Archive | September, 2016

2016-2017 Conference USA Preview

12 Sep

TEAM TO BEAT: Impossible to say at this point. It’s unlikely we’ll see another dominant regular season team like UAB was last year, which means the logjam that was behind them in the standings moves to the top. That logjam this year likely includes UAB, MTSU, Old Dominion, Marshall, Charlotte, UTEP, Rice, Western Kentucky, and Louisiana Tech…and then a steep drop off. Let’s start with UAB here though. Despite two major losses in head coach Jerod Haase and leading scorer Robert Brown, the Blazers returns a ton of athleticism at the 3/4/5, and have a couple of incoming players in the backcourt who could contribute immediately in Brown’s wake. As for the coaching situation, Rob Ehsan is a continuity hire, and a guy who basically constructed the current UAB roster. That roster returns every starter except the graduating Brown, so there wasn’t really the personnel turnover you generally see with a coaching change, thanks to UAB staying “in house”. The backcourt returns highly efficient Nick Norton at PG, who saw a slight dip in his shooting numbers in his SO year, but led the CUSA in steal rate and was 4th in assist rate. Senior “glue guys” Denzel Watts and Hakeem Baxter return to the backcourt as well, but SIU transfer Deion Lavender and FR Nate Darling will be relied upon to contribute significant minutes to help offset (somewhat) Brown’s production. Lavender’s a good shooter at 6’4, and can get to the rim consistently, while also being a good rebounder for his position. Darling meanwhile comes out of famed DeMatha High and is an absolute dead eye shooter at 6’5. On the wing, the Blazers are loaded with uber athletic Dirk Williams primed for a major breakout year. Last year’s 6th Man of the Year can do it all. He shot 44% from 3 in CUSA play and is a nasty finisher when he gets to the rim. His 125 ORtg likely tumbles a bit with the ball in his hands more, but he should be an elite CUSA scorer this year. SR Tyler Madison saw a major reduction in minutes with Williams coming over from the JUCO ranks last year, but he’s still brings solid athleticism and depth at the 3. At the 4, HaHa Lee returns as the best defender in the league, leading CUSA in block rate. Lee is an outstanding talent at the 4 with his athleticism and versatility, and he defends without fouling at a high rate, which is a major plus. His offense is also progressing rapidly as well, and he shot 40% from 3 in CUSA play last year, which essentially makes him an impossible matchup at the 4 for nearly every CUSA team. Chris Cokley and Tohsin Mehinti teaming up with Lee in the frontcourt is why UAB was the best 2PT% defense in the league and had the 5th highest block rate as a team in the country. Mehinti pitches in around the rim offensively, especially on put backs, but Cokley was a far more consistent offensive threat in his SO year, and that trajectory should continue for his JR season. The Blazers might lose a good head coach and their leading scorer, but they’re still going to be one of the most experienced teams in the country with a lot of continuity from last year’s dominant CUSA regular season squad, and the CUSA tournament is once again being held in Birmingham.

IF NOT THEM THEN: Let’s just run down the list alphabetically for the other 8 teams I mentioned in the previous paragraph, because their records at the end of the year are likely to once again be negligible. First up is Charlotte, who returns a ton of talent in Mark Price’s second season, but while they were among the best offenses in the league last year, they were equally bad defensively. The backcourt is absolutely loaded with the return of Jon Davis, Braxton Ogbueze, Andrien White, and the additions of FR Quentin Jackson and transfers Hudson Price and Austin Ajukwa (eligible second semester). Charlotte shot a ridiculous 41% from 3 in CUSA play last year, and return the volume three point duo of Ogbueze and White. White is also one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, but is currently still recovering from a foot injury suffered during Charlotte’s trip to Canada, which required surgery (should be ready to go by the start of the season, hopefully). Davis meanwhile should have a monster year at the point after a phenomenal FR season at the helm of Price’s spread pick and roll offense. Ajukwa and Hudson Price (Price’s son) give the Niners some nice length on the wings along with their shooting ability, which consequently means White and Anthony Vanhook (an underrated glue guy who can defend multiple positions, rebounds well, and is a good passer when utilized in the high post) won’t have to play out of position at the 3 and 4 respectively, and it gives Price a lot of lineup versatility. Both however lack the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim/FT line consistently, which was a major issue for Charlotte in general last year. When the jump shots weren’t falling, the Niners didn’t have much recourse. FR Quentin Jackson should help in that regard. Jackson is a penetrate and shoot combo guard who will pair nicely with Davis in dual PG lineups, which will be frequent with Price. Price’s frontcourt has some issues. Major issues. Uber rebounder Joe Uchebo is gone, and that leaves a big question mark for the “one” in Price’s four out offense. Price has a pair of 7 footers in Benas Griciunas, who can be utilized in pick and pop situations, and RS FR Lukas Bergang, but a lot is going to fall on incoming JUCO JC Washington and recently rewarded with a scholarship Reid Aube. The former walk on often played “bigger” than 6’6, and brings a scrappy mentality to the floor, something the perimeter oriented Niners tend to lack at times, especially with Uchebo gone. Realistically, Charlotte is going to have run teams off the court and spread the floor with shooters, which is certainly something they’re capable of. But on nights when the jump shot isn’t falling or they’re playing teams with a legit frontcourt (UAB, ODU, even UNT), they’re going to have some issues, and Washington, the Euro 7 footers, and FR Najee Garvin will have to replace Uchebo’s production by committee.

Eric Konkol has to replace do everything Alex Hamilton in his second season at Louisiana Tech, but he returns a lot of length and athleticism on the perimeter/wing and has former Miami 4 Omar Sherman bolstering the frontcourt. Sherman’s athleticism and versatility at the 4 is going to be a matchup issue for most CUSA teams this year. Pairing Sherman with Erik McCree’s court stretching ability is a going to give the Dawgs one of the better frontcourt combos in the league. FR Oliver Powell should see immediate minutes as well as a plus rebounder and rim protector. The frontcourt could get a huge boost if 7 footer Joniah White can contribute 20 minutes a night after having a heart procedure to extend his career. White is still working his way back into game shape, but any production from him at the 5 will be a plus. The backcourt will see SO Derric Jean take over PG duties, and he could be poised for a breakout year. At 6’4, he’s a bigger guard in the mold of Hamilton, but has a better jump shot. Konkol has another 6’4 ballhandler coming in with FR Jalen Harris, who is a pure scorer from anywhere on the floor. On the wings, Konkol returns 6’6 shooter Jacobi Boykins and 6’6 Qiydar Davis, who was granted another SR season with a medical waiver. Davis looked poised for a big year as penetrator offensively, a versatile defender, and a plus rebounder before getting hurt after 7 games. SO Jy’lan Washington showed glimpses of potential as a mobile 6’8 3/4 last year and should see a bump in minutes. Konkol has the length and athleticism to play the uptempo, pressure heavy style that the Dawgs have been known for in the White/Konkol era, especially if Jean makes a big jump and Sherman is as good as advertised in the frontcourt after a JUCO season. Rim protection is still going to be an issue, and you hope that Joniah White can get on the court and help in that regard.

Marshall is a team I have pegged for some regression. Dan D’Antoni’s second season in Huntington was unquestionably a success, as the Herd won 12 league games thanks to an efficient, uptempo (3rd fastest team in the country) 4 out offense with an outstanding floor running, defense spreading big man in James Kelly. Unfortunately, Kelly has graduated and while the Herd return virtually everyone else, I think his unique skill set is going to be extremely hard to replace. That said, D’Antoni returns bulk of his three point reliant transition offense, which was 14th nationally in 3PTA rate. He’ll also have a full season of PG Jon Elmore, who was 5th in CUSA play in assist rate and shot 40% from 3. Elmore’s brother Ot is eligible as well after transferring from UTRGV, and will be a contributor in the backcourt as a shooter. Elmore will have his trio of marksmen in CJ Burks, Stevie Browning, and prolific sharp shooter Austin Loop back as well. Those three combined to shoot nearly 500 threes last year, which opened the floor for do everything wing Ryan Taylor, who at 6’5 has excellent ball skills and court vision, especially in transition. He’s also D’Antoni’s best defender on the perimeter. D’Antoni also gets Aleks Nikolic back after missing last year with a facial fracture. The 6’5 Serbian is a crafty passer in a spread court, and will be an excellent complement to Elmore as a secondary ball handler. The frontcourt is going to be a major issue for D’Antoni this year. Essentially, 6’5 Taylor is the team’s best rebounder and shot blocker. 6’9 Bosnian Ajdin Penava has an intriguing skill set, but he’s incapable of staying on the court for meaningful minutes. Terrence Thompson returns as well, and is useful in pick and pop situations and is a plus rebounder. He’ll have to shoulder the load at the 5 this year, and the Herd will once again play small with Taylor at the 4 trying to exploit bigger, slower 4s on the offensive end and in transition. FR Jannson Williams is the most likely newcomer to see minutes in the frontcourt because of his mobility and fit in D’Antoni’s system. That said, the Herd are likely to get gashed at the rim routinely once again this year.

Kermit Davis and MTSU have a tough act to follow after winning the CUSA Tournament in Birmingham, and then shockingly upending Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in one of the more stunning tournament upsets of alltime. But this is Kermit’s 15th season on the helm in Murfreesboro, and he returns a strong enough core with Reggie Upshaw (who is recovering from wrist surgery on his non shooting hand) and Giddy Potts to take the Blue Raiders back to the dance. Thanks to Potts, Middle was one of the best three point shooting teams in the country last year, and Potts himself was the best in all of D1, hitting an absurd 50% of his 151 attempts. Davis loses floor spacing Darnell Harris, and part of what made Middle’s offense tough to guard was the fact that few teams had two mobile bigs to match up with both Harris and Upshaw, and then Perrin Buford on the wing, who also graduated. However, Davis does have two newcomers in Arkansas transfer Jacorey Williams and FR Davion Thomas who could fill those roles. Williams is strictly a slasher from the 3, and Thomas’ impact early will most likely be in rim protection at the base of Davis’ effective shifting 1-3-1 zone (which usually starts in 2-3 and then moves to the pestering 1-3-1 that produced the league’s highest TO rate last year). 6’10 JUCO transfer Brandon Walters is strictly a back to the basket scorer as well, so we’re likely to see Davis’ offense reorganized a bit, even with Potts still lurking on the perimeter. Joining Potts in the backcourt are a few JUCO prospects and a couple of FR that I admittedly don’t know much about. One of them though is going to have to step into the PG role with, FR Tyrik Dixon and Calvin Davis being the most likely candidates to join Quavius Copeland in that responsibility. The hope is that Ed Simpson is 100% this year as well, as he’s a decent shooter and good rebounder for his position when healthy. If Thomas progresses quickly offensively beside Upshaw and Williams can bring some penetration and frequent trips to the FT line (the Blue Raiders were near the bottom in FT rate in CUSA play) and keep the floor open for Potts like Buford and Harris did, MTSU should be one of the many teams that could make a run in Birmingham. Davis has done magnificent coaching jobs with less talented teams than this one, that’s for sure.

No team in the league has to replace more with the loss of a single player than Old Dominion. Trey Freeman led CUSA in % of his team’s shots (tops nationally as well), minutes, and possessions, all while posting a 113 ORtg. Replacing Freeman’s production isn’t possible (not to mention Aaron Bacote also graduated), but Jeff Jones will be relying heavily on three newcomers in the backcourt to at least keep the Monarchs in contention for a CUSA title. SO Ahmad Caver will be the primary ballhandler for Jones this year. He’s a solid passer with a quick first step to the rim, plus he’s an excellent defender on the ball. SR Jordan Baker returns off the ball as well, but really needs to improve his jump shooting. He was a miserable 27% from 3 last year for a team that shot the three at the lowest rate in the entire country. In fact, no team scored more points (in terms of % of points) via 2PT FG than the Monarchs did last year (thanks to Freeman’s dominant midrange game), and it wasn’t really even that close. That said, Freeman and Bacote were the only guys capable of hitting a jump shot, so Baker’s 27% needs to inflate dramatically this year. Jones has three newcomers in the backcourt who will likely factor in immediately, especially if they can score. At 6’5 and the ability to play both guard spots, BJ Stith is the most exciting of the three, and offers the best chance to replace Freeman’s scoring. JUCOs Randy Haynes (good offensive player and good length, but ? defense, which won’t get you far with Jones early) and JUCO PG Keith Pinckney should also see immediate minutes. FR Xavier Green is a 2.5 star recruit and a 6’4 scorer, but could very well redshirt this year behind Stith and Haynes. The frontcourt should once again be a strength for the Monarchs this year. With Brandan Stith and Denzell Taylor (two of the best rebounders in the league, if not the two best in terms of def/off tandems) being joined by Alassane Kah and Trey Porter, the Monarchs should be the best defensive team and rebounding team in the conference again. Porter is a monster on the glass and Kah is a versatile 6’9 who can guard 3-5 and stretch out to the perimeter offensively. Both are excellent rim protectors, and with ODU returning Stith’s third highest league block rate, scoring at the rim is going to be tough for CUSA opponents. At the 3, Zoran Talley could be due for a breakout SO year if he developed a jump shot, and Aaron Carver brings athleticism and versatility at the 3/4. This ODU team has athleticism and depth and will be among the best defensive teams in the country, but their best offense for stretches might be off of offensive rebounds.

Rice is an intriguing team in Mike Rhoades’ third season at the helm. The Owls return SO Marcus Evans, who turned into the league’s best scorer in his debut season, and he also posted the league’s second highest steal rate. Rhoades also returns Marcus Jackson, Rice’s leading scorer two seasons ago, to the backcourt after he missed all of last year with a knee injury. Jackson is one of the best shooters in the country when he’s healthy, and combined with Evans, the Owls’ backcourt features two of the best combo guards in the league. Where things get exciting for Rice fans is that Rhoades also has two PGs on the roster who could both be capable of starting immediately, allowing Evans and Jackson to both work major minutes off the ball. Chad Lott returns from a season ending knee injury as a RS FR, while Ako Adams is a true FR, and both give Rhoades the lineup flexibility to finally fully implement his VCU style HAVOC system (Adams has supposedly been incredibly impressive this summer, according to a friend close to the program, which is an incredibly professional source citing). Last year Rice essentially worked with a 7 man rotation. That won’t be the case this year (assuming everyone stays healthy) and Rice has the potential to both play at the league’s fastest pace and post the highest TO rate. On top of a loaded backcourt with multiple ballhandlers, the Owls have scoring, shooting, and depth on the wings with the return of Bishop Mency, Connor Cashaw, and Egor Koulechov. Add in athletic specimen Quez Letcher-Ellis, one of the most versatile defenders in the league in his FR year, and Rice’s depth is suddenly a major strength. If Rhoades is fully able to implement his system this year, there’s a chance Letcher-Ellis is the league’s DPOY (and he’s going to get a lot of easy transition buckets). 6’6 FR Bobby Martin is a pure scorer on the wing as well. Rhoades beefed up the frontcourt this year too, which was a major reason why the Owls were the worst defensive team in the league last year. Highly touted freshmen Tim Harrison and Austin Meyer will be immediate contributors, while 6’10 SR Andrew Drone returns from an extremely underrated junior year, both offensively and defensively. There’s no doubt that the Rice backcourt is loaded and capable of implementing Rhoades uptempo, pressure heavy system, but for Rice to truly make noise this year, that young frontcourt is going to have to develop quickly. That said, this is one of the more intriguing teams in the league, if not the country, and a 20+ win, NIT bid season isn’t an unreasonable ceiling, and neither is getting hot in Birmingham and winning the whole thing either.

UTEP was weird last year. Having lost 6 of 7 (including games to UTSA and USM), Tim Floyd went with a smaller, quicker lineup and won 7 of their last 9 regular season games before bowing out in a CUSA Tournament thriller to Marshall. It all added up to the Miners playing, by far, the fastest they’ve ever played under Floyd. With the return of Dominic Artis and Omega Harris to the backcourt, and the addition of two freshmen, Deon Barrett (a second ballhandler to Artis) and Tim Cameron (athletic, do everything 6’4 2 guard), I expect Floyd to maintain that pace this year. The loss of Lee Moore certainly hurt, but the additions of those two freshmen to the Artis/Harris core in the backcourt could make up for it. Floyd’s wing corps is a little iffy, at best. Jake Flaggert can’t really defend the 3 or the 4, which sort of negates any defense stretching capability he brings to the floor, and I’m not sure what late Canadian signee Isiah Osborne or FR Adrian Moore bring to the table yet. Of course, this likely means Floyd is going small again and with Cameron at the “3”. The frontcourt returns a healthier Matt Willms at the 5 (but at 7’1 you never know when foot issues will resurface), but Floyd could use a breakout year from highly touted SO Paul Thomas at the 4. Terry Winn’s defensive versatility was a pleasant surprise in addition to his rebounding, especially causing some havoc in Floyd’s copious junk zones, but he was also effective if not inconsistent offensively as well. A bulked up Kelvin Jones is the only option behind Willms/Winn in the frontcourt, which is going to be an issue for the Miners.

The hire of Rick Stansbury immediately turned Western Kentucky into a legit CUSA contender, and his notoriety as a recruiter paid rapid dividends for this season and next. Stansbury added three 6’5 grad transfers in Junior Lomomba (slasher, ball handler, and plus defender from Providence), Que Johnson (shooter from Washington State), and Pancake Thomas (pure scorer from anywhere on the floor, one of the best shooters in the country, and the ball handler Stansbury needed out of Hartford by way of New Mexico). That’s a massive influx of veteran talent that’s going to be tough for CUSA teams to compete with. Add in two Tennessee transfers that Stansbury inherited with Willie Carmichael, who should start at the 5, and athletic 6’7 wing Jabari McGhee (eligible 2nd semester), and you can see why a lot of people are picking WKU to win the league. The only significant contributor from last year’s Ray Harper team is Justin Johnson at the 4, but he’s of big significance because of his efficient back to the basket scoring and ability to consistently draw a lot of contact on the block and open the floor up for those grad transfers. 7’1 Ben Lawson also returns, and he’s an excellent rim protector when he can stay on the floor, as does 6’7 Anton Waters, a solid rebounder. Biggest questions…how quickly does everyone mesh, how much can Carmichael contribute at the 5, and can the freshmen PGs (TJ Howard and Damari Parris) contribute meaningful minutes to move Thomas/Lomomba off the ball more?

THE REST: Of the rest of the CUSA teams not in the vast “upper tier”, North Texas is probably the most equipped to surprise some people. The talented if inefficient J-Mychal Reese returns at the point with one of the better pure scorers in the league in Deckie Johnson beside him in the backcourt, while the league’s best back to the basket scorer Jeremy Combs returns on the block (also one of the conference’s best rebounders). That’s a really solid core, but Tony Benford’s big coup was landing troubled SMU transfer Keith Frazier, who’ll be eligible come second semester. Frazier’s immediately one of the most talented players in the league, and will be a huge addition off the ball if he can put it all together in Denton. Ja’Michael Brown returns to the backcourt as Benford’s best perimeter shooter and defender, and gives Benford the option of going with a quick 4 guard lineup around Combs when Frazier is eligible. More will be expected from Tay Holston in his second season on the wing if UNT does makes a dramatic move up the CUSA standings. Holston is a versatile 6’7 capable of guarding opposing 4s, but was inconsistent and inefficient offensively in his freshman season. The frontcourt doesn’t need much besides Combs, but Rickey Brice is the only proven option and an effective rim protector when he can stay on the floor. 6’8 SO Khalil Fuller looked lost defensively in his freshman season, but so did the rest of the Mean Green to be fair. UNT was adept at getting to the FT line last year, and that was about the only bright spot, but if Frazier’s presence improves Reese’s efficiency numbers and keeps defenses from collapsing on Combs, Mean Green could surprise a few upper half CUSA teams this year.

Anthony Evans has a large void to replace in the frontcourt with Adrian Diaz and Daviyon Draper graduating, but that’s not his only issue at FIU this year. Sophomore PG Kimar Williams showed promise as a playmaker his FR year, but it’s clear this team had primary and secondary ballhandling issues, as CUSA opponents were quick to apply zone pressure, both exposing their lack of perimeter shooting and neutralizing Diaz around the rim. Now without Diaz, even more pressure is put on the Williams/Donte McGill/Eric Nottage backcourt, and I’m not sure Evans really addressed those issues in the offseason. McGill is a good spot shooter and better penetrator, while 6’7 wing Elmo Stephen can hit open shots as well, but he’s a major liability defensively against basically any opposing CUSA 3 or 4. Former George Mason guard Eric Lockett is going to be relied on heavily to improve both of those aspects. He’s a bigger point guard at 6’5, and he has a jump shot. To replace Diaz and Draper, Evans is going to rely on Alabama grad transfer Michael Kessens and the hopefully healthy Hassan Hussein. If Hussein is 100%, he’s the most talented player on the roster, but his development has been seriously hampered by back to back seasons with major injuries. Unless Lockett is a revelation in the backcourt, it seems unlikely FIU improves on their 7 CUSA wins from last year. It is important to note that FIU was the unluckiest team in the country per KenPom’s luck rating, and their CUSA schedule was incredibly backloaded. That said, it’s still tough to overlook the departures of Diaz and Draper.

Southern Miss is another year away from being truly competitive in CUSA play, as Dominic Magee and Tyree Griffin will be eligible for Doc Sadler’s backcourt at that point. Until then, we’re likely to see more of the same from USM, which is one of the slowest paces in the country and a ton of zone defensively. Only 7 teams in the country played at slower APL than USM, and only 3 allowed a higher 3PTA rate, which translates to if opponents aren’t hitting from outside, they’re going to have a hard time scrounging up points in a 60ish possession ball game. On the flip side, only 4 offenses in the country had a higher 3PTA rate in the country than USM, but Sadler loses his most prolific shooter in Kourtlin Jackson. Sadler does return former Dayton guard Khari Price, who put together an underrated season running the point in Hattiesburg, leading CUSA in assist rate and posting the 8th highest steal rate in the league. Quinton Campbell and Mike Ramey return on the wings, but both are essentially just spot shooters and offer very little defensively at the base of Sadler’s zone. Tim Rowe returns at the 5 after a promising FR year that saw him emerge as one of the better rim protectors in the league. SR Raheem Watts returns as well, but the big “addition” is the return of Eddie Davis III from a season ending injury. Davis was on track for a solid season as a 6’7 defense stretcher, and a plus offensive rebounder. 6’7 Josh Conley, a do everything 2/3/4, is Sadler’s biggest offseason addition, and it will be interesting to see how many minutes he logs as a freshman. Conley had originally committed to Utah. Vicksburg product D’Angelo Richardson should give Sadler a secondary ballhandler to Price, something USM lacked last year, which led to the league’s second highest TO rate. The good news…USM can compete in the CUSA tourney again this year.

FAU under Michael Curry is always going to aggressively shade the three point line, as the Owls have allowed the lowest 3PTA rate in the country in his two seasons at the helm. That won’t change this year, and with big Ron Delph available for a full season, it gives him a big time rim protector on the back end as well. Delph had the second highest block rate in the league and was more than serviceable offensively. The question for Curry overall though is how does he improve the least efficient offense in the league, especially after losing his only two shooters in Botley and Trapp? Adonis Filer wasn’t an efficient option in his first season after transferring from Clemson, and Nick Rutherford off the ball was even less efficient (although he made up for it with his outstanding perimeter defense). While both can routinely draw contact off the dribble, neither has a jump shot, and teams routinely sagged off both of them. The good news is that Curry has Justin Massey coming back to FAU after a partial season at Brown, and 6’4 “three and D” Oklahoma transfer Frank Booker is eligible as well. UNC Asheville transfer Marcus Neely is a perfect fit for Curry’s defensive scheme on the perimeter, so he should see minutes as well, but doesn’t provide much offensive upside. JUCO Gerdarious Troutman is an excellent shooter with size and will join 6’7 FR Jailyn Ingram and burgeoning offensive talent Jeantal Cylla on the wings. Cylla has added some bulk for his SO year, but needs to improve defensively as well. The only depth behind Delph in the frontcourt is 6’8 SO Jesse Hill and 6’10 JUCO addition William Pfister. If Curry’s backcourt additions can help improve the efficiency of the Filer/Rutherford duo at the point, FAU should surpass their 5 league wins from last year.

UTSA was bad last year. Really bad. They had the lowest eFG% in the league offensively, and allowed the highest defensively (which was also good for the worst rate in the entire country). So Steve Henson takes over with a bit of a mess to clean up from the end of the Brooks Thompson era (RIP). The Runners played fast (generally) under Thompson, and I expect Henson to push the pace as well given his pedigree, as Oklahoma has been one of the most efficient transition offenses in the country thanks to Henson’s work with the guards under Lon Kruger. Henson has Christian Wilson returning at the point to lead his attack, and while he doesn’t have a jump shot, he’s relentless at attacking the rim and drew fouls at the highest rate in the league, while also posting the third highest assist rate, ninth highest steal rate, and had the third highest usage rate in the league. The return of a healthy Geno Littles also gives Henson another primary ballhandler, and moving Wilson off the ball will help his efficiency. JR Harris is the team’s only returning perimeter shooter, but 6’7 Serbian FR Mitar Stanojevic provides some defense stretching capability. He and fellow FR 6’5 Byron Frohnen out of Bishop Gorman should see immediate playing time. Frohnen especially because of his touted defensive capability on the wing. I’m sure Henson will work in potential PG of the future Giovanni DeNicolao and athletic off ball slasher George Wilborn III out of Chicago, as they round out his first recruiting class. While DeNicolao and Stanojevic are freshmen, they have a lot of international experience playing for their respective national teams (Italy and Serbia). Henson has bodies (Lucas O’Brien and James Ringholt) and potential (sophomores AJ Cockrell and Nick Allen) in the frontcourt. Texas A&M Corpus transfer Jeff Beverly is a bulldog rebounder and defender for being just 6’6, which is exactly what UTSA needs in the paint, where they finished 350th in 2PT% D (and 349th in 3PT% D, which is probably a whole lot of bad luck too, but yikes). It can’t get any worse than last year, but Henson’s first season will largely be spent finding out what he has and working his guys in.

 

PREDICTED CONFERENCE STANDINGS:

  1. UAB
  2. Old Dominion
  3. MTSU
  4. Western Kentucky
  5. Charlotte
  6. UTEP
  7. Louisiana Tech
  8. Rice
  9. Marshall
  10. North Texas
  11. Southern Miss
  12. FIU
  13. FAU
  14. UTSA

 

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