College Sports

College basketball tips off Friday. Here’s a preview of the area’s Division I conferences

Duke forward Marvin Bagley III (35) is the ACC’s pick for preseason freshman of the year.
Duke forward Marvin Bagley III (35) is the ACC’s pick for preseason freshman of the year. Chuck Liddy

Another year, another Carolinas school in the men’s NCAA Division I basketball national championship race.

The 2017-18 season opens Friday evening with Duke as the preseason No. 1 pick. With senior guard Grayson Allen and a freshman class loaded with top recruits, the Blue Devils are picked to follow North Carolina as national champion.

Actually, the Carolinas had two national title contenders a year ago, with South Carolina making a surprise run to the Final Four. The Gamecocks lost most of the players from that team and are in the dreaded “rebuilding” category this season.

Elsewhere, teams such as Davidson, Winthrop and even the Charlotte 49ers have a shot at making a run toward NCAA berths in March.

Here’s how it looks, prior to opening night:

ACC

Favorite: Duke

Contenders: North Carolina, Miami, Notre Dame.

Also: Wake Forest, N.C. State and Clemson are picked 11, 12 and 13 in the 15-team league.

Players to Watch: Bonzie Colson, 6-5 G (Notre Dame); Grayson Allen, 6-5 G (Duke); Joel Berry II, 6-0 G (North Carolina); Marvin Bagley III, 6-11 C (Duke); Bruce Brown Jr., 6-3 G (Miami).

Comment: With Allen and a superb recruiting class of Bagley, Wendell Carter and Gray Trent Jr., Duke has all the weapons needed for a big season. The Tar Heels are rebuilding around Berry but also have talented freshmen. Colson, the preseason ACC Player of the Year, should carry Notre Dame a long way.

AMERICAN ATHLETIC

Favorite: Cincinnati, Wichita State

Contenders: Central Florida, SMU

Also: East Carolina is picked 11th of 12 teams.

Players to Watch: Shake Milton, 6-3 G (SMU); Alterique Gilbert, 6-0 G (Connecticut); Landry Shamet, 6-4 G (Wichita State); B.J. Tyler, 6-2 G (Central Florida); Tacko Fall, 7-6 C (Central Florida).

Comment: Cincinnati has four starters back from a 30-win team and is seeking its ninth straight NCAA berth. Yes, you read it right – Wichita State has jumped from the Missouri Valley to the AAC, and they’ll contend behind Shamet and four other returning starters. Fall, the tallest player in the league, gives Central Florida a strong base.

ATLANTIC 10

Favorite: Rhode Island

Contenders: St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph’s, VCU

Also: Davidson is picked sixth of 14 teams.

Players to Watch: Peyton Aldridge, 6-8 F (Davidson); E.C. Matthews, 6-5 G (Rhode Island); Jaylen Adams, 6-2 G (St. Bonaventure); Matt Mobley, 6-3 G (St. Bonaventure); Shavar Newkirk, 6-0 G (St. Joseph’s).

Comment: Guards Matthews and Jared Terrell return for defending champion Rhode Island. St. Bonaventure has its best team in years, led by guards Adams (20.6 points, 6.5 assists per game) and Mobley (18.5 points). Injuries hurt St. Joseph’s last year, but those players are healthy and back.

BIG SOUTH

Favorite: UNC Asheville

Contenders: Winthrop, Liberty

Also: Gardner-Webb is picked fifth of 10 teams.

Players to Watch: Chris Clemons, 5-9 G (Campbell); Xavier Cooks, 6-8 F (Winthrop); Ahmad Thomas, 6-3 F (UNC Asheville); MaCia Teague, 6-3 G (UNC Asheville); Christian Keeling, 6-4 F (Charleston Southern).

Comment: Thomas, the returning Big South Defensive Player of the Year, and Teague, Freshman of the Year, make UNC Asheville a favorite. Cooks, a two-time all-conference player, will keep Winthrop in contention. Campbell could threaten behind Clemons, the No. 2 scorer nationally last season (25.1 points a game).

COLONIAL ATHLETIC

Favorite: Charleston.

Contenders: Towson State, Elon, Hofstra.

Also: UNC Wilmington is picked fifth of 10 teams.

Players to Watch: Joe Chealey, 6-4 G (Charleston); Devontae Cacok, 6-7 F (UNC Wilmington); Tyler Seibring, 6-8 F (Elon); Justin Wright-Foreman, 6-1 G (Hofstra).

Comment: Chealey and F Jarrell Brantley (14.2 points, 8.4 rebounds a game) are among the five returning Charleston starters from a 25-win team. But Towson (four returning starters from a 20-win team) and Elon (five returning starters) also are experienced. UNC Wilmington lost four of five starters and coach Kevin Keatts (to N.C. State).

CONFERENCE USA

Favorite: Middle Tennessee

Contenders: UAB, Louisiana Tech

Also: Charlotte is picked eighth of 14 teams.

Players to Watch: William Lee, 6-8 F (UAB); Jon Davis, 6-2 G (Charlotte); Chris Cokley, 6-8 F (UAB); DaQuon Bracey, 5-11 G (Louisiana Tech); Giddy Potts, 6-2 G (Middle Tennessee).

Comments: Potts and two other starters return for a Middle Tennessee team that went 31-5 last season and knocked off Minnesota in an NCAA opener. Lee withdrew from the NBA draft and returns for UAB. Watch Western Kentucky, which has four incoming transfers starting.

MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC

Favorite: Morgan State

Contenders: Norfolk State, N.C. Central, Hampton.

Also: S.C. State is picked seventh and N.C. A&T last of 13 teams.

Players to Watch: Phillip Carr, 6-8 F (Morgan State); Tiwian Kendley, 6-5 G (Morgan State); Zaynah Robinson, 5-11 G (Norfolk State); Charles Williams, 6-6 F (Howard); Pablo Rivas, 6-6 F (N.C. Central).

Comment: Carr (16.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game) leads Morgan State’s title bid. N.C. Central won the regular season and tournament titles last year and has Rivas to build around.

SEC

Favorite: Kentucky

Contenders: Florida, Texas A&M, Alabama

Also: South Carolina is picked 11th of 16 teams.

Players to Watch: Yante Maten, 6-8 F (Georgia); KeVaughn Allen, 6-2 G (Florida); Harridou Diallo, 6-5 G (Kentucky); Kevin Knox, 6-9 F (Kentucky); Michael Porter Jr., 6-10 F (Missouri).

Comment: Porter might be the SEC’s top player and an NBA No. 1 draft pick next season. But Kentucky, with a load of freshmen and Diallo (who passed on the NBA), is the favorite as usual. Florida has tons of experience. Alabama, seeking its first NCAA berth in five years, is led by PG Collin Sexton.

SOUTHERN

Favorite: Furman

Contenders: Mercer, Samford

Also: UNC Greensboro is picked fourth, Wofford sixth and Western Carolina ninth of 10 teams.

Players to Watch: Devin Sibley, 6-2 G (Furman); Ria’n Holland, 6-0 G (Mercer); Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, 6-5 F (Samford); Cameron Jackson, 6-8 G (Wofford).

Comments: Four starters, including preseason conference player of the year Sibley and G Daniel Fowler, return for Furman. Mercer and Samford also have five starters each returning. Coaches expect a wide-open race.

SUN BELT

Favorite: UT-Arlington.

Contenders: Georgia State, Troy, Georgia Southern.

Also: Coastal Carolina is picked eighth and Appalachian State 11th of 12 teams.

Players to Watch: Kevin Hervey, 6-9 F (UT-Arlington); Tookie Brown, 5-10 G (Georgia Southern); Erick Neal, 5-10 G (UT-Arlington); Jordan Varnado, 6-6 F (Troy); Ronshad Shabazz, 6-5 G (Appalachian State).

Comment: NIT quarterfinalist UT-Arlington has 57 percent of its scoring and 58 percent of its rebounding back. Hervey, an NBA prospect, had 16 double-doubles last season. G D’Marcus Simonds (Georgia State) and Varnado (Troy) could carry their teams to the title.

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