Conference USA 2013-14 Preview: Southern Miss leads a large group of new teams

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

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

Realignment has completely changed the face of Conference USA as four prominent members left for the brand-new American Athletic Conference and eight new teams came into play from the Atlantic 10, Sun Belt and WAC.

Benefitting the most from the departure of dominant Memphis is NBCSport.com’s projected preseason No. 1 team in Conference USA, Southern Miss. An experienced, senior-laden squad led by the senior backcourt of Neil Watson and Jerrold Brooks returns from a 27-10 team that was 12-4 in the league last year.

UTEP and Louisiana Tech follow the Golden Eagles. Miners’ junior forward Julian Washburn could be the conference’s best player by the end of the season and has the most upside in the conference while Louisiana Tech comes from the WAC led by junior scoring guard Raheem Appleby.

Tulsa could start four sophomores and is adding some much-needed height to a team that is talented but still young, Charlotte returns to C-USA and needs to address uncertainties in shooting and leadership to contend, and UAB will ride senior forward Rod Rucker as far as they can go.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Charlotte (Atlantic 10), Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt), Florida International (Sun Belt), Louisiana Tech (WAC), Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt), North Texas (Sun Belt), Old Dominion (Colonial), Texas-San Antonio (WAC)
Out: Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU (all to American Athletic Conference)

PRESEASON CONFERENCE USA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Rod Rucker, UAB

Rugged, 6-foot-5 forward has a 220-pound frame that he uses to bull to the basket and rebound and score. He put up 14.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in his junior year.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Neil Watson, Southern Miss: Senior guard shoots, defends and leads in a number of ways.
  • Raheem Appleby, Louisiana Tech: After impressive sophomore year of 14.9 points per game, could be poised for breakout year.
  • Elijah Pittman, Marshall: Rail-thin 6-foot-9 forward is C-USA’s returning leading scorer at 16.1 points per game.
  • Julian Washburn, UTEP: Junior 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12.3 points per game last season and has some skill in the open floor.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Southern Miss
2. UTEP
3. Louisiana Tech
4. Tulsa
5. Charlotte
6. UAB
7. Marshall
8. Middle Tenn St.
9. Florida International
10. East Carolina
11. North Texas
12. Tulane
13. Florida Atlantic
14. Old Dominion
15. Texas San Antonio
16. Rice

VIDEO: Zion Williamson throws down a vicious putback

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Zion Williamson made another highlight-reel play on Saturday outside of Atlanta as he threw down a vicious putback dunk at the Best of the South.

The five-star prospect has returned from a minor knee injury this spring to look like his old self in July as he’s entertained packed gyms of fans and college coaches the last two weeks.

The Class of 2018 star is currently regarded as the No. 3 overall prospect in the latest Rivals.com national rankings.

(h/t: Courtside Films)

Five-star 2018 point guard Darius Garland cuts list to six schools

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Five-star Class of 2018 point guard Darius Garland revealed the final six schools that he’s considering on Friday.

The N0. 12 overall prospect in the Class of 2018, according to Rivals, the 6-foot-0 Garland is one of the top floor generals in the nation as he is still considering Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA and Vanderbilt.

A native of Nashville, Garland is a potentially elite perimeter threat at the college level as he’s one of the more deadly three-point marksmen in the nation.

Garland spent this spring and summer playing with Bradley Beal Elite in the Nike EYBL as he averaged 16.8 points and 4.8 assists per game in the league this spring.

VIDEO: Kentucky’s John Calipari participates in the #DriveByDunkChallenge

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The #DriveByDunkChallenge is sweeping the nation on social media this summer.

Rules to participate are pretty simple:

  1. Drive around in your vehicle.
  2. Find a basketball hoop (or a basketball ring if you’re Ted Cruz) on a random driveway.
  3. Run out of your car and dunk on that random hoop while a friend films.
  4. Run back to your car and drive away.

Let Anthony Davis show you how it works:

Pretty simple, right?

The #DriveByDunkChallenge isn’t raising money or awareness for ALS like the #IceBucketChallenge did three years ago, but it’s something harmless and fun to do to pass the time during the dog days of summer.

Sensing an opportunity to join an Internet craze, while also following in the footsteps of his former player Kentucky star, Wildcats head coach John Calipari got involved with his own dunk late Friday night.

And his video is much funnier than I thought it would be.

While most #DriveByDunkChallenge videos are done by healthy and spry teenagers who are cruising neighborhoods during the day, Calipari, and his hip replacement, got in on the fun with a late-night dunk.

I love that Calipari ditched the ball behind his back while running back to the car after the dunk.

Most people who participate in the challenge usually have their own ball and keep it with them through completion. But Calipari either picked up a random ball in the driveway or just he lost the handle with his own ball and had a turnover.

The next time Calipari goes hard on one of his point guards for losing control and playing too fast, remember this moment.

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas posterizes defender

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Creighton rising junior wing Khyri Thomas, like several of his teammates, are taking part in the Omaha Summer League this offseason.

On Thursday night, the 6-foot-3, 205-lb. Thomas eviscerated a defender with a one-handed posterization.

Thomas is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign for the Bluejays. He started all 35 games, averaging 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Aside from the increase in offensive production, Thomas served as one of the top defenders in the Big East. He shared the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award with Villanova’s Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges.

Zion Williamson throws down 360 windmill dunk

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Zion Williamson added another jaw-dropping dunk in the layup lines on the first night of the second live evaluation period.

Williamson and his SC Supreme team took on Each 1 Teach 1 at the Hoopseen Best of the South at the LakePoint Sporting Community in greater Atlanta.

The 6-foot-7 power forward threw down a 360 windmill dunk during his pregame routines.

Each 1 Teach 1 would pick up a 70-67 victory over SC Supreme. Williamson would end with a monster stat line of 37 points and seven rebounds.