Checking In On… Conference USAPosted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2011
The Week That Was
- Memphis Drops From Top 25: Memphis is unranked following the program’s 76-72 loss to Murray State last week. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Memphis and catapulted the Racers into the Top 25. The Tigers received 13 votes in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches poll along with 27 votes in the Associated Press poll, neither number being high enough to keep Memphis in the rankings with a mediocre 5-3 start. The Tigers have a chance at redemption this Saturday when they travel to No. 4 Louisville for a pivotal non-conference game. Following that contest, they travel to No. 17 Georgetown on December 22, where they will look to avenge an early season overtime loss to the Hoyas.
- Tulane Gains Votes, Syracuse Looms: Before losing its first contest of the season last week, the Tulane Green Wave were marching to the beat of an undefeated drum. And the national media took notice. In the December 5 USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll, the Green Wave received some votes following a 9-0 start. Although the team didn’t receive any votes in Monday’s poll, they have a chance to prove themselves against top-ranked Syracuse on Dec. 22.
- Washburn Gets Dap: UTEP freshman swingman Julian Washburn claimed his first C-USA Freshman of the Week Award on Monday, following a career-best performance in the Miners’ 73-69 win over non-conference rival New Mexico State. In the contest, Washburn recorded a career-high 16 points, three rebounds, four assists and a block. The win snapped a three game losing skid for the Miners and avenged an early season road loss to the Aggies on Nov. 19. Next up for UTEP is UNLV tonight at 10 PM ET. The Runnin’ Rebels are off to a 9-2 start, including a win over then-top ranked UNC. The Miners are statistically one of the worst offenses in the NCAA, ranking #320 overall. UNLV has had no problems offensively so far this season, averaging over 80 points a game, which is good for 24th in the nation.
- Tarrant Gathers Accolades: Tulane freshman guard Ricky Tarrant chose a good time to deliver the best performance of his young career, gashing the Georgia Tech defense for 24 points, 20 of which were scored before halftime, en route to a 57-52 upset victory. Tarrant’s performance, which included a seven rebound effort, was good enough for him to take home both Conference USA Player and Freshman of the Week honors on December 5. It was Tarrant’s second consecutive Freshman of the Week honor, winning his first honor just a week earlier. The sweep marks the first time a freshman took home both weekly awards since 2008. In addition to the win over Georgia Tech, Tarrant helped the surging Green Wave past Southern earlier in the week.
- Memphis (5-3): Based on current standings, the Tigers are actually middle of the pack so far, but they are still the best team in the conference based on talent and competition. The team’s only losses have been to ranked teams and by a combined margin of 18 points. In their latest loss to Murray State, the Tigers handed away a sure-win, but don’t expect that to become the rule as the season progresses. Memphis is too good in the backcourt with Will Barton, Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford not to be dominant come conference play. In addition, the team’s big men—Adonis Thomas, Tarik Black and Wesley Witherspoon, have been non-factors in the early part of the season. With non-conference games against No. 4 Louisville and No. 17 Georgetown, the Tigers still have time to prove themselves.
- Tulane (11-1): Despite a December 6 loss at Wofford, this team is one of the best in the conference. Once a one-man show centered on Kendall Timmons, the Green Wave have developed into a team during the early part of this season. Timmons still leads the team with 13.3 points a game, but three others have emerged as a nice supporting cast. Freshman Ricky Tarrant can do just about everything at the point position, while sophomore Josh Davis has proved to be a monster down in the low post. The 6’7” forward currently leads the team in minutes played and rebounding. In addition, junior Jordan Callahan has emerged as the team’s fourth scorer in double digits. A road game against No. 1 Syracuse will be a good measuring stick for whether this team is here to stay at the top of the conference power rankings.
- UCF (7-2): The Knights have the best win of any team in conference, edging defending national champion UConn 68-63 back on November 25; however, UCF has been inconsistent this season. Following the big upset over the No. 4 ranked team in the country, the Knights laid a dud against Harvard, having their worst offensive game of the season. Since that loss, they have won three straight and seem to be back on track. They have a terrible tendency of playing down to competition though. They barely escaped Bethune-Cookman (3-6) at home last Saturday, winning 53-51. As predicted in the preseason, Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan are being asked to do too much.
- Marshall (6-2): The Thundering Herd have the second best win of any team in conference, behind only UCF’s upset of UConn. Marshall cruised past Iona, a mid-major threat, on Saturday in an 82-63 victory. The Gaels, the nation’s second best offensive team with an average of 87.4 points a night, were held in check throughout the game as Marshall’s backcourt tandem of Damier Pitts and DeAndre Kane ran wild. Pitts finished with 25 points in the win. The Thundering Herd had lost its previous two games to Ohio and then-No.3 ranked Syracuse, but rebounded extraordinarily against high-paced Iona offense.
- Southern Miss (7-2): The Golden Eagles have been in every game they’ve played so far this season, which makes them very tough going forward. A tough double overtime loss to now-ranked Murray State back on November 27 has this team motivated, knocking off their last three opponents by an average of 12 points. In-state rival Ole Miss comes to town on Saturday boasting an 8-1 record. Southern Miss must have a short memory if they drop that contest, as they have to play two days later away at Arizona State.
- Houston (4-4): Houston remains in the top half of the power rankings, because the team is playing great basketball despite the results on the scoreboard. Although they are losers of four of their last five, the Cougars are still the best offensive team in the conference and one of the best rebounding teams. In its four losses, the team has only lost by a total of seven points. On November 22, they lost a two-point heart-breaker to Oakland, which was followed by a pair of one-point losses to TCU and LSU. Last Tuesday, they dropped yet another close game at Texas State, falling 81-78, their biggest lost of the season, ironically enough. Sophomore Alandise Harris is making a strong case for Conference Player of the Year. The 6’6” forward is currently averaging 16 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.
- Rice (6-2): Rice hasn’t played much of a non-conference schedule, which is why they are outside the top half of the power rankings. Tamir Jackson and Arsalan Kazemi are a two-man show this season for the Owls, averaging 13.5 and 12.6 points per game, respectively. While the team has five other players average more than six points a contest, they have yet to be tested. A December 22 game against No.22 Texas A&M seems like the perfect opportunity for this team to prove itself.
- Tulsa (4-6): Similar to Houston, this is a team that can’t seem to win a close game. Their 77-67 loss on December 7 to Wichita State marked their worst loss of the season, but before that game, Tulsa hadn’t lost by more than four points. In addition, their losses were to quality opponents, including Northwestern, St. Joseph’s, Oklahoma State and Missouri State. A December 19 date with No. 24-ranked Creighton seems to be a marquee opportunity for this Golden Hurricane team to prove itself.
- SMU (5-3): The Mustangs are riding a three-game win streak that should blossom into a six-game win streak based on their next three opponents; however, the team has lost all of its competitive non-conference games. Statistically, SMU is one of the worst teams in the conference, averaging a dismal 28. 8 rebounds and 11 assists per game, which ranks them nationally at 340th and 278th, respectively. The team is simply asking too much of Robert Nyakundi, who leads them with 15.3 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game.
- UAB (2-6): They should be dead last in the power rankings, but the Blazers have tested themselves in their non-conference schedule and they’ve paid the price. An early preseason favorite to win the conference, UAB hasn’t lived up the hype. The offense is abysmal, averaging only 55.9 points a night, which ranks them 340th in the nation. Furthermore, the team is shooting only 39% from the field following a year in which they were the best shooting team in conference. Following next Tuesday’s game against VCU, the non-conference schedule gets a bit easier before the Blazers face their toughest challenge yet — No. 13-ranked Florida on January 3.
- East Carolina (4-4): Junior guard Miguel Paul continues to have a strong season for ECU, averaging 16.1 points and 5.6 assists; however, the Pirates are struggling lately with three straight losses dating back to November 29. The team plays five games against weak competition before the end of the year, which should get them on a roll in time for the start of the conference season on January 4.
- UTEP (2-4): With only six games played in the 2011-12 season, the jury is still out on UTEP; however, the resume they’ve provided so far is less than weak. They’re arguably the conference’s youngest team, which gives them an excuse for taking time to develop, but this is a team that also needs to take time to learn how to win. In the next two weeks, they play games against a lot stronger competition than what they’ve seen. Head coach Tim Floyd could be marching his team into a death trap, entering the conference season with the league’s worst overall record going into Wednesday night’s battle with UNLV.
- Houston vs. Oklahoma,Dec. 17 at 8 PM ET in Oklahoma City: Houston’s biggest non-conference game comes at a bad time as the team is reeling with losses in four of its last five games. However, the Cougars do have a high-powered offense that can score with Oklahoma (78.1 points a game). A blowout loss could prove to be devastating, but looking at what Houston’s done so far, there is no reason to believe they can’t keep it close.
- Memphis at No. 17 Georgetown, Dec. 22 at 7 PM ET: Memphis is out for revenge following a 91-88 loss in overtime to the Hoyas back in November. The Tigers are looking for a strong out of conference win, which they are lacking so far this season. The backcourt of Barton, Jackson and Crawford needs to shine in order for Memphis to pull the much-needed upset.
- Tulane at No. 1 Syracuse, Dec. 22 at 7 PM ET: It’ll be tough for the Green Wave to walk into the Carrier Dome and expect to come away with a win, but if the team can be competitive, it’ll benefit them in the long run as conference play looms. Freshman Ricky Tarrant will need to continue his December hot streak if Tulane wants to stay in this one.
- Rice at No. 22 Texas A&M, Dec. 22 at 9 PM ET: The Owls haven’t been tested at all this season besides tournament games against Northern Iowa and Iowa State, which both resulted in losses. If they can dominate the battle in the low post, which they’ve done in almost every game so far this season, then Rice can keep this one close.
Spotlight On… Will Barton
While others can certainly make a case for the Player of the Year award, it’s looking highly likely that Memphis’ sophomore guard Will Barton will take home the hardwood when it’s all said and done. The Baltimore native has been explosive so far this season on a Memphis team still looking for its identity. He is averaging 20.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Although he is guard, Barton is 6’6″ and plays as a pure scorer not as a distributor. While the Tigers went 1-1 last week, it was hardly Barton’s fault as the sophomore averaged 27 points and 9.5 rebounds. He shot an amazing 66.7% from the field and added in seven steals.