Men’s Basketball: C-USA’s Most Likely NCAA Tourney Teams

LA Tech

Louisiana Tech was voted the C-USA preseason favorite by coaches

Louisiana Tech

The Bulldogs accomplished a successful regular season last year, tying atop C-USA with a 13-3 record while achieving an overall mark of 29-8. The Bulldogs lost in the conference tournament, however, and as a result were excluded from the NCAA Tournament after just missing the cut for an at-large bid.

LA Tech figures to be in the mix for another shot at the big dance as they were voted as the preseason favorite in C-USA by the conference’s coaches. LA Tech brought back head coach Michael White on a new six-year contract after compiling a 74-31 record in his first three seasons with the program, two of which culminated in regular season conference titles.

Louisiana Tech returns four starters from last year’s group that led the conference with 81.0 PPG, 15.7 APG and a +5.0 turnover differential. Of those returning starters, guards Kenneth Smith, Raheem Appleby, and Alex Hamilton were selected to the preseason all-conference team.

Smith, a senior point guard, was named the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year last season and also ranked second in the nation with 7.7 APG. Smith’s assist total of 278 last season was a C-USA record. Appleby, also a senior, returns to full strength after dealing with an ankle injury last season. Despite the injury, Appleby still averaged double digit scoring at 11.2 PPG. Hamilton is the second-leading returning scorer in C-USA after averaging 14.5 PPG last season, which was highlighted by a 31-point outburst against Oklahoma. The trio forms the most accomplished backcourt in the C-USA heading into the 2014-2015 season.

Also returning is 6’10” big man Michale Kyser who acts as an interior presence and shot blocker for the Bulldogs. Kyser led C-USA in blocks the previous two seasons and was selected to the C-USA All-Defensive Team last season.

 

UTEP

UTEP was voted by coaches among the favorites to win Conference-USA as it brings back four starters from last year’s team that finished in a tie for 5th last season with a 12-4 conference record.

Among the returning starters is senior 6’8” forward Julian Washburn who tied for the team lead in scoring at 13.1 PPG. Washburn is the third-leading returning scorer within the conference and UTEP assistant coach Ken DeWeese is expecting an even more production this season. “We’re kind of just ready for Julian to have a breakout year where he averages 17 or 18 a game,” DeWeese said.

Also returning is Conference-USA Freshman of the Year, Vince Hunter. Hunter, a 6’8” forward averaged 12.3 PPG and 6.5 RPG last season. Hunter and Washburn were both voted to the preseason All-Conference USA team by coaches.

UTEP is coached by Tim Floyd who has compiled a 71-52 record at UTEP during his four seasons. Floyd is a defensive minded coach evidenced by the 63.3 PPG allowed by the Miners last season which ranked second in the conference. With Floyd’s defensive principles and four returning starters UTEP will have a legitimate chance of winning Conference-USA if Washburn, Hunter, and senior guard C.J. Cooper can improve an offense that ranked just 10th in Conference-USA in scoring last season.

Fans Should Take Notice

Fans should become aware of the top teams in what figures to be a sneaky good conference this year. C-USA nearly landed two teams in the NCAA Tournament last season and plenty of individual talent will be returning. Take notice of the top teams and players in C-USA now basketball fans because they may just enter two teams in the NCAA tournament. Then when one of them shocks your team in a round of 64 upset, you won’t be saying “who the heck are these guys?”

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