The final part of our mid-major basketball preview series by Matt Karner and Matt Waldman takes a look at the Patriot League, Sun Belt, MAAC, SWAC, NEC, Big South, MEAC, and WAC. You can find part one of this series featuring the Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, WCC, and Ivy League (just for fun) here. Part two featuring Conference USA, the Southern Conference, Southland, MAC, Ohio Valley, and Summit League can be found here. The previous part of this series featuring the Horizon League, CAA, Big Sky, Atlantic Sun, America East and Big West can be found here.

Patriot League

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: Boston suffered a heart wrenching experience after earning their first NCAA tournament bid since 2011 right before the tournament was cancelled. The Terriers finished two games behind Colgate last year in the regular season and lose Max Mahoney, but the pieces are in place to overtake Colgate in what should be a very exciting race.

Matt W: Boston University seemed to arrive slightly early last season when they knocked off Colgate for the Patriot League title. The Terriers celebration was short-lived with COVID forcing the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament less than 48 hours later. However, most of the team is back, including dominant big man Walter Whyte, putting them slightly ahead of Colgate heading into the season.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: Loyola (MD) started 1-9 in conference play. When Santi Alamada made his career debut in February, the Greyhounds finished the conference regular season 6-3 before falling on the road to Lehigh in the conference tournament. I am picking Loyola fifth in my conference standings but are a team I am very intrigued in the Greyhounds considering that 6-3 stretch included wins over Colgate.

Matt W: Lafayette was a thorn in Colgate’s side last season, beating them twice in the regular-season before falling to them in the PL Tournament. The Leopards should be even more improved behind a healthy Justin Jaworski, and could be a darkhorse to shock both BU and Colgate as the season goes on.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: Jordan Burns is the only player returning who earned first team All-Conference honors last season and is the lead runner for conference POY this season. Burns was very productive last season and will be needed for even more after Colgate has lost Rapolas Ivanauskas and Will Ryman. Walter Whyte of Boston will be in position to challenge but with much of the team returning his production may not increase much. Lastly, Justin Jaworrski of Lafayette will need an exceptional year for Lafayette to have a good season.

Matt W: Jordan Burns is the top choice. He arguably should’ve won it last year behind a stellar campaign of 15.8 points, 4.5 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. Burns will be a big reason why Colgate still has title aspirations this season. Walter Whyte will be in the mix from BU as they look to make their own claim at the top. Justin Jaworski at Lafayette is the other guy who has a legitimate chance. 

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: This is a conference that I don’t see any coach in any real danger. Army and Navy may be the schools to watch, however, both have been making strides in the right direction. A lot is expected of Ed DeChellis and Navy this year. If Navy struggles and doesn’t challenge for the top half of the conference standings it may be hard to keep DeChellis around.

Matt W: Matt Langel has done a tremendous job turning Colgate into a consistent winner over the last few seasons. He’s been at the school since 2011, slowly building the program up. There is a lot to be proud of in what he has accomplished there, and that success could be enough to get a job offer in a better league that would be too good to pass up. 

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: What’s not to love about the Patriot League when only three games seperated fourth through ninth place in the standings last season. Boston and Colgate will certainly be the most exciting games to watch and Bucknell seems to get everyone’s best after looking like a conference power over the last years. One can never forget about the Army and Navy rivalry either.

Matt W: The Colgate-BU series will most likely be what decides the league. However, there are a few other historic rivalries that are fun to watch. If you get the chance, catch at least one Lafayette-Lehigh game and one Army-Navy game.

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Patriot League 1st Team:

Matt K: Jordan Burns (Colgate), Justin Jaworski (Lafayette), Cam Davis (Navy), Walter Whyte (Boston U), Santi Aldama (Loyola)

Matt W: Jordan Burns (Colgate), Justin Jaworski (Lafayette), Cam Davis (Navy), Walter Whyte (Boston U), Santi Aldama (Loyola)

Patriot League Player Of the Year

Matt K: Jordan Burns (Colgate)

Matt W: Jordan Burns (Colgate)

Patriot League Coach Of the Year

Matt K: Joe Jones (Boston U)

Matt W: Joe Jones (Boston U)

Sun Belt

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: Little Rock finished in first place last season by two games. All five starters are returning and the teams who challenged the Trojans last year have lost significant pieces. Little Rock is the clear favorite for the conference and the only question should remaining is, can they go undefeated in conference play?

Matt W: Little Rock was a big surprise last season, but they won’t sneak up on anyone this year. The duo of Markquis Nowell and Ruot Monyyong worked well for this team this season. The Sun Belt is always a tough league to win, but the Trojans are up for the challenge of repeating.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: Georgia State may be the best option to give Little Rock some trouble this year. The Panthers defeated Little Rock last season and with much of its lineup returning including Kane Williams who should be a first team selection, the Panthers have a shot at making a run.

Matt W: South Alabama was the preseason favorite last year, but did not quite live up to that distinction. The Jaguars will rely on transfers to keep them competitive, but it helps when that includes Michael Flowers, who averaged 16.9 points at Western Michigan last season. They could be the ones sneaking up this season.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: Little Rock’s explosive offense and solid defense leave both Markquis Nowell and Ruot Monyyong in position for the conference POY. Nowell should have the upper hand however, Monyyong is the returning defensive player of the year averaging a near double-double. In the race will also be Kane Williams of Georgia State, who finished third in KenPom’s Sun Belt POY rankings last season.

Matt W: Markquis Nowell and Ruot Monyyong will both have a chance at this award for Little Rock, with Nowell seeming more likely. Justin Forrest at Appalachian State is another player to watch. He averaged 17.3 points per game last season while helping turn that program around. 

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: The Sun Belt is full of coaches who are very new and long time tenured coaches who have been around the block a few times. No one really looks like they are in position to be on the hot seat and no one really looks like they have proven enough to be on the move. If I have to say someone, it would be Mike Balado at Arkansas State. Balado is entering his fourth season and has yet to finish above .500 in either the regular season or conference play.

Matt W: I don’t see any coaching spots that seem pressing. Keith Richard doesn’t have the best overall record at Louisiana-Monroe, but he has done a great job considering what he inherited. Otherwise, everybody here seems safe or has enough leash to see what they can do for a few more seasons.

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: The conference should provide some solid games this season but with the scheduling we may not be able to see everything that we want to. Little Rock and Texas State will be a matchup as well as South Alabama and Georgia State. Each pairing should decide the conference divisions.

Matt W: The Sun Belt has adjusted their scheduling into divisions this season to cut down on travel amid the pandemic. Therefore, we may not get some key games until the conference tournament. However, Georgia State and South Alabama ended up in the same division, and they should give us some great games. Other than that, Little Rock may not be tested until arriving in Pensacola for the SBC Tournament in March. 

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Sun Belt 1st Team:

Matt K: Markquis Nowell (little Rock), Ruot Monyyong (Little Rock), Kane Williams (Georgia St.), DeVante Jones (Coastal Carolina), Justin Forrest (App St.)

Matt W: Markquis Nowell (Little Rock), Justin Forrest (App St), Michael Flowers (USA), Kane Williams (Georgia St), Ruot Monyyong (Little Rock)

Sun Belt Player Of the Year

Matt K: Markquis Nowell (Little Rock)

Matt W: Markquis Nowell (Little Rock)

Sun Belt Coach Of the Year

Matt K: Darrell Walker (Little Rock)

Matt W: Dustin Kerns (App St)

MAAC

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: Siena returns two first team All-conference selections including the MAAC player of the year in Jalen Pickett. The Saints won the conference last season by one game over St. Peter’s and all signs point to a repeat in the MAAC. It won’t be easy however as only twice in the last ten years has a MAAC team repeated as regular season champions. 

Matt W: Siena returns key pieces in Jalen Pickett and Manny Camper, making them the odds on favorite for the league. Winning the MAAC is never an easy task, and certainly not with a coach like Rick Pitino at Iona now. However, none of the other teams have a one-two punch quite like the Saints do as they look to repeat.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: Many eyes are on Iona with Rick Pitino calling the shots, and they will certainly be a team to watch and keep a close eye on. St. Peter’s however, is getting completely overlooked. They lost Aaron Estrada who was a third team all-conference selection but still return three starters and KC Ndefo who came off the bench to earn a place on the conference’s third team. The Peacocks finished in second place and only one game behind Siena last season, including splitting the season series so they should be right in the mix.

Matt W: I’m not sure how under the radar Iona really is with all the news they made in the off-season, but they are still in transition with a new coach and some new faces. Still, betting against the Gales regardless of circumstances never seems smart, as they find a way more often than not to make runs in the conference tournament.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: Siena’s duo of Jalen Pickett and Manny Camper are easily the favorites for POY. Pickett won the award last year and should repeat. The better Camper and Pickett play together will only strengthen both of their cases to be named POY. Marcus Hammond is another name to watch out ofNiagara.

Matt W: There is nothing that indicates Jalen Pickett can’t repeat here. He is an all-around player, averaging 15.1 points, six assists, and a little over a block per game last season. Teammate Manny Camper certainly has the potential to unseat him. A pair of Hammonds (Deion of Monmouth and Marcus of Niagara) should also be in contention.

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: The MAAC is another conference where the coaches seem to be in a good position to stay put and coach another season. Quinnipiac could cut ties with Baker Dunleavy but it doesn’t seem likely. Carmen Maciariello had a solid first year of his career at Siena and should have another similar season which could garner some looks, but again it’s unlikely. Rick Pitino could easily be a candidate depending on his success with Iona this year, but with the financial troubles everywhere will a program take a risk?

Matt W: No coaching seats appear to be in danger heading into the season. Canisius has seen declines in wins each of the last three seasons under Reggie Witherspoon, but he also recently won a regular-season title. Rick Pitino swears he wants to build a legacy at Iona, but if the right job came calling, would he resist it? Otherwise, things seem set in stone here.

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: Everyone needs to keep an eye on Iona. No matter what he has done or hasn’t done in the past, Pitino is a great coach and there is no denying it. Siena and St. Peter’s will be games to watch as well as both games last season were decided by less than five points.

Matt W: The games between Siena and Iona appear to be the best bet. Gael fans are adamant that they should regain their spot at the top with Pitino on the sidelines, and the best way to back that up is to take down last season’s reigning champions, who appear to be just as good as they were in 2019-20.

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MAAC 1st Team:

Matt K: Jalen Pickett (Siena), Manny Camper (Siena), Marcus Hammond (Niagara), Deion Hammond (Monmouth), KC Ndefo (St. Peter’s)

Matt W: Jalen Pickett (Siena), Manny Camper (Siena), Deion Hammond (Monmouth), Marcus Hammond (Niagara), KC Ndefo (St. Peter’s)

MAAC Player Of the Year

Matt K: Jalen Pickett (Siena)

Matt W: Jalen Pickett (Siena)

MAAC Coach Of the Year

Matt K: Carmen Maciariello (Siena)

Matt W: Carmen Maciariello (Siena)

SWAC

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: Texas Southern has been the most consistent program in the SWAC and despite finishing in second the last two seasons, they are still a favorite. Johnny Jones has a solid team returning and with Galen Alexander eligible to play immediately they should be able to get the job done.

Matt W: Southern looked like a team that was ready to make a run in the SWAC Tournament after finishing in second place last season. The Jaguars will get a boost by having big man Kirk Parker back healthy and ready to go. Add in some key transfers, and this looks like it could be Southern’s year.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: Southern has the most returning from last season and is a solid team. They will be in contention for the SWAC championship and have what it takes. Southern is a team with no players who truly stand out. Third in the SWAC in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. The trio of Ahsante Shivers, Micah Bradford, and Lamarcus Lee will lead the way.

Matt W: Jackson State seems like the biggest threat to Southern. The Tigers are led by Tristan Jarret on offense and Jayveous McKinnis on defense. They have their own set of talented incoming transfers, and it would not be shocking to see JSU, and not Southern, representing the SWAC in March.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: This race is fairly wide open in my opinion. Tristian Jarrett and Jayveous McKinnis of Jackson St., Troymain Crosby of Alcorn St., and Yahuza Rasas of Texas Southern seem to be the favorites. Anyone of them could have an outstanding season and lead their team to be competitive. I’m leaning towards Crosby as he is the lone starter returning for Alcorn St. and will need to be extremely productive for them to be successful. 

Matt W: Tristan Jarrett is the leading candidate after averaging 16.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game in 2019-20. He should see an uptick in those numbers as he guides Jackson State through their schedule. Yahuza Rasas at Texas Southern has a good chance to average a double-double, though to have a shot at this award, he’ll need to increase his scoring. Troymain Crosby of Alcorn State is another to keep an eye on, as he is an all-around talent in his own right. 

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: This is not a conference that will be making many coaching changes if any after this season. If anyone is going to be let go it will be Wayne Brent of Jackson State. Brent has done well however in the SWAC and should feel fairly safe.

Matt W: Given the financial impact the pandemic has had, it’s hard to see any coaching changes being made in the league. George Ivory at Arkansas-Pine Bluff could be a candidate, as the Golden Lions haven’t eclipsed more than eight wins in three of the last five seasons. However, I think programs in the SWAC will be content to hold tight on making any moves.

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: Texas Southern, Southern, and Jackson State are my favorites for the conference and I believe that the games between them will be the most exciting. Southern split with them both last season and Texas SOuthern was able to sweep Jackson State but all six games should provide great entertainment and solid basketball.

Matt W: Given that the league appears to be between Southern and Jackson State, those match-ups are the ones to watch. However, it always seems that a team or two from this league finds a way to upset a power conference foe. If you happen to catch one of those games, enjoy it!

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SWAC 1st Team:

Matt K: Troymain Crosby (Alcorn St), Tristan Jarrett (Jackson St), Jayveous McKinnis (Jackson St), Yahuza Rasas (Texas So.), Caleb Hunter (MVSU)

Matt W: Troymain Crosby (Alcorn St), Tristan Jarrett (Jackson St), Jayveous McKinnis (Jackson St), Yahuza Rasas (Texas So.), Kirk Parker (Southern)

SWAC Player Of the Year

Matt K: Troymain Crosby (Alcorn St)

Matt W: Tristan Jarrett (Jackson St)

SWAC Coach Of the Year

Matt K: Johnny Jones (Texas Southern)

Matt W: Sean Woods (Southern)

NEC

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: Fairleigh Dickinson seems to be loaded for this season. The Knights finished 9-9, and tied for fifth last season but the teams who finished in front of them have been completely depleted. The team is led by three potential first team selections in Jahil Jenkins, Elyjah Williams, and Xzavier Malone-Key. The Knights have what it takes to win.

Matt W: Fairleigh Dickinson has the best returning squad in the NEC. This team is kickstarted by Jahlil Jenkins, who can score as needed and dish the ball on a moment’s notice. Meanwhile, Elyjah Williams cleans up down low. Furthermore, both have experience from playing in the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: This is a tough one, I want to say Merrimack. However, they are not eligible for the NCAA tournament until 2024. With what the Warriors accomplished in its first season was amazing and I am excited to see what season two brings. Now, a team that can actually make it to the NCAA tournament will have to be Long Island. I believe LIU has the conference POY and return much of their production from a team that finished tied with Fairleigh Dickinson last season.

Matt W: Fans of St. Francis-Brooklyn don’t need a reminder of being one of four original Division I programs to not make the tournament. The Terriers appear to have a decent shot at competing towards the top of the NEC this season and making that dream come true. Chauncey Hawkins has a lot to do with that, doing a little bit of everything on offense and defense on his way to a third-team recognition last season.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: Ty Flowers played exceptional last season and will need to do even more to keep LIU competitive this season. I do expect Flowers to be able to do that but to win the award it won’t be easy. Fairleigh Dickinson will have two potential POY’s in Jahil Jenkins and Elyjah Williams. Both will be very important this season for the Knights success and each will have an opportunity to be the POY depending on who takes the lead role.

Matt W: Jahlil Jenkins is the best player on most likely the best team in the league. He has the ability to push his scoring average close to 20 points per game this season, in large part due to his three-point shooting. Ty Flowers of Long Island is as dominant as it gets inside, nearly averaging a double-double last season. He will also swat your shot away should you test him in the paint. Chauncey Hawkins should also be around the conversation throughout the season.

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: Donyell Marshall is 35-88 in four years at Central Connecticut State. In his best season he finished 14-18, 7-11 in the NEC. It has been a struggle and his 14 wins were the best the team has seen since 2010-2011, but the team needs more if they want to be successful. With the team returning four starters it’s possible for a season that can keep Marshall around, but that will be difficult.

Matt W: Donyell Marshall enters a crucial fifth season at Central Connecticut State. He has yet to get the program to finish above .500 overall in four seasons, and has never finished higher than eighth in the league standings. Winning outside of the NEC is tough, but not finding a way to win inside of it is the best way to find yourself out of a job. CCSU should look somewhat improved, but will that be enough to keep Marshall around?

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: The NEC is always a competitive conference and has seen six different teams win the conference in the last seven years. There is always good basketball played. This season will be no different and I am most excited to watch Fairleigh Dickinson, LIU, and Mt. St. Mary’s. And of course you have to watch Merrimack to see what they can do this season.

Matt W: There should be some great basketball getting played in New York City and its surrounding areas between Fairleigh Dickinson, Long Island, and St. Francis-Brooklyn. The games between those three will most likely decide who has the inside track to a March Madness berth.

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NEC 1st Team:

Matt K: Jahil Jenkins (FDU), Ty Flowers (LIU), Elyjah Williams (FDU), Unique McLean (SFNY), Damian Chong-Qui (MSM)

Matt W: Jahlil Jenkins (FDU), Chauncey Hawkins (SFNY), Damian Chong-Qui (MSM), Ty Flowers (Long Island), Elyjah Williams (FDU)

NEC Player Of the Year

Matt K: Ty Flowers (LIU)

Matt W: Jahlil Jenkins (FDU)

NEC Coach Of the Year

Matt K: Greg Herenda (FDU)

Matt W: Greg Herenda (FDU)

Big South

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: This may be a very exciting race to watch at the top of the conference. In my eyes it looks like four teams will be vastly better than the rest of the conference but I do have to go with Winthrop repeating this year. Chandler Vaudrin and DJ Burns will lead the Eagles and should both be contenders for first team all-conference. It won’t be easy as UNC Asheville, Charleston Southern, and USC Upstate should be right on their heels and I wouldn’t be surprised if one game separated the four teams at the end of the season.

Matt W: This will probably be an unpopular opinion, but I’m riding with UNC Asheville this season. The Bulldogs have all five starters returning, and continue to make big strides each season under Mike Morell. UNCA is strong in the backcourt with DeVon Baker and LJ Thorpe, which should take them a long way. Winthrop won’t give up their title easily, but I think Asheville has the pieces to do so.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers have the conference favorite for POY in Phlandrous Fleming Jr. and return four starters and most of their production from last season. Fleming was named defensive POY in the conference and should hopefully be able to lead a new belief in defense with his team. Charleston Southern’s success doesn’t come down to how good Fleming performs but how successful he is as a leader.

Matt W: USC Upstate might be getting slightly overlooked heading into the season. The Spartans have their own solid core in place, led by Everette Hammond. They also found a budding star in Tommy Bruner, who made the all-freshmen team after averaging 14 points in his first college season. USCU is one team to watch as a sleeper and a potential team to step up should Winthrop or UNCA falter.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: It seems to be a two man race in my eyes between Phlandrous Fleming Jr. and DeVon Baker. Fleming is the only returning member of last season’s first team and is the reigning defensive POY who could take home both honors. Baker will be the lead factor in UNC Asheville’s attempt to win the conference but will need to increase his performance to stay close to Fleming. DJ Burns finished third in KenPom’s rankings for conference POY last season. His numbers aren’t flashy but he is a solid player who gets the job done and his production is very valuable.

Matt W: Phlandrous Fleming Jr. of Charleston Southern, and I’m not sure it’s close behind him. His stat line of 17.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last season is insane. Not to mention he was the league’s defensive player of the year after averaging 1.5 blocks per game too. Fleming should most likely average a double-double while continuing to be a defensive stalwart. DJ Burns at Winthrop and DeVon Baker at UNCA can be in the mix too. 

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: I don’t see anyone really as a threat to leave next season. The Big South has some new coaches who have a year or two still to make things happen and plenty of tenured coaches who get the job done and have had solid seasons recently. Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey has shown the most promise, but nothing on the big stage to garner attention from other athletic programs.

Matt W: Pat Kelsey has done a tremendous job building Winthrop back into a Big South powerhouse. The Eagles were set to make their second NCAA appearance under him last season, and could be on their way to doing so again this season. There is not much left to accomplish at the school, and if a bigger name comes calling, it would make sense for him to take the next step of his career.

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: If it’s a four team race, those games are going to be of vital importance. USC Upstate, Charleston Southern, UNC Asheville, and Winthrop will be the games to watch. UNC Asheville’s final stretch where they play the three six times in their last 12 games will determine the season.

Matt W: Winthrop and UNC Asheville’s match-ups will have the biggest impact on the conference title race. Their back-to-back games happen at the end of the season, adding to the intrigue. Winthrop was lucky enough to get the home games for the series, which may give them an edge. Also, seriously, watch a Charleston Southern game this season just to appreciate how good Phlandrous Fleming Jr. is.

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Big South 1st Team:

Matt K: Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (CHSO), DeVon Baker (UNCA), Chandler Vaundrin (Winthrop), LJ Thorpe (UNCA), DJ Burns (Winthrop)

Matt W: Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (CHSO), DeVon Baker (UNCA), LJ Thorpe (UNCA), John-Michael Wright (HPU), DJ Burns (Winthrop)

Big South Player Of the Year

Matt K: Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (CHSO)

Matt W: Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (CHSO)

Big South Coach Of the Year

Matt K: Mike Morell (UNCA)

Matt W: Mike Morell (UNCA)

MEAC

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: No team seems to be the runaway favorite this season. Looking at what’s returning from the top three teams last season, NC Central, NC A&T, and Norfolk St. have to be favorites to win the league. Looking at other potential threats would be Howard and what they will be able to accomplish in the MEAC with a five star recruit. I’m looking at NC Central to repeat, in large part because of their top ranked defense in the MEAC according to KenPom efficiency numbers from last season.

Matt W: This league has a few solid teams at the top, but I’m going to run with Norfolk State. The Spartans will need Joe Bryant Jr. and Devante Carter to step up, but the arrival of transfers Mustafa Lawrence and JJ Matthews will help. Most of the pieces that helped NSU make a push last season return, making them one of the likely candidates to take the title.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: The question is, what will Makur Maker and Howard be able to accomplish? Howard returns four starters from last season and adds five star recruit Makur Maker and potentially Nojel Eastern who is waiting to see if his transfer waiver is granted. That sounds like a solid place to be, however, Howard finished 4-29, and only 1-15 in the MEAC. According to KenPom efficiency rankings they had the worst defense in the conference and were ranked eighth in offense. For Howard to be successful they will need a major turnaround which isn’t out of the question, it’s just very unknown at this time.

Matt W: The answer here has to be Howard. I’m personally not sold on Makur Maker coming in and taking a four-win team all the way to the top. However, his talent should translate well into the league, making the Bison much improved. If the team comes together around him, then Howard could certainly make a run, especially with last season’s rookie of the year winner Wayne Bristol Jr. back.

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: Many will say Makur Maker will be the POY. He certainly has a shot and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins the award. My favorite though, has to be with a senior. Kameron Langley was a first team all-conference selection last season after leading the nation in assists per game with eight and ranking 37th in assist to turnover ratio. Langley’s talents will be extremely important for his team to be successful. Besides Langley and Maker, Norfolk St will add someone to the mix. The Spartans have a chance to win the conference and if they do it will because of either DeVante Parker or Joe Bryant. One of them will have a season worthy of POY award status.

Matt W: Kameron Langley deserves more love beyond the league’s circles. He averaged an absurd eight assists per game last season, while also getting his nose dirty by grabbing rebounds and picking opposing team’s pockets. Langley’s ability to do just about everything on a basketball court make him the favorite. Makur Maker certainly has a chance to win this as a freshman at Howard. CJ Keyser at North Carolina Central is another guy who has a shot at winning this honor.

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: It doesn’t seem likely that anyone will be coaching their last season. Potentially Murray Garvin at South Carolina State or Robert McCullum at Florida A&M but neither seem likely to be done at their prospective schools. 

Matt W: This is another league where making a coaching change seems unlikely given the financial landscape. However, Murray Garvin at South Carolina State is certainly a candidate that should be on the hot seat. He only has one winning record, with every other season ending in seventh place or worse. After seven full seasons and a bleak outlook for the Bulldogs this season, it’s time to wonder if a change is needed to get SC State back to being competitive in the MEAC.

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: Four teams look to be title contenders this season and those four teams should provide the most firepower when they faceoff. Look for any matchup between NC Central, North Carolina A&T, and Norfolk St. If Howard does turn the corner and are in title contention then add them to the list as well.

Matt W: The rivalry between North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central has had title implications over the last few seasons, and this season should be no different. Certainly, their games against Norfolk State will carry some weight. However, the battle between the two North Carolina schools is always a treat.

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MEAC 1st Team:

Matt K: Kameron Langley (NCAT), Dejuan Clayton (Coppin St), Devante Carter (Norfolk St.), CJ Keyser (NCCU), Makur Maker (Howard)

Matt W: Kameron Langley (NCAT), CJ Keyser (NCCU), Joe Bryant Jr. (Norfolk St), Troy Baxter (Morgan St), Makur Maker (Howard)

MEAC Player Of the Year

Matt K: Kameron Langley (NCAT)

Matt W: Kameron Langley (NCAT)

MEAC Coach Of the Year

Matt K: Kenny Blakeney (Howard)

Matt W: Kenny Blakeney (Howard)

WAC

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Who is the favorite to win the conference?

Matt K: New Mexico State has either won the WAC regular season or conference tournament for nine straight years and this year looks to be no different. When betting the WAC until proven otherwise I will place my money on the Aggies over the field. New Mexico State will continue to roll with Jabari Rice, Johnny McCants, and Evan Gilyard taking over the team.

Matt W: New Mexico State is the right answer. They have been the right answer to this question for years now. Every time it seems like someone else might challenge them, they still find a way to win the WAC. The Aggies do take some hits with roster losses, but the returning trio of Jabari Rice, Johnny McCants, and Evan Gilyard will make them the favorites once again.

Who is an under the radar team who can make a run to the NCAA tournament?

Matt K: Grand Canyon made a great hire with Bryce Drew who proved at Valparaiso that he knows how to coach. He struggled in the SEC but he should bounce back quickly in the mid-majors. Drew is given a team that returns three starters and a potential POY candidate in Alessandro Lever. The program finished 8-8 in the WAC last season which is the worst conference record the Antelopes have had since joining Division I in 2013-2014. Grand Canyon should be poised to give New Mexico State all they handle. 

Matt W: UT-Rio Grande Valley looks like New Mexico State’s biggest threat behind Javon Levi. The Vaqueros will have to have some guys redefine their roles to back up that praise, but it’s hard to count them out as long as Levi is in the backcourt. 

Who are the top three players for CPOY?

Matt K: I believe this is a two man race between New Mexico State’s Jabari Rice and UT-Rio Grande Valley’s Javon Levi. Levi led the nation in assists last season and was 12th with a 2.93 assist to turnover ratio. Levi was also the WAC’s Defensive POY. Ultimately he is my favorite, however I do believe Jabari Rice will be awarded the POY at the end of the season. Rice was a first team selection last season and will now be the main focus in a powerful New Mexico State offense. Alessandro Lever of Grand Canyon should also be in the mix.

Matt W: Javon Levi is my favorite. He should capture his third defensive player of the year award this season, and should be able to double down with this honor so long as he can increase his scoring average just a tad bit more. Otherwise, he is already an elite passer and defender. Jabari Rice and Johnny McCants of New Mexico State will have a say, and newcomer Hunter Schofield of Dixie State should take the league by storm and could turn enough heads to get this honor as well.

What coach could potentially be coaching their last season with their team? 

Matt K: There aren’t any coaches whose jobs seem to be in jeopardy. Perhaps Lance Irvin at Chicago State but he is only entering his third year in arguably one of the toughest schools to coach at. I would keep an eye on Chris Jans, Bryce Drew, and Billy Gillispie. Gillispie and Drew have proven themselves and a breakout year could put them in the mix. Jans has shown he can get the job done at New Mexico State like so many before him, but they haven’t been quite as successful once they moved on. Either way Jans should be given an opportunity soon.

Matt W: Chris Jans was already rumored for job openings this past off-season after finding success at New Mexico State. He had the Aggies ready to head back to the NCAAs last season, and another appearance this year will make him a hot commodity again. It’s only a matter of time before he moves on to a better job.

What will be the best games to catch this season?

Matt K: I am certainly most intrigued by the New Mexico State and Grand Canyon matchups. They should be the best two teams and Grand Canyon will get those games at home. I’m also looking forward to seeing what Dixie State and Tarleton State will bring to the table in their first year as Division I programs.

Matt W: New Mexico State and Grand Canyon claim to have a rivalry, though Aggie fans are still waiting for GCU to win a game against them when it matters. However, the ‘Lopes will be in the mix for the WAC title this season, and are still trying to earn their first trip to the Big Dance. They will have to get over the hump against NMSU to do so, and are hoping the splash hire of Bryce Drew as head coach can be the difference.

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WAC 1st Team:

Matt K: Jabari Rice (NMSU), Javon Levi (UTRGV), Alessandro Lever (GCU), Johnny McCants (NMSU), Xavier Johnson (Chicago St)

Matt W: Javon Levi (UTRGV), Jabari Rice (NMSU), Johnny McCants (NMSU), Hunter Schofield (Dixie St), Alessandro Lever (GCU)

WAC Player Of the Year

Matt K: Jabari Rice (NMSU)

Matt W: Javon Levi (UTRGV)

WAC Coach Of the Year

Matt K: Bryce Drew (GCU)

Matt W: Jon Judkins (Dixie St)

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images/ Jaylynn Nash for Icon Sportswire

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