As we discussed on a previous podcast, the wonderful, 16-team Conference-USA doesn't deem preseason polls important. However, the League did produce a list of 16 players to watch for the upcoming season-C-USA's 19th men's basketball campaign.
The list features Charlotte's Pierriá Henry, East Carolina's Akeem Richmond, FIU's Tymell Murphy, Florida Atlantic's Dragan Sekelja, Louisiana Tech's Raheem Appleby, Marshall's Elijah Pittman, Middle Tennessee's Shawn Jones, North Texas' Jordan Williams, Old Dominion's Keenan Palmore, Rice's Max Guercy, Souther Miss' Neil Watson, Tulane's Tre Drye, Tulsa's James Woodard, UAB's Rod Rucker, UTEP's Julian Washburn and UTSA's Jeromie Hill.
Essentially, the conference tried to peg the best player on each member school's team.
Here at Mid-Major Madness, we prefer the nice, round number of 10.
10. Shawn Jones, Middle Tennessee, Senior, Forward
Jones is Middle Tennessee's top returner in both points and rebounds-a team that lost a lot of veteran leadership and experience. Jones helped lead the Blue Raiders to their second-straight Sun Belt Conference regular season title and to an NCAA Tournament appearance with a 28-6 overall record and 19-1 mark in conference play. If he wants to do bring MT to the postseason again, he'll have to take a leap to the next level.
9. Jeromie Hill, UTSA, Senior, Forward
One of the most accomplished players in Roadrunners history, Hill returns for his final season looking to etch his name deeper in the UTSA's record books. He already ranks fourth in school history with 92 starts, sixth with 598 rebounds, seventh with 454 field goals, eighth with 1,195 career points and ninth with a 6.5 rebounds per game. He's also just the sixth player in program history to record at least 1,000 points and 500 rebounds. But unfortunately for Hill, he'll likely be the best player on a losing team this winter.
8. Elijah Pittman, Marshall, Senior, Forward
Last year's leading scorer for the Thundering Herd at 16.1 points per game, Pittman is also the top-returning scorer in all of the C-USA. The senior from Covington, Ky. is one of Marshall's five returns from 2012-13, and he will be called upon to go for 20 points on a nightly basis. But, the same goes for Pittman as it does for Hill, his terrific season will be for naught on a sure-to-struggle Marshall squad.
7. Tymell Murphy, FIU, Senior, Forward
A First-Team All-Sun Belt Conference selection during the 2012-13 season, Murphy is primed to have a very successful first and last season in the C-USA. Averaging 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game a year ago, Murphy led the Panthers in both scoring and rebounding and will likely do the same this campaign. The question is whether he can lead FIU to contention in the conference.
6. Julian Washburn, UTEP, Junior, Forward/Guard
Washburn earned Third Team All-Conference USA honors and was a member of the league's All-Defensive squad in 2013, leading the Miners in scoring at 12.3 points per game. Playing on a new court this season, Washburn will be the leader of a Minors program that is ready to compete this season with the departures of multiple perennial conference contenders.
5. James Woodard, Tulsa, Sophomore, Guard
A 2013 C-USA All-Freshman Team selection, Woodard led Tulsa in scoring and rebounding, averaging 12.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Now a year older and more looks coming his way with Scottie Haralson graduating, Woodward should have an opportunity to see his numbers rise in 2013-14. Alongside Rashad Smith, the sophomore will be one of the leaders of a Green Wave team that is thinking NCAA Tournament.
4. Neil Watson, Southern Miss, Senior, Guard
The most important position in basketball is arguably the point guard, the little guy who starts every offensive possession and the safetyman on every defensive break. Southern Miss is fortunate to have arguably the best floor general in the C-USA, as Watson set the conference record with 17 assists in a game last season. 230 points from reaching 1,000 for his career, Watson is also a dynamic defender on the perimeter. He set a school record with 64 steals on the season.
3. Pierriá Henry, Charlotte, Junior, Guard
Henry was named to the 2013 Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team and he has ranked in the top 10 in the nation in steals per game in each of the last two seasons. Flipping sides of the ball, Henry is also the 49ers' leading returning scorer after averaging 10.3 points per game last season. While Charlotte won 21 games last season, this campaign likely wont be as successful after graduating their top-two leading scorers and losing two others to transfers. But Henry should be a very bright spot throughout the entire season.
2. Rod Rucker, UAB, Senior, Forward
After building over the past few seasons, the Blazers are ready to compete for the conference title in 2013-14. If UAB raises a C-USA championship trophy in March, Rucker will have a lot to do with it. Rucker led the Blazers in scoring and rebounding last year at 14.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Not only will Rucker be a force in the paint on the offensive end, but he will presumably be one of the top rebounders in the league as well.
1. Raheem Appleby, Louisiana Tech, Junior, Guard
Just 48 points shy of reaching 1,000 career points, Appleby earned a First Team All-WAC selection his sophomore season after scoring 14.9 points and grabbing 2.7 boards per game. This year, Appleby remains the leader of a strong core that returns nine members of their 11-man rotation from a year ago. Appleby, coach Michael White and the rest of the Bulldogs have their sites set on a deep run in March