Conference USA Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. With the C-USA tournament set to tip on Wednesday, RTC has you covered on the regular season wrapup and postseason preview.

Postseason Preview


  • Who’s Hot: UAB - The Blazers are red hot heading into the postseason and they match up favorably against all the teams in their part of the bracket. If they play Memphis in the semi-finals, which they may not considering Southern Miss is the No. 5, UAB has an advantage in the backcourt with Aaron Johnson. The point guard has proven to be the top passer in the conference, and that has to make any team comfortable heading into the postseason.
  • Memphis Skids Into No. 4 Seed – The Tigers can’t be a team anyone wants to play due to their previous success and overall young talent, however the team enters the postseason as one of the colder teams and despite a first-round bye will be challenged in every contest.
  • Tulsa Nabs No. 2 Seed. Tulsa doesn’t have big bodies, which could prove to be a problem when they host either SMU or Rice at 8 p.m. on Thursday night. The Golden Hurricane is playing its best basketball of the season, but that could abruptly end.

Predictions:

First Round:

  • UCF 82, ECU 72
  • Southern Miss. 73, Tulane 51
  • Marshall 88, Houston 69
  • Rice 77, SMU 73 (OT)

Second Round:

  • UAB 83, UCF 77
  • Memphis 75, Southern Miss. 71
  • UTEP 90, Marshall 81
  • Tulsa 73, Rice 62

Semifinals:

  • UAB 76, Memphis 71
  • UTEP 73, Tulsa 62

Final:

  • UTEP 75, UAB 69

NCAA Tournament Outlook:

Although many have UTEP out of the Dance right now, a C-USA championship game run would give them 25 wins, including victories over Michigan and Memphis. Their losses hurt, but they should be credited for playing BYU, even if not well. They lost in triple OT to conference-winner UAB and came within one at Tulsa, the No. 2 team in conference (1-1 on the season).

The Blazers can secure an at-large bid as long as they get to the conference championship game. If they get two more wins, they are 24-7 overall with losses to Duke, Georgia, and Memphis (twice) and wins over Arkansas (18-12) and UTEP. Although the committee may dismiss the notion of including two C-USA teams, especially with conferences like the Colonial snatching up multiple bids, both UAB and UTEP will have solid overall records and decent schedules to make a case, but the trick is getting to Saturday.

A Look Back

All-Conference First Team:

  • Justin Hurtt, G, Senior, Tulsa: Hurtt was undoubtedly one of the best guards in conference, leading the Golden Hurricane in scoring as well as the entire conference with 20.3 points per game. His 82 three-pointers was second in the league.
  • Randy Culpepper, G, Senior, UTEP: The preseason conference MVP gets the nod here because of a strong senior campaign that pitted him behind only Hurtt for the league’s scoring title. He led the Miners in what was a first-place season until the team buckled down the stretch.
  • Gary Flowers, F, Senior, Southern Miss.: Flowers finished third in scoring and sixth in rebounding as he lead the team consistently throughout the year. Flowers was arguably the conference’s most dominate big man, and without him the Golden Eagles might not have finished where they did.
  • Papa Dia, F, Senior, SMU: His 210 field goals were top in the conference as he finished averaging 18.5 points and nine rebounds a night. Dia paired with teammate Robert Nyakundi to lead the Mustangs to a good season, following a slow start.
  • Kendall Timmons, F, Sophomore, Tulane: It’s tough to put Timmons above players who played on better teams such as UAB’s Jamarr Sanders, however the sophomore swingman was the only bright spot for Tulane as the Green Wave faltered in conference play. He finished sixth in scoring, fourth in rebounding, and 12th in assists. Without him, Tulane may have gone winless in C-USA play.

All-Conference Second Team:

  • DeAndre Kane, G, Freshman, Marshall: As a freshman, Kane teamed up with Damier Pitts to lead the Thundering Herd with great back court play. Kane finished with 15.1 points a game and 3.1 assists. The youngster also grabbed over five boards a game.
  • Marcus Jordan, G, Sophomore, UCF: The son of the former NBA great emerged as a dynamic presence for the Golden Knights this season, making his way on SportsCenter earlier in the season and sparking a rival to a UCF team that dropped to as low as 1-8 in conference play. Jordan finished seventh in the conference in scoring with 15.9 points a night.
  • Jamarr Sanders, F, Senior, UAB: Sanders finished in the top five in scoring and second in three points made. He led the Blazers to a top seed in the conference tournament.
  • Cameron Moore, F, Junior, UAB: The Blazers backcourt was completed with strong performances from Moore, who emerged as a key player this season, grabbing 9.5 rebounds a game, which placed him second in the conference. He also finished 12th in scoring and was seventh in field goal percentage.
  • Arsalan Kazemi, F, Sophomore, Rice: The only player in conference to finish the season with a double-double, Kazemi averages 15 points and 11 rebounds a game. His strong individual effort may even place him worthy enough of a First Team Honor. He led the conference in offensive rebounds and was second on the defensive end.

Player of the Year: Randy Culpepper, UTEP – Although he wasn’t the leading scorer in conference, Culpepper spearheaded a dynamic backcourt in El Paso and lived up to preseason hype. He led the conference in steals and finished second in scoring, while recording the fourth most minutes played. By no means should he win by a landslide, however he is the best overall player going into the postseason.

Coach of the Year – Mike Davis, UAB: Davis did an excellent job leading a well-balanced scoring team to its first ever-outright conference championship since it joined the conference in 1989. The Blazers finished the year at 22-7 overall and 12-4 in conference, winning seven of their last eight games. As the top team in the conference tournament, UAB controls its own destiny and it may have secured a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Sixth Man of the YearDexter Fields, G, UAB: Fields shared time with very talented players at UAB, however shined in a minor role, shooting lights out all season from the bench.

Most Improved Player – Arsalan Kazemi, Rice: Kazemi enters next season as the Preseason POY and he will be only a junior. The raw youngster finally showed all of his skills this year, carrying the Owls to a 13-17 record.

Power Rankings

  1. UAB (22-7, 12-4). The Blazers are the No. 1 overall seed in the conference tournament and may have secured an at-large bid regardless of what happens this week in El Paso. They have finished strong and have a well-balanced scoring attack that poses mismatches for every possible opponent.
  2. UTEP (23-8, 11-5). Although the Miners lost the No. 1 seed and settle with the No. 3 seed heading into the tournament, UTEP can potentially get an at-large if they fall at home this weekend. However, the home field advantage and the veteran leadership will help them.
  3. Tulsa (18-12, 11-5). Tulsa stole the No. 2 seed away at the last second, however they won’t be in the Big Dance if they lose in El Paso.
  4. Southern Miss. (21-9, 9-7). The Golden Eagles will have to win four times in four days as their postseason begins Wednesday against lowly Tulane. They should get by then, however a potential matchup against Memphis could bump them and leave them NIT-bound.
  5. Memphis (22-9, 10-6). Not a good season for the Tigers, yet the team still clinched a first round bye as the No. 4 seed in the bracket. Overall, too many injuries and transfers hindered the Tigers chances earlier in the season, and poor conference losses late in the season have them as an NIT team once again.
  6. Marshall (21-10, 9- 7). The Herd will need to win it all to get into the postseason like all day one teams. As the No. 6 seed, they would play No. 3 UTEP in the second round, which would be a great backcourt duel.
  7. SMU (17-13, 8-8). The Mustangs could have a postseason after the C-USA tournament, however their odds of winning it all our slim. The presence in the paint of Papa Dia is the X-factor, if team’s can’t shut him down SMU could make a run.
  8. Central Florida (19-10, 6-10). The Knights are certainly not making the NCAA tournament, which at one point seemed to be a given. Now, UCF has to rely on Marcus Jordan and Keith Clanton to lead the team deep in the conference tournament. If not, I’m sure a postseason tournament would want them.
  9. East Carolina (16-14, 8-8). Although they are the No. 8, ECU doesn’t hold the same overall record of their first-round opponent, UCF. ECU never got enough low post presence this season, which cost them.
  10. Rice (13-17, 5-11). The Owls have risen from the dungeon of the conference and are now the No. 10 seed, playing SMU in the first round. Dia and Kazemi pose an intriguing first round matchup. Rice played well in the final month, but it’s a little too late for them to make a post season push. However, critics said the same about Houston last year at this time.
  11. Houston (12-17, 4-12). The Cougars’ skidded throughout the final two months of the season and now have an unfavorable first round matchup against the flaring Thundering Herd. Houston never got enough scoring help.
  12. Tulane (13-16, 3-13). Things are looking glum in New Orleans these days. USM will surely knock off Tulane in round one and that will end their season.
Brian Goodman (747 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.


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