Conference USA preview: Can anyone dethrone Memphis?

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

It will be an interesting season in Conference USA as four members are headed to the Big East at the end of the academic year. But even with those changes there’s one thing that remains the same: the Memphis Tigers are the preseason favorite to win the title.

Josh Pastner enters his third season at Memphis and while the Tigers have reached the NCAA tournament in each of his first two seasons they’ve failed to pick up a win (Arizona in 2011 and Saint Louis last season). That has to change, and with the Tigers being a more experienced group there’s no reason why fans shouldn’t expect multiple NCAA tournament victories this March.

The question within Conference USA  entering this season is a simple one: which team (or teams) is best capable of challenging Memphis for conference supremacy? Could that be Marshall, or is it someone else? Here’s an early look at Conference USA.

Five Things to Know

1. Memphis loses wing Will Barton but returns five players who started at least 19 games last season. Three of those players are preseason All-Conference USA selections, with forward Tarik Black making the first team and guards Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson making the second team. Also on the second team is sophomore wing Adonis Thomas, who played in just 19 games last season due to a broken foot.

2. UCF is ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions but Donnie Jones’ program received a much-needed boost when senior forward Keith Clanton decided to stick with the program. Clanton, who averaged 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, was voted Preseason Conference USA Player of the Year by the coaches.

3. Tom Herrion may have to replace two starters from last year’s squad at Marshall, but he’ll have the services of two of Conference USA’s best players in junior guard DeAndre Kane (16.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and senior forward Dennis Tinnon (10.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg). The Thundering Herd haven’t reached the NCAA tournament since 1987, and that’s a dry spell they’re capable of ending this season.

4. Larry Brown makes his debut at SMU this season, and this is likely to be a tough campaign in the season before the Mustangs join the Big East. SMU has three transfers sitting out this season, and their leading returnee is senior guard London Giles (10.0 ppg). That means freshmen such as Blaise Mbargoba and Jordan Dickerson will have to show themselves capable of contributing if SMU is to accomplish anything in 2012-13.

5. The Conference USA tournament was originally slated to be played in Memphis, but once the Tigers accepted an invitation to join the Big East the powers that be in C-USA voted to move the tournament to Tulsa. However, Danny Manning’s young squad likely doesn’t have the talent needed to take advantage of the event being held in their city.

Impact Newcomers

F Shaq Goodwin (Memphis)
Goodwin was one of the nation’s best power forward prospects in the 2012 class (and one of the best tight ends in the country as well), and he’ll factor into the rotation at Memphis. Adding a player of Goodwin’s size and athleticism (6-9, 250 and runs the floor very well) will bolster the Tigers’ front court production this season.

F Danuel House (Houston)
Unfortunately Danrad “Chicken” Knowles wasn’t cleared academically, but James Dickey still has the talented House to call on this season. The 6-7 House is extremely athletic and can score from anywhere on the floor. He averaged 26.0 points per game as a senior at Hightower HS in Sugar Land, Texas.

F/G Twymond Howard (UTEP)
Howard was a Parade All-America selection last season as he averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds per game at Pearl (MS) High School. Howard’s a good athlete who can get to the rim and finish, and combined with sophomore McKenzie Moore gives Tim Floyd a couple solid newcomers to add to the rotation (if Anthony January enrolls in January as planned the Miners will have another talented piece to call on).

G Daiquan Walker (UCF)
The Knights need help at the point with Isaiah Sykes (94 assists in 2011-12) being their leading assist man from last season and the freshman Walker is one option for Donnie Jones. The Philadelphia native played alongside UNLV freshman Savon Goodman last season, averaging 18.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game in helping to lead Constitution High to a Pennsylvania Class A state title.

G/F Michael Craig (Southern Miss)
The South Mountain CC transfer will have plenty of opportunities to make an impact in Donnie Tyndall’s first season at Southern Miss. Craig averaged 22.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game last season, earning NJCAA First Team All-America honors.

Other newcomers of note: G Kareem Canty (Marshall), G Geron Johnson (Memphis/Garden City CC transfer), C Blaise Mbargorba (SMU), G Pat Swilling Jr. (Tulsa/College of Southern Idaho transfer), F Chris Washburn (UTEP) 

Breakout Players

F Adonis Thomas (Memphis)
Thomas was expected to be one of the best freshmen in America last season but his broken foot robbed the Memphis native of valuable playing time and explosive athletic ability. Thomas is 100% now, and with Barton and Wesley Witherspoon gone there’s more room for him to go to work.

F Tristan Spurlock (UCF)
Spurlock, a transfer from Virginia, averaged 7.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 22 contests (six starts) in 2011-12. Spurlock’s a very good athlete who should see an increase in scoring opportunities with guard Marcus Jordan (354 field goal attempts) moving on. Keith Clanton and Isaiah Sykes are going to need help, and Spurlock is capable of being that third offensive option.

F Shawn Williams (SMU)
This one’s just as much about necessity as it is talent. Williams, who began his college career at Texas, averaged 5.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in 2011-12. And given the Mustangs’ lack of experience he’ll have to improve on that production if SMU is to “tread water” this season.

G Rashard McGill (Southern Miss)
McGill started 27 of the 31 games in which he played last season, but the Tallahassee CC transfer wasn’t all that productive with averages of 2.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. McGill averaged 14.6 minutes per contest in 2011-12, a number that’s likely to increase with the Golden Eagles having to replace five of their top six scorers.

G Tim Peete (Tulsa)
Peete started ten of the 31 games in which he played last season, averaging 5.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per contest. His 67 assists were tied for second on the team, but with Jordan Clarkson and Eric McClellan both gone Peete is Tulsa’s leading returnee in that department. Danny Manning has a lot of new pieces (and some returnees who were seldom used in 2011-12) in his first run as a head coach, likely meaning that Peete will have a larger role on the floor.

Player of the Year: G DeAndre Kane (Marshall)
According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers Kane (16.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.5 apg) finished last season with a possession percentage of 29.5% (tops on the team) and his responsibilities are unlikely to diminish this season. If Kane can raise his shooting percentages (38.8% FG and 58.6% FT last season) he’ll be even tougher for opponents to deal with.

Coach under pressure: Ben Braun (Rice) 
Not sure there’s another team in America that saw more players transfer out this offseason without the benefit of a coaching change. Big men Arsalan Kazemi (Oregon) and Omar Oraby (USC) both call the Pac-12 home now, while Jarelle Reischel (Rhode Island) and Dylan Ennis (Villanova) made moves to the northeast.

In total six players transferred this offseason (the departure of assistant Marco Morcos could have had an impact), leaving senior guard Tamir Jackson and a very inexperienced roster. Is there enough talent for the Owls to renew optimism in a program that posted its first winning season since 2005?

All-Conference Team

G DeAndre Kane (Marshall)*
G Joe Jackson (Memphis)
G Ricky Tarrant (Tulane)
F Keith Clanton (UCF)
F Tarik Black (Memphis) 

Predicted Finish

1. Memphis (To be expected; Tigers need to show they can be successful in the NCAA tournament)
2. Marshall (Kane and Tinnon are one of the better tandems around, and are capable of getting the Herd into the Big Dance)
3. Houston (no Knowles but adding Danuel House to the combo of Joseph Young and TaShawn Thomas should make them formidable)
4. UTEP (John Bohannon was one of C-USA’s most improved players last season, and they welcome some talented newcomers as well)
5. UCF (Keith Clanton and Isaiah Sykes are back, but what they do at the point will determine UCF’s level of success)
6. Southern Miss (a new era in Hattiesburg, and Donnie Tyndall should keep the Golden Eagles in the top half of the standings)
7. Tulane (Joseph Bruha and Kendall Timmons are healthy, and Ricky Tarrant is a star in the making)
8. East Carolina (senior point guard Miguel Paul is one of Conference USA’s best)
9. UAB (wings Jordan Swing and Preston Purifoy will have to lead the way for Jerod Haase’s squad)
10. Tulsa (heavy personnel losses leave Danny Manning looking for his newcomers to help out senior Scottie Haralson on offense)
11. SMU (Larry Brown’s debut will be made with an eye toward the Big East in 2013)
12. Rice (Tamir Jackson returns, and that’s good because most everyone else left)

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

___

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Duke officially adds Marvin Bagley III

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Duke made one of the biggest recruiting moves of the year official Tuesday.

The Blue Devils announced that Marvin Bagley has formally reclassified from 2018 to 2017 and will join Duke for the upcoming season.

“Marvin is a special basketball talent and a tremendous young man,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “He is completely dedicated to his improvement as both a player and student and, given his family’s deep history in this area, he is fully aware of what it means to be part of Duke University. We’re thrilled to add Marvin to our program.”

Bagley’s history in the area comes from his father, who is a Durham native and played football collegiately at North Carolina A&T.

Duke’s official announcement comes just a day after Bagley committed to the Blue Devils and said he planned to enroll in the fall semester.

Bagley, who was the top-ranked player in 2018 and is considered by many now the top 2017 prospect and potential No. 1 NBA draft pick next summer,  makes Duke the presumptive No. 1 preseason team as he joins a highly-touted recruiting class for Coach K that was previously headlined by Wendell Carter, Jr., Trevon Duval and Gary Trent, Jr.

The 6-foot-11 Bagley averaged 25.8 points, 14.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game while playing in the EYBL this summer.

Duke now the odds-on favorite to win NCAA title, according to oddsmakers

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With Marvin Bagley III now in the fold, Duke has jumped up to become the favorite to win the national title in 2017-18, according to the Westgate Superbook.

MORE: Bagley makes Duke THE story … again | NBC Sports Preseason Top 25

Prior to Bagley’s commitment, both Kentucky and Duke were sitting at 7/1 odds to win the title, but the addition of Bagley not only dropped Kentucky’s chances, it made betting on Duke silly. The Blue Devils are the preseason No. 1 team in the country, but they are anything but a lock to win the title. As we discussed on this podcast, there are still some major flaws with this team. They are not that much better than the field that they deserve to had those odds.

If you’re looking to place a wager on a team to win the title, the bets I really like are USC and Wichita State at 30/1 odds and Miami at 60/1. Those are three top ten teams with the horses to make a deep run in March.

Anyway, here is the full list of odds from the Westgate.

TEAM OPEN CURRENT
Duke 12/1 3/1
Kentucky 10/1 8/1
Michigan State 20/1 10/1
Kansas 12/1 12/1
Arizona 20/1 12/1
Louisville 12/1 15/1
UCLA 40/1 25/1
USC 60/1 30/1
Wichita State 20/1 30/1
Texas 300/1 30/1
North Carolina 12/1 30/1
Villanova 12/1 30/1
Florida 20/1 30/1
Missouri 300/1 40/1
Michigan 20/1 50/1
Alabama 80/1 50/1
Oregon 60/1 50/1
Gonzaga 12/1 60/1
Butler 20/1 60/1
West Virginia 30/1 60/1
Virginia 30/1 60/1
Miami 50/1 60/1
Notre Dame 80/1 60/1
Xavier 80/1 60/1
Baylor 50/1 80/1
Wisconsin 60/1 80/1
Iowa State 80/1 80/1
Oklahoma 30/1 100/1
Florida State 40/1 100/1
Saint Mary’s 40/1 100/1
Seton Hall 60/1 100/1
Purdue 60/1 100/1
Indiana 20/1 100/1
Creighton 80/1 100/1
Vanderbilt 80/1 100/1
SMU 80/1 100/1
Cincinnati 80/1 100/1
UConn 100/1 100/1
Syracuse 100/1 100/1
Maryland 100/1 100/1
Minnesota 100/1 100/1
Northwestern 100/1 100/1
Illinois 100/1 100/1
Arkansas 100/1 100/1
South Carolina 100/1 100/1
Texas A&M 100/1 100/1
Nevada 100/1 100/1
Utah 100/1 100/1
TCU 300/1 100/1
Auburn 300/1 100/1
UNLV 1000/1 100/1
VCU 100/1 200/1
Virginia Tech 100/1 200/1
Marquette 100/1 200/1
San Diego State 100/1 200/1
Providence 200/1 200/1
Georgetown 200/1 200/1
Georgia 200/1 200/1
Oklahoma State 300/1 300/1
Kansas State 300/1 300/1
Texas Tech 300/1 300/1
Dayton 300/1 300/1
Rhode Island 300/1 300/1
Wake Forest 300/1 300/1
Clemson 300/1 300/1
St. John’s 300/1 300/1
Iowa 300/1 300/1
Ohio State 300/1 300/1
Penn State 300/1 300/1
Nebraska 300/1 300/1
Ole Miss 300/1 300/1
Tennessee 300/1 300/1
Mississippi State 300/1 300/1
BYU 300/1 300/1
California 300/1 300/1
Colorado 300/1 300/1
Arizona State 300/1 300/1
Stanford 300/1 300/1
Illinois State 300/1 500/1
Houston 500/1 500/1
UCF 500/1 500/1
Memphis 500/1 500/1
Richmond 500/1 500/1
La Salle 500/1 500/1
Davidson 500/1 500/1
Georgia Tech 500/1 500/1
Pittsburgh 500/1 500/1
NC State 500/1 500/1
Middle Tennessee 500/1 500/1
LSU 500/1 500/1
Colorado State 500/1 500/1
Boise State 500/1 500/1
Fresno State 500/1 500/1
Oregon State 500/1 500/1
Wyoming 500/1 1000/1
Vermont 1000/1 1000/1
St. Bonaventure 1000/1 1000/1
George Washington 1000/1 1000/1
George Mason 1000/1 1000/1
Saint Louis 1000/1 1000/1
UNC Wilmington 1000/1 1000/1
Charleston 1000/1 1000/1
Old Dominion 1000/1 1000/1
Princeton 1000/1 1/1
Harvard 1000/1 1000/1
Yale 1000/1 1000/1
Texas Arlington 1000/1 1000/1
Georgia State 1000/1 1000/1
Arkansas State 1000/1 1000/1
Oakland 1000/1 1000/1
Valparaiso 1000/1 1000/1
Northern Iowa 1000/1 1000/1
Belmont 1000/1 1000/1
Akron 1000/1 1000/1
Ohio 1000/1 1000/1
Buffalo 1000/1 1000/1
New Mexico 1000/1 1000/1
Utah State 1000/1 1000/1
Washington State 1000/1 1000/1
East Tennessee State 1000/1 1000/1
Chattanooga 1000/1 1000/1
New Mexico State 1000/1 1000/1
Grand Canyon 1000/1 1000/1
Boston College 1000/1 1000/1
Florida Gulf Coast 2000/1 2000/1
Louisiana Tech 2000/1 2000/1
Monmouth 2000/1 2000/1
Troy 2000/1 2000/1
Pennsylvania 2000/1 3000/1
Western Kentucky 1000/1 3000/1
NC Central 2000/1 3000/1
Bucknell 2000/1 3000/1
Washington 2000/1 3000/1
Louisiana-Lafayette 2000/1 3000/1
UTEP 5000/1 5000/1
Mount St. Mary’s 5000/1 5000/1
San Francisco 5000/1 5000/1
Wright State 5000/1 5000/1
Jacksonville State 5000/1 5000/1
UNC Greensboro 5000/1 5000/1
South Dakota 5000/1 5000/1
North Dakota State 5000/1 5000/1
Fort Wayne 5000/1 5000/1
South Dakota State 5000/1 5000/1
IUPUI 5000/1 5000/1
Cal State Bakersfield 5000/1 5000/1
Texas State 5000/1 5000/1
Coastal Carolina 5000/1 5000/1
Albany 5000/1 5000/1
FIELD (All others) 300/1 300/1