In this brief segment, I outline the emerging prospects for the 2011-2012 Conference USA season.
Will Barton, Memphis- Barton should emerge this season after a year of experience under his belt. He is continuing to develop his body and is much more physically imposing than he was when his college career began. He must continue to develop a better handle and score consistently. With his improvement physically, Barton should become more of a defensive anchor for the Tiger's defense. He has the length to play the passing lanes and the foot speed to stay in front of opposing wings. Look for him to receive All-American considerations by the end of the year and for Memphis to earn a tournament bid.
DeAndre Kane, Marshall- After a standout freshman season where he was named CUSA freshman of the year, Kane returns as the Herds' star redshirt sophomore. Because he assumed such a large role in his first season, look for him to play more under control this coming year. That means that he should improve upon his paltry shooting percentages. According to kenpom.com, of the 44 players that played a total of 60% of their teams' minutes, Kane ranked 35th in the conference in TS%, due in large part to his poor percentages from beyond the arc. While he is physically ready to make the jump to the next level of basketball, his decision making and shot selection must improve for scouts to even consider him down the road. At 6'4, he may not get much attention, as he plays in a less recognized conference and is fairly undersized for an NBA shooting guard. However, he will receive some looks from scouts if he is able to improve upon his efficiency. Expect him to significantly increase his scoring output this season as well.
Tamir Jackson, Rice- While Arsalan Kazemi is receiving most of the intrigue from NBA scouts, very few people have taken notice of point guard Tamir Jackson, who is about to enter his third season with the Owls. Following a solid freshman campaign statistically, Jackson became a more trusted distributor in his second season, significantly improving upon his 0.94 assist to turnover ratio. Not only was he more effective leading his squad, but he also improved upon his shooting percentages. Kenpom statistics indicate that he increased his TS% by roughly 7% during his second season with the Owls. Despite these improvements, though, he still ranks towards the bottom of the conference in terms of shooting percentage. (coming in 36th, just behind Kane) He must perfect his spot up jumper in order to command defensive respect and to become a more viable offensive option. Look for him to again thrive alongside one of the nations' most underrated forwards.
Angelo Johnson, Southern Miss- With the transfer of DJ Newbill and the exodus of senior Gary Flowers, Southern Miss is going to need Johnson to account for most of the lost scoring output. He will take on an even greater involvement in the offense because of the graduation of RL Horton, who dominated the ball at times. It is clear that Angelo Johnson brings most of the experience to the backcourt, as he will probably start alongside inexperienced former JUCO transfer LaShay Page, who only started one game in 2010-2011. Despite this heavy burden, he was fairly successful last season in his more limited role. In fact, Johnson was one of the more underappreciated players in Conference USA a year ago, posting an excellent 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio while ranking 14th in the conference with a 56.7% true shooting percentage. Next season will bring with it an entirely different set of expectations though. Because defenses will focus on containing Johnson, look for him to become less efficient from the field, yet still increase his scoring output. And, given his track record of highly efficient basketball, Johnson should have an all conference season after leading an inexperienced Golden Eagles squad to a middle-of-the-pack finish. While he may not be entirely on the NBA draft radar at this point, look for him to receive an invite to Portsmouth Camp after next season.