In a conference that has been hard to predict up to this point, we’ve seen the Sam Houston Bearkats step up to the forefront while the two preseason favorites round out the bottom of the conference standings.
It has been madness in the first month of conference play, and with just over one month to go until tourney time, these are the players you will need to be keeping an eye on once the teams head to Huntsville for the conference tournament.
Femi Odukale (G, New Mexico State); Jestin Porter (G, Middle Tennessee); Elias King (G, Middle Tennessee): Jauvante Hawkins (G, FIU): Otis Frazier III (G, UTEP); Tahlik Chavez (G, Louisiana Tech); Brandon Newman (G, WKU); Kaden Metheny (G, Liberty)
10. Kyle Rode, Liberty Flames
Many may have expected Rode to rank much higher on this list even despite the Flames lackluster 3-5 conference start. Even though he leads his team in scoring at 13.3 points per game, the senior forward’s efficiency is a big reason why he rounds out the top 10.
Rode is still a high-level player for a talented Liberty squad. At one point during non-conference play, Rode had the Flames looking like the obvious C-USA champions. His three-game stretch to start the season where he scored 23, 19 and 31 points in wins over Charlotte, Furman and Wichita State respectively keep him on this list.
Rode was instrumental in big wins over Utah Valley, FIU and Sam Houston, but he has not been quite the go-to guy that many thought he would be heading into the season.
9. Arturo Dean, FIU Panthers
The 5-foot-11 sophomore guard’s absurd 3.7 steals per game leads the nation, and that stat alone places him into the top 10.
Along with his incredible defensive numbers, Dean’s facilitating makes him one of the conferences premier passers (second in C-USA in assist rate). Clear and simple, FIU’s offense starts and begins with Arturo Dean, and much of the Panthers’ offensive success this season has been due to him.
8. Davon Barnes, Sam Houston Bearkats
Barnes has cemented himself as an elite go-to guy in C-USA, and his recent success is a big reason why the Bearkats sit at second in conference to this point.
Averaging 14.1 points per outing this season, Barnes is tied for sixth in the conference in scoring average with his teammate Lamar Wilkerson, and the only thing keeping him below his teammate is advanced stats. While Barnes’ numbers look flashy, his eFG% of 46.1% places him in the the bottom half of the conference. Still, Barnes’ ability to score is the reason he sits at No. 8 on this list.
7. Zach Cleveland, Liberty Flames
Cleveland is one of several Liberty players that could have made this list. Frontcourt running mate Kyle Rode was just a few spots up, and point guard Kaden Metheny snuck in through the honorable mentions, but the sophomore forward landed as the highest Flame.
Averaging 12.2 points and 6.0 rebounds, Cleveland’s numbers don’t jump out to the average viewer, but him impact on this Liberty team places him where he is. With a 60.8% eFG% (2nd in C-USA), he is one of the most efficient players in the conference. At 6-foot-7, Cleveland’s passing ability (4.0 assists per game) is a huge asset to the Flames. It is a big reason why they started off the season so hot. Additionally, his ability to play well on both sides of the court gives him added value as a two-way star for the Flames.
6. Tae Hardy, UTEP Miners
Another elite scorer, Tae Hardy had the Miners to a swift 5-0 start this season. The senior guard is averaging 15.5 points per game (4th in C-USA).
Being given the reigns to the roster last season after transferring from Southern Mississippi, Hardy has increased his production by more than two points a game. As UTEP’s go-to guy this alongside teammates Zid Powell and Otis Frazier III, Hardy leads an offensive attack that is top five in the conference.
5. Lamar Wilkerson, Sam Houston Bearkats
Wilkerson’s improvement over just one offseason is something to be admired. Nearly doubling his scoring average from last season, he is averaging 14.1 points per contest. The 6-foot-4 guard out of Ashdown, Ark,, has cemented his claim as a premier player in the conference.
As the second Bearkat on this list, Wilkerson ranks higher than his teammate due to his slightly better efficiency. The junior guard ranks fifth in the conference in offensive rating among players used on 20% of possessions (110.7) and is in the top half of the conference in eFG% (49.6%).
As a leader on a Sam Houston team that has outperformed expectations in conference play, Wilkerson has been the main driving force of a Bearkat offense that ranks third among CUSA teams in KenPom offensive efficiency.
4. Daniel Batcho, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Part of the most dominant frontcourt in the conference, the junior forward out of Paris, has been possibly the most dominant post presence in C-USA this season. Leading the conference in rebounds (10.5 per game), Batcho also averages 14.9 points per game as the second option for a scary bulldogs squad with March Madness second weekend potential.
Transferring in from Texas Tech, Batcho has ignited Ruston, La., with excitement for basketball once again. Louisiana Tech sits at the top of the conference without any home losses. His post presence on defense has the Bulldogs ranked at No. 8 in the nation in team defense behind Batcho’s 2.4 blocks per game (10th in the nation).
3. Don McHenry, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Don McHenry has been the greatest surprise for new head coach Steve Lutz in his first season coaching on the hill. Transferring in from Division-II University of Hawaii-Hilo, McHenry has been possibly the best scorer in the conference not named Kyky Tandy.
The biggest reason why WKU has the second-best overall record in the conference, McHenry has led the way for the team in scoring 12 times in the Hilltopper’s 22 games and is averaging 15.1 points per game. His scoring has made him the engine for a blazing fast Western Kentucky offense that tops the conference in team scoring.
2. Isaiah Crawford, Louisiana Tech
Crawford is the best player on the best team in the conference. The junior forward is the leader of a star-studded frontcourt for the Bulldogs. Standing at just 6-foot-6, Crawford has the ability to stretch the floor and run the offense while also being a skilled post player.
Ranking second in the conference in FG percentage (51.2%), Crawford’s efficiency from deep is even more outstanding when you realize that he also shoots 42.4% from three. He is averaging the second-most points per game in C-USA (15.8).
That’s not even mentioning the advanced stats. KenPom has him top 10 in the conference in eFG% (59.8%), TS% (62.1%), Blk% (6.5%) and Stl% (3.5%).
1. KyKy Tandy, Jacksonville State Gamecocks
Projected at to be a bottom-feeder in C-USA this season, Jacksonville State sits at the middle of the conference primarily due to the play of the star transfer. KyKy Tandy was a relative unknown for the Gamecocks coming into the season after transferring from Xavier, but he has shown how impactful he can be, leading the conference in scoring average at 18.6 points per game.
Ranking Tandy above Isaiah Crawford was a tough decision, but after seeing how much he is relied upon by his team, it made it hard to see Jacksonville State with similar success without the efforts of their superstar.
The Gamecocks have played 23 games this season, and Tandy has scored double-digit points in all but one of those games (and in that one game, he scored nine points). No player in the conference scores as consistently well as Tandy, which is why he comes in at No. 1 on the list.