Josh Pastner

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.

Team of the Week: West Virginia Mountaineers

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers reacts against the Temple Owls in the second half during the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center on November 25, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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The Mountaineers did two things this week that should impress you.

For starters, they absolutely crushed No. 1 and then-undefeated Baylor at home. The Bears committed 29 turnovers and lost by 21 points in a game that never felt like it was in doubt for WVU. Press Virginia has never looked so good.

But Bob Huggins’ club followed that up on Saturday by going on the road, playing in an empty arena at Texas and overcoming a flu outbreak to land a come-from-behind win over the Longhorns. Let-down games are a real thing, especially when those games are played in arenas that don’t have the same kind of energy as a packed WVU coliseum.

We know what this team is and we know what they bring on a nightly basis. Their loss to Texas Tech puts them behind the eight-ball in a conference where Kansas is going to be so difficult to beat, but we need to take them as seriously as a Big 12 title contender as we do Baylor.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • UCLA: The Bruins became just the fourth team since Utah and Colorado joined the Pac-12 to sweep the road weekend at the Mountain schools. UCLA hit 19 threes and scored 104 points at Colorado and followed that up with a come-from-behind win at Utah, a game where UCLA’s legs were clearly weighing on them. Worth noting: the other three schools to accomplish this feat both won the conference.
  • Mississippi State: For all the talk about Mississippi State’s struggles this season, they’re quietly looking pretty good this year. They’re 12-4 on the season and, after a win at Arkansas and a win over Texas A&M at home, are sitting at 3-1 in the SEC.
  • Louisville: The Cardinals shook off a slow start to ACC play this week, hanging on to beat Pitt despite 43 points from Jamel Artis and following that up with a win over Duke in the Yum! Center on Saturday. Anas Mahmoud played the best game of his career in the win over Duke.
  • Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are now 16-2 on the season and 5-0 in the ACC after landing close wins at Miami and Virginia Tech this week. The Irish choked away big leads and lost a game down the stretch against both Villanova and Purdue. It looks like they may have shed those demons. Their five ACC wins are by a combined 23 points.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats asserted their dominance atop the American by beating SMU at home on Thursday night. They followed that up with a road win at an overmatched East Carolina. Cincinnati is one of the nation’s best defensive teams, and a team that we probably are not paying enough attention to right now.

Player of the Week: Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II, North Carolina

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At this point, it’s almost too difficult to separate the contributions being made by Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson.

Berry is the guy that makes everything easier for No. 11 North Carolina offensively. Jackson has turned into the sharpshooter and the closer that the Tar Heels have lacked the last two seasons. And the two of them have essentially taken turns making the big shots down the stretch for UNC this season.

On Wednesday, in a win at Wake Forest, it was Jackson burying a clutch three in a game where he led the Tar Heels with 19 points. On Saturday, it was Berry that had an answer for every Florida State run. He finished with 26 points against FSU. Jackson had 22, and he had a three in a late run that put the game away.

At this point, these two make up the best one-two punch in the ACC. They deserve to be in the same conversation with the likes of De’Aaron Fox-Malik Monk, Josh Hart-Jalen Brunson and Frank Mason III-Josh Jackson when it comes to the best one-two punches in the sport. Both have earned at least consideration for all-american teams.

They are the reason that UNC is very much a contender to get back to the Final Four and win that elusive national title.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss was the best player on the floor for the Zags on Saturday night as they handed Saint Mary’s their worst loss of the season, 79-56. It was quite the statement for Gonzaga, as Saint Mary’s was considered by many to be a real contender for the WCC title. Is it too early to start talking about Gonzaga’s undefeated season?
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA: Alford put together one of the best shooting performances we’ve seen this season, hitting 9-for-14 from three in a 37-point outburst at Colorado. Alford also hit a huge three late in the second half of the Bruins’ win at Utah, only the fourth time in six years that a Pac-12 team has swept the Mountain schools on the road.
  • London Perrantes, Virginia: Virginia bounced back from a rough start to ACC play with a pair of wins this week, including a win at Clemson. Perrantes was fantastic in the two wins, averaging 24.5 points and hitting a number of critical shots late in the win at Clemson. He’s turning into the go-to guy that the Cavaliers lost in Malcolm Brogdon.
  • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Beating an in-state rival like Arizona State is always awesome. Scoring 30 points in a game is always awesome. Scoring 30 points in a blowout win over your in-state rival? Priceless. Or something like that, right? Regardless, Markkanen has more than lived up to the hype he had entering the season.
  • Vlad Brodziansky, TCU: The Horned Frogs moved to 3-2 in the Big 12 this season with wins at Texas and over Iowa State at home, and Brodziansky was the biggest reason why. The 6-foot-11 Slovakian averaged 22 points, 10 boards and three blocks while shooting better than 70 percent form the floor.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Just how far will Duke fall?

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 28:  Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after losing 76-62 to the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Petersen Events Center on February 28, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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There was a lot of movement in this week’s top 25, mainly a result of Baylor and Duke taking the losses that they took.

Baylor, on Tuesday, took a 21-point beating at the hands of West Virginia, a loss on the road in which they committed 29 turnovers. While the final score was worrisome, the actual result really should not have been overly surprising. West Virginia is a pressing team that plays their best at home when the crowd is rocking, and Baylor is a team that entered the season with question marks at the point guard spot.

As bad as the result looked, it was pretty predictable, particularly when you factor in that Baylor maybe wasn’t actually the best team in the country.

Duke was much more difficult to rank. This team is still the co-favorite in Vegas to win the national title, meaning their ceiling is still just as high as anyone’s, but at this moment, Duke is a total mess. Without getting too much into their specific issues – I wrote 1,000 words on that very topic on Saturday – it’s getting harder and harder to justify keeping them in the top 25.

As of today, I think it’s too early to drop them out when teams like Maryland and Minnesota are in and around the top 25.

But if you don’t want to rank the Blue Devils, I’m not going to be the one to tell you you’re wrong.

On to the rankings:

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1. Villanova (17-1, Last Week No. 1)
2. Kentucky (15-2, 2)
3. UCLA (18-1, 3)
4. Kansas (16-1, 4)
5. Gonzaga (17-0, 6)
6. North Carolina (16-3, 10)
7. Baylor (16-1, 5)
8. Florida State (16-2, 8)
9. Oregon (16-2, 9)
10. West Virginia (15-2, 11)
11. Louisville (15-3, 12)
12. Creighton (17-1, 13)
13. Wisconsin (14-3, 15)
14. Butler (16-2, 16)
15. Purdue (14-4, 14)
16. Arizona (17-2, 19)
17. Notre Dame (16-2, 20)
18. Cincinnati (16-2, 21)
19. Duke (14-4, 7)
20. Saint Mary’s (15-2, 18)
21. Xavier (14-3, 17)
22. Virginia (14-3, 22)
23. Florida (14-3, 23)
24. South Carolina (14-3, 25)
25. Maryland (16-2, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 24 Minnesota
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 25 Maryland

PHOTO: Drake wears jersey of Zion Williamson, 2018 recruit

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Drake, who is famous for jumping on bandwagons and Canada’s most well-known Kentucky basketball fan, was spotted in an Instagram post wearing the jersey of Zion Williamson, one of the best players in the Class of 2018:

@mikewillmadeit @troubledte6

A photo posted by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on

This Williamson kid is good, too.

Well, he’s great for the mixtapes.

Because he does stuff like this:

2017 McDonald’s All-Americans announced

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Michael Porter, Jr. #1 of KD Mokan Elite dribbles. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Rosters for the 2017 McDonald’s All-American game were announced on Sunday night as the game is headlined by Kentucky (four) having the most committed prospects in the game for the second consecutive season. Duke and UCLA also have two All-Americans each while seven players remain uncommitted.

Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Miami, Michigan State, Oregon, USC, Washington and Western Kentucky all have one McDonald’s All-American each.

The 40th McDonald’s All-American game is scheduled for March 29 at the United Center in Chicago.

Here are the rosters for the East and West:

EAST

Mohamed Bamba, 6-foot-11, Westtown School (West Chester, PA) — undecided
Wendell Carter, 6-foot-9, Pace Academy (Atlanta, GA) — committed to Duke
Trevon Duval, 6-foot-3, IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL) — undecided
Quade Green, 6-foot-1, Neumann Goretti High School (Philadelphia, PA) — committed to Kentucky
Kevin Knox, 6-foot-8, Tampa Catholic High School (Tampa, FL) — undecided
Nick Richards, 6-foot-11, The Patrick School (Hillside, NJ) — committed to Kentucky
Mitchell Robinson, 6-foot-11, Chalmette High School (Chalmette, LA) — committed to Western Kentucky
Collin Sexton, 6-foot-3, Pebblebrook High School (Mableton, GA) — committed to Alabama
Lonnie Walker, 6-foot-4, Reading High School (Reading, PA) — committed to Miami
P.J. Washington, 6-foot-8, Findlay Prep (Henderson, NV) — committed to Kentucky
Kris Wilkes, 6-foot-7, North Central High School (Indianapolis, IN) — committed to UCLA
Jarred Vanderbilt, 6-foot-8, Victory Prep Academy (Houston, TX) — committed to Kentucky

WEST

DeAndre Ayton, 7-foot-0, Hillcrest Prep (Phoenix, AZ) — committed to Arizona
Brian Bowen, 6-foot-7, La Lumiere School (LaPorte, IN) — undecided
Troy Brown Jr., 6-foot-7, Centennial High School (Las Vegas, NV) — committed to Oregon
Jaylen Hands, 6-foot-3, Foothills Christian High School (El Cajon, CA) — committed to UCLA
Jaren Jackson, 6-foot-11, La Lumiere School (LaPorte, IN) — committed to Michigan State
Brandon McCoy, 6-foot-11, Cathedral Catholic High School (San Diego, CA) — undecided
Charles O’Bannon Jr., 6-foot-6, Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas, NV) — committed to USC
Michael Porter Jr., 6-foot-10, Nathan Hale High School (Seattle, WA) — committed to Washington
Billy Preston, 6-foot-10, Oak Hill Academy (Mount of Wilson, VA) — committed to Kansas
Gary Trent Jr., 6-foot-5, Prolific Prep (Napa, CA) — committed to Duke
M.J. Walker, 6-foot-5, Jonesboro High School (Jonesboro, GA) — undecided
Trae Young, 6-foot-2, Norman North High School (Norman, OK) — undecided

Conference breakdown of McDonald’s All-Americans

Pac-12: 6
SEC: 5
ACC: 3
Big 12: 1
Big Ten: 1
Conference USA: 1
Undecided: 7