Monday, September 30, 2013

32 In 32: Pac-12

With yet another nationally acclaimed recruiting class coming to Tucson, Sean Miller has positioned Arizona to be class of one of strongest Pac-12 seasons in recent years. (Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report)

Our "32 In 32" series takes a closer look at its second high-major conference today, leaving the Big 12 to profile what could be one of the strongest conferences anywhere in the nation in the Pac-12, which could realistically land as many as seven bids into the NCAA Tournament if all goes well. After Oregon went on a late-season surge to take the conference championship en route to a Sweet 16 run, this year's Pac-12 is much more competitive and loaded to the point where Dana Altman's Ducks will have their work cut out for them if they hope to repeat. Here's how we see the wizards of the West Coast going through their 18-game slate:

1) Arizona - Despite losing three starters, Sean Miller has made up for it with yet another stellar recruiting class coming into Tucson, highlighted by forwards Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whose older brother Rahlir graduated from Temple this past May. The two newcomers will see considerable minutes up front alongside seven-foot sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski and rising star Brandon Ashley, who should have a breakout second season. In the backcourt, the Wildcats get a proven pure point guard in Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, who will instantly make everyone around him better with his ability to score and pass in equal parts. McConnell will join sharpshooter Nick Johnson to form one of the best backcourts in the nation, with senior Jordin Mayes adding depth as Arizona's sixth man. Redshirt freshman Zach Peters could be the replacement for Grant Jerrett as the reserve power forward, while Gabe York should see an increase in minutes in the backcourt.

2) Cal - Mike Montgomery loses all-around superstar Allen Crabbe, but the Golden Bears are still one of the more deceptively strong teams in the Pac-12, thanks in large part to the return of point guard Justin Cobbs, who enters his senior season after averaging nearly five assists per game. McDonald's All-American swingman Jabari Bird will make an immediate impact on the wing, with Tyrone Wallace on the precipice of a breakout season as he goes into his sophomore campaign. Senior Richard Solomon and junior David Kravish give Cal one of the taller front lines in the Pac-12, and seven-foot freshman center Kameron Rooks should see considerable playing time right away.

3) Stanford - If you're looking for a true sleeper come March, the Cardinal are number one with a bullet on that list. NIT champions in 2012 only to finish 19-15 and see their season end in the second round of that tournament last year against Alabama, Johnny Dawkins returns all five starters, led by 6-10 senior forward Dwight Powell, who should average a double-double per season with all the right breaks. Fellow senior forward Josh Huestis will also be an automatic 10-and-10 player, and enters the 2013-14 season as one of the most underrated players in the nation, one who is also poised to become a household name. Swingman Andy Brown will see his scoring opportunities increase with the return of sharpshooter Chasson Randle and point guard Aaron Bright to the backcourt, not to mention John Gage and Robbie Lemons leading the deepest bench in the Pac-12. Do not be surprised to see this team make a deep run in March.

4) Colorado - When the Buffaloes entered the Pac-12 in 2011, not much was expected in Boulder. Three years later, Tad Boyle has a conference championship and two victories in the NCAA Tournament to go with another season in which Colorado is expected to be a conference favorite behind the backcourt of junior guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie, the latter of whom should have a major coming-out party as one of the better guards in the nation. Sophomore forward Josh Scott, a 6-10 big man who averaged over ten points and nearly six rebounds per game as a freshman, will better those numbers alongside burgeoning second-year big man Xavier Johnson, whose efficiency and rebounding prowess will make him a force to be reckoned with.

5) UCLA - Westwood has undergone a personnel change at the top, as Ben Howland was unceremoniously dismissed following his latest early NCAA Tournament exit, despite three consecutive trips to the Final Four midway through his eleven-year tenure. In his place stands former New Mexico coach Steve Alford, who takes over the reins at Pauley Pavilion with a cupboard that his predecessor left mostly full, save for the one-and-done tenure of Shabazz Muhammad. Sophomore guard Jordan Adams, once the forgotten man in last year's recruiting class, might just be the best player on this season's Bruins roster, with swingman Kyle Anderson poised to approach a double-double average this year. Twins David and Travis Wear return for one more season, with junior guard Norman Powell set to see an increased share of minutes as UCLA looks for a permanent successor to Larry Drew at the point guard position.

6) Oregon - The reigning Pac-12 champions have made wholesale personnel changes in the wake of four of the Ducks' five leading scorers having departed, but much like the Iona teams of the last two years, Dana Altman has a more talented roster in Eugene this time around even with just two returning starters in sophomore guards Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis. Oregon's backcourt depth becomes even stronger with the arrival of Detroit transfer Jason Calliste, a Canadian marksman who is eligible to join incumbent Johnathan Loyd immediately, and could be increased if Houston expatriate Joseph Young is cleared to play right away after transferring. While Young is still awaiting word on his status for next season, 6-11 senior Waverly Austin will need to step into a major role up front alongside Mike Moser, who is immediately eligible as a graduate transfer from UNLV.

7) Arizona State - As point guard Jahii Carson goes during his sophomore season, so too will the Sun Devils, who will be a bubble team at the very worst this March, but most likely a representative in the field of 68. With Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon having departed, Herb Sendek's front line will be expected to contribute early and often, with Canadian senior Jordan Bachynski getting help from Danish swingman Jonathan Gilling and Michigan State transfer Brandan Kearney, who becomes eligible in December as he spends the first semester completing his year in residence requirement. Senior guard Jermaine Marshall will make a big difference alongside Carson, as he is eligible to play immediately following his graduation from Penn State.

8) Oregon State - Three starters return for the Beavers, including senior shooting guard Roberto Nelson, the leading scorer for head coach Craig Robinson; perhaps best known for being the brother of First Lady Michelle Obama, last season. Nelson loses his running mates in Ahmad Starks and Joe Burton, but will not be short of help, as Oregon State's front line will match up with almost anyone in the nation. Bronx product Devon Collier and 6-10 Australian Angus Brandt, who is back after a torn ACL limited him to just four games a year ago, will get most of the attention, but remember this name: Eric Moreland. The 6-10 junior from Houston averaged over nine points and nearly eleven rebounds last season as a sophomore, and should once again be an automatic double-double on a deceptively strong team this time around.

9) USC - The Men of Troy join their crosstown rivals in having made a coaching change, as Andy Enfield was able to parlay his successful Sweet 16 run at Florida Gulf Coast into a bigger payday on the West Coast, a move that should also be beneficial to his supermodel wife, Amanda. In any event, Enfield takes over a team that returns two of its starting guards in J.T. Terrell and Byron Wesley, and gets Maryland transfer Pe'Shon Howard to play immediately after the Los Angeles native received a waiver. Howard will help fill the void left by point guard Jio Fontan, with highly touted freshman Kahlil Dukes competing for minutes in the backcourt as well. The Trojan front line will be Enfield's biggest concern, with 7-2 center Omar Oraby the most experienced incumbent in the paint, returning for his senior season after only averaging fifteen minutes per game a year ago.

10) Washington State - Junior guard Royce Woolridge will be the focal point offensively for Ken Bone, who could be on the hot seat in Pullman if the Cougars do not make a sufficient enough jump in the conference standings. Woolridge's fellow third-year guard, outside shooting specialist DaVonte Lacy, will be expected to pick up his offensive production, as will 6-10 senior forward D.J. Shelton, who will mentor a youthful frontcourt for Washington State this season.

11) Washington - Following an 18-16 season last year, expectations have been somewhat tempered for Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies, who will enter the season with a heavier reliance on senior shooting guard C.J. Wilcox than in years past now that the three leaders of his supporting cast have departed. Sophomore Andrew Andrews will assume the starting point guard duties after the graduation of Abdul Gaddy, while junior forwards Desmond Simmons and Shawn Kemp Jr. will look to improve their combined eleven points and nine rebounds per game for Washington. Sophomore Jernard Jarreau should also see an increased stat line this season.

12) Utah - Sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge will be a significant building block for Larry Krystkowiak and the Utes this season following the departure of combo guard Jarred DuBois, and with three more of Utah's top five scorers no longer around, twin towers Dallin Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen will be counted on to make an immediate impact. Junior college transfer Delon Wright and freshman Ahmad Fields will ease the pressure on the Utah frontcourt, but it will not be an easy process in Salt Lake City.

32 In 32: Big 12

Already hailed as best prospect since LeBron James, Andrew Wiggins hopes to win national championship at Kansas before moving on to NBA. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

After spending the bulk of September chronicling the 26 mid-major conferences in Division I college basketball, we close out the ninth month of the year with the first BCS league to receive the "32 In 32" treatment, the ten-team Big 12 Conference.

Despite its smaller size, the Big 12 remains a league in which as many as six teams will be in consideration for NCAA Tournament berths this season, and will also be home to the likely top pick in next June's NBA Draft in Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, considered to be the best high school prospect since LeBron James went from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron to the Cleveland Cavaliers before taking his talents to South Beach and winning back-to-back championships with the Miami Heat. Will Wiggins add a conference championship to the list of accolades he is certain to rack up during his brief stay in Lawrence? Our predictions are as follows:

1) Kansas - Friend of the site and college basketball insider Jon Rothstein says it best when discussing the Jayhawks year in and year out:

With nine consecutive Big 12 championships to go with Kansas' 2008 national title, Self is one of the closer bets you can make to a sure thing in college hoops, and he reloads following the loss of all five starters with a recruiting class that was considered among the best in the nation even before the arrival of Andrew Wiggins. After averaging over three assists per game off the bench behind Elijah Johnson, Naadir Tharpe finally has the starting point guard position to himself as he enters his junior year, and will have the services of McDonald's All-American Wayne Selden as a backcourt running mate as the freshman replaces seventh overall NBA Draft pick Ben McLemore. Wiggins is already firmly entrenched at the small forward position, and will have veteran big man Tarik Black ready to chip in from the power forward spot as a graduate transfer from Memphis, with freshman Brannen Greene getting solid minutes as well behind sophomore Perry Ellis, who will have a breakout second season. The center spot will most likely go to seven-foot freshman Joel Embiid, but expect 6-10 redshirt freshman Landen Lucas to see considerable playing time up front, along with sophomore Jamari Traylor. Freshman guards Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp will add significant depth to the Kansas backcourt if they do not redshirt.

2) Oklahoma State - Travis Ford was the recipient of a major break when point guard Marcus Smart announced his intention to return to Stillwater for his sophomore season rather than enter the NBA Draft, where he would have been a lottery pick this past June. Senior shooting guard Markel Brown returns to be Smart's sidekick in the Cowboy backcourt this season, with burgeoning big man LeBryan Nash poised to have a junior season to remember. Michael Cobbins and Brooklyn product Kamari Murphy are a pair of 6-8 forwards that will give Oklahoma State one of the best frontcourts in the nation, while Smart's high school teammate Phil Forte gives the Cowboys a marksman who is a game-changing X-factor whenever he is on the floor. For those looking for an underrated complete team from top to bottom, Oklahoma State is your answer.

3) Baylor - The reigning NIT champions return three starters as they seek a return appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and 7-1 sophomore center Isaiah Austin should be ready to go for the Bears following offseason shoulder surgery. Lost in the shuffle for Scott Drew is the underrated productivity of senior power forward Cory Jefferson, who was one of the key pieces of the Bears' NIT championship run, and who should also average a double-double as he enters his senior season. With both Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton having graduated, highly touted freshmen Allerik Freeman and Ish Wainright will need to be integral parts of a backcourt anchored by Canadian sharpshooter Brady Heslip and Kenny Chery, a junior college transfer that will replace Jackson at point guard. Guard Gary Franklin and muscular big man Rico Gathers would be starters on any other team in the Big 12, but will instead provide mounds of depth to a bona fide contender in Waco.

4) Iowa State - For all the constant success that Bill Self has enjoyed during his decade in Kansas, Fred Hoiberg is silently carving out his own legacy in Ames, and "The Mayor" has once again positioned the Cyclones to be among the nation's elite. Not often does a program get a better player to replace Michigan State castoff Korie Lucious at point guard, but Hoiberg struck gold by landing DeAndre Kane as a graduate transfer following his junior season at Marshall. Kane's arrival should instantly enhance the stat lines of walking double-double Melvin Ejim, perhaps the most underrated big man in the nation after averaging over eleven points and nine rebounds per game and getting little attention for it, as well as burgeoning sophomore forward Georges Niang, who will have a breakout second season. Outside shooting will be a concern for the Cyclones, however, as they lack a marksman the caliber of Tyrus "The Virus" McGee, but their bench remains solid with the return of junior big man Percy Gibson.

5) Kansas State - Bruce Weber enjoyed a 27-win season in his first year at the helm of the Wildcats, but must now replace two members of his starting backcourt after Rodney McGruder graduated and Angel Rodriguez transferred to Miami. Incoming freshman Jevon Thomas will see instant minutes at the point guard position, which will allow Will Spradling to continue making his much bigger impact off the ball, where he connected from three-point range at a 36 percent rate. Swingman Shane Southwell should have another stat-filling season as he enters his senior year, and could be a candidate for all-Big 12 defensive team honors. Junior forward Thomas Gipson will have a breakout campaign up front, potentially averaging a double-double, with fellow junior Nino Williams also poised to increase his numbers.

6) Oklahoma - All three of the Sooners' leading scorers need to be replaced, but Lon Kruger has a weapon waiting to be unleashed in sophomore guard Buddy Hield, who averaged nearly eight points per game in his rookie season without breaking a sweat on most occasions. Freshman point guard Jordan Woodard is an upgrade over Sam Grooms, and will learn from junior Je'lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins, a sophomore who came to Norman from Bob Cimmino's prestigious Mount Vernon High School program. Oklahoma is somewhat undersized, but Gonzaga transfer Ryan Spangler will help overcome that in the first of his three remaining years of eligibility, with senior swingman Cameron Clark also chipping in up front.

7) Texas - The season has yet to tip off, and the rumors surrounding the job security of Rick Barnes are already swirling, both in and out of Austin. Before the Longhorns even contemplate a coaching change, however, Barnes will achieve significant progress in his rebuilding of the Longhorn roster, starting with sophomore point guard Javan Felix. Now the replacement for Myck Kabongo, sophomore Demarcus Holland will need to grow up quickly, as he and Felix will mentor a quartet of freshmen in the backcourt headlined by Martez Walker, who arrives from Pershing High School in Detroit. San Antonians Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert are an underrated pair of power forwards, and their rebounding prowess will make it easier for 6-9 sophomore Cameron Ridley to be a bruising interior presence.

8) West Virginia - In a 13-19 season that he would like to forget, Bob Huggins did not have a single double-figure scorer at his alma mater last year. After averaging 9.8 points per game to lead the team, sophomore guard Eron Harris will have increased responsibility in the backcourt now that Jabarie Hinds has transferred to UMass, and point guard Juwan Staten will be expected to be a greater producer as well in his second season in Morgantown. Terry Henderson and Gary Browne add to the guard depth for the Mountaineers, whose frontcourt will need to see results from 6-10 junior Kevin Noreen as he attempts to replace Deniz Kilicli. Remember this name, however: Jonathan Holton. Once a promising forward at Rhode Island, Holton was a walking double-double for Jim Baron before an off-court incident derailed his bright future temporarily. Now back from junior college, Holton should have an impact for Huggins similar to that of Devin Ebanks, who was an integral part of West Virginia's Final Four run in 2010.

9) Texas Tech - The Billy Gillispie era is officially over in Lubbock after interim coach Chris Walker was not retained, instead replaced by Tubby Smith after he was surprisingly fired at Minnesota. Smith retains forwards Jaye Crockett and Jordan Tolbert as he prepares to take the reins of the Red Raiders, but it gets harder for the former national championship-winning head man once you go further down his roster. Guards Dusty Hannahs and Jamal Williams will need to become reliable scoring options for Texas Tech, while 6-11 Canadian Dejan Kravic is a bright spot as one of the more efficient big men in the Big 12.

10) TCU - Junior guard Kyan Anderson will be one of the more surprising players in the Big 12 this season, as he should approach numbers that hardly anyone would expect him to reach given what the Horned Frogs have around him on paper. However, Trent Johnson has managed to put together a solid young core for a supporting cast, including guards Charles Hill and Jarvis Ray, who will mentor newcomer Michael Williams. TCU's strength lies within its interior, though, as 6-10 freshman center Karviar Shepherd should make an immediate impact alongside former Marquette commit and fellow 6-10 freshman Aaron Durley. Burgeoning big man Devonta Abron could be an X-factor for TCU, while junior forward Amric Fields returns off a medical redshirt following a knee injury that limited him to three games a year ago.

Friday, September 27, 2013

32 In 32: Mountain West

Boise State guard Anthony Drmic is latest in a long line of prolific Mountain West shooters, and returns to hopefully lead Broncos back to NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Our "32 In 32" series profiles its final mid-major tonight before opening the anchor leg of our previews with the six BCS conferences starting this Monday, and tonight's subject is a mid-major that has produced some of the best basketball in the nation on an annual basis for the last several years.

The Mountain West again figures to be a multiple-bid league, with a handful of teams sure to be on the positive side of the bubble in what now becomes an eleven-team conference with the arrivals of Utah State and San Jose State from the Western Athletic Conference. After much deliberation with friend of the site and Mountain West aficionado David Rochford earlier in the week on how the MWC would ultimately play out, the following is our conclusion of where we see the reigning RPI kings of college hoops:

1) New Mexico - Tony Snell's decision to enter the NBA Draft, where he was subsequently selected 20th overall by the Chicago Bulls this past June, leaves Los Lobos with four returning starters in their first year under new head coach Craig Neal, who moved one chair over on the bench after Steve Alford left for UCLA. Snell's departure will not have much of an effect on the backcourt, as senior point guard Kendall Williams returns following a season where he led New Mexico in scoring while also averaging nearly five assists per game and had an assist to turnover ratio of more than 2:1. Williams' partner in the backcourt, Australian junior Hugh Greenwood, should come close to doubling last year's seven points per game as he seeks to improve his 36 percent clip from three-point range, prompting more tweets like this one from one of his biggest fans in Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner:

Up front for the Lobos, seven-foot junior Alex Kirk will be a double-double per game player with just the slightest improvement on the glass, and 6-9 Australian senior Cameron Bairstow could make a similar progression after posting nearly ten points and six rebounds per contest last year. The UNM bench is not as deep as last season, but still sufficient enough with sophomore guard Cleveland Thomas teaming with a trio of freshmen that includes 6-7 swingman Devon Williams and Neal's oldest son, Cullen.

2) Boise State - Remember this name for the Broncos: Anthony Drmic. A 6-6 junior swingman, the Australian "Drmictologist" had a breakout sophomore season, averaging almost eighteen points per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range on his 80 treys during Boise State's run to the NCAA Tournament. 

Point guard Derrick Marks will be Drmic's running mate and biggest supporter, returning off a sixteen-plus point per game average that included nearly four assists per contest, and senior marksman Jeff Elorriaga completes Leon Rice's trio of starting guards with a lethal weapon of an outside shot that made 88 three-pointers at a 45 percent rate last season. Igor Hadziomerovic is a deceptively strong scoring guard who could allow Drmic to create more opportunities on the wing for the Broncos, who will run a "four out, one in" offense that features 6-9 senior Ryan Watkins as the go-to guy in the paint. Sophomore guard Mikey Thompson is the top incumbent reserve on a Boise bench that is deeper than some others in the MWC.

3) UNLV - Dave Rice has a bigger challenge after the Rebels' latest early exit in the NCAA Tournament, as he must now lead UNLV back to the field of 68 without the best point guard in the league last season in Anthony Marshall, as well as No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick Anthony Bennett, whose time in Las Vegas ended after just one season. Rice's roster, which has been historically deep and loaded with mounds of talent since he arrived in Sin City, is still a championship-caliber unit that is now led by junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, who now mentors a youthful backcourt that got even younger when Katin Reinhardt transferred to USC, but one that also picks up Jelan Kendrick, once a highly regarded recruit that was unable to stick at Memphis or Mississippi due to a litany of problems off the hardwood. Up front, UConn expatriate Roscoe Smith is now eligible, and helps create an ex-Big East interior duo as he joins Pittsburgh castoff Khem Birch in the paint. With Mike Moser having transferred to Oregon, expect swingman Savon Goodman and 6-11 senior Carlos Lopez-Sosa to see significant minutes this season.

4) Utah State - Stew Morrill brings an Aggies team that was a WAC powerhouse for the past several years right into the fire for their Mountain West debut, and their returning core should give their vocal and supportive fans reason to cheer early and often alongside one of the best student sections in the nation. Seniors Jarred Shaw and Spencer Butterfield combine to form an inside/outside scoring duo that can score and rebound in equal parts, as evidenced by their combined 26 points and 15 rebounds per game last season. After being limited to only sixteen games last year, leading scorer Preston Medlin returns for the full campaign as he enters his senior year on the wing, joined by Marcel Davis, who should have a breakout sophomore season as the Aggie point guard. In the frontcourt, junior forward Ben Clifford and 6-10 center Jordan Stone will see frequent opportunities to increase their offensive output while joining Shaw in the lane.

5) San Diego State - Always a force to be reckoned with thanks to a roster that perennially exceeds expectations, a credit to the coaching acumen of Steve Fisher, the Aztecs are an underrated fifth in the preseason picks this year, and must replace a trio of starters headlined by superstar guard Jamaal Franklin, who was a second-round pick in June's NBA Draft. Also gone are point guard Chase Tapley and forward DeShawn Stephens due to graduation, but San Diego State picks up senior forward Josh Davis immediately as a graduate transfer after he averaged a double-double at Tulane last season. At 6-8 and 215 pounds, Davis is a slightly taller version of Kawhi Leonard, who was instrumental in the Aztecs' run to the Sweet 16 in 2011. Fellow senior Xavier Thames will likely replace Tapley at the point guard position, with freshman Dakarai Allen expected to contribute early and often as Fisher looks to replace the void left by Franklin. Junior J.J. O'Brien reprises his role as San Diego State's leading rebounder, and Winston Shepard is on the precipice of a breakout sophomore campaign after the Findlay Prep product displayed exceptional defensive skills as a freshman. Junior forwards James Johnson and Dwayne Polee, the latter of whom was part of an NCAA Tournament team as a freshman at St. John's, headline a deceptively deep bench.

6) Wyoming - Larry Shyatt and the Cowboys got off to a sensational 13-0 start last season before struggling through a Mountain West schedule in which Wyoming came back down to earth by losing all but four of their sixteen conference games. With each of their three top scorers gone this season, the Cowboys will place the bulk of their offensive trust in junior forward Larry Nance Jr., a carbon copy of his former Phoenix Sun and Cleveland Cavalier father, who also wears No. 22 to pay homage to his dad. The younger Nance averaged nearly eleven points and seven rebounds last season, and will get several chances to improve those numbers early on with guards Riley Grabau and Josh Adams; not to be confused with our friend of the same name who does exceptional work for College Hoops Digest, returning to the starting lineup. Expect 6-9 junior Derek Cooke and Australian sharpshooter Nathan Sobey to see increased minutes as they transition into more integral parts of the offense.

7) Fresno State - Senior shooting guard Tyler Johnson, the Bulldogs' lone double-figure scorer last season, comes back to lead the offense for Rodney Terry as Fresno State attempts to jump into the top half of the Mountain West. Fellow senior Allen Huddleston, who shot 32 percent from three-point range last year, should be a more accurate and consistent option as he enters the starting lineup on a full-time basis, as does sophomore Marvelle Harris. A major concern for the Bulldogs will be their front line, which will lean heavily upon 6-11 sophomore Tanner Giddings and fellow second-year forward, 6-9 Canadian import Braeden Anderson.

8) Colorado State - Even though this year's incarnation of the Rams will be much younger than last year's NCAA Tournament round of 32 unit, one thing remains certain, and that is the aggressive and hard-nosed rebounding style that has made Larry Eustachy's team among the nation's most formidable opponents on the glass. With all five Ram starters having graduated, junior guard Daniel Bejarano becomes the hub of the wheel, with Jon Octeus likely replacing Dorian Green at the point guard position. Burgeoning big man Gerson Santo has a huge task ahead of him in replacing one of the nation's best rebounders in Colton Iverson, with 6-10 junior college transfer Marcus Holt expected to make an equally significant impact.

9) Nevada - The alma mater of one of the hardest working men in the business, that being former St. John's University athletic communications staff member Billy Lee, (on that note, any university administrator with an opening in their sports information office should get into contact with Mr. Lee) the Wolf Pack enters the season without sharpshooter Malik Story, but returns point guard Deonte Burton for his senior year after the Los Angeles native averaged over sixteen points and three assists per game. Senior swingman Jerry Evans should approach a double-double per game with just enough improvement on the offensive end, with sophomores Marqueze Coleman and Cole Huff leading Nevada's supporting cast.

10) Air Force - With an unorthodox style that makes them impossible to adequately prepare for, the Falcons rebound from an 18-14 season by having to replace each of their top six scorers. The depth that coach Dave Pilipovich enjoyed last season will now be thrown into the fire this season, with junior forward DeLovell Earls serving as the top source of production despite averaging 3.9 points per game last year. Junior forwards Marek Olesinski and Kamryn Williams will see significant minutes early, as will sophomore Tre' Coggins, who will replace Todd Fletcher at the point for the Academy.

11) San Jose State - Senior forward Chris Cunningham will be the biggest contributor as the Spartans make their Mountain West debut after a 9-20 campaign in the WAC. Cunningham, who averaged almost eleven points to go with his nine rebounds per game, should instantly average a double-double this season in what will be one of the few bright spots as San Jose State makes the transition to their new home. Junior point guard D.J. Brown will have to be equal parts producer and leader this season, as four of the six freshmen on the Spartan roster are guards that the Los Angeles native will mentor.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

32 In 32: Atlantic 10

Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans returns for senior season as reigning Atlantic 10 champion Billikens hope to fend off VCU and La Salle on road to potential repeat. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

Our "32 In 32" series continues its run through the elite mid-majors of the nation, leaving the Missouri Valley and going to a league we are fortunate to cover year-round through our affiliation with Fordham University, that being the Atlantic 10.

Just like the Valley and many other leagues this offseason, the A-10 was affected by the massive realignment; and will be again next year as well, as a field of thirteen goes to the post, to use some horse racing parlance, now that George Mason has defected from the Colonial Athletic Association. Barring any raids from the Big East or other leagues, the number will increase to fourteen once Davidson departs the Southern Conference on July 1st. In the meantime, here's how we see the A-10 unfolding going into its tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn:

1) VCU - Shaka Smart loses point guard Darius Theus and shooting guard Troy Daniels, but remains deeper and more talented going into this season as the Rams continue to frustrate opponents with their patented "Havoc" defense and unmatched enthusiasm of their fan base and pep band. Senior forward Juvonte Reddic is a probable preseason first team all-A-10 selection, and will get the services of graduate transfer Terrance Shannon as a frontcourt partner after his transfer from Florida State, with another likely first team all-A-10 honoree in Treveon Graham reprising his role as the best swingman in the conference on the wing, where he has a chance to average between fifteen and seventeen points per game on his best effort. Smart prides himself on VCU's perennial guard depth, and the Rams have mounds of it yet again behind senior Rob Brandenberg and reigning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Briante Weber, who enters his junior season with a spot in the starting lineup now permanent for the native Virginian. Jordan Burgess, whose older brother Bradford was an integral part in VCU's Final Four run three years ago, is finally eligible, and the freshman will join sophomore Melvin Johnson as the third and fourth guards coming off the bench, which should also receive increased contributions from junior forward Jarred Guest.

2) La Salle - The last A-10 team left standing in the postseason last year after defying critics and massive odds to reach the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed, the Explorers return nearly everyone from last year's roster for an encore, save for Ramon Galloway. Nonetheless, Dr. John Giannini will get the most out of an athletic four-guard attack that is anchored by a pair of seniors from Philadelphia, point guard Tyreek Duren and swingman Tyrone Garland, whose "Southwest Philly floater" propelled La Salle past Mississippi and into the West regional semifinals, where they were defeated by eventual Final Four participant Wichita State. Sam Mills, who shot 38 percent from three-point range while maintaining an assist to turnover ratio of nearly 2:1, is the third senior in the Explorer guard trio, with junior D.J. Peterson serving as the sixth man after having a change of heart when he initially decided to transfer. Up front, the duo of juniors Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright creates one of the most physically imposing interior presences in the A-10, with each capable of averaging a double-double per game this season.

3) Saint Louis - Last season, the Billikens honored the memory of their late former head coach, winning the A-10 championship just three months after Rick Majerus' tragic passing. Head coach Jim Crews was rewarded for his efforts with both the A-10 Coach of the Year award and removal of the interim tag from his title, but now must find a way to replace two of his most dynamic scorers after Cody Ellis and Kwamain Mitchell graduated. On the bright side, Saint Louis retains the frontrunner for A-10 Player of the Year honors in senior forward Dwayne Evans, the Most Outstanding Player of last year's A-10 Tournament following a season in which he averaged fourteen points and nearly eight rebounds per game. In Mitchell's absence, defensive wizard Jordair Jett will likely run the point while Mike McCall reprises his role as the Billikens' lethal weapon shooting guard on the heels of shooting 40 percent from three-point range last season. Canadian forward Grandy Glaze needs to improve his offensive production alongside 6-11 senior Rob Loe up front, while swingman Jake Barnett will see increased minutes during life after Ellis.

4) Massachusetts - Derek Kellogg had the Minutemen on the NCAA Tournament bubble last season after a surprising run to the A-10 Tournament semifinals, but missed the field of 68 and instead saw his UMass team suffer an upset loss to Stony Brook in the opening round of the NIT. Gone are swingmen Terrell Vinson and Freddie Riley after the two graduated, but all-world point guard Chaz Williams has a strong supporting cast both in the backcourt and on the wing, as Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon is eligible for his sophomore season, while Raphiael Putney comes back for his senior season to provide an underrated stat-filling performance night in and night out. Up front, 6-10 junior Cady Lalanne will again be among the A-10's most efficient forwards, and Maxie Esho will come close to averaging double figures, but remember this name: Sampson Carter. The senior forward averaged over six points and four rebounds per game last year, but provided a stable interior presence that will give Lalanne more room to create opportunities not just for himself, but everyone on the UMass front line as well.

5) Rhode Island - Prior to replacing Jim Baron at the helm of the Rams, Dan Hurley guided Wagner to a twelve-win improvement in his second season in Staten Island, taking the Seahawks from 13-17 to 25-6. After going 8-21 in his debut season in Kingston, the colorful Hurley is poised to experience a similar meteoric rise to postseason contention with this year's Rhode Island squad, which adds three transfers to a returning backcourt of senior Xavier Munford and junior point guard Mike Powell. Junior Gilvydas Biruta, who played for Hurley at St. Benedict's Prep before spending his first two collegiate seasons at Rutgers under disgraced ex-coach Mike Rice, comes to the front line alongside Rice expatriate Jarelle Reischel, and the two will join 6-10 sophomore Jordan Hare; who should have a breakout season in his second campaign, up front. Expect Mike Aaman and T.J. Buchanan to have considerable impacts on the bench alongside X-factor Deshon "Biggie" Minnis, who arrives after sitting out last season following his transfer from Texas Tech. Hurley's strong ties to the New York area were prevalent in his recruiting efforts this offseason, with his biggest pickup being 6-7 Staten Islander Hassan Martin of Curtis High School.

6) Richmond - After a shocking A-10 Tournament loss to Charlotte that was memorable for the uncharacteristic meltdown of head coach Chris Mooney in the final seconds, the Spiders managed to win a game in the CIT while also preparing for what should be another successful season with a likely trip to the postseason on the horizon. Despite losing Darien Brothers to graduation, Richmond returns point guard Cedrick Lindsay for his senior season, with 5-8 sharpshooting dynamo Kendall Anthony back for his junior campaign as Lindsay's running mate after connecting at a 43 percent clip from three-point range. Up front, Greg Robbins has graduated, but burgeoning big man Derrick Williams is back for his senior season, with sophomore Deion Taylor likely joining the starting lineup at Robbins' former spot on the wing. Pay close attention to Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, who should become one of the most dominant shot blockers in the A-10 after registering 62 rejections as a freshman a year ago.

7) Saint Joseph's - Phil Martelli's Hawks were the preseason pick to win the A-10 last year, but struggled through an 18-14 season that ended with a heartbreaking home loss to St. John's in the opening round of the NIT after Sir'Dominic Pointer's buzzer-beating jumper. Since then, Carl "Tay" Jones has graduated from Hawk Hill and C.J. Aiken decided to take his talents to the professional level, leaving Langston Galloway as the primary option offensively as the marksman enters his senior season. With Jones' departure, Chris Wilson will make a bigger impact as the starting point guard as he goes into his junior campaign, while Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic become double-double per game players in their final seasons in Philadelphia. The biggest key for St. Joe's will be their bench, and if Daryus Quarles, Isaiah Miles and Papa Ndao can increase their offensive outputs, the Hawks will be right in the thick of the championship picture.

8) George Mason - Paul Hewitt enters his third conference in four years as the Patriots join the A-10 from the Colonial Athletic Association. With all five starters returning, not to mention four of their top five reserves, George Mason will be vastly underrated in their new league, and senior shooting guard Sherrod Wright could challenge for first team all-conference honors if he resembles anything close to his sixteen-plus points per game. In addition to Wright, senior point guard Bryon Allen brings an assist to turnover ratio of greater than 2:1 with him into the A-10, while combo guard Corey Edwards and outside shooting extraordinaire Patrick Holloway will keep the Patriots in games as long as their shots manage to go in consistently. Up front, junior Erik Copes is on the precipice of a breakout season alongside Jonathan Arledge, with Johnny Williams serving as a deceptively strong third power forward for Mason. Seton Hall transfer Anali Okoloji and Serbian import Marko Gujanicic would start on some other teams in the A-10, but the depth in Fairfax is so abundant that they continue to contribute in a reserve capacity.

9) Dayton - Now in his third year at the helm after Brian Gregory left the Flyers for Georgia Tech, Archie Miller is still searching for the same winning combination that his older brother Sean honed to perfection for almost a decade in the A-10 with Xavier before moving to bigger and better success at Arizona. Senior guard Vee Sanford, once trapped on a deep bench at Georgetown before transferring, will help provide a spark now that point guard Kevin Dillard has graduated. Sanford will help mentor 5-11 sophomore Khari Price, who is the heir apparent at the point guard position this season, while Devin Oliver and Dyshawn Pierre are the primary facilitators up front alongside 6-9 sophomore Jalen Robinson. All three of Dayton's forwards are candidates for breakout seasons, and if any of them manage to approach double-double averages, the Flyers will finish much higher than the No. 9 spot.

10) Fordham - There usually isn't much optimism around Rose Hill going into the start of a season given the Rams' struggles over the years, but all signs point to this year finally being the one in which Tom Pecora turns the corner after one of the hardest schedules in the nation, coupled with the youth of his roster, contributed to a 7-24 record when some thought Fordham could approach .500 last season. Ironically, the Ram frontcourt is stronger and deeper despite losing program great Chris Gaston to graduation, with junior Ryan Canty capable of a breakout season if he can stay healthy alongside sophomores Ryan Rhoomes and Travion Leonard, both of whom have improved by leaps and bounds since the Bronx's A-10 representatives walked off the court victorious against St. Bonaventure in March. Pecora's trademark three-guard offense will once again establish itself early and often, with senior Branden Frazier anchoring a backcourt that includes rising star Mandell Thomas as he enters his sophomore season, and New York's Mr. Basketball as well in the form of Brooklyn native Jon Severe; who comes to Fordham by way of Christ the King High School in Middle Village, and has already drawn comparisons to Providence guard Bryce Cotton, who led the Big East in scoring last season. On the bench, Bryan Smith is fully recovered from a broken hand as he goes into his junior year, while Chris Whitehead and Antwoine Anderson should make noticeable impacts if they are able to play right away, and freshman Manny Suarez has earned positive reviews from Pecora for his skill as a stretch four up front. If Canadian import Jermaine Myers can improve his ball handling, Fordham's guards; coupled with their underrated and deceptively strong forwards, just might bring a winning culture to Rose Hill sooner rather than later.

11) George Washington - Mike Lonergan loses Lasan Kromah after he joined Kevin Ollie as a graduate transfer at UConn, but the Colonials retain Villanova expatriate Isaiah Armwood for one more season, and he comes back on the heels of averaging nearly twelve points and nine rebounds per game a year ago. Danish sophomore Kevin Larsen will alter shots naturally with his 6-10 frame alongside Armwood up front, and while Joe McDonald and Indiana graduate transfer Maurice Creek take care of business in the backcourt, remember this name: Patricio Garino. As a freshman last season, the 6-6 native of Argentina averaged over eight points and three rebounds per game, but made his biggest impressions on the defensive end with over two steals per contest. Look for Garino to become a household name this season as George Washington's game-changing X-factor.

12) Duquesne - Jim Ferry found a pleasant surprise during his first year in Pittsburgh, and it came in the form of point guard Derrick Colter, who averaged over thirteen points and five assists per game en route to a spot on the A-10 All-Rookie team. Joining Colter in the backcourt will be Jerry and Jeremiah Jones, (no relation) who enter their senior and sophomore seasons, respectively. Picking up the slack on the front line will be UAB transfer Ovie Soko now that he is eligible, with 6-11 freshman Darius Lewis a candidate to see significant minutes as well.

13) St. Bonaventure - Each of Mark Schmidt's three leading scorers has graduated, leaving Canadian shooting guard Matthew Wright as the focal point of the Bonnies' offense as he enters his senior season. In the paint, 6-8 senior Marquise Simmons and seven-footer Youssou Ndoye should have frequent opportunities to better their combined 13-point, 10-rebound averages, while Charlon Kloof and Jordan Gathers will see mounds of opportunities alongside Wright in the backcourt. Pay close attention to freshman Denzel Gregg, a highly regarded 6-7 swingman by way of the prestigious St. Thomas More program that should make a name for himself quickly as he becomes St. Bonaventure's most recognizable recruit since Andrew Nicholson.

32 In 32: Missouri Valley

Now owner of a Final Four appearance to solidify his already exceptional resume, Gregg Marshall returns most of last year's team for potential encore at Wichita State. (Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

Our "32 In 32" series returns tonight with the league that, if you are at all familiar with the content on our site since its 2009 inception, has received mounds of coverage despite our New York headquarters making it somewhat difficult to cover it on a regular basis.

That's right, the Missouri Valley Conference gets its moment in the sun, at long last.

For the college basketball purists like us, there is no brand or style of play that is as compelling or entertaining as that of the Valley. With an aggressive, take-no-prisoners game on both ends of the floor in front of over 10,000 fans night in and night out, the ten members of the Valley create an atmosphere that instantly places it among the best conferences in the nation, despite its mid-major status. There is a slight change in the rank and file, however, with Loyola (Illinois) joining the family from the Horizon League in the wake of two-time reigning Valley champion Creighton moving to the Big East. With the loss of the Bluejays, the field of ten will attempt to write their own place in the record books on the way to the NCAA Tournament. Before that, however, we'll give you our own projections of how the Valley will turn out going into "Arch Madness" in St. Louis:

1) Wichita State - Heeding head coach Gregg Marshall's advice to "play angry," the Shockers advanced to their first Final Four since 1965 as a No. 9 seed, the first appearance by a Valley member in the national semifinals since Larry Bird and Indiana State went on their magical run in 1979. Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead have graduated, as have Demetric Williams and Ehimen Orukpe, but Wichita State returns forward Cleanthony Early for his senior season after the junior college transfer led the Shockers in scoring last season, his first at the Division I level. Marshall has worked the junior college room better than anyone in the nation in recent years, and he has done it again this season with the arrivals of 6-7 junior forward Darius Carter. In addition, senior swingman Nick Wiggins, another junior college recruit, returns to the team looking to see an increased role. The Shocker backcourt is firmly entrenched, with NCAA Tournament hero Fred Van Vleet running the point as Armstead's replacement, while incumbents Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker join him in one of the nation's strongest guard stables.

2) Indiana State - Three years ago, Greg Lansing celebrated his first season at the helm of the Sycamores with a Valley championship behind swingman Carl Richard and a versatile freshman guard named Jake Odum. Odum returns this year for his fourth and final season in Terre Haute, and brings Canadian swingman Manny Arop, Indiana State's second-leading scorer last year, back with him for what will be the Sycamores' strongest chance of cutting down the nets in St. Louis for the first time since 2011. Junior forward Justin Gant becomes the primary option for Lansing up front, while senior guard Dawon Cummings; Indiana State's fourth returning starter, will help bring a "four quick" look to an athletic unit that could play Arop at the power forward position during stretches. Sharpshooter Lucas Eitel headlines a strong supporting cast that includes sophomore guards Khristian Smith and Devonte Brown, with 6-10 junior Jake Kitchell providing more depth to the team that is the biggest threat to a Wichita State championship.

3) Northern Iowa - Ben Jacobson reloads once again in Cedar Falls this season, and brings the core of last season's Panthers roster back for what should be another postseason-rich campaign despite losing Anthony James to graduation. Northern Iowa's biggest strength is their inside/outside scoring duo of juniors Seth Tuttle and Deon Mitchell. Tuttle, arguably the most offensively efficient player in the Valley during each of his first two seasons, shot 56 percent from the field as a sophomore; while Mitchell, UNI's 6-1 point guard, averaged nearly four assists per game in what became a breakout season that the Texan should certainly eclipse. After shooting 39 percent from three-point range as a freshman last year, Matt Bohannon should be the primary option to replace the 96 triples made by the since-departed Marc Sonnen, while Nate Buss and Chip Rank should see increased playing time following the graduation of Jake Koch. While Koch may be gone, his surname lives on in the Panther program once more, as 6-9 freshman forward Bennett; the youngest brother of Adam and Jake, writes the latest chapter of his family's legacy at UNI under Jacobson and former coach Greg McDermott.

4) Missouri State - Much like Indiana State, who, ironically cost the Bears the 2011 Valley championship, the Bears have their strongest chance to make a run for a league crown since Cuonzo Martin's final season three years ago, when he guided a team led by Adam Leonard and Jermaine Mallett into the NIT before replacing Bruce Pearl at Tennessee. Now in his third season at the helm in Springfield, Paul Lusk gets his biggest addition in the return of swingman Jarmar Gulley, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. With Anthony Downing having graduated, the Missouri State backcourt is squarely in the hands of reigning Valley Freshman of the Year Marcus Marshall, who is on the precipice of a breakout sophomore campaign alongside fellow second-year guard Dorrian Williams and senior wing Keith Pickens. Up front, junior Christian Kirk and sophomore Gavin Thurman anchor the Bears' efforts inside the paint alongside graduate transfer Emmanuel Addo, who arrives from Northern Colorado. Sixth man Nathan Scheer returns once again for his senior year, where he will continue to spearhead Missouri State's supporting cast.

5) Bradley - Dyricus Simms-Edwards has graduated, but Geno Ford still has a postseason contender as he begins his third season at the reins of the Braves. Simms-Edwards is gone, but Walt Lemon Jr. returns as the hub of the wheel for Bradley as he enters his senior season on the heels of a campaign in which the Chicago native averaged over fifteen points and nearly four assists per game. If he improves his rebounding just a little more, senior forward Tyshon Pickett could average a double-double per contest alongside 6-8 senior Jordan Prosser. The Brave bench has undergone a makeover of sorts since last season, with eight new arrivals into Peoria; including freshman forward Jordan Swopshire, the younger brother of former Louisville and Northwestern big man Jared, who will join a supporting cast that includes 7-1 sophomore Nate Wells.

6) Loyola - Embarking on their maiden voyage in the Valley after defecting from the Horizon League, Porter Moser and the Ramblers may not be as strong as the Creighton team they are replacing, but they are not going to lay down for anyone in their new league. Junior swingman Christian Thomas, a St. Louis native who led Loyola in scoring last year, reprises his role as the center of attention on the offensive end, with sophomore sharpshooter Devon Turk anchoring the backcourt after shooting a sensational 43 percent from three-point range as a freshman. Junior Joe Crisman is the likely successor to Cully Payne at the point guard position, with Jeff White serving as a deceptively strong third guard. Expect sophomores Nick Osborne and Matt O'Leary to see heavy doses of action up front alongside Tanner Williams, who has made a full recovery from knee surgery that limited him to just three games last year, as the Ramblers attempt to replace the scoring and rebounding prowess of Ben Averkamp in the paint.

7) Evansville - Marty Simmons has somewhat of a challenge with this year's incarnation of the Purple Aces, as Colt Ryan has graduated after etching his name into the annals of Evansville basketball as the program's all-time leading scorer. Second-leading scorer Ned Cox has departed as well, leaving the offense in the hands of sophomore DJ Balentine, who shot 36 percent from three-point range as a freshman a year ago. Lithuanian center Egidijus Mockevicius is the lone returning starter for the Aces, but will get some much-needed help from juniors Ryan Sawvell and Jaylon Moore up front while Adam Wing is the only other experienced backcourt incumbent besides Balentine.

8) Southern Illinois - Entering his second season in Carbondale, head coach Barry Hinson will lean on senior swingman Desmar Jackson to help improve the Salukis' 14-17 record, as the Wyoming transfer builds off an average of over fifteen points and five rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Anthony Beane is the top returning guard for Southern Illinois, with fellow second-year player Jalen Pendleton serving as his backcourt running mate. Five junior college transfers will make immediate impacts for the Salukis, including brothers Bronson and Dawson Verhines.

9) Illinois State - Dan Muller will attempt to navigate his second season in charge of the Redbirds without the services of his two-pronged scoring attack paced by Jackie Carmichael and Tyler Brown, both of whom have graduated since we last saw Illinois State. In fact, each of the Redbirds' top six scorers have departed, leaving sophomore guards Kaza Keane and Nick Zeisloft to run the offense, with Keane having averaged over three assists per game as the understudy to Johnny Hill during the Canadian's rookie season. Five freshmen will see considerable playing time on this young roster, which will face a yearlong rebuilding process.

10) Drake - A new era begins in Des Moines, as Ray Giacoletti returns to the head coaching fraternity after a run as Mark Few's top assistant at Gonzaga. The former head man at Eastern Washington and Utah, Giacoletti loses three starters in his first season coaching the Bulldogs, with the lone incumbent up front being 6-11 senior Seth VanDeest, who averaged over nine points and almost five rebounds per game last year. Point guard Richard Carter, who posted over nine points and three assists per game as a junior, anchors a backcourt that will get an increased share of senior Gary Ricks, who only averaged fourteen minutes per game last year.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

32 In 32: West Coast Conference

Owner of one of sweetest shots in nation, Kevin Pangos is set for another impressive season as Gonzaga's point guard. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Our second of two "32 In 32" previews tonight breaks down the first of the top four mid-major conferences in the nation, that being the West Coast Conference. Long occupying a spot among our favorite leagues for its unique brand of basketball and midnight tipoffs, at least here at Daly Dose headquarters in New York, the West Coast opens its doors to a tenth member this season, with Pacific making the jump from the Big West Conference, which; coincidentally, received its preview just over an hour ago. Here's what the field looks like after we peered into our crystal ball:

1) Gonzaga - Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs are once again the favorite to emerge from the WCC as the automatic bid owners in March's NCAA Tournament. However, Mark Few's Zags will undergo a personnel makeover of sorts, as Elias Harris has graduated and Kelly Olynyk will star for Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics. Amid all the departures and arrivals, Kevin Pangos is back to run the show at the point guard position, and the Canadian junior will have yet another standout season as Gary Bell returns for his third year alongside Pangos' sweet shooting and pure passing skills. David Stockton, whose father John played for the Bulldogs before starting his Hall of Fame NBA career with the Utah Jazz, returns for his final go-round in Spokane to add depth to the backcourt. Big man Sam Dower will look to finally break out and be the offensive force many predicted he would be as he enters his senior year, and he gets help up front with the addition of Louisville transfer Angel Nunez as he enters his sophomore season. Replacing Harris will be Providence expatriate Gerard Coleman, a left-handed swingman who can score and rebound in equal parts, and a player who will instantly become a fan favorite.

2) Brigham Young - Dave Rose basically gets a new recruit with the return of sophomore swingman Kyle Collinsworth, who spent the last two years on his Mormon mission after spending his freshman season as part of the supporting cast behind Jimmer Fredette while the Cougars went to the Sweet 16. BYU welcomes UCLA castoff Matt Carlino back for his junior year at point guard, and with Matthew Dellavedova having graduated, Carlino will challenge Kevin Pangos for the title of best point guard in the WCC. Tyler Haws will join Collinsworth and Carlino in the backcourt, but size will be a major concern for the Cougars as Utah transfer Josh Sharp and 6-11 junior Nate Austin continue to develop in the paint.

3) Saint Mary's - The aforementioned Matthew Dellavedova finally departs Moraga after spending four years as one of the most prolific passers in the nation. This year, Randy Bennett will likely look to sophomore Jordan Giusti to fill the unenviable task of replacing the Australian legend after Giusti had an assist to turnover ratio of more than 2:1 off the bench as a freshman last season. Seniors Beau Levesque and Stephen Holt will form a potent inside/outside scoring duo for the Gaels, with senior guard James Walker III providing a possible X-factor on the wing after connecting at a 41 percent clip from three-point range a year ago.

4) San Francisco - Best known for being the alma mater of Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, the Dons come back as a solid postseason threat under Rex Walters, most likely in either the NIT or CBI. In terms of guard/forward tandems, seniors Cody Doolin and Cole Dickerson are as good as it gets, and Doolin in particular was responsible for USF's big nonconference win against St. John's last December from the point, while Dickerson just missed averaging a double-double per game. San Francisco is also one of the deadliest long range shooting teams in the nation, as each of the Dons' top six scorers last season shot 40 percent or better from beyond the arc, including sophomore guard Avry Holmes, who connected at a 47 percent clip to lead the team.

5) San Diego - Still looking to return to their 2008 form, when they upset Jim Calhoun and UConn in the NCAA Tournament, the Toreros have perhaps their best postseason hopes since that dramatic upset five years ago. Junior shooting guard Johnny Dee, San Diego's leading scorer last season, brings his fifteen points per game back to Bill Grier's backcourt alongside 5-7 dynamo Chris Anderson, who averaged nearly six assists per game at the point guard position last year. With Chris Manresa no longer around, rebounding becomes a major concern for the Toreros, and one in which 6-11 senior Dennis Kramer hopes to remedy. Casual fans will recognize redshirt freshman Jordan Bickerstaff as soon as they see his name by virtue of longtime NBA coach and general manager Bernie being his grandfather.

6) Loyola Marymount - The Lions are one of many WCC teams with NBA lineage, and like Gonzaga, theirs is in the form of a guard with a Hall of Famer for a father, this being freshman Chris Mullin Jr. In addition to the son of the Golden State Warriors legend, senior shooting guard Anthony Ireland returns after averaging twenty points per game a year ago. The Loyola front line is deceptively strong, with Ayodeji Egbeyemi and Alex Osborne returning to the wing and power forward positions, respectively. Sophomore forward C.J. Blackwell returns as a redshirt sophomore after being limited to just seven games last year.

7) Pacific - Making the jump from the Big West, the Tigers have a new coach in their new conference, as longtime assistant coach Ron Verlin moves one chair over on the bench following the retirement of Bob Thomason. With both of Pacific's leading scorers having graduated, senior guard Sama Taku becomes the center of attention in Stockton, with forwards Ross Rivera and Tony Gill providing some much-needed frontcourt stability.

8) Santa Clara - The alma mater of former NBA MVP Steve Nash, the Broncos must prepare for life without their superstar point guard and power forward now that Kevin Foster and Marc Trasolini have graduated. The good news for coach Kerry Keating is that Evan Roquemore is still around for one more year as Santa Clara's shooting guard and primary option from three-point range. Junior guard Brandon Clark will step into Foster's point guard role after coming off the bench last season, while Cameroon import Yannick Atanga attempts to replace Trasolini.

9) Portland - Burgeoning big man Ryan Nicholas could average a double-double with all the right breaks, but sadly, Eric Reveno only has him for one more year as the Pilots try to move up the ladder in the WCC. Guards Kevin Bailey and Tanner Riley anchor the backcourt for Portland while 6-11 Dutchman Thomas van der Mars joins Nicholas up front as he enters his junior season.

10) Pepperdine - Sophomore forward Stacy Davis will be given the lion's share of touches inside for Marty Wilson and the Waves, with sophomore Jett Raines chipping in on the wing. Guard play will be a major concern for Pepperdine this year, especially with no clear successor to Jordan Baker and Caleb Willis at the point, but sharpshooting Norwegian Nikolas Skouen; who shot threes at a 46 percent clip last season, will try to close the gap one shot at a time.

32 In 32: Big West Conference

Once the architect of Gonzaga's dynasty, Dan Monson hopes to build a similar one at Long Beach State. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Before we resume with the latest preview in our "32 In 32" series, we would like to take some time to thank a fan of ours for supporting this endeavor we have embarked upon throughout the month, that being the incomparable Dylan Jenkins; an integral part of the athletic communications office and production team at St. John's University in New York, who was gracious enough to share his satisfaction with our previous 21 previews on Twitter this morning, and also to implore others to read our insights as well. Thanks again, Dylan, and we'll see you at Carnesecca Arena soon enough. With that said, let's take a look at the Big West Conference, which is no longer a California-exclusive league now that Hawaii has joined it.

1) Long Beach State - Much like the professional football team in California that shares a nickname with Dan Monson's program, the 49ers are among the favorites once again in the Big West, slowly transforming themselves into one of the elite mid-major teams in the nation. With team MVP James Ennis gone, junior point guard Mike Caffey now becomes the face of the team, and will get mounds of support from 6-9 senior forward Dan Jennings, a Staten Island native who transferred from West Virginia, and freshman guard Branford Jones, who is back after a medical redshirt following a leg injury suffered in last year's season opener.

2) UC Davis - Best known as the alma mater of former New York Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien, Jim Les has perhaps his best chance to win the Big West since arriving at the helm of the Aggies, as he returns four starters from last season's 14-17 squad. After a sophomore season in which he averaged over 20 points per game, expect shooting guard Corey Hawkins to challenge for the title of leading scorer in the nation while further enhancing his all-around capability. Senior Ryan Sypkens provides a high-major talent in the backcourt alongside Hawkins, with junior J.T. Adenrele and 6-9 senior Josh Ritchart taking care of business up front. Following the departure of Paolo Mancasola, Les' son Tyler will likely take over as the starting point guard as he enters his senior season.

3) Hawaii - German import Christian Standhardinger, a 6-8 senior who averaged nearly sixteen points and eight rebounds per game last season, should increase his output enough to average a double-double on the year this time around for coach Gib Arnold and the Rainbow Warriors. Sophomore Isaac Fotu gives Standhardinger a physical presence alongside him in the paint, while senior Brandon Spearman anchors the backcourt.

4) Cal State Northridge - Guards Stephan Hicks and Josh Greene return for their junior and senior seasons, respectively, and each will build off a campaign in which they combined to average 30 points per game for the Matadors. Junior forward Stephen Maxwell is a burgeoning big man who could average a double-double this season, and will be even better once new coach Reggie Theus gets Kevin Johnson and Amir Garrett eligible after the two transferred from Seton Hall and St. John's.

5) Cal Poly - Senior forward Chris Eversley returns to reprise his role as the center of attention in the Mustangs' offense, this after he averaged over fifteen points and seven rebounds per game as a junior. Eversley gets help up front from sophomore Brian Bennett, who averaged over nine points and four boards as a freshman, and Cal Poly's backcourt is solid as well; with seniors Kyle Odister and Jamal Johnson also coming back, the latter of whom managed to average almost four assists per game at the point guard position last year.

6) UCSB - Each of the Gauchos' three leading scorers last season are back this year, led by 6-7 junior Alan Williams, who averaged 17 points and nearly 11 rebounds per game as the de facto center for UCSB last season. Senior guard Kyle Boswell, who shot 42 percent from three-point range last year, returns to join junior point guard T.J. Taylor in the backcourt, while sophomore wing Taran Brown partners with Williams up front.

7) UC Irvine - Sophomore point guard Alex Young, who averaged almost four assists per game for the Anteaters last season, is on the precipice of a breakout second season that could propel UC Irvine even higher in the Big West standings if the ball bounces in all the right places for head coach Russell Turner. Senior Chris McNealy joins Young in the backcourt as a stable ball handler and deceptively strong shooter, with junior swingman Will Davis anchoring the front line.

8) UC Riverside - The Highlanders' duo of 6-10 Australian Chris Patton and senior wing Chris Harriel, who averaged a combined 23 points per game last season, disprove the claim that "there can only be one" consistent source of offensive production. San Franciscan Taylor Johns, who averaged nearly seven points and five rebounds last year as a freshman, should be much closer to double figures this time around.

9) Cal State Fullerton - A longtime baseball powerhouse, the Titans lose each of their top three scorers this season, leaving the offense in the hands of junior shooting guard Alex Harris. Cal State Fullerton's supporting cast, led by sophomore guard Jared Brandon, as well as senior forwards Marquis Horne and James "Deuce" Johnson, needs to step up this season in order for the program to have a shot late in the year.

Monday, September 23, 2013

32 In 32: Big Sky Conference

With averages of over nineteen points and six rebounds per game last season, North Dakota's Troy Huff will become a household name this year if he posts similar numbers. (Photo courtesy of the University of North Dakota)

The second of our two "32 In 32" conference previews tonight moves into the Northwest to shed some further light on the 20-game schedule played by the eleven members of the Big Sky Conference, a league won once again by Montana in 2012-13. Here's our best attempt at predicting the Big Sky, including whether or not the Grizzlies will make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament:

1) North Dakota - The Fighting Sioux return four starters from a team that finished 16-17, but went 12-8 in conference play. If he comes anywhere close to his numbers from last season, senior shooting guard Troy Huff will not only win Big Sky Player of the Year honors, but could parlay his success into an NBA career if all goes well. With fellow seniors Aaron Anderson, Jamal Webb and Josh Schuler in the backcourt, Huff plays more of a stretch four role for North Dakota, whose experience will serve them undoubtedly well while senior forward Alonzo Traylor returns up front after being limited to just eight games last season.

2) Montana - Wayne Tinkle doesn't rebuild in Missoula, he reloads, and this year is no different with the reigning Big Sky champion Grizzlies. Point guard Will Cherry has graduated, but Kareem Jamar is more than capable of playing on the ball after leading Montana in assists last season to add to a 36 percent clip from three-point range. Junior Jordan Gregory will have a breakout season in the backcourt as Jamar's running mate,

3) Weber State - Best known among casual fans for being the school that introduced the world to Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, the Wildcats have a pair of solid point guards in their next generation of future pros, led by senior swingman Davion Berry and combo guard Jordan Richardson, a fellow senior who had an assist to turnover ratio of more than 2:1 last season. With Frank Otis gone, 6-10 senior Kyle Tresnak becomes the primary option in the paint.

4) Northern Colorado - Big Sky champions in 2012, the Bears have a formidable inside/outside scoring duo in seniors Derrick Barden and Tate Unruh, who averaged a combined 27 points and 13 rebounds per game last season. Junior guard Tevin Svihovec will be the go-to guy for Northern Colorado in the backcourt.

5) Montana State - With Christian Moon no longer around, senior forward Flavien Davis will be given the keys to the car for Montana State. Senior point guard Antonio Biglow will be looking to improve from a quietly successful season that saw the Los Angeles native average eleven points and over three assists per game.

6) Idaho State - Junior swingman Chris Hansen, who shot 37 percent from three-point range as a sophomore, is the hub of the wheel for the Bengals in the absence of leading scorer Melvin Morgan. Senior guards Tomas Sanchez and Andre Hatchett provide a supporting cast that can not only back up what Hansen does, but can also add their individual abilities to a promising young contingent for Idaho State.

7) Northern Arizona - Sophomore guard DeWayne Russell may only stand 5-11, but if he improves his ball handling just slightly, the floor general will guide the Lumberjacks to a higher finish in the conference, perhaps inside the top five. Junior Gaellan Bewernick will need to improve after averaging six points per game last season.

8) Sacramento State - With John Dickson no longer around, junior point guard Dylan Garrity becomes the face of the Hornets after his averages of over eleven points and five assists per game a year ago. His backcourt running mate Mikh McKinney seeks to improve a 37 percent clip from three-point range as he enters his junior season.

9) Portland State - Burgeoning big man Aaron Moore, who posted averages of over thirteen points and seven rebounds per game a year ago for the Vikings, could approach a double-double per contest if he gets enough touches during this, his senior season. Junior guard Gary Winston is a lethal weapon from beyond the arc, having made 47 percent of the triples he attempted last season for Portland State.

10) Eastern Washington - Sophomore forward Venky Jois is another potential double-double per game player for Jim Hayford and the Eagles, who are intent on bettering last season's 10-21 mark. Guard play will be a major concern for Eastern Washington, however, as they have no incumbent point guard after a season in which they managed an average of just over thirteen assists per game.

11) Southern Utah - Each of the Thunderbirds' four leading scorers has departed, leaving the offense in the hands of 6-11 senior center Jayson Cheesman, who averaged nearly seven points and six rebounds per game last season. Sophomore swingman A.J. Hess must make a considerable impact in the backcourt for a Southern Utah team looking for consistency among its guard stable.

32 In 32: Western Athletic Conference

New Mexico State big man Sim Bhullar, already tallest player in nation at 7-5, has aspirations bigger than his size, including a return trip to NCAA Tournament for Aggies. (Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

Our "32 In 32" series resumes tonight, going to the other side of the country to profile the new-look Western Athletic Conference, whose affiliations have undergone further reinventions than Madonna's world-famous concert tour. For those who don't know, the WAC's current landscape is a nine-member melange whose latest membership includes all of the former Great West Conference teams that were not absorbed by the Southland Conference, with the exception of NJIT. Here's how we see the field of nine ultimately looking at the end of the season:

1) New Mexico State - Marvin Menzies and the Aggies enter this season as the favorites to win their third straight WAC championship and fourth in the last five years, and their twin towers in the paint are a major reason why. Canadian sophomore Sim Bhullar, who at 7-5 is the tallest player in the nation, gets a huge (no pun intended) assist up front this season with the arrival of his younger brother Tanveer, who is two inches shorter at 7-3. Fellow Canadians Renaldo Dixon and Daniel Mullings form a potent inside/outside scoring duo to supplement the productivity of the Bhullar brothers, with junior guards Terrel de Rouen and K.C. Ross-Miller providing depth in the backcourt.

2) Chicago State - Entering the WAC from the Great West, the Cougars are led by some NBA lineage in the form of senior swingman Quinton Pippen, whose uncle Scottie will forever be known as the Ed McMahon to Michael Jordan's Johnny Carson. Pippen, Chicago State's leading scorer, has a trio of guards to work with as well, with seniors Jamere Dismukes and Nate Duhon joining junior Clarke Rosenberg.

3) Texas-Pan American - Best known for being the team that nearly upset St. John's four days before Christmas in 2011, the Broncs have a new coach this season, as Dan Hipsher replaces Ryan Marks. UTPA also brings two graduate transfers into the fold, as sharpshooting guard Shaun Noriega and swingman Javorn Farrell arrive from South Florida and UMass, respectively. The two will use their mounds of experience to help tutor forwards Justin Leathers and Josh Cleveland, who will be relied upon heavily on a roster where 6-7 sophomore wing Shaquille Hines is the tallest player on the team.

4) UMKC - Kareem Richardson arrives at the helm of the Kangaroos fresh off a national championship as a member of Rick Pitino's staff at Louisville, and has a new arrival in Bradley transfer Shayok Shayok, who sat out last season after departing Geno Ford's Braves team. Seniors Fred Chatmon and Nelson Kirksey have the potential to become a formidable inside/outside scoring duo, while senior forward Kirk Korver hopes to carve out his own legacy in the shadows of his older brothers Kyle and Kaleb.

5) Seattle - Following an 8-22 season, the Redhawks and head coach Cameron Dollar; who won a national championship in the backcourt for both Jim Harrick at UCLA, hopes for better results after going through all of last season without a double-figure scorer on his roster. Senior forward Clarence Trent, the leading producer offensively at 9.8 points per game, teams with sophomore Deshaun Sunderhaus to give Seattle a deceptively strong front line. Homegrown talent D'Vonne Pickett will enter this season as the starting point guard after the departure of Prince Obasi.

6) Idaho - The Vandals bid farewell to the WAC after this season, as they will be joining the Big Sky in 2014. In the meantime, senior forward Stephen Madison will be given the keys to the Idaho offense, with junior guard Connor Hill poised to improve on a second campaign in which he made 87 three-pointers.

7) Cal-Bakersfield - Competing in the WAC for the first time, the Roadrunners enter their new home off a 14-16 record as an independent team last year. Guards Brandon Barnes and Javante Maynor will be the lifelines for Bakersfield, and as they go, so too will the team. Senior forward Corey Hall could be a potential X-factor as well.

8) Utah Valley - Yet another team invading from the Great West, the Wolverines have a potential walking double-double in senior center Ben Aird, who averaged fifteen points and nine rebounds per game a year ago. Combo guard Holton Hunsaker, a junior from Salt Lake City, will be just as vital to the team at both spots in the backcourt.

9) Grand Canyon - Former Phoenix Suns swingman Dan Majerle ushers Grand Canyon into Division I after finishing 23-8 in Division II last season. Senior center Killian Larson will have his opportunities to be a key contributor, as he pairs up with junior guards Justin Foreman and Jerome Garrison.