NCAA: Memphis (12 seed, lost to Arizona in the second round); UAB (first four out)
NIT: UTEP (5 seed, lost to New Mexico in the first round)
CBI: SMU (lost to Santa Clara in the semifinals); Marshall (lost to Ohio in the first round); East Carolina (lost to Jacksonville in the first round)
G: DeAndre Kane, Marshall
G: Will Barton, Memphis
F: Adonis Thomas, Memphis
F: *Arsalan Kazemi, Rice
F: Cameron Moore, UAB
* NBA-Draft.com pick for Player of the Year
1. The conference favorite, yet again, returns all five starters from a team that underachieved with 25 wins. That's not said often, but Memphis finished fourth in the C-USA and they may have not made the NCAA Tournament if it was not for their conference tournament victory. Joe Jackson (9.9 points, 3.1 assists, 3.3 turnovers) is an all-conference caliber guard if he can control his turnovers. He can fly up and down the court, getting the ball to Will Barton (12.3 points, 4.9 rebounds), the team's leading scorer, in transition. But Josh Pastner has a few dangerous weapons in his frontcourt, Wesley Witherspoon (9 points, 4.3 rebounds) will likely come off the bench, while Tarik Black (9.1 points, 5 rebounds, 1.6 blocks) is a force down low and freshman Adonis Thomas can play inside and out.
2. Transfers and returning talent give UCF the best chance at knocking off conference-favorite Memphis this season. Highly-recruited wing Tristan Spurlock is eligible, along with guard Jeff Jordan, the brother of shooting guard Marcus (15.2 points) and of course, the son of an NBA legend. But Donnie Jones also has Keith Clanton (14.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.8 blocks) returning in the frontcourt for his junior season. Injuries killed the Knights last season, especially in conference play, a reason behind their 14-0 start and then eight straight losses after that.
3. If there's one sleeper pick in the conference, the popular darkhorse is Marshall. The Thundering Herd have a backcourt just slightly behind Memphis' in the most-talented in the league which includes C-USA Freshman of the Year DeAndre Kane (15.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists) and a senior point guard in Damier Pitts (16.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists). Kane had an up-and-down season highlighted by his emotions (seven technical fouls), playmaking (117 assists) and turnovers (115).
4. For the first time in five seasons, Tulsa couldn't get to the 20-win mark, finishing just shy at 19-13 overall, but 11 of those coming in C-USA play. All-conference guard Justin Hurtt has graduated, leaving a huge question mark in who will carry the scoring and take the big shots. Sophomore Jordan Clarkson (11.5 points) will get the first chance to prove he is capable and junior Scottie Haralson (10.9 points) will also provide a punch. One to watch is senior center Steven Idlet (11.6 points, 6.3 rebounds) and will cause plenty of mismatches with his size at 6'11".
Mike Davis rode senior point guard and C-USA Player of the Year Aaron Johnson to UAB's first outright league title and the Blazers must move on without him and all-C-USA teammate Jamarr Sanders. However, Cameron Moore (14 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks) is back in the lineup who can provide dominant scoring at times both inside and out, but also disappeared at times as well.
6. Despite a fifth place finish in the league, Southern Miss had a successful season finishing with 22 points, the third time the Golden Eagles had eclipsed the 20-win plateau in five years. But gone from this roster is all-league forward Gary Flowers and backcourt leaders RL Horton and DJ Newbill. It appears Larry Eustachy will build around Angelo Johnson (7.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists), a 6' guard who had formerly started for USC.
7. There isn't much in the Rice cupboard with the exceptions of juniors Arsalan Kazemi (15.2 points, 11 rebounds) and Tamir Jackson (13.9 points, 3.6 assists). Kazemi is still underrated despite 20 double-digit rebounding games and 29 double-digit scoring games. What's scary is that he still has room to grow in adding more strength and muscle and a mid-range game.
8. Houston is poised to show last season was a fluke after averaging 21 wins the previous three seasons, but the best is yet to come. Joseph Young, a redshirt guard who sat out last season, originally signed with Providence after averaging 27.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 4.4 steals a game in high school is a program changer. As is fellow-first year Cougar TaShawn Thomas, another big-time in-state recruit who averaged 21 points, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks a game last season. Next season's recruiting class has even more promise.
9. Seven seniors completed their eligibility for UTEP last season, including one-time C-USA Player of the Year Randy Culpepper, point guard Julyan Stone and Christian Polk. The lone senior on this year's squad, Gabriel McCulley (6.1 points, 4.2 rebounds) will be counted on for production and of course, leadership with ten new faces on the roster.
10. For SMU, the loss of senior Papa Dia (18.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks) is huge as he led the team to their best season in a long time. Returning in the frontcourt is 6'8" Robert Nyakundi (14.3 points, .497 3-point field-goal percentage) who constantly made defenses pay for doubling down on their center. Matt Doherty must replace three starters including Dia.
11. Last season was a monumental one for East Carolina; the Pirates finished with a winning record for the first time since 1996-97 and made their first postseason trip in nearly 20 years. The encore campaign will be difficult as three key players have moved on (combined for 35.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game; were also the top three perimeter shooters).
12. With just four significant contributors from a year ago, the rebuilding project is again underway in New Orleans at Tulane. The Green Wave started 12-3, but imploded and finished 1-14 down the stretch. Leading the bounce back is junior Kendall Timmons (17 points, 8.3 rebounds), who led the team in scoring, rebounding and steals per game. He was just as efficient knocking down perimeter jumpers (40.0 percent 3-point shooter) as he was slashing through the lane (204 free-throw attempts).
Top NBA Prospects:
Adonis Thomas, Memphis: Late Lottery - Mid 1st Round
This combo-forward has NBA potential due to his physicality around the rim, combined with his explosive athleticism, but is limited due to his perimeter game at this moment.
Will Barton, Memphis: Late 1st Round - Early 2nd Round
Barton came in with plenty of hype and struggled shooting the ball with range and shot selection, but he kept firing offensively and has a big-time scoring potential.
Witherspoon has the physical gifts and athleticism to make his run back up our Big Board, but needs to show development both offensively and in adding strength.
Asalan Kazemi, Rice: 2nd Round
The Iranian forward is a dominant rebounder and efficient inside scorer and if he can improve his jump shot, he could become an elite player.
Tarik Black, Memphis: 2nd Round
For an offensively-raw freshman, Black had an excellent freshman season with a tough motor and the strength and physicality in the paint.
Keith Clanton, UCF: 2nd Round - Undrafted
Undersized, Clanton more than makes up for his size with a solid motor and ability to take his defender in and out.
New Places (key losses to teams by way of, transfer or early-entry to the NBA):
Jakub Kusmieruk, UCF: Transferred to Idaho State
Paul McCoy, SMU: Transferred to Saint Mary's
Desmond Wade, Houston: Transferred to Fairfield
New Faces (key additions to teams by way of transfer or incoming freshman):
Keith DeWitt, Southern Miss: He is bubbling with potential and that's what caught the eyes of several major programs across the country with his size and speed and quickness. He originally committed, but didn't qualify at Missouri.
Dylan Ennis, Rice: This Canadian product is a creative ballhandler who plays in attack mode and excels in transition. He has some kinks to work out in his game and improve physically, but his playmaking is undeniable.
Ferrakohn Hall, Seton Hall: The former Seton Hall Pirate is one of the new faces on the Memphis frontline, which pending another transfer, will give Josh Pastner some depth that he lost last season.
Todd O'Brien, UAB: O'Brien isn't a big numbers or production guy, or at least he wasn't with St. Joe's, but he will be counted on for his post defense and could start at center.
Jacques Streeter, UTEP: This transfer from Cal State Fullerton started all 63 games in his two seasons out West averaging 11.1 points and 4.6 assists a night.
Adonis Thomas, Memphis: Thomas is a super-versatile forward with toughness, physicality and athleticism that could make him a one-and-done candidate.
TaShawn Thomas, Houston: The rail-thin springy forward plays the finesse game getting his buckets in transition and from the high post.
Jherrod Stiggers, Houston: Stiggers is a catch-and-shoot shooting guard with deep range, but doesn't do much in creating his own shot.
Ten Non-Conference Games To Watch
William & Mary vs. St. John's (2k Sports Classic) - November 7