Conference USA Preview
In 2006-07, Conference USA played like Memphis and the 11 dwarves. You can expect more of the same in the new season as coach John Calipari has his program running at a completely different level than the rest of the conference. Being in Conference USA actually hurts Memphis because they are supposed to go undefeated and they won’t exactly be tested by most of their conference rivals. Being deep in talent hurts Memphis as a source of fantasy players as well becauser we, the fantasy owners, prefer one-man teams and Memphis certainly does not qualify. Memphis is well represented in the following list, but Tigers do not occupy any of the top slots, which are filled by excellent players from lesser teams. The names of the Tigers will be most recognizable, but to get to the fantasy quality players, you have to dig a little deeper. Keep digging and you’ll find some excellent prospects.
10. C Zisis Sarikopoulis*, UAB Blazers
I’ll admit, adding Sarikopoulis to this list is me taking a complete flyer. However, there are a few things in his favor. First, he is seven feet tall and how many players in the conference hit that magic mark? Answer, very few. Second, he is left handed and has displayed some skills in international competition for the Greek National team. Sarikopoulis is also said to have above average mobility for a seven footer. If the big Greek can show that he deserves court time early in the season, he could win the starting center slot, especially since UAB is not blessed with many other quality bigs (freshman 6-11 C Keenan Ellis and sophomore 6-10 F Jeremy Mayfield appear to be the competition). If your league is a keeper league, Sarikopoulos could be a guy to red shirt this year and see what happens in the future.
9. G Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis Tigers
Perhaps the best demonstration of Memphis’ depth is the fact that their best player from 2006-07 falls to ninth on the preseason list. Douglas-Roberts emerged from the pack of talented Tigers to become the team’s go-to guy on offense. In just 26.6 mpg, he led Memphis with 15.4 ppg on 54.3% shooting. The roster depth remains so it may be difficult for coach Calipari to find many more minutes for CDR, but the 6-6 guard could demand more time by providing some more rebounding (3.4 rpg), steals (1.1 spg), or outside shooting (just 0.5 3pg). Yes, Memphis does have other players to fill those roles, but for Douglas-Roberts to extend his reputation into the fantasy realm, he will have to take advantage of all opportunities.
8. G Darrell Jenkins, East Carolina Pirates
When it comes to fantasy prospects, don’t judge the player by his size or by his team’s won-loss record. If you used either criteria for evaluating players, you could throw out the 5-11, 175 lb Jenkins who played for the dregs of Conference USA (the Pirates went 1-5 in conference with their lone victory being a 79-78 Feb. 24 win over UTEP). Don’t blame Jenkins – he led the team in scoring (12.1 ppg) and led the conference in playmaking (5.5 apg). When he was able to get open to shoot, he could score in bunches (including a 31-point outburst and eight threes in a Feb. 10 loss at Houston). Most of the Pirate squad returns, so Jenkins should feel comfortable with his teammates, who have hopefully improved in the offseason.
7. F Joey Dorsey, Memphis Tigers
Dorsey, who possesses perhaps the widest shoulders in college basketball, is the classic hit-or-miss type of player. When he focuses and stays out of foul trouble, he brings double-doubles (six dub-dubs in 2006-07) and is a general menace on the boards (a conference leading 9.4 rpg and eight games of 13 rebounds or more). However, his aggression tends to cut his playing time and he picks up cheap fouls (of course, with his strength, the opponents might not consider them cheap). He fouled out of five games last year and four fouls in six other games. Even with his width, Dorsey is a fine athlete and showed some of his skills on the defensive end with 1.4 spg and 2.2 bpg. Memphis still has F Robert Dozier and incoming F Shawn Taggert to share minutes with Dorsey, but the 6-9 bruiser is the best of the bunch.
6. G/F Markel Humphrey, Marshall Thundering Herd
Heading into the 2006-07, Thundering Herd coach Ron Jirsa hoped Humphrey would be more assertive and grow into the team’s leading player. Jirsa’s hopes were realized as Humphrey grew into Marshall’s top scorer (14.0 ppg) and rebounder (6.5 rpg). Sadly, Humphrey’s efforts were not enough to save Jirsa’s job and he was replaced by Donnie Jones (part of Florida coach Billy Donovan’s crew), who has brought in waves of transfers (none of whom will play in 2007-08, but you can look for ex-Purdue sharpshooter Chris Lutz, former-Gator swingman Brandon Powell, and ex-Hoya F Octavius “Tay” Spann in 2008-09). Humphrey improved as the season continued and he had a three double-doubles in a four-game span in February. With the big recruits on the bench, Humphrey will need another strong season to help the Herd to respectability.
5. G Derrick Rose*, Memphis Tigers
If there was one player that Memphis was lacking last year, it was a true floor general. Coach Calipari tried to shoehorn various players into the position that is often called an extension of the coach (let’s not think about that metaphor too long), but none of the players – such as G Andre Allen, G Willie Kemp or even 6-6 G Antonio Anderson – filled the bill. Enter Rose, a five star prospect, and exit the rest – to the bench or elsewhere. He has excellent court vision and the quickness to break down almost any opposing defense. NBADraft.net compared him to former Duke PG Jason Williams, except that Rose is “bigger, more athletic, and an even better floor general.” Wow. Rose does not have a great outside shot yet, but he should be able to set up fellow Tigers who can hit from beyond the arc.
4. G Stefon Jackson, UTEP Miners
The Miners had a lot of scoring to replace heading into the 2006-07 season and a new coach, Tony Barbee, to try to figure who was going to fill the bucket. Jackson stepped forward early in the season and claimed the team as his own. The 6-5 second year player led the Miners in both scoring (18.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg) and chipped in some steals (1.5 spg) and threes (1.0 3pg) for good measure. Jackson used his athleticism to slash to the basket and was often fouled (7.1 FTA/g, converting 72.6% of his freebies), but he could also stick the mid-range jumper. In conference play, if Jackson did not have a big game, the Miners generally lost. In the final two wins of the season, Jackson provided 21 points and 17 boards against Houston on Feb. 3 and 22 points and ten rebounds on Feb. 21. Jackson will have more help in 2007-08 (such as freshman SF Manual Cass from Connecticut), but he is still the main man in El Paso.
3. G Rob McKiver, Houston Cougars
Sometimes all a player needs is the right opportunity. After playing for Providence College for a year, McKiver went to junior college and returned to Division I with Houston. The Cougar backcourt was supposed to be set with terrific defender Oliver LaFayette and PG Lanny Smith. Then, Smith broke his foot in preseason play and McKiver had a crack in the door. He smashed through said door by becoming a fearless shooter who did not let a few bad shots mar his confidence. McKiver opened the season with a 33-point night in a win over Rhode Island and scored 30+ points three more times. For the year, he averaged 19.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, and 3.4 apg. His main asset was his 3.5 3pg, never mind that he shot just 33.8% from long range. Lafayette has moved on, but Smith is back so McKiver will likely see less assist chances, but the same number of shots.
2. G Jeremy Wise, Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Like McKiver, Wise was not heavily touted in the summer of ’06, but he took over a team in transition as a freshman. The Jackson, MS native took on the main scoring role early and never relinquished it. He generally dominated the ball either call his own number (17.5 ppg on 40.1% shooting with 1.7 3pg) or setting up a teammate (a team high 3.0 apg). The Golden Eagles were supposed to be then sophomore G Courtney Beasley’s team, but Beasley could not score like the 6-2 Wise. Coach Larry Eustachy will need Wise to play under better control in the new season because his 3.7 tpg were just too many. Perhaps Wise would be wise to let Beasley handle the ball to set up his teammates. The frontcourt deficient Golden Eagles will have the guards taking a lot of shots, so you can expect more of the same from Wise.
1. G Paul Delaney, UAB Blazers
Along with the aforementioned Sarikopoulis, who may be nothing but a seven foot shell, the Blazers have a lot of talent coming on board. Coach Mike Davis brought sweet shooting G Robert Vaden with him from Indiana and G Channing Toney (son of Andrew) is now eligible after sitting out a season as a transfer from Georgia. Yet, neither Vaden nor Toney will run the show – that role will be filled by Delaney, a do-everything point guard who attracted fantasy notice in 2006-07. The 6-2 Delaney led the team in scoring (15.5 ppg on 45.9% from the floor), assists (5.2 apg), and steals (1.9 spg). He also chipped in a tasty 4.8 rpg. The worry is that Toney and Vaden will take some of his shot attempts, but one of my many mottos is “Don’t worry.” Delaney may rack up an unheard of amount of assists and his scoring opportunities won’t disappear. You can expect him to be more efficient and effective with more talent around him.
Perry Missner is the senior college basketball writer for Pro Fantasy Sports. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org