Checking in on… Conference USAPosted by rtmsf on February 25th, 2009
Allen R. of Houston Basketball Junkies is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.
The moment of truth for Conference USA has come and in the next couple of weeks there will be major tests for the flagship program of the conference: Memphis.
But the biggest story still is the fact that the Tigers have dominated in a year that for all intents and purposes was supposed to be a down year.
1.) Two More Tests for the Tigers: There are only 4 games left on their schedule, but 2 of them will pose serious challenges for Memphis, who is currently 12-0 in Conference USA. Last Saturday UTEP gave the Tigers a tough game before losing 70-63. The first challenge will come this Wednesday night on the road against UAB. In a conference desperate for some true rivalries, a heated one is developing between the Tigers and Blazers. The last game ended in an ugly altercation between Memphis players and the UAB student section after a hard-fought Tiger win. There probably won’t be an altercation this year, but I still expect a hard-fought game. Keep in mind that in 2006 the Blazers handed the Tigers their last CUSA loss. If the Blazers don’t stop the Tigers, Houston hosts the Tigers for their last road game of the year and the Cougars will try to recapture the same magic that led to a 2005 upset in Houston.
2.) Conference Most Valuable Player Watch: Since the season is close to wrapping up, I figure I’d give my top 3 candidates for CUSA player of the year. Before I start, I don’t think freshman phenom Tyreke Evans will be considered, because the conference has shown that is doesn’t consider the player’s team to be an important factor (e.g. Morris Almond of Rice in the 2006-06 season). My top candidate is UCF senior guard Jermaine Taylor who’s averaging 25.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Having watched Taylor in person, he is one of the most effective scorers I have ever seen. I have no doubt he could play for any team in college basketball. Like Taylor, UTEP senior guard Stefon Jackson also plays on a middling team, but is averaging 23.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Even more valuable is the fact that Jackson is shooting 84.5% from the free-throw line. Finally, despite all of the negative pub surrounding him, Houston junior guard Aubrey Coleman is incredibly valuable to his team with 20.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. One only need watch the Cougars’ game against UTEP a few weeks back to see how lost the team is without Coleman. Right now I would give the award to Coleman.
3.) Moody Coliseum and the Road Trip: I’m sorry I didn’t write a wrap-up last week because yours truly went on a valuable trip to see a game at another Conference USA school. Moody Coliseum, which is the home court of SMU, was uniquely worth the trip up Dallas from my home base in Houston. The arena is like the lovechild of the state championship gym in “Hoosiers” and Cameron Indoor Arena. I’m not saying that as a bad thing either because I liked the place (although it needs a makeover in some places). The only think really missing from Moody is fans that aren’t apathetic frat boys and sorority girls.
4.) Eustachy Singing the Hattiesburg Blues: Really I was foolish to believe after a couple of solid seasons that Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy had really gotten things turned around in Hattiesburg. Ever since an 83-76 home win over Houston, they’ve been in complete free fall. The Golden Eagles have lost 8 of their last 11 games and have not looked pretty doing it. It’s baffling to me that they’re this bad, because they have a guard trio in Jeremy Wise, R.L. Horton and Courtney Beasley that’s as good as anyone in the league not named Memphis.
5.) Blazer Bubble Hopes: The lack of a serious challenger to Memphis in the last few seasons has been a serious problem. But there is a team this year with the RPI and resume to potentially join the Tigers in March Madness. While they don’t have a truly signature win, UAB played a tough enough out of conference schedule to help their RPI. The Blazers played Oklahoma, Louisville, Butler, Cincinnati, Arizona and Boston College outside of Conference USA. While they only beat Arizona of those teams, it proved to be a good test as they now sit at 19-8 overall and 2nd in CUSA with a 9-3 record.
These are going to be an interesting couple of weeks for Conference USA basketball.