2009-10 Conference Primers: #8 – Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2009


RTC is seeking a 2009-10 correspondent for Conference USA.  If you’re interested, please email us at rushthecourt@yahoo.com

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Tulsa (13-3)
  2. UTEP (12-4)
  3. Memphis (12-4)
  4. Houston (11-5)
  5. Marshall (9-7)
  6. Southern Miss (8-8)
  7. Tulane (8-8)
  8. UAB (6-10)
  9. Rice (6-10)
  10. Central Florida (6-10)
  11. East Carolina (3-13)
  12. SMU (1-15)

All-Conference Team:

  • Aubrey Coleman (G), Houston
  • Arnett Moultrie (F/C), UTEP
  • Jerome Jordan (C), Tulsa
  • Ben Uzoh (G), Tulsa
  • Randy Culpepper (G), UTEP

Impact Newcomer. Will Coleman (F), Memphis

6th Man Kelvin Lewis (G), Houston (not a true “6th man” but could easily be on the first team)
cusa logo

What You Need To Know.  Everyone knows about Memphis’ off-season.  First and foremost, it’s important to know who’s breathing down Memphis‘ neck if they should falter like many are predicting.  Tulsa is a popular preseason pick because of the excellent senior duo of Ben Uzoh and Jerome Jordan, the latter being the popular pick for preseason CUSA Player Of The Year.  Ignore UTEP at your own peril, with a formidable inside-outside duo of their own in the 6’11 sophomore Arnett Moultrie and junior guard Randy Culpepper.  Houston boasts the best true guard combo with seniors Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis, both averaging around 19 PPG.  Even Marshall and Central Florida look to be improved this season.  Now, keep in mind, this is all IF Memphis actually loses a conference game (we still can’t get over their 61 straight CUSA wins) and trips up.  He might just be 31 years old, but new head coach Josh Pastner will surprise everyone with how easily he takes to his new job.  People might forget that Duke transfer Elliot Williams is eligible for the Tigers now, and he will provide immediate help along with the rim-kissing (literally…there are photos of this) 6’9 260-pound junior-college transfer Will Coleman.  This will be a fun conference to watch this season because the issue isn’t so much that Memphis is free-falling back to the rest of the conference — it’s the fact that the rest of the conference is actually catching up to Memphis.

Predicted Champion. Tulsa (NCAA Seed:  #7). The Golden Hurricane is our choice to supplant Memphis and take the title in Conference USA this season, as Doug Wojcik’s team has been waiting for this opportunity.  If John Calipari, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and so on were currently residing in Memphis, we wouldn’t be considering this, but Memphis’ loss is Tulsa’s gain because they have an exceptionally talented and experienced team returning this year.  Point guard Ben Uzoh and center Jerome Jordan enter the 2009-10 season as two of the best players at their position in the conference, and it’s easy to understand why: Uzoh did a little bit of everything last season, to the tune of 14.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, and 1.5 SPG in over 35 minutes per game, while Jordan continued to progress toward play-for-pay with 13.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and 2.6 BPG on 58.6% shooting from the field.  Justin Hurtt, Glenn Andrews and Steven Idlet also return as key contributors from a team that was 25-11 overall and 12-4 in CUSA, including three losses by a combined four points (especially tough was a buzzer-beating 1-point loss vs. Memphis).  Even if Memphis had remained intact, Tulsa would have still viewed the 2009-10 season as a likely NCAA one, it’s just that now they’re going in as the favorite.


Top Contenders:
  • Memphis (NCAA Seed: #11).  Those predicting Memphis’ demise are probably going to be in for a bit of a surprise, as the Tigers are still loaded with talent beyond what most of the teams in Conference USA can muster.  The biggest coup of the offseason, of course, was the addition of Duke PG Elliot Williams, who moved back home to be close to his ailing mother and can play immediately.  He didn’t put up huge numbers at Duke (4.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG), but that was more a function of a crowded PG position than his talent level.  Kid can play.  Additionally, the players who have been on the bench the last couple of years will get an opportunity to show why they were highly rated recruits to begin with.  Players such as Roburt Sallie, who shot 47% from three and essentially won UM’s first round NCAA game by himself against Cal St Northridge last season (10-15 threes for 35 points), and Doneal Mack, who finally found a groove last year (8.7 PPG, 2.1 RPG), and Wesley Witherspoon, who NBA scouts were regularly drooling over based on his spectacular athleticism.  Still, we expect with so many new roles and faces walking around, there will be some growing pains; for that reason and that reason alone, we don’t believe that Memphis will overtake Tulsa to win the conference.
  • UTEP  (NCAA Seed: #12).  UTEP is very intriguing as this year’s darkhorse in the CUSA race.  The talent is tantalizing: guard Randy Culpepper runs the show on the outside, averaging 17.5 PPG and 2.9 RPG while having the potential to go off for 25+ at any time (seven times last season), while 6’11 center Arnett Moultrie (8.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG) patrols the middle as a high-energy guy ready to explode in his sophomore season.  But the most curious player that Tony Barbee has at his disposal will sit the bench until the fall semester is over — former Louisville head case Derrick Caracter.  Caracter gave Rick Pitino all kinds of problems most recently in the 2007-08 season, where it seemed as if he was always on some sort of suspension between occasional bursts of brilliance.  But consider that he only played 16.9 minutes per game that year, yet still averaged 8.3 PPG and 4.5 RPG on 55% shooting.  If Caracter has indeed matured and can keep his act under control, it wouldn’t be difficult to envision a scenario where 18/10 was a regular line for Caracter on a nightly basis.  The talent is still there, but is the head?  Should UTEP get all of these pieces working together, the Miners will become a very dangerous team in February and March, and quite possibly an NCAA team as a result.
  • Houston  (NIT).  If basketball were played solely with guards, Houston would probably be the choice to win this league.  Unfortunately for Tom Penders’ Cougars, it doesn’t work that way, because he has the best backcourt in the league and it’s not even close.  Aubrey Coleman, he of the head-stomp of Arizona’s Chase Budinger, and Kelvin Lewis, are certifiable gunners, averaging 37.4 PPG, 11.5 RPG and 3.8 SPG between them last year.  Neither care much to pass the ball (3.7 APG), but we probably wouldn’t throw it into UH’s inside players either if we had that kind of ability.  The best two players Houston had inside last year are now gone, and the returnees inside — forwards Nick Mosely and Sean Coleman — are not much to write home about.  Penders hopes that he can find some interior help from his recruits, including jucos Maurice McNeil and Kahmell Broughton as well as freshmen Kendrick Washington and Kirk Van Slyke, but it seems at this point to be more hope than production.  Still, Houston should be able to ride its scintillating backcourt to the NIT this season.
RPI Boosters.
  • Nov. 15, 2009. East Carolina at Wake Forest at 2pm
  • Nov. 19, 2009. Memphis vs Kansas at 10pm (Hall of Fame Showcase, St. Louis)
  • Nov. 20, 2009. East Carolina vs Tennessee at 3:30pm
  • Nov. 28, 2009. Rice vs Texas at 8pm
  • Dec. 20, 2009. UCF at Connecticut at 12pm
  • Dec. 22, 2009.  Marshall at North Carolina at 7pm
  • Dec. 22, 2009. UAB vs Butler at 8pm
  • Jan. 9, 2010. UTEP vs Brigham Young at 8pm
  • Feb. 25, 2010. Tulsa at Duke at 7pm
Key Conference Games:
  • Jan. 9, 2010. Tulsa at Houston at 6pm
  • Jan. 13, 2010.  UTEP at Houston at 8pm
  • Jan. 20, 2010.  UTEP at Memphis at 7pm
  • Jan. 23, 2010.  Houston at Memphis at 7pm
  • Feb. 3, 2010.  Houston at UTEP at 10pm
  • Feb. 6, 2010.  Tulsa at UTEP at 9pm
  • Feb. 13, 2010.  Memphis at Tulsa at 6pm
  • Feb. 20, 2010.  UTEP at Tulsa at 3pm
  • Feb. 24, 2010.  Memphis at Houston at 6pm
  • Mar. 6, 2010.  Tulsa at Memphis at 12pm
Digging Deeper. The Marcus Jordan shoe question is one of the more humorous stories in some time.   If you haven’t heard, Marcus — yes, the son of a certain Michael — is going to be a freshman at Central Florida, a school which has a six-year contract with Adidas worth about $3 million.  Now, hold onto your hats, because you may not have known this…but Michael Jordan used to sponsored by Nike.  A few years ago Nike launched the Jordan brand (and its “Jumpman” logo) as an offshoot.  So Marcus is refusing to wear his team-issued Adidas kicks because of the obvious loyalty he feels towards the Jordan brand.  It’s a fantastic question; what do you do if your school gets its gear from one company but your father is the LOGO and INSPIRATION behind another brand?!?  Especially since, along with its predecessor, that brand has set up your family financially for its next ten generations.  Marcus has offered to wear Adidas gear in every other form — uniform, socks, warm-ups, whatever — as long as he can wear the Jordans on his feet.  Initially, UCF and Adidas didn’t look like they were going to budge, but now it looks like all sides concerned are going to try to work something out.
Fun with KenPom. The majority of teams in CUSA did something well last year, whether it was on the offensive end or the defensive end.  Only 4-12 Rice found itself below the #200 ranking on both measure.  But get this – Mack McCarthy’s East Carolina team was a solid offensive team, rating #67 in America, but their defense was an absolute sieve, rating in the bottom ten among all the teams in America (#336).  Pretty phenomenal for a team to play such poor defense in a high mid-major league like CUSA.  What might be even more amazing is that ECU won five conference games and finished ninth of twelve teams in the standings.  Maybe outscoring them works better than coaches preach?

NCAA Tournament History. CUSA’s performance in the NCAA has obviously been dominated by Memphis in recent years, but the conference as a whole has a commendable performance since its inception in 1995.  Louisville and Cincinnati were the main contributors in the early days, with Marquette also notching some big wins and a Final Four in 2003.  CUSA has tasted the sweet waters of the Final Four on only two other occasions:  Louisville ’05 and Memphis ’08.  The last time any non-Memphis team won an NCAA Tournament game was the last time that Memphis didn’t actually make the tournament.  That was 2005, when Cincinnati and UAB won their first-round games in addition to Louisville’s trip to the F4.

Final Thoughts. Conference USA will be the most balanced that it’s been in many years due to the Memphis situation.  It may not last that way very long, because Josh Pastner at Memphis has already earned commitments from two five-star recruits (SG Will Barton and PG Joe Jackson) and a four-star (SG Chris Crawford) in the class of 2010.  So this would be the year for teams like Tulsa, UTEP and Houston to make their move if they’re inclined to do so.  One thing is absolutely for sure, though.  Due to the competition that we’ll see in CUSA this year, the rest of America should have a much greater incentive to pay attention to this league other than to say “who did Memphis beat tonight?”


rtmsf (3998 Posts)

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