- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
As part of our Summer Shootaround series, here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for Conference USA:
Best-case: The Pirates appear to be locked in a holding pattern. Coach Jeff Lebo welcomes back much of last season's 15-16 team, most of whom were upperclassmen already. This will be an experienced team composed primarily of seniors, led by point guard Miguel Paul, who ranks among the best players in the country at facilitating his teammates. Experience and cohesion have never hurt a basketball team, and they could be the secret ingredients to a positive 2012-13 campaign.
Worst-case: Another forgettable .500 season. That seems like the most likely projection. It's never bad to return so many of the previous season's minutes, but without a little fresh blood, why are we to think the Pirates won't be essentially what they were a year ago?
Best-case: Houston's recruiting class may be aberration, or it may be the start of something lasting. Whatever the case, having recruits like Danuel House and Chicken Knowles always portends good things. Houston had plenty of flaws last season. Those won't go away overnight, but inserting at least one hyperathletic future NBA draft pick into the lineup can mask all manner of deficiency. This is the sexy C-USA sleeper pick, perhaps the only team that comes close to matching Memphis in sheer talent.
Worst-case: House and Knowles are talented freshmen. But they are still freshmen, and some freshmen come more prepared for Division I basketball than others. I'd wager that House is borderline dominant from the get-go, but will he and Knowles be lockdown defenders? If not, can Houston improve 2011-12's No. 260-ranked efficiency defense enough to compete for the league crown?
Best-case: The Thundering Herd's lack of quality wins cost them an at-large tourney bid last season, but 2012-13 qualifies as a legitimate second chance. DeAndre Kane, Dennis Tinnon and Robert Goff are the core returners. If sophomore Jamir Hanner and a decent batch of incoming talent make major strides, there's no reason Marshall can't earn a spot in the NCAA tournament, even if it has to sweat things out on the bubble beforehand.
Worst-case: How much will Marshall miss its seniors? Guards Damier Pitts and Shaquille Johnson were major participants on Tom Herrion's solid 2012 squad, and it's not clear their absences can be filled in one offseason. Even so, the worst-case for this team is probably a season like last year's -- which, all things considered, is not so worst-case after all.
Best-case: On paper, the Tigers have as much talent as any program in the country. That's the product of Josh Pastner's back-to-back loaded recruiting classes. With No. 6-ranked power forward Shaq Goodwin joining Joe Jackson, Adonis Thomas, Chris Crawford, Tarik Black & Co. in 2012, this is, as usual, Memphis' conference to win. The Tigers will make the tournament; that much seems guaranteed. The real question is how far they can go.
Worst-case: One of the great challenges of recruiting so well -- which John Calipari has long since mastered -- is in getting waves of disparate talents to play together, as a team, on both ends of the floor. Memphis hasn't always done that in the past few seasons. Meanwhile, don't sleep on the loss of forward Will Barton to the NBA draft. Barton quietly submitted one of the five or six best individual performances in college basketball last season. If Thomas doesn't step into that role and excel right away and Jackson doesn't (finally) put a star season together, this Memphis team could again prove mercurial.
Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series is catching up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For the rest of the best- and worst-case scenarios for C-USA, click here.