Changes in Conference-USA
Like the famous Dylan song, the winds are indeed a-changin' in C-USA. We bid farewell (and in some cases, good riddance) to the programs of Memphis, UCF, Houston, and SMU but welcome newcomers Charlotte, FIU, FAU, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, and UTSA. I will take a closer look at each of the new programs in later editions of this Summer Preview Series, but for now let's just speak generally and say that Conference-USA has become a lot more wide open thanks to the perennial big fish in the little pond Memphis Tigers' departure and the additions of a few already strong mid-major programs and a few others with potential.
Aside from the macro-level changes in C-USA, there are also micro-level changes within teams' rosters that will be extremely interesting. In a trend that is increasing throughout the country, many players are transferring for the last year or two of their collegiate careers, and these are not marginal players we're talking about. Take a look at the list of outgoing players below:
-Tulane's double-double monster Josh Davis, a possible favorite for C-USA Player of the Year, has transferred to San Diego State.
-The poor Green Wave also lose guard Ricky Tarrant to Alabama.
-East Carolina's starting forward Robert Sampson has decided to transfer to Georgia Tech.
-Possibly the best guard in the conference, Marshall's DeAndre Kane is moving on to Iowa State, albeit not before writing a classy letter to the Herd fans in Huntington.
-Rice's up-and-coming guard Julian DeBose is transferring to Cinderella phenom Florida Gulf Coast.
These are the big ones, but Charlotte's Darion Clark is going to USC, Tulane's 3-point shooter Ben Cherry is transferring within the conference to Charlotte and losing two forwards in Marc Eddy Norelia to Florida Gulf Coast and Lotanna Nwogbo to Longwood, Marshall is also losing Jamir Hanner to Buffalo and Chris Martin to Mount St. Mary's, and FIU's Malik Smith is following his coach to Minnesota.
In addition, FAU's Chris Bryant, UTEP's Twymond Howard, Malcolm Moore and Chris Washburn, UAB's Isiah Jones and Quincy Taylor, Tulsa's Zeldric King, ECU's Yasin Kolo, UTSA's Tank Mayberry, Charlotte's Victor Nickerson, Southern Miss's Christian Robbins, Marshall's D.D. Scarver, and Tulane's RaAnthony Sanders have all decided to transfer but have not chosen a school yet.
There are some big names leaving Conference-USA. The rosters of Marshall and Tulane in particular look to be crippled by defections from graduation and transfers. Many Miner fans expressed disappointment with the departures of the hustling Malcolm Moore, the potential-filled Twymond Howard, and especially Chris Washburn, but compared to the losses some of their C-USA rivals, our Miners made out pretty well this offseason not losing a single starter. On the flip-side, here is a list of some of the players who will transfer into C-USA, all of whom will sit out a year before playing:
- The UAB Blazers are getting a 6-5 guard from Virginia Tech, Robert Brown.
- Louisiana Tech gets 6-7 forward Erik McCree from Murray State.
- North Texas gets George Mason guard Vertrail Vaughns.
- East Carolina will have Florida State guard Terry Whisnant II.
Changes at UTEP
As reported by the great Bill Knight and mentioned earlier in this post, the Miners will lose Chris Washburn, Twymond Howard, and Malcolm Moore. The departure of Chris Washburn is probably the most disappointing to Miner fans, considering he wowed us with his potential in his first ever game against Oral Roberts, the fact that he was our best player's little brother, and that later reports seemed to insinuate that the local El Paso media's handling of his supposed involvement of a bar dispute was hurtful to him. Twymond's defection is sad as well, considering all of the coaches had nothing but praise for the young man, continually saying that he was working very hard on his game and in the film room. He just never improved to a point where Coach Floyd felt comfortable playing him. Malcolm Moore is a player who found himself out-classed talent-wise on an increasingly crowded Miner frontcourt. He will likely find more playing time at a smaller school. Our best wishes go out to each of the outstanding young men leaving the program.
Looking objectively at the departures though, we must admit that our team did not lose much on the whole in terms of production. Our excitement over the newcomers should overwhelm our disappointment in these three out-transfers, and even the graduation of Jacques Streeter.
As a resident of Chicago, I had the pleasure of going to the 2013 McDonald's All-American game at the United Center for the sole purpose of seeing future Miner guard Isaac Hamilton play. Now we all know that we can never judge a player from their performance in an all-star game: there is no defense played, offensive sets are kept simple and players often stray away from them anyway to do their own thing because, why the hell not? But even through that lens, Hamilton's upside is apparent and his ceiling as a player is very high. Take a look at his line from the game:
17 mins, 2 for 7 from the field, 2 for 5 from 3-point range, 1 for 2 from the FT line, 5 rebounds (3 offensive rebs), 2 personal fouls, 4 assists, 1 turnover, 1 block, and 7 total points.
5 of the 7 shots Hamilton took were from 3-point range and by no means were they all good shots. Some came early in the shot clock and were from very deep. He nabbed the third most rebounds on his team (behind stud forwards Aaron Gordon and Jabari Parker) and the 3rd most assists on his team (behind Nigel Williams-Goss and Aaron Harrison). Coach Floyd and the stakes should take care of the shot selection, and once this kid gets a hold of Floyd's offensive system, he should be an offensive force for the Miners.
With that, here is my own personal projected lineup for the Miners based solely on speculation:
PG - Isaac Hamilton, 6'5 Freshman
SG- McKenzie Moore, 6'6 Junior
SF- Julian Washburn, 6'7 Junior
PF- Cedrick Lang, 6'8 Junior
C- John Bohannon, 6'10 Senior
Just my anticipation of the lineup for this season. I know Hamilton is listed as a shooting guard, but it makes sense to me to play him as a point guard, giving the Miners great size and versatility in the backcourt. With Hamilton and Moore as the two starting guards, the Miners will have shooting and great court vision. C.J. Cooper would still be a key player off the bench for the Miners, and would most definitely be the third guard if the Miners need to play small ball by moving Washburn to the 4. Washburn is a lock at the small forward position and is likely to benefit greatly from having Hamilton on the team, although the addition of Vincent Hunter should give J-Wash more rest within games. I can see Matt Willms challenging Bohannon for the starting center spot, especially if he's all Floyd says he's cracked up to be and if Bo finds himself in Floyd's doghouse again.
In any case, an exciting season is less than half a year away. Can't wait.