Blazer Bloggin’ continues the Conference USA Men’s Basketball Preview with Part 3, which includes teams 9-12 of the current CUSA Standings – Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky, Southern Miss, and Charlotte.
Middle Tennessee State
Coach: Kermit Davis
Out-of-Conference Record: 8-4
Best Win: Belmont, RPI: 105
Worst Loss: Murray St., RPI: 197
The Blue Raiders are lead by seasoned head coach Kermit Davis who has been at the helm since 2002. Davis recorded his 250th win as the MTSU head coach during the CUSA Men’s Basketball Tournament in Birmingham, Ala. last March.
Coach Davis has the third most career wins (396) out of the active CUSA coaches, trailing only Old Dominion’s Jeff Jones (410) and UTEP’s Tim Floyd (440). In the late 1980’s, Davis became a head coach for the first time at Idaho University when then head coach Tim Floyd left for New Orleans.
MTSU returns one of the more experienced teams from last year’s CUSA Men’s Championship finals run. The Raiders return six of the 10 top minutes per game (MPG) players from a year ago. The Raider’s placed one player on the CUSA Preseason All-Conference Team in Junior Forward Reggie Upshaw. At 6-foot, 7-inches Upshaw is leading the team in rebounds (8.2.), double-doubles (4), and is second in PPG (14.4). His stellar rebounding abilities can be attributed to his skill in leaping that won him the Tennessee State High School high jump state title his senior year.
The Blue Raiders were one of the most balanced offensive teams a year ago. Not a single player on their 15 man roster was averaging double figures in points. This year, MTSU has three players averaging in double figures led by Sophomore Guard Giddy Potts (14.8). Through January 6, Potts is still the leading scorer for the Blue Raiders even after missing the last four games due to an academic suspension. It’s not certain when Potts will return, but it is clear MTSU’s success in conference play will hinge on his eligibility.
Prediction: If Potts becomes eligible in January, The Raider’s could be a dark horse to compete for a regular season and a conference tournament title.
Coach: Ray Harper
Out-of-Conference Record: 8-5
Best Win: Stony Brook, RPI: 64
Worst Loss: Drake, RPI: 212
The Hilltoppers are in then their sescond season as a CUSA Men’s Basketball member after finish 12-6 in their inaugural season. The Hilltoppers dropped their quarterfinal matchup at the CUSA Basketball Tournament to host UAB by one point, 53-52. Coach Harper will be going through a transition this year after six of the nine players playing the most MPG for the Hilltoppers are no longer with the team due to graduation or suspension. Despite their massive turnover, WKU is still third in scoring in CUSA and second in Total Blocks and BPG.
Offensively, the Hilltoppers boast a conference best 75.6 percent two-point field goal percentage. Justin Johnson is 13th in the nation in FG percentage (64.7) and is joined in the top 15 with FIU’s Adrian Diaz (65.3) and UAB’s Chris Cokley (64.1). Johnson and Diaz also lead CUSA in double-doubles with five each.
Prediction: The Hilltoppers still have enough talent and good coaching to keep them in the top half of the conference. With their ability to block shots and shoot from a high percentage, they could even break in to the top five.
Coach: Doc Sadler
Out-of-Conference Record: 3-8
Best Win: North Dakota St., RPI: 144
Worst Loss: William Carey, RPI: NR
The Southern Miss Golden Eagle’s are in their second year of their self imposed post-season ban. Coach Sadler’s roster is depleted and it may take years before the Golden Eagle’s recover from the penalties incurred during former Coach Donnie Tyndall.
Few positives can be taken from Southern Miss’ first 12 games. The Golden Eagles lost to NAIA William Carey in November and only has two Division 1 wins. The loss to William Carey is the first time a CUSA team has lost to an NAIA team.
One of the few bright spots for The Golden Eagles this season came on December 6 when they defeated a top 100 RPI team North Dakota St. at home. Southern Miss was able to win by controlling the boards and shooting 50 percent from the field.
Prediction: It’s likely The Golden Eagle’s will only win one or two conference games this year. As stated before, Southern Miss is serving a post-season ban and will not be able to participate in the CUSA Championship in Birmingham this March.
Coach: Mark Price
Out-of-Conference Record: 3-9
Best Win: Furman, RPI: 230
Worst Loss: Campbell, RPI: 286
Charlotte is second only to Marshall in terms of their out-of-conference strength of schedule. The Niners took their lumps early losing to Michigan by 55 in the Battle 4 Atlantis. In addition to Michigan, the Niners have faced Syracuse, Georgetown, Miami, and Washington. Despite their record, Charlotte has shown some signs of improvement most recently in a loss to Georgetown by three points.
First year Niners coach Mark Price is a familiar name to followers of the NBA. Price was a 4-time all-star during his 12 year career. Coach Price is the predecessor to Alan Major who had the Niners in position to be successful both of their first two seasons joining CUSA but could not get above .500 in conference play.
Offensively, Charlotte’s top two scores, Andrien White (11.3 PPG) and Braxton Ogbueze (11.2), are both shooting over 40 percent from three-point range. Pitt transfer Senior Center Joseph Uchebo is also coming along nicely with 9.5. PPG and 8.8 RPG.
Prediction: Four or five wins for the Niners would be a pretty decent first year for Mark Price. If Uchebo continues to get comfortable in Coach Price’s scheme, Charlotte could potentially upset one of the top tier CUSA teams and possibly even win a game in Birmingham in March.