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Way Too Early CUSA Hoops Preview

Written By: HTC Moderator - PIRATER

Memphis head coach Josh Pastner has high expectations surrounding his program, as always.

The pigskin rightfully dominates our purple minds this time of year but in honor of this week’s official release of the ECU 2012-13 hoops schedule and with the first conference game just a little less than 4 months away, there’s no better time for an entirely way-too-early breakdown of CUSA basketball. Interestingly this will be the last season in CUSA for our friends at UH, SMU, UCF, and Memphis as they head to the perceived greener pastures of the Big East. However the bigger story in CUSA for 2012-13 may actually lie in the hands of several key head coaching changes at Tulsa, UAB, SMU, and USM. So what might happen on the CUSA hardwood? Let’s take a look (and in no particular order).

Memphis – We’ll keep this short and sweet because we all know the drill. Memphis is easily the cream of the CUSA crop, but nationally they have fallen short – the Tigers have not won an NCAA tournament game since 2009, and accordingly, the Memphis faithful are questioning Coach Josh Pastner after missing the tournament in his first season followed by two “one and dones”. While Memphis will lose Will Barton to the NBA (Portland Trail Blazers) for 2012-13, the talented Joe Jackson, Adonis Thomas, Tarik Black and Chris Crawford all return. Add 4-star recruit Shaq Goodwin to the mix (and others) and the Tigers could very well enter their maiden season in the Big East as the 2012-13 CUSA champion.

UCF – If you’re a UCF fan (no comment) or especially coach Donnie Jones, then you might want to brace yourself for a letdown. Floor general A.J. Rompza who torched the Pirates at Minges last year, graduated and Marcus Jordan decided to forego his senior season to attend classes and pursue business opportunities (more no comment). Bethune-Cookman transfer C.J. Reid has left the program before ever setting foot in Orlando (now going to Georgia Southern), and center Josh Crittle has also transferred (UIC) amid the recent NCAA sanctions, which include a post-season ban this year. The only redeeming spark at UCF will be the return of 2011-12 CUSA 1st team selection Keith Clanton – he’s a force on the inside. He’s also on everyone’s pre-season CUSA player of the year list. However, one can’t help but question the motivation of the Knights in their CUSA swan song season before departing to the Big East (even more no comment).

Marshall - Although a very solid team, Marshall has seemed to be on the brink of dominating CUSA and having a breakout NCAA tournament-type season for a couple of years, but has fell just short. Despite his sometimes silly, animated on court antics, coach Herrion is a good coach and Marshall returns some serious weapons led by the sensational 2011 freshman of the year (and 2012 2nd team all-CUSA) DeAndre Kane (G), in addition to Dennis Tinnon (F), and Robert Goff (F). Expect sophomore forward Jamir Hanner to also have a very good year. Fortunately for Pirate fans, Damier Pitts has graduated in addition to Shaquille Johnson – both guards. Akin to perhaps UTEP, Marshall plays a very tough pre-conference schedule including the likes of Villanova, Kentucky, WVU and Cincinnati. They play Nevada and Savannah State as well, who won their respective regular season conferences last year. Thus their record may not be at all indicative of how good they are when they start conference play. Will they have that NCAA bid type season in 2012-13? Hard to tell – maybe not as deep at guard but stronger at forward, yet a tough schedule. A team to watch? Definitely.

Rice - Rice University is located in a beautiful, wooded part of Houston and was poised to have a run at things in CUSA with just about everyone from last year’s 17-15 squad back in action (sans Connor Frizzelle and Lucas Kuipers). This year’s Rice squad is highlighted by perennial double-figure scoring senior guard Tamir Jackson and of course Arsalan Kazemi. Although Kazemi has never played well against the Pirates, he’s averaged a double-double the past two years and is considered by some as one of the nation’s best mid-major forwards. But Houston – we have problem. Omar Oraby’s recent departure just punctuated a wave of no less than five players who announced their transfer plans in the past few months. Oraby (C) set a set a school record with 54 blocks last season, and joins Dylan Ennis (PG - Villanova), Jarelle Reischel (F - Rhode Island), David Chadwick (F - Valparaiso) and Ahmad Ibrahim (F - turned professional overseas). What the heck is going on? Don’t want to know to be honest, but whatever is in the water down there will surely impact the Owls’ play on the court in a negative fashion.

UH – The other Houston team also had its fair share of bad news as well this summer, but has plenty of good news to counterbalance things and then some. Coach James Dickey started his offseason on a troublesome note when leading scorer Jonathon Simmons (G) announced he was turning pro rather than returning to UH for his senior season, coupled by learning Alandise Harris (F) and senior Kirk VanSlyke (F) were transferring. However there are plenty of reasons to be very optimistic for the future of UH basketball. Returning are 2012 C-USA All-Freshman Team selections and average double-digit players Joseph Young and TaShawn Thomas. Perhaps even more impressive are not the one, but yes, two top 100 recruits that will hit the UH hardwood this fall - Danuel House and Danrad "Chicken" Knowles. House was the No. 19 recruit in the Country and some have him as a pre-season 1st Team all CUSA selection already. Whew...that’s a lot of young energy on the court at one time – will UH play like a team this year and make some noise?

USM – You have to feel a little bad for the Golden Eagles of Southern Miss. What do you get for reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years? Your coach Larry Eustachy leaves for Colorado State, and you lose four of your five top scorers. Ouch. On the flip side, new coach Donnie Tyndall (formerly of Morehead State) inherits one of the conference's best players in junior guard Neil Watson and leading rebounder Jonathan Mills also returns. The addition of New Mexico State transfer Christian Kabongo (eligible after the fall semester) should also help. However, expect some growing pains this year for the Golden Eagles.

UTEP - Personally, I believe this is the team of the future for CUSA west. They are incredibly young with just three seniors including Jacques Streeter (G), and a lone junior - center John Bohannon, who averaged over 11 pts/game last year. The rest are all underclassman, including sophomore Julian Washburn, who had a spectacular 2011-12 campaign, giving Tulane's Ricky Tarrant a run for his money for freshman of the year honors in CUSA - plus he had a sick reverse jam against the Pirates. And finally they have a wave of freshmen coming in, including a 7'1" player from Canada who supposedly can play (Matt Willms) - he had 45 blocks in his HS senior year. Another interesting aspect of UTEP is their 2012-13 schedule that includes the likes of Oral Roberts, Arizona, New Mexico State, UNLV, Oregon, and a tournament that includes Gonzaga and West Virginia. They could very well be the best .500 team in CUSA and abroad entering conference play, and that type of experience will likely pay huge dividends for the youngsters at El Paso. They could be an elite team in a couple of years, while making some noise in 2012-13.

ECU head coach Jeff Lebo hopes to lead his team to a top-tier finish in C-USA for the 2012-13 season.

Tulane – To be honest, Tulane is kind of boring. Coach Ed Conroy returns many of the same players from last year that although started the 2011-12 campaign on fire, stumbled mightily towards the end of the season, finishing 3-13 in the last 16 games. However, some of the personal they do return is insanely good, including the CUSA freshman of the year Ricky Tarrant (almost 15 pts/pg). Guard Kendall Timmons (almost 14 pg and 5.2 rpg) also returns for his senior season after recovering from an achilles injury that cut his 2011-12 season short.

UAB – What’s a good reward for four consecutive 20-win seasons, an NCAA tournament berth, and a CUSA championship? For Mike Davis, it means getting fired after a 15-16 record last year. While citing apathy, stagnation, decreased ticket sales, and loss of scholarship dollars, I'm not sure they would have fared better with anyone else. So what exciting new coach will take the Blazers to the promised land - Shaka Smart?, Buzz Williams?, Brad Stevens? No - it's first time head coach Jerod Haase. Recruiting at Kansas and UNC is one thing. Recruiting at UAB is another. Add the fact UAB is losing Cameron Moore who poured in over 16 pts/game last year and I don't see a happy ending in Birmingham either in the short or long-term no matter how one sugar coats it.

Tulsa – Coach Doug Wojcik was fired last year for the same type of apathetic reasons we saw at UAB, and perhaps more justifiably so if one takes a deeper look at attendance numbers and program interest. Enters an intriguing hire in the form of Danny Manning – you can’t find an article that doesn’t speak to the level of commitment of coach Manning, and he has a ton of playing and coaching experience. But leading scorer and 1st team all CUSA player Jordan Clarkson (G) soon transferred to Missouri, while Eric McClellan (G) transferred to Vanderbilt. That’s two quality players out of the mix, so expect senior Scottie Haralson (top returning guard) and perhaps the upcoming sophomore Rashad Smith (F) to be the offensive leaders of this Golden Hurricane team. Recruiting thus far for Manning has yielded a couple of transfers and Rashad Ray, an all-state guard from Louisiana. Similar to USM, perhaps, expect some growing pains in 2012-13 as Tulsa players will probably need to focus more on embracing philosophy rather than specific expectations.

SMU – I yawned as much as the next person when Larry Brown was hired this offseason as head coach of the Mustangs. But to be honest, he and the SMU administration have done just about everything except change the SMU mascots’ name in hopes of improving their program before their leap to the Big East. Bring in a high profile transfer (Crandall Head – Illinois)? – check. Inform four current players (Jeremiah Samarrippas, Ricmonds Vilde, Leslee Smith, Eric Norman) that their services are no longer needed at SMU, including a team captain? – check. $40 million basketball arena renovation? – check. Will all of this change equate to a 20-win season in Brown’s first year? Probably not. Will SMU be competitive in 2012-13? Probably so, which is light years from the past couple of seasons under coach Doh.

ECU Pirates – We will wax eloquently about the Pirates for the next few months, but for now a senior laden and well-experienced backcourt anchored by 2nd team CUSA guard Miguel Paul (15.2 pg/5.9 ag) brings the type of moxie required for a special type of year. In the front court, the high flying senior Maurice Kemp and already veteran junior Robert Sampson are top notch quality power forward material, yet the “5” position is somewhat of a question mark. Yasin Kolo, Marshall Guilmette, and Mike Zanagri all have the word freshman besides their name – who knows how they will perform when the whistle blows. The good news is that with that type of depth, ECU should be the ones doing the “mismatching” rather than being “mismatched” down low. Coach Jeff Lebo demands a high-pressure defense as he enters his third year at the ECU helm. We could have a very nice year with all of these pieces in place. Last year the Pirates’ modus operandi included spotting the opposing team a double digit lead (and then some) within the first ten minutes of the game, only to come back within a whisker’s haircut of snatching win from certain defeat. The Pirates will have to right that ship by not playing from behind in most of their games to win in 2012-13.

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