LaTech favored in C-USA

Published 1:22 am Thursday, October 16, 2014

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Louisiana Tech coach Rick White did not attend the Conference USA media day on Wednesday, even though his team was selected as the preseason favorite to win the league.

White remained home to focus on filling out his family’s own five-person roster, explaining that his wife Kira was due to deliver the couple’s fifth child “any hour now.”

“We considered stopping at four, but I wanted a fifth so we would be able to run some offensive sets at the house,” White said by telephone from Ruston, Louisiana.

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It appears White will have plenty of talent to work with on the actual Louisiana Tech roster. The Bulldogs return four starters from last season’s 29-8 team that advanced to the NIT quarterfinals.

Three Bulldogs were named to the 10-player C-USA preseason all-conference team. That trio includes point guard Kenneth “Speedy” Smith, who ranked second in the nation in assists last season with 7.7 per game.

“Louisiana Tech is going to be very, very good. There’s no way around it,” said UTEP coach Tim Floyd, whose team was picked to finish second in the conference. “They’ve got a bunch of good players, starting with ‘Speedy’ Smith. He’s a great, great talent.”

White does not downplay the expectations being placed on his team.

“If we play well and continue to work hard, then we will be in the thick of things and have a chance to do some nice things again,” White said. “But we also understand that there are some other really good teams in this league.”

C-USA placed only one team in the NCAA Tournament last season — Tulsa, which is no longer a member of the conference— and two in the NIT. But several coaches said they believe the league can improve on those numbers this season.

“There might not be a team that is a real marque name, but that doesn’t take away from the talent in this league,” Southern Mississippi coach Doc Sadler said. “There are some excellent players, and some of the best coaches in the country.”

Sadler is one of the four head coaches making their C-USA debuts this season. The others are Dan D’Antoni (brother of former NBA head coach Mike D’Antoni) at Marshall, former NBA player and assistant coach Michael Curry at Florida Atlantic, and former VCU assistant Mike Rhoades at Rice.

D’Antoni, who spent the past nine seasons working as an assistant coach for his brother in the NBA, played at Marshall from 1968-70.

“This is something I almost feel obligated to come back to do, that I really wanted to do,” D’Antoni said. “I almost feel like it was destined to happen.”

The C-USA tournament will be held in Birmingham March 11-14.