5 DARK HORSES WORTH A BET

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - 2018-19 COLLEGE BASKETBALL PREVIEW -

Loy­ola

Can a re­turn­ing Fi­nal Four team re­ally be a dark horse? In Loy­ola’s case, yes. Many have al­ready writ­ten off the Ram­blers’ chances of re­peat­ing their suc­cess, leav­ing them off pre­sea­son Top 25 rank­ings. The Mis­souri Val­ley Con­fer­ence, par­tic­u­larly Illi­nois State, is more im­pos­ing this sea­son, and the Ram­blers lost key play­ers in Donte In­gram, Ben Richard­son and Aun­dre Jack­son. But they re­turn Clay­ton Custer, Mar­ques Townes and Cameron Krutwig and will in­tro­duce some new play­ers who could sur­prise the na­tion come March. Again.

South Dakota State

If you don’t al­ready know it, mem­o­rize the name Mike Daum. The Sum­mit League player of the year has the Jackrab­bits poised for a spec­tac­u­lar sea­son af­ter win­ning 28 games in 2017-18 and mak­ing their third straight NCAA tour­na­ment ap­pear­ance. Daum en­ters his se­nior sea­son with ca­reer av­er­ages of 21.5 points, 8.2 re­bounds and 42.5 per­cent 3-point shoot­ing. He and the Jackrab­bits will be look­ing to make some NCAA tour­na­ment waves af­ter first-round ex­its the last three years.

Illi­nois State

The Red­birds, who won 18 games last sea­son, have the ex­pe­ri­ence and tal­ent this sea­son to pos­si­bly knock off Loy­ola — or even make the Mis­souri Val­ley worthy of two NCAA tour­na­ment bids. Mi­lik Yar­brough (16.6), Phil Fayne (15.6) and Keyshawn Evans (15.2) all av­er­aged more than 15 points last sea­son, and the 6-foot-9 Fayne, the lead­ing re­bounder with 7.7 per game, added mus­cle to his frame. Coach Dan Muller re­port­edly has in­stalled a new of­fen­sive sys­tem to pro­duce more ef­fi­cient scor­ing.

Buf­falo

The Bulls dom­i­nated Ari­zona 89-68 in the first round of the NCAA tour­na­ment last sea­son as part of a 27-win sea­son. Let that be a warn­ing. Five of the top six scor­ers are back, led by se­nior guard CJ Mass­in­burg (16.9 points per game).

Western Ken­tucky

Noth­ing like a five-star re­cruit to heighten ex­pec­ta­tions. Charles Bassey, a 6-foot-11 cen­ter, could help Rick Stans­bury’s team get back to the NCAA tour­na­ment for the first time since 2013. The Hill­top­pers re­turn Taveion Hollingsworth (13.3 points per game) and La­monte Bear­den (11.8).

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