To follow up our article on the Top 10 Conference USA Basketball Guard Duos, we’ll now highlight the top forwards in the conference.
When looking at these rankings, note numbers 13-15 are filled with graduate transfers and transfers who could very likely outperform their ranking. Due to the depth at the forward position in Conference USA we’ll take a wait and see approach before they jump those who have at least a season in the conference under their belt.
The parameters I used to rank 1-12 are overall skill set, past performance, and their team’s reliance on their output this season.
*We will not be creating a rankings of the center position due to the lack of players. However, We do expect a handful of teams to have solid contribution from the center position.
Notable Conference USA Centers: Matt Willms (UTEP), Ronald Delph (FAU), Rickey Brice Jr. (North Texas), Lucas O’Brian (UTSA)
15. Omar Sherman
I can’t imagine a better addition to the Bulldogs to compliment the player we have towards to the top of this list. La Tech has had tall, long interior players in the recent past, but none with this kind of size and skill set.
In just 17 minutes of action in the Bulldog’s scrimmage November 3, Sherman scored 11 points including a 3-pointer as his first made shot in Ruston.
Look for Sherman to start alongside Derric Jean, Jacobi Boykins, Erik McCree, and Qiydar Davis.
14. Willie Carmichael
I have to give former Hilltopper coach Ray Harper credit every time I get a chance for snatching up Willie Carmichael in the open transfer market two offseasons ago. He’s one of the longest 6-foot-8 forwards in the country and has the ability to stretch defenses from the 3-point line.
In short time Carmichael has shown he could be an elite rebounder for WKU pulling down 8 in Saturday’s scrimmage and 13 in their first, which was the most in a game by a Hilltopper since 2008.
Look for Carmichael or Ben Lawson to start alongside Pancake Thomas, Junior Lomomba, Justin Johnson, and Que Johnson.
13. JaCorey Williams
If Jacorey Williams was on the court last March, Middle Tennessee doesn’t lose to Syracuse in the NCAA tournament. When it’s all said and done this season the Conference USA voters are going to have a hard time deciding whether he’ll be Newcomer Of The Year or first or second team all-conference.
Williams had an impressive stat line against a notoriously feisty North Alabama squad in their exhibition scoring 14 points in addition to 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Look for Williams to start alongside Tyrik Dixon, Reggie Upshaw, Giddy Potts, and Ed Simpson.
12. Jeantal Cylla
I bet few of you predicted this guy making the list.
Here me out … this kid is the real deal.
As a freshman last season he nearly averaged 10 points a game, was second in total points (319), and hit 44 3-pointers. In a loss to UTEP he hit 5 3-pointers en route to a 25 point night. He has already shown he has game and he’s still very raw.
Look for Cylla to start alongside Adonis Filer, Ronald Delph, Nick Rutherford, and anyone’s guess.
11. Marquez Letcher-Ellis
Somewhere deep in my iPhone videos I have a 30 second clip of MLE draining six threes in a row during Rice’s media practice at last year’s Conference USA tournament.
His last season stats of 10 points and 5 rebounds in 21 minutes of play each night is great in any conference for a freshman. He is legit.
MLE didn’t play in Rice’s exhibition this past week for what I hope was nothing serious.
The Owls have one of the few tough first games in Conference USA to start the season when they’ll go on the road at James Madison this Sunday.
Look for MLE to start alongside Marcus Jackson, Marcus Evans, Egor Koulechov, and Andrew Drone.
10. Zoran Talley
Zoran’s statistics from his freshman season aren’t going to jump out at you. A lot of what he does on the court can’t be accounted for on the stats sheet. He’s the prototypical Jeff Jones physical forward.
Over the last five games for Old Dominion, Talley was a part of the most frequently used lineup as a freshman. Those game included a run to the Conference USA tournament championship and the eventual title of the inaugural Vegas 16 tournament.
Look for Talley to start alongside Jordan Baker, Brandan Stith, Ahmad Caver, and Denzell Taylor.
9. Terry Winn
If you’ve followed along with my Conference USA basketball articles you’ll know I mention guys who have to be good for their teams to be successful. Terry is one of those guys.
Terry, who landed on the all Conference USA freshman team last season, led all freshman in the conference in rebounds per game with 6.4.
At 6-foot-7 he’s the type of forward that will gladly bang with the big boys in the paint, but isn’t going to take a shot from behind the arc. That’s not his game.
With just one other proven interior player on team, Terry could very well flirt with averaging a double-double by seasons end.
Look for Terry to start alongside Dominic Artis, Omega Harris, Matt Willms, and anyone’s guess.
8. Ryan Taylor
I’m very intrigued to see how Taylor will handle being the focal interior piece for Dan D’Antoni’s offense this season. For Marshall and Taylor to be successful he’ll need to increase his minutes per game (881) to closer to what we saw from James Kelly last season (1009).
Taylor should see his offensive stats take a nice jump across the board this season being on the receiving end of high level passers Elmore and Browning. The senior is in a perfect situation to find tons of space with the two players I just mentioned and Austin Loop stretching out the floor.
Look for Taylor to start alongside Jon Elmore, Stevie Browning, Austin Loop, and Terrance Thompson.
7. Brandan Stith
As the caption reads, yes, Brandan is a beast. With William Lee in Conference USA we sometimes forget about the other top notch shot blockers in the conference. Stith was one of the best in the conference last season swatting away 64 and ranking third in blockers per personal foul in conference.
In ODU’s second exhibition Stith put on a preview of what to expect from him this season. In just 18 minutes of play he recorded 15 points and 11 rebounds.
There is little doubt he’ll average a double-double this season having put up 10.4 and 9.7 last year. However, I’m curious to see how he performs when defenses sag into the paint on the Monarchs, which they most certainly will.
Expect Stith to start alongside Zoran Talley, Ahmad Caver, Denzell Taylor, and Jordan Baker.
6. Justin Johnson
I regret to inform the rest of Conference USA that Justin Johnson has developed a 3-point shot.
The blue collar lunch pale toting kid from Hazard, Ky. is going to be a handful for teams to scout and plan for this year. I’ve seen both of WKU’s scrimmages and his 3-point shot is as smooth as Kentucky’s Four Rose bourbon.
The best thing that could have happened for Johnson’s game is the addition of Willie Carmichael and Que Johnson. Both bring size and the ability to stretch the floor from the outside, which should lead to plenty of space for JJ to shine.
Look for Johnson to start alongside Willie Carmichael, Que Johnson, Pancake Thomas, and Junior Lomomba.
5. Jeremy Combs
While there might be a few guys who will average a double-double this season on this just list by seasons end, Jeremy Combs is the only one to do it last season.
Jeremy is truly a one dimensional player and that’s no knock on his game. He isn’t going to shoot the three and rarely dabbles in the mid range. The senior makes a living in the paint using the quickness of his undersized frame and his elite footwork. He is relentless on the offensive and defensive boards as well at a modest 6-foot-7.
Look for Combs to start alongside Deckie Johnson, J-Mychal Reese, Rickey Brice Jr., and anyone’s guess.
4. Reggie Upshaw
Middle Tennessee’s core of Giddy Potts, Jacorey Williams, and Reggie Upshaw might be the best trio in Conference USA this season. The Blue Raiders will be better than they were last season and that’s a scary thought given how their March went.
Reggie’s game is arguably as complete and diversified as any on the list. Maybe an improvement in his 3-point selection would be my only critique, but that’s me just splitting hairs. It wouldn’t shock me to see him end up Conference USA player of the year given his overall portfolio over four seasons.
Look for Reggie to start alongside Giddy Potts, Jacorey Williams, Tyrik Dixon, and Ed Simpson.
3. Chris Cokley
Chris Cokley’s season last year was the tale of two halves. In the non-conference portion of the season he dominated nearly every single game. KenPom.com voted him the MVP of UAB’s games eight times out of 13.
Cokley’s performance didn’t fall off so much in conference play as did Conference USA teams opted to double=team him every chance possible. This season he’ll play alongside Lee, Williams, Baxter, and Norton who will all be a threat from the perimeter. He needs space to work and I think he’ll have more this year.
Look for Cokley to start alongside the 4 mentioned above.
2. William Lee
Assuming Lee’s minutes will increase this season, there’s a very good chance he’ll flirt with blocking over 100 shots having swatted away 95 last season in 25 minutes per play a game. It’s even possible he’ll overcome the great Alan Ogg at the top spot on UAB’s all-time season block list with 129.
In the few times I’ve seen Lee this preseason his offensive game appears to have taken another large step. My prediction this season is he’ll have 50 or more 3-pointers and assists to go along with another Conference USA defensive player of the year title.
Look for Lee to start alongside the four mentioned in the previous ranking.
1. Erik McCree
If you’ve hung with me this long, this is your reward. Erik McCree is the most complete player at any position in Conference USA, and maybe the country. It’s not out of the question to predict McCree will average 20/10 this season. I snubbed him from my Conference USA preseason first team and it might possibly be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.
McCree scored more than 30 points five times last season. Following an injury in the UAB game where he scored 33, McCree sat out a couple of games then capped off the final five games of the season averaging 16 points on a bum knee.
He is a beast on the boards, he has the best hands for an interior player in the conference, and he hit 48 3-pointers last season. What I like the most about McCree is he is going to keep himself in games only fouling out twice all season, while typically defending players as big or bigger than him.
Look for McCree to start alongside Omar Sherman, Derric Jean, Jacobi Boykins, and Qiydar Davis.