BX Conference USA Preview

BX Conference USA Preview
Oct 25, 2007, 10:50 am

-Between the 2002-2003 season and 2004-2005 season, Conference USA sent 14 teams to the NCAA Tournament and two teams to the Final Four, making it one of the top elite conferences in the country. Unfortunately, 10 of those 14 teams were Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, De Paul and Charlotte who have all since left the league. Memphis and UAB have been the only teams to make the NCAA Tournament since the conference obtained its current lineup. However, Memphis has been to back-to-back Elite Eights and the league appears to be on the rise as a whole. It isn’t as good as a major conference from top to bottom, but it is good enough to send multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis.

-All the teams in the league have at least three starters returning from last season and just about every team looks like they’ve improved.

-Memphis is 35-1 against Conference USA teams since the league acquired its current lineup.


-MEMPHIS looks like they have a Final Four caliber team, and they aren’t just my preseason pick to win the league, but my preseason pick to win the National Championship. It’s as if everyone in their starting line-up, and even a player or two coming off the bench, could some day play in the NBA. Talent isn’t everything, but this team has more than just talent. With four starters coming back from a team that went to the Elite Eight last season, they are used to playing together. Guard Chris Douglas-Roberts led the team in scoring last year, and shot over 52% from the floor. Antonio Anderson joins him out on the perimeter, who is another good scorer who can also distribute the basketball. In addition to that, freshman Derrick Rose joins the squad, who was one of the top rated high-school players in the country last year and many believe will be on to the NBA as soon as next year. The three of them make up one of the greatest backcourts in the country. In the post, forward Joey Dorsey grabbed just under 10rpg a season ago and Robert Dozier proved to be an effective scorer and rebounder as well. This team is absolutely loaded and will be undermatched by just about everyone in the league. However, with a brutal out of conference schedule and the fact that there are several teams in the conference that are improved, Memphis should be very battle tested by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around. Remember, they are the biggest game on the schedule for just about every C-USA team, and when they have to go on the road and play against a team who’s fighting for a tournament spot it won’t be easy.

-Prior to last season UAB had been to three straight NCAA Tournaments, and advanced to the second round or beyond in two of them. The 15-16 season the Blazers posted last year was kind of a disappointment, but this year should be much different. Don’t be surprised if we see the Blazers in the Top 25 this year. Channing Toney (Georgia)Walter Sharpe (Mississippi State) and Robert Vaden (Indiana) are three transfers who will most likely be big time contributors this season. Three starters are also back, including guard Paul Delany who averaged over 15ppg and is terrific at distributing the basketball, and forward Lawrence Kinnard, who is a good scorer and rebounder. If that wasn’t enough, the Blazers have three very talented freshmen who join the roster along with the three transfer players. Together, they make up what is considered a top ten recruiting class by many.

-HOUSTON advanced to the conference championship game last year and is definitely on the move this year. They were 18-15 a year ago, and although they did lose two of their better players, three starters are back along with a pretty good recruiting class. Guard Lanny Smith missed most of last season with an injury, but is back at full strength this year and should be a big contributor. He is joined by Dion Dowell and Robert McKiver out on the perimeter, both of whom averaged double figures last year. Marcus Cousins, a transfer from Seton Hall, should give the Cougars some strength underneath as well. They are pretty much stacked at the guard position, and if they can get some production underneath we’ll probably see this team making some noise in March.

-SOUTHERN MISS had a very young team last year, but managed to go 9-7 in the league and win 20 games overall. That is a tremendous improvement for a team that had really been struggling as of late. They return just about all of their players, including guard Jeremy Wise, who averaged over 17ppg last season. With all of that experience this team should be able to continue to improve. Head coach Larry Eustachy has been playing a weak schedule since he arrived, and that’s probably to just get the team used to winning again. The schedule appears to be weak again this year, which is good for their win total, but bad when it comes to building a resume for either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. If they can finish at or near the top of the standings they’ll get strong consideration, but with Memphis, Houston and UAB that won’t be easy.

-TULANE finished the season strong last year by winning eight of their last ten before losing in the conference semifinals. It was their first winning season since 2001 and with four starters coming back there is reason to be excited again this year. David Gomez is a strong presence inside, and although they lost Chris Moore out on the perimeter, they have freshman Johnny Mayhane to replace him who is a good shooter that missed last season due to an injury.

-After winning just 11 games in 2005-06, TULSA managed to win 20 games last season, and with four starters coming back the Golden Hurricane should be even better this year. They missed the postseason last year, but this year’s team should at the very least make the NIT if they stay healthy. One of their problems last year was that they averaged over 16 turnovers a game. If they can cut down on that then it will make them that much better.

-UCF, like a lot of teams in the league, has quite a bit of talent coming back. They did lose two players who averaged double digits, but three other starters are back along with some guys who contributed off the bench. Guards Mike O’Donnell and Jermaine Taylor make up a pretty experienced and talented backcourt. In addition to being a good scorer O’Donnell also led the team in steals (48) last season. If there is an area where they are unproven it is in the post, but if they can find someone to step up they should be a pretty strong team.

-After three straight appearances in the postseason, UTEP was just 14-17 last year. Head coach Tony Barbee did a little bit of housecleaning during the offseason and has brought in a fairly talented recruiting class. It isn’t likely that they’ll be able to compete for a conference championship right away, but the building blocks are there for the future. Guard Stefon Jackson is back, who averaged just under 19ppg and grabbed 6rpg despite the fact that he was a guard. The team should be improved, but I still don’t see them playing in the postseason.

-RICE needs to find a way to replace Morris Almond, who is now in the NBA. Four starters are back, but Almond was definitely the biggest contributor and the rest of the team will have to step up to make up for his absence. Even without Almond the Owls should be able to field a competitive team. They do have some experience and if Bryan Beasley, a Texas A&M transfer, is allowed to play this year they should be okay. I don’t think they’ll make the postseason, but Willis Wilson is an excellent head coach and if someone can step up they should end up winning more games than they lose.

-SMU got off to a 9-1 start last year, and new head coach Matt Doherty looked like a genius for finally giving Mustang hoops fans something to be excited about. Unfortunately, he won just five games the entire rest of the way and finished 3-13 in C-USA. Still, the program seems to be headed in the right direction. Five freshmen join the roster this year, which make up Dohterty’s first recruiting class. Several of those guys should see significant minutes. SMU fans need to be patient because with so much youth the team could be inconsistent, but the potential is there and it looks as if the program is moving in the right direction.

-MARSHALL sent head coach Ron Jirsa packing after several sub-par seasons. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the country last year and that resulted in the Herd losing 19 games. New head coach Donnie Jones seems to be making some improvements. A few transfers will join the roster next year, but as for this year they don’t have all that many weapons. Forward Markel Humphrey and guard Mark Dorris should make for a decent inside-outside combo, but other than that the team is lacking in weapons.

-EAST CAROLINA is a program that appears to be in complete disarray. They won just six games last season, and half of those were against nondiv1 teams. They opted to fire head coach Ricky Stokes after just one season and after he’d cleaned house by dismissing eight players from the team, but they waited until August to do it. That gave new head coach Mack MacCarthy virtually no time in the offseason make any major moves. The good news is that four starters are coming back, and one of them is guard Darrell Jenkins who is one of the few players on the team that’s any good. The team should be better, but in saying that one must acknowledge that it would be hard for them to be any worse.

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