (10th highest % of shots at the rim allowed). Hayford’s 4 out, three point reliant offense also meant the Eagles were routinely toasted in transition, where they allowed the 11th highest FGA rate in the country. There’s also the issue of Hayford losing two key members from last year’s FR class with Will Ferris (who could have been running point this year with Austin McBroom gone) and Bear Henderson (an athletic 3/4) both transferring. While solid ball skills are required from all perimeter players in Hayford’s offense, the PG issue is going to be an interesting development this summer. Aussie Michael Wearne had hip surgery last year, but should be ready to contribute, while Sir Washington and Julian Harrell are much better served off the ball. FR Luka Vulikic has length and court vision on the perimeter at 6’5, while fellow FR JJ Davison brings a lot of athleticism at 6’4, and should see immediate minutes, especially if his length translates defensively. Bogdan Bliznyuk and Felix von Hofe return as SRs looking to reprise their roles as floor stretchers at the 3/4 in Hayford’s offense, while Jesse Hunt is likely the best returning defensive player in the frontcourt in Jois’ wake. Hunt also has potential as a shooter/slasher offensively if he can reduce the foul rate. Former Montana recruit Jake Wiley offers some hope in the frontcourt with his outstanding athleticism as a grad transfer from Lewis-Clark State, as does Albany transfer Geremy McKay.

Tyler Geving’s Portland State squad turned things on late in the season, winning 4 of their last 5 regular season games and then nearly taking out Weber State in the BSC tourney after handling Northern Colorado. Geving really pushed the pace last year, as the Vikings played about 7 more possessions that any of his previous PSU teams, which was also the fastest pace in the BSC. While the Vikings played fast, they weren’t a spread the floor in transition type of offense. Instead, the mission was clearly to feed the ball inside to Cam Forte first and foremost, and if not him, then Isaiah Pineiro. Unfortunately, neither of those two are on the team this year, as Forte exhausted his eligibility and Pineiro transferred to USD. PSU should be a little more backcourt oriented this season, but Geving does get Braxton Tucker back for another year after missing last year with a knee injury. Despite being just 6’6, Tucker proved to be a force in the paint two seasons ago. Tucker is joined in the frontcourt by De’Sean Parsons, another somewhat undersized block threat who has some plus ball skills and brings versatility defensively, but is still recovering from offseason ankle surgery. FR Brendan Rumel is an exceptional athlete for 6’10 (he was a tennis star in high school) and should see immediate minutes this year. The key to the backcourt is the return of former highly touted Arizona State recruit Calaen Robinson. Robinson shot selection was suspect and his decision making was iffy in his first year at PSU, but his defense was arguably the best in the league, and he’s a lock down perimeter defender. Three point shooting was a major deficiency for PSU last year, and without Forte and Pineiro in the paint, a team that was 343rd in 3PTA rate is likely going to struggle to score. JUCOs Bryce Canda and Deonte North (a former Dan Monson recruit at LBSU) should see plenty of early minutes because of their shooting ability and the lack of options in general on the wing. Zach Gengler also returns to the backcourt, and is a key cog defensively in Geving’s more pressure oriented defense, while also showing a strong mid range game and ability to finish at the rim offensively. PSU’s offense is going to be more balanced this year without Forte, but that’s only going to be a positive if some of the new faces can provide a modicum of shooting ability from the perimeter.

It was a brutal year for Northern Arizona, and things got ugly early when reigning DPOY Jordyn Martin went down with a knee injury just 4 games into the season. Martin returns this year to anchor the frontcourt, as does SR PG Jaleni Neely, who suffered his own season ending injury just 8 games into the season. Floor stretching SR Ako Kaluna returns to the frontcourt as well, and is looking to bounce back from a poor season offensively. Additionally, Jack Murphy’s massive freshmen class from last year returns with some forced seasoning after last season’s slew of injuries. Several of those SOs will be looking to make big leaps, namely 5’10 gunner Mike Green, 6’5 wing/spot shooter Marcus DeBerry, slashing Torry Johnson, and athletic big man Isaiah Thomas. Additionally, Murphy added two big FR recruits in PG JoJo Anderson, who has the potential to move Neely off the ball early, and hyper athletic 3/4 Ray Robinson. The bad news from the offseason (well, technically late last season) is that uber penetrating PG Kris Yanku left the team. That said, obviously the relationship between Yanku and Murphy had soured, and while his talent will be missed, perhaps the Jacks will play with a bit more cohesion. The Jacks were the worst offense in the BSC last year, and damn near the worst defense, so while the bar for improvement is set pretty low, I think Murphy can have this team finishing in the top half of the league if the voluminous SO class continues to develop. [UPDATE: Both Torry Johnson and Ray Robinson have suffered season ending ACL injuries, which are both devastating blows. Second year in a row the Jacks have been decimated by injuries before the season could really even begin.]

THE REST: Could be another long year for Brian Katz at Sacramento State. The Hornets have one of the best wing players in the league in Justin Strings, but both the backcourt and frontcourt have issues that weren’t necessarily addressed in the offseason. Marcus Graves is a capable PG and was able to rehearse for this role with Cody Demps being injured for a good stretch last year, but I’m not sure who’s going to be able to score the ball consistently besides Strings, which means his outstanding 119 ORtg likely takes a hit this year. The most likely scenarios in terms of Sac State exceeding expectations involve breakout years from SOs Jeff Wu and Grant Dressler, and both played well at times in an overseas trip this summer. FR Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa is a first team all name candidate, but should contribute immediately with his ability to get to the rim and absorb contact as a former New Zealand rugby player. The frontcourt is anchored by veterans Nick Hornsby and Eric Stuteville, with the latter posting the league’s highest block rate at the base of Katz’ 3-2 zone. Unfortunately both are fairly limited offensively in the paint. This team is going to struggle unless Strings gets some help on the offensive end, but the defense could be a top half unit.

Both Northern Colorado and Southern Utah are in fairly serious disarray with new head coaches to boot. BJ Hill was fired from UNC amid level 1 NCAA violations and was replaced by Leon Rice’s top assistant at Boise State, Jeff Linder. Linder is a solid hire, especially given the likely sanctions from the NCAA heading UNC’s way. Linder has Big Sky experience (assistant under Randy Rahe) and is something of an offensive guru, leading Boise State to top 30 OE finishes nationally in two of his seasons as an assistant under Rice. Linder also kept a few of Hill’s more higher profile recruits in the fold, namely Mike Ranson, a pure scorer out of Pueblo. He’s also made an immediate impact on the recruiting trail himself by bringing in Arizona State transfer Andre Spight for next season. With Jordan Wilson leaving, PG duties fall to SO Jordan Davis, who is also the team’s best defender, which I guess isn’t really saying too much considering only 3 teams in the entire country were worse from an efficiency standpoint defensively. Anthony Johnson should lead the team in scoring out of the backcourt. Johnson’s a solid shooter who can get to the rim and absorb contact, and he shot 86% from the line. Johnson will unquestionably be the Bears’ leader in this transition year. The frontcourt is likely going to be a disaster area on both ends of the floor again, with Jeremy Verhagen and Tanner Morgan being the only options. The good news is that both are solid offensive rebounders.

Southern Utah hasn’t had a winning conference season since current Idaho State head coach Bill Evans led the Thunderbirds to an 8-6 record in the now defunct Mid Continent Conference in 2002. SUU parted ways with Nick Robinson and brought in Todd Simon, who should at least make things interesting in Cedar City with what should be a top 5 adjusted tempo nationally. That’s also going to lead to a lot of blowout for the Thunderbirds as Simon tries to get his type of roster in place. The biggest knock on Robinson was his inability to lure any type of talent to Cedar City, while Simon was known as a master recruiter at UNLV. Guessing Simon’s rotation for his first season at SUU is a fool’s errand, as he’s already stated he’s going to play the guys who show they can play his style during the summer, and that’s even more true with veterans Hess, Kennedy, Oliverson, and Langston all gone. Hold overs from last year’s team include sharp shooter James McGee, who was the best three point shooter in the country two years ago, PG John Marshall, and wings Race Parsons, Will Joyce, and Juwan Major. This team is going to struggle mightily to defend and rebound, but they’re going to score and at least play at a pace that could draw in some casual fans.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

  1. Weber State
  2. Montana
  3. Idaho
  4. North Dakota
  5. Idaho State
  6. Montana State
  7. Portland State
  8. Eastern Washington
  9. Sacramento State
  10. Northern Arizona
  11. Southern Utah
  12. Northern Colorado

 

 

 

 

2016-2017 Atlantic Sun Preview

7 Aug

TEAM TO BEAT: Defending ASun champs FGCU return everyone except Julian DeBose (including head coach Joe Dooley, who was rumored to be heading basically everywhere but Fort Myers), and add some talented freshmen and a key transfer in the backcourt. Brandon Goodwin comes from UCF and will likely run the point, moving Zach Johnson off the ball, but also giving Dooley a dual PG look this year. Both Goodwin and Johnson are slashing penetrators who live at the FT line, and they’ll be surrounded by wings Christian Terrell and Rayjon Tucker. Dooley added a pair of key freshmen to give the Eagles more scoring punch in the backcourt with stretch 4 Raysean Scott and 6’5 PG/SG Christian Carlyle. Both freshmen will get plenty of run in the Eagles’ preseason trip to the Bahamas, as Johnson and Terrell are both expected to rest foot injuries, according to Dana Caldwell of the Naples Daily News (UPDATE: Johnson sat while Terrell played, but Reggie Reid and Rayjon Tucker didn’t make the trip for disciplinary reasons, which meant the Eagles had to play the end of their first game with 3 players on the floor after some foul outs). While the additions to the backcourt are key and will give FGCU more balance, Dooley is something of an anachronism in today’s game, as his offense is predicated first and foremost on feeding the post, and he returns the bulk of his frontcourt, led by Marc-Eddy Norelia. Last year the Eagles took 47% of their shots at the rim, the 7th highest rate in the country, while shooting the 3 at the 3rd lowest rate in the country, and scoring 61% of their points via 2PT FG, the 4th highest rate in the country. With Demetris Morant 100% healthy and Antravious Simmons back and confident after strong play to end the year (although he’s also going to miss the Bahamas trip and more with back spasms), FGCU will once again buck the small ball trend and dominate ASun teams at the rim. Norelia, Morant, and Simmons have also had the luxury of practicing against Michigan transfer Ricky Doyle this summer while he sits out this season. With the return of a dominant frontcourt and the additions of Goodwin, Scott, and Carlyle to the backcourt, there’s plenty of reason to believe that FGCU will repeat as ASun champs. That said, it’s important to remember that this team was in the 8-6/7-7 logjam behind North Florida last year, so it might be wise to temper some of the more unreasonable expectations I’ve seen for the Eagles this year (like an undefeated conference season).

IF NOT THEM THEN: As long as Dallas Moore is running the point for North Florida, the Ospreys are going to be a force in the ASun, and they did of course win the ASun regular season title and were the odds on favorite to repeat as ASun tournament champs until getting waxed by FGCU in semis. Offensively, UNF is the polar opposite of FGCU. They had the 6th highest 3PTA rate in the country, and 43.4% of their points came via 3, the 2nd highest rate in the country. That was due in large to the prolific shooting of Beau Beech and Trent Mackey, who have both graduated. Replacing that three point production (nearly 450 attempts and both shot 44%) won’t be easy, but Matthew Driscoll potentially has the pieces in Aaron Bodager (53-106 from 3 last year!!!) and FR Garrett Sams, a 6’6 pure shooter who will likely be a liability defensively in his rookie season. Additionally, 6’4 Austrian Benedikt Haid is a lethal shooter in the vein of “Birds of Trey” assassins Beech and Mackey, but he looks like a potential redshirt candidate so he can have a year to learn the college game and team up with pure scoring combo guard and Ole Miss transfer JT Escobar as the future of the UNF backcourt. The other freshman to watch for UNF this year is Al-Wajid Aminu. He’s more of a Demarcus Daniels type of 3/4 with his athleticism and penetration being his strong suits, not his shooting. He’ll see minutes alongside Chris Davenport, the other key senior with Moore this year. The continued outstanding PG play of Moore combined with the athleticism and versatility of Davenport will keep UNF at the top of the ASun standings, but there are some serious defensive issues, especially in the paint and on the wing, areas that proved to be the downfall of the Birds of Trey last year. Combine that with the likely step back in offensive efficiency, and the Ospreys are just a slight tier below FGCU, even with the inimitable Moore running the show.

CONTENDERS: NJIT’s first year in the ASun has to be considered a success. The Highlanders finished 8-6 and return a veteran core led by electric PG Damon Lynn (and Tim Coleman, Terrence Smith, and a healthy Rob Ukawuba). What they don’t return is program architect Jim Engles, as Brian Kennedy will be taking over on the sidelines. NJIT fit right into the three point heavy, up tempo ASun, and Kennedy likely won’t be changing much in an offense that chucked the three at the 40th highest rate nationally and extended a zone press defensively, as he was Engles right hand man in the building of this program. Lynn alone chucked 34o 3PTAs, and I suspect he might reach the 400 mark in his senior year. He and Coleman are both key defensively at the top of the zone, but Ky Howard’s production has to be replaced as the passer/slasher foil to Lynn’s three point transition game off those frequent drag screens. The biggest addition comes in the frontcourt with South Alabama transfer Abdul Lewis eligible. The Newark native comes home and will immediately start that the 5, where NJIT was woeful last year.

Speaking of transition threes, Lipscomb is right there with UNF and NJIT in terms of 3PTA rate, and they played at the fastest pace in the ASun. With the emergence of Garrison Matthews at the 2 last year and Nate Moran at the point, Casey Alexander’s squad is loaded in the backcourt, and I haven’t even mentioned that leading scorer Josh Williams returns from a knee injury this year. Alexander did lose one of his shooters with JC Hampton transferring to Texas A&M, but the Bisons should still be just as prolific from behind the arc as they were last year with Williams back. With Alexander’s 4 out offense and proclivity to utilize a few zones defensively, the frontcourt isn’t really in focus in Nashville, but effective back to the basket scorer George Brammeier returns, as does rebounding stalwart and rim protector Eli Pepper. 6’9 stretch 4 Brett Wishon also returns. A winning ASun season should be the baseline for Lipscomb this season, and a trip to the NCAA Tournament is a realistic ceiling.

SLEEPERS: The Stetson Hatters are coming off an APR season that rendered them ineligible for postseason play, but that didn’t stop Corey Williams’ team from making a surprise run to the ASun title game, where they nearly created a unique situation that could have sent UNF to the NCAA Tournament despite not even reaching the tourney finals. Alas, the Hatters fell in OT to FGCU, but Stetson returns a deep, veteran backcourt this season, one in which they’re actually eligible for postseason play. With dual PGs Divine Myles and Comby Rivera, the Hatters are the definition of a penetrate and kick offense, especially with long shooters like Luke Doyle and deadeye slasher Derick Newton (49% from 3, 83% from FT line with 4th highest FT rate in ASun) lurking on the wings. Add in 6’2 defensive stopper Grant Lozoya, and the Stetson backcourt is one of the more underrated units in the league. The frontcourt, led by Newton at the stretch 4 position and undersized but effective post and tenacious rebounder Brian Pegg, is solid but small and thin. 6’8 FR Clay Verk is the only newcomer expected to be a major contributor on the frontline, so Stetson’s defensive issues should continue to be their achilles heel this year (54.6% eFG last year in ASun play).

Eddie Payne should have his USC Upstate Spartans contending for a top half league finish again after a rough 4-10 first season post Ty Greene. The young Spartans of last year return nearly everyone, and should be more well versed in Payne’s pressure heavy matchup zone. The defense last year was atrocious, and they produced the league’s lowest TO rate, which is surprising for an Eddie Payne team. The offense wasn’t much better, as they had the highest TO rate in the league, and the lowest 3PT% too. That combo will usually make you dead last in any league in offensive efficiency. Payne never really found a PG last year, but the idea is that 6’4 Jure Span is ready to make a big leap and be the steady floor runner that Payne’s offense needs. That would allow Josh Cuthbertson and Mike Cunningham to move off the ball even more, and with make you or break you gunner Deion Holmes, give Payne a potent small ball lineup he could surround around dominant 7’0 foot post Michael Buchanan. With Buchanan, an underrated passer out of the post, Payne’s offense filters through post as much as Dooley’s at FGCU. Factor in rising SO Phil Whittington at the 4, and the Spartans are the one team that can combat FGCU’s dominant frontline in a league that relies heavily on the three ball elsewhere. The continued development of 6’6 wings Malik Moore and Jake Schulte is key too, as their versatility is needed in a frontcourt with no depth behind Buchanan and Whittington.

Kennesaw State came on strong late last year when they picked up Al Skinner’s flex offense, but they have to replace Nigel Pruitt on the wing, Bernard Morena in the post, and most importantly Yo Brown, who played the highest percentage of his team’s minutes in the country. Brown went the full 40 in 20 of KSU’s 31 games. That said, Skinner has a talented FR class coming in, headlined by a pair of 6’5 wings, shooter James Scott and do everything Anthony Wilson. They’ll likely see immediate minutes alongside Kendrick Ray. While a true point guard isn’t a necessity in Skinner’s continuity flex offense, having wings who can handle the ball is, and that means Scott, Wilson, and SO Kyle Clarke are going to have key roles. Clarke and Ray should both be able to “run the point”, but Ray should be able to work off the ball a lot more and find space in the offense in his second season in Skinner’s system. The frontcourt is essentially wide open and a lot will be determined simply by who can crash the offensive glass, a necessity for any Al Skinner team. Aubrey Williams proved he could do that quite well in his first coming over from Toledo, and he also drew contact at the highest rate in the league. He’s only 6’6, but he’s an excellent returning piece at the 4 for the flex. 6’10 FR Zach Cameron will likely see minutes at the 5 out of necessity, but this is going to be a team that plays small with Ray, Clarke, the freshmen wings, and Williams, but will rely on execution within the flex rather than living and dying by the 3, like most of the other smaller teams in the ASun. All in all, KSU is an interesting team and a sleeper contender depending on how quickly the freshmen pick up Skinner’s offense, which makes a dramatic jump from 7-7 seemingly unlikely.

Tony Jasick’s third season at Jacksonville could prove to be his most difficult, as it will be his first without Kori Babineaux, but I learned from his time at IPFW that Jasick is a skilled player developer, and I wouldn’t ticket the Dolphins for a bottom half finish just yet. Jasick is really going to push the pace this year with what will be one of the smallest teams in the country. He’ll rely on a bevy of athletic wings led by Marcel White, JR Holder, Darius Dawkins (although he likely won’t be 100% until ASun play starts after an ACL tear last year), and the freakish, all over the court athleticism of Antwon Clayton. Jasick will have a trio of ball handlers in the backcourt with Darien Fernandez returning, ETSU transfer Devin Harris eligible, and FR Tanner Rubio coming in. Those three are going to be key if Jasick is going to have the Dolphins playing efficient transition reliant basketball to outrun the bigger contenders like FGCU.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

  1. FGCU
  2. North Florida
  3. NJIT
  4. Lipscomb
  5. Kennesaw State
  6. USC Upstate
  7. Stetson
  8. Jacksonville (you can essentially order 5-8 anyway you like)

 

 

 

2016-2017 America East Preview

4 Aug

A few quick notes/thoughts on the upcoming AmEast basketball season…

TEAM TO BEAT: With Stony Brook and Albany both in various stages of rebuild mode this season, it appears that Vermont is the clear favorite to win the AmEast. The Catamounts return basically everyone except Ethan O’Day, and are actually healthy (knock on wood) for the time being. With Dre Wills, Trae Bell-Haynes, Cam Ward, and the Duncan brothers returning, UVM easily has the best backcourt in the league. Additionally, John Becker’s team is loaded offensively with length and shooting ability on the wing with Kurt Steidl returning and 6’8 Tulane transfer Josh Hearlihy eligible. With those two, the Duncans, and Ward, UVM should once again be one of the better three point shooting teams in the country (30th nationally in terms of % and tops in the AmEast, and Becker should loosen the reigns a bit offensively this year and allow the three to fly at a higher rate). Adding depth and athleticism at the 3 will be FR Anthony Lamb, who should see immediate minutes with his 2-4 versatility. With TBH and Wills, UVM is also the best perimeter defending team in the league, which is going to be even more of a factor with O’Day no longer protecting the rim. Speaking of the frontcourt, Darren Payen returns and should be the focal point of the frontline offensively, but without O’Day, that unit takes a fairly big hit on both ends of the court. Another Tulane transfer, Payton Henson, is Payen’s only real frontcourt mate this year, so depth on the frontline is going to be an issue, and the league’s highest block rate at 12.2% should be significantly lower this year. In short, the UVM offense should once again be the most efficient in the AmEast, but the defense might not be the typical Becker unit you see with the deficiencies in the frontcourt.

IF NOT THEM THEN: With some traditional powers down, this could be the year New Hampshire finally breaks through. Like UVM, they return basically everyone, and Bill Herrion’s squad has the best frontcourt in the league to go along with a solid veteran backcourt. Jacoby Armstrong and uber rebounder Iba Camara join potential AmEast POY Tanner Leissner to form one of the best units in the league, while the dual PG backcourt of Jaleen Smith and Daniel Dion is rounds out arguably the best starting 5 in the conference. Smith particularly is poised for a huge year. At 6’4 with outstanding ball skills, shooting ability, and penetration, Smith is as tough of a matchup in the league as anyone. Additionally, Smith and Dion are both 90% free throw shooters, which is quite a luxury with your two primary ball handlers. Joe Bramanti rounds out the backcourt for a deep, veteran team that dominates the glass and shuts opposing backcourts down on the perimeter routinely. UNH lost all 3 meetings to UVM last year, but it appears the AmEast title is going to run through Burlington or Durham this year.

SLEEPER: Hartford dealt with an insane amount of injuries last year, and those losses took a toll on their defense and rebounding, where they were among the worst teams in the country. That said, the Hawks ended the year on a relative high note by upsetting Albany on the road in the AmEast tourney, and they return the big Irishman John Carroll in the middle, who was off to a great start before being cut down by a knee injury just 5 games into the season. Carroll’s injury gave freshmen like George Blagojevic some early experience, and with Carroll back, Blagojevic could develop into something of a stretch 4 in John Gallagher’s three point heavy, 4 out offense, which hasn’t seen the Hawks fall out of the top 10 nationally in 3PTA rate in his 5 seasons at the helm. Gallagher added Ivo Simovic to his coaching staff this year, and Simovic should help Gallagher tap into the eastern European talent after mining Australia successfully for years. Simovic immediately landed 6’7 wing Luka Vasic (who was being courted by Notre Dame and Davidson), but he’s ominously not listed on the 2016-17 Hartford roster on their official site. The return of Carroll, Jack Hobbs, Blagojevic, and the addition of 6’10 Egyptian Hassan Attia should improve the frontcourt, but the Hawks’ real strength lies with their backcourt, led by the league’s best pure scorer in Pancake Thomas, a do everything 2 who very well could be the AmEast POY. Improving PG Jalen Ross also returns, along with a bevy of interchangeable shooters. The Hawks could very well more than double their 4 AmEast wins from last year (all against the bottom half of the league), especially if Carroll can return to his November form from last year. [UPDATE: Pancake Thomas has been granted his immediate release as a grad transfer, which is obviously an absolutely devastating blow for the Hawks, and drops them down a few pegs.]

DEEPER SLEEPERS: Traditional powers Stony Brook and Albany look to be in varying degrees of rebuild, but they’re obviously not to be counted out, especially Will Brown’s squad, who should have his JUCOs fully integrated come March, when his Danes are always most dangerous. Nevertheless, Brown has to replace the incredibly successful Singletary/Hooley/Sanders trio, and he’ll be reliant on a slew of JUCOs to do so, most of which I know very little about. PG duties likely fall to SO David Nichols and JUCO Marqueese Grayson, while hyper efficient penetrator Joe Cremo should fully take over the Hooley role, although that 122 ORtg will likely take a substantial hit this year. Costa Anderson out of Northern Oklahoma College should provide some scoring punch and will likely take over the Sanders role of lock down perimeter defender. SR wing Dallas Ennema will add some length and shooting ability to the perimeter as well. The frontcourt is experienced with Mike Rowley and Greg Stire returning, and Albany should once again be one of, if not the, best rebounding teams in the league, and that’s despite Brown’s proclivity to utilize a lot of 3-2 zone. It might take a while for the Great Danes to get on the same page this year, but as Will Brown’s teams tend to be, they’re going to be dangerous come AmEast tournament time.

Stony Brook finally got over the mental hump and won the AmEast tournament and went dancing for the first time in school history, but the Seawolves will undergo a major rebuild this year with arguably the greatest player in AmEast history (Jameel Warney) moving on, and Steve Pikiell also moving on to Rutgers. With Warney no longer dominating the paint, SBU looks to be a more perimeter oriented team with Lucas Woodhouse and Ahmad Walker leading the charge in the backcourt. However, the hire of Ohio State assistant Jeff Boals, who is a big man coach by trade, suggests the Seawolves will still be looking to pound it inside early and often (28th nationally in % of FGAs at the rim), which means Tyrell Sturdivant is due for a breakout year. Of course to make up for Warney’s production, Boals is going to need 7’0 redshirt FR Alonzo Campbell to stay healthy and JR Jakub Petras to log some quality minutes for the first time in his career at SBU. Wings Roland Nyama and Bryan Sekunda are going to be relied on heavily in this transition year. Nyama has the athleticism to be a factor on both ends, while Sekunda can stretch defenses with his shooting ability, but his effectiveness is a major question mark as he’s battling back from a late season ACL tear. With Warney and Puriefoy gone, the torch is passed to Walker, Woodhouse, and Sturdivant in Boals’ first year, and that’s a strong enough core for the Seawolves to stay in the top half of the league.

THE REST: Probably a make or break year for Tommy Dempsey at Binghamton. The Bearcats were a fairly big disappointment last year as they failed to tally double digit season wins for the fourth straight year under Dempsey, and the offense was one of the least efficient units in the entire country. The good news is that the Bearcats return everyone of note this year, including potential AmEast POY wing Willie Rodriguez. Additionally, Yosef Yacob returns from a shoulder injury this year, giving Dempsey another option at PG, where Everson Davis struggled to efficiently run the offense (brutal 78 ORtg, forcing Dempsey to turn to walk on FR Timmy Rose, who actually thrived a bit late in the season, particularly in a close loss to UNH in the AmEast tournament). With Yacob back, Davis can be utilized more off the ball as a penetrator, and Marlon Beck can be used more as a spot up shooter, where he can be deadly. In addition to the return of Yacob, Dempsey added two key pieces to the backcourt in Bucknell shooter JC Show and FR Fard Muhammad, a sharpshooting prep teammate of Ben Simmons’. Show and Muhammad should vastly improve the efficiency of an offense that shot just 28.5% from 3 last year. Joining Rodriguez on the wing is Justin McFadden, giving the Bearcats arguably the most athletic 3/4 combo in the league, and the hope is that Dusan Perovic turns into the always coveted stretch 4 in his JR year. 6’9 Thomas Bruce has his moments as a FR last year, but behind him the frontcourt is extremely thin and a major question mark. Despite the deficiencies in the paint, there is reason for hope in Vestal. Of course this is incredibly similar to what I said about last year’s Binghamton team before the season started.

UMBC is another team looking to make a big jump this year, something they failed to do in Aki Thomas’ four seasons at the helm. Dave Odom’s son Ryan takes over, and he was successful in keeping a talented backcourt in place during the coaching transition. Odom kept Jairus Lyles, Rodney Elliott, and Jourdan Grant in the fold, giving the Retrievers an explosive backcourt. Lyles is challenged only by Pancake Thomas at Hartford as the league’s best pure scorer, and he’s a terror on the ball defensively. Elliott’s a relentless rim attacker who can run the point, and Grant is another defensive stalwart who can get to the rim at a high rate (6th highest FT rate in the country, but shot an abysmal 58% when he got there). Odom also has former Abilene Christian PG KJ Maura coming in, allowing him to utilize an attacking small ball lineup with Elliott moving off the ball (of course Thomas tried this as well, and while UMBC’s extended press created the highest steal rate in the AmEast, they had absolutely nothing on the back end, leading to the least efficient defense in the league and a 57% eFG, 4th worst in the country, and the 3rd worst eFG% in transition, with fellow league member Hartford having the worst). Odom inherits something of a disaster in the frontcourt though. 6’8 Will Darley is a capable defense stretcher, shooting 43% from 3 on 113 attempts, but he offers next to nothing defensively in front of the rim. Sam Schwietz was an effective rim protector when he was on the floor, which wasn’t often given his excessively high foul rate and Thomas’ press heavy system. 6’10 Nolan Gerrity came on strong when eligible last year and represents Odom’s only legitimate chance at any sort of consistent post presence.

UMass-Lowell is in their final year of D1 transition, and thus Pat Duquette’s team is once again ineligible for postseason play, but that won’t stop the River Hawks from being a thorn in the side of the AmEast thanks to Duquette’s uptempo, pressure heavy system that relies on quickness and versatility. To wit, the River Hawks swept presumed league favorite UVM last year. The River Hawks are led by do-everything-6’2 cannonball Jahad Thomas, arguably the league’s most entertaining player because of his ability to play 1-4 and rebound like he’s 6’8. Factor in that he’s 100% recovered from his knee injury and Thomas will be even more of a demon in the  nation’s 13th fastest squad in terms of adjusted tempo. The pieces around Thomas are mainly shooters who can spread the floor, led by Matt Harris, Isaac White, and Ryan Jones in the backcourt, with White and Harris both knocking in threes at a 44% clip in league play last year. The frontcourt is where things get dicey for UML, hence the uptempo, extended zone press style Duquette employs. No one on the team can rebound except for the exceptional Thomas, and behind Dontavious Smith, there isn’t much athleticism or depth, and Smith himself is a major work in progress offensively. That said, seeing the River Hawks get to .500 or better in league play is certainly a realistic goal in their final transition year.

Speaking of uptempo offense and no defense, look for another long year in Orono for the Maine Black Bears. In Bob Walsh’s second year at the helm, Maine played at the 4th fastest pace in the country as Walsh employed the system he picked up from Tim Cluess at Iona. At the very least the Black Bears were entertaining, routinely playing 80+ possession games and even stunning Albany for one of their 4 AmEast wins. Unfortunately, Maine then went 0 for February and lost their two best players to transfer in the offseason with Kevin Little bolting for Colorado State and talented FR Issac Vann heading to VCU. Just when it looked like things had hit rock bottom for Walsh, super athletic FR big Devine Eke headed back to New Jersey and transferred to Rider in June. Walsh’s system relies on depth and athleticism, and he lost his three most talented players as well. Aaron Calixte will head the backcourt and will lead the Black Bears in scoring, and a healthy Garet Beal on the perimeter will help with his 6’6 frame and shooting ability, but there are a ton of question marks everywhere else. Niagara transfer Danny Evans will help on the perimeter as well. At 6’4, the Englishman can team with Beal to give Walsh some lengthy defense stretchers at the 2 and 3, but they’ll be liabilities defensively. Vince Eze and Andrew Fleming (the top rated Maine prep two years ago) will add some athleticism to a woeful frontcourt, and could turn into league surprises because of the ample opportunities they’ll have to put up numbers. Maine’s likely going to occupy the AmEast cellar again, but at least they’re going to run there.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Vermont

2. New Hampshire

3. Albany

4. Stony Brook

5. UM Lowell

6. Hartford

7. UMBC

8. Binghamton

9. Maine