Men's Basketball Preseason Tournament Game Breakdowns - November 11

Preseason Tournament Games on November 11
The Elite (8.5-10):
Indiana vs. (9) Kansas-9:30 PM ET (ESPN) Armed Forces Classic
Now, I know I’ll get some hate for not having Indiana ranked. My formula isn’t perfect, but I’m experimenting with it; so problems will likely pop up. As for right now, I have Indiana as the 26th best team in the nation, still a highly respectable rank. But, on paper at least, they should probably be a few spots higher. The list of returners is impressive, to say the least. The Indiana faithful had to say a (likely) tearful goodbye to long time guard and heart and soul of this club, Yogi Ferrell after four extremely successful years with this team. But with so many guys returning, I’m sure Tom Crean and the fans will get over this loss pretty quickly. The most noteworthy returner is probably James Blackmon Jr., who was having a simply incredible season last year before it was unfortunately cut short by an injury. Before the injury, he was averaging 15.8 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, and was shooting an astonishing 46.3% from downtown. Although the three point percentage is likely to dip at least a little bit, the scoring and rebounding numbers have no reason to drop with it. Another player generating a ton of buzz (and rightfully so) is rising sophomore Thomas Bryant. Bryant averaged 11.2 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, and shot 68.3% from the field last season. Those are great numbers, sure, but they aren’t unbelievable. Well, how about when you consider he only played 22.6 minutes per game? Per-40 minutes, those stats are looking more like 23 points and 11 rebounds per game. Those numbers jump off the page a little more, eh? The only area I’m not wild about with this team is, well, point guard. Ferrell guided this team brilliantly in the department for four years; doing an outstanding job of both sharing the ball and simply taking over games when necessary too. This year, the pressure will be on Pitt transfer Josh Newkirk (5.9 ppg, 2.7 apg) to lead this team. He’s a fine guard, sure, but I’ll be interested to see how the offense changes with Josh in charge. Either way, lots of talent to be found with the Hoosiers.
And speaking of talent, how about Kansas? Kansas isn’t quite at the same level as Kentucky or Duke when it comes to one and done players, but Bill Self has sported large, talented classes in years passed. Well, not this year. This year he’s bringing in only three recruits, and opting to rely more heavily on his returners. Of course, the class is anything but a joke. The name that jumps off the page is freshman stud Josh Jackson, but Mitch Lightfoot and fellow five star recruit Udoka Azubuike are nothing to scoff at either. This team will be led by the veterans, but one would be foolish to overlook Jackson and company. As for the returners, there’s a lot to like. This team could very well end up running a lot of two-point guard plays; and who would blame them with Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham both returning. The two combined for over 24 points and 8 assists a season ago. Another area where this team should thrive is down low. Landen Lucas is as reliable as they come (6.8 rpg last season) and Carlton Bragg should only get better in his second season (3.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg last season). Losing a go-to scoring option like Perry Ellis or Wayne Selden hurts, but this is still a top-10 team that should make some noise in the Big 12 this season. That being said, I’m picking the “upset” (at least by my rankings) and taking Indiana in this one.
Prediction: Indiana 73-66
(24) Arizona vs. (5) Michigan State-7 PM ET (ESPN) Armed Forces Classic
We have the opening game of the Armed Forces Classic between 24th ranked Arizona and 5th ranked Michigan State. One more time, these are my rankings, not the official list. But really, is there a better way to start the season than a prime-time matchup between two legendary programs? I don’t think so. I’ve had to predict some tough games on this list. Indiana vs. Kansas is a hard one, Penn State vs. Albany, Marquette vs. Vandy….you get the point. The hardest game to predict also just happens to be the best one of the night. Obviously, I feel better about myself and my knowledge when I have a clear-cut pick; but at the same time, you have to love these kinds of games. On paper, Arizona has the more talented team. No question. Rising sophomore Allonzo Trier could very well lead the power conferences in scoring (14.8 ppg last season), and guys like Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Kadeem Allen only figure to get better as they become older and smarter. Really, the only question for Arizona in my mind is who’s going to rebound? Chance Comanche still needs at least another year before he can truly make a different for the Cats, while fellow returning big man Dusan Ristic is a great scorer (7.1 ppg last season) but is far from a rebounding machine (3.8 rpg) despite his size (7-0, 245 pounds). That means a ton of pressure is going to be on Lauri Markkanen to snag a ton of boards. Of course, Lauri is physically talented enough to secure this feat. The five star freshman is 7-0, 230, and extremely skilled around the basket. Kobi Jordan-Simmons may be the big name freshman for this team, and rightfully so, but Lauri may end up being the most valuable by the season’s end. I’m not completely sold on this Arizona team yet, but I know one thing for sure: they are going to be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
As for Michigan State, 5th may be a little too high admittedly. The returning talent is sub-par and although I love the freshman combination of Josh Langford and Miles Bridges, they most likely won’t be able to carry this team in the Big 10. That means someone else is going to have to step up. Enter the most likely candidate: Eron Harris. Harris has the talent to average over 16 points per game in any conference. He showed us that in his sophomore season with West Virginia, when he averaged over 17 a game. Last season, he did a lot of things right for the Spartans. He wasn’t given a ton of time to play (20.9 minutes per game) but turned those limited minutes into valuable ones with excellent perimeter shooting (43.9%) and surprisingly effective passing (2.1 apg). With Bryn Forbes and Denzel Valentine gone, it’s Eron’s turn to step up for the Spartans. If he does, this is a top 10 team. If he struggles, the Spartans fall to the 25-30 range. I think MSU will figure it out later on in the season; before regular season play, but I got the more experienced and hungry Wildcats in this one. Although I’m rooting for MSU, gotta love Tom Izzo.
Prediction: Arizona 72-70
Worth a Watch, but Not Elite (7-8.5):
Coastal Carolina vs. Alabama-9 PM ET (SEC Network Plus) MGM Grand Main Event
The second game from the MGM Grand Main Event to make the list (see: Ball State vs. Saint Louis below), this late night matchup between Coastal Carolina and Alabama will be an absolute blast to watch. Personally, I am extremely high on the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina this season. For starters, Cliff Ellis is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. Period. The guy has been churning out NCAA Tournament teams since 1978, when he first took South Alabama to the Big Dance. Bottom line: this guy knows how to win at any level. Now, pair Ellis with a nice slew of returners including leading scorer Elijah Wilson (13.7 ppg, 4 rpg) and up and comer Jaylen Shaw (11.1 ppg, 3.9 apg) and you already have the base for a solid program. Now, throw in a surprisingly solid recruiting class led by Amidou Bamba and Leroy Butts, and you have yourself the favorite to take the Sun Belt. And if you remember Coastal being in the Big South than no, you aren’t going crazy; the Chanticleers relocated to the Sun Belt in the offseason. A 31st ranking may seem a little high for a mid-major, and I get the questioning; but we should learn a lot about this team for better or for worse in this one. Now for Alabama. Avery Johnson is a wizard. Period. The 2015-16 Crimson Tide had no business being as good as they were. Absolutely none. But Johnson quite simply coached this team to an NIT berth. Simply put, the guy knows what he’s doing. Now, with a more talented team and a nice incoming class, I have the Crimson Tide as a top 75 team (69 to be exact) for the first time in over four seasons. Losing leading scorer Retin Obasohan is never fun (17.6 ppg) and the transfer of Justin Coleman certainly doesn’t help either, but Shannon Hale (10.8 ppg) is a stud; and don’t forget about Memphis transfer Nick King, he may be inconsistent, but he’s a former five star recruit for a reason. Look for him to have a big year. Lastly, don’t let the small incoming freshman class fool you, there’s a lot of talent to be found in those two names. Dazon Ingram was a beast (7.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.3 apg) before he got hurt last season, and 4 star power forward Braxton Key shouldn’t be taken lightly either. Really, this is one of the toughest games to predict for the night. I love the Chanticleers backcourt, and I believe they are the better team; but Alabama is going to be fired up. Also, the size of Alabama shouldn’t bode well for the smaller Chanticleers. If it was a neutral site I’d take Coastal, but I got Alabama in a high-scoring bout.
Prediction: Alabama 75-70
(12) Ohio State vs. Navy-9 PM ET (CBS Sports Net) Veterans Classic
Next up we got a nightmare first matchup for a team ranked 12th in my rankings, the Ohio State Buckeyes. An NIT team a year ago, the Ohio State Buckeyes are one year older and a year hungrier. And although the BIG 10 figures to be the second best conference in the country this season (behind the ACC), don’t expect these young Buckeyes to be intimidated in the slightest. Thad Matta may be the best coach in the country to never win an NCAA Tournament, and his roster this season undoubtedly has him salivating for the gold. The team returns not its top three scorers, not its four, and not its five; no, OSU is returning its top SIX scorers from a year ago. And don’t forget, the Buckeyes weren’t a pushover a year ago; not by a long shot. The team finished 7th in the BIG 10 with a 11-7 conference record and was granted a berth into the NIT. Now, it that doesn’t have you excited or petrified (depends on where you’re from and who you support), then this probably will. The freshman class for OSU isn’t large in quantity (only 3 players) but two of those recruits are four-star studs (big men Derek Funderburk, Micah Potter) and the other is an underappreciated three star in Andre Wesson. Considering that bigs were the biggest (ha) struggle for the Buckeyes a year ago, these two young bucks could see a lot of time and a lot of production. They aren’t the team to beat in the BIG 10, but these guys should be really, really good.
As for Navy, this is a team that should be relatively competitive in the Patriot League this season (top 5), but are more dangerous in this game in particular for a specific reason. Have you guessed yet? No, they don’t have a personal vendetta against Ohio State or Thad Matta. And no, they don’t stand much of a chance when looking at raw talent; but you have to remember the name of this event. It may not seem like a huge deal, and for many, it probably isn’t. But “The Veterans Classic” has different meaning for teams such as Army, Navy and Air Force compared to the rest of us. Expect an absolutely fired up building and team; something that if the Buckeyes aren’t ready for, could alter the turnout of this game. But, knowing Thad Matta, he’s going to have his Buckeyes primed and ready for this one. An upset isn’t likely, but if you have CBS Sports Net, this later night game should be fun to watch.
Prediction: Ohio State 82-69
Florida Gulf Coast vs. Florida-7:30 PM ET (SECN+) Jacksonville Showcase No. 1
Thankfully this isn’t a ranking of “the best showcase/tournament names”, because if it was, “Jacksonville Showcase No. 1” would undoubtedly be near the bottom. All jokes aside, this neutral site clash between two top 100 teams is a nice mid-major vs. power conference for both programs. Granted, it seems sort of unfair to even call FGCU a mid-major team after considering just how good they have been for the past four seasons. No one can forget their incredible Sweet 16 run back in 2012-13, sure, but it’s really last season’s performance that stood out to me. After a sort of disappointing 8-6 regular season standing in the Atlantic Sun, the Eagles came to play in its NCAA tournament game against a really good Miami team, nearly pulling the upset. Even though they had a coaching change from Andy Enfield to Joe Dooley, it’s something about this program that always grants them or gives them the power to show up against great opponents. And they’ll need some of that magic to show up in this one. FGCU has a lot of returning talent, sure, but Florida is going to be a different team than last year’s good, but beatable squad. Marc-Eddy Norelia may be the best player on this team (17.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg last season), but rising sophomore Zach Johnson is the most valuable. The point guard can do it all (11.1 ppg, 3.3 apg) and just needs to be more aggressive moving forward. The incoming freshmen class for these FGCU Eagles will most likely need a year or two to develop, so a lot of the pressure will be on these two plus guys like Christian Terrell (12.7 ppg) and Antravious Simmons (7.9 ppg). Thankfully for the Eagles, these guys can handle it.
As for Florida, I was a little skeptical about Mike White coaching this team last season. He had a successful record with Louisiana Tech, but he didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament three years straight with three really talented teams. Well, after last season I think it’s safe to say all those doubts are pretty much dead. The Gators didn’t make the Tournament, but White guided a relatively young and inexperienced team to a 9-9 SEC record and an NIT berth. Pretty impressive. And although losing Dorian Finney-Smith will be hard, the returners for this team more than make up for the loss. DFS led the team in scoring last season with 14.7 ppg, but the next five players on the scoring list (KeVaughn Allen, John Egbunu, Kasey Hill, Devin Robinson, Chris Chiozza) are all back. Pair them with a nice freshmen class, including four star recruits Gorjok Gak, Eric Hester, and Keith Stone; and what you have is a top 70 preseason team (65th). FGCU also has a nice rank of 94th and arguably have the more experienced team; but I have Florida winning this early night matchup. This has potential upset written all over it, though; FGCU isn’t a joke.
Prediction: Florida 70-66
Vanderbilt vs. Marquette-6:30 PM ET (CBS Sports Net) Veterans Classic
Marquette loves their basketball. The fans, the teachers, the state of Wisconsin; this is a traditionally strong program with a massive fan base (despite the small school). So, when a legendary coach leaves (Buzz Williams) and a young rookie comes in (Steve Wojciechowski), skepticism from this fan base not surprisingly followed close behind. And well, for his first two seasons, Steve has done very little to cool those flames. He sports a positive overall record (33-32), but his poor conference record of 12-24 has done more than just raise a few eyebrows. Firmly put, it’s time for “WoJo” to produce results in his third season; this team is just too talented for him to not. He lost his big stud Henry Ellenson down low to the NBA Draft, but the list of returners after Ellenson’s name is abundant. And by abundant I really, really mean abundant. Ellenson averaged 17.9 ppg for the Golden Eagles last season. The next six scorers on the list, starting with Luke Fischer (12.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and finishing with Traci Carter (5.4 ppg, 4.6 apg) are all back. The list includes former five star recruit JaJuan Johnson (10.2 ppg) and rising sophomore Haanif Cheatham, who quietly had a rock-solid freshman campaign to the tune of 11.8 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, and 2.2 assists per game. But oh, the Marquette talent train doesn’t stop there. A trio of four-star freshmen (Markus Howard, Brendan Bailey, Sam Hauser) all figure to play a role, even with the returning talent. OK, I think that’s it. No? Oh yeah, I almost forgot about transfers Andrew Rowsey and Katin Reinhardt. Rowsey wrecked the Big South for two seasons at UNC-Asheville (averaged 19.8 ppg) while shooting close to 40% from behind the arc in those two seasons. Needless to say, he’s a talented young guard. Reinhardt wasn’t the most polarizing player on last year’s rock solid USC team, but he was a reliable source of shooting (37.3% three point percentage) and scoring (11.4 ppg) for those Trojans. In reality, WoJo should have some trouble figuring out how to get all of his pieces involved; which is a great problem to have.
For Vandy, there are certainly questions surrounding this program. Kevin Stallings is out, Bryce Drew (Valpo) is in as the head coach. The team lost two underclassmen (Wade Davis, Damian Jones) to the NBA Draft, and the SEC is always dangerous. With that being said, I still have Vandy as a top 100 team (86th). It’s a gutsy rank, sure, but I believe Matthew Fisher-Davis (rising sophomore) can not only reach Baldwin’s value for this team last season, but possibly even exceed it. I also see a bounce-back performance from Riley LaChance (12.3 ppg, 2.9 apg two seasons ago as a freshman) and smarter play from big guy Luke Kornet (3.3 three point attempts per game last season, 28% three point percentage). The freshmen class has a nice trio of young talents coming in, but I truly believe the game-changer for this team will be transfer Nolan Cressler. He was less than impressive in his first season with the squad (4.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg) but this is a guy that averaged 16.8 ppg for Cornell back in 2014-15. I get that the Ivy League isn’t the SEC, but with an opening, I’m a firm believer that Cressler could surprise some people in his final season as a collegiate player. This is a tough game to predict, but I got the Golden Eagles in a defensive battle. Either way, this early night part of the Veterans Classic should be more competitive than the later night game (see: Ohio State vs. Navy).
Prediction: Marquette 64-54
The Mid-Card (5-7):
Albany vs. Penn State-7 PM ET (ESPN3) Hall of Fame Tipoff
Opening up the Mid-Card we have an excellent early night matchup between the Albany Great Danes of the America East and the Penn State Nittany Lions of the Big 10. Now, if this was being played at a neutral location, it would undoubtedly land in the “Worth a Watch, but Not Elite” category. But, alas, the game is being played at Penn State, a team that I already believe to be a tiny, tiny bit better than Albany. That being said, this should still be a highly competitive game between a proven mid-major giant and an up and coming power conference team. Of course, when I say up and coming, Penn State still needs a few more years and a couple more nice classes to truly be considered a competitor in the downright stacked Big 10. Of course, having a trio of lowerclassmen guards certainly won’t hurt. The trio: Shep Garner (14.8 ppg, 3.4 apg), Payton Banks (9.4 ppg), and Josh Reaves (6.4 ppg) should more than make up for the loss of the squad’s best player a year ago, Mr. Brandon Taylor (16.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg). These guys, paired with an underrated freshman class, as well as UConn transfer Terrence Samuel (3.6 ppg, 1.6 apg two seasons ago), make the 16-16 Nittany Lions from a year ago look more like a potential 20 win team in 2016-17.
For Albany, they were in an unfamiliar situation last season; finishing second in the America East (behind Stony Brook) and getting eliminated early in the CBI. To make matters worse, this is a team that lost their trio of stars from a year ago (combined 37.5 ppg), and figure to be in a bit of a rebuilding mode. That being said, rising sophomore Joe Cremo is a stud (10.5 ppg) and I’m expecting a big season from Aussie big man Mike Rowley (8.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg last season). I don’t think they’ll finish with a sub .500 record (last time that happened was 2010), but this Albany team, compared to the last 4-5 we’ve seen from head coach Will Brown, is not quite as dangerous. Of course, if you expect them to lie down and die against PSU in a hostile location, well, you obviously have never seen a team coached by the legendary Brown. I have the up and coming Lions taking this one, but don’t expect a beatdown.
Prediction: Penn State 62-51
Harvard vs. Stanford-11 PM ET (ESPN2) Pac-12 China Game
Here we have a nice late night treat between two of the best academic schools that the United States have to offer. Just a little fun fact, these two schools acceptance rates COMBINED a year ago was 9.9%. Combined! They aren’t so bad on the court either. Stanford, a member of the aforementioned Pac-12, is coming off its worst record in almost half a decade. As a result, it sacked the old coach Johnny Dawkins, and brought in up and comer Jerod Haase from UAB. And, at first glance, it looks like Haase may be in trouble with returners. He lost stud Rosco Allen (15.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg), sure, but pretty much every other meaningful player from a year ago returns. That includes Reid Travis, who was having an excellent season (12.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg) before he went down with a season-ending leg injury. Some of the other notable returners include Dorian Pickens (12.3 ppg), Marcus Allen (11.1 ppg, 1.9 apg) and Michael Humphrey (10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg), who all stepped up with the absence of Travis a year ago. Of course, being a Pac-12 school, a pair of rock solid recruits should also help aid the void left by Allen. Kodye Pugh and Trevor Stanback are two guys that could both make differences in their inaugural season; Pugh in particular. I don’t see the Cardinal battling for a Pac-12 title this season, but don’t expect them to be a pushover like last year.
As for Harvard, the excitement surrounding this program is back after just one down season. Really, in a way, having Siyani Chambers go down a season ago with an injury was a bit of a blessing in disguise. With no go-to scoring option, it opened the door for previously unknown Zena Edosomwan to become “the guy” for the Crimson. And oh, did he ever come through. He averaged 13.1 ppg and 9.9 rebounds per game, a huge improvement over his stats of 4 and 3.1 (respectively) a year previous. Now, pair that with the return of floor general Siyani Chambers (11.4 ppg, 4.6 apg in 2014-15) and you already have a pretty nice returning core. Now, toss in one of the top recruiting classes in the country and what do you have? Well, a top 40 team in the nation. I currently have the Crimson ranked 36th in the nation, with Stanford cracking the top 150. Considering this is one of the only night games of the day, there’s really no excuse to miss this good one. And oh yeah, bonus, it’s in China! Which is sort of unique, wouldn’t you say?
Prediction: Harvard 74-68
Lower Level Time Wasters (4-5):
Howard vs. (19) Michigan-9 PM ET (BTN Plus) 2K Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project
With better games between better teams happening later in the night; no one outside of the state of Michigan or DC is encouraged to tune into this one. Maybe, just maybe I’d give you the nod if this game was at a neutral site, but the fact that the Bison must travel to Michigan to play this on-site game pretty much eliminates any possible chance of an upset. I like the Bison a lot in MEAC-play, but playing a top-20 team (by my rankings) in a hostile environment is just too high a fence to jump over for these guys. Some players to watch on the Bison include James Daniel, Marcel Boyd, and James Miller. Daniel led the NCAA in scoring last season (27.1 ppg) and should not be intimidated in the slightest by any Wolverines player who tries to guard him. Marcel Boyd is a double-double machine (10.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg), and James Miller can be a difference-maker when healthy (played only 138 minutes last season). As for Michigan, the usual suspects will get their buckets (Derrick Walton Jr, Zak Irvin), but Ibi Watson, a freshman from Ohio, should make his presence felt early in this one; even with a veteran backcourt already in place. Michigan should win this one easily; don’t give up on the Bison, though.
Prediction: Michigan 88-60
Chattanooga vs. (7) Tennessee-7 PM ET (SECN+) Maui Jim Maui Invitational
Much like Michigan vs. Howard, this is a game that would’ve earned a much, much higher ranking if it was being played at a neutral site. I’m sure plenty of Chattanooga fans will make it to this one considering the distance, but playing in the Thompson-Boling Arena will always be exceptionally difficult; especially for a mid-major school like Chattanooga. Looking at Chattanooga, I should be higher on this team than I am. They have a stud young coach in Matt McCall, and a strong core of returning players from a team that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago. There is no doubt in my mind that this team will compete for the SoCon title, but anything past a first or second round exit in the NCAA Tournament simply won’t happen. As for Tennessee, I am very high on these young Volunteers. With easily my most gutsy pick of the preseason, I currently have the Vols as the 7th best team in the nation. Now, is there a chance this pick comes back and blows up in my face? Absolutely. 100%. But I have faith in Rick Barnes, and these incoming freshmen are truly exceptional. It shouldn’t be a highly competitive game for very long, but either way we are going to learn a hell of a lot about the young Volunteers in this one. Some players to watch for Chattanooga are seniors Greg Pryor, Justin Tuoyo, Tre’ McLean and Casey Jones. For the Vols, watch out for rising senior Robert Hubbs (10.6 ppg last season) and pretty much any freshman that steps onto the court for the white and orange.
Prediction: Tennessee 68-53
Ball State vs. Saint Louis-8 PM ET (FOX Sports Midwest) MGM Grand Main Event
I don’t see the Billikens returning to their 2010-2012 form this season, but an improvement over last year’s 11-21 abomination is all but guaranteed. Of course, the entity causing the most buzz around Saint Louis right now isn’t a player; it’s former Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford. A career 56% win percentage as a D-1 head coach, Ford made four NCAA Tournaments in eight seasons with the Cowboys. Ford’s offenses are almost always guard-oriented, which bodes extremely well for the projected backcourt of Mike Crawford (10.3 ppg) and UCF transfer Adonys Henriquez (10.1 ppg, 2 apg). The bigs aren’t great, admittedly, but the Billikens should be able to ride this talented duo to at least a few wins in the tough A-10 this season. As for Ball State, this is a team on the rise. I have them in my top 200 to start the year; a feat not usually accomplished by many mid-major schools. The Cardinals quietly rode a 21-14 record to the CIT Quarterfinals a year ago and return a nice slew of starters including Jontrell Walker (12.1 ppg), Franko House (12.2 ppg), and sniper Francis Kiapway (41.8% three-point percentage). The squad won’t waltz into Saint Louis and escape with a victory, but this is a not a team that should be taken lightly by any means. Saint Louis in a surprisingly close one.
Prediction: Saint Louis 62-55
Tennessee State vs. UC Davis-7:30 PM ET (online streaming) Cable Car Classic
Here we have two teams headed in completely different directions. UC Davis, an NIT team two years ago, went 6-10 in the Big West last season and finished with a sub-.500 record. Spoiler alert: don’t expect the same results again this year. Will they be a 25-7 team again like they were in 2014-15? No, probably not; but that doesn’t mean this won’t be a well-coached team with a number of nice returning pieces. The two most valuable pieces, in my opinion at least, are the backcourt duo of rising seniors Brynton Lemar (10.2 ppg) and Darius Graham (10 ppg, 2.7 apg). The Big West has always been a guard-oriented conference, and this rock-solid duo of veterans will do wonders for Jim Les’ squad this season. They aren’t my favorite to win the conference, but they should absolutely be able to pull out at least a .500 record both overall and in the Big West. As for Tennessee State, it sadly looks like they reached their peak last season. Dana Ford led a 5-24 team (2014-15) to a 20-11 overall record last year, earning them a CIT berth. It also earned Dana Ford (he’s only 32) some looks from bigger schools, but he decided to stay with TSU for the time-being. And although this squad isn’t 100% doomed, I currently have them ranked as the 232nd best team in college basketball; not a great spot to be in. Of course, the main reason for this poor rank is the loss of do-it-all guard Keron DeShields, who, well, did it all for the Tigers a season ago (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3 apg). Now, does rising senior Tahjere McCall have the opportunity to take over this role? Absolutely. No question. Is Wayne Martin (11.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg) a solid partner in crime? Absolutely, no question. But, a team that was already thin off the bench last season only got thinner; and the recruiting class is nothing particularly special either. Anything is possible on a neutral court, but I like the Aggies by a few in this one. Either way, this one should be a fairly entertaining early contest.
Prediction: UC Davis 69-64
Northern Arizona vs. Santa Clara-10 PM ET ( Cable Car Classic
Now, I’m not a Santa Clara fan, but I’m excited for Santa Clara fans this season. A team that has been the laughingstock of not a particularly strong WCC conference over the past few seasons, Santa Clara actually has a shot at making some noise in the conference this year. Granted, St. Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU are all very, very good; but when playing at home, don’t count these Broncos out this season. What makes this year different you might ask? Well, Jared Brownridge (20.6 ppg) has a chance to lead the nation in scoring, which is nice, but it’s not Jared. No, it’s the new coach brought in over the summer: Herb Sendek. Sendek, who last coached the Arizona State Sun Devils in 2014-15, sports a career win-loss record of 56.3%, and led the NC State Wolfpack to five straight NCAA Tournaments in 2001-2006. So, needless to say, this is a guy that knows what he’s doing. The pressure on Brownridge to score night in and night out will be tough, but he’s not alone. Rising sophomore guard KJ Feagin had a rock solid freshman campaign (11.4 ppg, 3.8 apg), and big man Nate Kratch (8.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg) has gotten better each year (rising senior). The freshmen class is nothing special, but this is the best Santa Clara team I have seen in four seasons, and it’s not even close. As for NAU, I have them as one of the stronger mid-major teams in the country (165th overall on my rankings). And, if this game was at a neutral site I’d give Ako Kaluna (12.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and company a chance in this one. Sadly, the Cable Car Classic takes place in the Leavey Center, Santa Clara’s home court. The home court advantage isn’t anything incredible in the Leavey, but I expect a pretty amped up crowd for this opener. NAU won’t go down easily, they never do, but a loss by Santa Clara here would be beyond shocking.
Prediction: Santa Clara 84-67
Slate by Time:
6:30 PM- Vanderbilt vs. Marquette (CBS Sports Net)
7:00 PM- Chattanooga vs. (7) Tennessee (SECN+), Albany vs. Penn State (ESPN3), (24) Arizona vs. (5) Michigan State (ESPN)
7:30 PM- Tennessee State vs. UC Davis (Online Streaming), FGCU vs. Florida (SECN+)
8:00 PM- Ball State vs. Saint Louis (FOX Sports Midwest)
9:00 PM- Howard vs. (19) Michigan (BTN Plus), Coastal Carolina vs. Alabama (SECN+), (12) Ohio State vs. Navy (CBS Sports Net)
9:30 PM- Indiana vs. (9) Kansas (ESPN)
10:00 PM- NAU vs. Santa Clara (
11:00 PM- Harvard vs. Stanford (ESPN2)
My Recommended Watch Schedule:
(24) Arizona vs. (5) Michigan State-Indiana vs. (9) Kansas-Harvard vs. Stanford