Sunday, April 10, 2011

2011-12 Preview: Mid Majors, Part III

Atlantic Ten Conference

This was a slightly disappointing season for the Atlantic Ten. The top of the conference was about where you'd expect it to be: three teams made the NCAA Tournament, and all three deserved at-large bids (Richmond got the auto bid, but deserved an at-large if it had come to that), and won about what their seeds expected them to win (two games combined). But I was disappointed in the depth of the conference. Saint Louis wasn't half the team I expected them to be (off-the-court issues were a major problem for them), and teams like Rhode Island and Dayton also disappointed. The only other team remotely near the bubble was Duquesne, and they were done in by horrific luck (more on them in a moment).

I'll begin my preview with Xavier, since they won the conference's regular season title. Xavier loses Jamel McLean (10.6 ppg, 53.9% shooting, 8.4 rpg) and Dante' Jackson (7.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.0 apg) to graduation, but it does look like Tu Holloway (19.7 ppg, 50.0 eFG%, 5.4 apg) will come back for his senior season. The loss of McLean isn't killer because of the development of 7-footer Kenny Frease (11.7 ppg, 54.9% shooting, 7.1 rpg). Jeff Robinson is another good interior playing returning, and guard Mark Lyons returns from the starting lineup. The team will also get back Brad Renford, who averaged 5.2 ppg with a 44.4 3P% in his first two seasons before missing the 2010-11 season with injury. Two of their top 2010 recruits (Jay Canty and Jordan Latham) did not get to play much as true freshmen and will both transfer out. The best 2010 recruit of all, swing forward Justin Martin, had to sit out the 2010-11 season because of academic issues but is expected to return to the team for the 2011-12 season. Their 2011 recruiting class has three more really good recruits in Darwin Davis (Scout: 24 PG, Rivals: 120), Jalen Reynolds (Scout: 24 PF) and Dezmine Wells (Scout: 10 SF, Rivals: 66). Davis might be the most important recruit if he can take some of the ball handling pressure off of Tu Holloway. The team should be very athletic, and getting Renford back and hitting threes will really open their offense up. They could be even better next season than they were this past season.

Temple finished one game back in the regular season standings, although their fans can blame that partially on luck in scheduling. They played only one game all season with Xavier, and it was played at Xavier. Temple fans surely believe that if the game was played at their place they'd have won. They lose one senior to graduation: Lavoy Allen (11.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.8 bpg). With Juan Fernandez (11.2 ppg, 3.9 apg) back at the point, and Ramone Moore (15.2 ppg, 38.3 3P%, 3.1 apg) and Khalif Wyatt (10.1 ppg, 42.1 3P%) as well, the backcourt will remain very good. They also return starters Rhalir Jefferson and Scootie Randall, who are both swing forwards that can score. But without Allen, the team's center position is a question mark. Michael Eric (7.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.6 bpg) was Allen's backup in 2010-11, and they also will get back 6'9" Craig Williams, who was in the rotation in 2009-10 but had to take a redshirt in 2010-11 because of injury. Another prospect is Anthony Lee, a 2010 recruit who also took a redshirt for 2010-11. Their top 2011 recruit is Will Cummings, a point guard who will be groomed to eventually take over for Juan Fernandez. I think they have enough options at forward that somebody will be able to step up and provide a decent percentage of what Lavoy Allen provided. Their backcourt will be even better, and Temple's sound defensive philosophy under Fran Dunphy will stay the same. I expect them to be better next season.

The final NCAA Tournament team was Richmond, and they were robbed with that 12 seed. I thought they deserved something in the 7-9 range. But it worked out for them, because after knocking off Vanderbilt in the Round of 64 they were rewarded with Morehead State. A win there got them to the Sweet 16, where they finally went down to Kansas. But this was a team that started four seniors, so it's going to be a year of transition for them. Three of those four graduating seniors shot 41% or better behind the arc, and they were the core of Richmond's outside shooting offense. They led the A-10 in 3P%, but were 13th in offensive rebounding percentage. Richmond's one returning starter, Darien Brothers, is also a good shooter (40.8 3P%). Cedrick Lindsay and Wayne Sparrow (who redshirt 2010-11) will also be key backcourt returners. None of them are true point guards, though, so Chris Mooney is going to have to find an answer there (perhaps from 2011 recruit Kendall Anthony). In the frontcourt, their top returners are Francis-Cedric Martel (4.6 ppg, 38.5 3P%, 3.6 rpg) and Darrius Garrett (1.9 ppg and 4.1 rpg in only 12.8 mpg). Derrick Williams played sparingly as a true freshman but is a good prospect as well. The 2011 recruiting class features two quality bigs as well: Alonzo Nelson-Odds (offers from Cal, NC State and Wake Forest) and Luke Pitrowski (offers from Maryland and Arizona State). The development of that young talent will determine if this is a reloading or rebuilding season.

Duquesne was a lot better than most people realized in 2010-11. They were 1-10 in games decided by single digits and 18-3 in games that weren't. They were rated 344th (out of 345 teams) in Pomeroy Luck. They lose their two leading scorers (Bill Clark and Damian Saunders) to graduation, but the team was relatively young otherwise, including two true freshmen in the starting lineup. Of those freshmen, the most important is TJ McConnell (10.8 ppg, 40.2 3P%, 4.4 apg, 2.8 spg), who has seized the point guard position and is also a strong perimeter defender. Mike Talley, BJ Monteiro and Sean Johnson are other solid perimeter scorers. The biggest need for Duquesne is rebounding, where they were 11th in the A-10 in offensive rebounding percentage, and dead last (14th) in defensive rebounding percentage. Joel Wright (9.7 rebounds per 40 minutes played) can get after the boards, but is only 6'6" and cannot play center. The best prospect is probably Derrick Martin, who was redshirted in 2010-11 but is expected to play a big role next year. Their top 2011 recruit, Rashore Grant, is also 6'8". Assuming that Duquesne's luck evens out, they don't really need to get much better to be in contention for an at-large bid next season.

Saint Louis was a team that came into the season thinking about an at-large bid, but their plans fell apart in October when stars Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed were involved in an off-the-court incident that got them both booted out of school. Both players returned to the school for the spring semester. Mitchell chose to take a redshirt year so he wouldn't waste a year of eligibility on what was already a ruined season, and he should be back next year. Reed, however, was never reinstated, and he's been reportedly kicked out of the school for good now. Losing Reed is tough, but Mitchell is a really high scoring player to get back (15.9 ppg in 2009-10). And the team loses nobody, with zero seniors and two juniors on the entire roster. Four true freshmen made huge marks on the team in 2010-11. Jordair Jett and Mike McCall both handled the point well at times (a combined 5.4 assists per game), and should do even better with a year of seasoning. Rob Loe, a 6'11" recruit from New Zealand, made an immediate impact (6.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg), as did swing forward Dwayne Evans (8.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Those four players were all among the top six scorers on the team. Kwamain Mitchell will have two years of eligibility left as well. So while this past season was a big hiccup in the plans of Rick Majerus to restore Saint Louis, he should be back on track next season, and should be even better the year after that.

Dayton was receiving a lot of hype early in the season after they beat George Mason, New Mexico, Seton Hall and Ole Miss, but the computers were not as impressed and they fell back to the mean during conference play, finishing only 7-9 in the A-10. They did beat Xavier in the A-10 tournament and made it all the way to the finals, but fell behind early to Richmond and were unable to make it that close. They lose star Chris Wright (13.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg), but return the rest of their top six minute earners. True freshman Juwan Staten (8.5 ppg, 5.4 apg) lived up huge expectations, and should be a leading playmaker in the A-10 for the next three years. Their biggest need is in the paint, where they're a capable rebounding team but do not have any post offense. They finished 13th in the A-10 in 2P% shooting. One option will be their top 2011 recruit, Percy Gibson, who supposedly has some post moves.

Rhode Island had a disappointing season and loses three starters to graduation, including star Delroy James. But they do add a couple of quality transfers in Andre Malone (11.9 ppg during the first half of 2010-11 for Auburn, who should be eligible for the second semester for 2011-12 for Rhode Island) and Billy Baron (Jim Baron's son, transferring in from Virginia). PJ Lockridge, a very good 2010 recruit, did not qualify academically to play in 2010-11, but I believe should be playing in 2011-12. Their 2011 recruiting class is led by wing Trahson Burrell and forward Jonathan Holton. George Washington was a sleeper team this past season, sneaking up on everybody finishing in a tie for fourth in the standings. They won five of their final six regular season games, and return their top five minute earners from this past season. An up-and-coming player to keep an eye on is 6'8" Nemanja Mikic (8.1 ppg, 43.6 3P% and 60.2 eFG as a true freshman). Karl Hobbs also has a blue chip in his 2011 class in the form of Erik Copes (Scout: 5 C, Rivals: 110). So they should be even better next season.

In the end, here's how I see the Atlantic Ten playing out:

1. Temple
2. Xavier
3. Saint Louis
4. Duquesne
5. George Washington
6. Dayton

Colonial Athletic Association

The story of the Colonial Athletic Association has to be VCU, because the way that they flipped a switch when the NCAA Tournament began was something I've never seen before. You can read my Final Four preview to see some of the remarkable stats from VCU's run. In my opinion, it was pretty clear that VCU was by far the worst team given an at-large bid, and also was the single best team during the first two weeks of the NCAA Tournament. That previous sentence is probably something we'll never see again in our lives. And let's not let VCU's success overshadow how good the rest of the conference was. VCU finished in fourth place, after all. Both Old Dominion and George Mason were single-digit seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and deserved them. George Mason beat Villanova before getting thrashed by Ohio State. Old Dominion probably should have beaten Butler, but fell on a buzzer beater.

It's hard to believe that VCU's run was anything other than a once-in-a-lifetime streak. This was a team that lost their final four regular season conference games, including a home loss to James Madison on Senior Night. Shaka Smart is a good coach, and I agree with his decision not to take the NC State job (it's almost impossible for any coach to satisfy the unreal expectations of their fan base), but I'm not ready to name him among the nation's best coaches yet. I don't need to see him get back to the Final Four, but I still want to see more from him before rendering a verdict. VCU changed their starting lineup around at times, but they had five players that earned 25 minutes per game or more, and four of them graduate. Jamie Skeen was the team's best player, although their most important player might have been Joey Rodriguez, since he was the engine of their uptempo offense. Brandon Rozzell and Ed Nixon are the other two graduates. Who's left? Their starting point guard next year should be Darius Theus (3.0 ppg, 2.1 apg, 1.0 spg), and they return Rob Brandenberg and Troy Daniels in the backcourt as well. Their one returning starter is Bradford Burgess (14.3 ppg, 57.8 eFG%, 6.3 rpg), a wing player. They also return bigs Juvonte Reddic, Toby Veal and DJ Haley. A really important player will be Reco McCarter, a win who chose VCU over Clemson, Virginia Tech and Boston College in 2010 and was redshirt in 2010-11 because of how deep the team was. If he can live up to expectations then, along with Theus, Rozzell and Veal, Shaka Smart is still going to have a talented, athletic core to work with. Their 2011 recruiting class has shooting guard Briante Weber and wing Traveon Graham. VCU will be a hard team to project for next season. How real was the NCAA Tournament run? Only time will tell. They have some talented youth, seem to have Shaka Smart for at least a couple more years, and should be able to capitalize on that Final Four run with some big time recruits. They are in the mix already for some nice 2012 recruits, and if I feel safe about one it would be Jordan Burgess, who may end up being as big of a recruit as his older brother Bradford was.

The best Colonial team over the course of the regular season was George Mason, and they won the conference's regular season title. Before falling to VCU in the CAA tournament, they had actually won 16 consecutive games, including a 20 point win at VCU, a road win at Northern Iowa, and a 17 point home victory over Old Dominion. They lose their star, Cam Long (15.1 ppg, 43.2 3P%, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg), but return their other four starters. They also lose Isaiah Tate (6.2 ppg, 41.2 3P%, 2.4 rpg) off their bench. Even with the graduations, George Mason returns tons of offense from the team that led the Colonial in both 2P% and 3P% in 2010-11. They return three regulars that shot 39% or better behind the arc, and five with an effective field goal percentage over 52%. They also get back Sherrod Wright, who had scored 5.5 points in 16.1 minutes per game as a true freshman in 2009-10 and had missed the 2010-11 season with injury. The team's biggest need is at point, since they really didn't have a point guard in their starting lineup. Both Vertrail Vaughns and Byron Allen have three years of eligibility left and could take that point guard position. Vaughns is the better shooter and scorer, but Allen had twice as many assists in fewer minutes. It depends which direction Jim Larranaga wants to go, since he had plenty of success in 2010-11 without a true point guard. The 2011 recruiting class features another point guard: Corey Edwards. Jim Larranaga can be a model for Shaka Smart. Why take a chance trying to turn around a mid-level major conference team when you can capitalize on your success to bring major conference level talent to your mid-major school? I think George Mason will be even better next year, and might spend much of the season in the Top 25.

Old Dominion really was as good as they were in 2009-10, and they went 14-4 in conference play while also beating Richmond, Xavier, Clemson and Cleveland State in non-conference play and winning the CAA tournament. They came within a buzzer beater of possibly beating the team (Butler) that was but a historically horrendous shooting performance from winning the National Title. But it is going to be a changing of the guard at Old Dominion, with four starters graduating, including their three leading rebounders and star Frank Hassell (15.1 ppg, 56% shooting, 9.4 rpg). It has been the rebounding that has powered the team for a couple of years now. They led the nation in rebounding margin per game in 2010-11, which was also the second consecutive season that they led the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. To be fair, Blaine Taylor has been able to stock away talent to prepare for this day, redshirting his recruits so they'd have as much eligibility as possible for when players like Frank Hassell and Ben Finney graduated. A couple of players to look out for that haven't played much yet in their college careers if at all are 7-footer Anton Larsen, forwards Nick Wright and Richard Ross, and guard Dimitri Batten. Their 2011 recruiting class is led by another athletic power forward, Jason Pimentel. So ODU has players with potential, and the question will be whether they'll develop into the same players that the 2011 graduating class did.

Hofstra actually finished in a tie for second place in the conference, a full two games ahead of VCU. That said, there's a reason why their computer numbers are as poor as they are. They were 7-1 in conference games decided by seven points or less, and in non-conference play the best team they beat was Rider, and they lost to Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky and Wright State. They lose three starters to graduation, but none matter more than Charles Jenkins, the two time CAA Player of the Year. Despite the fact that opposing defenses constantly focused all of their effort on Jenkins, there wasn't a single teammate of his from the regular rotation that had an effective field goal percentage better than 52%, which is not a good sign for their offense next year. Dwan McMillan missed the entire conference season with injury, and should be back as the starting point guard. Their best returner overall is probably David Imes (7.6 ppg, 51.2 eFG%, 6.8 rpg). Their top returning scorer is Mike Moore (14.9 ppg, 48.7 eFG%). I don't see any way this team doesn't drop way down in the standings. This past season was a fluke, and they just don't have the recruits that schools like VCU, ODU and GMU get.

Drexel was a team that slipped below the radar, but went 11-7 in conference play, beat Louisville and Kent State, and did it with a ferocious defense - the best in the conference. They actually led the conference in defensive rebounding rate, despite some truly elite offensive rebounding teams on their conference schedule. They played a seven man rotation (all of whom played at least 22 minutes per game), and six of them will return. They return their top two scorers, their top four rebounders, and their leading assist man. With a solid 2011 recruiting class, Drexel should be improved next season. But if they're going to take the next step they're going to have to improve their offense, which was very poor in 2010-11. Their 43.2 eFG% was by far the worst by any CAA team in conference play. The best offensive players returning are Chris Fouch (14.9 ppg) and Samme Givens (12.2 ppg, 51.9% shooting).

James Madison finished 10-8 in CAA regular season play, with wins over VCU, Marshall, Princeton and Kent State. But they fell in the opening round of the CAA tournament to William & Mary, and then lost in the first round of the CBI to Davidson. They lose only one senior from their seven man rotation, though it's star Denzel Bowles (17.6 ppg, 58.1% shooting, 8.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg). They do return another good post player in Rayshawn Goins (9.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and return their good shooters (four returners shot 36% or better behind the arc) that powered them to a 37.8 3P% for the season. They have a good point guard in Devon Moore (11.4 ppg, 51.4 eFG%, 4.2 apg, 1.8 A/TO ratio) as well. They should be improved next season, but like Hofstra they just do not get the same athletes and talent that the top three teams in the conference are getting.

A dark horse team is Northeastern, a team that was really good in 2009-10 but was rebuilding in 2010-11 after being devastated by graduations. They actually started this past season 4-15, including 0-8 in conference play, though they finished the season 7-4 in their final 11 regular season games. To be fair, it was more than just graduations - they were beset with a series of injuries. Alwayne Bigby, a starter, missed the entire conference season with injury. Vinny Lima also missed extended time, and others also picked up injuries that cost them a couple of games here or there (even star Chaisson Allen missed a couple of games with a minor injury). Lima graduates, but Bigby should be back. And while Chaisson Allen (16.7 ppg, 38.0 3P%, 6.1 rpg, 3.7 apg) graduates, he's the only regular that played all season that won't be back. In fact, if we don't count Bigby (since he only played seven games all season), Northeastern had a nine man rotation. Five were freshmen and two were sophomores, and they've got a couple of quality 2011 recruits as well (forwards Quincy Ford and Reggie Spencer). The most likely player to try to fill Chaisson Allen's role is rising-junior Joel Smith (12.2 ppg, 42.5 3P%, 3.2 rpg, 2.4 apg). Their biggest need is cleaning up their defense, which only held opponents below 1 point per game in a single conference game all season long. They should be improved, and will be even better in 2012-13, but they have a long way to go to get back to the top of the conference.

Here's how I see the top of the Colonial playing out:

1. George Mason
2. Drexel
3. VCU

4. Old Dominion

5. James Madison

6. Northeastern

Conference USA

Conference USA was maybe the most topsy-turvy conference in the nation. At various times in the year, seven different teams arguably looked like the favorite. No team epitomized that up-and-down style of the conference better than Central Florida. They opened the season 14-0 with wins over Florida, Marshall, Miami (Fl) and Princeton, and a spot in the Top 25 polls. They then proceeded to lose eight straight games. Then they won five of their final seven, though the damage was already done. Memphis ended up winning the Conference USA tournament and had a lot of hype coming into the NCAA Tournament, but I never bought it. There was a reason that both Sagarin and Pomeroy rated them as only the fifth best team in the conference. Heading into the NCAA Tournament, Memphis was a remarkable 14-1 in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. They were 9th in the nation in Pomeroy Luck rating.

I'll begin my discussion of Conference USA with Memphis, since despite their luck there's no question that they were the most talented team. Josh Pastner has proven to be a top level recruiter, and he's gotten some true blue chip talent. His 2010 recruiting class was rated second to only Kentucky's class by, and his 2011 class has some big names as well. The only senior on this past year's team was Will Coleman, and it looks as if all of Pastner's young players will eschew the NBA Draft. The five super freshmen that led the team this past season should all be back: Joe Jackson (9.9 ppg, 3.1 apg), Will Barton (12.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.8 apg), Antonio Barton (8.2 ppg, 44.2 3P%), Chris Crawfod (6.6 ppg, 3.3 apg) and Tarik Black (9.1 ppg, 52.8% shooting, 5.0 rpg, 1.6 bpg). Additional returners are Charles Carmouch and DJ Stephens in the backcourt, along with Wesley Witherspoon and Drew Barnham in the frontcourt. From their 2011 recruiting class they add Adonis Thomas (Scout: 3 SF, Rivals: 15), and they also will get Ferrokhan Hall (a 6'8" forward that can score in the paint and on mid-range jumpers) as a transfer from Seton Hall who will become eligible in December. There's no question that Memphis will be by far the most talented team in the conference, with several players oozing NBA level talent. The concern is making them good basketball players, and smart basketball players. This past year's team was incredibly sloppy on offense, finishing 11th in offensive turnover rate and 10th in eFG%. Way too much one-on-one basketball and rushed shots. You can only out-athlete teams so much - Memphis is going to have to play smarter to progress where their fans want. They were far more talented than any other team in Conference USA in 2010-11, and were still only the fifth best team. So being the most talented team next year guarantees nothing.

The Conference USA regular season title went to UAB, which earned it with seven wins in their final eight regular season games. But they flamed out against East Carolina in their first CUSA tournament game, and after given a debatable spot in the Field of 68 were destroyed in the First Four by Clemson. The team was led by three stars, and two of them will graduate. They lose their top scorer (Jamarr Sanders - 17.8 ppg) and their star point guard (Aaron Johnson - 7.7 apg), returning only their star big man (Cameron Moore - 14.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg). But other than Moore, every other returning contributor was a freshman or sophomore this past season (six of them in all), so overall this is a young team that Mike Davis can develop. The biggest need will be point guard, where even getting half of Aaron Johnson's production from one player will make Mike Davis happy. Quincy Taylor (2.4 ppg and 0.8 apg in 18.0 minutes per game as a true freshman) is probably their best bet. They have good backcourt scorers in Dexter Fields (7.1 ppg, 37.0 3P%) and Preston Purifoy (3.8 ppg, 42.6 3P%, 59.5 eFG%), and also have solid young post players to go alongside Cameron Moore in Ovie Soko (9.1 ppg, 50.5% shooting, 5.8 rpg) and Anthony Criswell (3.2 ppg, 54% shooting, 3.6 rpg). KC Whitaker, a 6'5" guard, is their top 2011 recruit. UAB wasn't particularly great at anything this past year. Even with the Conference USA Player of the Year dealing 7.7 assists per game, they still were only 6th in Conference USA in A/FGM ratio and also in offensive turnover rate. They have a lot of good young players, and Mike Davis has this team steadily knocking out quality seasons, but they have been unable to take the leap to the next level. Right now it looks like another season near the top of the conference, maybe making a run at an at-large bid. They certainly don't have the upside of a team like Memphis.

I want to talk about UCF, because I feel like that eight game losing streak left them looking deceptively mediocre. The reality is that they were a very young team. They didn't have a single senior among their top six minute earners, and their two stars (Marcus Jordan and Keith Clanton) were both sophomores. They also had a first year coach. Young teams can allow losses to snowball, and I think that's precisely what happened with UCF. It's not like they changed personnel after beating teams like Florida, they just got into a slump and really struggled to get out. Their biggest problem during the season was shooting, and they finished dead last in the conference in effective field goal percentage. Keith Clanton (56.3 eFG% and 21-for-56 behind the arc) was the only good shooter among regulars. Dwight McCombs is another good post player (64.3 eFG% and 9.0 rebounds per 40 minutes played, but used only 13.6% of possessions when on the floor, so he needs to get the ball more). PJ Gaynor was another efficient frontcourt player (51.3% shooting) who should start next year. A good prospect is Isaiah Sykes (4.0 ppg and 39.2 3P% as a true freshman). The team also adds Tristan Spurlock, a 6'8" transfer from Virginia, and has a really nice 2011 recruiting class led by Michael Chandler (Scout: 10 C, Rivals: 47). Chandler is a blue chip talent, but has maturity issues. He committed first to Louisville then decommitted, then committed to Xavier and decommitted, and now has signed with UCF. He also made news a couple of months ago by being ejected for getting into a fistfight during a game. So he has to prove that he can commit to this team and play with maturity. The 2011 recruiting class has several other good players: Rod Days, Kasey Wilson and Wayne Martin, all frontcourt players. So this team is a question mark: Can Marcus Jordan take the next step? Can they show more maturity and can they handle success better? They certainly will have NCAA Tournament talent.

UTEP finished in a tie for second in the Conference USA standings, and they only fell by one point in the Conference USA tournament title game to Memphis. They were rewarded with a 5 seed in the NIT, but fell in the first round to the 4 seed, New Mexico. They had four players that started basically every game (the fifth starting spot was split up evenly between three other players), and all four of those players will graduate. Their biggest loss of all is superstar Randy Culpepper (19.3 ppg, 3.1 apg, 2.0 spg). So a lot of pressure will fall onto newcomers, and at first glance that shouldn't be a problem. UTEP brought in Tim Floyd to bring in big time recruits, and he nabbed four big time recruits for his 2010 class, all of which had been attracting interest from big BCS conference schools. The problem? Off-the-court issues. Rashanti Harris couldn't qualify academically and is gone. Desmond Lee also couldn't qualify academically and is gone. Michael Haynes is transferring out without ever playing a minute for the team. Julian Washburn, a 6'8" forward, couldn't get his grades up to qualify either, but supposedly spent the year at UTEP taking classes and will be eligible next season. I'll believe it when I see it. It's the type of mess that... well, UTEP should have known what they were getting into when they hired Tim Floyd. The only true freshman that made it into the regular rotation in 2010-11 was John Bohannon, who actually was a Tony Barbee recruit. They have another big time recruiting class in 2011, led by D'Von Campbell (Rivals: 140), Darius Nelson and Jalen Ragland. They also add Jacques Streeter, a transfer from Cal State Fullerton. But as we all learned this past season... let's see who actually shows up on campus in the fall before we pencil those players into Tim Floyd's starting lineup.

Tulsa finished in a tie with UTEP for second place in the standings. And while they started the season slow, they won eight of their final ten regular season games to earn that 11-5 final record. They weren't a particularly talented team, but they played solid defense, leading the conference in eFG% against, and defensive rebounding percentage. Their best offensive player was Justin Hurtt (20.0 ppg, 50.4 eFG%, 3.8 rpg, 2.4 apg), and he graduates, but every other key player returns. Their strength is in the frontcourt, where they return Steven Idlet (11.6 ppg, 52.7% shooting, 6.3 rpg) and Joe Richard (3.7 ppg, 54.2% shooting, 6.1 rpg). They also have a couple of quality scoring guards in Scottie Haralson (10.9 ppg, 37.4 3P%) and Bryson Pope (6.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.3 apg). Their big question mark is at the point, where starter Glenn Andrews was booted off the team, and Donte Medder tore his ACL in November and missed the season. If Medder can come back healthy then he's the favorite to take over the point guard position in the starting lineup. If he can't go then it could be Jordan Clarkson, who isn't really a true point, but played well (if raw and inefficient) as a true freshman in 2010-11. In my opinion, Tulsa should definitely be better next year, but they need a quality point guard if they're going to have any chance of making a run at a CUSA title.

Southern Miss and Marshall were two other Top 100 teams that at one point in the season were in contention for the conference title. Southern Miss loses their top two scorers, as well as two key bench players, to graduation. Their biggest loss is star Gary Flowers (18.8 ppg, 40.7 3P%, 7.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg). That said, they have a new star to build around in DJ Newbill (9.2 ppg, 55.1 eFG%, 6.2 rpg and 1.6 apg as a true freshman). They also return their starting point guard (Angelo Johnson: 4.1 apg). Losing Gary Flowers and Josimar Ayarza means that they have major holes in their frontcourt, returning only bench players like Maurice Bolden and Ahyaro Phillips, and so their 2011 recruiting class focuses on that in 6'10" Keith DeWitt and 7'0" Christian Robbins. They are likely to take a step back next year, but have a good young core going forward. Marshall is in better shape, with only one starter graduating (Tirrell Baines: 12.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg). They have a good point guard in Damier Pitts (16.2 ppg, 4.7 apg), and have efficient scorers around him in Johnny Thomas (55.1 eFG%) and Dago Pena (41.5 3P%). DeAndre Kane was second on the team in scoring (15.1 per game), though he was something of a volume scorer (49.0 eFG%, and took 70 more shots from the field than any other player on the team). Their 2011 recruiting class is led by 6'8" Jamir Horner and shooting guard Devince Boykins.

Here's how I see the top of Conference USA playing out:

1. Memphis
2. Tulsa

3. UAB

4. Central Florida

5. Marshall



Anonymous said...

Jujuan Staten has left UD.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the update!

That's a tough loss for them.

Chris said...

FYI - UD also lost Brandon Spearman. He is not in your breakdown, but just so you know.

As for URI, Baron may not be eligible at all next year because he played one game in the 2nd semester for Virginia. So he may not be able to step on the court until the fall semester of 2012.

Jeff said...

Thanks for that information!

I don't have Rhode Island anywhere near the bubble anyway, so it really doesn't matter much for them if Baron plays or not. It's a rebuilding season.