Friday, October 24, 2014

Conference Preview #10

As we enter the top 10 conferences it gets a little murky. What determines a better conference? A league with one top 3 seed team and an at large or a conference with 3-4 bids all in the 6-11 range? With that question being asked I decided to go with the WCC. I think what we are looking at here is a top team, Gonzaga, in the 3-4 seed range and 1 for sure at-large. I do think a third will be in the conversation late February but ultimately I think it’s a two bid conference.

League Champion: Gonzaga It’s the same old thing in the WCC. There is Gonzaga and then there’s everybody else. They have the two best guards in the conference, perhaps on the West Coast in general. The game changer this year is going to be Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer. He’s going to be able to pull bigs out to respect his outside shot and create driving lanes for Bell and Pangos. Gonzaga has had bigger named players (Adam Morrison) and higher expectations but I think they are a dark horse Final Four candidate this year.

At-Large: BYU They lose Erik Mika to a Mormon Mission and Matt Carlito to Marquette but they retain Tyler Haws who is a poor man’s Jimmer Fredette. Expect him to average 25+ this year. If Kyle Collinsworth can come back from his torn ACL by midseason they can do some damage. There’s not much defense but they should be fun to watch running and gunning all game.

Also Considered: St. Mary’s

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What About Memphis?

In Brian's preview, I think he looked past Memphis. I believe the Tigers will easily make the tournament. They're talented enough to win the whole league. They won't, probably and the Josh Pastner can't coach talk will continue but I digress.

The Tigers will be stacked on the interior, led by Jr. Shaq Goodwin and So. Austin Nichols. Both are league first team types. They also add Southern transfer Calvin Godfrey, a potential double double player. Godfrey was at Iowa State before being dismissed for"being a college kid with weed". Two other guys to watch are Kuran Iverson and Nick King. Both could be valuable players in the Tigers rotation.

The Tigers got a huge break when the NCAA cleared G Kedren Johnson, a Vandy transfer. Johnson will provide a steady presence in what would have been a green back court. They were looking at playing two guys who saw no court time last year, So. Pookie Powell and frosh, Dominic McGee. Johnson can fill the bucket and run the offense. This is a huge coup for Memphis who also added JuCo 3 point sniper Avery Woodson.

Like I said, this team has a lot of talent and with the addition of Johnson, what was a potential trouble spot has been shored up nicely. Josh Pastner is at the point in his career where his teams need to start winning league titles. SMU and UConn will be tough, but Memphis has the horses to win this league.

One last note about the "American". The league has the defending national champ and one of the top 5 programs in the nation in UConn. SMU has become a factor with Larry Brown and the school appears willing to spend on being competetive in all sports (They're allegedly willing to pay Mack Brown $4 million a year and have an eye towards the Big XII). Houston and South Florida made big boy hires and should be factors in short order. Temple has a proud tradition and is probably a year from contending again. I see a lot of Big East fans take shots at this "football" league. Truth is, if the league maintains it current membership and coaches, it can be a real good basketball league long term.

Conference Preview #10

The AAC, not to be confused with the awesome ACC, is up next. This one seems to have the makings of a solid top race for the conference title. Most prognosticators have pegged last year’s National Champion, Connecticut as the front runners with Emmanuel Mudiay departure from SMU to play overseas. I’m not so sure that’s the right call as Uconn has had its share of departures as well. Also, don’t sleep on Cincinnati either. Although I see the AAC getting 2-3 bids make no mistake this is a weak conference. I don’t see a sweet repeat for the Huskies

League Champion: SMU Sure they lost out on Mudiay, who would have put them in the top 20, but there’s still a lot to be excited about here. They didn’t make the tournament last year but they were probably team number 69. It’s not that they weren’t good enough either; it was their weak non-conference schedule. That has been somewhat addressed this year. I expect a tight battle down the stretch with UConn but ultimately the Mustangs will prevail.

At-Large: Connecticut A surprise National Championship last year usually brings a hangover the following year. Shabazz Napier is gone and this team is not belongs to Ryan Boatright. He’s good, but not Shabazz good. Kevin Ollie will still get the most of his players but I’m thinking something in the 9-10 seed range this year \

At-Large: Cincinnati This team is going to be hard to figure out. Can they bruise out some tough wins on the road in the AAC? I’m thinking they just get enough to be one of the last 4 in. They’ll be a draw in Dayton come Tuesday of March Madness.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mountain West Mystery: UNLV

Two years ago, I looked at UNLV and saw a team I thought was a dark horse Final 4 team. Instead, they were a wildly inconsistent team that flamed out as a 5 seed upset special to California in Round 2 of the tournament. A year ago, they seemed loaded with talent but were once again an inconsistent bunch who didn't play anywhere in March. As Brian notes, they're a completely made over team with only one nominal starter returning, Kendall Smith who made 13 starts a year ago but only averaged about 13 minutes per game.

UNLV Coach Dave Rice didn't let the disapointments of the last two seasons slow him down on the recruiting trail. Rice landed a top-5 class. The names to know are G Rashad Vaughn, a top-10 recruit, SF Dwayne Morgan, a top-15 recruit and big man Goodluck Okonoboh, a top-35 recruit. All 3 are expected to provide big minutes this year.

The Rebs also add San Francisco transfer, Cody Doolin who should start at PG. Doolin has the skill to be a 1st team Mountain West type player. The aforementioned Kendall Smith will likely be his backup. Returning players G Jelan Kendrick and big man Christian Wood should see much more court time this season. The Rebels lost Daquan Cook to a knee injury this summer and Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagers will not be granted a wavier to play this season.

UNLV will be tested heading into conference play. They have Stanford and Duke or Temple in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. UNLV also plays Arizona at home and travel to Arizona State and Kansas. We could know early what kind of team this might be. We won't read too much into it given the inexperience on the roster but the kids will be tested.

Given the last two frustrating seasons, Dave Rice has a little heat despite getting a contract extension. It isn't unfair to ask if he's a recruiter and not a strong player development type coach. The talent is there, but it's green. It's also strong enough this team should make a strong case for a spot in the tournament. A middling season and the questions on Rice as a coach will be amplified.

Conference Preview #11

The Mountain West has slowly fallen the last couple years from routinely having 3-4 bids to a potential of only 1 or 2 this year. The top team is still strong but those mid-tier teams have suffered from graduation and immature players. It looks to be a done year out west.

League Champion: San Diego State
Yes, they lose the top player in Xavier Thames but they still return more than any other team in the conference. I don’t see the path to a conference title being as easy as it looks but I do think they are a solid 2-3 games better than the next group of teams.

At-Large: Boise State
The Broncos return their two leading scorers and it’s more about how bad the bottom of the conference is than it is about how good they are. If they can avoid any bad losses to the San Jose’s of the league they should be able to string enough wins to garnish At-Large support

Also Considered:
UNLV – Who will be better based on cutting dead weight
Colorado State – Larry Eustacy can do wonders with any roster
Wyoming – If Larry Nance Jr is healthy he can carry a team. If not, this team is toast.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Conference Preview #12

Our next conference to spotlight is Conference USA. Boy has this conference fallen. Back in the day it used to be a solid 7th or 8th best league but now it looks like a glorified Sun Belt/WAC mess.

League Champion: Louisiana Tech
They probably should have got a longer look at an at-large bid last year but the Bulldogs return most of their team from last year and managed to keep their head coach from bolting to Tennessee. 29 wins again and I think they get in comfortably.

At-Large: UTEP
Tim Floyd has done a good job recruiting and UTEP is back to being a player at least in a conference like this. They return most of the team like the Bulldogs but Tim Floyd usually does something stupid to fail in the end. I still think he can put up gaudy numbers this year and with a solid non-conference schedule they should be able to have a decent RPI.

Also Considered: Old Dominion, Western Kentucky

Monday, October 20, 2014

Conference Preview #13

Our first potential two bid conference from the “Mid-major” category is the MAC. The days of multiple bids have been long gone from late 90’s but the ghost of Antonio Gates still lives on running post routes for the Chargers. This year looks again like there will only one bid but I’m thinking at least one team hangs around in the Also Considered bunch late into the season.

League Champion: Western Michigan
It was a tossup between Toledo and Western Michigan, both of whom return enough from last year to continue to lead the conference. The Broncos kind of snuck in last year but they will have a target on their back come November. I think they have just enough firepower to squeak past Toledo and a solid Akron team. Down the road Ohio will be the team to watch as Saul Phillips, late of North Dakota State, begins his rebuilding projection there. Look for the Bobcats in two years to be a front runner.

Also Considered: Toledo