A traditional pre-season top 25? They’re fairly ubiquitous this time of year. Everyone has one, but from Duke to Mississippi Valley State and in between, there’s a lot of intriguing teams for the upcoming college basketball season.
In ascending order of squads that pique our interest, our list consists of teams with a rare chance to make noise, have a lot to prove, quirky schedules, or are just named Kentucky.
Follow along. Story lines aren’t just for the nation’s elite.
For the uninformed, the Delta Devils inclusion to this list is perplexing. But if you’ve been reading and staying up to date with one-bid conference news (hopefully there’s not too many of you out there), then you're feeling a strong sense of intrigue towards this SWAC favorite just like we are.
On the tightest of budgets, Mississippi Valley State has, in short, the toughest non-conference schedule you could imagine. As a way to stay financially afloat in these tough economic times, head coach Sean Woods and his players will embark on a 13-game road trip that spans more miles than an American League East team heading west for two weeks in late July.
As a result for sacrificing home cooking and a supportive student section, the Delta Devils will receive upwards of $700,000 in total appearance fees to test their mettle in historic venues like Freedom Hall, Hinkle Fieldhouse and Rupp Arena. Lop-sided games like this occur frequently in the first weeks of the college basketball season - we all know this - but almost never weight a low-major's schedule like this.
"It's tough on the kids to go to most of the toughest places in the country to play, but I know what we need to survive as a program," Woods told The Dagger last month. "I've got to bring in a certain amount for the university and then I need a certain amount to get my program through the year. In order to do both, I've got to do a schedule like the one I put together."
No matter the result, the Mississippi Valley State has unquestionably created a must-follow story line for the upcoming season.
What happened this summer?
Besides finalizing this epically brutal schedule, the Delta Devils secured a top 50 2010-2011 recruiting class, according to HoopScoopOnline.com. That’s quite impressive stuff, considering a damaged roof that's yet to be fixed means there's not much for the coaching staff to show off to incoming freshman.
Games that really matter
- 11/12 @ Georgia
- 11/16 @ Indiana
- 11/22 @ St. Mary's
- 11/24 @ BYU
- 11/26-27 @ South Padre Invitational
- 12/11 @ Butler
- 12/13 @ Ole Miss
- 12/15 @ Arkansas
- 12/18 @ Kentucky
- 12/21 @ Marquette
Most intriguing player
Shannon Behling (6’7" forward; senior) – Despite the gimmicky looking schedule to keep the program afloat, the Delta Devils are actually surefire candidates to contend for the SWAC title. The team’s leading returning scorer, Behling is an all-league player who was second in the conference last season in offensive rebounds, sixth in defensive rebounds, and eighth in steals. He’s a solid all-around player who can do a bit of everything, but will really have to score on a consistent basis to yield a successful season. With that, Behling will need to improve upon his 40 percent field-goal percentage.
What’s on the line?
Besides the preservation of the basketball program, the treacherous non-conference schedule will serve as the ultimate character test for Coach Woods’ players. The Delta Devils are going to be tested both mentally and physically like never before, and it begs the question as to whether or not they’re cut out for it. There’s a good chance this team could begin their conference schedule with a record that has them 10 or more games below .500 at the turn of the new year, yet still be the favorites (along with Jackson State and Texas Southern) to win both the regular season and conference tournament. Will the stretch of games from November 12th to December 21st make the team tougher, or be too emotionally scarring to recover from? They could be far too spent to regroup when they start playing equal and lesser competition.
I am not going to sit here and predict a win against Ole Miss, or that the Delta Devils will cover against Kentucky, but I do think that this unprecedented schedule will foster a sense of camaraderie their conference foes just don’t possess. We’ll see these guys in Dayton for a shot at yet another game against powerful BCS-conference team that’s flush with cash and seeking a deep tournament run.
- Conference: 1st
- Postseason: NCAA first round (following a First Four victory)