Conference USA is always one of the best mid-major basketball conferences in the country with several proud programs, yet the 2020-21 season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in recent memory.
Western Kentucky enters as the preseason favorite with an extremely talented roster headlined by former McDonald’s All-American Charles Bassey, now healthy after missing all but 10 games last season. But North Texas returns several key pieces from last season’s championship team, including reigning C-USA Player of the Year Javion Hamlet.
That race will be extremely exciting to watch, yet there’s also a good possibility that more than two teams are involved. The depth of the conference has really improved as Charlotte and Marshall — both teams that posted 10-8 records in 2019-20 — return all or nearly all their key pieces. Conference USA is also home to the nation’s leading returning scorer in UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson, one of the most exciting players in the entire country.
Here’s a complete look at the conference for the upcoming 2020-21 season, including preseason rankings, award predictions, and much more.
14. rice owls
Last season: 15-17 (7-11 Conf); No. 219 in DPI
Head coach: Scott Pera (4th year with school)
Key returners: Chris Mullins, Quincy Olivari
Notable newcomers: Riley Abercrombie, Tre Clark
Rice has gradually improved their win total in their three seasons since head coach Scott Pera took over, using a three-point centric attack (third nationally in 3PA rate) to become one of the more dangerous teams in C-USA. That’s not going to be the case this season. The Owls lost most of their key contributors and better shooters to the transfer portal, and it’s unclear who’s stepping up to replace that offensive production. And that’s not good considering the were the conference’s worst defensive team in 2019-20.
13. southern miss golden eagles
Last season: 9-22 (5-13 Conf); No. 276 in DPI
Head coach: Jay Ladner (2nd year with school)
Key returners: LaDavius Draine, Tyler Stevenson
Notable newcomers: Tae Hardy, Justin Johnson
Southern Miss only won six games against Division-I teams a year ago, so head coach Jay Ladner has turned to the JUCO ranks to add some immediate talent to the roster. The Golden Eagles are welcoming four highly rated JUCO players, headlined by Tae Hardy. They’re counting on Hardy and others to drastically improve an offense that was bottom 50 in the country, according to DPI. This young group is still about a year away from making a move up the standings.
12. middle tennessee blue raiders
Last season: 8-23 (4-14 Conf); No. 314 in DPI
Head coach: Nicholas McDevitt (3rd year with school)
Key returners: Jayce Johnson, Donovan Sims
Notable newcomers: Jordan Davis, Dontrell Shuler
Last season was a disaster for the Blue Raiders. They only beat three D-I teams (Lipscomb, UTSA, Southern Miss three times) and had the conference’s worst DPI grade by a sizable margin. However, with six players returning from the rotation and just as many transfers entering the fold, Middle Tennessee should improve a good deal. Unfortunately, improving a good deal still puts them among the worst teams in the conference. Look for Charleston Southern transfer Dontrell Shuler to emerge as the go-to guy.