College Basketball Preview Week is always fun. It’s a great time for me to take stock on the locals, and in today’s mass-transfer era it’s necessary to see who’s playing for whom (we’re looking at you, Ricky Lindo Jr., now of George Washington).
It’s also a great time to learn more about WTOP’s reach, because we’ll often get emails asking why we don’t cover West Virginia, even though Morgantown is closer to D.C. than Blacksburg, and why don’t we talk more about Old Dominion, because they’re in Virginia as well.
It’s amusing to see how wide the WTOP net is at times. It’s subjective, and often feels like weeding a garden: there’s always one more school we can talk about.
Sadly, unlike baseball, basketball is a sport governed by time, and our time during preview week is governed by deadlines, and time as well.
Here are the locals representing conferences that usually get one bid in the NCAA Tournament:
The Patriot League won’t be tipping off until January 2021 (with two exceptions being the military academies), and this season the conference will modify its schedule by splitting up into three regional “mini-conferences” and setting up 16-game schedules with schools playing each other home and away on Saturdays and Sundays.
American, Navy, and Loyola (MD) form their own mini-conference, meaning the Eagles will play the Greyhounds six times and the Midshipmen four times.
Navy plays AU and Loyola four times apiece while also facing Army four times this winter.
The Midshipmen, as a Service Academy, also draw an exemption (as does Army) and will play a light nonconference slate that involves dates with George Washington, Maryland, Georgetown, Morgan State and Mount St. Mary’s.
Speaking of Navy, the Mids bring back four starters from last year’s 14-16 team (8-10 in league play).
Senior Cam Davis (16 points per game last winter) provides the main offense threat on the perimeter, while juniors John Carter Jr. (11 points with 5 rebounds) and Greg Summers (10 points with 7 rebounds) anchor things inside.
Will they develop a three-point threat? The Mids ranked last in the conference from outside the arc last season.
Two years ago, coach Ed DeChellis delivered the program’s first 20-win season since 2000. Could his 10th season in Annapolis result in the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998?
American (16-14, 12-6 in conference) last made the big dance in 2014 during Head Coach Mike Brennan’s first year at the helm.
The Eagles’ second place finish in 2020 was the school’s best since that March, but a quarterfinal exit in the Patriot League Tournament sends the Eagles back to the drawing board.
Gone is the school’s all-time leading scorer Sa’eed Nelson, while veteran big man Mark Gasperini transferred to UMass.
Returning to Bender Arena for one more go-round are seniors Jamir Harris and Stacy Beckton; Harris was AU’s top three-point option (39.9% from outside the arc) while Beckton led the team in blocks and was third in rebounding behind Nelson and Gasperini.
Junior Jacob Boonyasith and sophomore Connor Nelson played supporting roles last winter and will be expected to contribute more in January.
Loyola (Maryland) went 15-17 and 7-11 in the Patriot League during Head Coach Tavaras Hardy’s second season, and while they lose leading scorer Andrew Kostcka to graduation, the bulk of last year’s rotation returns.
Six-foot-11 Spaniard Santi Aldama led the team in rebounding and blocked shots while netting 15 points per game as a freshman, he’ll have help in the form of senior Isaiah Hart (who has led the team in assists his previous three years with the school) and junior Jaylin Andrews (40 starts in two seasons).
The MEAC is also tinkering with its schedule this winter as the league is splitting into North and South Divisions.
Howard, Morgan State and Coppin State will compete in the North.
Howard Head Coach Kevin Blakeney went 4-29 in the first year of his Bison rebuild, with two of those victories coming in March. He scores a huge win this offseason with the recruiting of 6-foot-11 center Makur Maker, who became the first five-star prospect to sign with a Historically Black College or University.
Last year’s freshman crop delivered starters like Wayne Bristol Jr. and Khalil Robinson (team-high 3.9 assists per game), while holdover Zion Cousins blossomed into the Bisons’ top rebounder.
Howard hasn’t posted a winning record since 2003 or made the NCAA Tournament since 1992. Both droughts could end this March.
The CAA used to be a lot bigger in this area, with schools like American, Navy, George Mason and even VCU calling the conference home before finding greener pastures elsewhere.
While 2020 Tournament champ Hofstra is picked to repeat this winter, Towson picks up four first place votes and is fourth in the preseason poll.
Towson has won 20 games three times in Pat Skerry’s time with the school, and last winter’s third-place finish had the feel of team that would make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991.
But instead of playing spoiler after 12-6 conference mark, the 19-13 Tigers were the ones upset in the CAA Quarterfinals by eventual runner-up Northeastern.
They lost their top three scorers as Brian Fobbs and Nakye Sanders graduated while Allen Bertrand transferred to Rhode Island, but the remainder of the rotation returns led by Jason Gibson (the Sidwell Friends graduate averaged 8 points while shooting 37% from 3-point range) and Juwan Gray (7 points off the bench).
Defense will once again be the difference — if they can repeat last winter’s efficiency where they led the conference in rebounding margin and defensive field goal percentage.
James Madison made the NCAA’s “First Four” in 2013 and won a tournament game, but three years later, then-Head Coach Matt Brady left for an assistant’s job at Maryland.
Louis Rowe’s 4-year tenure failed to produce a winning record, and now Mark Byington gets a crack at the returning the Dukes to the Big Dance.
Byington led Georgia Southern to four 20-win seasons in eight years with one trip to the CBI. He’ll have last year’s leading scorer Matt Lewis at his disposal; the Bishop O’Connell graduate averaged 19 points with 6 rebounds as a junior.
Most of the other top performers from 2019-20 (forward Dwight Wilson plus guards Darius Banks and Deshon Parker) transferred in the offseason. Five freshmen and four transfers will certainly usher in the new era.
William & Mary is one of four schools that has been in Division I since the original classification of 1948 to not reach the NCAA Tournament (Army, The Citadel, and St. Francis (Brooklyn) are the others).
First-year coach Dane Fischer led the Tribe to a 21-11 mark; unfortunately they were upset in the CAA Quarterfinals (by 12-20 Elon).
They’re picked to finish last in the league this year after losing five seniors, including leading scorer Nathan Knight, plus seven-footer Andy Van Vliet (the duo both finished in the top four of the CAA in rebounding).
Senior guard Luke Loewe made 44% of his threes last season; he doesn’t have a ton of options around him to negate double and triple-teams.
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