Checking In On… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 26th, 2011

Steve Coulter—is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can also find his musings online at http://www.duclarion.com/sports or on Twitter @broncos2thebowl.

Reader’s Take:

 

The Week That Was

  • Rice Upsets Texas A&M; Kazemi Records 36th Career Double-Double: The conference had arguably its best night of the season on Thursday, posting a 6-2 overall record, which was highlighted by Rice’s 65-58 upset victory over Texas A&M at College Station. Junior forward Arsalan Kazemi led Rice with 10 points and 13 rebounds, recording his ninth double-double of the season and 36th of his career, as the Owls snapped the Aggies’ 80-game regular season, non-conference home win streak. Kazemi is now six double-doubles shy of the conference record. The junior carried the scoring load in his sophomore season, but has found help this season from fellow junior Tamir Jackson and senior Lucas Kuipers.
  • Tulane Drops Second Game, Falling to Syracuse: The conference’s only losses Thursday night came against ranked competition. Tulane took on #1 Syracuse, losing 80-61 in a lopsided contest. However, the team’s trio of top scorers Kendall Timmons, Jordan Callahan and Ricky Tarrant were not shut out, combining for 41 points. Timmons was the top performer, scoring 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
  • Memphis’ Continues To Tumble: The high-powered Memphis Tiger offense was contained and exposed on Thursday night when it faced the #16 Georgetown Hoyas, falling 70-59. Despite averaging 80 points a contest, Memphis was held in check throughout the game, which has become a trend when the Tigers take on tougher competition. Sophomore guard Will Barton continued his fantastic play, contributing a double-double in the losing effort. Barton finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but fellow sophomore Chris Crawford led the team with 17 points. Barton currently leads the conference in scoring with an average of 19.9 points per game, which is more than two points higher than UCF’s Marcus Jordan, who is second in scoring.
  • UTEP Builds Mo’ In Hawaii: In the first game of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, UTEP had a chance to make a statement and did, dominating Clemson. The Miners walked away with a 61-48 victory, following a 23-8 run during the game’s final 13 minutes. The Tigers recorded a lone field goal during that span. With the win, UTEP improves to .500 for the first time this season. Though they fell to the streaking Wildcats in the semifinal game, UTEP bounced back in the consolation round, holding off Auburn 83-76. The Miners are streaking at the right time, winners of four of their last five. Sophomore guard Michael Perez is finally filling the void left by Randy Culpepper, as he averaged over 17 points per game in the Diamond Head Classic.

Marcus Jordan Is Second In Conference USA In Scoring And The Knights Boast Two Of The League's Top Five Point-Scorers (Credit: Chris Schubert).

Power Rankings

  1. Tulane (11-2): The Green Wave suffered its second loss of the season on Thursday night, but they take a lot of experience away from facing the top-ranked team in the country. Tulane is the best defensive team in conference, allowing only 55.1 points a night. In comparison, the league’s worst defensive team, Memphis, allows 74.3 points per night. Kendall Timmons has found a long-term running partner in freshman Ricky Tarrant, who has blossomed into a star in the early part of this season.
  2. Southern Miss (10-2): It’s hard to pick nits on a team that has won six in a row. Southern Miss has emerged as one of the best teams in conference because they play complete team basketball. Lacking a consistent top performer, the Golden Eagles have relied on several players to make plays.  A lot of credit goes to the Golden Eagles seniors such as Darnell Dodson and Maurice Bolden, who each recorded a double-double in Thursday night’s win over South Florida.
  3. Marshall (9-2): The Thundering Herd is surging with a four game win streak. The tandem of DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts has been as good as advertised. It will be hard to beat this team in the backcourt; however, Marshall has proven to be strong in the low post thanks to tremendous play from Dennis Tinnon, who leads the conference in shooting percentage. Tinnon is third in rebounding so far, averaging 10.4 boards per game.
  4. Rice (8-4): The upset over in-state rival Texas A&M could prove to be the biggest win in program history. How this team responds to knocking off a powerhouse program like A&M will be interesting to watch in following weeks, as will Arsalan Kazemi’s pursuit of the conference’s double-double record.
  5. Central Florida (8-3): The only team with a win against the Top 25 shouldn’t be sitting this low in the conference’s power rankings, but the Knights are simply playing second fiddle to the barrage of emerging teams this past week. While Kane and Pitts have combined to lead Marshall so far this season, Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan are making a solid argument for which team has the best duo in conference. Jordan is second in the conference in scoring, while Clanton isn’t far behind at fifth with an average of 16.4 points per game. Though he’s an excellent offensive player, it has been Clanton’s defensive work that has him in the running for player of the year. He is averaging 9.4 rebounds along with 1.7 blocks.
  6. Memphis (6-5): Although they sit above .500, the Tigers have to be concerned about their 0-3 record against the Top 25. In its non-conference schedule, the team has been exposed repeatedly by tough competition. The offense isn’t the same when it is slowed down and forced to play at a more deliberate pace. Lots of talent on the roster should help in weeks to come when the Tigers begin their conference schedule, but may not solve all of their problems.
  7. East Carolina (7-4): ECU is yet another Conference USA team that is streaking at the conclusion of the non-conference season. The Pirates are winners of three straight following their 69-55 victory over Gardner-Webb last night. Four players finished in double figures for the first time all season as the Pirates are forming an offensive identity to compliment a stingy defense that ranks third in conference in points against. Miguel Paul may be the best pure point guard in the conference, averaging a conference-best 5.7 assists per game.
  8. SMU (7-4): The Mustangs lack strength of schedule, but in their wins they have clobbered the opposition with a potent defense that allows 57.8 points per game. Forward Robert Nyakundi has continued to shine as the team’s lone star, but the team is strong in the low post despite losing Papa Dia to graduation in the offseason. It will be interesting to see how the Mustangs respond to tougher competition when their conference schedule begins in less than ten days.
  9. UTEP (6-6): The conference’s trend of win streaks heading into the holiday season continues with UTEP. The stretch UTEP endured in Hawaii (three games in three days against a trio of Power Six conference opponents) was its toughest to date this season. Aside from their Christmas jaunt, UTEP has utilized a light non-conference schedule to adjust to their inexperienced backcourt.
  10. Houston (6-5): The Cougars offense has been off the charts early this season, scoring 79.7 points per contest, which is second best in conference. While Houston’s offense has never looked better, the team has lacked a defensive identity. Despite a shaky defense, the Cougars have a two-game win streak. Alandise Harris, Jonathon Simmons, and TaShawn Thomas have the Cougars hopeful for a potential run in conference play.
  11. Tulsa (5-7): Three home loses have hurt this team early on; however, the team’s inability to win a close game has been a recurring problem. Jordan Clarkson has floundered so far despite much preseason praise. The Tulsa offense has struggled against tougher competition, and the Golden Hurricane has dropped seven of nine.
  12. UAB (3-7): The Blazers were a favorite in the preseason, but through ten games, the team appears to be one of the worst in conference. UAB’s offense is much to blame, averaging less than 57 points a game. Preseason Player of the Year Cameron Moore has played up to the hype, leading the conference in blocks (4.0) and second in rebounds (10.5), but is receiving very little support.

Looking Ahead

  • SMU vs. Oklahoma State, December 28 at 5:30 p.m.  (ESPNU): The Mustangs finally get the out of conference test that they need before they enter conference play. Oklahoma State poses a few mismatches that SMU must address early on if they want to compete.
  • Colorado State at UTEP, December 28 at 8 p.m.: The Miners’ jam-packed schedule includes the opening game of the Bank of the West Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational against Colorado State. UTEP plays the following day against either Jacksonville State or Arkansas Pine-Bluff. It will be interesting to see how jet-lagged the Miners are after spending Christmas weekend in Hawaii.
  • Marshall at Belmont, December 29 at 6 p.m.: Two mid-majors on the rise will battle it out next week when the Thundering Herd travel to take on the Bruins. This game will be another road test for a Marshall team that has gotten used to playing away from home.
  • Rice at Texas, December 31 at 1 p.m. : The Owls continue to test themselves against the top in-state competition when they travel to Austin to take on the Longhorns. This game marks the penultimate contest on Rice’s non-conference schedule. The Owls conclude their non-conference season against TCU on January 4.

Spotlight On: Arsalan Kazemi

Kazemi, a junior and native of Iran, has Rice’s basketball program on the brink of national exposure following an upset win in College Station over Texas A&M. The Owls are tenth in the country in rebounding thanks to their star player, who is averaging 12.3 boards a night. The swing forward currently leads the team in scoring with 14 points a game, but hasn’t had to carry the load all by himself this season. The emergence of Tamir Jackson (13.9 PPG) has been crucial to Rice’s success, adding a compliment playmaker to Kazemi; however, the junior forward continues to be a team leader, shooting 61.5% from the field, which is second best in the conference. In addition to the team’s recent success, Kazemi is on pace to set the conference record for double-doubles after recording his 36th career double-doubles. With the win, the Owls and Kazemi have positioned themselves to be the talk of the conference in 2012.

Brian Goodman (782 Posts)

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


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One Response to “Checking In On… Conference USA”

  1. B Brent says:

    Jordan Clarkson has floundered? Are you serious? He is the primary target to stop at Tulsa and he still makes his impact felt in games. Not much help at Tulsa but he manages to keep them in games. He’s just not surrounded by superior talents as other players but he’s legit! That’s the truth!

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