I had the privilege to attend the 2021 Conference USA Tournament at The Star in Frisco as my first live sporting event in over a year. I attended all but the very first game of the tournament featuring Rice and Southern Miss. Below is my summary of the tournament, with individual performance summaries and who stood out and who disappointed in this unprecedented tournament.
Congratulations to the North Texas Mean Green for their first Conference USA championship since 2010.
Taevion Kinsey was the main attraction of day 1, matching up against the underdog Rice Owls. In this game, for my first time seeing Kinsey in person, I was a little disappointed in the second round prospect. Early in the game, Kinsey was noticeably late on rotations and struggled to stay with his man off-ball unless he was perfectly locked in. For the game, Kinsey went 5-15 for 11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and 1 turnover in 39 minutes of play. Kinsey’s shot creation is his calling card, but he struggled to create space and capitalize on the space created when he was successful using his ball-handling. Conversely, the one thing I found impressive was his shooting touch. His form, particularly on his shooting hand on the release, looked much more fluid in person than I had seen on tape throughout the season. He has long arms and a great frame, along with shooting touch, but until he puts it together on decision making and defensive understanding, Kinsey has a long ways to go before reaching the NBA. Below are a couple of plays that stood out as worrisome on the defensive end from Kinsey:
Another player that stuck out in the early portion of the tournament was UT San Antonio’s Keaton Wallace. I had pegged Jhivvan Jackson, a 6’0 scoring guard, as the Roadrunner’s best prospect, but I walked away thinking it’s 6’6 wing Keaton Wallace. In two tournament games, Wallace averaged 25 PPG, 6 RPG, 3 APG, 1 SPG, 1 BPG, and 2 TOPG on 49/33/100. Wallace’s ability to create in short burst, as well as possessing the coveted combination of shooting and defensive ability, make him an intriguing 2-way wing. His defensive motor never stops, and he has a well-rounded game that a minimization of his skillset could make him a 2-way or exhibit 10 contract candidate. In the video below, his shooting and hounding defense are shown:
Isaiah Crawford (#22 for Louisiana Tech) is a name to remember for at least the 2022 NBA Draft. Crawford showed flashes of his NBA upside and why he should be considered the rising star in the Conference USA. I’ve had my eyes on Crawford since the beginning of last year’s conference play when he was a freshman, when his impact and role were more minimal as a defensive minded forward whose offensive role was simply a finisher. This year, he improved his 3 point shooting as well as overall becoming more well-rounded. In his two Conference USA Tournament games, Crawford averaged 15 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2 APG, 0.5 SPG, 2 BPG, and 3 TOPG on 58/25/70. Crawford displayed his strengths all around on defense, including transition, half-court 1-on-1 defense, and making quick, strong switches in the pick & roll. Isaiah Crawford might be the best defender in the conference, being able to guard wings, guards, and most big men, while also being a strong blind-side defender and with ability to play the passing lanes. Offensively, Crawford’s best strengths are at the rim as a cutter and putback artist, doing all the dirty work. However, his shot form is fluid and is easy to believe in, which gives him hope as a 3&D prospect with the ability to bring the ball up the floor and pass in transition. Look for Isaiah Crawford’s name to pop up as a mid major sleeper in the future as he enters his upperclassmen years.
Charles Bassey was the top prospect at the Conference USA Tournament, and he did not disappoint. In 3 games in Frisco, Bassey averaged 19 PPG, 9 RPG, 1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 3.3 BPG, and 1.7 TOPG on shooting splits of 54/33/100. Bassey looked tired in the finale, and overall still needs to improve his conditioning, but his shooting was impressive in the first two games he played in the tournament, showing a more fluid shooting stroke than I had seen in previous years. The most impressive areas for Bassey in this 3 game stretch were his defensive dominance and his willingness to shoot jumpers. If Bassey wants to be able to stay on the court in the NBA, he will need the jump shot to be consistent. Defensively, Bassey is an improved defender in staying on his feet and remaining disciplined, and his outstanding length and timing make him dangerous to attack as an offensive player. Bassey needs to add strength to his long frame, but even with his current body, Bassey projects to be a solid rebounder in the NBA. Look for Bassey to be drafted anywhere from the final 5 picks in the first round to the middle of the second round. In the video below you’ll see his shot-blocking and rim protecting impact, as well as his ability to space the floor.