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Mike Lopresti | NCAA.com | November 1, 2018

College basketball: The 32 conference favorites and streaks we'll be watching this season

Before there can be a college basketball season, there have to be conference preseason polls. So before Tuesday and opening day, here are 32 of ‘em, with 32 streaks as accompaniment.

ACC . . . Duke is the conference pick, never mind losing all five starters, with Marques Bolden and his 3.9 average the top scorer returning. That’s what happens when you collect freshmen blue-chippers like stamps, including the top three recruits this year.

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But here’s the thing. The Blue Devils have missed the Final Four three years in a row — same as Kentucky — and while that streak is not exactly an eternity, we’re talking about the biggest eaters at the one-and-done buffet table. Lately, that hasn’t worked so well in March. Of the 30 players to start in the national championship game the past three years, 23 were seniors or juniors. Might there be a message in that?

“People ask why is Duke, why is Kentucky not in Final Fours on a regular basis?” Michigan State’s Tom Izzo said. “It’s hard to get to the Final Four with all young guys, is what everybody’s finding out.”

Big East . . . Villanova still gets the votes, even after losing its four top scorers from the national champions. A tribute to Jay Wright’s program. But that streak of 186 games without consecutive losses, going back to 2013, could be a tad wobbly. “Early in the season, it might not look that pretty,” Wright said.

Big Ten . . . Michigan State is the team to beat yet again, but the Spartans have not been in the Sweet 16 for three consecutive years, the first such streak in Izzo’s career. They won 30 games last season, led the nation in four major categories — rebound margin, field goal defense, assists and blocked shots — and still nobody was really fulfilled at the end, after they bricked their way out of the tournament against Syracuse in the Second Round.

“You hope people don’t take it for granted,” Izzo said of the success. “And then who takes it for granted more than anybody? I do. I want to blame the media, I want to blame the fans, I want to blame the players. And I’m the one that expects to be there, too.”

Big 12 . . . Kansas, reloading with transfers and freshmen, was atop the preseason poll. Shocker. The Jayhawks’ remarkable run of 14 consecutive Big 12 titles started before iPhones, hashtags or the Oklahoma City Thunder. LeBron James was a second-year pro. This year’s hot Kansas freshman, Quentin Grimes, was 4 years old.

Pac-12 . . . Amid turmoil and heavy personnel losses, Arizona was voted fourth — behind Oregon, UCLA and Washington. Fourth is not awful, but still the Wildcats’ lowest spot in nine years. “I was surprised we were picked that high,” coach Sean Miller said.

SEC . . . All is routine, with Kentucky picked first for the 14th time in 21 years. But notice Mississippi State was predicted a respectable fourth. Ben Howland — the last coach to take a team to three consecutive Final Fours, at UCLA — hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 2011. This Bulldog bunch might do something about that.

American . . . Wichita State has averaged 29 wins the last eight seasons while finishing first or second every year in the Missouri Valley or American conferences. Quite a streak. But times have changed. Look where the depleted Shockers are picked this season. Eighth.

Missouri Valley . . . Let’s hear it for the Land of Lincoln. The top four teams in the preseason poll – Loyola Chicago, Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Bradley — are all from the same state. You might have noticed Loyola ended a 33-year streak without an NCAA Tournament win last March — and then some.

Mountain West . . . Nevada is the overwhelming pick, and might be in position to make history. The loaded Wolf Pack are the only team in the Associated Press preseason top 10 never to play in the Elite Eight.

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Atlantic 10 . . . Missouri last March ended a four-year streak for the state having no NCAA Tournament teams. Now, maybe it is Saint Louis’ turn, picked to win the A-10.

Mid-American . . . Buffalo ended a five-year streak of one-and-out for the MAC in the NCAA Tournament last season — to Arizona's discomfort — and the Bulls are back with three of the five players named to the conference preseason East Division Preseason All-MAC team.

America East . . . UMBC was the father of all streak busters last March, ending years of No. 16 seed futility in the NCAA Tournament — 16 seeds were 0-135 all-time against No. 1 seeds since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. But before they could ruin Virginia's spring, the Retrievers had to beat Vermont in the last second to even get out of the America East. Vermont is picked to be back on top, UMBC third.

Atlantic Sun  . . . It’s a one-year streak of total consensus in the league, where the coaches and the media came up with the exact same order in their preseason polls, from Lipscomb at the top to North Alabama at the bottom.

Big Sky . . . Montana has been on a roll, playing in seven of the league’s past nine title games. The Grizzlies are expected back again as the preseason top choice.

 
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Big South . . . He might be 5-9, but Campbell’s Chris Clemons must have had a lot of hot shooting streaks last season. He is the nation’s top scorer coming back, with his 24.9 average. The Camels were fourth in the preseason poll, with Radford at No. 1.

Big West . . . They really believe in sharing in this league, where eight different schools have won the past eight conference tournaments. UC Irvine is the pre-season favorite, and the Anteaters are one of those eight, so they could be a trophy hog and end the streak.

Colonial . . . During a blowout loss at Kentucky in 2016, unsung sophomore Justin Wright-Foreman took the floor for Hofstra to little notice, and had his personal hot streak, scoring 14 points in 17 minutes. Blastoff to a career. He’s never looked back, and is the preseason Colonial player of the year.

Conference USA . . . Western Kentucky, the preseason favorite, went on a big-name streak last year, beating teams from the Big Ten (Purdue), ACC (Boston College), Big 12 (Oklahoma State) and Pac- 12 (Southern California). No other team outside the power leagues could claim that.

Horizon . . . Wright State's streak was never being picked the preseason conference favorite in its history. Not once. But the Raiders have been now.

Ivy . . . Ivy League teams this decade have won five NCAA Tournament games, lost three others by only two points, and done all that while never seeded higher than No. 12. With 34 of the league’s 40 starters back — top pick Harvard returns 99.4 percent of its scoring — they could be ready to continue that streak of trouble-making.

MAAC . . . Rider could put together quite a streak with its underclassmen. The Broncs had four of the 15 players named to last season’s all-league team. All return, and none are seniors. No surprise they got the most votes.

MEAC . . . How was this for an unpredictable streak? Five teams were tied for the conference lead with a week to go last season. Three shared the title. None of the five won the league tournament, as that went to No. 6 seed North Carolina Central. The Eagles are picked second this season, behind Bethune-Cookman.

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Northeast . . . The good news for Saint Francis (PA) is it has been tabbed in the preseason coaches’ poll as the conference favorite, with a chance to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth. The bad news is, the coaches are on a real streak of being wrong. They have missed for 27 of the past 31 years.

Ohio Valley . . . Rick Byrd’s streak at Belmont is longevity — his 33 seasons put him fourth in Division I. His team is picked to win the league, by a nose over Murray State.

Patriot . . . American’s Sa’eed Nelson has been voted preseason conference player of the year. It says something for his stature that he did that with a team that ended last season on a 1-11 slide, and was picked to finish seventh this year.

Southern . . . The accuracy streak at the line never ends for preseason player of the year Fletcher Magee of Wofford. He has taken 322 free throws in his career, and missed only 30 of them.

Southland . . . Stephen F. Austin rolled through last season on a defensive tear of a streak, leading the nation in steals with 360. That’s one reason the Lumberjacks are expected to keep the good times rolling.

Summit . . . Preseason-player of the year South Dakota State’s Mike Daum has been first team all-league three years in a row. But so has Purdue Fort Wayne’s John Konchar. It is very rare anywhere to see a player make four all-conference first teams, but the Summit could have two in the same season.

Sun Belt . . . Georgia State is the pick, led by preseason player of the year D’Marcus Simonds. Want to see a really hot streak? He scored his team’s first 16 points against Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament. That wasn’t enough to prevent a 68-53 loss.

SWAC . . . No new coach pulled off a more amazing revival last season that Donte’ Jackson at Grambling State. Two years after going 7-24, three after 2-27 and five after 0-28, the Tigers won the SWAC regular season title, ending a 29-year trophy-less streak. They are back again as the favorite.

WAC . . . Former NBA All-Star Dan Majerle’s first five years coaching the new Division I program Grand Canyon have seen a streak of consistency, never finishing lower than third in the conference. The unfinished business is the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth. The Antelopes are picked second, behind New Mexico State.

WCC . . . Gonzaga. Who else? The Bulldogs’ streak of four consecutive Sweet 16s is the longest in the nation. With four of the 10 pre-season all-WCC picks on their roster, they'll start the season ranked No. 3 in the nation — though they have lost Killian Tillie for up to eight weeks with a stress fracture. By the way, Eastern time zone teams have won 20 of the past 21 national championships, with Kansas the lone exception in 2008. The West badly yearns for someone to end the drought. Just mentioning it.