Conference Countdown: No. 9 C-USA


Preseason Awards

Player of the Year: Randy Culpepper, UTEP, Sr.

could very well be the most exciting player in the country to watch.
He’s arguably the best dunker in the country, routinely soaring for
highlight worthy dunks despite barely pushing six feet. Culpepper is
not a point guard, however. He is a scorer, through and through, with
no conscience whatsoever. Its not unusual to see him pull-up from 25
feet, and when he gets hot, watch out. Ask Central Florida, who saw
Culpepper go for 39 last season, or East Carolina, who was the
recipient of one of the most impressive offensive performances last
year as Culpepper went for 45 points (31 in the first half) on 14-18
shooting, 9-12 from deep. With Caracter and Moultrie gone, Culpepper is
going to be expected to carry an even bigger share of the offensive
workload as a senior.

And a close second goes too: Gary Flowers, Southern Miss, Sr.

Golden Eagles have a chance to be a very good team this season, and it
is in no small part due to the play of Flowers, a 6’8″ power forward.
Flowers was fantastic in his first season with USM, finishing among the
league leaders in points (15.0), rebounds (8.3), and blocks (1.8) and
providing Larry Eustachy with his only real consistent threat
throughout an up-and-down season. Southern Miss has a deep and talented
back court, and Eustachy has been vocal about his willingness to play
four guards around Flowers. Flowers should once again be a steadying
force for the Golden Eagles, and if he can improve upon the season he
just had, there is no reason that Southern Miss cannot build on what
was a positive finish to the 2009-2010 season.

Breakout Star: Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis, Jr.

has not had the smoothest two years in Memphis. As a freshman, the 6’8″
small forward was tried out at point guard, but that test didn’t last
long as John Calipari eventually discovered that it was Tyreke Evans’
natural position. Last year, Witherspoon was expected to carry much of
the workload under new head coach Josh Pastner, but it was an
up-and-down year. Witherspoon had some fantastic performances —
including a two games stretch where he scored 55 points against Gonzaga
and UAB — but also disappeared offensively during some games. This kid
has tons of talent. He’s a lanky and athletic 6’8″ wing that, when he
is at his best, is slashing to the basket and getting to the foul line.
He’s also added a consistent three point stroke, knocking down 43% of
his shots from beyond the arc, although he only took 79 on the season.
Memphis is going to be loaded with talent this year, but the majority
of that talent will be freshmen. Witherspoon, who seems destined to be
a first round pick when he finally heads to the NBA, will be the
experienced leader on this team. Eventually, his talent is going to
take over. Could this be the year? If it is, then I may end up
regretting not picking him as the preseason player of the year.

All-Conference First Team:

  • POY – Randy Culpepper, UTEP, Sr.
  • G – Brock Young, East Carolina, So.
  • G – Justin Hurtt, Tulsa, Sr.
  • F – Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis, Jr.
  • F – Arsalan Kazemi, Rice, So.
  • F – Gary Flowers, Southern Miss, Sr.

All-Conference Second Team:

  • G – Aaron Johnson, UAB, Sr.
  • G – Joe Jackson, Memphis, Fr.
  • G – Will Barton, Memphis, Fr.
  • F – Keith Clanton, UCF, So.
  • F – Papa Dia, SMU, Sr.

Freshman of the Year: Will Barton, Memphis

the lauded freshman class that Pastner is bringing in, Barton is
probably the best. A wiry athlete, the 6’6″ Barton has everything you
look for in a wing player. Most importantly, however, is that Barton
can really score. He can take a defensive rebound coast to coast, he
can get to the rim in a one-on-one setting in the half court, he can
finish above the rim, and he is a capable shooter in both the mid-range
and from three. His length also allows him to be a good defender, and
Pastner has said that Barton is the best rebounding guard in this
class. Keep in mind, Barton prepped a year, meaning he is coming in as
a 19 year old freshman. There is still plenty of room for this kid to
grow, but he has the talent, and he will have the opportunity to
showcase it this season.

All-Freshman team:

  • G – Joe Jackson, Memphis
  • G – Preston Purifoy, UAB
  • G – Isaiah Sykes, UCF
  • F – Michael Haynes, UTEP
  • F – Tarik Black, Memphis

What Happened?:

  • Tim Floyd finds a place to land: UTEP did what some believed was unthinkable
    — they hired Tim Floyd, the guy who built the USC program into a
    contender, then left as OJ Mayo’s fallout hit. And it didn’t take Floyd
    long to create a stir. Only months after he was hired, Floyd was off making package deals, bringing in three players — one of whom was Rashanti Harris, who has since been declared ineligible — closely associated with two of his new assistant coaches.

    That wasn’t the end of UTEP’s drama filled off-season. Not only did starting center Arnett Moultrie bolt for greener SEC pastures, but one player Floyd booted off the team, Myron Strong, made quite a fuss on his way out the door.

  • Floyd wasn’t the only one with a drama filled summer:
    Let’s begin with DJ Newbill, a 6’3″ guard that is currently at Southern
    Miss. Newbill, a Philly native, signed a Letter of Intent with
    Marquette only to see his scholarship taken away by Buzz Williams when Jamil Wilson decided he wanted to transfer into Marquette.

    that wasn’t bad enough, take Joseph Young’s case. Young signed his
    Letter of Intent with Providence, but do to his father’s hiring at
    Houston and the illness of one of his aunts, Young decided he would
    rather play for Houston. Keno Davis wouldn’t let him out of his LOI, so Young is sitting out this season while waiting to play for Houston.

    may have had the wildest ride. First, it was Will Barton, the talented
    Tiger recruit that believed that he was initially ruled ineligible
    academically, but once the NCAA received all of the information they
    needed, they reversed their stance and cleared him to participate. Another talented freshman, Jelan Kendrick, has been suspended from the Tigers for allegedly threatening a teammate. We don’t have details, but most believe he will back in Tigers uniform at some point.

  • Floyd also isn’t the only new coach in C-USA:
    Conference USA has seemingly become the preferred landing spot for
    coaches that lost their chance at a Big Six school. Larry Eustachy is
    at Southern Miss, Mike Davis is at UAB, Matt Doherty is at SMU, and Ben
    Braun is at Rice. Now, you can add former Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo,
    the new head man at East Carolina.

    Or how about James Dickey? He was the coach at Texas Tech in the 90’s, but lost his job to Bobby Knight. Dickey replaced Tom Penders at Houston.

    Believe it or not, I’m still not done talking about new coaching hires. Former Citadel head coach Ed Conroy is taking over the Tulane program, while Donnie Jones (more on him in a second) went to a different school within the same conference, leaving Marshall for Central Florida. Tom Herrion was hired to replace Jones at Marshall.

  • UCF is loading up: The future looks bright for Donnie Jones at Central Florida as he is stockpiling talent.
    Not only does he return the entire rotation from last season, he adds a
    talented group of freshmen this year, headlined by Isaiah Sykes. He
    also added three high-major transfers — Jeffery Jordan from Illinois,
    Tristan Spurlock from Virginia, and Josh Crittle from Oregon — that
    will be eligible to play next season. In addition to those transfers,
    UCF also adds two very talented recruits next year in Kamil Wilson and
    Rod Days.

    In case you didn’t notice, Jones now has both of Michael Jordan’s sons — when they aren’t partying in Vegas
    — playing for his program. I wonder is they can get His Airness to
    come play at practice? That would be a hell of a recruiting tool…

    There are a few other notable transfers from the league. Desmond Wade, Houston’s starting point guard, has transferred to Fairfield, while Paul McCoy, who averaged 13.4 ppg as a freshman before struggling last season, has left the SMU program.
    And Beas Hamga, a seven-footer that was a top 30 recruit coming out of
    high school and originally enrolled at UNLV, will be eligible this
    season as a junior for UAB. Yea, he’s tall.

  • Arsalan Kazemi is a player:
    He averaged damn near a double-double as a freshman for a bad Rice
    team, and the future only looks brighter for college basketball’s first Iranian. Why does the future look bright? Well, maybe its the 14 points he had against Team USA in the World Basketball Championships.

What’s Next?:

  • How long will Conference USA be this Conference USA?:
    Its not a secret that Memphis wants to join the Big East, and during
    the conference realignment madness that happened back in June, it was
    rumored that the Tigers, and possibly Central Florida, would be headed
    to the Big East. That didn’t happen, but when BYU made the decision to
    leave the Mountain West, theories started floating around about how the
    country’s second-tier conferences — the WAC, the MWC, C-USA — would
    realign themselves. That process if far from over, and we could end up
    seeing a major change at some point.
  • Can Memphis return to the top?:
    Its not a secret that Josh Pastner brings in arguably the best
    recruiting class in the country. After finishing last season second
    place in the league and missing out on the NCAA Tournament, this crop
    of freshmen should be good enough to get the Tigers back to the top of
    the conference standings. Will it lead to postseason success?
  • More than a one-bid league?:
    Generally speaking, there is pretty good basketball being played in
    Conference USA, but with teams like UAB and Tulsa fading down the
    stretch last season, C-USA was only able to nab a second tournament bid
    when Houston made a run to the league’s tournament title and UTEP was
    given a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. will this conference be able to
    support more than one at-large bid this season? Memphis seems like a
    pretty safe bet to earn themselves a bid, but with a number of solid
    teams behind them — Southern Miss, UTEP, UAB, Tulsa — will anyone
    perform above expectations?

Power Rankings:

  1. Memphis:
    Last season, UTEP took the C-USA title from the Tigers, and while
    Memphis loses four of their top five scorers, don’t expect the Tigers
    to be down for long. Josh Pastner proved himself to be a force on the
    recruiting trail, landing one of the nation’s best classes. It is
    headlined by a few potential stars on the perimeter. Joe Jackson is an
    ultra-quick point guard with athleticism for days that is a nightmare
    to keep out of the paint. Jelan Kendrick is a point forward that could
    stand to improve his handle and jumper, as well as adjusting his
    attitude. It remains to be seen if Kendrick will play this season after
    threatening a teammate.
    Will Barton, a 6’6″ slasher and scorer on the wing, may be the best of
    the bunch. Junior Wesley Witherspoon, a first round pick in the making,
    had a couple of huge games last season, and could develop into a star
    if he can become more consistent. Freshmen Antonio Barton and Chris
    Crawford, as well as Charles Carmouche, a transfer from New Orleans,
    should also get some time in the back court. The Tigers front court
    should also be quite good next season. Will Coleman is a freak athlete,
    a 6’9″, 245 pound dunker and shotblocker reminiscent of Joey Dorsey.
    6’11” Angel Garcia looks like he’ll finally be ready to contribute this
    year, while freshmen Hippolyte Tsafack and Tarik Black, who drew high
    praise for his play on the Tiger’s trip to the Bahamas, will also get
    quite a few minutes. Memphis is a big-time favorite to win the league,
    but how good they are on a national scale will depend on just how good
    some of these freshmen end up being.
  2. Southern Miss:
    USM had a bit of a quirky season in 2009-2010. They started off slow,
    losing to Canisius and North Florida during non-conference play before
    starting 0-4 in the league. But they finished strong — getting to 8-8
    in the conference — and with Larry Eustachy bringing back all five
    starters and a quality class of newcomers, the Golden Eagles look like
    they can make a push towards the top of the league. It starts with Gary
    Flowers, a 6’8″ post player that was USM’s most consistent performer,
    notching averages of 15 ppg, 8.3 rpg, and 1.8 bpg, good enough to earn
    him a spot on the all-conference team. But Flowers is not all that
    Eustachy has on his roster. Juniors Angelo Johnson and Maurice Bolden,
    as well as seniors RL Horton and Sai’Quan Stone, all started for much
    of last season. Johnson and Horton need to mature as decision makers
    and improve their consistency, but they proved to be capable of
    handling the back court duties. At 6’10”, Bolden is a perimeter threat,
    which should help create some space for Flowers, while Stone is a
    tough, physical defender. There will be some depth on this club, as
    well. Torye Pelham was a part-time starter up front last season, while
    Josimar Ayarza also saw minutes in the front court. JuCo transfer
    Aharyo Phillips — who played his freshman season at Nevada before
    being kicked off the team
    — should also compete for time. In the back court, Eustachy will have
    an inexperienced bench, but one that could push the starters for
    playing time. JuCo transfer LaShay Page and freshman DJ Newbill, who
    originally committed to Marquette, were both rated as three-star
    recruits according to Rivals. Four other newcomers — freshmen Kody
    Williams, Trency Jackson, and Cedric Jenkins as well as sophomore
    Kayland Partee — all will have a shot at earning some playing time as
    well. The Golden Eagles aren’t going to win pretty, but with their
    experience, their talent level, and a player like Flowers, Southern
    Miss should be near the top of the C-USA standings come season’s end.
  3. UTEP:
    The Miners will take a big hit to their front court this season, as
    Derrick Caracter headed to the NBA and Arnett Moultrie has transferred
    to Mississippi State. While that loss will no doubt effect this team,
    the good news is that they get, essentially, the rest of their roster
    back, including senior guard Randy Culpepper. Culpepper may be the most
    entertaining player in the country to watch. Barely reaching 6’0″,
    Culpepper is an athletic freak, soaring for highlight reel dunks
    while also being unafraid to jack up any shot he deems fit, even if it
    is 28 feet from the rim. Also returning for the Miners will be senior
    swingmen Christian Polk, Julyan Stone, and Jeremy Williams, who combine
    to form quite a versatile group to complement Culpepper. Another
    senior, 6’11” Claude Britten found himself buried on the bench behind
    Moultrie and Caracter, but he was still able to score a point in every
    two minutes of playing time when he did see the floor. The rest of Tim
    Floyd’s rotation will likely be made up of freshmen. Michael Haynes and
    John Bohannon will see minutes inside, while Michael Perez and DeShun
    Watkins should provide depth in the back court. UTEP will once again be
    in the mix near the top of the league standings.
  4. Tulsa:
    The Golden Hurricane were expected to be a top 25 team last season, but
    struggled down the stretch before being eliminated in the first round
    of the NIT to end a disappointing season. That disappointment was
    compounded by the fact that their two best players — Ben Uzoh and
    Jerome Jordan — both graduated. While Tulsa will have no where near
    the same preseason expectations, there are still enough quality pieces
    on Doug Wojcik’s team that they will once again be at the top of C-USA.
    To start, Justin Hurtt returns for his senior season. Hurtt has been
    the shooter that spread the floor for Tulsa the last few years — and
    successfully, he averaged 14.5 ppg last year — but the Golden
    Hurricane will be counting on him to have a big year this year. Joining
    him in the back court will be UConn transfer Scottie Haralson, two
    players coming off of serious injuries in Donte Medder and Glenn
    Andrews, and two talented freshmen in Tim Peete and Jordan Clarkson.
    Sophomore swingman Bryson Pope should see time on the perimeter as
    well. Up front, Steven Idlet and Joe Richard both return. They split
    time starting last season, and while both have proven to be solid
    rebounders and post defenders, Tulsa is going to need one, or both, to
    become more of a scoring threat. The same can be said for Western
    Kentucky transfer DJ Magley, who started half the time during his two
    seasons with the Hilltoppers. Freshmen Blondy Baruti and Kodi Maduka
    should see minutes as well.
  5. UAB:
    The Blazers lose quite a bit from last season’s 25 win team. Three of
    their top six scorers graduate, while Elijah Millsap, UAB’s leading
    scorer and rebounder, left school to turn pro. This year’s club will be
    based around the perimeter. Aaron Johnson, a 5’8″ point guard, returns
    for his senior season. Johnson, who made the C-USA all-defensive team,
    is a good distributor who will be counted on for more offensive
    production. Starting alongside Johnson will be Jamarr Sanders, a senior
    that averaged 10.4 ppg in his first season under Mike Davis who will be
    the Blazers best perimeter shooter. One player to watch will be
    sophomore Dexter Fields. Fields was a three-star recruit last season,
    and while he saw limited minutes last year, he had a couple of big
    games and was productive when he did get on the court. Freshman Preston
    Purifoy, a 6’5″ small forward, should help fill the void left by
    Millsap at the three, while Robert Williams and Quincy Taylor, redshirt
    and true freshmen, respectively, should also compete for time. The
    front court will be a bigger question mark. Junior Cameron Moore and
    sophomore Ovie Soko both were in the rotation last season, but averaged
    a combined 5 points and 5 boards in just 22 minutes. Freshmen Anthony
    Criswell should also see time, but the x-factor could end up being Beas
    Hamga. An athletic seven-footer, Hamga — who has a 9’6″ wingspan
    — was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. He’s raw, but he
    has a ton of potential. UAB has some question marks, but there is
    enough talent on this team that they could finish in the top four of
    the league.
  6. UCF:
    Things are really looking up for the basketball program at Central
    Florida. As we touched on earlier, Donnie Jones has a serious influx of
    talent coming into the program, and while the addition of that talent
    is still a full season away, there is reason to believe that the Golden
    Knights will be a factor in the C-USA race this season. In 2009-2010,
    UCF played with, essentially, an eight man rotation, and all eight of
    those players return. Six of them were underclassmen last season.
    Sharpshooting junior Isaac Sosa and 6’9″ senior AJ Tyler led a balanced
    scoring attack at 10.3 ppg each. Two sophomores, guard Marcus Jordan —
    who really came on as the season progressed, working his way into the
    starting line up — and big man Keith Clanton, showed that they can be
    impact players at the C-USA level. Senior Taylor Young and junior AJ
    Rompza will handle the point guard duties, while Dave Diakite and PJ
    Gaynor are role playing forwards. What UCF really lacks — and what
    likely won’t be provided by newcomers Jarvis Davis, Dwight McCombs, and
    Isaiah Sykes (although Sykes, a 6’5″ swingman, was a fairly highly
    regarded recruit that attracted a lot of high-major attention) — is a
    go-to scorer. UCF struggled against more athletic and aggressive teams,
    but part of that was an overall lack of experience on the roster. With
    this group now playing together for a second year, the Knights should
  7. Marshall:
    The Thundering Herd are going to look a lot different this season as
    both of their talented big men — Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Wilker son
    — and head coach Donnie Jones are all gone. Instead, this is going to
    be a team whose strength in on the perimeter. The leaders will be
    Damier Pitts and Shaquille Johnson, two junior guards that have the
    potential to be very good at this level. Much is also expected of Dago
    Pena, a 6’6″ scorer that had some big games off the bench last season.
    There isn’t a ton of talent behind them — Justin Howe is a freshman,
    DeAndre Kane was a partial qualifier last season, and Johnny Higgins is
    a JuCo transfer — but the Herd shouldn’t need a ton of depth as Pitts,
    Johnson, and Pena will likely play a lot of minutes. The question is
    going to be where Marshall gets their front court scoring from.
    Replacing the 27 points, 16 boards, and 6 blocks the Herd lost with
    Whiteside and Wilkerson won’t be easy. Tirrel Baines may be the best
    scoring option. Baines, a 6’6″ forward, averaged 11.5 ppg as a
    freshman, but saw his minutes cut as the Herd improved their front
    line. Antonio Haymon returns for his senior year, while 6’10” Nigel
    Spikes could also see more time. Joining them will be some new faces.
    Orlando Allen is a 6’10” transfer from Oklahoma. Eladio Espinosa
    started a dozen games at South Florida before transferring. Aundra
    Williams is a big-bodied, 6’10” JuCo addition. Depending on how the
    Herd’s trio of junior guards develops, this team has a shot at getting
    to 20 wins.
  8. East Carolina:
    The good news for the Pirates is that they basically bring back their
    entire roster. The key to that roster is going to be Brock Young, a
    senior point guard that was one of the more productive players in C-USA
    last season (15.5 ppg and 5.5 apg, which led the league). Young is an
    excellent penetrator, but he needs to improve on his perimeter shooting
    and cut down his turnovers, something that will be helped as he gets
    more production around him. And therein lies the problem — while ECU
    returns the same team from last season, its a team that was only able
    to muster 10 wins, four in league play. There are a couple of kids that
    showed potential last season. Junior Darrius Morrow proved to be a
    capable post player at this level, while senior Jamar Abrams, who can
    really shoot the ball, came on strong down the stretch after a sluggish
    start to the season. Jontae Sherrod joins Young to give the Pirates a
    solid back court, and 6’11” Chad Wynn will likely get the nod at
    center. ECU does have some depth, which will get helped by incoming
    front court players Robert Sampson and Darius Morales, but there aren’t
    many impact players on the bench. Young is a player, but unless he gets
    more help this season, Jeff Lebo will likely lead ECU to another losing
  9. Rice: Ben
    Braun has not had much success in his first two seasons at the helm of
    a struggling Rice program, but there is reason to be optimistic. Braun
    returns essentially the same group of kids from last season. While it
    is difficult to get excited about a team coming back that won just
    eight games, consider this — the four most important players on the
    roster are back, and three of them were underclassmen last year. And
    while the Owls went 8-23 last year, they weren’t getting run out of the
    gym. This is a group that played hard and played with pride, and as
    their talent level increases — and the young talent on the roster
    develops — Braun’s club only has one direction to go. They will be led
    once again by Tamir Jackson, a 6’2″ sophomore guard, and 6’7″ sophomore
    forward Arsalan Kazemi. Jackson had some big games last season and led
    the Owls in scoring, but he was inconsistent, especially with his
    jumpshot (although, to be fair, it was about what you would expect from
    an overwhelmed freshman on a bad team). Kazemi has the potential to be
    a star. The Iranian nearly averaged a double-double last year, was even
    better in league play, and put 14 points on Team USA in the World
    Basketball Championships. Connor Frizzelle, a junior who is probably
    the team’s best shooter, also returns, as does big-bodied center Trey
    Stanton. Beyond that, there are question marks. Will Lucas Kuipers and
    Suleiman Braimoh ever be more than a role player? Can any other
    returner develop into a consistent contributor? Will any of Braun’s
    freshmen — some of whom look promising, including David Chadwick, a
    6’9′ power forward that was a three-star recruit on Rivals, and Omar
    Oraby, a 7’1″ Egyptian that had 15 points and 8 boards against the USA
    in the 2009 U-19 Worlds — be impact players? Rice is still a long way
    from being considered a contender, but I expect more wins from the Owls
    this year.
  10. Houston:
    The Cougars are going to have some big shoes to fill next season as
    their starting back court of Aubrey Coleman, Kelvin Lewis, and Desmond
    Wade are all gone along with head coach Tom Penders. The cupboard isn’t
    going to be completely bare for new head coach James Dickey, however,
    as the Cougar team looks like it is going to be more oriented around
    front court players. 6’9″ senior Maurice McNeil had a solid season
    after transferring in from a JuCo, while 6’7″ sophomore Kendrick
    Washington looked pretty impressive down the stretch last season. Kirk
    Van Slyke should also see time inside. Like I said, the back court is
    going to have quite a bit of turnover. Seniors Adam Brown and Zamal
    Nixon, who both played about 20 mpg off the bench last season, figure
    to feature prominently next season. Beyond that, there are going to be
    a lot of new faces for the Cougars. San Diego transfer Trumaine
    Johnson, a 6’2″ transfer from San Diego that averaged 11.6 ppg in the
    WCC in 2008-2009, should see quite a few minutes alongside Brown and
    Nixon. Alandise Harris and Mikhail McLean are freshmen forwards, while
    JuCo transfers Darian Thibodeaux and Jonathon Simmons should be able to
    provide some experience. Overall, it seems as if it will be a
    rebuilding year for Houston.
  11. SMU:
    The bad news for SMU is that they lose two of their top three scorers
    from a team that, at times, struggled offensively. The Mustangs also
    lost Paul McCoy to a transfer, a talented guard that struggled to
    repeat his impressive freshman season. Simply put, there are a lack of
    quality pieces returning for Matt Doherty. Doherty’s most dangerous
    weapon is probably third team all-conference forward Papa Dia, a 6’9″
    post player that averaged 12.3 ppg and 8.6 rpg. Robert Nyakundi, a
    sharpshooting 6’8″ forward, should start full time this season as well.
    Beyond that, the Mustangs are going to have some interchangeable
    pieces, which works well given the grind-it-out style that they like to
    play (they ranked in the 300’s in tempo last season, and were at their
    best when the pace was slower than that). Justin Haynes is a tough 6’5″
    wing that was a starter last season, while Ryan Harp, Rodney
    Clinkscales, and Mike Walker all saw minutes in the back court last
    year. North Texas transfer Collin Mangrum should also provide some
    depth in the back court. The front court won’t be as deep for the
    Mustangs, and Dia and Nyakundi are really the only returners. Freshmen
    Leslee Smith and Ricmonds Vilde will compete with seniors Tomasz
    Kwiatkowski and Myles Luttman for minutes off the bench. Unless some of
    the Mustang’s returners develop this season, or their incoming freshmen
    end up being instant impact kids (none of them even received a
    three-star ranking from Rivals, it could be a long season for Doherty.
  12. Tulane:
    The Green Wave didn’t have much success, or consistency, last season,
    as they won just seven games while using 13 different starting
    line-ups. The strength of Tulane this season is going to be in the back
    court. To start, they return leading scorer Kris Richard, a 6’5″ swing
    man that is back for his senior season. Joining him in the back court
    will be two sophomores that had promising freshmen seasons. 6’5″
    Kendall Timmons led the team in scoring during conference play, proving
    to be quite a versatile player, while Jordan Callahan may be the
    program’s point guard of the future. He played sparingly to begin the
    season, but when starting point guard Kevin Sims went down with an
    injury midway through the year, Callahan filled in quite nicely,
    proving to be a capable shooter and distributor while posting a couple
    of big scoring games. David Booker is really the only returning
    interior player for the Green Wave, and as a senior, it would be nice
    to see him become more assertive and improve on his averages of 7.3 ppg
    and 4.1 rpg. After that, the front court is a bit of a question mark
    for new head coach Ed Conroy, who will need Geoff Hogan, Keith Cameron,
    or freshman Kevin Thomas to develop into a player he can rely on. When
    the Green Wave is hot from the perimeter, they should be able to be
    competitive, but expect to see them back at the bottom of the league
    standings again this season.

Report: Notre Dame closing deal with PSU’s Shrewsberry

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame is finalizing a deal to make Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry its new men’s basketball coach, two people with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because contract details were still being completed and needed school approval.

Shrewsberry, in his second season at Penn State (23-14), led the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and a tournament victory for the first time since 2001.

The Nittany Lions beat Texas A&M and were eliminated by Texas in the second round.

Notre Dame has been searching for a replacement for Mike Brey, who spent the last 23 season as coach of the Fighting Irish. He announced in January that this would be his last season with Notre Dame

The Irish finished 11-21.

Shrewsberry grew up in Indianapolis and went to school at Division III Hanover College in Indiana.

He was the head coach at Indiana University South Bend, an NAIA school located in the same city as Notre Dame, from 2005-07.

He later worked as an assistant coach at Butler and Purdue, with a stint as an assistant with the Boston Celtics in between.

ESPN first reported Notre Dame was close to a deal with Shrewsberry.

Bacot says he’s returning for fifth season at North Carolina

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina forward Armando Bacot is returning to play a fifth season for the Tar Heels.

Bacot announced his decision Wednesday, giving North Carolina fans a bit of good news after the Tar Heels failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.

The 6-foot-11 Bacot is North Carolina’s career leader in rebounds, double-doubles and double-figure rebounding games.

Bacot led North Carolina to a runner-up finish in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and his decision to return was a major reason the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25.

The Tar Heels didn’t come close to meeting those expectations. They went 20-13 and opted against playing in the NIT. Bacot earned Associated Press All-America third-team honors and averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds.

He averaged 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds in 2021-22. He capped that season by becoming the first player ever to have six double-doubles in one NCAA Tournament.

Bacot participated in North Carolina’s Senior Night festivities this year. He has a fifth year of eligibility because of the waiver the NCAA granted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ed Cooley takes over at Georgetown with lofty aspirations

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Ed Cooley’s task at Georgetown is to bring a once-storied program back to prominence in a competitive conference that has three teams still part of March Madness in the Sweet 16.

Cooley’s lofty aspirations go beyond lifting the Hoyas up from the bottom of the Big East Conference. After leaving Providence, which he took to the NCAA Tournament seven times in 12 years, he already is talking about trying to coach Georgetown to its first championship since 1984.

At his introductory news conference Wednesday that felt like a pep rally, Cooley said he wanted current and former players to envision cutting down nets and watching “One Shining Moment” with the nets hanging around their necks. He promised wins – many of them – and plotted a path forward that he knows will involve some tough times.

“It’s a process, and the process now, because you have a changing landscape in athletics, you’ll have an opportunity to probably move it quicker than you would have 10, 20 years ago,” Cooley said. “We’re going to lose some games. It’s OK. Losing’s part of growth. But over the course of time, it will pay off.”

Georgetown has lost a lot the past couple of years under Patrick Ewing, who was fired earlier this month after six seasons. The team went 7-25 this season after going 6-25 last season and lost 37 of 39 games in Big East play.

While Cooley at Providence was responsible for four of those defeats, the 53-year-old distanced himself from Georgetown’s recent run of losing.

“I don’t have anything to do what happened yesterday,” he said. “My job is to move us forward from today.”

Cooley’s mere presence is an acknowledgement that Georgetown needed a major change to become relevant again. After late Hall of Fame coach John Thompson’s 27-year-old run led to longtime assistant Craig Esherick succeeding him and then son John Thompson III and Ewing getting the head job, Cooley is the school’s first outsider in the position in a half-century.

His only connection to the Hilltop – beyond coaching in the Big East – is his daughter, Olivia, attending Georgetown. Cooley, a Providence native, said her desire to live in the Washington area played into his decision to leave for a conference rival.

It was certainly no accident that athletic director Lee Reed and school president John J. DeGioia used phrases like “new era” and “new chapter” when discussing Cooley. DeGioia said he believes Cooley will “uplift and restore this team” to compete at the highest levels of the sport.

“He has a proven record of success,” Reed said. “We knew we needed a leader, someone who understood our identity and could reimagine Georgetown basketball to fit today’s unique basketball landscape.”

That landscape, including players being able to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) and more easily transfer schools, are the biggest changes Cooley has seen since landing his first head job at Fairfield in 2006. He expects to be aggressive, and given the high volume of Georgetown players coming and going via the transfer portal, could rebuild the roster in his image sooner rather than later.

“You have to find student-athletes that fit the way you want to play, your style of play, that fit you as a coach,” Cooley said. “We need to find players that can play for me that can attend Georgetown, not the other way around.”

Cooley acknowledged that some luck is needed but also stressed recruiting local talent to keep the best players in the region around. That’s just one building block to putting Georgetown back on the map, which Cooley wants the time and latitude to do.

“The word patience is always hard because everybody wants it and they want it right now,” he said. “Everybody wants it right now. Have a little bit of patience.”

Texas’ Arterio Morris plays amid misdemeanor domestic violence case

Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — In a season when Texas fired coach Chris Beard after a felony domestic violence arrest, it has allowed a reserve guard to keep playing while he awaits trial on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting an ex-girlfriend.

Second-seed Texas has advanced under interim coach Rodney Terry to the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2008, and the Longhorns play No. 3 Xavier in Kansas City, Missouri.

Arterio Morris, a freshman who was one of the top recruits in the country last year, was initially scheduled to stand trial March 29, three days before Final Four weekend. Denton County prosecutors were granted a delay to an unspecified date.

Beard was fired Jan. 5, about three weeks after he was arrested on suspicion of a felony charge of choking his fiancée in a fight during which she also told police he bit, and hit her. She later recanted the choking allegation and the Travis County district attorney dismissed the case, saying prosecutors were following her wishes not to got to trial and that the charge could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Morris is charged with Class A misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury to a family member, which in Texas includes dating relationships. It stems from a June 2022 confrontation in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. The charge carries penalties ranging from probation and fines to up to a year in jail if convicted.

Morris’ attorney, Justin Moore, said the charges against Beard and the player are different.

“(Beard) was charged with a felony family assault,” Moore said. “That was far more serious as to what Arterio was alleged to have to committed. We maintain Arterio’s innocence.”

According to police, the ex-girlfriend said Morris grabbed her arm and pulled her off a bed, and later pulled the front of her sports bra, causing an injury to her neck and shoulder area. Police reported seeing a sizable bruise or scratch.

Texas officials declined comment. Beard said before the season that school officials he would not identify determined the freshman could play this season.

Moore defended Texas officials’ decision to not suspend Morris.

“I do believe Texas has taken this seriously. They’ve also allowed Arterio to enjoy his due process rights,” Moore said.

Morris has played in all 36 games this season, although his minutes and have been limited on a senior-dominated team. He averages nearly 12 minutes and 4.7 points per game. His biggest moment was a soaring alley-oop dunk against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.

Attempts to reach Morris’ ex-girlfriend through family members were not successful. According to online records, prosecutors sought the trial delay to “procure witness availability.” Prosecutor Jamie Beck did not immediately return messages.

Wichita State hires ORU’s Paul Mills to lead program

Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

Wichita State hired Paul Mills away from Oral Roberts to turn around its languishing men’s basketball program, landing what has been one of the hottest names among mid-major coaches.

The 50-year-old Mills led the the Golden Eagles to two of the past three NCAA Tournaments, engineering upsets of Ohio State and Florida as a No. 15 seed in 2021 before going 30-5 this past season and losing to Duke as a No. 5 seed.

He replaces Isaac Brown, who was fired after three seasons as the Shockers slowly slipped toward mediocrity.

“My family and I are extremely excited about being a part of Wichita State,” said Mills, who will be introduced during a news conference Thursday at Charles Koch Arena. “The rich history, winning tradition and unbelievable community support will keep us working on behalf of the greatest fans in all of college basketball.”

Mills got his break in coaching when he joined Scott Drew’s first staff at Baylor in 2003, working alongside future Kansas State coach Jerome Tang in helping to turn around a program that had been mired in controversy. Mills stayed for 14 years, helping to reach seven NCAA Tournaments, before replacing Scott Sutton at Oral Roberts before the 2017 season.

“I absolutely love Paul Mills. He’s like a brother to me. So happy for him and his family, for Wendy and the girls,” said Tang, who has Kansas State playing Michigan State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. “He’s going to be incredible because he is passionate about young people and about developing young men.

“There’s no throttle, like, hold-back governor on him in terms of love and what he pours into his guys.”

Mills went just 11-21 each of his first two seasons in Tulsa, but the seeds of a turnaround had been planted, and the Golden Eagles have not had a losing season since. The biggest step came two years ago, when Mills led Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16 of an NCAA Tournament played entirely within an Indianapolis “bubble environment” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Golden Eagles slipped to 19-12 the following year before winning 30 games and the Summit League title this past season, when they were led by high-scoring guard Max Abmas, an honorable mention All-American selection.

“He’s the one that told me, he said, ‘Tang, 10s hangs with 10s and one hangs with ones,’” Tang said, “and he’s a 10 and he’s going to have some 10s around him.”

The hiring of Mills comes as the Shockers try to position themselves at the forefront of a new-look American Athletic Conference. Perennial powerhouse Houston is joining Central Florida and Cincinnati in leaving for the Big 12 after this season, and six new schools are due to arrive from Conference USA for the start of next season.

Wichita State, a power under Ralph Miller and Gene Smithson in the 1960s, returned to prominence when Mark Turgeon took over in 2000. But it was under Gregg Marshall, who resigned in November 2020 amid allegations of verbal and physical abuse of players, that it began to soar. The Shockers advanced to the Final Four in 2013, finished the regular season unbeaten the following year and at one point went to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Brown, who was Marshall’s top recruiter, led them back to the NCAA Tournament in his first year. But the Shockers were just 15-13 last year and 17-15 this past season, leading Saal to decide that a coaching change was necessary.

Turns out the answer Saal was looking for was just a few hours south at Oral Roberts.

“Paul Mills’ heart for people, passion for life and approach to the development of young people and programs is energizing,” Wichita State athletic director Kevin Saal said in a statement. “He aligns with Shocker Athletics’ core values, facilitates a first-class student-athlete experience and fuels broad-based competitive excellence.”