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Auburn

Bruce Pearl was named Auburn’s head coach in March 2014, and his hiring has energized a fan base that badly wants a winner. Pearl has taken charge of a program that has been to the NCAA tournament eight times and earned two SEC championship titles, but the Tigers (15-20, 4-14 SEC) have not gone to the Big Dance since 2003. Pearl’s goal was to upgrade the talent and competition inside Auburn Arena, home of the Tigers – and he has done just that. His first signing class was ranked as high as No. 10 nationally, while his team is now playing in front of some of the largest crowds in Auburn Arena history. Season tickets sold out for the first time in the 5-year-old facility, as Pearl has brought in top teams and top players, a trend that looks to continue through the 2014-15 season and beyond.

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BYU

Under the direction of head coach Dave Rose, BYU basketball is enjoying one of the most successful runs in program history. The Cougars have strung together nine straight seasons of 20-plus wins and a postseason bid each year, including seven trips to the NCAA tournament. Rose has coached four West Coast Conference players of the year, including 2011 National Player of the Year Jimmer Fredette. In 2013-14, BYU finished 23-12 overall, second in the WCC, and received a bid to the NCAA tournament. The 2014-15 Cougars are led by 2014 WCC Player of the Year and All-America candidate Tyler Haws, who finished sixth in the country in scoring as a junior and is on pace to conclude his career as BYU’s all-time leading scorer. Juniors Kyle Collinsworth, a versatile point guard, and Chase Fischer, a 3-point specialist, bolster the backcourt, while the frontcourt features more size and depth than Rose has had at his disposal in several years.

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Harvard

Head coach Tommy Amaker has led Harvard to unprecedented prosperity in the form of three straight NCAA tournament appearances, four consecutive Ivy League championships and five 20-win seasons in a row. The Crimson advanced to the third round of March Madness in both 2013 and 2014, and along the way also laid claim to the 2013 Great Alaska Shootout championship and the 2011 Battle 4 Atlantis championship. Senior Wesley Saunders, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, has led Harvard in scoring each of the last two seasons and this year was chosen to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50. Junior co-captain Siyani Chambers, a two-time All-Ivy pick, has been named to the Cousy Award Watch List each of the last three years, while senior co-captain Steve Moundou-Missi has earned All-Ivy accolades as both a sophomore and junior.

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New Mexico

New Mexico entered the 2014-15 season on the heels of a third consecutive Mountain West tournament championship, a feat that had never been accomplished before in conference history. In his first year as head coach, Craig “Noodles” Neal compiled a 27-7 record and an appearance in the 2014 NCAA tournament. The Lobos’ 2014-15 roster features nine fresh faces, and the program has added three signees for next season in the early signing period. While the faces have changed, New Mexico still enjoys playing in the friendly confines of The Pit in Albuquerque. The facility has ranked among the top 25 in the NCAA in attendance in each of the building’s 48 seasons. UNM is no stranger to playing in ESPN tournaments during nonconference play. The 2015 Diamond Head Classic will mark the fifth-consecutive year the Lobos have played in an ESPN event.

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Northern Iowa

The Panthers, under the direction of ninth-year head coach Ben Jacobson, have averaged 20.8 wins per year. UNI has finished in the upper half of the Missouri Valley Conference’s final standings in 11 straight seasons, and has been slotted to finish second in the preseason 2014-15 Missouri Valley Conference poll. All five starters return, giving UNI the pieces it needs to challenge for an NCAA tournament berth. First team all-conference selection Seth Tuttle leads last year’s starters Deon Mitchell, Nate Buss, Matt Bohannon, and Wes Washpun in what might be the most talented UNI squad since the 2010 MVC champion and NCAA Sweet 16 team. Tuttle is the league’s active leader in both career scoring and rebounding. Outside shooting is perhaps UNI’s most dangerous weapon, as the Panthers made 175 3-pointers last season and averaged 72.8 points per game. The Panthers bring back almost all of their most prominent contributors, as 91.2 percent of scoring and 91.4 percent of rebounding are back.

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Oklahoma

Expectations haven’t been this high in Norman since Blake Griffin ruled the college basketball world five years ago. The Sooners returned four starters from last year’s Big 12 runner-up team that advanced to the NCAA tournament for a second straight season, and they are primed for another successful campaign. Preseason All-American Buddy Hield leads a trio of guards who started every game last season, while 2014 Big 12 rebounding champion Ryan Spangler and Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas form a dependable and experienced frontcourt. Head coach Lon Kruger’s Sooners are ranked in both major polls and have designs on yet another showing in the Big Dance. Since 1983, OU has made 24 NCAA tournament appearances, tied for ninth in the nation. Kruger is the only coach to lead five programs to the NCAA tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma), and he has taken each one to the dance at least twice.

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Washington State

First-year head coach Ernie Kent looks to turn around the Cougars’ program after the team won 10 games in 2013-14. With 325 career wins in 19 years as a head coach, Kent knows what it takes heading into 2014-15 to bring a program back to prominence. He will be helped by senior guard and returning leading scorer DaVonté Lacy, who, if not for an injury, would have ranked second in the Pac-12 in scoring a season ago. Sophomore forward Josh Hawkinson is a surprise down low, averaging a double-double per game after just 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds as a freshman. Joining the mix is freshman point guard Ny Redding, who moved into the starting lineup and is one of the league’s leaders in assists. Add seniors Dexter Kernich-Drew and Jordan Railey, along with juniors Junior Longrus and Brett Boese and sophomore Ike Iroegbu, and the Cougars have a solid group of experience and youth ready to help Kent with the rebuilding process.