It’s not even July, about three months away from when teams are able to begin practicing, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to look at the college basketball season.
We now have closure on last year’s college season with the NBA Draft now complete, allowing us to rip off the Band-Aid and move forward. Coming off of a great and very memorable season that saw an underdog walk away with the national championship, we could see even more fireworks during the 2014-15 season.
Here, I’ll give you a look inside my mind a bit, showing you some thoughts and notes that I have accumulated over the past few months. This is also an early look into the future college basketball previews that we will begin publishing at the end of September.
Expect some great college coverage from Hoops Habit this season.
We’re at the awkward point of the offseason where some games (mostly neutral site games and preseason tournaments) have been announced but few teams have their entire schedule complete. So we know some games, but not very many.
So here’s what I’m looking at right now:
* On the mid-major front, there are three teams that are sure to be very good, if not great, in the upcoming season. They should be familiar names to most.
VCU is coming off of a very solid season, their first season in the Atlantic 10, but it ended quicker than they would have hoped. In a thrilling, back-and-forth game, the Rams and their Havoc defense ran into the buzz saw that was the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, who had won 28 straight games prior to their matchup with VCU.
It took a final second 3-pointer to knock off the Rams, but the Lumberjacks kept rolling.
Heading into next year, don’t expect much of a drop off from VCU. Losing Juvonte Redic could hurt them down low, but the returns of Briante Weber (who led the nation in steals with 3.4 per game) and Treveon Graham (potentially the favorite for preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and a preseason All-American candidate) should spark the Rams quickly. They’ll be the favorites to win the conference and have the defense and senior leaders to get the job done once again.
* Another mid-major we’re looking at is Florida Gulf Coast. #DunkCity, the school that uses social media for publicity, shouldn’t have a problem getting media coverage this year.
The Eagles were knocked off their Atlantic Sun throne by Mercer in the tournament championship game last season (Mercer went on to shock Duke with a 78-71 victory in the NCAA tournament). FGCU would accept an invitation to the NIT, where they were outed by Florida State in the first round.
Mercer is moving on to the Southern Conference, leaving FGCU as the big dog in the Atlantic Sun. Despite losing the team’s second-leading scorer, Chase Fieler, the Eagles return Bernard Thompson — who has already broken the school-record in most points scored, Brett Comer (averaged 13.7 points and 5.3 assists per game last season) Jamail Jones and Eric McKnight.
Much like Mercer last season, FGCU could be starting five seniors on the floor, all of whom were part of Dunk City’s run to the Sweet 16 during the 2013 NCAA tournament.
* One more mid-major to look out for is Murray State. After losing a trio that won 106 games in their four years before last season, the Racers finished last season second overall in the Ohio Valley Conference standings behind Belmont and went on to win the CIT last season, defeating Yale in the finals.
Murray State returns its top four scorers from last year and only loses one player in Dexter Fields.
Cameron Payne, the team’s leading scorer at 16.8 per game last year, flew under the radar but was one of the best freshmen in the country nobody talked about. He returns and will take on more of a staring role for the Racers this year. With Belmont losing J.J. Mann, expect to see the Racers at the top of the OVC preseason standings.
* Last week I took a look at how Bruce Pearl’s new-look Auburn Tigers could be a dark horse for the SEC regular-season title. That remains to be seen, but now we’ll take a quick look at the clear SEC favorites in the Kentucky Wildcats.
There’s one question that comes to mind with Kentucky, however, and that’s whether or not the Wildcats are too deep. With Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress already returning for Kentucky, that’s a very solid starting five right there.
Then you have to factor in recruiting class with Trey Lyles, Karl Towns Jr., Devin Booker and Tyler Ullis–that’s 10 bodies Calipari has to fit on the floor, make them all work together, play at the highest level possible and make everyone happy with playing time and scoring. We saw how much last year’s squad struggled from November to early March, what will happen with this many star recruits on a team?
Some would say it’s a good problem to have too many great, young players on your college team, and if anybody can make it work, it’s Calipari, but with that many moving parts to satisfy, it’s not out of the question to see this blowing up in Kentucky’s face.
* Louisville officially makes the switch over to the ACC from the American Athletic Conference after previously being with the Big East. This move gives the ACC a very top heavy conference full of talented teams, including Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, along with the Cardinals.
* Expect to see more of Villanova at the top of the rankings this year. While they do lose last year’s leading scorer in James Bell, they retain Jayvaughn Pinkston, Ryan Arcidacano and Darrun Hilliard II.
Nova actually won the Big East, but you might have missed that memo since Creighton and Doug McDermott were stealing all of the headlines last season. Their only two losses in the conference last year were to McDermott and the Blue Jays, actually, and neither game was close.
They no longer have to deal with McBuckets, so Jay Wright’s squad should get the recognition they deserve this year.
* As most would agree, look out for Michigan’s Caris LaVert to have a breakout year, much like Nik Stauskas had this past season. LaVert was actually second on the team in scoring last year behind the new Sacramento Kings swingman (13.3 points on 44 percent shooting, including 40 percent from 3).
The Wolverines surprised many last year by winning the Big Ten while losing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Can LaVert help them surprise again while losing Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary?
* At this point, there isn’t really a standout player who should be favored to win the National Player of the Year award. There are many good, talented players returning to school and a plethora of good freshmen coming in.
Right now, there isn’t a name that stands out, is a cut above the rest. One name that should be trending towards the start of the season will be Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell. He surprised many by returning to school after he was projected to be a lottery selection in the 2014 draft.
*Speaking of the draft, our Maxwell Ogden has already taken a look at the 2015 NBA Draft and has a first-round mock draft for you to dissect. This can be a helpful, too, to see which players you should pay attention to this season.
Any other stories, players or teams you’re looking forward to keeping an eye on? Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter @NathanGiese.