In just over four weeks, the 2018-19 college basketball season will begin. Alabama will be looking for consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in thirteen years. It won't be easy. Once again, Avery Johnson and his staff have put together a challenging non-league slate. In addition to that, the SEC could be primed for an even better season than a year ago when the league sent a record eight teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Tuesday, October 30 - 7 P.M. CT - Montevallo (TV: SEC Network+) - As a result of the NCAA moving up the start date of the season by a few days, we'll be treated to exhibition basketball in October. Montevallo finished the 17-18 season with a record of 15-15 (Conf: 10-10). With only four players from that team returning, head coach Danny Young will be breaking in a lot of newcomers.
Tuesday, November 6 - 7 P.M. CT - Southern (TV: SEC Network+) - The official start of the season will come in Coleman against Avery Johnson's alma mater. The Jaguars finished the 17-18 season with a record of 15-18 (10-8), and a final KenPom ranking of 326. In the offseason the school made a coaching change, hiring Sean Woods. In a previous stint in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State, Woods won 61% of his conference games and led MVSU to a SWAC title and an NCAA tournament appearance. Southern returns two of their top five scorers from last season.
Sunday, November 11 - 6 P.M. CT - Appalachian State (TV: SEC Network) - This will be a "non-bracketed" game as part of the Charleston Classic. The Mountaineers, from the Sun Belt conference, finished the 17-18 season with a record of 15-18 (9-9), and a final KenPom ranking of 208. The expectation for Appalachian State should be for an improved 18-19 season. The Mountaineers return four of their top five scorers, including leading scorer Ronshad Shabazz (18.5 ppg). The team will also have two D1 transfer players eligible after sitting out a year.
Thursday, November 15 - 6 P.M. CT - Northeastern - Charleston Classic (TV: ESPNU) - The Huskies, from the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), finished the 17-18 season with a record of 23-10 (14-4), and a final KenPom ranking of 96. Northeastern was the co-champ of the CAA, but lost to fellow co-champ College of Charleston in the CAA Tournament final, thus missing the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies return their top five scorers and are the favorite to repeat as league champions in 18-19. The team also adds a D1 transfer from George Washington (Jordan Roland) that ranked second in the A-10 from the 3-point line in his final season there. Head coach Bill Coen has won or shared three CAA titles during his tenure (12 years) in Boston. This team has a great chance to win his fourth.
Friday, November 16 - TBA - Charleston Classic (TV: TBA) - For their second game in Charleston, Alabama will face either Ball State or Virginia Tech. As I'm sure anyone reading this remembers, Alabama beat Virginia Tech in a great game in the NCAA Tournament this past March. The Hokies finished the 17-18 season with a record of 21-12 (10-8), and a final KenPom ranking of 33. They return five of their top six scorers from last season so they are expected to be among the top teams in the ACC.
Ball State is an always steady mid-major program from the Mid-American Conference (MAC). They finished the 17-18 season with a record of 19-13 (10-8), and a final KenPom ranking of 173. The Cardinals could be a contender in the MAC this season with four of their top five scorers back, plus transfers in former SEC players K.J. Walton (Missouri) and Brachen Hazen (Arkansas).
Sunday, November 18 - TBA - Charleston Classic (TV: TBA) - The teams get a day off before returning on Sunday to complete the event. Alabama will face Purdue, Appalachian State, Davidson or Wichita State. I previewed Appalachian State above so let's look at the other three teams.
Purdue finished the 17-18 season with a record of 30-7 (15-3), and a final KenPom ranking of 5. The Boilermakers were a 2 seed in the tournament, advancing to the Sweet 16. Purdue returns Carsen Edwards (18.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.8 apg), a potential preseason All-American; but four of the top five scorers departed, which suggests that Purdue could take a step back from the lofty heights of a year ago.
Wichita State was a good program before Gregg Marshall, but he's succeeded in building the Shockers into a national program. Joining the American Athletic Conference (AAC) last season was just the latest step forward for the program. Wichita State finished the 17-18 season with a record of 25-8 (14-4), and a final KenPom ranking of 21. In the process, the Shockers advanced to their seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament. However, with the top four scorers departing, and an expected improved AAC roster of teams, Wichita State's tournament streak could be in jeopardy.
Davidson finished the 17-18 season with a record of 21-12 (13-5), and a final KenPom ranking of 43. The Wildcats reached the NCAA Tournament by winning the Atlantic 10 (A-10) conference tournament. Davidson, the preseason favorite in the A-10, returns three of their top five scorers from last season, including likely A-10 Preseason Player of the Year, Kellan Grady (18.0 ppg). The program also has Bob McKillop back for his 30th season as head coach. McKillop is one of the most respected coaches in the game.
Monday, November 26 - 7 P.M. CT - Murray State (TV: SEC Network+) - The Racers, from the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC), have been a steady mid-major for as long as I've been a college basketball fan. Along with Belmont, they have dominated the OVC standings in recent years, and are expected to contend with Belmont once again for the conference title. Murray State finished the 17-18 season with a record of 26-6 (16-2), and a final KenPom ranking of 62. While the Racers are expected to contend for the OVC title, it is worth noting they did lose three of their top five scorers from last season, including their top two scorers.
Thursday, November 29 - 6 P.M. CT - at UCF (TV: ESPNU) - The Knights are considered favorites in the AAC this season following a 17-18 season that was derailed by injuries. Despite the unending injuries, UCF still gutted out a record of 19-13 (9-9), and a final KenPom ranking of 111. Their best win last season was in Coleman Coliseum when they knocked off Alabama 65-62. The Knights return four of their top five scorers from last season, and add Aubrey Dawkins, an expected key player that missed all of last season due to injury. If healthy, UCF should be in contention for an NCAA Tournament appearance.