Expectations at Southern Miss, a school with little basketball tradition, are as high as they've ever been in seventh-year coach Larry Eustachy's time at the helm.
The Golden Eagles should be a player in the Conference USA race. Eustachy calls this the most talented team he's had at Southern Miss. It could be the best.
So does that mean a trip to the NCAA Tournament?
"Every team's ultimate goal is a championship, whether that's a conference championship or an NCAA championship," said Gary Flowers, the Golden Eagles preseason all-conference forward. "We're striving for the best and to go as far as we can go. We're taking it day-by-day right now. We're not looking too far ahead."
Southern Miss has already showed it can win on the road with defense, rebounding and athleticism. And the offense could be improved from last year's 20-win season.
Said Eustachy: "I think we've added some scorers. LaShay Page is definitely our best outside shooter and that is what we needed badly. D.J. Newbill is just a scorer. He can hit a big shot and make layups in traffic. Ahyaro Phillips can score around the basket. And then there are some unknowns. This is the fastest team that we've had and the most athletic. We're going to really look to get into transition."
• In the history of Southern Miss basketball, only three teams have held opponents to less than 60 points per game. It has never happened in back-to-back seasons, but there's a strong possibility Southern Miss could do just that this season. Last year the Golden Eagles held opponents to 59.8 points per game. Early on they are allowing 53.
• Southern Miss seems to be learning how to win on the road. This year's season opening win at South Florida was the fourth non-conference road win in the past seven attempts.
Keep An Eye On: The rotation. Early in the season, against softer competition, Southern Miss has a solid 10-player rotation. When Conference USA play rolls around, that rotation could shrink. The Golden Eagles are going to have to learn to play more minutes and tighter games under more pressure. The long December road trip should help this development before league play.
Strengths: Southern Miss gets wins with impressive performances on the defensive end, and as a rebounding team. Opponents have scored only 53 points per game against Southern Miss, and the Golden Eagles outrebound their opponents by an average of nearly 12 per game.
Weaknesses: Free throws could be a problem when Southern Miss finds itself in close games. The Golden Eagles are shooting just 62 percent from the line, second worst in Conference USA. It starts at the top. Gary Flowers has hit only 58 percent so far.
Quote To Note: "We're a lot different. The returning guys are a lot better scorers. Anytime you play a second year with players, it makes you better. With the new guys that we added; I'm just amazed with our freshmen of how quick they learn and how good they are."-Southern Miss junior guard Angelo Johnson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Recruiting Returns: Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy added some necessary height in the early signing period. Two 6-foot-10 post players-Keith DeWitt and Bryant Crowder-should bolster the Golden Eagles' already strong defense. The two other signees are Anthony Nieves, a versatile 6-4 wing player and project 7-footer Christian Robbins.
December Outlook: This month will provide plenty of tests for Southern Miss, a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations. The Golden Eagles have nine games during the month, their busiest month of the season. Most of that will be away from Hattiesburg, Miss. After a game Dec. 1, Southern Miss won't return home till Dec. 29. The Golden Eagles play a game against in-state SEC foe Mississippi State then head to Cancun, Mexico for a tournament.