32 Conferences, 32 Previews, 32 Days: WAC

By Kevin Sweeney

The WAC title race has an interesting twist this season, as one of the top teams in the league in Grand Canyon is ineligible for the postseason.  Grand Canyon’s transition to Division I has gone incredibly well, with the Antelopes having won 27 games last season, but they still have 1 more year in their 4-year transition to full D-I status, meaning that they can’t make the NCAA Tournament. The Antelopes still will have plenty of big games this season, with trips to Duke and Arizona as well as home dates with Louisville and San Diego State scheduled.  With the Antelopes ineligible for postseason play, the door is certainly open for another WAC contender to take control of the league and make a run to the “Big Dance”.

Picks:

  1. New Mexico State
  2. Grand Canyon
  3. Cal State Bakersfield
  4. Seattle
  5. UMKC
  6. Utah Valley
  7. UT-Rio Grande Valley
  8. Chicago State

Champions: New Mexico State- The Aggies were the best team in the WAC last season, going 13-1 in conference play, and I expect the same to be the case this season.  While they lose Pascal Siakam, a first round pick in the NBA Draft who is now starting for the Raptors, they bring back their other four starters as well as multiple other significant pieces.  They also have an outstanding group of newcomers headlined by redshirt freshman guard Jermaine Haley, who had numerous high-major offers and received a 4-star grade from rivals.com  The Aggies have tremendous size, with 7 players standing at least 6-7.  Those big men are headlined by Tanveer Bhullar, who is 7-2 and has lost over 50 pounds since enrolling 3 years ago.  NMSU should be loaded, and first year head coach Paul Weir has an excellent chance to begin his head coaching career with an NCAA Tournament berth.

Dark Horse: Cal State Bakersfield- Great guard play is usually a recipe for success at the mid-major level, and the Roadrunners have the best set of guards in the conference.  They have 4 outstanding guards who each have different roles in the offense.  Dedrick Basile is the star of the group, a do-everything scorer who hit a buzzer-beater to send the Roadrunners to the NCAA Tournament. Damiyne Durham hit nearly three 3-pointers per game last season as a specialist off the bench, while Jaylin Airington is an excellent slasher who also rebounds well for a guard. Brent Wrapp is the distributor in the group, averaging over 4 assists per game last season. The question for Bakersfield will be the frontcourt, where they lose their top two rebounders from an already-thin group. JUCO transfer Moataz Aly and Mississippi State transfer Fallou Ndoye will be looked to provide some stability up front for the Roadrunners. If they can, Bakersfield has an excellent chance to repeat as conference tournament champs.

Preseason First Team:

  • G: Ian Baker-New Mexico State
  • G: Joshua Braun-Grand Canyon
  • G: Martez Harrison-UMKC
  • G: LaVell Boyd-UMKC
  • G: Dedrick Basile- Cal State Bakersfield

Player of the Year: Joshua Braun- Braun is the type of player I love to root for.   A 6-4 small forward, Braun received just one scholarship offer out of high school, from a school that had never played at the Division I level. Now, he’s the best player in the WAC, and with 2 seasons of eligibility remaining, has a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament in his senior year.  Braun doesn’t wow you with any one area of his game, but lots of things well. He shot 39% from downtown last season while also knocking down 87% of his free throws. He does an excellent job of getting to the charity stripe, averaging nearly 7 free throw attempts per game last season. He has a chance to be a rare 50-40-90 player, a huge distinction for shooters that entails making 50% of field goal attempts, 40% of 3-point attempts, and 90% of foul shots.  If Grand Canyon pulls some upsets early this season, expect Braun to be the main reason why.

Newcomer of the Year: Oscar Frayer (Grand Canyon)- Frayer represents the future for Grand Canyon.  Head Coach Rick Majerle convinced Frayer, a 4-star recruit out of high school, to sign with the Antelopes over the likes of Oregon State, Cal, and St. Mary’s. The 6-6 wing is incredibly athletic, possessing the ability to play above the rim in ways that most mid-major players can’t. He also has a nice stroke with his jump shot.  Frayer should immediately make an impact on the wing for the Antelopes, who seem to have the talent to put together a special season.

32 Conferences, 32 Previews, 32 Days: Sun Belt

By Kevin Sweeney

The Sun Belt has been involved in some of the most memorable moments in the last 2 NCAA Tournaments. Two years ago, it was Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter draining a deep 3 in the closing seconds to beat Baylor, causing his dad & head coach Ron Hunter to fall off his stool, which he was sitting on due to a torn achilles tendon suffered during the celebration of winning the Sun Belt Championship. Last year, Josh Hagins capped Little Rock’s unbelievable comeback against Purdue with a clutch 3 to tie the game, and the Trojans eventually pulled it out in double overtime. The Sun Belt has become an excellent mid-major league, and it should be stacked again for the 2016-17 season.

Picks:

  1. UT-Arlington
  2. Georgia Southern
  3. Little Rock
  4. Georgia State
  5. South Alabama
  6. Louisiana-Lafayette
  7. Arkansas State
  8. Coastal Carolina
  9. Louisiana-Monroe
  10. Troy
  11. Texas State
  12. Appalachian State

Champions: UT-Arlington- It is always devastating to see a team with so much potential have its season derailed by an unfortunate injury, but that’s how last season unfolded for UT-Arlington. The Mavericks won true road games over Ohio State and Memphis and took Texas to overtime in the first month, appearing to be in position to have a truly special season. Then, superstar forward Kevin Hervey, who was averaging 18.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, tore his ACL before a January showdown with Arkansas State, ending his season prematurely. Hervey has now recovered, and that’s bad news for the rest of the Sun Belt.  The Mavericks bring back all 5 starters from Hervey’s absence, and should be one of the most talented mid-majors in all of college basketball this season. If they stay healthy, it could be a memorable season for the Mavericks.

Dark Horse: Georgia State- After the incredible 2015 NCAA Tournament run, expectations were high last season for the Panthers, as they were picked to finish 2nd in the Sun Belt. However, things didn’t go as planned, as GSU went just 16-14 en route to a 6th place finish in the Sun Belt.  This year should be a much better one for the Panthers, with a talented group of newcomers hoping to supplement a solid core of returning players.  Forward Jeremy Hollowell should compete for player of the year in the Sun Belt, while guard Isaiah Williams will look to build on an outstanding first season with the Panthers after beginning his career at Samford. Among the newcomers is Willie Clayton, a tenacious rebounder who averaged over 3 offensive rebounds per game in his 3 seasons at Charlotte, and D’Marcus Simonds, a 4-star prospect who is one of the most highly-touted recruits for any mid-major in the country.  Simonds should provide an huge scoring punch from the guard position for the Panthers.  The pieces are there for GSU, its just a matter of whether they will fit together.

Preseason First Team:

  • F: Kevin Hervey- UT-Arlington
  • F: Jeremy Hollowell- Georgia State
  • G: Tookie Brown- Georgia Southern
  • G: Mike Hughes- Georgia Southern
  • G: Devin Carter- Arkansas State

Player of the Year: Kevin Hervey- Hervey has a skillset that isn’t typically seen at the mid-major level.  Despite standing 6-9, Hervey knocked down nearly two 3-pointers per game in the 16 games he played.  His ability to stretch the floor opens up the rest of his offensive game, while also creating space for his teammates to drive to the basket.  Combine his outstanding offensive skill with strong rebounding, and you get a player who has the potential to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game this season, a very rare feat in college basketball. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Hervey get attention from NBA scouts throughout the season, as he certainly has enough talent to play at the next level.  Meanwhile, UT-Arlington fans hope that Hervey can bring them to just their second NCAA Tournament in program history.

Newcomer of the Year: Coastal Carolina- Coastal Carolina enters the Sun Belt from the Big South this season as its football team moves up to the FBS level.  They are truly the wild cards in the Sun Belt this season, as they enter the conference after a string of incredbly successful seasons in the Big South. Leading the way will be Elijah Wilson, a 6-4 guard who should compete for all-conference honors this season. The big question mark for the Chanticleers is Shivaughn Wiggins, who was arrested in March and suspended indefinitely from the team.  Head Coach Cliff Ellis has indicated that it’s possible that Wiggins will return for the spring semester, around when the conference schedule would begin.  Coastal likely won’t win the Sun Belt this season, but should be competitive in their first season in the Sun Belt.

32 Conferences, 32 Previews, 32 Days: Summit League

By Kevin Sweeney

While the Summit League typically doesn’t receive a lot of attention thanks to its geographic location, it has developed into one of the top one-bid leagues in college basketball. Its conference RPI ranked ahead of perennial powerhouse leagues like the Mountain West, Missouri Valley, and the WCC, per realtimeRPI.com. The talent in this conference continues to improve year after year, with multiple teams knocking off Power 5 opponents last season while numerous others fell just short of pulling a huge upset. The Summit League should be wide-open and one of the most intriguing conferences to follow this season.

Picks:

  1. South Dakota State
  2. Fort Wayne
  3. North Dakota State
  4. Nebraska-Omaha
  5. IUPUI
  6. Western Illinois
  7. Denver
  8. Oral Roberts
  9. South Dakota

Champions: South Dakota State- The loss of a pair of outstanding guards in George Marshall and Deondre Parks will certainly hurt, but the Jackrabbits should still be one of the top teams in the Summit League. They bring back forward Mike Daum, who put up monster numbers last season despite averaging only 20.8 minutes per game. Daum should thrive in new Head Coach T.J. Otzelberger’s uptempo system that allowed forwards like Georges Niang to thrive at Iowa State. Graduate transfer point guard Michael Orris, who has spent time at Kansas State and Northern Illinois, will be looked to to handle point guard duties, a position where the Jackrabbits are thin. They will likely have the best frontcourt in the league, so good guard play would catapult them into pole position for the Summit League title.

Dark Horse: IUPUI- With most preseason predictions considering the Summit League to be a 3-horse race, IUPUI has flown under the radar. However, the Jaguars have plenty of talent in their own right. Leading the way will be Darell Combs, the outstanding guard who averaged nearly 17 points per game last season. They also have Matt O’Leary, a forward with excellent passing skills and nice touch from beyond the arc. That duo will be as potent as any in the conference, and should keep the Jaguars in a lot of games. A pair of transfer guards will likely be the difference between IUPUI being average and great this season. Former Syracuse guard Ron Patterson should provide some athleticism on the wing, while graduate transfer Kellon Thomas, who enters after spending his first 3 seasons of eligibility at Kent State, is an excellent scorer and distributor. If Thomas and Patterson put up big numbers, the Jags should surprise some people in the Summit League.

Preseason First Team:

  • F: Mike Daum-South Dakota State
  • G: Paul Miller-North Dakota State
  • G: Darell Combs-IUPUI
  • G: Mo Evans-Fort Wayne
  • G: Tra-Deon Hollins- Omaha

Player of the Year: Mo Evans- Evans was a big reason for Fort Wayne’s outstanding start to the 2015-16 season. In fact, the Mastodons were 15-3 in games that Evans played in last season. However, Evans didn’t play after January 9th due to academic issues, a devastating blow for Fort Wayne. Now, he’s back, and with star guard Max Landis having graduated, Evans will be looked to for even more production in the 2016-17 season. He averaged nearly 17 points per game, while ranking second in the conference in assists per game with 5.1. He should be one of the top players in the conference, and a big reason why the Mastodons will be one of the top teams in the Summit League.

Newcomer of the Year: Kellon Thomas (IUPUI)- An excellent scorer at the point guard position, Thomas should be a huge addition for the Jaguars. He led Kent State as a junior in assists and 3’s made, while ranking 2nd in scoring. Thomas will likely take over a lot of the ball-handling duties from star guard Darell Combs, an excellent scorer who struggled with turnovers last season. A big season for Thomas could lead the Jaguars into contention for the Summit League title.

32 Conferences, 32 Previews, 32 Days: SWAC

By Kevin Sweeney

There are 3 distinct ways that college basketball coaches typically find talent: recruiting players directly from high school/prep school, getting players who transferred from another Division I school, and recruiting players from junior colleges.  In the SWAC, the JUCO route has been used heavily by coaches, as an incredible 43.6% of all the players in the SWAC played at junior college before coming to the SWAC.  The junior college transfer market is a risky business, as many JUCO players struggled academically in high school. Also, the talent gap at the JUCO level is very large, from excellent teams that would give some Division I squads a run for their money to some that are barely better than a high school team, making it difficult to determine how good a player is.  A team taking the JUCO route for finding talent also sees lots of roster turnover, as players usually only have 2 years of eligibility remaining.  This annual roster upheaval makes the SWAC very difficult to project, as any team could come out of nowhere to win the SWAC.

Picks:

  1. Jackson State
  2. Texas Southern
  3. Southern
  4. Alcorn State
  5. Alabama State
  6. Mississippi Valley State
  7. Prairie View A&M
  8. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
  9. Alabama A&M
  10. Grambling State

Champions: Jackson State- While Texas Southern has dominated this conference in recent years, winning either the regular season title or conference tournament in each of the past 4 seasons, I think this year Jackson State will take home the SWAC title. Texas Southern’s lack of experience, except for star forward Derrick Griffin, makes them a bit of a question mark for this season.  Jackson State, on the other hand, has plenty of proven depth, with 4 starters returning from last season’s 20-win campaign.  Among those returners is the guard duo of Paris Collins and Chace Franklin, who each averaged over 12 points and 5 rebounds per game last season. Each of them have a chance to contend for the SWAC Player of the Year award. They do have to replace their leading scorer and rebounder from last season in Raeford Worsham, but with a few wings from the JUCO ranks entering, they should be able to make up for his production.  With a duo like Collins and Franklin in tow, Jackson State should have a shot in every game they play.

Dark Horse: Mississippi Valley State- The Delta Devils have the best pure scorer in the conference in Marcus Romain, a 6-2 guard who averaged 18.6 points per game last season following 2 years at a junior college in Los Angeles.  For MVSU to be a contender in the SWAC, Romain will have to do even more than he did last season.  He must take better care of the basketball this season after averaging 3.6 turnovers per game last season.  He also must make some 3’s, after shooting just 34% from downtown last season.  If he does those things, the Delta Devils could be dangerous.  With Romain and Isaac Williams, another double digit scorer last season, MVSU has a strong nucleus in place to help them improve from last season’s 9th place finish.

Preseason First Team:

  • F: Derrick Griffin-Texas Southern
  • G: Paris Collins-Jackson State
  • G: Marcus Romain-MVSU
  • G: Tre’lun Banks-Southern
  • G: Chace Frankin-Jackson State

Player of the Year: Derrick Griffin- At the mid-major level, big men typically struggle early in their careers as they grow into their frames while guards thrive from day one.  Griffin is the exception to that rule. The 6-7 sophomore forward had one of the best seasons by a freshman in all of college basketball, posting averages of 13.3 points and 11 rebounds per game en route to being name SWAC Player of the Year.  The scary part of that is that Griffin left a ton of points on the free throw line, making just 53% of his foul shots. If he can improve that number, Griffin could put up some absolutely ridiculous numbers for the Tigers.

Newcomer of the Year: Zach Lofton (Texas Southern)- To say that Zach Lofton has taken an odd road to Texas Southern would be a significant understatement.  The talented 6-4 guard began at a junior college in Houston before transferring to Illinois State, where he averaged in double figures as a sophomore before transferring to Minnesota, where he was kicked off the team before ever playing a game with the Golden Gophers.  Now, it appears that Lofton is on his last strike, with Texas Southern giving him a chance to redeem himself.  There’s a reason teams keep taking chances on Lofton; he has incredible talent.  He’s certainly a question mark, but if Lofton can develop into a reliable second option on offense behind Derrick Griffin, the Tigers have an excellent chance to continue their dominance of the SWAC.

32 Conferences, 32 Previews, 32 Days: Southland

By Kevin Sweeney

To say that Stephen F. Austin has dominated the Southland Conference in the last few years would be an understatement.  The Lumberjacks have lost just 1 conference game in the past 3 seasons, and have won at least 12 conference games every season since 2010-11. They have certainly taken full advantage when on the national stage, winning a game in 2 out of the past 3 NCAA Tournaments and coming within seconds of the Sweet 16 last season. However, SFA head coach Brad Underwood left to take the Oklahoma State opening this offseason, and the Lumberjacks’ top 3 scorers from last season all graduated.  With the Lumberjacks no longer in position to dominate the Southland, opportunity arises for another team to take the title for the first time since 2013.

Picks:

  1. Sam Houston State
  2. Stephen F. Austin
  3. Texas A&M-CC
  4. Abilene Christian
  5. Houston Baptist
  6. Northwestern State
  7. McNeese State
  8. New Orleans
  9. Southeastern Louisiana
  10. Incarnate Word
  11. Central Arkansas
  12. Nicholls State
  13. Lamar

Champions: Sam Houston State- Despite the heavy losses they suffered, it was still difficult for me to pick against Stephen F. Austin. After all, there has been no team more dominant in their conference over the past 3 seasons in all of college basketball.  However, with the talent returning at Sam Houston State, I consider them the favorite to take the Southland this season. They return all 5 starters from last season’s team that finished in a tie for 3rd place in the Southland.  The high-scoring duo of guard Dakarai Johnson and center Aurimas Majauskas will be asked to provide much of the scoring punch.  Each of them averaged 14.2 points per game last season. The x-factor for the Bearkats will be graduate transfer forward Phillip Jones Jr, who spent his first 3 seasons at UTSA.  He didn’t put up huge numbers last season, but finished the year with 3 double-doubles in his final 4 games.  If he can provide that type of production this season, it might put the Bearkats over the top.

Dark Horse: Northwestern State- There is certainly potential for this Northwestern State squad.  They bring back virtually all of their production from last season, including one of the best scorers in college basketball in Zeek Woodley. I would have picked the Demons to contend for the league title if not for a season-ending injury suffered by superstar point guard Jalan West, who re-tore his ACL in August after suffering the same injury in the season opener last season against Ole Miss. Despite that huge loss, the Demons still have a strong core in place that is as talented as that of any other team in the league.  The big problem to solve for Northwestern State is their defense. They were one of the worst defenses in college basketball last season, giving up a whopping 86.2 points per game. If they can solve their defensive woes, the Demons could be one of the top teams in the Southland even without West.

Preseason First Team:

  • F: Rashawn Thomas- Texas A&M-CC
  • G: Jaylen Franklin- Abilene Christian
  • G: Jordan Howard- Central Arkansas
  • G: Zeek Woodley- Northwestern State
  • G: Ty Charles- Stephen F. Austin

Player of the Year: Zeek Woodley- The third-leading scorer among returning players in all of college basketball, Woodley certainly qualifies as a take-over scorer.  He is remarkably consistent, scoring in double figures in all but 2 games since his freshman season.  There is nothing Woodley can’t do on offense, as he is an excellent 3-point shooter who also has the ability to drive to the basket and finish through contact.  Northwestern State can ill afford for Woodley to have any bad games, as their entire offense flows through him and his ability to score in bunches. With a player of the year-type season, Woodley could carry the Demons into contention in the Southland.

Newcomer of the Year: Leon Gilmore (Stephen F. Austin)- The Lumberjacks will need their 8 newcomers to make an impact in order to offset the loss of 3 starters from last season’s squad.  Gilmore might be the best of the group. A former highly-recruit who chose to begin his career at Creighton over multiple Power 5 offers, Gilmore spent last season as one of the best players in the NJCAA, leading his team to a 33-2 record.  He is capable of playing all 3 forward positions, but should do most of his damage at the power forward spot for the Lumberjacks. If he can be an instant player, he could help Stephen F. Austin stay atop the Southland.

32 Conferences, 32 Previews, 32 Days: Southern

By Kevin Sweeney

The Southern Conference has been one of the conferences most effected by conference realignment.  Just a few years ago, when the Southern Conference drew huge amounts of attention due to Stephen Curry’s national stardom, the league had 11 teams, including 5 that are no longer in the SoCon. Now, the SoCon is down to 10, with Davidson, Charleston, Elon, Georgia Southern, and Appalachian State being replaced by East Tennessee State, Mercer, Samford, and VMI.  This creates an interesting mix of schools in the conference, as it includes large public universities, small private schools, and military academies. In recent years, the SoCon has performed very well on the national stage, earning 12 seeds, perfect upset position, in each of the past 2 NCAA Tournaments.

Picks:

  1. Chattanooga
  2. East Tennessee State
  3. Mercer
  4. UNC Greensboro
  5. Furman
  6. Wofford
  7. Samford
  8. VMI
  9. The Citadel
  10. Western Carolina

Champions: Chattanooga- The Mocs should be scary good this season.  They won 29 games, including impressive road wins at Georgia, Illinois, and Dayton, and reached the NCAA Tournament despite losing the defending SoCon Player of the Year to a season-ending injury before conference play got underway.  Jones should be back, and so will 4 of the top 5 scorers from last season, excluding Jones. Jones, as well as forwards Tre’ McLean and Justin Tuoyo, are player of the year candidates in the conference for this season.  2nd year head coach Matt McCall is one of the young stars in the business, and should bolster his resume with a 2nd consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.

Dark Horse: Mercer- Mercer was struck with a horrible tragedy in the middle of their season last year, when Jibri Bryan, a guard, was murdered.  Somehow, the Bears were able to continue to play, but struggled down the stretch, winning just two games in February. This season should be a different story, as the Bears bring back 3 starters and welcome multiple talent transfers from the JUCO ranks, including guards who began their careers at Rutgers and Wichita State, respectively.  This talent injection should boost the Bears back to the top half of the SoCon, and perhaps even higher.

Preseason First Team:

  • F: Tre’ McLean-Chattanooga
  • G: T.J. Cromer-ETSU
  • G: Fletcher Magee-Wofford
  • G: Casey Jones-Chattanooga
  • G: Q.J. Peterson-VMI

Player of the Year: Casey Jones- Jones is one of the most versatile players in college basketball. Playing on the wing, Jones provides a major scoring punch, as well as being an excellent rebounder and good distributor.  He was leading the Mocs in points, rebounds, and assists per game before losing his season to an ankle injury suffered in practice in December.  The only thing that could keep Jones from be the player of the year in the SoCon is the talent surrounding him.  There are so many excellent players on Chattanooga that his numbers could take a hit.  Even if his numbers aren’t as impressive as the stars from opposing teams, Jones will still be one of the best players in the conference.

Newcomer of the Year: Hanner Mosquera-Perea (ETSU)- An incredibly gifted athlete, Mosquera-Perea will be expected to expand his offensive repertoire from his time at Indiana, where his job was mostly focused on being a rim protector. At 6-9, 220 pounds, Mosquera-Perea is a matchup nightmare for mid-majors, especially if he’s deployed next to 7 footer Peter Jurkin, another Indiana transfer.  To have averaged 13.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per 40 minutes in the Big 10 is no small feat, and I expect those to be close to his per-game averages this season for the Bucs.

32 Conferences, 32 Previews, 32 Days: SEC

By Kevin Sweeney

There are more question marks in the SEC than there is in any Power 5 conference.  Perennial favorites Kentucky should be loaded once again, but after them, there isn’t a single team who I would consider an NCAA Tournament lock.  As with every season, the cream will rise to the top, but it is difficult to prognosticate which teams will be the “cream” in the SEC this season.  It should be interesting to watch the upper-tier teams jockey for position near the top of the conference, with an NCAA Tournament bid the ultimate goal.

Picks:

  1. Kentucky
  2. Georgia
  3. Texas A&M
  4. Florida
  5. Arkansas
  6. Vanderbilt
  7. South Carolina
  8. Ole Miss
  9. Alabama
  10. LSU
  11. Mississippi State
  12. Auburn
  13. Tennessee
  14. Missouri

Champions: Kentucky- “We don’t rebuild, we reload” has become the mantra of the John Calipari era in Lexington, and it appears that the Wildcats have reloaded once again for the 2016-17 season.  Losing large portions of the roster each season to the NBA ranks has become the norm for Kentucky, with blue-chip recruits flocking to the Bluegrass State only to leave one year later as first round picks.  Another ridiculously talented freshman class has arrived at Kentucky, with the hopes of bringing the Wildcats to their 3rd Final Four in 4 seasons. FIVE 5-star recruits, including 3 of the top 10 players in ESPN’s recruiting rankings, along with returning contributors Isaiah Briscoe and Derek Willis, will be tasked with replacing the production of the team’s 3 leading scorers from last season in Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis, and Alex Poythress.  De’Aaron Fox will likely start at point guard, while wing Malik Monk should contribute moments like this:

In the frontcourt, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, and Sacha Killeya-Jones each provide unique skillsets that will allow the Wildcats to adapt to the team they are facing.  While freshmen are certainly no sure thing, Coach Calipari has demonstrated his ability to get the best out of his players time and time again.

Dark Horse: Arkansas- The Razorbacks have 2 all-league caliber players in guard Dustys Hannahs and center Moses Kingsley, who could be a first round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.  The question for Arkansas is the rest of the roster.  Just 3 other players from last season’s team remain, and they combined to average just 15.2 points per game last season.  The rise of a 3rd scoring option will be necessary if the Razorbacks want to compete for an SEC title.  Maybe that guy is Anton Beard, a former SEC All-Freshman team selection who didn’t take the next step last season.  Or perhaps it is one of the 3 highly-touted JUCO transfers entering the program this season.  That group of JUCO transfers is made up of the #1,3, and 6th ranked JUCO players entering Division I.  The potential is high, and if that trio meshes well with Beard, Hannahs, and Kingsley, the Razorbacks could have something special brewing.

Preseason First Team:

  • F: Moses Kingsley-Arkansas
  • F: Yante Maten-Georgia
  • G: Antonio Blakeney-LSU
  • G: J.J. Frazier-Georgia
  • G: De’Aaron Fox-Kentucky

Player of the Year: J.J. Frazier- I’m not sure which stat about J.J. Frazier is more impressive: being the leading returning scorer in the SEC or averaging 4.6 rebounds per game despite being just 5-10 and 155 pounds. Frazier is a tough-minded natural scorer who is the main reason I picked the Bulldogs to finish second in the SEC.  He’s an excellent 3-point shooter who made 39% of his tries last season, as well as a steadying force at the point guard position, with a 2.7 assist-to-turnover rate that was 3rd-highest in the SEC last season.   For the Dawgs to have a big season, Frazier must have a player-of-the-year-caliber season.

Newcomer of the Year: De’Aaron Fox- The aforementioned Kentucky recruiting class might be the best in college basketball, and Fox is the crown jewel.  The speedy point guard will immediately fill much of Tyler Ulis’ role from last season as a distributor and scorer.  Fox plays the game with a ton of confidence, something that should immediately make him a fan favorite in Lexington.  The one question will be his jump shot. Fox has a smooth lefty stroke, but wasn’t a knockdown shooter in high school or AAU games.  If he can knock down 3’s consistently, it will open up the floor for his lighting-quick drives to the basket and could make him a SEC Player of the Year candidate.