Written By: Dave West (@Godsavetheham)
The first weekend of CUSA Men’s basketball is in the books. Here’s how the conference standings look after the first 9 games:
UTEP 2-0 Wins over Rice and North Texas
Louisiana Tech 1-0 Win over Southern Miss
UAB 1-0 Win over Middle Tennessee State
ODU 1-0 Win over Charlotte
FIU 1-0 Win over FAU
Marshall 1-0 Win over WKU
North Texas 1-1 Win over UTSA and lost to UTEP
UTSA 1-1 Lost to North Texas and win over Rice
MTSU 0-1 Lost to UAB
WKU 0-1 Lost to Marshall
Southern Miss 0-1 Lost to Louisiana Tech
Charlotte 0-1 Lost to ODU
FAU 0-1 Lost to FIU
Rice 0-2 Lost UTEP and UTSA
Blazer Bloggin’ is going to take you through each team and provide some insight on their personnel, out-of-conference play, and projected conference performance. We’ll be referencing Ken Pomeroy’s RPI ratings and statistics for each team.
Coach: Tim Floyd
Out-of-Conference Record: (8-5)
Best Win: Southern Illinois, RPI: 115
Worst Loss: Norfolk St., RPI: 233
UTEP comes into conference play with one representative on the CUSA Preseason All-Conference Team in 6-4 Senior Guard Earvin Morris. Morris is averaging 12.1 PPG with his best performance coming against Colorado State at the Corpus Christi Coastal Challenge where he tallied 28 points.
The Miners lost arguably their best player and current NBA-DL Reno Bighorn, Vince Hunter. However, they gained an outstanding transfer from Oregon, Dominic Artis. Artis is averaging 12.3 PPG with his best performance coming against UT-Rio Grande where he tallied 21 points and hit 7 three-pointers.
Omega Harris, a 6-3 Sophomore Guard, is leading the Miners with 14.8 PPG through their first 15 games. It’s worth noting UTEP has 11 players averaging more than 10 points per game. The Miners have clearly played deep into their roster but have had trouble finding consistent play down low. Hooper Vint, a 6-11 Senior Center, has been their go-to-guy in the paint. He’s averaging 24.5 minutes per game and 10.5 points per game. Beyond Vint, the Miners have had little contribution from their other interior players. 7-1 Junior Center Matt Willms has only played in two games and Brodricks Jones, a 6’10 Forward, has only played in six.
UTEP, much like most other teams in Conference USA, will rely heavily on their guards and forwards to control the perimeter as well as in the interior. Coach Floyd is as seasoned as they come and will without a doubt put out a tough defensive team despite their size.
Prediction: The Miners will finish in the top half of the league. A regular season title is not likely, but I wouldn’t rule them out to upset someone in Birmingham at the conference tournament as long as they have Floyd as the coach.
Coach: Eric Konkol (First Year)
Out-of-Conference Record: (11-2)
Best Win: Ohio State, RPI: 53
Worst Loss: Ole Miss, RPI: 80
It only takes a quick glance at Tech’s schedule to see they have been the most impressive so far in CUSA. Tech comes into the season with back-to-back conference regular season championships and could be in the discussion to win another. Even more impressive, Tech just won their 39th home game in a row at the Thomas Assembly Center. The Arizona Wildcats are the only team in the nation with a longer win streak.
Tech’s win over Ohio State in Columbus has been one of the few bright moments for the conference as a whole in out-of-conference play. Along with that win, Tech defeated UT-Arlington (RPI: 63) who has collected 3 top 100 RPI wins themselves. As impressive as the wins over Ohio State and UT-Arlington have been, the blowout losses against Memphis and Ole Miss on the road are hard to look past. Tech and UAB are the only teams in CUSA to win 3 true road games out-of-conference.
Alex Hamilton and Erik McCree were both named to the CUSA Preseason All-Conference Team. Hamilton was the 4th wheel to Tech’s historic trio that graduated last year — Kyser, Appleby, and Smith. The Bulldog trio broke nearly every record in La Tech basketball history. Fortunately for 1st year Coach Konkol, he was not left with an empty pantry when Mike White left to be Florida’s new head men’s basketball coach. Midway through the season, Alex Hamilton is a near lock for CUSA Play of the Year. Hamilton is averaging 18/6/6 (Points, Rebounds, and Assists). They only other player in the country with those numbers is pre-season All-American Ben Simmons at LSU. Erik McCree is the ultimate counter-part to Hamilton. He is scoring at nearly the same rate (17.3) as Hamilton and is giving Konkol a lot of minutes with 31.1 per game.
Mike White’s token defensive pressure has picked up right where it left off with Coach Konkol’s current team. The Bulldog’s are forcing 9.4 steals per game (11th in the Nation) and 16.79 turnovers per game (17th in the Nation). What Tech lacks in size they make up with their full court pressure and long wing-spanned guards and forwards.
Prediction: Expect the Bulldogs to be in contention for their 3rd straight CUSA Regular Season title in a row and a run to at least the CUSA Tournament semi-finals in Birmingham. However, don’t be shocked if Tech’s amazing home streak is snapped this season. The Bulldog’s host ODU, UTEP, UAB, and MTSU.
Coach: Jerrod Haase
Out of Conference Record: 10-3
Best Win: Georgia St., RPI: 87
Worst Loss: Auburn, RPI: 149
2015 was a season of highs and lows for the Blazers. UAB’s success in the CUSA Tournament and the NCAA Tournament has been written and talked about at length. It was the months prior to March that were much more tumultuous for the young squad. When the Blazers left their home, Bartow Area, the road did not bode them well. A road record of 2-6 with losses at FAU, Rice, and North Texas left Coach Haase knowing little about how his team would perform when leaving Birmingham. Fortunately for the Blazers, they won nine of their CUSA home games. That streak has continued into the 2015-2016 season and is now at 16.
UAB joins La Tech with 2 players on the CUSA Preseason All-Conference Team in Senior Guard Robert Brown and Sophomore Forward William Lee. If the voters were asked to vote again at this point of the season, Sophomore Forward Chris Cokley and Sophomore Guard Nick Norton could easily take their place or join them on the list. Cokley is averaging 15.2 PPG and shooting a scorching 62 percent from the field. It’s worth noting that the reigning CUSA 6th Man of the Year did not become a starter until the sixth game of this season. The Blazers primary ball-handler, Nick Norton, is second in the nation in assist to turnover ratio (5.75) only behind Pitt’s Senior Guard James Robinson (6.09). Overall, the Blazers have eight players averaging more than 15 minutes per game making them the deepest team in the conference.
Prediction: It’s going to be a tall task for CUSA teams to match the Blazers’ size, depth, and experience. UAB’s boasts the 2nd bests scoring defense in CUSA and will field the 10th best shot blocking team in the nation against what will usually be smaller teams. Anything short of a regular season title and a conference tournament title would be a disappointment for Coach Haase’s squad.
Coach: Jeff Jones
Out-of-Conference Record: 7-6
Best Win: Rhode Island, RPI: 64
Worst Loss: William & Mary, RPI: 110
ODU came into the season as the only other team to be picked by analysts and media members to win CUSA along with UAB. The Monarchs have one player on the CUSA Preseason All-Conference Team, Senior Guard Trey Freeman. Freeman is getting off to a great start averaging 16.7 points per game, while playing nearly 100 minutes more than the next Monarch. He’s been asked to do more given the injuries ODU has incurred this year. Guard Ambrose Mosley and Forward Brandan Stith have missed nine and six games respectively. If the Monarchs had the fortune of health as say UAB or La Tech, they most certainly would have performed better in out-of-conference play.
Alongside of star Guard Trey Freeman is fellow Senior Guard Aaron Bacote. The pair often play at the same time but either can effectively run the point position. Bacote is averaging 15.4 points per game and has made a team high 15 three-pointers. With this pair on the court, the Monarchs will be competitive in every CUSA game they play. Only second to La Tech’s current home streak, ODU has won 32 in a row. The Monarchs will put that streak to the test when UAB, MTSU, and UTEP visit the Convocation Center this year.
Prediction: It’s uncertain when the Monarch’s will get back Mosley and Stitch. With their lack of depth and performance thus far, it’s hard to see the Monarch’s being able to compete for a regular season or conference tournament title. With that being said, ODU will have a chance in every game they play as long as Trey Freeman is in the lineup.