Headline: Can Kentucky do it again with another group of young kids.
Storyline: John Calipari has been through this song and dance before. Bring in the most talented recruiting class in recent memory, throw them on the court, sprinkle in some experience and see what happens. The last time it happened Big Blue Nation winded up cutting down the nets. This year sophomores Willie Cauley Stein, Jarrod Polson and Alex Poythress welcome the most talented group of freshmen any team has seen in recent memory. Julius Randle is a 6-9 super athletic forward and he will be joined in the frontcourt by 6-6 James Young and 6-10 Dakari Johnson. In the Wildcats’ have the Harrison brothers Aaron and Andrew. For those keeping track that is five of the top 12 recruits in the country. It worked once before and Calipari went back to the well but only time will tell if it will ultimately mean another title in Lexington. If Kentucky is full of youth then Florida is the antithesis, loaded with experience, four seniors big men Patric Young and Will Yeugete patrol the frontcourt for Billy Donovan’s Gators and Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin fire away from the perimeter. Joining them will be Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith and McDonald’s All-American 6-1 guard Kasey Hill.
Keep an eye on: LSU returns All-SEC forward Johnny O’Bryant and the backcourt tandem of Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer and the nearly 22 points per game they provide. Another people are excited about the season in Baton Rouge is a top 15 recruit the 6-9 240lb. Jarrell Martin. Johnny Jones has quietly turned things around at LSU and now has a team that could end in the top four of the SEC.
Headline: For the first time in a long time, the SoCOn isn’t Davidson’s to lose.
Storyline: Elon returns all five starters from its 21-win team last season including Player of the Year candidate Lucas Troutman (15.1 ppg, 5.2rpg, 2.1bpg) and seniors Jack Isenbarger and Ryley Beaumont who scored 24 points per game last season. Davidson has won 51 games over the last two seasons but now must replace the league’s best player in Jake Cohen and point guard Nick Cochran but they do return All-League swingman De’Mon Brooks. Coach Bob McKillop does welcome a couple of highly-talented players from Ohio, Prep Player of the Year Jack Gibbs and Miami (OH) transfer Brian Sullivan to help fill the voids.
Keep an eye on: Chattanooga has a new coach in Will Wade who takes over after four years at VCU as an assistant. Wade will employ “chaos”, his version of VCU’s “havoc” and returns four starters to help make the transition easier. Z. Mason (14.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg), sophomore Gee McGhee (12.1 ppg) and Ronrico White (10.2) should again shoulder a lot of the offensive load.
Headline: Can anyone slow down Northwestern State?
Storyline: The up tempo Demons look to repeat as Southland champs lose James Hulbin and Shamir Davis but do return the league’s Newcomer of the Year in DeQuan Hicks and Freshman of the Year Jalan West. Oral Roberts and coach Scott Sutton loses leadership and All-Conference picks Warren Niles and Damien Bell-Holter but they do welcome 6-4 Obi Emegano a transfer from Western Illinois, Dedrick Lee, a guard who originally signed with Arkansas and a couple of juco forwards on Adrion Webber and Denell Henderson.
Keep an eye on: Stephen F. Austin lost three starters and its coach Danny Kaspar, but new coach Brad Underwood does inherit two starters; Desmond Haymon and Jacob Parker. How will the Lumberjacks adjust to a new coach and style?
Headline: APR hits the SWAC again…but the top two should remain the same.
Storyline: Texas Southern loses POY Omar Strong and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Fred Sturdivant but Mike Davis returns three starters with All-League potential Ray Penn and Lawrence Johnson-Danner man the back court and three Texas-area recruits Christian McCoggle, Vicktor Amick and Jose Rodriguez all check in at 6-6 or higher. Do everything 6-6 Malcolm Miller returns for Southern but the Jaguars must find a way to replace three starters from the tournament that nearly became the first #16 to beat a #1 before they eventually fell to Gonzaga.
Keep an eye on: Prairie View A&M reached the conference finals last season and return a solid core led by 6-11 Jules Montgomery. They also get guard Louis Munks back who played just four games before suffering a broken leg.