Checking in on… Conference USAPosted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2009
Allen R of Houston Basketball Junkies is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.
For the last few seasons there’s always been the hope (misguided or not) that Conference USA basketball will return to the level it was prior to the Big East/Atlantic 10 exodus of a few years back.
As we enter the 2009 calendar, it’s looking more and more like the 2008-09 season will be another year of futility for the conference. There are still a few months to go in the season, but it’s clear that the teams in CUSA did not prove much in non-conference play.
1.) Ole Missed: The news has been mostly negative lately when it comes to CUSA basketball, but the Southern Miss program scored a huge win last Wednesday by defeating in-state rival Ole Miss 78-59. It has been an up and down few years for Golden Eagles coach Larry Eustachy, but it appears as though he has a pretty good team now in Hattiesburg. The credit for this improvement also should go to veteran guards Jeremy Wise and R.L. Horton. They are now sitting at 9-4 and have as good of a shot as anyone to be a top-echelon CUSA team.
2.) No ‘Miner’ Error: At the Cable Car Classic last Wednesday, UTEP was in a dog-fight with Santa Clara for the tournament title. Then with only 2.3 seconds remaining, a Santa Clara player tried to call a timeout that the team did not have. In this situation, that team is assessed a technical foul. Not only did the officiating crew not do this, but they allowed a substitution which eventually led to a game-winning shot by Santa Clara. In his post-game comments, Miner coach Tony Barbee owned up to his team’s poor defense on the final shot, but said he felt “violated” by the events of the final few seconds in that 89-88 loss. To their credit, the West Coast Conference suspended that particular officiating crew for their next contest.
3.) Houston, We Have a Problem: There’s no question that the Houston program has improved in many ways since Tom Penders took over in 2004. But if things didn’t look stagnant after last year’s late season collapse, this past week proved it in a big way. In a Sunday matinee the Cougars lost at home 71-67 to a below average Iowa State team. In addition to that, they went on the road and got demolished by Mississippi State, while only shooting 27.6% from the field. In his post game comments Coach Penders said his team couldn’t even get the ball in the Mississippi River. The 82-65 final score does not nearly do justice to how decisive of a blowout that game was. Even though they currently have an 8-3 record, it is practically meaningless and the Cougars have hardly played any decent opponents.
4.) Youth-CF: I don’t think there’s a younger team in America than the UCF Knights who have a total of 8 freshmen on their roster. Most prominently, A.J Rompza and Isaac Sosa are both Knight freshmen who’ve played in all 13 games. In fact, Rompza has started in 11 of the Knights’ games. Another freshman, Will Weathers, has also played in all 13 games. Really the biggest story on this team is senior Jermaine Taylor, who’s averaging a conference-high 23.2 points per game and a team-high 5.2 rebounds. Although they have not played the hardest schedule, the Knights are currently 7-0 on their home court.
5.) The Low Lights of the Week: Really, I wish these games didn’t occur and I didn’t have to write about them. But they have become quite frequent during this non-conference season. UT-San Antonio is an average Southland Conference team that has now knocked off not one… but TWO CUSA teams. Last Monday UTSA defeated SMU 80-75, despite the Mustangs getting a 19 point performance from stud freshman Paul McCoy. In reality, the only bright spot for the Mustangs all year has been McCoy… Typically a loss to an SEC team, however decisive, is not a cause of embarrassment for a CUSA basketball team. Well, the Tulane Green Wave found a way, by losing to Auburn 78-53 last Saturday. Keep in mind that Auburn has consistently been in the cellar of the SEC for the past several seasons. I hope Green Wave coach Dave Dickerson is getting his resume ready, because it looks like his team has taken a HUGE step back this season… I am a big fan of what Rice head coach Ben Braun has done so far, but his team got absolutely embarrassed on the road by a thoroughly average Richmond Spider team 74-43. I have watched them play a few times, and while they can play defense, they have some serious holes offensively.
Well, slowly but surely it’s looking like it’s back to the “one bid blues” once again for CUSA basketball.