It’s that time of the year that we sports bloggers and writers flood your social media accounts with rankings and predictions. I’m posting my player rankings a little later than usual so I could see a couple of transfers play in their exhibitions. Let’s have a look at the top 15 players in Conference USA going in to the 2017-18 season.
15. Austin Ajukwa, Guard ¦ Charlotte
The former Clemson Tiger came onto the scene for Charlotte last season providing a significant boost in the backcourt for Mark Price. Ajukwa scored in double figures in nine of Charlotte’s last 13 games and went off against FIU for 30 with a ridiculous 81 percent shooting night. He’s one of the more talented slashing guards in the conference, and his size and strength are a handful.
14. A.J. Lawson, Guard ¦ North Texas
A.J. had one of the better freshman campaigns in the conference last season averaging just over 11 points per game, while doing the majority of his work inside the 3-point line. At 6-foot-5, Lawson is long and has a consistent mid-range jumper. If he can develop his game outside of the arc, he could be a big time scorer in Conference USA before his career is over. North Texas will be relying on him heavily this season.
13. Brandan Stith, Forward ¦ Old Dominion
Old Dominion deserves a season where Stith is healthy from start to finish. The past two years he’s suffered injuries that have either kept him out of games or caused him not to be at his best. When he’s healthy, he’s as good in the frontcourt as any player in the conference. Stith is a double-double a night type of athlete, and his senior season could be when it all finally comes together.
12. Matt Willms, F ¦ UTEP
Like Stith, Willms has struggled with injuries for much of his career. When he is healthy, he is without a doubt the best true five in the conference at 7-foot-1. When UTEP went on their win streak last year, which resulted in wins over Middle Tennessee and UAB, Willms rim protection in their 1-3-1 defense was stellar. I’d bet Tim Floyd continues running similar sets again this year, which should yield a great final season for Willms.
11. Nick King, F ¦ MTSU
I struggle with putting transfers in preseason rankings, but I’m familiar enough with Nick’s game to know he’s more than deserving. In Middle’s exhibition King went for 16 points and should be a solid wing man for volume scorer Giddy Potts. Middle is going to rely heavily on King and Potts to be productive offensive players if they want to repeat their success from last season.
10. DeQuan Bracey, G ¦ La Tech
I’m almost certain I have Bracey ranked too low. The sophomore point guard is all but guaranteed to come out and top his fantastic freshman campaign last season. He loses some key pieces in Omar Sherman and Erik McCree in the frontcourt, but their absence should help him expand his offensive game outside of distributing the ball, which he proved he was excellent at average nearly six assists per game.
9. Ahmad Caver, G ¦ Old Dominion
Caver is a guard in Conference USA that doesn’t get near enough attention. As great as Old Dominion has been on defense the past few season, they’ve equally had their struggles getting consistent scoring from the guard position (Trey Freeman was an exception). Caver is an excellent distributor and a killer from behind the arc hitting 67 3-pointers, while running the point last season. During a stretch from late January to late February, Caver averaged more than 17 points a game. Expect the same from him this season.
8. Chris Cokley, F ¦ UAB
You could make the argument that Cokley is one of the best, if not the best, post scorer in Conference USA. He’s put on some offseason bulk and is prepared to shift from the four to the five for UAB this season. Keep an eye on his developing mid-range shot, and possibly even some looks from behind the arc. He and Lee make up the best frontcourt in Conference USA.
7. Justin Johnson, F ¦ Western Kentucky
Justin Johnson does everything well and that’s not an overstatement. He can shoot, defend, and rebound as well as any frontcourt player in the conference. The inclusion of former Jayhawk Dwight Coleby — who is a burly 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds — should give Johnson more room to operate in the mid-range and in the paint. The Hilltopper frontcourt is going to give teams problems.
6. Jacobi Boykins, G ¦ La Tech
Boykins is finally going to have his chance to be the man for his team in Ruston this season. The lanky guard is neck-and-neck with Giddy Potts as the best 3-point shooter in the conference after he hit 89 last season at a 40 percent clip. Boykins is one of the better rebounding guards averaging a shade over four a game, and he is one of the best backcourt defenders in the country.
5. Omega Harris, G ¦ UTEP
Omega is destined to have a fantastic season in El Paso this season for no other reason than his team is going to need it. He’ll be the Miners primary scoring option, which should yield some gaudy offensive numbers. He shared a backcourt with Dominic Artis last season and still averaged 17 points a game. Harris, Paul Thomas, and Matt Willms are a trio that could cause some trouble for the top teams in Conference USA.
4. Jon Davis, G ¦ Charlotte
You guys know I love Jon Davis. The Iceman will not be stopped in Conference USA this season. If there is any knock on Davis it’s that he tends to lean on hero ball at times and not get his teammates going. If he can continue his volume scoring, while also becoming a better facilitator, he’ll be in contention for player of the year and Charlotte will be a team to reckon with.
3. Giddy Potts, G ¦ Middle Tennessee
I’m sure I’ll get some hate for Potts’ ranking, but I hope people can understand it’s because of the greatness of the players ahead of him and not his lack of ability. Potts has an incredible all-around game and could be knocking at the door of averaging near 20 points per game this season. If Tyrik Dixon can continue to develop at point and feed the Giddy monster, he’ll be another player in the discussion for many awards at the end of the season.
2. William Lee, F ¦ UAB
This is going to be the season that Lee becomes not only a defensive specialists, but a more complete offensive player. UAB fans have wanted more from him offensively for years and I think the Blazer’s current roster should yield a special season for the senior. With Nick Norton back expect Lee to get going offensively way more consistently than last season. Also, I think we’ll see a defensive player of the year three-peat.
1. Jon Elmore, G ¦ Marshall
At the top of the list sits the most versatile and complete player in Conference USA. Elmore is built like an NBA point guard and shoots like a splash brother. He can rebound, defend, and has a higher basketball IQ than any player in this conference. Not to mention, his ability to make his teammates better is unmatched. Jon Elmore is my prediction for conference player of the year.