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It is Basketball Time

First, a programing note: CUSA Report was on holiday so that is why you were not graced with blog posts and podcasts. We have returned in time for league play in basketball.

Thus far there have been some slight surprises and some upsets in non-conference play and in the first couple weeks of play. To understand any of that, we must set the stage, and the excellent basketball site three-man-weave.com had a good preview to get a sense of this league. 

Their predictions, which are solid:

Tier 1 – WKU
Tier 2 – NT, Marshall, ODU, UTSA, Southern Miss, LT
Tier 3 – UAB, FIU, MTSU
Tier 4 – UTEP, FAU, Charlotte, Rice

Let us go through the league using the above as a template, and get a sense of where everyone is.

WKU

Record: 8-6, 1-0 Kenpom.com Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +6.36

WKU is loaded with talent, has a good coach in Rick Stansbury and has experience — although not the senior leadership that led them to the title game and NIT Final Four last season.

Thus far the Hilltoppers have gone 8-6 against one of the toughest schedules possible, and managed an upset of Wisconsin. The tough schedule and talent should propel this group through league play relatively unscathed.

Who: The most frequent lineup the past few games are the  Taveion Hollingsworth – Jared Savage – Josh Anderson – Dalano Banton – Charles Bassey group, as Lamonte Bearden makes his way back into the lineup after sitting out the first semester.

The offense is a little less efficient compared to where it finished last year, but is still one of the best in the league — 106.9 as of this writing, with LT at 108.2 to lead the league. The defense is right about the same.

PPG – Tavion Hollingsworth 15.3
RPG – Charles Bassey 8.8
APG – Hollingsworth/Dalano Banton 2.9

What: The talent on this roster is incredible, but Stansbury has not translated that all into wins against a tough non-conference schedule. It would be easy to take a peek at the standings and laugh off this very good basketball team. That would be an incredible mistake.

North Texas

Record: 14-1, 2-0 AdjEM: +5.38

North Texas has its best start in school history, jumping out to an incredible 14-1 start against one of the weakest schedules by any metric. There is a risk in taking the creampuff route, but McCasland has so far gotten it right by jumping out to 2-0 in league play. It has also created some much-needed buzz around the program that had lost a lot of momentum during the Tony Benford years.

Who:  Iron man Ryan Woolridge plays point and is in nearly every line up. The most frequent the last few games are as follows: Ryan Woolridge – Jorden Duffy – Roosevelt Smart – Michael Miller – Zachary Simmons. If you followed NT’s run in the CBI — champions, by the way — you saw this group carry the load. Thus far, the linchpin has been Zachary Simmons, who has done all the things necessary of the lone big man in a four-guard lineup. His offensive rating is 131.22, putting him 31st in the nation (according to KenPom, not filtered for usage). He scores efficiently inside, gets to the line, and makes his freebies when he does. He’s seen an increase in usage in league play thus far, and that should increase.

PPG – Ryan Woolridge 12.9
RPG – Zachary Simmons 6.9
APG – Woolridge 5.2

What: The Mean Green have had three real tests thus far, and passed two of them with flying colors (green colors?) at Indiana State and home to Louisiana Tech the other night. The other? The loss to Oklahoma on the road in Norman. NT led briefly in the second half 36-34 but was ultimately blown out.

League play will reveal more about this team — four top 200 games coming up this month in USM, UTSA, UAB, and ODU.

Marshall

Record: 8-6, 1-0 AdjEM: +4.28

Marshall had the run of the year last season, beating WKU in the league title game and then beating Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They’ve started relatively slowly this season, but have played some really good competition. They were blown out twice by TAMU and Virginia in the last week of December but started league play with a huge win against ODU on the road.

This league will be wild.

Who: Everyone knows Jon Elmore, and die-hards will remember CJ Burks. Gone is Ajdin Penava, and that has hurt everything and everyone. Still, this is a good squad that should figure things out in league play.

Most frequent lineup of the last five games: Jon Elmore – Jarrod West – CJ Burks – Rondale Watson – Jannson Williams. Elmore and Burks have not been as efficient as they were last season, and that is partly because of the absence of Penava. For all the Harden-Elmore comparisons, Penava was a more skilled (relative to the college game) Capela.

PPG – Jon Elmore 19.1
RPG – Jannson Williams 4.6
APG – Elmore 5.2

What: Count Marshall out at your own peril. The reigning tournament champs have the talent to fry anyone not wearing Hilltopper red.

ODU

Record: 10-4, 0-1 AdjEM: +8.74

Trey Porter left Old Dominion, and that has made the offense a little less efficient but the defense is still very stingy. ODU lost a couple of games to tough competition on neutral courts, got revenge for the loss to Northern Iowa and upset Syracuse in New York state for the biggest win of the non-conference slate so far. They then dropped a game to Marshall at hom to open league play and take on Western this Saturday to follow it up.

Who: Ahmad Caver and BJ Stith are going to carry this team on both ends. As they go, so do the Monarchs. This was already the case when Caver had an awful night against Marshall that contributed to the close loss. Most used lineup last five games: Ahmad Caver -Marquis Godwin – Xavier Green – BJ Stith – Dajour Dickens

Without Trey Porter, Caver and Stith are controlling most of the possessions. The Monarchs probably need one more man to step up and contribute efficiently to take some pressure off those two. Still, this defense is vicious.

PPG – BJ Stith 18.2
RPG – Stith 8.2
APG – Caver 5.7

What: The defense should carry this team throughout league play, and having two play makers is going to go a long way. Last year the attack was a little more balanced, with four plays in double-digits and the possessions and shots spread between the four. This season, aside from Stith and Caver, Xavier Green will have to step up more after Marquis Godwin went down with a broken foot.

UTSA

Record: 7-7, 1-0 AdjEM: -0.79

UTSA is a runnin’, gunnin’ type of team that has not been as efficient offensively compared to last year. Some of that is because Jhivvan Jackson has been out and the departure of Deon Lyle. Steve Henson is the reigning coach of the year, so we can expect him to figure this thing out yet.

Who: You know Jhivvan Jackson. You might not know Keaton Wallace, the 6’3″ defensive wing who has increased his shooting volume while improving his percentage. The sophomore guard is not quite a full replacement for Deon Lyle’s scoring just yet, but he is getting better. He increased his points per game from 11 last year to 18 so far this season.

Most used lineup: Giovanni De Nicolao-Jhivvan Jackson-Keaton Wallace-Byron Frohnen-Nick Allen

PPG: Jhivvan Jackson 20.2
RPG: Byron Frohnen 7.4
APG: Giovanni De Nicolao 3.2

What: This is a tough league, but travelling to San Antonio and running up and down the floor firing threes all game can be a tough proposition. You might remember Western and Marshall both lost in SA last season.

With Jackson back and in rhythm, everything should be back to normal and Steve Henson can rev up his Roadrunners to the form that had everyone a little wary about the program before Jackson went down with an injury.

Southern Miss

Record: 8-6, 0-2 AdjEM: +1.34

Southern Miss had a nice league tournament, beating FIU and then upsetting MTSU in overtime before dropping the semi-final to Marshall. This year’s squad is right about the same type of team, but has had a hard time finding the basket. Two bad losses in league play — losing to Tech is understandable, but losing to Rice is nigh-unforgivable — and a looming matchup at North Texas put the Golden Eagles in a struggle-position.

Who: This senior-led team should be playing better. Cortez Edwards and Tyree Griffin have struggled to begin the season. Dominic Magee was hurt against Wichita State and has been out as well.

Top lineup: Tyree Griffin-Kevin Holland-Cortez Edwards-LaDavius Draine-Leonard Harper Baker

PPG: Cortez Edwards 13.7
RPG: Leonard Harper-Baker 7.0
APG: Tyree Griffin 6.6

What: With the competition, Southern Miss would have liked to get a better start in the senior season of so many top contributors. As it is, the Golden Eagles will be looking to right the ship by league tournament time and hope the senior leadership can guide them to another upset.

Louisiana Tech

Record: 11-4, 1-1 AdjEM: +5.14

The Dunkin’ Dogs have a nice offense and a solid defense this season. Last year the defense struggled a bit while the offense was not quite humming and that caused some problems. The schedule has not been full of powerhouses — it is relatively weak compared to WKU — but beating Wichita State on the road was a nice way to begin the season. LT lost to LSU, UNC Greensboro, and dropped an ugly game to Delaware on the road. Tech beat up on Southern Miss before dropping a close game to North Texas in which the Bulldogs battled back from a big deficit to tie the game twice late.

Who: Derric Jean is hurt, and that means DaQuan Bracey is left to carry the load this season. Jacobi Boykins is graduated, and Bracey has been back to his 2017 self in offensive rating. He is leading the Bulldogs in points per game (13.7) and uses most of their possessions. He’s quick, and slithery.

Most used lineup last five games: DaQuan Bracey – Amorie Archibald – JaColby Pemberton – Anthony Duruji – Oliver Powell

PPG: DaQuan Bracey 13.8
RPG: Oliver Powell 6.1
APG: Bracey 4.1

What: The Bulldogs are always tough and talented. Even with their up-and-down 2017-18, they managed a conference tournament win before just losing to ODU in the semifinal. This season if everyone can stay healthy, eligible, and happy things should go a bit smoother. Archibald, Bracey, and Duruji are all talents that can fill it up.

UAB

Record: 9-5, 1-0 AdjEM: -0.61

The Blazers beat the teams they should have and lost to the ones they should have. The big game of the non-conference schedule was undoubtedly the Auburn game on the 15th of December in which the two played to OT before the Tigers pulled way with a win. UAB beat up on a poor FAU squad to open conference play and hosts FIU this weekend.

Who: Zack Bryant returns in a new-look UAB squad that graduated some long-time Blazers. Lineup: Zack Bryant-Jeremiah Bell-Jalen Perry-Lewis Sullivan-Will Butler

The Blazers are trying to figure out who they are in the post-Cokely era, and that means some growing pains. Zack Bryant has the highest usage rate, with Perry and Sullivan coming behind him. Bryant is not finding it so easy without some of the departed guys around him, but they should figure things out.

PPG: Zack Bryant 13.0
RPG: Makhtar Gueye 6.1
APG: Bryant 3.6

What: This is a rebuild year. There is talent, but there is not enough experienced talent to challenge the big dogs of this league. There is enough to jump up and bite those not paying attention. Rob Ehsan has to find a way to make it easier on Bryant to score. That would help everyone tremendously.

FIU

Record: 10-4, 1-0, AdjEM: -3.23

The Golden Panthers have a ridiculously fast pace — they lead the nation in Adjusted Tempo according to KenPom at 82.1 possessions per game. Compare that to Marshall’s 75.6, or UTSA’s 72.6, two teams known for gunning. New head coach Jeremy Ballard has obviously imprinted his style immediately and has some nice results early even if it has come against weak competition.

Who: Brian Beard, Willy Nunez, and Trejon Jacob are back and they have all improved under this chaotic style. FIU does a lot of substitutions compared to the rest of the league, keeping guys fresh for the temp/havoc. Brian Beard-Marcus Burwell-Willy Nunez-Devon Andrews-Osasumwen Osaghae

PPG: Brian Beard 20.6
RPG: Osasumwen Osaghae 8.1
APG: Beard 6.6

What: There is talent on this roster and Ballard seems like a solid hire. Thus far FIU has had trouble with anyone in the top-200 but had a solid effort in Ohio, only losing by two. They had to rally vs MTSU, who is bad, and that does not bode well for the rest schedule. They should at least be fun to watch.

MTSU

Record: 3-11, 0-1 AdjEM: -9.26

We all know that Kermit Davis is gone and everyone left the program that was a part of the excellent recent seasons. There will be a long road to hoe to get this program back to what it was just a year ago.

Who: Everyone is new, practically, even if they are not. Donovan Sims-Antonio Green-Jayce Johnson-James Hawthorne-Karl Gamble. 

PPG: Antonio Green 19.2
RPG: Karl Gamble 7.0
APG: Donovan Sims 2.1

What: Again, it will be mighty tough to stick through these bad times.

UTEP

Record: 5-7, 0-1 AdjEM: -7.95

The Miners have a new coach in Rodney Terry, some familiar faces in say, Evan Gilyard, and some new talent in Jordan Lathon, the 4-star freshman from Missouri. Unfortunately, they are losing like last year’s team only with a higher pace of play.

The schedule has been rough, with three very tough games in New Mexico St, Arizona, and Marquette on the slate. The two bad losses of the seven were to Norfolk State at home and maybe this UTSA game on Thursday. Still, Lathon was out with a hamstring injury and that is something like an excuse. The Miners cannot score efficiently and have a poor defense. They are so young, however, that it is easy to be excited about their future.

Who: Jordan Lathon is good, Evan Gilyard is fun, and Nigel Hawkins has a lot of upside. Of their most used minutes only Paul Thomas is an upperclassman. So much youth getting so much run so early can only bode well for the future. The present will see plenty of struggles, however. Lineup: Evan Gilyard – Nigel Hawkins – Jordan Lathon – Paul Thomas – Efe Odigie. 

What: Again, youth means mistakes and struggles. As guys like Nigel Hawkins develop, he will improve their offensive rating — right now 80.6. He can go a long way toward achieving that by hitting more of those threes — just .229 from deep on 35 attempts.

The Miners will upset someone because that is what happens when you travel to El Paso and take on a bunch of young talent that wants to run. They will struggle with the more experienced squads, however.

FAU

Record: 9-5, 0-1 AdjEM: -4.27

FAU is in full rebuild mode after hiring Dusty May this offseason. They’ve suffered some big injuries to Jailyn Ingram and Xavian Stapleton, but have managed a slight improvement over last year on offense and defense. It is subtle, but it is there. The big news was the huge win over Illinois in Champaign in overtime to go with an early season upset over UCF on the road.

That excitement went away immediately upon losing big to UAB to open league play. Up next is Middle Tennessee and ODU.

Who: Anthony Adger is the senior that you probably remember. He dropped 27 in that big win over Illinois and 19 over UCF. Michael Forrest-Anthony Adger-Jaylen Sebree-Madiaw Niang- Simeon Lepichev is the most used lineup for the Owls. Adger is doing a ton of the shooting, and Jaylen Sebree is the young freshman to watch. He’s been nice and his absence against UAB was felt. He only played 6 minutes in that one.

PPG: Anthony Adger 15.0
RPG: Simeon Lepichev 5.5
APG: Michael Forrest 3.2

What: This is a young squad that is building their style. They have some talent and Anthony Adger can fill it up.

Charlotte

Record: 3-9, 0-1 AdjEM: -13.22

Charlotte hired Ron Sanchez and that has not meant wins thus far. That was never going to be the case, and the brutal schedule to start has not made things easy. Sure, an early upset over Oklahoma State by Charlotte was news, but they followed that big win with an ugly loss to James Madison at home. It is a learning process as the styles are changing drastically. Opening with Western was not ideal, either.

Who: The offense still runs through Jon Davis. Sanchez is mixing in the freshman a ton, and that has meant typical freshman mistakes. Lineup: Jon Davis-Jaylan McGill-Malik Martin-Dravon Mangum-Milos Supica. 

PPG: Jon Davis 20.1
RPG: Milos Supica 4.8
APG: Davis 3.8

What: This is a rebuilding year and it has begun. Still, it is hard to see what this team will be as that non-conference schedule could have helped the young guys grow up quick and be ready for some league competition.

Rice

Record: 6-9, 1-1 AdjEM: -1.77

The Owls lost a ton of their young production from last year and have still not been able to stop anyone in year two of Scott Pera’s reign. The defense is the worst in the conference and yea one of the worst in the nation. The schedule has been tough, with a hand full of top 120 games on the slate but losing to North Texas so badly and to Nebraska Omaha before that was rough. Then came Southern Miss and a nice victory for the Owls.

Who: Chris Mullins — no, not that one — has been really good for the Owls in his freshman season. Robert Martin and Ako Adams have been solid contributors also. Lineup: Ako Adams-Chris Mullins-Drew Peterson-Quinton Millora-Brown-Jack Williams. 

PPG: Robert Martin/Chris Mullins 12.8
RPG: Jack Williams 7.5
APG: Ako Adams 3.3

What: This is a tough year for Pera and the Owls. The offense is middle-of-the pack for the league, but the defense is far and away bad. When a team starts poorly — like NT did in Houston — the Owls look okay. That poor defense just doesn’t do them any favors and NT went on to blow things open. The hope is that some of the awful offenses like Southern Miss, Charlotte, Middle and UTEP come in and do not benefit from the matador defense that Rice presents them with.

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