NC College Basketball Preseason Preview
College Basketball is back. How does your team look heading into the season?
The Mountaineers look to turn things around after a dismal performance last season. They return leading scorer Ronshad Shabazz who looks to build on his clear number one option status. Last season he averaged 17 points a game. He’ll look to help develop a young core trying to right the ship after finishing 9-21 and 11th in the Sun Belt conference a season ago. The Mountaineers are young, they probably won’t be in the mix for a conference title, but look for improvement throughout the season.
The Fighting Camels look to build a solid 2017-18 campaign with momentum carrying over from last seasons late success. Though they had a mediocre regular-season, Campbell made a Cinderella-esque run through the Big South Tournament. Ultimately they fell to Winthrop in the tourney title game. With Chris Clemons bringing back his 25 points per game leading the way, the Fighting Camels have a legitimate contender for Big South Conference Player of the Year.
The Wildcats could be a surprise team. Returning for Davidson is potential A-10 Player of the Year Peyton Aldridge. Aldridge is coming off a solid 20 points per game and 8 rebounds per game. They also bring in talented freshman Kellan Grady. Ironically for Steph Curry’s alma mater, the three ball has been a weakness for the Wildcats over the past few seasons. If the Wildcats get more help from the perimeter, look for this team to have a turnaround. Don’t be surprised if they make some noise in the A-10. We’re looking forward to their early season matchup with UNC-Wilmington. That game will tell us a lot about both teams.
Not much can be said about Duke that is not already known. It’s the typical formula for the Blue Devils. They bring in 4 of the top 8 freshmen in the country to pair alongside Grayson Allen. The best out of the group, Marvin Bagley III, is one of the most talented freshmen to come into the NCAA in recent memory. If Bagley isn’t the number one pick in next seasons NBA draft, I’ll be shocked. The key for an ACC title run will be Grayson Allen. The senior is the only player with experience on the roster. He will have to guide the young guns into form if Duke looks to take their preseason number 1 ranking to a national title.
Forget the 2019 Class, Dude Reclassified and his at Duke this year
The Pirates are one of the teams I am not sure what to expect. Potentially, the season could go in any direction. They return multiple starters, but that group finished 15-18 with a 6-12 conference record. They have no defined star. The highest average points per game returning to the Pirates is Kentrell Barkley, but he only averaged 13 a game. Will he take the next step to make ECU a contender? My preseason opinion is no. Cincinnati and SMU are far more talented and outclass the Pirates by miles.
After a fourth-place finish in the CAA, I believe Elon will be able to take another step forward and potentially challenge for the conference title. When you look at their returning players, Elon loses almost no production and they return their top 5 players in terms of points per game. This nucleus has played together for a year now and has obtained moderate success. There are question marks for the teams that have recently dominated the CAA. UNC Wilmington is going through a coaching change, so we will have to see how the transition works for the back-to-back conference winners. The only other team posing a threat is Charleston. The Cougars also return all of their starters from a season ago. Look for Elon to try to make a rise to the top this season.
Gardner-Webb will have a different look this season. They lost their top two scores from the previous season and begin the year at #13 Miami followed by #8 Florida. Both are extremely difficult tests for the Bulldogs and will be a good indicator of how tough this team will be this year. After finishing fourth in the Big South last season, let’s see how the Bulldogs show up against a couple of powerhouse programs.
Not much has changed in terms of our take on the Aggies compared to how they performed last year. If we have to start somewhere, start with the Aggies losing their leading scorer of the past two years, Sam Hunt, to NC State as a graduate transfer. Coming off a last-place finish in the MEAC and a 3-win total for the year, I find it difficult to believe the Aggies will have much of a turnaround this season. They didn’t bring in any noticeable names to change their fortune either.
UNC-Ashville looks to build on a great 2016-17 season that saw the Bulldogs tie for first atop the Big South regular season standings. They return nearly all of their production from a year ago including Ahmad Thomas, the leader in PPG and rebounds. He like, Chris Clemons, could be a sneaky pick for Big South player of the year, especially if he progressed his game this off-season. Look for UNC Asheville to stay atop the standings this year in the Big South.
North Carolina Central
Last year, the Eagles flew high last year all the way into the NCAA tournament after finishing first in the MEAC and winning the conference tournament. The Eagles return star guard Patrick Cole who went for a nearly 20 points and seven rebounds per game a season ago. On top of the star guard, Central also returns all of their starters. The Eagles look to fly high once again. Watch out for another deep MEAC tournament run.
Though they cut down the nets this past March, the Tar Heels face many questions heading into the season. So many departures from the title team leave the Tar Heels relying heavily upon Joel Berry. Berry, if you haven’t heard, broke his hand in a video game dispute. Until he returns, the Tar Heels will look to Theo Pinson and Luke Maye to carry the Heels through the early parts of the season. Don’t forget Carolina has a strong freshman class, as always, to make up for the production lost. With their rival down tobacco road coming in at number one for the preseason, let’s see how the Tar Heels respond on their title tour.
Never Forget. This was the de facto National Championship Game
The 49ers return their top three scoring threats led by Jon Davis. Davis is coming off a stellar season where he averaged 19 points per game. The big key for the 49ers to turn around a mediocre 16-17 is to produce on the glass. They need a big man to emerge who’s able to hit the glass. With an incoming class of six-freshman, look to see if the 49ers can gain any momentum into making a run in the conference tournament.
After a strong finish in the Southern Conference to go with an NIT tournament appearance, Wes Miller’s Spartans lost a couple of solid players. However, top point man, Francis Alonso, is back along with top rebounder, James Dickey. You should expect the Spartans to be competitive again but look they need new faces to step up.
State comes in with a lot of questions. To begin with, they lose lottery pick Dennis Smith Jr, along with their top 3 point shooter in Rowen. On top of that, the Pack fired head coach Mark Gottfried halfway through the season. The Pack finished second to last in the ACC last season to cap off the dismal year of letdowns. That aside, let’s get to the good news. First, they hired Kevin Keatts from UNC Wilmington. Keatts was one of the most sought-after hires after the way he turned around UNC Wilmington’s program.
One big thing NC State lacked last year was defense, Keatts brings a defensive mind to the table. Over the last three seasons, UNCW has been notorious for their full court press. It almost pulled off NCAA Tournament wins against Duke and Virginia. Can a change in philosophy change the outcome for the Pack? This year, maybe not, but look for State to compete in games. They’ll probably finish middle of the ACC until Keatts is able to get some of his own recruits in.
Let’s face it UNC Wilmington will probably fall a bit from the top of the CAA. Under Kevin Keatts, the Seahawks established themselves as the perennial power in the CAA. They simply lost too much production to think they will repeat their success from a season ago. On the other side, they brought in Coach C.B. McGrath from the reigning NCAA Champion Tar Heels. However, they lost CJ Bryce, Chris Flemmings and Denzel Ingram. All were key pieces to the Seahawks success last season. One thing the Hawks can rely on is double-double machine Devontae Cacok. It will be interesting to watch how the coaching switch and the player turnover works for the Seahawks. Still, look for the Seahawks to finish in the top 4 of the conference this season.
Kevin Connors’ has a Point
The Demon Deacons are an interesting team and should be fun to watch this season. Looking at the stats from a year ago: they ranked 15th in points per game and 307th in points allowed. This formula equated to a .500 conference record. So what about this year? To start, they lost double-double man and the 19th pick in last year’s draft John Collins. Aside from Collins, the Deacons return all other production to the team. The player to watch is Bryant Crawford. Bryant has the skills to develop into a star for the Demon Deacons. If the Demon Deacons can find some production from a big man and cut into their bottom tier defense from last year, they have a chance to contend in the ACC. With that being said, look for the Demon Deacons to finish in the middle of a crowded ACC.
To be honest the Catamounts need somebody to score the ball. They only put up 60 points a game a year ago. Altogether, this led to a dismal record and a last-place finish in the Southern Conference. The good news is they essentially return every contributor from a year ago. Can they take a step forward with another season under their belt? It is tough to say the Catamounts have any chance of making a run to the top of the conference. It would not surprise me if they ended up towards the middle of the pack this season in the conference.
Pre-Season NC Power Rankings
- Wake Forest
- NC State
- Gardner Webb
- East Carolina
- Appalachian State
- NC Central
- Western Carolina
- NC A&T