Sports Network C-USA Hoops Preview College Basketball Preview - Conference USA

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Louisville; 2. Memphis; 3. Charlotte; 4. Cincinnati; 5. UAB; 6. DePaul; 7. Marquette ; 8. Saint Louis; 9. Southern Miss; 10. TCU; 11. East Carolina; 12. Houston; 13. Tulane; 14. South Florida

CHARLOTTE - The 49ers went just 8-8 in conference play two seasons ago, but they were the talk of the conference last year after finishing with 21 wins (21-9) and a conference mark of 12-4. The reason that Bobby Lutz’s club was able to turn things around so quickly, was the emergence of Curtis Withers as one of the best forwards in the country. Although Withers does not gain a ton of national attention, he is a bruising forward who has outstanding range and can dominate games at will. The 6-8 junior averaged 16.3 ppg and 9.5 rpg last season, while also hitting 48.3 percent of his field goals and 34.4 percent of his three-point attempts. He scored in double figures all but twice last season, helping to earn him first-team all-conference honors. Although guard Demon Brown (12.4 ppg) has graduated, Mitchell Baldwin (5.7 ppg) and Brendan Pavlich (12.2 ppg) should do a solid job in the backcourt for the 49ers. The key to the season for Charlotte could be how well Martin Iti plays. A seven- foot center, Iti nearly entered the NBA draft this offseason, but returned to the 49ers in hopes that he would get more playing time and be a bigger part of the offense (6.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg). Lutz will likely have to turn to Iti more often this season, as his squad will make the transition to a team that looks to go inside first and dominate with its talented big men.