Very Early C-USA Hoops Preview - Part II

After spending time in Memphis for the Conference USA Basketball Tournament, was able to get a great look at all 12 C-USA teams and we have a few thoughts on how next year may play out for the Knights. Here's part two of what is likely the very first preview of the 2009-10 season.

The Rice Owls were one of the doormats of the C-USA in the 2008-09 campaign as they won just four conference games. The Owls did improve greatly as the season progressed, and even recorded a win in the tournament over Marshall. The Owls lose arguably their best player, in guard Rodney Foster, as well as big man Aleks Perka. Rice does return sharpshooters Connor Frizzelle and Lawrence Ghoram, along with guard Cory Pflieger, who should give them an ability to score points. 6'10" center Trey Stanton is solid and can play inside or outside, and power forward Suleiman Braimoh should be a contributor.

How does UCF match up? Rice has more talent in the frontcourt, and more talent in the backcourt. The Owls defeated the Knights in Orlando, with Jermaine Taylor, and it will likely be tough for UCF to match up with an improving Rice team next year.

The ECU Pirates seemed to underachieve for much of last season, and they happen to lose their best two players in Sam Hinnant and James Legan. Still, the Pirates return some fine athletes and could be much better next season. Forward Jamar Abrams has star potential, as the 6'5" southpaw can jump out of the gym and hits big shots in big situations. Forward Darius Morrow and center Chad Wynn are great athletes and should be improved when the midnight madness comes around.

How does UCF match up? The Knights don't have the athletes that ECU has, but their backcourt will be better.

The SMU Mustangs finished in last place in the C-USA last season, but things are looking up thanks to a young, athletic nucleus of players. SMU will lose just one player, 7'1" center Bamba Fall, but return their dynamic backcourt of Paul McCoy and Derek Williams. Add in big men Robert Nyakundi, Mouhammed Faye, and Papa Dia, and the young Mustangs have greater things ahead of them.

How does UCF match up? Not very well. The Knights big men aren't as big as SMU's but they may be more talented. The SMU backcourt is considerably more talented and with a full year of collegiate experience, they should be much better.

Houston head coach Tom Penders is excited about his team's prospects for next season and he should be. Although the Cougars lose Marcus Cousin and DaShaun Williams, they still return their dynamic guard trio of Aubrey Coleman, Kelvin Lewis, and Zamal Nixon. Qa'rraan Calhoun is an active big man and the Cougars should make a run for an NCAA tournament berth next year.

How does UCF match up? Houston beat UCF twice this past season, and they return nearly all of their core players. The Cougars backcourt is much more talented, but UCF may have a slight advantage with their big men.

The Southern Miss Golden Eagles had a difficult, injury-plagued season. With many young players thrust into Larry Eustachy's rotation, the Eagles experienced a lot of growing pains en route to a 4-12 conference record. Still, Southern Miss finished strong with a blowout win over UCF in the first round of the tournament, before falling on a last-second shot in overtime against UAB. Southern Miss loses some great offensive players in Courtney Beasley and Craig Craft, but they return their best player in guard Jeremy Wise. Add in guards R.L. Horton and Rodney McCauley, as well as 7'1" center Gustavo Lino, and the Golden Eagles should be more competitive next year.

How does UCF match up? Wise is better than anyone on UCF's team, but the Knights will likely have much more depth. Assuming there are no major injuries on either side, both teams should have similar records.

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane could be a national sleeper next season. Tulsa had an excellent team this past season, and Memphis head coach John Calipari praised Tulsa head coach Doug Wocjik's group. Tulsa will lose forwards Ray Reese and Sam Mitchell, and it's possible that center Jerome Jordan could enter the NBA draft. Still, they return dynamic guard Ben Uzoh, as well as guards Justin Hurtt and Glenn Andrews. If Jordan stays, they will be great in the middle, and even if he leaves, they have a backup plan in 6'10" forward/center Stephen Idlet, who has a great post-up game.

How does UCF match up? Tulsa has a more talented backcourt and frontcourt returning next season. UCF may not have a single player returning who can start for Tulsa.

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