1: Fordham Rams
The Coach: It has been chronicled in detail on this blog, but Jeff Neubauer has done an incredible job during his first year at the helm. He is only 45 years old, and will be entering his second year at Fordham, so it doesn’t appear that retirement or a change of venue will happen. Neubauer was at Eastern Kentucky for 10 seasons, and hopefully will be a staple at Fordham for a similar length of time.
The Roster: Unfortunately for Fordham, they are losing their top two scorers, Ryan Rhoomes and Mandell Thomas, who are averaging over 17 points per game. However, they are still returning three starters, and a number of other contributors. Freshman Joseph Chartouny will look to make the big leap after his inaugural campaign, and become a more effective scorer to go along with his excellent assist numbers, defense, and rebounding. To help fill the scoring void that will be vacated by the two seniors, Fordham has signed Will Tavares, a 6’6″ shooting guard who is a junior college transfer. Because he is a JuCo guy, and will be coming in a bit older with some more experience, Tavares will hopefully be able to step in and contribute starting next season.
The Schedule: This year, Fordham played only 1 team inside the top 200 in non-conference play, and that was Texas-Arlington. They played a weak schedule, but got wins, going 9-2 with losses to aforementioned Arlington and Boston College. For a team that needed to get some wins on the record and gain some confidence, this was a great strategy, and I would expect the Rams to do something similar next season, but maybe with another challenging game or two. Jeff Neubauer will be incorporating some new players, and will want to boost his teams confidence and record as they will attempt to finish in the top of the 2016-17 Atlantic 10 standings.
2: Saint Louis Billikens
The Coach: After great success in his first two years at the helm, Jim Crews has seen a decline in how his Saint Louis team has played. After consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, Saint Louis fell to a 3-15 conference record last season, and have upped that to 5 wins so far this year. However, the Billikens have made progress, and have their eyes set on a NCAA tournament appearance again in the coming years.
The Roster: This is where things look good for Saint Louis. They lose one player, Ash Yacoubou, who averaged over 11 points per game. However they return 4 starters, all of whom will be upperclassmen, and will hopefully have a veteran presence on the court. The Billikens will have a balanced attack, but will need to find their go-to guy for late game situations.
The Schedule: I would expect Saint Louis to construct their schedule much like they did this past season: a few easy games to get their feet wet, some big teams, and then some more easy games heading into conference play. The key next season will be to hopefully win the easier games, and maybe knock off a big name or two. They hung around against Louisville and Wichita State, but could not close the deal in the second halves of those contests. The Billikens should take another step forward in 2016-17, and with their veteran roster, it could be a very big step.
3: Massachusetts Minutemen
The Coach: Derek Kellogg is recruiting well while coaching at his alma mater – as long as he wins some games, he isn’t going anywhere. After being an NCAA bubble team the past four years (one bid, two NIT appearances, and one time staying home), UMass hasn’t had the year they’d hoped. After an okay start, the Minutemen ran into a 7 game losing streak early in conference play. Despite this, they’ve fought back and even notched a big win over VCU. Look for UMass to be back in the title hunt and NCAA Tournament bubble talk next season.
The Roster: Ah yes, the ever-hyped and talked about UMass recruiting class. However, there’s a reason people are talking: it’s really, really, really good. The Minutemen are losing impact seniors Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds, but return a group of three current sophomore starters who will look to add some depth and experience to accompany the freshmen next season. The freshmen, including coveted 4 star ESPN Top 100 player DeJon Jarreau, will need to make a big impact to make up for the losses of Davis and Hinds. However, Kellogg recruited two guards, two forwards, and a center, to balance out the lack of experience across several positions, and provide reinforcements across the team. My question is how long until all five take the court at the same time and reenact the “Fab Five”?
The Schedule: UMass always challenges themselves with a tough schedule, but I would expect them to ease up a bit next year for a couple reasons: they will want to integrate the new players where they can learn to play together, and also to pad their record a bit for a shot at an at-large bid. However, don’t be surprised if the Minutemen knock off a big team to start the year – they will have tons of talent on that roster.