Men’s Basketball: Season Preview

Bradley Heltzel, Reporter

Men’s Basketball: Scouting Conference USA 

Another offseason, another year of change. Conference USA underwent more offseason realignment: East Carolina, Tulane and last year’s NCAA tournament representative, Tulsa, all defected to the American Athletic Conference. C-USA will welcome Western Kentucky and its rich basketball history as the lone newcomer to the conference.

C-USA will also see an influx of new coaches patrolling the sidelines with Rice, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss making head coaching changes this offseason.

Rice hired Mike Rhoades, who spent the past five seasons as an assistant at Virginia Commonwealth University alongside head coach Shaka Smart. Florida Atlantic University brought in Michael Curry, who most recently was an associate coach for the Philadelphia 76ers. Curry played in the NBA for 11 seasons, served as the president of the NBA Players Association, and was the head coach of the Detroit Pistons for the 2008-2009 season. Doc Sadler accepted the Southern Miss coaching vacancy after spending last season as an assistant coach under Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State.

Louisiana Tech 

Louisiana Tech tied atop C-USA with a 13-3 record while achieving an overall mark of 29-8 last season. LA Tech lost in the conference tournament, however, and as a result was excluded from the NCAA Tournament after just missing the cut for an at-large bid.

LA Tech figures to be in the mix for another shot at the big dance as it was voted as the preseason favorite in C-USA by the conference’s coaches. LA Tech brought back head coach Michael White on a new six-year contract after compiling a 74-31 record in his first three seasons with the program.

Louisiana Tech returns four starters from last year’s group that led the conference with 81.0 points per game, 15.7 assists per game and a +5.0 turnover differential. Of those returning starters, guards Kenneth Smith, Raheem Appleby and Alex Hamilton were selected to the preseason all-conference team.

University of Texas El-Paso 

UTEP brings back four starters from last year’s team that finished in a tie for fifth last season with a 12-4 conference record.

Returning is C-USA Freshman of the Year Vince Hunter. Hunter, a 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12.3 PPG and 6.5 RPG last season. Both Hunter and senior forward Julian Washburn were voted to the preseason All-Conference USA team by coaches.


After finishing tied for eighth in the conference with a 7-9 record, Charlotte will return four starters from last year’s team, but must digest the loss of starting point guard Denzel Ingram who transferred to UNC Wilmington.

Highlighting the returning starters is versatile, senior guard Pierria Henry who was named third-team all-conference last year and was the only player in C-USA to average double digit points (12.3) and more than five rebounds (5.1) and assists (5.8).

Old Dominion 

Head coach Jeff Jones and Old Dominion begin year two of rebuilding the program after achieving a 13-win improvement last season, which led the NCAA. ODU tied for sixth in C-USA last year after managing five total wins the previous season.

ODU will look to improve its scoring offense that ranked last in C-USA last season, and they have the means to do it with four returning starters. Junior guard Aaron Bacote is the conference’s leading returning scorer after averaging 15.5 PPG last season. Jones said Bacote had to shoulder the scoring load last season, but with some of the new players Bacote won’t have to produce as much this season as a scorer and playmaker.

Returning starter Keenan Palmore (9.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG) heads a crowd of guards who could form a deep rotation in the backcourt as Jordan Baker and Ambrose Mosley, who both averaged more than 15 minutes per game, are joined by Campbell transfer, Trey Freeman and Deion Clark who returns from ACL surgery.

Senior forward Richard Ross will be the primary frontcourt option after averaging 9.9 PPG and 7.0 RPG while shooting more than 50 percent from the floor as a starter last season.

University of Alabama at Birmingham 

UAB made a recruiting splash this offseason when it gained the commitment of freshman forward William Lee.

Senior C.J. Washington, who was selected to the C-USA preseason team after averaging 13.0 PPG and 6.9 RPG last season both of which ranked second on the team, will join Lee on the front court.

With Washington and Lee, UAB possesses a potent frontcourt that could produce two All-C-USA Team selections at the end of the season.

UAB’s backcourt, however, does not possess the same certainty as newcomers will be counted on to provide quality minutes. The team must make up for the loss of guard Chad Frazier (17.7 PPG, 4.3 APG) after he decided to the leave the program and turn pro. The team did land a transfer in junior guard Robert Brown who averaged 8.3 PPG, but shot just 33.1 percent from the field last season while at Virginia Tech.

Joining Brown in the backcourt rotation will be freshmen Lewis Sullivan and Jarvis Calhoun and sophomores Denzell Watts and Tosin Mehinti creating a young and inexperienced collection of guards.

Middle Tennessee State 

After finishing last season tied for first in C-USA, Middle Tennessee State graduated four senior starters. Those seniors, headed by last season’s C-USA Player of the Year, Shawn Jones, were the winningest recruiting class in the program’s history.

This season Middle Tennessee will welcome eight newcomers to the program through freshmen commitments and multiple transfers. Guard D.J. Jones, junior JUCO transfer, leads the list of newcomers. Jones is a high-flyer and is adept at explosively attacking the rim while also possessing the ability to catch fire as a perimeter shooter.

Perrin Buford, a 6-foot-7 swingman, joins Jones as a JUCO transfer after averaging 14.0 PPG and 3.6 APG last season. Sharpshooting guard Jaqawn Raymond returns as a junior after shooting 40.5 percent from three last season. Freshmen guards JaQuel Richardson, Jacob Ivory and Giddy Potts join a crowded, but inexperienced backcourt and will compete for a role in the rotation. Athletic, sophomore forward Reggie Upshaw is the lone returning starter from last year’s squad after solid production as a freshmen when he averaged 6.4 PPG and 3.5 RPG.

Middle Tennessee ranked first in the conference in scoring defense last season when they allowed 62.6 PPG.

Western Kentucky 

Western Kentucky joins C-USA and brings a strong program history coming from the Sun Belt conference where it appeared in the NCAA Tournament 12 times since its inception in 1983-84 season. The Hilltoppers finished second in the Sun-Belt last season and will return four starters from that squad.

Guard T.J. Price was the 10th leading scorer in the Sun Belt last season when he averaged 15.5 PPG. Price’s scoring average from last season was more than any returning player in C-USA with the exception of ODU’s Bacote who tied the mark. Price, however, racked up 63 turnovers in 30 games last season with a paltry assist-turnover ratio of 0.92. He will need to make better decisions with the ball this season.

George Fant averaged 13.3 PPG and 6.6 RPG and shot 53 percent from the field last season. Fant is a stalky and powerful forward who plays bigger than his size and brings experience and interior strength.

Price and Fant will be accompanied by returning guards Trency Jackson and Chris Harrison-Docks. Jackson (10.2 PPG last season) is the best off-the-dribble attacker WKU has. Harrison-Docks is the shooter on the Hilltoppers as he led the team with 46 three-pointers last season while shooting 36.2 percent from deep.

Brad Heltzel can be contacted at heltzel1@marshall. edu.