Written By: Dave West (@Godsavetheham)
Blazer Bloggin’ continues the Conference USA Men’s Basketball Preview with Part 2, which includes teams 4-8 of the current CUSA Standings – Florida International, Marshall, North Texas, and UTSA.
Coach: Anthony Evans
Out-of-Conference Record: 6-7
Best Win: Tennessee Martin, RPI: 230
Worst Loss: Stetson, RPI: 301
You’ll be hard pressed to find another team who depends on a player more than FIU does Senior Forward Adrian Diaz. Along with Diaz’s CUSA Preseason All-Conference Team nomination, he’s won the CUSA Player of the week three times already this season. Diaz leads the nation in total blocks (52) and leads CUSA in FG percentage (65.3 percent) and blocked shots per game (3.77). Diaz also has compiled five double-doubles this season which is tied for first in CUSA.
The Panthers are led by their two Senior Forwards, Diaz and Daviyon Draper, along with Junior Guard Donte McGill. All three players are averaging double figures in points and over 30 minutes per game.
Prediction: FIU could finish in the top seven of the conference as long as Diaz can continue his defensive dominance and stay out of foul trouble. Diaz has recorded four or more fouls in seven of the Panther’s first 14 games. A championship run in Birmingham in March isn’t likely, but don’t be surprised if FIU wins a game or two. Last year they beat UTSA on a half court shot to advance to the quarterfinals.
Coach: Dan D’Antoni
Out-of-Conference Record: 4-9
Best Win: Western Kentucky, RPI: 170
Worst Loss: Ohio, RPI: 145
Most would look at the Herd’s 4-9 record and assume this team is lacking in talent and will finish at the bottom of the conference. Look closely at their schedule and you’ll see the average RPI of their opponents is 89, which is best in CUSA. Marshall started off the season 0-6 but has since won five of their last eight games.
Coach Dan D’Antoni is the older brother of 4-time NBA head coach Mike D’Antoni. The brothers both played collegiate basketball at Marshall in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The future is very bright for the Herd as long as D’Antoni is at the helm of his alma mater.
Marshall has proven to be a powerful offensive basketball team through the first 14 games. The Herd has scored more than 80 points seven times this season, which is second only to La Tech in CUSA. Marshall’s 94 points versus WKU was the most points the Hilltoppers have allowed in conference play since joining CUSA.
The leader of the Herd’s offense is Senior Forward James Kelly who is averaging 17.9 PPG. Kelly went off and scored 38 points (most in CUSA) against Wyoming in Las Vegas in December. The Herd also has CUSA’s leader in three-pointers made (43) and three-pointers per game (3.31) in Junior Guard Austin Loop.
Prediction: Marshall is still trying to find its identity defensively. Coach D’Antoni has implemented his self-termed defense “organized chaos,” which the Herd is still implementing. Marshall could finish in the top seven and maybe even top five if they can continue their offensive success. The Herd has a huge upside and could surprise a lot teams in February and in Birmingham this March.
Coach: Tony Benford
Out0-of-Conference Record: 5-8
Best Win: Sam Houston St., RPI: 192
Worst Loss: Troy, RPI: 241
After a mediocre out-of-conference performance, the Mean Green looks to get back on track in CUSA play. North Texas is one of four teams who have played two conference games through January 3. A win over UTSA on the road and a loss to UTEP on the road put the Mean Green at 1-1.
North Texas is led offensively by Junior Guard J-Mychal Reese with 14.5 PPG and 4.2 APG. North Texas is second behind UAB in FG percentage at 48.2 percent. Along with Reese, Sophomore Forward Jeremy Combs has been a big contributor offensively. He’s averaging 13.3 PPG and grabbing 9.7 rebounds per game. Combs has recorded three double-doubles through 15 games.
Prediction: The Mean Green will be hard pressed to break out of the bottom four or five teams. The best case scenario would be finishing near .500 and grabbing a win in the first round of the CUSA tournament in Birmingham.
Coach: Brooks Thompson
Out-of-Conference Record: 2-11
Best Win: Rice, RPI: 275
Worst Loss: Texas-Permian Basin, RPI: NR
Losing to two sub-300 RPI teams and non Division 1 team was not the start Coach Thompson was looking to have. One of the best players in Roadrunner history, Aussie Forward Jeromie Hill, graduated last year and left a void in their offense and interior defense. Hill racked up 819 points in his two seasons in San Antonio.
Fortunately for UTSA, Senior Guard Ryan Bowie has been unstoppable offensively scoring 18.4 PPG through the first 15 games. Bowie has recorded a CUSA leading seven double-digit games. He’s hit more than four three-pointers three times this season. UTSA’s next game at UAB will give Bowie an opportunity to score more than 20 points for the fourth game in a row.
Prediction: It’s hard to imagine UTSA finishing anywhere other than near the bottom two or three teams in CUSA. They lack size, experience, and frankly, coaching. Brooks Thompson will likely be out after this season if the Roadrunners continue their current losing trend.