moderate exceptional praise of the first edition of The Dumb and the Daring, it is without question that Episode 2 get released immediately! While Episode 1 took a grand overview of what will assuredly be the biggest stories of the college hoops season, over the next few weeks we will be combing the desert to identify the treasure of each conference and make the daring (or possibly dumb) prediction of regular season conference champions. Moving alphabetically (sorry WCC fans) through the entirety of Division I, we will take 10(ish) teams a week as we lead up to November 7th and the start of NCAA regular season play. Hopefully these nuggets will whet your appetite until the opening weekend main course of East Tennessee State v Emory & Henry, and Portland v Lewis & Clark fills you up. Side note: if Emory & Henry played Lewis & Clark would it be a game of 2 on 2? No more delay, on with the Dumb and the Daring!
A10: Saint Louis Billikens
There are 5 legitimate contenders to win the A10: Dayton, VCU, Davidson, Saint Louis, and St. Bonaventure. To add to that hot mess at the top, Richmond is a lurking dark horse, especially after crashing into the tourney last year. Don’t forget too Frank Martin and UMass who, by mid-season, will have a shot at breaking everyone’s hearts with a monster upset, although that will actually come during conference tournament. The Bonnies, Flyers, and Wildcats are all too young with Davidson having the only senior of the three on their respective rosters. While for some major programs this wouldn’t pose a problem, without a clear one-and-done super star (or two), the heat of the A10 will be overwhelming for the teams that are full of pups. That leaves VCU and Saint Louis. VCU might have the most underrated coach in the country, but they lost two out of their three only double-digit scorers. Saint Louis brings back its top three scorers and has a nice early schedule that will prepare them but not overwhelm them with Memphis, Maryland, Auburn and Iona on the slate. I know Oklahoma State fans have their opinions on Travis Ford, but he’s found the magic in Saint Louis that he never did in Stillwater.
ACC: Duke Blue Devils
It seems like it never really happened: Duke didn’t play in the 2021 National Tournament. As the country was still figuring out life in midst of COVID, Duke men’s basketball sat at a meager 13-11 overall record and a 9-9 ACC record for a 10th place finish in conference. While there’s always hope when it comes to Blue Devil basketball, a positive COVID test forced a withdrawal from the conference tourney and ended their season. Then came the last dance. Coach K’s kids pushed themselves to a regular season championship and a Final Four run before bowing out to their archrivals. Everyone seems to be picking the Heels to surge again, but experience, demeanor, and the seamless baton passing to John Scheyer only gives further evidence to know that with their stellar recruiting class, Duke will repeat as regular season champions and finish what Coach K started by bringing home the ultimate prize in March.
ASUN: Liberty Flames
Liberty was one of 5 teams out of the ASUN to boast a 20+ win record last year, but they are the only team with Darius McGhee. With a scoring capability on a different level than most any player in all of college basketball, he’s bound to have even more 40-point games this year: last year he had 3 including a 41-point effort against Stanford. The conference will come down to the Flames and a battle tested Bellarmine team who will get a run at Duke, Clemson, Louisville, Kentucky, and UCLA in non-conference play. Liberty is limited to only 1 high-major opponent with an early test against Alabama, but the emotional exhaustion for Bellarmine trying to play Cinderella night-in and night-out will work to their disadvantage allowing Liberty and McGhee to be fresh and polished as they finish the regular season #1.
America East: Vermont Catamounts
It was Vermont and then everyone else in the America East last year as the Catamounts rattled off 22 wins out of their last 23 games leading up to the NCAA tournament. In their minds they bowed out early falling by 4 points in the opening round to Elite Eight bound Arkansas. Even in losing their top two scorers, they have more depth than most Power 5 teams which should lead them to cruise through the America East without a problem yet again.
American: SMU Mustangs
Houston won 32 games, battled to another Elight Eight, and are bringing back leading scorer Marcus Sasser along with 2 other double-digit scorers; but this is the Dumb and the Daring. SMU was two late losses from getting an at-large bid. Had they avoided getting upset by Memphis in the conference semifinals and/or not gotten blasted by middling Wichita State they would’ve found their way in. No one will recognize SMU when they take the floor at #24 Dayton on Nov. 11th. New coach, 9 new players, only 6 returners, no Kendric Davis and no one named Weathers. Some may say that sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it’s much the opposite: It’s new blood, new fire, new direction, and new hope to return to the NCAA tournament. Kelvin Sampson better have the Cougars ready because SMU is going to guard like no one else in the conference and shock all the coaches that picked them to finish 7th in the preseason poll.
Big 12: Texas Tech
Back-to-back champions aren’t really a thing in college basketball. There have been 14 tournaments since Joakim Noah completed the repeat for the Florida Gators in 2007. The span prior to that was even bigger not having seen a repeat champ since Duke in 1991 and 1992. The Blue Devils really broke the mold because they were the first repeat team since UCLA rattled off 7 in a row in the late 1960s and early 70s. All that to say, it’s statistically unlikely that KU wins another title and that is going to include a regular season one. The fact that the Big 12 is arguably the best conference in the country, plus they lost Agbaji, Braun, McCormack, and Remy Martin. Texas Tech on the other hand won 27 games, finished 3rd in the Big 12 season, and almost knocked out Duke in the Sweet 16. They didn’t finish at the pinnacle and have even more motivation this year along with a stable full of talent. There is also the weird traitor story between Tech and KU as Kevin McCullar Jr transferred in conference. As nice of an addition as he will be for the Jayhawks, when it comes to head-to-head, Coach Mark Adams has continued to motivate Tech as the ever-underdog with a chip on their shoulder and this will only fuel that fire further. Tech beats KU in Allen Field House on Feb 28th to solidify the Big 12 regular season crown.
Big East: Villanova
Pop Quiz: Who won the Big East last season? Was it A) Villanova who won 30 games and pushed to the Final Four until a key injury potentially derailed a final championship for Jay Wright. B) UCONN who almost took out Nova in the conference tournament title game. C) Creighton who had regular season wins against Villanova, UCONN, Providence, and BYU, and trailed eventual National Champion Kansas by 1 at halftime of the 2nd round of the National Tournament. Answer? Trick question, it was Providence. Providence took the conference title somewhat on a technicality having only played 17 conference games having been the source of cancelled games against Creighton, UCONN, and at Seton Hall. It’s hard to believe in a repeat for Providence who probably should’ve finished 2nd or 3rd last year anyway. Creighton is certainly poised to win the elusive Big East conference title after only having found their way to a share of one from the shortened 2019-2020 season; their only since they moved out of the Missouri Valley. But the post-game comment that got Greg McDermott suspended might have been overcome by last season’s squad, I don’t think he will be able to recapture the same command of his program moving forward. This will make it the year of the Hall of Fame replacements! With John Scheyer helming Duke and leading them to immediate glory, Kyle Neptune is primed to do the same. Neptune, having been a part of the Nova championships as an assistant, also has some head some coaching experience under his belt. The Wildcats will keep rolling.
Big Sky: Northern Colorado
The Big Sky has had 7 different tournament champions since 2014 with University of Montana being the only repeat team going back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. They also have had 6 different regular season champions since 2016. Montana State was the most recent champion taking both the regular season and the tournament crowns, but is it time for another new champion? The answer is yes. Coach Steve Smiley has continued the momentum built by Jeff Linder who bolted from Greeley for the University of Wyoming in 2020. The Bears finished 3 games back of the conference title and pushed all the way to the Big Sky tournament championship game before being overwhelmed by the Bobcats. The Bears will catch some heavy hitters early with trips to Houston and Baylor but will have time to work on their game and develop their rotation prior to conference play against a group of beatable teams. For the Big Sky, nothing matters but the conference tournament because there won’t be an at-large opportunity and the Bears are ready for the long game.
Big South: Longwood
Griff Aldrich’s path to becoming head coach of the Lancers and leading them to the NCAA tournament can only be described as unconventional. The only thing that would have made his journey better is if they were the Longwood Griffins with their head coach Griff. What a shame. This pick is rather bandwagony, and certainly smart and bland as opposed to dumb and daring, but when Longwood goes 15-1 in conference play with the next highest finish in the Big South – North Division being at 8-8, on top of Longwood blasting the Big South – South champion by 21 it’s hard to do sell anything else. The daring claim for the Big South is that as a conference they stop splitting into divisions creating the oxymoronic names of the Big South – South and the Big South – North. The dumb claim is that ESPN will carry Presbyterian v Campbell so the world can see the head-to-head matchup of the Blue Hose against the Fighting Camels.
This has been The Dumb and the Daring. Be on the lookout for Part 2 of this conference preview series as we will our way to November and tip-off time! Until then, keep it friendly on the blacktop!
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