Conference USA Season Preview
By Stephon B Smythe
East Division Preview
Brooklyn Rage – #3 – Best depth in the league with every single player on the roster as Green/Green or better. Miles and Bailey are driven to get at least one more championship before Bailey calls it a career. This may be the year that the Rage take back what was theirs for such a long time.
Boston Massacre – #12 – Premier top talent, with Askins, Weidner, and Keating. Not much depth when it comes to great passers, yet pretty much every player is capable/average. One long injury could put a kink in what Boston accomplishes this season. Expect them back towards the top of both the division and conference.
Miami Xtreme – #18 – Omar Rozier is one of the most rounded players in the entire league but is in the final year of his contract. It may be a good time for Miami to search for a grand return in exchange. The addition of Talacka is significant for them but won’t result in a vast improvement over last season.
Toronto Dinos – #16 – Free agency brought in some much-needed depth at the post, signing five PF/C. Toronto is one of those teams that has good talent all around, but not a lot of top-tier players. It is that type of team, if having a high cohesion, can do some damage. I would expect a record close to .500.
New York Firestorm – #25 – One of the most active teams in the offseason, New York’s roster is almost entirely revamped. Abel Debuisnes was drafted in the dispersal draft; Milton Michaels, Jo Jo Edwards, and Ahmed Dougherty added in free agency; Shelton Britton and Stretch Armstrong via trade. Outside of Gangotena, who is a premier rebounder, this team will look nothing like last year. New York is young, with only 3 players over 26 years old. This team will only get better as this roster grows together.
With only one team in the preseason top 10, the East Division ranks 4th of 6 divisions in regard to average preseason team ranking. It appears as though the 2021 season will be more of the same, with two teams running away from the rest. Brooklyn and Boston, despite not needing the help, will benefit from the divisional strength of schedule to both make the playoffs. The team finishing third in the division will have an outside shot at the 8th seed.
Central Division Preview
Colorado Pioneers – #5 – The two most talented players in the division, Henderson and Lyons, will set the tone for the division. Devine has been a staple in the post but is currently 33 years old and his athleticism is fading. Colorado should win the division, and be one of the top seeds for the conference in the playoffs. Despite being a top seed, Colorado will still have a low chance at winning the league. Henderson and Lyons hold some strong trade value, so one has to wonder if they will be dealt before their value begins to diminish.
Fort Worth Warriors – #15 – Frank Mathieu, Darryl Whittaker, and Curtis Starman are stars, but as talent around the league improves, they won’t be able to carry the team to a title. The lack of big free agency signings has Fort Worth with little depth. Injuries could disrupt their season in a hurry.
Salt Lake City Fanatics – #20 – Some talented young players that still need some time to develop. Until that happens, the Fanatics will remain a team that wins about half of their games. Always competitive in games, maybe a borderline playoff team, but not advancing past the first round if they do make it. Lots of trade assets if looking to acquire some talented veteran players.
Cincinnati Hitmen – #26 – Perhaps the best news for Cincinnati is that there is only $22M in salary on the books for next season. That means that there will be a lot of money to offer in free agency next season. They also own their own pick, so should have a great opportunity to make some progress in the upcoming draft.
The worst division in the league based on preseason rankings, Fort Worth was the only team that finished over .500 last season. Colorado is the only team in the preseason top 10, but an injury to Lyons or Henderson would be catastrophic to their season. Only a handful of free agency signings means the division won’t have a breakthrough year. The regular season will consist of a battle between the Pioneers and Warriors for the division title, with Colorado winning the division and Fort Worth fighting with Los Angeles for the 6th overall seed.
West Division Preview
California Fighting Cocks – #2 – Watt, Beck, and Kincaide are all still on the roster. Those three players make this team a contender year after year. If you look at the depth around them, it is easy to see why they are once again at the top of the league.
Las Vegas Gamblers – #7 – The Gamblers are another team that looks quite different than they did a season ago. Keenan Holter was added in the dispersal draft, but the most valuable addition was Clement Trentesols via trade. The team has top-tier talent, and a decent level of depth, but still not to the level of the best teams in the league. Historically Las Vegas has underperformed compared to expectations but could be as high as the third seed if everything comes together. More likely to be the 4 or 5. After winning only 27 games last season, Las Vegas is one team that could see the greatest increase in wins.
Los Angeles Gargoyles – #14 – Overall talent levels and depth are adequate, but not flashy. This team will win games with consistency and having a well-rounded approach. Only two players on the team have averaged over 14 PPG for their career, with none above 18 PPG, but that shouldn’t hold them back too much. Don’t be surprised to see the Gargoyles as the third team from this division to make the playoffs.
Arizona Dragons – #23 – The Dragons are an interesting team. Ranked towards the bottom of the league in the preseason power poll, the Dragons are looking to outperform the low expectations. In the offseason, the Dragons added Inge Adlgasser, Toussaint Leclerq, and Severino Moscoso. All of whom should make a major difference. As a young team, with one player over 27, Arizona is another team that has some young promise that just needs time to develop.
Ranked as the 2nd best division in the league based on the preseason power poll, the West Division boasts two top 10 teams, including the #2 ranked California Fighting Cocks. They are joined in the top 10 by the revamped Las Vegas Gamblers. Los Angeles could be a third playoff team from this division. Arizona is the only team ranked towards the bottom of the league, despite some key additions in the offseason. The West Division will provide 3 playoff teams, where the Fighting Cocks will look to bring the title to California.
California will end with the top seed in the conference with another 70 win season. The Rage will not be far behind, potentially reaching that 70 win mark as well. Both teams will carve their way through the entire conference. After that, it gets a little more murky as there are a few teams that could finish with the third seed. Colorado, Las Vegas, and Boston will all fight for that spot, where I give the edge to the savvy veteran GMs of Quinten Lawrence and Marc Hameleers. Boston will end with the third seed, Colorado the 4th, and Las Vegas the 5th. Los Angeles and Fort Worth will finish with 6th and 7th respectively. The 8th seed is where we may see a bit of a surprise, where I predict the New York Firestorm to get a boost and earn the honor of playing California in round 1.