UAB is long gone out of the dance, and while Old Dominion is headed to MSG for the NIT Final Four, I, for one, am ready for the 2015/16 season.
The slate starts over, some new faces, some new roles thanks to departed seniors - the beginning of the college basketball season is unlike any other in the sports landscape here in America.
But there's one problem - it's over half the year away.
Well, have no fear, for I am here, and I have bold predictions for what will transpire in 2015/16 season. And, just a forewarning, I'm well aware these will pan out about as well as my tournament previews did. (For those who missed it - I didn't do so well.)
1.) Western Kentucky will be middle of the pack.
Which is not something they're used to being. They've been at (back to back Sun Belt tournament wins in 2012 & 2013) or near (back to back tournaments in which they've lost by one point) the top of the conference in each of the past four years, but with T.J. Price, George Fant and Trency Jackson leaving the program, the Hilltoppers are losing 45.7% of minutes played, 57.8% of scoring and 45.4% of the team's rebounding. With T.J. and George leaving, so are the faces of the program. And, while DJ Clayton and Justin Johnson are going to become very good and the Tops are getting a stud JUCO recruit in Frederick Edmond, but they might see a year in the middle of the pack before they're beginning conference play 9-0 again.
2.) Charlotte will be good. Very good.
Very very good. Coming into conference play this past season a very young (well, I'm not sure how "young," a team with eight upperclassmen paired with a couple redshirt sophomores) 49er team played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation and braved through C-USA season by finishing 7-11, but did take UAB and Louisiana Tech into overtime (even though they were losses) as well as finished 37th in the nation in scoring when the season commenced. And, while they're losing second leading scorer Pierria Henry (10.2 points per game), Torin Dorn returns (who could develop in to the best player in the league), so the scoring shouldn't see that much of a drop off. That, along with a few veteran teams dropping off, as well as more experience on the 9ers roster, could mean Charlotte is looking at a top-4 seed in the tournament next year.
3.) UTSA won't be able to immediately replace production from three lost seniors
Jeromie Hill, Keon Lewis and Kaj-Bjorn Sherman were beasts. They didn't get a whole lot of pub in my neck of the C-USA world in Bowling Green and the East, but they all averaged at least 12.0 points per game. Outside of Ryan Bowie, who averaged 13.0 points a game, there is nothing. Nada. Squat. Christian Wilson, who in his defense was a freshmen on a senior-heavy scoring team, averaged 5.0 points and that's the closest to Bowie's 13. UTSA was an under appreciated team, and could have made some noise in the later rounds in Birmingham if FIU hadn't hit that circus last second shot, but I'm afraid 2015/16 will be a down year. for the 'Runners.
4.) UAB will repeat as conference champions.
This is probably the boldest prediction of the bunch, mostly because it hinges on the Blazers still being in the conference come next season. But, if the scuddle-bud I heard in Birmingham is true, then 2015/16 will mark the final academic year of a football-less UAB in Conference USA. The Blazers are only losing C.J. Washington and Denzel Collins. Nothing against those two, but if you're a Blazer fan, who do you want to come back? Robert Brown - check (well, assuming he doesn't go pro). Hakeem Baxter - check. Tosin Mehinti - check. William Lee - check (and he's going to be a whale of a player). Reliable producers Nick Norton and Chris Cokley are going to be sophomores. I'm rambling, but long story short, the Blazers are going to be scary. Again.
5.) C-USA will be a two-bid league in 2015/16.
A bounty of tweets I saw after the Blazers defeated Iowa St. said something to the effect of "Oh, so Conference USA is for real." Of course, I don't need to be telling you that, but UAB helped put the conference on the map, and if next year mirrors this year, we'll not only see the tourney champ get in, but potentially a once Top 25 ODU team or a Louisiana Tech team with a 30-plus game winning streak. Now, of course, I'm not saying it'll definitely be ODU or LA Tech to get in next year - MTSU could surprise in the regular season, we all know how good UTEP can be - but C-USA will be putting two teams, at least, in the dance next year.
6.) Omega Harris will be the next big star of the conference
Every Batman needs a Robin right? Well Vince Hunter will have a much improved, and a much more consistently productive Omega Harris back next year to help shoulder the load of replacing three seniors. Harris showed stellar maturity during UTEP's postseason (enter positive postseason description here) and looks to be the face of the UTEP program over the next three years. Whether O is UTEP's point guard, or off ball scorer will be determined in UTEP's finishing touches on the class of 2015. but Omega Harris is a FOR SURE thing on an unsure UTEP 2015-16 roster as of today.
7.) Rice is going to keep getting better and better
Rice was one of the more surprising teams in C-USA this past season despite finishing with just 12 wins overall. The Owls did fight their way to eight conference wins and proved head coach Mike Rhoades has a master plan to get the Owls out of the C-USA gutter. Add in 2015 signee Marquez Letcher-Ellis with main returnees Max Guercy, Marcus Jackson, and Bishop Mency, and on paper the Owls looks to be a tough out again for C-USA foes. Rice loses guard Dan Peera and their leading scorer this past year in Seth Gearhart, but adds much needed athleticism and ability to play around the rim more with Letcher-Ellis next year. 6'10 junior to be Andrew Drone will have to increase his scoring production and overall presence on the block, but if Letcher-Ellis can add another dimension to Rice's already developing core, watch out.