Conference USA Preview
- Old Dominion
- Louisiana Tech
- Middle Tennessee
- Western Kentucky
- Texas San Antonio
- Florida International
- North Texas
- Florida Atlantic
- Southern Mississippi
Player of the Year: Trey Freeman, Old Dominion
Coach of the Year: Jeff Jones, Old Dominion
Rookie of the Year: Paul Thomas, UTEP
All-Conference 1st Team
C/F Erik McCree, Louisiana Tech
F Reggie Upshaw, Middle Tennessee
G/F Alex Hamilton, Louisiana Tech
G Trey Freeman, Old Dominion
G Chris Harrison-Docks, Western Kentucky
All-Conference 2nd Team
C/F William Lee, UAB
F Jeremy Combs, North Texas
G/F Aaron Bacote, Old Dominion
G Robert Brown, UAB
G Omega Harris, UTEP
All-Conference 3rd Team
C/F Andrew Drone, Rice
F Ryan Taylor, Marshall
G/F Earvin Morris, UTEP
G Marcus Jackson, Rice
G Dominic Artis, UTEP
C/F Karl Gamble, Middle Tennessee
F Paul Thomas, UTEP
G/F Marquez Letcher-Ellis, Rice
G Curran Scott, Charlotte
G Kimar Williams, Florida International
1. Old Dominion
Key Losses: Richard Ross
Key Returners: Trey Freeman, Aaron Bacote, Ambrose Mosley
Key Newcomers: Aaron Carver, Ahmad Caver, Payton Pervier, Brandan Stith
C Payton Pervier, Sr.; (JUCO)
F Denzell Taylor, Jr.; (2.9/6.0/1.3/1.1/0.7)
G Aaron Bacote, Sr.; (9.8/3.1/2.7/0.7/0.0)
G Ambrose Mosley, Jr.; (7.1/2.0/0.8/0.5/0.0)
G Trey Freeman, Sr.; (16.9/4.3/3.6/1.3/0.1)
Reserves: Jordan Baker, Brandan Stith, Aaron Carver, Ahmad Caver, Nik Biberaj
Postseason Prediction: 8 Seed
This is a nice team and a diamond in the rough in a coal-filled Conference USA. ODU brings back nearly everyone from a 27-8 NIT team a season ago including stud guard and runaway preseason C-USA POY Trey Freeman. Freeman is a gem of a player (nice stone references I’ve got going) who posted an O-Rating of 110.6 while using 29% of his team’s possessions (73rd) and taking 32.3% of his team’s shots (31st) while on the court in 2014-15. Freeman posted respectable shooting percentages from deep (35.6%) and inside the arc (47%), but his most impressive stats were his passing/ball-handling numbers. The guard posted a 27.8 Assist Rate (140th) while only turning the ball over 11.8% of the time (128th). Suffice it to say – Freeman was a stud last season and the sky is the limit in his senior campaign.
Joining Freeman in the backcourt are two returning starters, Aaron Bacote and Ambrose Mosley. Bacote posted a 111.8 O-Rating using 21.2% of ODU’s possessions as junior last year and the guard posted strong passing numbers like his cohort Freeman. Mosley attempted a team high 186 three-pointers in 2014-15, but left much to be desired hitting on only 33.9% of them. Mosley is ODU’s main spot-up option and will be looked upon to improve on his accuracy from deep this season. In fact, shooting was really the only hardship the Monarchs encountered last year, struggling from deep shooting only 32.5% as a team.
Inside, the Monarchs will look to returning starter Denzell Taylor to control the boards and protect the rim once again. Taylor posted the 6th best OR% in the nation last season (17.1) leading ODU to the 29th best mark in the country as a team. Taylor was a stout defender last season as well averaging 1.8 “stocks” per game as a sophomore.
ODU will have to replace Richard Ross inside, and JUCO big man Payton Pervier looks to be the leading candidate to run alongside Taylor in the trenches. Pervier is a big 7-footer who averaged a double-double in JUCO and fancies himself as “Big Slim” on Twitter. I don’t know this guy, but I like this guy.
The ODU bench will consist of returning guard Jordan Baker, who played well last season while seeing half his team’s minutes as a freshman; look for him to evolve and play a bigger part in the offense in 2015-16 as a shooter off the pine. In addition to Baker, three newcomers promise to impact the lineup for the Monarchs this season – freshmen Aaron Carver, Ahmad Caver (yes; yes that is very confusing), and East Carolina transfer Brandan Stith. Carver is a 6’6’’ power forward that can finish and rebound; Carver is a point guard who will provide depth behind Freeman and Mosely; and Stith, the son of assistant coach (and former NBA player) Bryant Stith, averaged 4.5 ppg and 6.3 rpg as a freshman at ECU while playing 20 minutes per contest.
ODU has solid depth and the most talented player in the league. This team doesn’t necessarily have to win the conference tournament to make the Big Dance, but it sure would help. If the Monarchs win the tournament, they should be an 8 seed, if they don’t; an 11 or 12 seed is more likely.
Key Losses: None
Key Returners: Robert Brown, William Lee, Nick Norton, Hakeem Baxter, Tosin Mehinti
Key Newcomers: Dirk Williams, Thomas Smallwood
F Tosin Mehinti, Jr.; (6.8/4.7/0.7/0.4/2.0)
F William Lee, So.; (8.0/6.0/1.1/0.5/1.5)
G Robert Brown, Sr.; (13.7/3.7/3.0/1.0/0.3)
G Hakeem Baxter, Jr.; (7.6/3.0/1.5/0.8/0.3)
G Nick Norton, So.; (7.2/2.1/3.8/1.4/0.0)
Reserves: Denzell Watts, Chris Cokely, Tyler Madison, Dirk Williams
Postseason Prediction: NIT
UAB ended its 2014-15 season with a bang, upsetting three teams in the C-USA tournament to take the auto bid to the Dance and then upending the 3-seeded Iowa State Cyclones, busting brackets all over the land (including mine). What’s scary is this team, which went 16-7 after New Year’s, loses only one contributor from last season in role player C.J. Washington. Everyone else returns, including Coach Jerod Haase, who played his college ball at Kansas and is the author of “Floor Burns”, a basketball book that I for some reason owned as a child.
UAB went 9 deep last season and they promise to once again in 2015-16. Leading the way for the Blazers is senior guard Robert Brown, the leading scorer from last year’s squad and excellent passer. Brown will look to improve on his so-so percentages from 2014-15 (.461/.326/.738) and solidify his role as team leader in his senior campaign.
Rounding out the starting five with Brown will be sophomores Hakeem Baxter, William Lee, and Nick Norton, and junior big man Tosin Mehinti. Lee turned in a brilliant season for the Blazers in 2014-15. The 6’9’’ forward shot an outstanding .494/.457/.794 while contributing as the team’s best defensive rebounder, a strong offensive rebounder, and a solid shot-blocker. Lee has the most potential to grow out of all the youngsters on the Blazer roster; a double-digit scoring average and eight boards a game is in reach for the big man. Mehinti will play alongside Lee in the frontcourt. Mehinti brings valuable rim protection to the Blazers; he posted a 9.3% Blk% as a sophomore last season.
Baxter and Norton will fill in the open backcourt slots next to Brown. Norton, at 5’10’’, will handle most of the point duties for UAB; he posted a top-200 assist rate of 26.5 in 2014-15, though he often was plagued by turnovers. Norton shot only 25 twos last season compared to 147 threes (38.1%), but the guard knows his role and will be crucial to UAB’s success as its floor general this year.
As stated above, the Blazers are a deep team. UAB sports a bench led by forwards Tyler Madison and Chris Cokely, and guard Denzell Watts. Cokley and Madison both posted 109 O-Ratings off the bench while using 41% of the team’s minutes and over 20% of its possessions. Cokely and Madison are monsters on the boards; Cokely is a deft finisher around the tin. Watts will fill-in as the back-up point guard for UAB; he offers a nice stroke from deep and the ability to handle pressure at the top of the offense. JUCO transfer Dirk Williams also adds loads of potential off the bench for UAB.
There is no reason UAB shouldn’t be a top 2 team in this league this season. The Blazers return everyone from last season and have miles of depth to go with their more experienced core. In my opinion C-USA is a one-bid league, but UAB earning an at-large bid alongside Old Dominion certainly wouldn’t be a shock.
3. Louisiana Tech
Key Losses: Raheem Appleby, Kenneth Smith, Mychale Kyser
Key Returners: Alex Hamilton, Erik McCree
Key Newcomers: Da’Shawn Robinson, Derric Jean
F Merrill Holden, Jr.; (1.7/1.3/0.1/0.1/0.4)
F Erik McCree, Jr.; (11.4/5.6/0.6/0.7/0.4)
G Jacobi Boykins, So.; (4.1/1.0/0.2/0.6/0.1)
G Da’Shawn Robinson, Jr.; (JUCO)
G Alex Hamilton, Sr.; (14.7/3.3/2.6/1.7/0.3)
Reserves: Derric Jean, Qiydar Davis, Dayon Griffin, Joniah White
Postseason Prediction: NIT
Despite racking up 27, 29, and 27 wins in the last three seasons, respectively, Louisiana Tech failed to reach the NCAA tournament yet again. Incredibly, the seemingly successful program hasn’t made the Dance since 1985. With the departure of Coach Michael White to Florida and the graduation of three starters, Raheem Appleby, Kenneth Smith, and Mychale Kyser, it would appear the Bulldogs have an uphill battle in 2015-16 to break that drought.
La Tech returns a fair amount of talent, however, and with the lack of quality teams in C-USA, the Bulldogs will be vying for a tourney spot once again this year. The Bulldogs will be led by guard Alex Hamilton and forward Erik McCree. Hamilton possesses a knack for scoring, averaging 14.7 ppg in 2014-15, and though he shot a respectable 49.4% from two and 74.1% from the line, he must improve his dreadful three-point shooting this season (29.1% on 117 attempts). McCree is a stretch 4 who turned in a shooting slash of .550/.333/.702 and is easily La Tech’s best returning rebounder. The Bulldogs got absolutely manhandled on the glass a season ago, placing 330th in defensive boarding and 253rd in offensive boarding. Losing Kyser potentially makes those numbers plummet further in 2015-16.
The Bulldogs will look to Merrill Holden and Joniah White to replace Kyser’s rebounding and rim protection. Both big-men showed flashes of competence in both areas in very limited court time a season ago, and if they extend that small sample size to turn in an effective glass-eating/shot-stuffing season, La Tech may just go ahead and win the league.
Like so many other schools in C-USA, La Tech will be reliant on newcomers to come in and contribute immediately. For La Tech, those relied-upon newcomers include guards Da’Shawn Robinson and Derric Jean. Robinson is a JUCO transfer who averaged 12.2 point per game and shot 44.1% from downtown a season ago in the “minors”. Derric Jean is a 3-star point guard from Hollywood, FL who should provide solid depth at the guard spot and may even start alongside Hamilton at some point.
Three rotation players, Jacobi Boykins (6’6’’), Qiydar Davis (6’6’’), and Dayon Griffin (6’5’’) will handle the wing and backup off-guard duties for the Dogs this season. Boykins will likely start and will provide solid outside shooting and defense on the perimeter. Davis has the potential to be a strong defender as well, and Griffin will be utilized as a deep threat off the pine.
La Tech is thin compared to last year, but if they fix their rebounding woes from a season ago and if new Coach Eric Konkol can step in and lead quickly, the Dogs will likely win another 20 plus games and challenge for the C-USA title in 2015-16.
EDIT: Sad news out of UTEP as it looks like Omega Harris may not be eligible this semester and Matt Willms struggles with injury. These subtractions will wreak havoc on the Miners early and will knock them down a few spots in our pre-season rankings (think 6th-ish after MTSU and WKU).
Key Losses: Vince Hunter, Julian Washburn, C.J. Cooper, Cedrick Lang
Key Returners: Omega Harris
Key Newcomers: Paul Thomas, Dominic Artis, Lee Moore, Trey Touchet, Christian Romine
C Matt Willms, Jr.; (5.2/4.3/0.9/0.5/1.1)
F Paul Thomas, Fr.;
G Earvin Morris, Sr.; (11.0/2.3/1.2/0.8/0.3)
G Omega Harris, So.; (6.7/2.0/1.9/0.8/0.1)
G Dominic Artis, Jr.; (w/ Oregon) (4.1/1.9/2.2/0.8/0.1)
Reserves: Hooper Vint, Christian Romine, Lee Moore, Trey Touchet
Postseason Prediction: CBI/CIT
The Miners role out an intriguing team in 2015-16 under the direction of former NBA-head coach TIim Floyd. UTEP loses a ton of production from its 22-win team in 2014-15 including Vince Hunter, my favorite collegiate basketball player last season. Damn I loved Hunter. Damn. Also gone are Julian Washburn, Cedrick Lang, and C.J. Cooper, three very solid starters for the Miners last season.
Despite the great volume of talent lost, UTEP isn’t in awful shape thanks to a few key returners and a strong incoming class. All eyes will be on Omega Harris, the lone returning starter from last year, and candidate for my new favorite collegiate player (along with Rhode Island’s E.C. Matthews and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, among others). Harris was electric at times for the Miners as a freshman and we should see his numbers skyrocket in 2015-16. Harris proved to be a reliable deep threat at 36% last season, but often had hiccups handling the ball. He’s better used as an off-ball player and with the influx of transfer Dominic Artis (more latet), that shouldn’t be a problem.
Earvin Morris, the team’s second leading scorer last season also returns with big men Matt Willms and Hooper Vint. Morris shot the ball extremely well for UTEP last year and will be the team’s primary three-ball option once again this season (40.1% from deep a season ago). Willms is a promising 7’1’’ center with a silky touch around the rim and solid rebuilding ability. He will be inserted into the starting five this season as a junior. Vint wasn’t used to much last year, but with the departure of Hunter and Lang, the 6’11’’ senior will be asked to step up and provide more minutes for the Miners this year off the bench.
UTEP has some tantalizing fresh faces coming to campus this season headlined by former Oregon Duck Dominic Artis and 4-star recruit Paul Thomas. Artis was a reliable backup point guard during his 2-year stint with the Ducks, and after taking a year off from basketball, looks to bring a veteran presence and poise to the open UTEP starting point guard slot. Artis is capable of shooting from distance and is a willing distributor from the top of the offense. Thomas is a highly anticipated power forward from Texas who is scouted as being a strong rebounder and terrific athlete. He will be relied upon to play big minutes for UTEP throughout the year.
Rounding out the Miners’ incoming class is JUCO transfer Lee Moore and freshmen Christian Romine and Trey Touchet (redshirt). Moore will provide good depth in the backcourt; he is a lengthy 6’4’’ guard who can shoot and handle the rock when needed. Roumine is a big body with glass-eating potential and plays more of a center than a 4. Touchet will add depth on the wing spelling Morris when needed.
I’m fairly optimistic on UTEP’s outlook. Tim Floyd is a respectable coach who’s posted only one losing record in his nine-season collegiate coaching career and the slew of newcomers should mesh well with the ever-improving trio of Harris, Morris, and Willms. UTEP’s ceiling is a C-USA title but a more realistic prediction would slot them in the 3 to 5 range atop the conference standings.
5. Middle Tennessee
Key Losses: Jacquez Rozier, Marcus Tarrance
Key Returners: Reggie Upshaw, Giddy Potts, Jaqawn Raymond
Key Newcomers: Karl Gamble, Quavius Copeland
F Karl Gamble, Fr.;
F Perrin Buford, Sr.; (8.1/3.5/0.6/0.4/0.6)
F Reggie Upshaw, Jr.; (9.9/7.0/1.6/1.0/1.0)
G Giddy Potts, So.; (6.6/2.7/0.9/0.7/0.1)
G Jaqawn Raymond, Sr.; (7.6/3.1/2.1/1.0/0.2)
Reserves: Darnell Harris, Joshua Phillips, Jacob Ivory, Quavius Copeland, Edward Simpson
Postseason Prediction: None
You know who I’m bullish on? The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. One, their coach’s name is Kermit, which is a win any day in my book. Two, they return nearly everyone important from a squad that finished 6th in C-USA a season ago and exceeded expectations by turning in a 19-17 overall record. The Raiders had some interesting team stats last year. They were a pretty good outside shooting team at 36% (and shot a lot of threes), but they struggled mightily inside the arc, shooting 44.2%, one of the worst marks in the country. This can attributed to the lack of size Middle Tennessee had (and still has); last season, the Raiders did not have one body over 6’8’’. Despite this lack of size, MTSU was one of the BEST defensive rebounding teams in the country, with an opponents’ OR% of 26.1% (18th nationally). Now, yes this is partially due to the fact that opponents shot quite well against the MTSU defense, but the numbers are still impressive given the disadvantage in size.
The Raiders return four major contributors in Reggie Upshaw, Jaqawn Raymond, Giddy Potts, and Perrin Buford. In addition, they bring back complementary pieces Darnell Harris, Jacob Ivory, Edward Simpson, and Joshua Phillips. New for the Blue freshman Karl Gamble and JUCO transfer Quavius Copeland.
Upshaw was the Raiders’ best player last year as a sophomore. The 6’7’’ wing led the team in scoring, rebounding, steals, and blocks. Upshaw was a ferocious rebounder last season, particularly on the defensive side (23.1% DR% - 63rd nationally). He had his fair share of shooting woes, but will continue to be the #1 option for MTSU this season and will hopefully refine the finer points of his game as a junior. Raymond and Potts make up the backcourt. The pair shot well from deep last season (35% and 38.3% respectively), though both shot 37% inside the arc, forcing shots over taller defenders. Reigning in turnovers and taking smarter shots will be keys for them going forward. By the way – holy shit Giddy Potts is 6’2’’ 220 lbs; the guy is a literal bowling ball.
Buford has potential to shine this season in his senior campaign. The forward shot 50.5% from 2 and 70.6% from the line while rebounding and protecting the rim at effective rates. Look for Buford to make a big leap this season developmentally. Harris, Phillips, and newcomer Gamble will be looked upon to provide depth in the frontcourt. Gamble is the most intriguing; he comes highly regarded out of high school from South Carolina and will look to make an immediate impact in the Blue Raider lineup.
MTSU has the experience and athleticism to hang with anyone in C-USA. They could surprise teams this year and steal a couple big wins in conference play to make things interesting at the top. A range of anywhere in the top 6 is realistic for Coach Davis and crew, and a deep run in the conference tournament is possible.
6. Western Kentucky
Key Losses: T.J. Price, George Fant, Trency Jackson
Key Returners: Chris Harrison-Docks
Key Newcomers: Aaron Cosby, Fredrick Edmond, Phabian Glasco, Keifer Dalton, Kristaps Gluditis, Marlon Hunter, Chris McNeal
C Ben Lawson, Jr.; (3.8/3.2/0.7/0.4/1.7)
F Justin Johnson, So.; (4.8/4.1/0.7/0.4/0.5)
G/F DJ Clayton, So.; (4.1/2.4/0.7/0.3/0.2)
G Aaron Cosby, Sr.; (w/ Illinois) (7.8/3.6/1.7/0.3/0.0)
G Chris Harrison-Docks, Jr.; (11.1/2.7/2.5/0.7/0.0)
Reserves: Aleksei Rostov, All those freshmen and transfers above
Postseason Prediction: None
The Hilltoppers are a completely different team in 2015-16 compared to a year ago. WKU returns only five players from a squad that went 20-12 (12-6) last season and welcomes 10 newcomers to the team. The biggest blow is losing T.J. Price, WKU’s best player and team leader, who averaged 17 points per contest last year. The Hilltoppers also lose their #2 and #4 scorers, George Fant and Trency Jackson.
This means that this season Western Kentucky will be counting upon one man, Chris Harrison-Docks, to lead them to a competent season. Harrison-Docks had a so-so sophomore campaign for WKU; he shot 35% from three on 197 attempts (a good number) and 41.2% from two (a bad number). Harrison-Docks doesn’t do much shooting from inside the arc, so he will most definitely need help shouldering the scoring load when he is keyed in upon by opposing defenses. This scoring help will likely come from immediately-eligible Illinois transfer Aaron Cosby. Cosby showed he can be a reliable shooter and scorer as a junior for the Illini and (even more so) as a sophomore for the Seton Hall Pirates. At Seton Hall, where he received much more PT than at Illinois, Cosby shot 66/165 (40%) from deep while shooting 46% from inside the arc. He also managed to get to the line fairly often where he converted at a 75% clip. Cosby will need to be as effective for WKU, and given his major D-1 experience, it’s very plausible he succeeds in a big way.
The Hilltoppers’ other (supposed) asset is 7’1’’ center Ben Lawson. Lawson provides great rim protection, a result of him growing to be 7 feet tall, but the big dude provides little else. Lawson’s 3 points / 3 rebounds per game average needs to take a major tick upwards for Western Kentucky to be truly competitive. The other three returners for WKU are Justin Johnson, DJ Clayton, and Aleksei Rostov. Johnson and Clayton are sophomores, and Johnson has a real shot at taking a major leap this season. Johnson posted strong efficiency numbers as a frosh and proved to be a good rebounder, defender, and reliable finisher when he saw the floor. Clayton had a rough first season shooting the ball, but gained plenty of playing time to where he should feel comfortable stepping into a bigger role as a soph.
WKU is a bit of a question mark, with so many transfers and incoming freshmen, it’s hard to predict how will the team will gel and come together. Guard Fredrick Edmond was a two-time JUCO All-American and should make an immediate impact, as should 6’9’’ JUCO forward Phabian Glasco. Freshmen guards Keifer Dalton, Kristaps Gluditis, Marlon Hunter, and Chris McNeal all come in with the potential to start right away and impact the Hilltopper season. The four incoming freshman all exceled at the previous level and should make WKU an exciting bunch to watch in 2015-16.
The Hilltoppers could be pretty good - they could also be pretty bad. Their success all depends on how the newcomers pan out and the growth of Harrison-Docks and Lawson. A 6th or 7th place finish seems realistic to slate them in at pre-season.
Key Losses: Seth Gearhart
Key Returners: Marcus Jackson, Max Guercy
Key Newcomers: Marquez Letcher-Ellis, Chad Lott, Egor Koulachev
C Andrew Drone, Jr.; (6.7/5.4/0.4/0.3/0.7)
F Marquez Letcher-Ellis, Fr.
G/F Bishop Mency, So.; (7.8/3.3/1.1/0.5/0.3)
G Marcus Jackson, Jr,; (14.5/3.5/2.7/0.8/0.1)
G Max Guercy, Sr.; (9.8/2.7/4.5/1.5/0.0)
Reserves: Egor Koulachev, Nate Pollard, Chad Lott, Marcus Evans
Postseason Prediction: None
It’s been hard times for the Rice Owls basketball program over the past, well, always really. The school has not earned a tourney birth since 1970 and has only made the big dance four times in their history. While it is hard to believe that streak breaks this season, there is at least some hope that the program is turning around. Rice returns everyone from a team that finished 8th in C-USA in 2014-15, save for leading scorer Seth Gearhart, and bring in several promising recruits to join the incumbent class.
The Owls last season relied almost solely on the three-point shot. They shot the second most threes in the country and actually shot phenomenally well given the volume of attempts (37.3% as a team – 58th nationally). Rice’s problems last season were turnovers and rebounding. The Owls were one of the worst teams in the nation in hanging onto the ball and allowing offensive rebounds. The good news is, Rice returns four starters that will have hopefully matured a little to help tighten up the ball control and boxing out. Marcus Jackson, the team’s returning leading scorer, will be most relied upon to provide consistent scoring. Jackson has a terrific season in 2014-15 posting a shooting slash of .438/.401/.824. The guard shoots a ton (202 three-point attempts last season) and that is just fine with Coach Mike Rhoades given his accuracy. The Owls also bring back point guard Max Guercy, wingman Bishop Mency, and center Andrew Drone. Guercy posted a 33.3 Assist Rate (45th in the country), but turned it over 22.2% of the time. The 5’9’’ guard does not miss from the line, but struggled last season to find his shot from deep. Mency saw ample playing time as a freshman last season; Rhoades hopes the 6’5’’ wing can reign in his turnovers (20.8% TO Rate) and improve on his solid 34.2% three-point percentage. Drone represents Rice’s only semblance of an actual rebounder. The 6’10’’ center ranked in the top 300 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage and finished well around the basket (55.6%). These four all have the ability to improve from their prior seasons and if they do, Rice will be a dangerous offensive team in C-USA.
The Owls actually recruited pretty well in 2015; they bring in 3-star SF Marquez Letcher-Ellis, 3-star SG Chad Lott, 2-star PG Marcus Evans, and Arizona State transfer Egor Koulachev. Letcher-Ellis is a product of the prestigious Montverde Academy in Florida and was recruited fairly heavily receiving offers from Oklahoma, Georgia, and VCU among others. Lott was also well-recruited receiving offers from LSU and Arizona State. Speaking, of the Devils, Koulachev comes by way of the Arizona school to offer depth in the Rice backcourt.
The Owls could be good this season and are a sleeper to finish in the top five of the conference and make a run in the postseason tournament. If 7’1’’ sophomore Nate Pollard can offer them anything inside when he spells Drone in the frontcourt, the Owls could be looking at their best season since 2005 when they went 19-12 in the WAC.
Key Losses: Pierria Henry, Torin Dorn, Mike Thorne, Terrence Williams, Willie Clayton
Key Returners: Braxton Ogbueze, Bernard Sullivan
Key Newcomers: Joseph Uchebo, Benas Griciunas, Curran Scott, Andrien White, Lukas Bergang
C Joseph Uchebo, Sr.; (w/ Pitt) (1.5/1.9/0.1/0.0/0.1)
F Bernard Sullivan, Sr.; (4.8/2.7/0.2/0.3/0.2)
F Ivan Benkovic, Jr.; (3.4/1.0/0.4/0.2/0.0)
G Curran Scott, Fr.;
G Braxton Ogbueze, Jr.; (9.6/2.3/1.7/0.9/0.0)
Reserves: Benas Griciunas, Andrien Scott, Lukas Bergang, Cameron Blakely
Postseason Prediction: None
Expectations were high in 2015-16 for the Charlotte 49ers following the end of a disappointing season with the potential returning of Torin Dorn, Mike Thorne, and Willie Clayton, a trio that was poised to be built around. Unfortunately, one by one, all three transferred. Womp womp. To make matters worse, Charlotte graduated two starters in Pierria Henry and Terrence Williams. What are left for Charlotte are one returning starter, three returning reserves, and a slew of newcomers.
The 49ers do at least have a new coach in former NBA point guard Mark Price. Price has no D1 collegiate coaching experience, but almost anyone has to be better than former coach Alan Major, who led the 49ers to a 75-81 record during his 5 year tenure and saw out at least one transfer per season during that run.
Braxton Ogbueze is the lone returning starter from the 2014-15 team and he will be joined in the starting lineup by key reserve Bernard Sullivan this season. Ogbueze shot ball very well last year for Charlotte (40.5%), but as his usage rate suggests, the guard was often more of an off-ball shooter and role player than a playmaker. Price will be counting on Ogbueze to pick up more of the ball-handling and playmaking slack this season. Sullivan was effective in limited minutes last year, providing decent rebounding and scoring. Like Ogbueze, his usage should skyrocket this season.
The newcomers will make or break this team. Price has one very promising freshman in guard Curran Scott, a top 150 prospect according to MaxPreps.com, who averaged 21 points per contest his senior season in high school. Scott should be immediately thrust into the lineup to pal with Ogbueze in the 49er backcourt. Two other freshmen, Andrien White and Lukas Bergang, contain promising potential as well. White is a point guard and brother of Nebraska forward Andrew White (5 inch height difference between the brothers – ouch), and Bergang is a 7-foot Swedish import who has spent time on the U-20, U-18, and U-16 Swedish national teams.
Two transfers eligible this season, Joseph Uchebo from Pitt and Benas Griciunas from Auburn, will also look to make a splash. Both big men were seldom used on their former D1 programs, but Uchebo performed well during his JUCO year and Griciunas has experience playing nationally for his native Lithuania U-20 national team. Returners Cameron Blakely and Ivan Benkovic will provide depth in the interior and on the wing.
Charlotte is a mystery of a team. They have a new coach and almost no consistency in personnel from prior year. I place them 8th on this list pre-season due solely to the fact that C-USA is a dumpster fire. They could end up last, and they certainly will not crack the top 5.
9. Texas San Antonio
Key Losses: Jeromie Hill, Keon Lewis, Kaj-Bjorn Sherman
Key Returners: Ryan Bowie, Gino Littles
Key Newcomers: Terrell Scruggs, Omer Aksu, Garrett Thibodeaux, A.J. Cockrell, Nick Allen, Nick Billingsley
F James Ringholdt, So.; (1.4/1.6/0.4/0.1/0.4)
F A.J. Cockrell, Fr.;
F Garrett Thibodeaux, Fr.;
G Ryan Bowie, Sr.; (13.0/5.8/1.9/1.2/0.3)
G Gino Littles, So.; (2.4/1.9/2.1/0.6/0.0)
Reserves: Omer Aksu, Nick Allen, Nick Billingsley, Terrell Scruggs, Christian Wilson, Phillip Jones
Postseason Prediction: None
Here’s an interesting fact (possibly the most interesting fact about UTSA); the Roadrunners were the 20th tallest team in the nation last season (effective height) and finished 291st in Blk % and were rejected more times on offense than literally every team in the country. “Soft” does not come anywhere close to describing the style of play exhibited by the Roadrunners last season. Coach Brooks Thompson and company hope the new injection of recruits can add a layer of toughness not displayed by a UTSA squad since 2012.
Lets talk departures. The Roadrunners lose three of their top four leading scorers in Jeromie Hill, Keon Lewis, and Kaj-Bjorn Sherman (excellent moniker). Replacing the production of these three will prove to be difficult for UTSA given that Ryan Bowie is the only returner who scored more than five points per contest in 2014-15. Bowie, a 6’1’’ senior, is a scoring off-guard who looks to pull the trigger early and often, in 2014-15 the guard 36.4% from three while pouring in twos at a rate of 53.8%. He also protected the rock well for his position and he will be looked upon by his teammates as a source of consistency this season.
Joining Bowie in the starting five is guard Gino Littles and James Ringholdt, two sophomores who saw critical minutes a year ago. Littles will look to expand his shooting game and improve his ball handling, as he will be counted on to take over much of the point duties left by the departed Keon Lewis. Ringholdt is a shooting big man, but if he can expand his 5.0 Blk% over a bigger sample size, he could be a valuable piece in the middle of the Roadrunner defense.
Freshmen will be the key for UTSA this season. Garrett Thibodeaux, a 6’8’’ former Air Force commit, will likely start from day one, as will highly regarded Oklahoma recruit A.J. Cockrell. Suring up the bench will be Turkish import Omer Aksu, who already has experience on his country’s U-16 and U-18 squads, 6’7’’ forward Nick Allen, and two JUCO recruits – Terrell Scruggs and Nick Billingsley. Of the returning reserves, Phillip Jones will look to rebound off a season-ending injury in 2014-15 following a promising freshman campaign and Christian Wilson will provide point guard depth.
The Roadrunners are a bottom-tier caliber team, but given the weakness of the C-USA lower half, they stand a fighter’s chance at a 9th place regular season finish.
Key Losses: Cheikh Sane
Key Returners: Ryan Taylor, Justin Edmonds, Austin Loop
Key Newcomers: James Kelly, Christian Thieneman
C Milan Mijovic, So.; (1.4/1.3/0.1/0.2/0.0)
F Ryan Taylor, Jr.; (14.1/8.6/2.8/0.9/0.8)
G Justin Edmonds, Sr.; (9.8/2.6/1.3/0.8/0.1)
G Austin Loop, Jr.; (11.3/2.3/0.8/1.0/0.1)
G Aleksa Nikolic, So.; (5.0/4.1/3.5/1.1/0.1)
Reserves: James Kelly, Christian Thieneman, Jon Elmore, Terrence Thompson
“Marshall! Marshall! Marshall!” (Hilarious pop-culture reference from the early 1970s). Coach Dan D’Antoni (presumably shocked like the rest of the world to find out Marshall also has a basketball program in addition to a fairly famous football program) is younger brother of the more famous Coach Mike D’Antoni will have his work cut out for him again this season at the helm of the Thundering Herd basketball program. D’Antoni loses an inefficient center and four or five reserves, but returns four starters, three of which displayed actual promise to develop into solid basketball players in 2014-15.
The Herd will be heavily dependent on the competent trio of Austin Loop, Ryan Taylor, and Justin Edmonds. Loop is a 6’4’’ junior and exclusively a trey bomber. The guard shot 200 three-pointers last season compared with only 40 two-pointers and 71 free throws. He also made a very high percentage of all those attempts - .550/.375/.887. Loop’s usage was very low considering he played 81.7% of his team’s minutes (the most out of any of his teammates) pointing even more so to the fact that Loop is a catch-and-shoot player only and strictly a three-point asset. Any development in any other supplementary categories would be a nice bonus (and surprise) for the Herd. Taylor is a 6’5’’ stretch-4 type of player, who shot poorly from three last season (26.8%) but led the Herd in both scoring and rebounding. In fact, Taylor was one of the better defensive rebounders in the country (23.9% DR%, 46th nationally), but that was most likely helped by his teammates’ anemic rebounding numbers as Marshall was one of the bottom-100 rebounding teams in the country last year. Edmonds shot 36.1% from three last season, the only true statistical value he brought to the Herd in 2014-15. The fourth returning starter is Aleksa Nikolic, who posted an O-Rating 66.5, which is laughably awful, hence his prior exclusion from the “competent returner” group. Though the point guard did have a solid assist rate, he turned the ball over a ridiculous 31.4% of the time and shot 31.8% from two and 18.3% from three. Needless to say, there is nowhere for Nikolic’s game to go but up.
James Kelly, a transfer from Miami, will challenge for a starting spot and seldom-used Milan Mijovic will fill in at the open center spot in the rotation. The Herd’s bench will be made up of a slew of freshmen and transfers (6 freshmen, 1 JUCO transfer, 1 VMI transfer). Christian Thieneman has the best shot at becoming a regular rotation member early on.
The Thundering Herd will be more like the Tip-Toeing Herd in 2015-16, a bottom 4 finish is likely.
11. Florida International
Key Losses: Dennis Mavin, Adrian Diaz, Dominique WIlliams
Key Returners: Daviyon Draper, Ray Rodriguez
Key Newcomers: Eric Turner, Donte McGill, Cameron Smith, Elmo Stephen, Kimar Williams
C Michael Phillip, Sr.; (0.6/1.0/0.2/0.0/0.4)
F Elmo Stephen, Jr.; (JUCO)
F Daviyon Draper, Sr.; (8.7/5.1/1.1/1.6/0.7)
G Ray Rodriguez, Jr.; (4.8/1.8/1.6/0.4/0.0)
G Kimar Williams, Fr.;
Reserves: Eric Turner, Donte McGill, Cameron Smith, Jason Boswell, Tashan Deswir
Postseason Prediction: None
Florida International basketball is an interesting program, not so much because of its players, but because of its coaches. Current coach Anthony Evans led the charge for the 2012 Norfolk State team that upended the 2-seed Missouri Tigers. Before Evans, Richard Pitino, the current Minnesota coach, manned the ship for a season, and prior to Pitino the school had three blissful years of Isaiah Thomas. Thomas won a total of 26 games while coaching the Panthers, adding to the legacy of his illustrious post-NBA career. Evans had a fairly successful season (relatively) last year, leading FIU to a 16-17 record with 8 conference wins.
FIU loses a lot of fire power from 2014-15, including their two best players Dennis Mavin and Adrian Diaz, and starter Dominique Williams. The Panthers return two starters – Ray Rodriguez and Daviyon Draper – the latter of which will take over the role of “go-to guy” this season. Draper was a solid defender for the Panthers last year, averaging 2.3 “stocks” per game and was also the team’s third leading scorer. While he maintained so-so shooting numbers, the wing was often prone to turnovers, lowering his O-Rating to a measly 90.4. Rodriguez didn’t fair too much better and when I look over his numbers, I really can’t see what value he adds to this team.
How well the six newcomers fair this season will make or break FIU. Chief among the recruits is JUCO transfer Elmo Stepehn who should add scoring on the block to a team that finished 312th in adjusted offense a season ago. Kamir Williams is a promising freshman point guard from Philadelphia who should compete for a starting role immediately. Eric Turner is the “gem” of the recruiting class; the 3-star small forward averaged 24 points per game as a high-schooler and received interest from the likes of Alabama, Rhode Island, and Texas Tech.
The Panthers may struggle early finding their chemistry with so many incoming faces, but Coach Evans is solid and if they find their rhythm, they could be a tough matchup for teams in conference play.
12. North Texas
Key Losses: Jordan Williams, Colin Voss, T.J. Taylor
Key Returners: Jeremy Combs
Key Newcomers: Rickey Brice, Eric Katenda, J’Mychal Reese, Allante Houston, Deckie Johnson
C Rickey Brice, Fr.;
F Jeremy Combs, So.; (10.0/6.7/0.3/0.9/0.7)
G/F Deckie Johnson, Jr.; (JUCO)
G DeAndre Harris, Jr.; (6.9/2.4/1.0/0.8/0.1)
G J’Mychal Reese, Jr.; (w/ A&M) (7.0/2.0/1.0/0.5/0.3)
Reserves: Allante Houston, Eric Katenda, Todd Eaglin, Greg White-Pittman
Postseason Prediction: None
Despite their awesome nickname, I don’t have much to say about the Mean Green. The squad, like FIU above, loses much of its production from prior year. Gone are leading scorer Jordan Williams and two other major contributors, Colin Voss and T.J. Taylor. In addition, Maurice Aniefolk, a starte for UNT for much of the year, leaves as well. All in all, North Texas returns one lone starter from their 14-17 (8-10) 2014-15 squad.
That one starter is Jeremy Combs, who will be relied upon as the leader of the team and its #1 option on offense – and he’s only a sophomore. Combs had a really nice freshman campaign averaging 10 points per game while shooting 53.7% from the floor and posting a top 150 OR% and top 315 DR%. Combs also got to the line a ton; unfortunately he converted only 47.8% of his tries from there (64/134) which HAS to change if the Mean Green mean business.
Aside from Combs, North Texas will be heavily reliant on its plethora of incoming transfers and freshmen. J’Mychal Reese from Texas A&M will likely take over much of the ball handling duties, while Eric Katenda from Notre Dame will look to provide solid depth in the frontcourt behind Combs. Deckie Johnson, a JUCO wing player could be an x-factor and should be counted on to provide big minutes all season.
The freshmen class features 7-footer and 3-star recruit Ricky Brice, who will start from day one for the Green. Big, good centers are scarce in Conference USA and if Brice plays to his potential, he could be dominating this league in a year or two. He has a wide body and pushes his weight around with high effectiveness. Joining Brice is 2-star wing Allante (not Allan) Houston. Houston should see plenty of time off the bench spelling returning guard DeAndre Harris, Reese, and Johnson.
The Mean Green look to be headed for a bottom feeder year in C-USA. However, the combination of Combs and Brice has the potential to make up one of the better frontcourts in the conference, so if UNT can get any semblance of three-point shooting (as they have absolutely NONE returning), this team could be a sleeper to finish in the middle of the pack. Wishful thinking aside, I’m thinking we see an 11th or 12th place finish with the potential to grow by leaps and bound in 2016-17.
13. Florida Atlantic
Key Losses: Justin Massey, Kelvin Penn
Key Returners: Solomon Poole, Maquan Botley
Key Newcomers: Ronald Delph, Jeantal Cylla, Adonis Filer, Jesse Hill, Michael Reed
C C.J. Turman, So.; (5.8/3.3/0.2/0.2/0.6)
F Javier Lacunza, Sr.; (3.4/1.8/0.1/0.2/0.0)
G Jackson Trapp, Sr.; (10.1/3.2/0.9/1.0/0.4)
G Solomon Poole, Sr.; (12.5/3.0/2.2/0.8/0.2)
G Marquan Botley, Jr.; (13.1/2.2/3.9/0.4/0.0)
Reserves: Ronald Delph, Jeantal Cylla, Adonis Filer, Jesse Hill, Michael Reed
Postseason Prediction: None
I’ll start off by saying this – Florida Atlantic was a bad basketball team last season. The Owls managed a measly 2 wins in a weak Conference USA and tallied 9 overall for the year. Part of this was probably due to lack of experience, both with the players and first year coach Michael Curry. The Owls were pretty much garbage in every aspect last season except for one key metric – defending the three point shot. FAU was incredibly the 9th best team in the nation at defending the three allowing only 29.9% of its opponents’ deep shots to fall through the bottom of the net. So at least Coach Curry has something to build off.
FAU loses only two contributors from last year’s train wreck and brings in a healthy crew of transfers and freshmen to help turn the program around. The focal point of the offense, as it was last season, will be the backcourt trio of Solomon Poole, Marquan Botley, and Jackson Trapp. All three guards averaged in double figures last season and Botley and Trapp turned in fairly efficient years. Poole on the other hand, a former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket, was on of the most inefficient players in the conference in 2014-15. The 6’0’’ guard used a ridiculous 32.4% of his team’s possessions and took 34.4% of his team’s shots while he was on the floor (both ranked 8th nationally). The problem was Poole wasn’t great at shooting or protecting the rock – he put up a shooting slash of .335/.340/.636 while turning the ball over 22% of the time. Reining him in a bit will be a priority for Curry. Botley had a better year for the Owls putting up a slash of .395/.345/.770 while owning a 28.1 Assist Rate and turning the ball over 14.5% of the time as the team’s primary ball handler. Trapp had beautiful shooting percentages (.533/.400/.818) playing off the ball in the Owl offense.
Center C.J. Turman returns for his sophomore year to provide FAU with some rebounding and a bit of shot blocking, as does reserve big man Javier Lacunza, who’s not so great at the whole defense thing but adds a nice punch to the offense.
Two incoming transfers will impact the rotation immediately – Ronald Delph from Auburn and Adonis Filer from Clemson. Delph redshirted for Auburn his freshman year, so he never saw court time, but the dude is 7-feet tall so hopefully he can do something worthwhile. Filer was a reserve during his two seasons at Clemson, but the guard showed the ability to handle the ball and shoot from range in his time at the ACC school. JUCO transfer Michael Reed could add some nice defensive prowess to the front line of the Owls as well.
The freshman class is highlighted by Jeantal Cylla, a well-recruited swingman out of Florida, and Jesse Hill, a 6’8” power forward from New Jersey. Both should add depth to the Owl rotation early.
FAU will be better this season, but it remains to be seen if they can bust out of the C-USA cellar and mix it up with the second tier teams in the league.
14. Southern Mississippi
Key Losses: Chip Armelin, Matt Bingaya
Key Returners: Norville Carey
Key Newcomers: Tim Rowe, Robert Thomas, Lorenzo Bonam, Michael Ramey, Raheem Watts, Cortez Edwards
C Tim Rowe, Fr.;
F Norville Carey, Sr.; (10.8/5.6/0.8/0.9/0.9)
G Lorenzo Bonam,, Jr.; (JUCO)
G Keljin Blevins, So.; (1.8/1.8./0.8/0.3/0.1)
G Kevin Holland, So.; (1.4/1.4/1.7/0.6/0.0)
Reserves: Michael O’Donnell, Robert Thomas, Michael Ramey, Rasheem Watts, Cortez Edwards
Postseason Prediction: None
Southern Miss was a legitimate basketball program under Larry Eustachy and then Donnie Tyndall. From 2007 – 2014 the Golden Eagles won 20 games or more six times. Sadly, once Tyndall departed for Tennessee, Southern Miss basketball took a giant leap backwards. Now under Doc Sadler’s command, the former Nebraska coach, and coming off a 9 win season, the Golden Eagles are staring at another rebuilding year that could result in a finish even worse than prior year.
For starters, the Golden Eagles lose six players including leading scorer Chip Armelin and second leading scorer Matt Bingaya, the latter of which transferred to prestigious Fairmont State. The only returning player of note is walk-on turned starting forward Norville Carey, who poured in ten points per contest a season ago. Carey, a senior from the British Virgin Islands, was an excellent rebounder and shot blocker for Southern Miss last season and finished well around the basket (57.5%). Joining Carey and returning as the team’s starting point guard will be Kevin Holland, a nearly invisible contributor who turned the ball over a whopping 41.9% of the time (Southern Miss as a team turned the ball over 22.2% of the time in 2014-15, good for 330th nationally).
The Golden Eagles do bring back role players like Keljin Blevins and Michael O’Donnell, but will largely be an inexperienced and pieced together squad with a plethora of newcomers. 6’9’’ center Tim Rowe is easily Southern Miss’s best recruit. Rowe is a 3-star out of Georgia and will likely start alongside Carey from day one. The Eagles also bring in two point guards, Cortez Edwards and Robert Thomas, both of whom should challenge the turnover-crazy Holland for playing time.
Three JUCO transfers, Lorenzo Bonam, Rasheem Watts, and Michael Ramey could be bright spots for the Eagle program. Bonam is a former Utah-commit who should provide an immediate spark for the Eagles on the wing. Watts is a 6’7’’ forward with nice athleticism and Ramey is a true shooting guard who averaged 13 points per game for his JUCO last season.
Southern Miss likely finishes dead last this year in C-USA. Perhaps in 5 years we may be talking about this program being solid again, but almost certainly not before that.