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2023 CUSA Tournament Preview

Editor’s note:

We are back. If you received the newsletter, you know the details. If you did not, well this is one of those times where you are paying for the consequences of your actions, isn’t it? The short version is that we are publishing the final coverage of the league here on the regular old site. To start this is Greg’s preview of the tournament. Enjoy!

– Adam Martinez, Editor

Preview Time

The beauty of the league tournament is that anyone can win. Who else saw 11th seeded Texas State win their way through the Sun Belt to the semifinal round? March is the time of year where you root against good teams, and root for flawed teams with plucky guards and quirky big men. This league has plenty of teams that can beat anyone, but have shown in league play that they are missing major pieces of being a good team. FAU, North Texas, and UAB are all favored but do not be surprised to see someone else lift the trophy — or at least put the fear of god in some hearts for a week.

CUSA Tourney Odds provided by


Why they could make a run: They’ve pushed the top 3 teams in the league and even beat one of them (North Texas), so they’ve shown they can play with the top tier. They rank in the top 100 in 3P%, 2P%, and FT%. They have just enough of what it takes (defense, scoring, game planning, adjustments) to be right there with anyone.

Why they could get bounced early: If they aren’t making 3’s and Khalifa along with their guards get in foul trouble they’re going to struggle. 

Player to watch: The obvious choice is skilled big man Aly Khalifa, but we chose to be different so watch Lu’Cye Paterson. Why do we love him? Well, he’s a 6’2 210-pound bowling ball of a guard. He can take guys off the dribble or just out physical them in the paint. In recent weeks he bulled UNT’s Huntsberry and UAB’s Walker in the paint for huge buckets late.

Bracket: Open vs 4th place Middle in the first round before taking on the winner of FAU/WKU/UTEP.

CUSA Tourney Odds: 4.9%


Why they could make a run: Their hectic style of play can force teams to play at an uncomfortable pace. They can also turn people over in large quantities. FIU ranks #2 in Steal % in CUSA. The push the pace and make things hectic in a tournament setting. Rotations shorten, legs get weak, and FIU can make it interesting.

Why they could get bounced early: They aren’t a great rebounding team and there tends to be a lot of missed shots in the Star. It’s not really a great shooter environment. Tournaments are about execution and FIU can get sloppy.

Player to watch: Denver Jones is an absolute bucket getter. He’s the second leading scorer in CUSA at 20 PPG. We could absolutely see him take over a game or two.

CUSA Tourney Odds: 0.3%

Bracket: Open vs 10th place Tech in the first round before facing 2 North Texas. Then the winner of UAB/Rice/UTSA

Florida Atlantic

Why they could make a run: They are the best and most balanced team in the conference. They shouldn’t have any problem making it through to the championship game. They don’t overly rely on any one guy, and get shooters looks early and often. Also, they have the magic right now.

Why they could get bounced early: The only way we see them getting bounced before the championship game is if they fall victim to a large number of turnovers and their opponent has an otherworldly game. Also, how will FAU play with the spotlight on them?

Player to watch: FAU has a deep and talented roster so picking just one guy to watch is sort of difficult. We will go with Johnell Davis. Davis has a smooth offensive game. He’s not going to wow you with above the rim play, but he has a variety of moves and can score from everywhere on the court.

CUSA Tourney Odds: 36%

Bracket: Await the winner of WKU/UTEP and then take on Middle/CLT winner before title game.

Louisiana Tech

Why they could make a run: Unfortunately, La Tech doesn’t do a whole lot well. They do have a couple of really good offensive weapons in Isaiah Crawford and Keaston Willis. Both of these guys could carry La Tech to a few wins. I mean, a shooter and a do-it-all scorer in the post? That’s a good lineup.

Why they could get bounced early: If they can’t turn their opponent over and are giving up a bunch of 3’s it’s going to end badly for Tech. Tech gives up a ton of 3’s and their opponents make a bunch of 3’s. In conference play they are allowing their opponents to hit 38.8% from 3-point range. 

Player to watch: We’ve already highlighted Crawford and Willis with good reason, so let’s pick an under the radar guy. Freshman PG Jordan Crawford took over for Cobe Williams after Williams was kicked off the team. In the last four games Crawford is averaging 10 points, 2.5 assists, and 4 rebounds. Those are pretty solid numbers. 

CUSA Tourney Odds: 0.5%

Bracket: Open with FIU and then take on North Texas, a team they scared in Denton early in the season.

Middle Tennessee

Why they could make a run: Middle is a talented team that beat both FAU and UAB this season. If they limit their turnovers and get some timely shooting from guys like Elias King (41% from 3 in conf play) and Eli Lawrence(G), we could see them make noise. 

Why they could get bounced early: Middle has been one of the most inconsistent CUSA teams this year. They have all the talent to challenge the upper tier in the league, yet we’ve seen them struggle against bottom teams like UTSA and UTEP. If they lose early be because 

Player to watch: Deandre Dishman (C). The big for the Blue Raiders is an undersized post player that can make their offense very difficult to defend when is playing well. He can step out of the post and take some of the slower bigs off the bounce and get to the rim.  

CUSA Tourney Odds: 3.7%

Bracket: Open vs 5th place CLT in the first round before taking on the winner of FAU/WKU/UTEP.

North Texas

Why they could make a run: Everyone knows their defense is going to show up so we can sort of skip over that. If the Mean Green are going to make it to the championship game, we believe that they will need to prioritize getting to the FT line along with getting good performances from Abou Ousmane (C) and Kai Huntsberry (G) near the rim. Ousmane and Huntsberry lead North Texas in 2pt attempts and makes. When they are hitting near or over 50% North Texas is difficult to beat. The other factor could be if Tylor Perry becomes a March folklore legend. Maybe he won’t let the Mean Green go down this year. 

Why they could get bounced early: North Texas has suffered from offensive droughts at times this year. There have been stretches where they don’t score for over 4 plus minutes. If they struggle to get good shots, and finish in the paint they could be NIT bound. The other factor would be if North Texas gets turnover happy. 

Player to watch: Rubin Jones. He’s one of the most electric players at both ends of the court in CUSA. He’s the best defender North Texas has often drawn the other team’s best player. Offensively he can wow folks with some fancy passing and acrobatic finishes at the rim.

CUSA Tourney Odds: 26.7%

Bracket: Open with the winner of FIU/Tech before a potential juicy matchup vs UAB (or Rice/UTSA)


Why they could make a run: Rice has some skilled players in Quincy Olivari (G), Travis Evee (G), and Max Fiedler (C). This trio could provide enough offense to help carry them past FIU. Getting by UAB is a whole other story. We feel like for the impossible to happen it would take a monumental shooting night from everyone on the Rice roster. 

Why they could get bounced early: If Rice loses to either FIU or UAB we feel like it will be because Rice allows those 2 teams to turn them over a bunch and hit a good percentage of 3’s. FIU normally shoots around 33% from 3, in their win against Rice they shot 37.5%. In their loss to Rice FIU shot 25%. When you look further on towards a potential UAB matchup, well UAB has pummeled Rice by an average score of 77.5 – 54.5. UAB shot above 40% from 3 in each game and forced Rice into double digit turnovers.

Player to watch: Picking from the trio listed above we think you should watch Max Fielder. The Rice center is one of the best passing big men in the country. He leads the conference in assists per game. 

CUSA Tourney Odds: 0.3%

Bracket: Rice plays UTSA in the first round, before taking on UAB then UNT/FIU/Tech


Why they could make a run: UAB is playing its best basketball of the year coming into Frisco. They’ve got a collection of great talent and arguably the best player in the league. We feel that if UAB is going to make a run to the championship game it will be because they are getting to the free throw line on the regular and are living by the 3 point shot. They have 4 guys who are shooting above 36% from 3.

Why they could get bounced early: We don’t believe that they will face a challenge until the semifinal round. If they do go down its going to be because they don’t get to the FT line enough, get out rebounded, or give up turnovers in crunch time. 

Player to watch: You’re going to watch Jordan “Jelly” Walker (G) we all know it. If you do choose a secondary player, we suggest the physical specimen that is Trey Jemison (C). Jemison is an old school big man with a good baby hook. He’s the second best shot blocker in the league and one of the best rebounders. Guy is a tireless worker and a big part of their success. 

CUSA Tourney Odds: 26.6%

Bracket: Play the winner of Rice/UTSA and then UNT/FIU/Tech winner.


Why they could make a run: Perhaps no team in CUSA comes to fight you like the Miners do. Their defensive intensity is something to watch. If they are able to beat WKU and challenge FAU, it’s going to be because they are playing great defense AND actually shooting the ball well.

Why they could get bounced early: They have the league’s worst offense. If they do lose it’s going to be because they can’t force enough turnovers to help kickstart their offense. Even that might not be enough. In the first matchup with FAU the Miners forced 20 turnovers, but still lost by 8 at home to an east coast team. 

Player to watch: Shamar Givance (G) is one of the better on-ball defenders in CUSA. He has extremely quick hands. 

CUSA Tourney Odds: 0.6%

Bracket: UTEP takes on struggling WKU to start, before FAU the next night. Then Middle/CLT


Why they could make a run: The roadrunners have won 2 games in a row behind the strong play of Japhet Medor (G), John Buggs (G), and Jacob Germany (C). If they are going to have any chance of a few upsets it’s going to be because they get more great games from these dudes. 

Why they could get bounced early: UTSA ranks last in conference defensive efficiency and second to last in offensive efficiency. Their metrics are bad. If they lose to Rice in another high scoring affair, it’s going to be because they couldn’t get any stops. 

Player to watch: Japhey Medor is averaging 13.4 points per game. He lives at the FT line. 

CUSA Tourney Odds: 0.1%

Bracket: Take on Rice to start, then UAB then UNT/FIU/Tech

Western Kentucky

Why they could make a run: Maybe their talented roster finally starts to play to their capabilities. 

Why they could get bounced early: They will go home early if they can’t get to the FT line (shouldn’t be a problem against UTEP), and if they can’t hit 3’s. They need guys like Dontaie Allen (G/F), Emmanuel Akot (F), Jairus Hamilton (F), and Khristian Lander (G) to hit 3’s while Dayvion McKnight (G) and Jordan Rawls (G) are breaking down the defense. If that isn’t happening then they could easily lose to UTEP. The other factor here is motivation. It’s no secret that Head Coach Rick Stansbury might be on his way out. The Hilltoppers might be ready to end the season and start over. 

Player to watch: Dayvion McKnight is one of the best guards in CUSA. He has the ability to take over games. He had 27 in a win against UAB, and 33 in a win against Middle Tennessee. 

CUSA Tourney Odds: 4.9%

Bracket: UTEP to open the proceedings, then FAU if they win. Then Middle/CLT.

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