Conference realignment has been rampant the last few seasons, and Conference USA is still feeling the effects of it heading into the 2014-2015 season. Gone are East Carolina, Tulane and the league’s lone NCAA tournament team from last year, Tulsa. The conference welcomes in Western Kentucky as its newest member. If you’re scoring at home, that’s nine new programs and seven former members since 2013.
At least one thing looks to remain certain in 2014-2015, Louisiana Tech should finish atop the conference standings. The Bulldogs were one of four teams — Tulsa, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss — to share the regular season title with a 13-3 record. Like previously mentioned, Tulsa left C-USA, Middle Tennessee lost four starters and Souther Miss is starting the Doc Sadler era after Donnie Tyndall accepted the Tennessee position.
Louisiana Tech returns plenty of key contributors, but none more important than head coach Michael White, who was in the conversation for several coaching vacancies this offseason.
The Bulldogs boast the league’s top back court with Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith running the show, Alex Hamilton back as the team’s top scorer and Raheem Appleby, who was sidelined for several weeks last season with an ankle injury. Michale Kyser mans the frontline with his 3.0 blocks per game, and he’ll be an important piece this season, as the Bulldogs’ biggest threat, UTEP, has two talented forwards.
The Miners may have finished fifth last season, but was only a game out of first in the top-heavy C-USA. Tim Floyd’s team is headlined by sophomore Vince Hunter and (12.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Julian Washburn (13.1 ppg). Another team looking to make a run at the Bulldogs is newcomer, Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers join the league from the Sun Belt, and have been to two of the last three NCAA tournaments. Ray Harper’s team is aided by senior guards T.J. Price and George Fant — the team’s top two scorers at 15.5 points and 13.3 points, respectively –who will help with the transition against better competition.
Along with Harper, C-USA has three new coaches. Mike Rhoades came over from VCU to take over at Rice while Michael Curry (Florida Atlantic) and Dan D’Antoni (Marshall) join the conference from the NBA sidelines, despite neither of them having college basketball coaching experience.
In: Western Kentucky Out: East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa
PRESEASON CONFERENCE-USA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith, Louisiana Tech
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged single-digits (7.8 ppg) last year, but he effected the game in so many other ways. He was second in the nation in assists (7.7 apg), was 10th in the nation with a 3.23 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he was also top 10 in the nation in steals at 2.5 per game. The senior guard was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and is the only returning member of the league’s first-team from a season ago.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON CONFERENCE-USA TEAM:
Alex Hamilton, Louisiana Tech: Another member of Louisiana Tech’s heralded back court. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged a team-high 14.5 points per game last season.
Pierria Henry, Charlotte: The 49ers top scorer from a season ago averaged 12.3 points, grabbed 5.1 boards and dished 5.8 assists per game.
Vince Hunter, UTEP: Hunter is coming off a great freshman campaign, averaging 12.5 points and 6.4 boards per game. Part of a talented front court duo with Julian Washburn.
T.J. Price, Western Kentucky: One of the top newcomers to the league averaged better than 15 points per game over the past two years in the Sun Belt.
Former Clemson guard Adonis Filer wasn’t the only ACC guard to transfer to Florida Atlantic University this offseason. According to a report from Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — filed late on Tuesday night — ex-Georgia Tech guard Solomon Poole is on the Owls roster.
Poole was a four-star recruit in the Class of 2012, according to Rivals. In two seasons, the 6-foot-1 Poole averaged 3.6 points and 1.4 assists in 35 career games with the Yellow Jackets. In February, Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory dismissed the sophomore guard from the team for “conduct and accountability issues”.
Poole started only a handful of games, averaged 17.4 minutes per game and scored in only double figures twice, with his best game to date was 24 points of 9-of-16 shooting in a non-conference loss to Ole Miss this past season.
Like Filer, who left Clemson in April, Poole will sit out this season and will become eligible at the start of the 2015-2016 season for first-year head coach Michael Curry, the former NBA wing.
In the aftermath of Cuonzo Martin’s move from Tennessee to California the players who originally committed to the SEC school had to re-evaluate their options. One of those players was 6-foot-9 power forward/center C.J. Turman, a player the Volunteers looked to as a front court option to help account for the losses of Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes.
Sunday evening it was reported by Dan McDonald of Rivals.com that Turman’s found a new school, as he’s committed to play at Florida Atlantic under new head coach Michael Curry. That’s big news for Curry, who was hired to replace Mike Jarvis earlier this spring. Florida Atlantic finished the 2013-14 season with a 10-22 record, going 5-11 in Conference USA play.
Turman becomes the third commitment in Florida Atlantic’s 2014 class, and the fact that he’ll be playing at the school isn’t as big of a surprise as it seems. One of Curry’s assistants will be Charlemagne Gibbons, who was Turman’s coach at Morgan County High School in Georgia.
Also expected to be on the staff are Eric Snow, who was a member of Larry Brown’s staff at SMU last season, and Ron Oliver according to Dieter Kurtenbach of the Sun-Sentinel. Florida Atlantic is expected to return two of its top three scorers from last season, with rising sophomore guard Marquan Botley (11.3 ppg) and rising senior forward Justin Raffington (10.1, 8.5 rpg) both averaging double figures.
To follow along with the 2014 Coaching Carousel, click here.
Florida Atlantic turned to the professional ranks on Monday afternoon as it was reported by ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman that former Detroit Pistons head coach Michael Curry would be named the head coach of the Owls.
Curry has never coached at the college level but has been a head coach of the Pistons for the 2008-09 season as well as an assistant in Detroit and the last three seasons in Philadelphia. A Georgia Southern graduate during his playing days, Curry hails from Atlanta and can hopefully recruit the fertile area to get Florida Atlantic some more talent.
The Owls struggled to a 13th place finish in Conference USA this season as Florida Atlantic finished 10-22. Curry replaces former head coach Mike Jarvis, who resigned on February 28th. Besides coaching in the pros, Curry was a NBA veteran who played for six different teams in 11 different seasons.
“This decision is based upon my desire to explore other opportunities and in recognition that we are jointly disappointed that the men’s basketball program has not progressed as much as we would have liked,” Jarvis said in a press release sent out by FAU. “I thank FAU for the opportunity to coach the fine student-athletes of FAU for the past six years.”
In five-plus seasons at the school Jarvis, who has also been a college head coach at Boston University, George Washington and St. John’s, posted a record of 76 wins and 109 losses. His lone postseason appearance at FAU came in 2011, with the Owls reaching the Postseason NIT and finishing the year with a 21-11 record.
FAU has lost four straight games and they’ll finish their inaugural season in Conference USA with home games against Southern Miss and city rival FIU. In the program’s final two seasons as a member of the Sun Belt, FAU lost 37 games and finished no better than seventh in the conference standings in either campaign.