Cal State Fullerton, the 2018 Big West Conference's post-season champions, returns four starters back and most of its depth for Coach Dedrique Taylor. Guards Kyle Allman and Khalil Ahmad rank as the Big West's top backcourt. Allman led the team with 19.5 points per game and connected on an amazing 42.9 percent of his attempts from long range. Ahmad added 15.1 points per game and made a team high 57 three-pointers. Add in Jamal Smith (3.9 points) and Austen Awoskia (7.2 points), who can both handle the ball, and Fullerton is loaded with options on the perimeter. The star of the frontcourt is Jackson Rowe as the 6-7 junior averaged 12.1 points and a team high 6.7 rebounds last season.
Monmouth fortunes center around a core group of players led by sophomore guards Deion Hammond and Ray Salnave, who averaged 12.0 and 9.8 points per game, respectively, last season. The lone returning senior on the roster is a four-year contributor at the center spot in Diago Quinn, while redshirt juniors Louie Pillari and Mustapha Traore enter their third seasons on the floor. King Rice, entering his eighth season on the MU bench, welcomes transfer point guard Nick Rutherford into the mix as well as a trio of freshmen this year.
Saint Joseph's returns Lamarr Kimble and Charlie Brown after the pair missed last season to injury. Kimble averaged 15.5 points per game during the 2016-2017 season with Brown adding 12.8 points. With those two back to form a strong nucleus on the perimeter, this is an experienced group that should contend for a conference title. Top three-point shooter Taylor Funk returns after averaging 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds as a freshman last season, while leading rebounder (6.8) Pierfrancesco Oliva will help the front court. Senior Chris Clover is the only guard back from last year, but freshman point guard Jared Bynum is expected to make an immediate impact. Coach Phil Martelli has coached the Hawks to 430 wins, seven NCAA appearances and six NIT berths in 23 seasons at the school.
UCF looks to build upon head coach Johnny Dawkins’ success in his first two seasons in Orlando. The Knights have totaled 43 wins over the last two seasons and have been among the best defensive teams in the nation, leading all of NCAA in defensive field goal percentage in 2016-2017. UCF was picked by the league’s coaches to win the American Athletic Conference in 2018-2019, senior point guard B.J. Taylor was named The American Preseason Player of the Year and senior center Tacko Fall was selected Preseason Second Team All-Conference. Taylor averaged 15.9 points and 3.2 points a game last season despite missing 16 of the Knights' first 17 games. Fall, who missed the final 14 games last season, averaged 11.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 767 percent from the field during the 2017-2018 campaign.
Valparaiso enters 2018-2019 coming off a 15-17 overall record and a 6-12 mark in its first season of Missouri Valley Conference action. Last year was the first time in eight seasons that Valpo failed to make postseason play. The Crusaders return seven letter winners from last year’s squad, including a pair of MVC postseason honorees in Bakari Evelyn (All-Newcomer Team; 12.6 points per game and a team-high 93 assists) and Markus Golder (All-Bench Team; 9.5 points per contest and a 42.9 three-point field goal percentage), while adding five newcomers to the roster as well.
Wake Forest has overhauled its roster with only one starter from a year ago remains on the roster. The development of five-star recruit Jaylen Hoard and the other new arrivals will dictate how good Danny Manning’s team will be this season. Brandon Childress will take over as starting point guard after averaging 9.1 points, 3.6 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals as a sophomore. Chaundee Brown will be a sophomore this year after starting 29 games as a freshman. The Demon Deacons also add two grad transfers to boost the team’s experience. Torry Johnson joins Wake Forest after leading Northern Arizona in scoring last year with 11.5 points per game. Ikenna Smart comes from Buffalo, having made three NCAA Tournaments with the Bulls. Smart started 25 games for Buffalo last year, averaging 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds.
West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate is the’ "sensei of swat" and leads a strong Mountaineer frontcourt that also includes Esa Ahmad and Lamont West. The 6-8, 260-pound Konate blocked 116 shots last season for a Mountaineer team that reached the NCAA Sweet 16 for the third time in the last four seasons in 2017-2018. Konate also led the Mountaineers in rebounding at 7.6 per game and was third in scoring at 10.8. The 6-8 Harris average 10.2 points and 5.5 rebounds a game last season as a junior while West contributed 9.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest as a sophomore. In the backcourt, the Mountaineers return 5-11 junior James Bolden, who averaged 8.7 points and converted 41.1 percent of his 168 3-point attempts last season. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins enters the 2018-2019 season with 845 wins, the third-winningest active Division I coach behind Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim.
Western Kentucky, the pre-season favorite to win the Conference USA title, returns two starters from last year's team that won 27 games and advance to the semi-finals of the NIT. Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth, a CUSA's pre-season all-league team pick, and senior guard Lamonte Bearden are the returning starters after averaging 13.3 and 11.8 points a game last season, respectively. Hollingsworth was one of just 20 freshmen in the nation to score at least 500 points last year. Hilltopper graduate senior forward Desean Murray, who also was on the CUSA pre-season all-league team, averaged 10.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists as a junior while starting all 34 games for a 26-win Auburn team last season. Coach Rick Stansbury's 12-win improvement from the 2016-2017 to 2017-2018 season was the largest increase in wins for any Hilltopper Basketball coach between their first and second seasons.
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