The basketball season started, and while there is plenty of time before conference play in earnest begins, it is a good idea to set the stage. I realize many of you are more into football right now – and with good reason – but again, let us stop and consider the situation.
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CUSA Report’s initial power ranking:
UAB Andy Kennedy reloaded. He had Jelly Walker but added LSU’s Eric Gaines to form the fastest backcourt in the league. They also bring back Jemison, Buffen, and Logan. It is a tough roster and they are rightly favored by everyone. They dropped a game at Toledo, which tells you that there is work to do, and hinders any hope for an at-large, but they remain the league’s standard.
Western is always talented and returns Jamarion Sharp, the 7’5″ center, along with Dayvion McKnight, the outstanding junior guard. Also back, is Jordan Rawls, one-time Hilltopper who returned. They loaded up with talent –Akot, Allen, Lander – and that at the very least should help prevent the kind of dip in performance that can come with a thin roster.
North Texas is always good under Grant McCasland, but they had to fill lots of holes that were previously manned by tough guys like Thomas Bell. Can these new dudes do the little things and grind out possessions the way the previous crew did? Tylor Perry is back, and will be asked to continue to hit big shots like he did last season.
Middle is a little higher than they deserve on paper, perhaps, but CR severely underestimated their squad last season and this is a make-up. Nick McDevitt won the division outright and had champion UAB beat … until they did not. Teafale Lenard is a beast on defense, and Deandre Dishman is back. They will pressure everyone into mistakes and easy buckets. Murfreesboro is a tough trip.
FAU will make a leap, or at least they should considering the experience they return. They still have quality players (Mike Forrest is back) and they added some transfers to boost scoring. The potential to make real noise is here if they can finish games against the league’s best when it matters (they choked up last year vs UNT for example). Kenpom likes them.
UTEP is a whole new squad, with Souley Boum, Keyonte Kennedy, and Jamal Bieniemy all leaving. Pete Golding coached the hell out of the Miners, though and with a team full of his guys, they should make noise. Tae Hardy came over from Southern Miss, along with like five other dudes. They will press and harass everyone like Golding’s teams did at ACU
Louisiana Tech lost a coach to Tulsa, and Kenneth Lofton to the NBA. The new coach — Talvin Hester — is a defensive disciple of Kelvin Sampson and the like. Tech always has good athletes and is led by Cobe Williams. Oh yeah and Isaiah Crawford — Kawhi-lite - is back from injury. Tech had a Crawford-sized hole in their squad last year that went to the league title game.
Rice is healthier, but underperformed last year after over performing the year before. They will still run a fun offense, but the question is if they can get stops. They were just a sieve. The trip to Houston will be tough for lots of teams, but a traveling Owl team is not super concerning.
Charlotte is looking to finally impress after four years under Sanchez. Gone is Jahmir Young. The idea is trading some locker-room negatives for some “guys from programs we respect” with some “toughness”. Take a look at the departures and match them up to the rumors of some me-first dudes, and you can see the idea. Aly Khalifa is good offensively, but doesn’t move that well, and teams will attack him.
FIU is back to having “pace and urgency” after battling a lot of COVID stuff last year. They lose Tevin Brewer but gained some depth with transfers and freshman. The will run and do a lot of pressure stuff. Expect more run-and-gun Panther basketball that was making some noise in the league before COVID hit.
UTSA had an awful defense last year and their entire offense was Jacob Germany. They reached into the transfer portal for some guys, but I don’t know that will help much. There is a big contrast between the football squad (first in the league, favored to win a second league title) and the hoops squad (expected to finish at the bottom).