Remember all those great Conference
involving Cincinnati, DePaul,
Marquette we watched in recent
Well, cling tight to those memories
because – at least in a Conference USA setting – we’ve seen the last of
Those schools, along with
South Florida, are officially members of the Big East
Charlotte (a conference power of
late), along with Saint Louis, has left for the Atlantic 10, while TCU has
relocated to the Mountain West.
The conference picked up UTEP,
Rice, SMU and Tulsa (from the
Western Athletic Conference),
Marshall (from the Mid-American
Conference) and Central Florida (via the Atlantic Sun),
leaving it revamped and – would opine – ripe for domination by holdover
The Tigers averaged 23 wins during
John Calipari’s five seasons as the Memphis coach but appeared in just
two NCAA Tournaments (winning just one game) in that stretch.
As long as Calipari is in
Memphis and he continues to pull in
high profile recruits, the Tigers will find themselves favored to win this
conference every season.
Frank’s Spin: John Calipari
has a nifty blend of returnees (led by guard Darius Washington, Jr.
and forward Rodney Carney) and newcomers (with wings Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts , forward Shawne Williams
and center Kareem Cooper the freshmen most likely to make major
contributions immediately). Barring injuries or defections, this should be
Calipari’s deepest Memphis team.
Postseason possibilities: It
will create some serious head-scratching if this group of Tigers misses out on a
trip to the NCAA Tournament. If the pieces mesh, a Sweet 16 run isn’t out of the
Frank’s Spin: In twins
Donell and Ronell Taylor (the latter an NBA rookie with
Washington), Coach Mike Anderson lost two key elements to the teams that
combined for 44 victories the past two seasons – 22 within conference play and
two more in the NCAA Tournament. But
Anderson does return three of the
better players in the conference in forward Demario Eddins and guards
Squeaky Johnson and Marvett McDonald. And the team’s all-court
pressure defense will continue to disrupt opponents.
Along with the next two clubs, the Blazers seem best equipped to a mount
serious challenge to the Tigers for a conference title and to grab an at-large
bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Frank’s Spin: Miners’ coach
Doc Sadler knows what he is doing which is why the program’s transition
to its new conference should be a relatively smooth one. Four players (returning
starters Jason Williams and John Tofi, and key reserves Miguel Ayala and Will Kimble) will be surrounded by a multitude of quality
newcomers, including JC transfer Kevin Henderson and Philadelphia
freshmen Maurice Thomas and Stefon Jackson.
The Miners have played in consecutive NCAA Tournaments. A third is a real
Frank’s Spin: The Cougars
(while winning 22 games) exceeded all expectations in their first season under
Coach Tom Penders, with the play of Andre Owens (a rookie with the
Utah Jazz) a major part of that success. But he’s got a nice backcourt in
Lanny Smith and Brian Latham (who combined for 23 points and
almost seven assists per game last season), along with a decent undersized
“power” forward in 6-7, 190-pound Ramon Dyer.
Postseason possibilities: If
some of the players Pender recruited to play in the post come through, the
Cougars should be playing somewhere after the conference tournament has been
Frank’s Spin: The Golden
Knights went to consecutive NCAA Tournament in their final two years in the
Atlantic Sun Conference. Things will no doubt be considerably tougher in their
new surroundings. But, with returning starters in Joshua Peppers, Anthony Williams and Will Bakanowsky, Coach Kirk Speraw’s team isn’t
going to be overwhelmed by the night-in, night-out competition it faces in
They won 24 games last season. Anything close to 20 this time should get it
into the NIT* (*or whatever it’s called next March).
Frank’s Spin: The Owls were
19-12 in 2004-05 but three starters used up their eligibility, including one of
the country’s most underrated players for a couple of seasons, forward
Michael Harris (20.6 points and 11.7 rebounds per game as a senior).
Coach Willis Wilson should still field a solid frontcourt with returning
starters in J.R. Harrison and Patrick Britton, along with a player
who got a lot of playing time last season, Morris Almond. Junior
Lorenzo Williams should be the team’s playmaker.
Most likely a year from now.
Frank’s Spin: Larry Eustachy
demonstrated what kind of a coach he is during stints at
State. He’ll get the Golden Eagles
into the upper-echelon of the conference, although it will probably take another
season to do so. Senior Jason Forte should be among the better players in
the conference, and Eustachy’s solid JC contacts brought five transfers,
including post David Cornwell and point guard Kyle Lamonte.
Postseason possibilities: It
will take a bit of time, but Eustachy will have this program in the hunt for
NCAA Tournament bids sooner than some assume.
Frank’s Spin: A playmaker at
the Naval Academy (where he hooked up with David Robinson for a lot of
assists), Doug Wojcik was hired last spring after assistants’ stints at
his alma mater, North Carolina and Michigan State. No one who has been around
him doubts his ability to return this program to the same level of success it
has enjoyed in the past. And he brought eight recruits with him, including JC
All-America guard Roderick Earl, to start the rebuilding
Postseason possibilities: No
later than in 2007-8, for sure.
Frank’s Spin: Senior guard
Bryan Hopkins (17.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game as a junior), a
high-flying sort, was one of the WAC’s best players for three seasons and that
should immediately be the case in this conference, as well.
State transfer Dez Willingham
is capable of teaming with Hopkins
to give Coach Jimmy Tubbs one of the conference’s most explosive
backcourts. Forward Devon Pearson (10.4 ppg) also scored in double
figures last season.
Only if Tubbs can get post play that is on par with the kind of performances
he can expected from his guards.
10. East Carolina
Frank’s Spin: Ricky Stokes
(the former Virginia Tech head coach and most recently an assistant at
South Carolina) inherited a
program that lost its two top scorers from last season. Junior Japhet McNeil will be among the conference’s best playmakers, and 6-8 JC transfer
Tyronne Beale will be a key inside. But La Salle
transfer David Bell, a 6-7 forward with a lot of skill, will be lost
indefinitely because of a knee injury.
The Pirates will be improved – just not that
Frank’s Spin: It’s going to
be a dizzying first season as the program’s head coach for former
Maryland assistant Dave
Dickerson, due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Kartrina on
New Orleans and
University. His players have been
attending class and practicing at
University but will play 10 of their
“home” games in New Orleans.
Dickerson inherited a solid player in 6-9 Quincy Davis (13.7 points and
6.1 rebounds) from a team that won just 10 games (four of those coming in
conference) last season.
Just being able to play a “regular season” is a victory for this
Frank’s Spin: The Thundering
Herd struggled in the Mid-American Conference (6-22 overall and 3-15 in
conference) last season and there is no reason to believe that things will be
any more enjoyable in this conference. Three players who averaged at least 9.6
points per game, led by 6-9, 240-pound Mark Patton’s 11.0 ppg, return for
Coach Ron Jisa, whose Marshall teams have won just 18 games (in 57 tries)
in three seasons.
Three words – not real good – say it all.
Projected all-conference first
- Darius Washington, Jr. (6-1,
- Bryan Hopkins (6-0, Sr.,
- Lanny Smith (6-3, Jr.,
- Rodney Carney (6-7, Sr.,
- Demario Eddins (6-7, Sr.,
Projected all-conference second
- Jason Williams (6-5, Sr.,
- Anthony Price (6-8, Sr.,
- Squeaky Johnson (5-10, Sr.,
- J.R. Harrison (6-6, Sr.,
Davis (6-9, Sr., Tulane)
- Shawne Williams (6-8, Fr.,
- Chris Douglas-Roberts (6-5,
- Roderick Earls (6-2, Jr.,
- Kevin Henderson (6-4, Jr.,
- David Cornwell (6-8, Jr.
- Demario Eddins (6-7, Sr.,
- Rodney Carney (6-7, Sr.,
An April inductee into the USBWA
Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s National Basketball Expert
and is also a columnist for the Long
(Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be
reached at email@example.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at