College Basketball Nation: Julian Washburn

1. College basketball teams are allowed to start practice Sept. 27, but not everyone is enamored with the new schedule that opens up 30 practice days in a 42-day window before the first game. "We are really easing in to the start of practice, so we will be doing a ton of skill work," said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. "I'm not convinced the early start is a great idea. It's already a long season, and we have to make sure we have some legs in February." McDermott said he won't have the team practice three consecutive days until Oct. 11.

2. A number of schools will sprinkle in "Midnight Madness" events earlier than Oct. 18. The purpose has been to build these around important official visit recruiting weekends, and that won't change with the new early start date. The uniformity of some sort of special tipoff now with practice and/or an event is gone. Hoop teams will be sporadically starting and having madness-type events on random weekends throughout October.

3. UTEP lost Isaac Hamilton to UCLA (although Hamilton can't play this season), but the Miners still have some potential pop and can't be counted out in bloated CUSA. UTEP coach Tim Floyd said he has seen "lots of potential and lots of intrigue with this team." Floyd said 7-foot-1 freshmen Matt Wilms and 6-8 Vince Hunter could play on most teams. He likened 6-7 point McKenzie Moore to former USC point guard Daniel Hackett, who played for Floyd with the Trojans. And he expects Julian Washburn to have an all-league type season again. Floyd showed reciprocal loyalty to Bob Cantu in hiring the former USC assistant coach in a similar role. Cantu was faithful to Floyd throughout his USC tenure and never disparaged him during any of the NCAA investigation. Cantu stayed on with Kevin O'Neill, then replaced him as the interim coach last season.

Old Spice Classic primer

November, 21, 2012
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Gonzaga and Davidson are the most experienced teams in this field. Might we see a mid-major finale? Stay tuned....

The basics: Nov. 22-23, 25 at HP Fieldhouse in Orlando, Fla.

The set matchups: Thursday – West Virginia vs. Marist, Noon ET; Vanderbilt vs. Davidson, 2 p.m.; UTEP vs. Oklahoma, 7 p.m.; Clemson vs. Gonzaga, 9 p.m. Friday – semifinals and consolation games. Sunday – consolation games and championship game.

The favorite: Gonzaga, ranked 17th in the AP poll this week, is clearly the team to beat. The Zags feature a versatile roster that lost only one key contributor from last season, and coach Mark Few will be looking to hone his team early in hopes of a 14th straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Jake Cohen, Davidson – The Wildcats return all five starters from the squad that won the Southern Conference championship, including Cohen, the league's reigning player of the year. He is averaging 10 points and 6.3 rebounds but is shooting only 32.3 percent. Davidson has a surprising 1-2 record.

[+] EnlargeKevin Pangos
James Snook/US PresswireKevin Pangos and the Gonzaga Bulldogs are one of the favorites entering the Old Spice Classic.
Milton Jennings, Clemson – As one of only two scholarship seniors on this year’s team (along with forward Devin Booker), the former McDonald’s All-American has a chance to live up to his billing this season. He is averaging 10.5 points (second behind Booker) and 6.5 rebounds, and he needs to continue to be a major player for the Tigers to be a factor in this tournament.

Adam Kemp, Marist – The 6-foot-10 junior has averaged a double-double over his first three games (11 ppg, 10 rpg) and has developed as a reliable inside weapon. But he’ll have his hands full with some big foes during this tournament.

Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga – The guard led his team in scoring (13.6 ppg) as a freshman and is averaging 11 points and five assists thus far. He’s also made 6 of 13 3-point attempts, picking up where he left off last season, when he converted 40.1 percent from long distance.

Steven Pledger, Oklahoma – The senior has said that three straight losing seasons has fueled his fire. As a result, he is averaging 12 points and 42.1 percent shooting in the Sooners’ first two games. Those are stats he’ll want to keep building upon to keep his team winning.

FOUR BIG QUESTIONS:

How big of a difference will Kelly Olynyk make? After being suspended for the first three games of the season for violating the school’s code of conduct, the 7-foot Zags forward should make his season debut against Clemson on Thursday. He redshirted last year but averaged 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds as a sophomore in 2010-11. He should add even more depth to an already deep squad.

Will the Mountaineers bounce back? After getting blown out 84-50 at Gonzaga on Nov. 12, West Virginia would probably love a rematch in the championship game, but the Mountaineers have to get there first. That means improving from the outside (they missed their first 10 3-pointers), taking better care of the ball (they turned it over 18 times) and, according to coach Bob Huggins, competing harder.

Who are these Vanderbilt guys? You might recognize sophomore guard Kedren Johnson, who converted the three-point play that gave the Commodores the lead for good when they upset Kentucky in the SEC tournament. But otherwise, it’s not a very familiar group. All five starters from last season are gone, and Johnson (who averaged only 3.1 ppg last season) is the leading returning scorer. He is averaging 19.5 points so far this season, followed by junior Kyle Fuller (16.0) and freshman Kevin Bright (10.0).

Will the brothers keep leading? It’s always fun to watch brothers who are teammates, especially when those brother-teammates are leading their team in scoring. UTEP’s Chris Washburn, a 6-foot-8 freshman, is averaging 12.5 points and 3.5 rebounds off the bench, while 6-7 sophomore Julian Washburn is a starter averaging 11 points and 2.5 rebounds.

THE PICKS

Opening games: West Virginia over Marist; Davidson over Vanderbilt; Oklahoma over UTEP; Gonzaga over Clemson

Semifinals: Davidson over West Virginia; Gonzaga over Oklahoma

Championship: Gonzaga over Davidson

Conference USA's most important players

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
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Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on C-USA, click here.

The most important player for each team in the conference ...

East Carolina: Miguel Paul
Paul ran the show in effective fashion for ECU last season, posting a 108.8 offensive rating while leading his team in usage and submitting the ninth-best assist rate in the nation (40.6). He'll be just as crucial in his final season.

Houston: Danuel House
House is the most talented recruit the Houston men's basketball program has landed in a long time. He could have chosen just about any destination for college ball, but he chose to stay in Houston and play for third-year coach James Dickey. House could be a star on a previously irrelevant team from day one.

Marshall: Dennis Tinnon
Marshall didn't miss the NCAA tournament by much last season, but miss the tourney it did. If that changes, it will be in part because Tinnon -- who posted a 120.2 offensive rating and ranked in the top 50 nationally in defensive and offensive rebounding rate -- takes on an even larger share of the offense.

Memphis: Joe Jackson
The lightning-quick Memphis native carries the weight of a city on his back every time he plays. Through his first two seasons, Jackson has often displayed why those childhood expectations started in the first place -- even if it feels like we haven't seen him put it all together just yet.

[+] EnlargeArsalan Kazemi
AP Photo/Erich SchlegelArsalan Kazemi, who plays for Iran's national team, averaged 12.1 points and 10.3 rebounds as a junior last season.
Rice: Arsalan Kazemi
One of the nation's unknown stars is Rice's best player and its most important, a rebounding force who needs to command double-teams to help the Owls improve last season's putrid offense.

SMU: Jalen Jones
Speaking of putrid offense, SMU was awful on that side of the floor in 2011-12. But freshman guard Jones showed plenty of potential along the way.

Southern Miss: Neil Watson
The 5-foot-11 guard was former coach Larry Eustachy's second-most-used offensive option last season, when he shot 37.5 percent from the 3-point line and posted a 30.7 percent assist rate. Both of those figures should improve in 2012.

Tulane: Ricky Tarrant
It has been a tough decade or so for Tulane hoops, but Tarrant, who averaged 14.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists (and efficiently so) as a freshman last season, will give the Green Wave at least one go-to option going forward.

Tulsa: Scottie Haralson
Losing leading scorer Jordan Clarkson to an unflattering (for Tulsa) transfer scenario was a major blow, which is chief among the reasons why Haralson must step up as a senior.

UAB: Preston Purifoy
The Blazers are in rebuilding mode after firing coach Mike Davis, so all personnel bets are off. That means Purifoy, by far the team's most efficient player last season, could get more opportunities to show his skills.

UCF: Marcus Jordan
Keith Clanton is the more obvious pick, but he and Isaiah Sykes form a nice rebounding tandem on the low block. Jordan will have the ball in his hands more often and will have to be far more consistent to live up to the flashes of excellence we've seen in his time at UCF.

UTEP: Julian Washburn
Junior John Bohannon is a known quantity, a solid post man and an active rebounder who converts his opportunities well. Washburn, a 6-7 sophomore, has tons of upside, but he will have to become much more efficient in his second season.

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