Conference USA Conference Catch-up: Can anyone stop Louisiana Tech?

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source: AP

With more realignment shake-ups in 2014-15, Conference USA is once again a shifting landscape.

Conference USA has had so many members at this point in their history that the USA part of the name seems rather appropriate.

Gone from the league in 2014-15 are East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa — as those three schools move on to the American Athletic Conference — and joining the league from the Sun Belt is Western Kentucky.

So C-USA now stands at 14 members and the top teams look similar to last season.

NCAA Tournament representative Tulsa is out of the picture but Louisiana Tech, UTEP, and Southern Miss — with new head coach Doc Sadler — are looking like the top three teams in the league.

UAB has some talent in place and Middle Tennessee loses a lot from last season’s strong effort. The middle of the pack of Old Dominion, new face Western Kentucky, Charlotte, North Texas and FIU could go a number of different ways while Rice, Marshall, UTSA and Florida Atlantic round out the league.

THREE UP

  • Louisiana Tech: Head coach Mike White opted to stay with the Bulldogs after flirting with the Tennessee job and he gets back two of his top three scorers (Alex Hamilton and Raheem Appleby) and one of the nation’s top assist men in point guard Kenneth Smith. White’s teams at Louisiana Tech have been very deep and balanced and this group should be similar.
  • UTEP: Tim Floyd did a fantastic job of keeping the Miners together in the wake of the FBI scandal last season and with Julian Washburn and Vince Hunter returning — and two new Rivals top 150 recruits — this UTEP team should have plenty of firepower to compete for the top spot in the league.
  • Charlotte: The 49ers were young last season and went through some growing pains in February. But now that many talented pieces return, Charlotte could be poised for a run up the standings. As long as head coach Alan Major returns from his leave this season, the 49ers should be in good shape.

THREE DOWN

  • Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders lost an all-league player in senior forward Sean Jones and there were plenty of other losses to a senior-laden team as well. It will be tough for them to stay with the league’s elite teams this season.
  • Southern Miss: The loss of Donnie Tyndall certainly hurts but Michael Craig, Neil Watson, Daveon Boardingham and Jerrold Brooks were four of the Golden Eagles top five players and they were seniors. That leaves new coach Doc Sadler with a lot of questions entering his first season on the job, but he’s won in the league before at UTEP.
  • Marshall: After back-to-back losing seasons, head coach Tom Herrion was bought out of his contract and the program brought in former player Dan D’Antoni. The 66-year-old D’Antoni is a former NBA assistant under his younger brother Mike but he’s never coached at the Division I level and hasn’t been a head coach above the varsity level in high school. With the team also losing Kareem Canty, the Herd could be in trouble.

FIVE NEW FACES

  • Doc Sadler, Southern Miss:The former head coach at Nebraska, Sadler gives Southern Miss good name recognition and an experienced head coach after the Golden Eagles lost Donnie Tyndall to Tennessee. Sadler is 149-107 in a head coaching career that includes two years at UTEP and Nebraska for six seasons. Sadler has also coached in Conference USA before as the Miners’ head coach in 2005-06.
  • Chris Sandifer and Omega Harris, UTEP: Sandifer is the No. 102 prospect in the country according to Rivals.com and the 6-foot-6 wing could give an immediate scoring punch to UTEP next season thanks to his deep range and athleticism. Harris checks in at No. 149 in the Rivals rankings and the 6-foot-2 guard from Oklahoma was a highly productive guard throughout his high school career.
  • William Lee, UAB:Lee is a big-time athlete at 6-foot-8 and UAB did a nice job to keep this in-state three-star prospect home. Lee threw down a number of highlight-reel dunks in the EYBL with the Alabama Challenge and also rebounded at rim level thanks to his explosive burst off the floor.
  • Derrick Clayton, Western Kentucky: A native of California, Clayton was one of the breakout performers of the high school season in the National Prep Showcase and he could give the Hilltoppers some immediate scoring punch.
  • Dan D’Antoni, Marshall: The 66-year-old Marshall alum is a first-time head coach at the college level after working under his younger brother Mike in the NBA for the better part of the last decade. D’Antoni has only been a head coach at the high school level, but it will be intriguing to see if he incorporates some of his brother’s “seven seconds or less” offensive approach to the college game.

Way Too Early Power Rankings

  1. Louisiana Tech
  2. UTEP
  3. Southern Miss
  4. UAB
  5. Middle Tennessee
  6. Old Dominion
  7. Western Kentucky
  8. Charlotte
  9. North Texas
  10. FIU
  11. Florida Atlantic
  12. UTSA
  13. Rice
  14. Marshall

UCF’s Tacko Fall to miss the rest of the season with shoulder injury

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UCF junior big man Tacko Fall will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, it was announced on Saturday.

College basketball’s tallest athlete at 7-foot-6, Fall is UCF’s leading scorer and shot blocker while being second in the nation in field goal percentage at 76 percent. Putting up 11.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game in only 21.3 minutes per contest, Fall is the most unique weapon on both ends of the floor in the college basketball.

Fall is expected to have surgery on his ailing shoulder later this week as he suffered an injury over the summer that never fully recovered. Fall has also dealt with a hip injury that forced him to miss time during the season.

The Knights have been crushed with injuries this season. Aubrey Dawkins suffered a season-ending shoulder injury before the season started and promising point guard B.J. Taylor missed over two months with a foot injury suffered during the season opener against Mercer.

UCF is still having a solid season at 12-6 and 3-3 in the American but they’ll need to forge on without its big man. They’ve also lost two consecutive games and need to figure things out in a hurry to earn a spot in the postseason.

WATCH LIVE: Atlantic 10 basketball tripleheader Saturday on NBCSN

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The Atlantic 10 comes to NBCSN and the NBC Sports app on Saturday with three games that will air as part of a tripleheader.

It starts with George Washington at VCU at 12:30 p.m., continues with La Salle playing at Richmond at 2:30 p.m. and concludes with George Mason traveling to Duquesne at 4:30 p.m.

CLICK HERE to watch the Atlantic 10 on NBCSN

Sexual assault investigation involving Saint Louis basketball players becoming public

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A messy situation could be unfolding at Saint Louis University as a sexual assault investigation involving the men’s basketball team is coming more into public focus.

Saint Louis is a private school who is going through a Title IX investigation and there hasn’t been a lot of publicity surrounding the case. Back in September, three women told police they were sexually assaulted by four members of the Saint Louis men’s basketball team at an on-campus apartment.

A lawyer for three of the four accused players is claiming that his clients committed no crime. Lawyer Scott Rosenblum spoke to Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, giving the players’ account of what happened that night in graphic detail. Rosenblum said his clients have received suspensions ranging from 18 months to two years and a fourth player was expelled.

According to Rosenblum, his clients don’t intend to stay silent as they are considering an appeal. Legal action against Saint Louis University has also been discussed.

“At the end of the day, on every college campus, unfortunately, both genders make decisions that after they walk away from that decision, they regret,” Rosenblum said to Frederickson. “They think, this maybe wasn’t the best decision. But it wasn’t a crime. And it wasn’t actionable.”

Rosenblum also claimed that Saint Louis has, “overly prosecuted with an agenda from the beginning,” as he posed several questions about the case.

One of the accused players had been allowed to play at Saint Louis while three others were held out, according to Rosenblum. The three players held out of games were also allowed to practice and travel with the team. Players were also told to move off campus, eventually welcomed back, then forced to move off campus once again. Suspensions were also handed out weeks into the new semester instead of the break between semesters.

Rosenblum’s remarks about the investigation are the most public details to come out about this investigation as Saint Louis University officials have remained silent throughout the process.

Government shutdown forces Air Force to cancel all athletic events

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The Air Force Academy has been forced to cancel all home and away games due to the government shutdown, the school announced on Saturday.

Announcing on the official Air Force Academy Twitter page, the school will attempt to reschedule as many missed events as possible.

Canceled games include a home men’s basketball game against Fresno State on Saturday and a home hockey game against Sacred Heart. According to a report from the Colorado Springs Gazette, the women’s basketball team is in Fresno, Calif., for a road game against Fresno State, but that game will also not be played.

This is an unprecedented measure for the Air Force Academy as they’ve been able to play through government shutdowns before. In 2013, the USAA gave a $230,000 check to help Air Force football travel to Navy for its game. Government shutdowns in the 1990s also never forced the cancellation of any major Air Force games in the past.

A source told NBC Sports that Army’s athletic department has not been affected as it is privately funded. Navy’s athletic department should also be able to operate and continue under the government shutdown since they are privately funded.

Without private sponsors helping, it looks like Air Force won’t be playing until the government shutdown is over. The Gazette also reported on Saturday that Air Force athletic officials knew that this could be a possibility and said it would be an “11th hour decision.”

Air Force men’s basketball is 8-10 with a 2-4 record in the Mountain West this season. While the Falcons haven’t been a major contender, they had the momentum of a small two-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s home game against Fresno State.

The Falcons are also scheduled to play on the road at Utah State on Wednesday and host Boise State next Saturday.

Bosnian professional team announces they have signed Billy Preston

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Billy Preston has signed with BC Igokea, a Bosnian professional team, according to a release put out by the club on Saturday.

“We are thrilled to welcome Billy Preston to our club,” the statement read. “We were watching his situation closely and reached out to his family to show interest and ultimately reached an agreement with the family attorney in California on a contract for the rest of the season. We know Billy is an NBA prospect so we will do our best to continue his development to help him excel for our club and fulfill his goal which is to be an NBA star in the near future.”

“Billy Preston is foregoing his eligibility to play at Kansas and has signed with a professional team in Bosnia,” head coach Bill Self said in a statement provided to NBC Sports. “Billy’s family has been very upfront telling us that his first choice was to stay at Kansas, but with the uncertainty of the situation they needed to look at other potential options. This opportunity in Bosnia came with a deadline for a decision, and the family reached that decision Friday afternoon.”

“We are all disappointed that Billy never had the opportunity to experience college basketball competition but we certainly support him and wish him the best. Although he has been frustrated with the situation, Billy’s attitude has been tremendous and he has developed as a person and as a player. I’m sure that will continue as he prepares for his professional career.”

Igokea’s roster also includes former UCLA guard Malcolm Lee, former Oregon and UTEP guard Dominic Artis and Katin Reinhardt, who played at UNLV, USC and Marquette.

Preston had enrolled at Kansas as a freshman this season, but he was involved in a car accident prior to the start of the season. He was held out from competition as the school attempted to find out who was paying for the vehicle.