5 DARK HORSES WORTH A BET
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.
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.
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).
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).