Conference USA Preview

Conference USA Preview
Nov 06, 2006, 01:59 am

-1. MEMPHIS. The Tigers lost Darius Washington and Shawne Williams to the pros. Rodney Carney is gone from the team as well. They do appear to once again be the best team in C-USA, but they aren’t likely to be a top five team all season long as they were last year. They do have plenty of guys ready to step up and take their place and Memphis will continue to be a player on the national scene. Freshmen Willie Kemp (guard) and Pierre Niles (forward) will be looked on to contribute right away. They should have a strong backcourt with the likes of Christ Douglas-Roberts and Antonio Anderson becoming likely starters. They are also very well coached and rely a lot on their athleticism.

-2. HOUSTON. The Cougars were definitely in the tournament picture last year and just one or two more regular season wins may have been enough to get them in. They will contend for the NCAA field of 65 again this year. They have an excellent backcourt with Oliver Lafayette (15.7ppg) and Lanny Smith (12.7ppg) returning to the lineup. Jahmar Thorpe and Lamar Roberson should be a presence in the frontcourt as well. One of the problems Houston had last year was consistency. They would step up and beat a big time team such as Arizona, but then struggle (and sometimes lose) to a team from a low level conference. If they can correct that they will be dancing this year.

-3. RICE. The Owls are a potential dark horse in this league. Although they won just twelve games a year ago and faultered down the stretch, they have a tremendous amount of talent at the guard position. Morris Almond is one of the best guards in the country who opted to come back to Rice rather than go to the NBA. He will be a huge part in their success this year. Unfortunately, no one else on the squad is quite as good as he is. Lorenzo Williams is the other guard and he is as good at distributing the basketball as anyone else in the conference. The real key for this team to be successful is for someone to step up in the front court. They do have Marius Cracium, who was an outstanding JUCO player a season ago. If he can contribute than this team could end up being better than most people expect. They are also well coached. Willis Wilson has done a lot in the way of building this program up.

-4. UCF. The Golden Knights were a standout team in the Atlantic Sun for a few years and were a modest 7-7 in their first year in C-USA. They appear to be climbing the ladder though and should improve upon that this year. They were a strong defensive team a year ago and with JUCO transfer Stanley Billings on the roster, they appear to have a pretty solid frontcourt. Josh Peppers is also a very good guard who is great from beyond the arc. They will have a hard time competing with the likes of Houston and Memphis, but they should be able to hold their own against the rest of the league.

-5. UTEP. The Miners won 20 regular season games last season and finished third in the league, but they underwent a coaching change and lost three starters. Kevin Henderson returns at point guard, but other than that the Miners are inexperienced all the way around and will have to rely on new players to carry the load. This is a team that has always been strong defensively and that should be a strong point for them again this year, but making the NCAA Tournament will be very difficult for them.

-6. UAB. The Blazers lost two very talented guards in Squeaky Johnson and Marvett McDonald. They also lost head coach Mike Anderson to Missouri, but replaced him with Mike Davis (formerly of Indiana). This is a team who has been to three straight NCAA Tournaments and is looking to get back to their fourth, but with Johnson, McDonald and five other players gone this could be a rebuilding year for the Blazers. There is still some talent though. Paul Delaney and Wen Mukubu should give them a pretty good perimeter, but other than that they don’t appear to have any proven players and could struggle mightily this year.

-7. TULSA. The Golden Hurricane were a good defensive team last year, but were one of the worst offensive teams in the country. They shoot poorly from the field and that is something they’ll need to correct if they want to continue their improvement. The good news is that four starters are back from last year’s team. Charles Randall and Darold Crow are two good forwards that make up a strong front court. Still, someone needs to step up as an offensive threat if the Hurricanes are going to be a factor in the conference.

-8. MARSHALL. The Thundering Herd won twelve games last year, which is twice as many as they were able to win in the previous season. They were horrendous on offense, but defended well enough to get the wins that they did. Chris Williams is a JUCO transfer guard who the Herd will turn to in order to jumpstart their offense. Daryl Merthy, who was ineligible last year, is on the squad this year. He was an outstanding high school player and although this is his first year of college ball he will play a big role on this year’s team.

-9. TULANE. The good news is that the Green Wave are back on campus this year for all of their home games. Recruiting has been a struggle for obvious reasons, and they will have to find a way to replace center Quincy Davis, who was a great all around player for them last year. Forward David Gomez was a contributor last year who averaged in double figures. He’ll need to step up big in the front court this year. Robinson Louisme should also step up underneath. They don’t appear to have much in the way of guard play and that will definitely be a factor.

-10. SMU. The biggest news for the Mustangs is the Matt Doherty has taken over as head coach. He was successful in his one year at Florida Atlantic, but he really has his work cut out for him here. They lost their leading scorer and top player Bryan Hopkins and don’t really seem to have anyone who can step up and take his place. They lost nine of their last twelve, and the combination of that and the fact that their best player is gone could make it a long year for SMU. Still, Matt Doherty is very energetic and I wouldn’t be surprised if he can turn them around the same way he turned around Florida Atlantic.

-11. EAST CAROLINA. The Pirates were one of the worst teams in college basketball last season and won just two conference games. Only four players are back from that team, but three of them were starters. Head coach Ricky Stokes yanked eight scholarships away from players that would have been returning to this year’s team. That’s one way to open up some roster spots in the hopes of getting better players I guess. Guards Sam Hinnant and Jeremy Ingram both averaged in double figures last year and should give the Pirates a solid and experienced backcourt. Courtney Captain may likely be starting at guard in a three guard offense. He was rather productive last season as well. They don’t have any proven front court players. If this team is going to improve from last season some of the seven newcomers will have to step up and contribute. If that doesn’t happen then the ECU athletic director may yank Coach Stokes’s job out from under him the same way he took the scholarships away from the other eight players.

-12. SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI. The Golden Eagles have nine new players on their roster, but that may not be a bad thing since they were so poor the previous season. Courtney Beasley is the only starter who is returning to the starting lineup. He averaged in double figures last year and they will be heavily dependent on him for leadership this year. The only way Southern Miss will have a big year is if some of the new guys can step it up.


-For those that missed my first blog entry, each conference preview will also include a random order of finish. It sounds just like what it is. Teams are drawn at random and placed in order. The purpose for this is to demonstrate that at the end of the season, generally every single major and minor media preseason preview (including my own) isn’t all that more accurate than simply randomly picking the teams.

1. Memphis
2. UAB
3. Tulsa
4. Tulane
5. SMU
7. Marshall
8. Houston
9. UCF
10. Rice
11. Southern Mississippi
12. East Carolina

-Please feel free to send me feedback at, whether it’s good or bad. Some conferences are harder to research and write about than other conferences, so every comment and critique helps so long as it’s constructive.

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