We are still in a pandemic, and even though there is a vaccine being distributed the dangerous virus is still out there killing people. That said, we have a scheduled CUSA season upon us beginning this weekend. The season is different by necessity, on account of the restrictions in travel and gathering. The league will do a back-to-back series of games model and that means we will not see every team play every other team, and will not see return dates. It is not the most balanced way to produce a league schedule, but it makes sense and is a reasonable compromise.
The teams have played roughly seven or eight games thus far, and nothing has been overly surprising in the results. The best teams still look like the best teams and good programs with maybe not as much talent (Marshall) are playing well. That’s not unusual. We will rank the teams based on the nebulous concept called “power” which means it does not put a premium on the record. Generally speaking, we think the teams at the top of the ranking are better than the teams below them and would win a game at a neutral venue if the game were played right now, in this moment. If we break this “rule” we will let you know.
I will note that have not watched every team play and in some cases I have not got the chance to watch at all. For those, I am relying on the advanced numbers, game reports, and interpretation of the box scores. Obviously as the season goes on we will see every team with my own two eyes (via screen).
1. WKU 7-2
The Toppers are good and talented. They lost to WVU and Louisville in the little tournament but overall have looked good in the opening weeks. They beat a top-100 Rhode Island and Alabama squad and warmed up for Charlotte on the road this week with a blowout of Tennessee Tech. Charles Bassey is putting up career numbers in a good number of the important categories including scoring at 17.8 per game. Taveion Hollingsworth is second at 14.3. No one with significant usage has an offensive rating below 102 (Josh Anderson). Luke Frampton is shooting well but you would like to see Hollingsworth and Rawls increase their percentage from distance.
2. UNT 4-3
North Texas lost all three premium games (Arkansas, Miss St, WVU) but they still have the core of the team that won the league last season and have spent the time trying to integrate the new comers like Mardrez McBride and Rubin Jones. The most important player is of course reigning player of the year Javion Hamlet. He was tremendous in conference play last year and all signs point to a repeat performance.
North Texas is not as talented as WKU and need more consistent contributions from all players to be able to compete with superior talent (unsurprising). The first test is the new-look UAB in Denton.
3. Marshall 6-1
The Herd last year were Taevion Kinsey and Jarrod West and struggled to make that mean more that it did. This season, both have improved. Kinsey has always been a leaper, and is putting that together nicely to become a dangerous CUSA player who will be in the conversation for league POY if he keeps the 21 points per game up. He is shooting better from the line and from the field as he has added to his game. West is doing the same things he did last season.
The real update is on defense, which has been much more stout. You might remember the year that Marshall won the league tournament they had a good defense. In the years since they have struggled to regain that form.
4. UAB 7-1
The Blazers have not really played anyone of note. They split the only top-200 games on the schedule so far. New head coach Andy Kennedy is speeding up the tempo a bit, and that should maybe allow Jalen Benjamin, new transfer from ULM Michael Ertel, and Tavin Lovan to get buckets. I should also mention Quan Jackson here. All of the above four are averaging at least 12.1 per game with Ertel topping everyone at 14.5.
The matchup this weekend with UNT will tell us a lot about this team. Having a handful of guards that can get you buckets on any given night gives you a little resiliency in the course of a regular season.
5. Louisiana Tech 7-2
The Bulldogs lost CR favorite DaQuan Bracey, Derric Jean, among others. They still have Amorie Archibald, Caleb Ledoux and JaColby Pemberton. Ledoux leads all scorers with 14.4 per game. Like nearly everyone on this list, the non-conference portion of the schedule had wins over 200, and 300-level programs and big losses to top-tier ones. The Dawgs spent the week blowing out inferior teams. Marshall and Western are the first four games, with the Herd traveling to Ruston to open things up.
6. ODU 4-2
Jeff Jones’ Monarchs had a slow start to the season. Just the 4-2 record so far, but the two losses were against premium competition. ODU is still content to grind things out, but Xavier Green is not nearly the bucket-getter Ahmad Caver was for the Monarchs in their title-winning season. ODU is projected to be better this season but they are a ways off from WKU level. They are scheduled to travel to FIU this weekend. The first three weekends should set up the Monarchs nicely and they will not be challenged until UNT in late January. Then it gets rough.
7. UTEP 4-2
The Miners are in a weird situation, as they have some talent that everyone likes but have not done much with it. They dropped a couple of close games against top-100 squads in Saint Mary’s and Arizona, and even beat Arizona St. The schedule to start out is favorable (USM, Rice) and then they face NT, Tech, and UTSA. I can see the Miners doing what people predicted last season and rising up the standings, but I can also see the opposite happen again.
8. Charlotte 4-3
The pack line defense here is not as good as it should be so far. The offense is slow, and the schedule starts out difficult. The good news is that the 49ers beat a good Davidson squad, and that makes up somewhat for losing to ECU, Georgia State, and App State. Jahmir Young is ballin’ out right now.
9-14 UTSA, FIU, Middle, FAU, Rice, USM
There is not much to say about each of these teams other than they have major flaws.
UTSA has Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace but no defense to speak of, and the offense has devolved into a “your turn, my turn” kind of thing with no rhythm. The Runners have bad losses on the resume so far and are not favored over anyone above them here.
FIU has a struggling defense and hasn’t played anyone in the top 100. They lost some talent and that shows. They may develop into the team that Ballard wants but right now they are somewhere in the middle.
Middle is bad but did upset Murray State. They will struggle to score and defend and yeah its bad.
FAU did not play anyone — Mobile, Florida National?, Florida Memorial? They are adjusting to a new roster and while they have a coach that everyone likes they do not have the talent to compete seriously.
Rice, like everyone, played a light schedule and lost a couple (New Mexico, and Sam Houston St). They are gong to shoot like crazy and that might earn an upset here and there but there is not much to be excited about even though this team is 6-2 right now.
We wrap this up with USM, which lost to Tulane, South ‘Bama, and Jacksonville. There is not much here and this team is projected to lose to everyone in conference play.
Games To Be Excited About:
For a neutral observer: Marshall at Louisiana Tech will sort out some early questions. WKU at Charlotte will have the league’s best talent on display. UAB at North Texas will tell us if UAB is for real and if NT’s Hamlet is going to stop up play in the league like he did last year.