Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2010

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

[ed note: this post was written before Tuesday's games]

A Look Back

  • Knights stay perfect, top Miami after power outage.  The No. 3 shooting team in the nation resides in Orlando. That’s right, the Knights of Central Florida are shooting the ball as well as any team in the nation, a huge reason for the team’s 10-0 record so far. On Saturday, the team stayed undefeated when they ousted Miami 84-78 at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida, after trailing as much as 43-31 in the first half. The 12-point deficit was the largest the team faced this season, however the Knights rebounded by scoring 51 points and shooting 75 percent in the second half after a 25-minute delay due to a power outage. The loss snapped a five-game win streak for the Hurricanes, while UCF’s Marcus Jordan led all scorers with 23 points.
  • Central Florida cracks top 25 for the first time this season.  Following the 10-0 start to begin their season, Central Florida was rewarded Monday afternoon when the new AP Top 25 poll was released. UCF is ranked No. 24 in the poll, marking the first time the team has been ranked this year. For now, the Knights remain unranked in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, however they were the top vote getter among unranked teams, garnering 47 votes.
  • UTEP extends win streak to six, tops Texas Tech and SFA.  UTEP is carrying a six-game winning streak into their road contest with BYU on Thursday after the Miners were able to top Texas Tech 82-71 last week. On Monday, the Miners beat Stephen F. Austin 61-52. In both games, Randy Culpepper was the leading scorer, finishing with 28 and 18 points, respectively. With the win, the Miners extended their winning streak to six. They haven’t lost since Nov. 26 when they were beaten by Georgia Tech.
  • Thin Memphis lineup survives scares over weaker opponents; wins 300th in past decade.  After a nationally televised loss to Kansas, the Memphis Tigers struggled against two lesser opponents. On Dec. 16, the Tigers failed to beat Austin Peay in regulation, surviving the Governors 70-68 in overtime. The win marked the second Memphis overtime win in four games. With a thin lineup suffering from injuries and transfers, coach Josh Pastner only played nine players against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The result wasn’t pretty, as the Tigers slipped past the Islanders after going into halftime down a point. Joe Jackson finished with a team-high and career-high 23 points. With the win, the Tigers became only the third NCAA Division I program to register 300 wins over the last decade.
  • DeAndre Kane’s double-double performance lifts Herd, keeps win streak alive.  Marshall limited VMI’s high-octane offense on Sunday night, edging the Keydets 98-70. Sophomore DeAndre Kane led the Herd, scoring 18 points and dishing out 13 assists. Shaquille Johnson led the team in scoring, recording 19 points. With the win, Marshall extended its winning streak to five games.

Power Rankings

  1. Central Florida (10-0).  For the first time this season, the Knights are ranked in the top 25. As a reward, they top the CUSA standings this week after Memphis’ recent struggles. The balanced scoring of Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan, who both average more than 16 points a game, is making this one of the better offensive teams in the nation.
  2. Memphis (9-1).  With a big non-conference game coming up against Georgetown, the Tigers have to be concerned about where they are right now. The team is limited in terms of depth and is struggling on the rebounds as well as in the first half of games. Freshmen Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford need to continue to step up for the injured Wesley Witherspoon.
  3. UTEP (9-2).  After some early season struggles, senior Randy Culpepper has regained his grip on the conference’s POY discussion, leading the Miners with 19.8 points per game. The Miners take a six-game winning streak with them this week when they take on No. 23 BYU on Thursday night.
  4. Southern Mississippi (7-1).  Although they didn’t play, the Golden Eagles dropped one spot in the conference rankings. Senior Gary Flowers remains one of the best players in the conference.
  5. Marshall (8-2).  With Damier Pitts returning from injury, Marshall just got that much better as they look to add to their five-game winning streak when they take on 8-3 James Madison this week. Senior Tirrell Baines is playing huge in the low post for the Herd, who need as many big bodies as they can find.
  6. UAB (8-2).  The Blazers have a huge non-conference game against VCU tonight. If they want to win they will need to rely heavily on junior Cameron Moore, who is averaging 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
  7. Tulane (6-3).  Nothing wrong with how the Green Wave played VCU on Saturday, however the team can’t expect to win games after falling behind by 13 in the first half.
  8. Southern Methodist (6-4).  SMU used a pair of wins over bottom competition to rise in the CUSA power rankings. Junior Robert Nyakundi has been a scoring machine of late, finishing in double figures in six consecutive games.
  9. East Carolina (7-4).  After a five-game winning streak, the Pirates have dropped back-to-back games, losing narrowly to Coastal Carolina last Saturday on a buzzer-beating jump shot.
  10. Houston (6-5).  The Cougars have struggled on the road this year, but luckily they have a pair of home games before they start conference play on Jan. 5. The team lost in overtime to Texas A&M-CC last Saturday.
  11. Rice (5-4).  Tough games against Miami and LSU loom for the Owls. The team has won its last two games though.
  12. Tulsa (5-5).  The Golden Hurricane have played back-to-back overtime games, barely edging out Weber State last week 81-79. Senior guard Justin Hurtt dropped a season-high 36 points in the game. Hurtt has scored above 20 points in half of the team’s games this season.

A Look Ahead

  • Wednesday is loaded. On Wednesday, Southern Miss takes on East Tennessee State in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, while Rice continues their play in Vegas when they take on Miami. In addition, East Carolina travels to George Washington looking to snap a two game losing streak. The games of the night have to be 8-2 Marshall at 8-3 James Madison and UCF taking their unbeaten record on the road against UMass.
  • Thursday trumps all; two top 25 teams duke it out in Memphis.  While the early days of the week have some intriguing matchups, Thursday tops the week off with a plethora of good basketball. The top game, of course, is No. 17 Memphis hosting No. 9 Georgetown. UTEP at No. 23 BYU is also one to watch as well.
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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2010

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Tiger Attrition: Since the Tigers lost to Kansas last week, Josh Pastner has had to deal with a slew of personnel matters. Forward Wesley Witherspoon underwent surgery for a right knee cartilage tear on Friday and will be sidelined for the next five weeks of the season. Witherspoon is currently the team’s leading scorer and has begun rehabilitation already. The coaching staff hopes to have him back in time for the Tigers’ game against Marshall on January 15. He suffered the injury on November 17 against Northwestern State, but continued to play despite the pain.  Junior forward Angel Garcia is transferring from Memphis at the end of this semester to pursue a career in Spain. Garcia, who averaged 6.1 points for the Tigers, plans to finish his final exams and then will sign a professional contract in Spain. In a press conference, the 6’11 Garcia claimed he is making the decision so he can help his family financially.  Finally, sophomore forward D.J. Stephens will miss the next two games for the Tigers because of a groin injury. Without Garcia, Stephens and Witherspoon, the Tigers are down to nine active players for their Thursday game against Austin Peay.
  • Brock Young Moves to No. 6 on ECU’s Assist List: Old Dominion ended East Carolina’s five-game win streak last week when they beat the Pirates 81-68 last Tuesday. Although the Pirates drop to 7-3 overall, the team’s point guard Brock Young kept things upbeat by moving into sixth place on the conference’s career assists list.
  • Cougs Drop First Home Game: Maurice McNeil’s career-high 26-point performance wasn’t enough to help Houston protect its perfect home record as the Cougars were beaten 68-63 by Texas-San Antonio last Saturday. The loss was UH’s first at Hofheinz Pavilion this season and ended an eight-game home winning streak that had started late last season.
  • Marshall Makes a Run: With four players reaching the double-digit plateau, Marshall was able to keep its winning streak alive and earn its best win of the season over James Madison (7-3). The two clubs will play again when the Thundering Herd travels to take on the Dukes on December 22.
  • Flowers Knocks off Cal with Game-Winner: Gary Flowers is garnering Player of the Year consideration after scoring the final 12 points in Southern Mississippi’s big win over California on Sunday. The biggest basket was a turnaround jumper with three seconds left that lifted the Golden Eagles past the Golden Bears 80-78. Flowers finished with 28 points and currently leads the team with 21.7 points per game. The senior is currently pacing the conference in scoring.
  • Knights Remain Unbeaten: Central Florida is one of 14 teams in Division-I to have an unblemished record going into Tuesday’s action. The Knights stayed unbeaten last week when they beat Bethune-Cookman 76-59. Sophomore Keith Clanton led the team with 16 points and eight rebounds, while senior Tom Herzog dropped 14 and finished with eight blocks, tying school record. In the Knights’ previous win against Southeastern Louisiana, Clanton had eight swats.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (7-1): Despite a plethora of injuries and their first loss of the season, the Tigers remain atop this conference. Will Barton is going to need to step up in the weeks to come.
  2. Central Florida (8-0): The last unbeaten in the conference, while several one and two-loss teams rank ahead of them in KenPom. The Knights have played solid defense so far this season, limiting their opponents to 61 points or fewer in all eight of their games. An upcoming game against Miami will be a good test.
  3. Southern Mississippi (7-1): The top rebounding team in the nation currently averages over 45 boards per game this season. Gary Flowers is dominating at the moment and could be named conference player of the year.
  4. UAB (7-2): With the week off due to exams, the Blazers are looking to build off of a solid non-conference performance thus far. They are winners of five of their last six.
  5. Marshall (6-2): The fab four—DeAndre Kane, Tirrell Baines, Shaquille Johnson and Dago Pena—have been outstanding for the Herd so far, averaging over 52 points combined this season. Marshall looks to add to their three-game win streak with a set of very winnable games.
  6. UTEP (6-2): The Miners returned from their break to pummel Arkansas Pine-Bluff 77-54 on Sunday. The team looks to win its fourth consecutive game Wednesday when they host Louisiana-Monroe. A battle with Texas Tech on Saturday is not to be overlooked.
  7. East Carolina (7-3): The team is currently on break because of exams, but when the Pirates return on Saturday, they will play an 8-2 Coastal Carolina club that has won six in a row, including an overtime win against LSU.
  8. Tulane (5-2): Kris Richard and Kendall Timmons look to spark the Green Wave against New Orleans and VCU after a week off. The duo is currently averaging 29.3 points per game combined.
  9. Houston (6-4): All of Houston’s losses have come against teams with winning records. Luckily for the Cougars, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is 3-6. Senior Maurice McNeil is 36th in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, but is shooting just 54.5% from the stripe. The Cougars’ search for life after Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis is still a work in progress.
  10. SMU (5-4): The Mustangs return to play on Saturday after a two-week break for exams. Papa Dia’s 17.3 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game make him a prime candidate for All-Conference first team honors. The Mustangs have a mediocre record and have eight teams on their schedule who are either ranked below 300 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings or are in D-II. There isn’t much to get excited about in Dallas.
  11. Rice (4-4): The Owls have been on break since they barely beat Lamar on December 4. Arsalan Kazemi’s 15.8 points and 10.6 rebounds a game have kept this team afloat early on. Sadly, tougher competition looms as the Owls take on Miami, Oral Roberts, LSU and TCU before conference play begins on January 5.
  12. Tulsa (4-5): Three straight losses for the Golden Hurricane after the team dropped a double OT thriller to Princeton on Sunday, but the schedule hasn’t been bad. Justin Hurtt keeps on fighting the good fight.

A Look Ahead:

While the action tapers off this week, keep an eye on how Memphis adjusts to their suddenly short bench. Three games to watch Saturday:

  • Miami at UCF
  • Texas Tech at UTEP
  • Tulane at VCU
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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Knights Thrive Outside Of Conference Play: What a start it has been for Donnie Jones’s Knights. UCF is out to a 7-0 start after beating in-state foe Florida 57-54 last Wednesday in Orlando. Jones, a first-year coach, defeated his old boss, Billy Donovan, in his first signature win since taking over the program. An impressive stat—the Knights missed 14 consecutive shots in the middle of the second half, yet were still able to win by holding Florida to only 24 points in the second stanza.
  • Marcus Jordan, the team’s leading scorer, came through in more ways than one. He shot 6-11 from the field, leading the team with 18 points. In addition, he shut down Florida’s leading scorers, Kenny Boynton and Chandler Parsons, while breaking down Florida’s perimeter defense at will. Jordan’s clutch free throws in the waning seconds helped the Knights get the win and remain undefeated so far this season.
  • Player of the Week: UAB junior Cameron Moore. A dominator of the hardwood, Moore is becoming a household name. The center averaged 22.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game during a four game stretch where the Blazers went 3-1. Moore has five double-doubles on the season, which leads the league, but none may have been more impressive than his 28-point, 15-rebound effort against Kent State. Moore has scored above 14 points in every game this season and has put up a twenty-point performance in three consecutive games. Besides a two-point loss to Georgia on Friday, the Blazers had a blemish-free week. So far, UAB has lost two games by a total of five points.
  • Pastner Quick to Notice Tigers’ Struggles against Red Wolves: The 9th-best scoring offense in the nation couldn’t finish off Arkansas State in regulation, but in overtime, Memphis’ talent was too much for the Red Wolves. Memphis won the extra period 13-6 on its way to a 78-71 victory. The performance was disdained strongly by head coach Josh Pastner.  “I have never been more disappointed in a group of guys and the way they played. Absolutely disappointed in them. We got outplayed by Arkansas State, and we were fortunate to get the ‘W,’” said Pastner in a postgame interview. Pastner would go on further to say the team had no urgency, which was blatant during the second half, when the Red Wolves outscored the Tigers 41-30. Memphis responded by beating Western Kentucky handily in preparation for their date with Kansas on Tuesday.
  • DeAndre Kane Lifts Thundering Herd to Consecutive Wins: Leading your team in scoring as a freshman isn’t hard, at least not for DeAndre Kane, who is averaging a team-high 17.6 points per game for Marshall this season. Kane recorded his second-straight 25-point outing against Florida International, leading the Herd to an 88-79 victory. A game later, Kane was back again, leading the Herd in scoring as they topped Ohio 65-57. Kane also leads the team in assists with 3.6 per contest.
  • Southern Miss Hangs 100 On Alcorn, Gets First Loss to Ole Miss: After beating winless Alcorn State early last week, the Golden Eagles dropped a game. Despite a second half comeback against Ole Miss, USM was unable to overcome a 44-34 deficit at halftime. Gary Flowers, the second leading scorer in the conference, poured in 31 points and nine rebounds against the Braves, while cooling off against the Rebels and only scoring 19. The Golden Eagles are currently the #1 rebounding team in the nation, averaging 48.3 boards a game so far this season.
  • UTEP Survives New Mexico State; Culpepper Catches Fire: In a battle between two stout southwestern basketball programs, the Miners were able to win their second straight game thanks in large part to a 32-point performance from senior Randy Culpepper. The guard was electric in the first half, scoring 25 points and hitting five three-pointers. Despite their success in past season, the Aggies are now 2-6 and losers of six consecutive games, including back-to-back losses to the Miners. On November 23, UTEP won 73-56 in the teams’ initial meeting.
  • East Carolina Pushes Win Streak To Five: The Pirates are winners of five in a row after barely beating Charlotte 62-61 last Wednesday. The team earned its seventh win of the season this past weekend when they trounced Fayetteville State 91-70. Not exactly the best competition, but behind Brock Youngs’s 22-point, seven-assist effort, the Pirates were able to improve to 7-0 at home this season.  Next, they play host to Old Dominion on Tuesday night.
  • Arsalan Kazemi Needs Some Help: Rice Sophomore Arsalan Kazemi is doing everything a big man is supposed to do. The 6’7 forward is grabbing an average of 10.6 rebounds a night, while leading his team in scoring with 15.8 points. Most amazingly, Kazemi has yet to shoot a three-pointer this season and has scored in double figures in every game. However, his good play hasn’t been enough for Rice in recent play as the team has dropped three of its last four games.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (7-0): Despite sub-par play against Arkansas State, the Tigers have a chance to redeem themselves at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night when they take on Kansas in the Jimmy V Classic.
  2. Central Florida (7-0): Currently, the Knights are shooting better than all but four teams in the nation, averaging 52.5 percent from the field, which has enabled the club to score an even 80 points per game. In addition, the Knights are passing the ball well, which is clearly setting up the high shooting percentage. Right now, UCF is the top team in the conference in assists, led by A.J. Rompza, who is averaging five a game.
  3. UAB (7-2): The Blazers have proven that they belong, competing in all nine of their games, losing two by a total of five points. The combination of Aaron Johnson and Cameron Moore appears to be the best guard-center duo in the conference at this point.
  4. UTEP (5-2): The Miners haven’t blown out anybody yet, but they have been in every game they have played in. Having Randy Culpepper doesn’t hurt either. Although they are currently in a logjam of three 5-2 teams in the standings, the Miners are looking like one of the conference’s top five teams.
  5. Southern Miss (5-1): Seniors R.L. Horton and Gary Flowers are currently taking this team on their collective back. The leaders currently average 37 points per game combined. Flowers, at 2.4 blocks per game, has been impressive on defense as well. Angelo Johnson (6.3 APG) and DJ Newbill (11 PPG/8 RPG per game) are also contributing nicely.
  6. East Carolina (7-2): A noticeable leap for the Pirates in the power rankings. Despite soft competition on the schedule, ECU has helped itself to five wins in a row, which is worth noticing for a team that was picked to be dead last in the conference.
  7. Marshall (5-2): The Herd will get a good test on Tuesday when they take on James Madison (6-2) at home. Marshall is currently undefeated at home this season, scoring above 80 points in three of four contests. Four players averaging double figures in scoring make the Thundering Herd a team worth watching.
  8. Houston (5-3): The Cougars had a close call against Sam Houston State last Saturday, pulling out a 75-71 win in overtime. Houston was unable to win on the road before that game, going 0-3 against Louisiana Tech, TCU and LSU on the road previously.
  9. Tulane (5-2): The Green Wave are one of five CUSA teams who are undefeated at home this year after winning two games last week. Kris Richard and Kendall Timmons are both averaging over 14 points a game, which has helped Tulane get off to a good start.
  10. Tulsa (4-3): Three close losses have knocked the Golden Hurricane slightly in the power rankings. Next up: a big-time showdown versus instate rival Oklahoma State. The Cowboys travel to Tulsa, bringing their 7-1 record with them. Senior Justin Hurtt and freshman Jordan Clarkson are leading this team, while Steven Idlet and Scottie Haralson are also carrying a lot of the weight.
  11. SMU (5-4): Papa Dia continues to have a spectacular season for the Mustangs, averaging 17.3 points a game and 7.6 rebounds. After a slow start, SMU has won four of their last five. Too bad they don’t play a real team (read: one in KenPom’s top 120) until January 5.
  12. Rice (4-4): After a close game versus Texas, the Owls were throttled by Arizona at home, losing 84-57. They responded by beating Lamar 75-73. Rice is idle until December 16.

A Look Ahead

Tigers Look To Avenge 2008 Championship loss:: When #14 Memphis and #4 Kansas take the court at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, there will be more on the line than bragging rights. In this matchup, redemption is on the line for Memphis. For Kansas, a big time stage to show the entire nation that they are for real after scuffling in its win over UCLA. The Jayhawks are currently the top team in the nation in assists per game and field goal percentage and are coming off a pair of wins over Pac-10 foes Arizona and UCLA.  While KU has been proving itself, Memphis has taken a minor step backward. After beating Miami (FL) and LSU, the Tigers allowed 80 points to Tennessee-Martin and faltered against Arkansas State in regulation only to pull out an overtime win.  After KU lay more challenges, as the Tigers have to take on Georgetown and Tennessee before they get to breathe a little easier with Conference USA play.  At the Garden, expect great play in the backcourt. The matchup between Tyshawn Taylor and Joe Jackson should provide plenty of excitement. This one will come down to who can exercise their offensive strength within the paint. Rebounds will be key, as well as second chance opportunities.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Culpepper Ends Starting Streak: Once named the Conference USA Sixth Man of the Year, senior UTEP guard Randy Culpepper returned to the bench last weekend, snapping a streak of 40 games started in a row. The Preseason Player of the Year dropped 24 points coming off the bench and ultimately lead the Miners to a 65-56 win over Michigan.
  • ECU’s Young Reaches 500-assist Plateau: Senior guard Brock Young became the seventh player in conference history to reach 500 career assists during the Pirates’ 81-53 win over UNC Greensboro. Despite a slow start and limited playing time, Young was able to reach the milestone only seven games into the Pirates schedule.
  • UAB Tops Arkansas in OT: Senior guard Jamarr Sanders led the way with 19 points, while all five starters scored in double digits for UAB as they ousted Arkansas 70-65 in overtime. Sophomore Ovie Soko finished with 17 points, but the most impressive performance came from sophomore Cameron Moore, who ended up with his third double-double. Moore scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
  • Rice keeps it close with #20 Texas: Texas guard Cory Joseph’s layup with 37 seconds left lifted the Longhorns over the Owls. Despite beginning the second half trailing 23-20, Texas walked away with a 62-59 win after making nine three-pointers in the second half. The Owls (3-3) were led by Arsalan Kazemi, who finished with 13 points and has scored in double digits every game this season.
  • UTEP Splits in Atlantic City: After a win over New Mexico State on Tuesday, UTEP split a pair of games in the Legends Classic this past weekend. On Friday, the Miners were beaten by Georgia Tech 71-61, but rebounded with a 65-56 win over Michigan. The Miners finished third in the tournament.
  • Clarkson Remains hot, Tulsa Rolls Past Stanford: After being named C-USA Freshman of the Week, Tulsa guard Jordan Clarkson scored a career-high 20 points to lead Tulsa to a 66-53 win over Stanford. The day before, the Golden Hurricanes were dropped by UNLV, 80-71. Against the Rebels, Clarkson was limited to just nine points.
  • Houston Loses In-State Battle With TCU: Houston couldn’t win its first road game against in-state foe TCU. Ronnie Moss and Garlon Green led the Horned Frogs (4-2) with 17 and 16 points, respectively.  After winning their previous two games at home, the Cougars couldn’t overcome 19 turnovers and ended up losing 79-63.

Caught On Film

Marcus Jordan Dunking like Dad: Despite being in only his second season at Central FloridaMarcus Jordan has begun to compile a highlight reel. On Tuesday night, the guard intercepted an inbound pass from Stetson sophomore Ridge Graham and dunked over the dazed Graham. The result was Jordan ending up at #7 on SportsCenter next day as seen in the highlight below.

The Knights went on to win the contest 85-48, then obliterated Alabama State 84-48 on Saturday. Jordan scored 18 points in that contest and has scored in double figures in all five games this season. He leads the 5-0 Knights, averaging 16.8 points per game. Older brother Jeff sits on the bench this season after transferring from Illinois last year.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (5-0): The conference’s only ranked team also is in the top ten among scoring offenses in the nation. Everything seems to be running smoothly for the Tigers following the departure of Jelan Kendrick. Freshmen Will Barton and Joe Jackson are combining for 23 points a game, while junior Will Witherspoon is having a big season, scoring 15.4 points and 5.6 rebounds a contest. The team is a week away from taking on #4 Kansas in Madison Square Garden.
  2. Central Florida (5-0): The Knights have been absolutely dominant thus far, earning small wins over Stetson and Alabama State this past week. Currently, UCF is #12 in the nation in points per game and is shooting over 55% from the field. Limiting their last four opponents to fewer than 60 points has helped the quick start.
  3. Southern Mississippi (4-0): Winless Alcorn State looms for the Golden Eagles as the number three rebounding team in the nation looks to get to 5-0 before next weekend’s matchup vs. Ole Miss. Freshman guard D.J. Newbill has come on strong, recording two double-doubles so far this season. Meanwhile, seniors Josimar Ayarza and Gary Flowers have provided stability.
  4. UAB (4-1): The Blazers make a strong case to be inside the conference’s top four teams. Apart from a three-point loss to Arizona State, the Blazers are perfect and utilizing all team members. In their win over Arkansas, all five starters scored in double digits. Also, Aaron Johnson continues to shine, averaging 9.6 assists per contest.
  5. UTEP (4-2): The move of benching Culpepper paid dividends last weekend, but it is unseen whether or not head coach Tim Floyd is going to keep his superstar from the starting lineup. Senior Jeremy Williams grabbed ten rebounds against the Wolverines. He is currently second on the team, averaging 6.3 boards a game.
  6. Houston (4-2): Big performances off the bench helped the Cougars stay in their last game against TCU, but the starting lineup will need to play better if Houston plans on having the same success as they did last year. Tuesday night they will travel to LSU to continue their tough out of conference schedule. Senior guard Adam Brown is shooting over 50 percent from the three-point line and is averaging 15.5 points per game.
  7. Marshall (3-2): Tough loss to Louisville (4-0), but it is important to note that the Thundering Herd led 34-33 at halftime only to be outscored by 15 in the second half. DeAndre Kane finished with a career-high 25 points, averaging a little less than 14 per game. The biggest problem for Marshall right now: turnovers. Six giveaways in the first couple of minutes in the second half allowed Louisville to take over and never look back.
  8. Tulsa (4-2): With a trio of scorers in Justin Hurtt, Steven Idlet and Jordan Clarkson, the Golden Hurricane looks to be a spoiler team come conference play. Wins over Oral Roberts and Stanford have helped.
  9. East Carolina (5-2): Five weak wins for the Pirates, which means they still remain in the bottom tier of the conference. Senior guard Jontae Sherrod scored 17 off the bench. He currently leads the team in scoring and has scored in double-digits in three consecutive games.
  10. SMU (4-3): The Mustangs are one of the worst rebounding teams in the nation, despite the inside presence of Papa Dia who is averaging 15.3 points a game and 8.3 rebounds per contest. Dia’s double-double against Central Arkansas helped the Mustangs hold on for their fourth victory. With a three-game winning streak, SMU travels to Louisiana Tech, then return home to host Grambling.
  11. Rice (3-3): Despite never trailing by more than five points in the second half against Texas, this is a team that can comfortably set up shop in the bottom tier of the standings. It only gets tougher for the Owls as they travel to take on Arizona on Wednesday.
  12. Tulane (3-2): Getting dropped by Nicholls State (2-2) for the first time in 19 meetings didn’t help the Green Wave get out of the conference’s cellar.  On the bright side, the scoring duo of Kris Richard and Kendall Timmons is averaging over 30 points per game and gives Tulane reason to be confident as the season progresses.

A Look Ahead

  • Central Florida Gets a Shot Against The Gators: The Knights have an early season test this week when they host on in-state foe Florida. So far, UCF is 5-0 with small victories. The Gators (5-1) are a ranked #18 currently and are coming off a big road win against Florida State. Besides an early win over South Florida, this is the first quality game UCF will play this season.
  • UAB Hits the Road: On Friday, UAB will travel to Athens., to take on Georgia, which will be the second SEC team the Blazers have faced in as many weeks. Last Saturday, the Blazers took on Arkansas in a neutral location and walked away with the upset victory. After the game against the Bulldogs, UAB’s schedule gets a little easier until they have to travel to take on top-ranked Duke on January 5.
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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2010

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Kendrick out at Memphis: There may not be a bigger headline from Conference USA this season than the news of Memphis cutting ties with their McDonald’s All-American Jelan Kendrick before the Tigers’ first regular season game.  It’s a surprising move for second-year coach Josh Pastner, who cut the start recruit for an overall indifference towards the team. According to reports, Kendrick missed at least two weeks of practice in the preseason for “personal reasons.” In addition, Kendrick had several opportunities to make good with the head coach and his staff, but failed due to an utter indifference toward the program’s rules. From a personnel standpoint, his departure is a disappointment to most fans, considering the hype around Pastner’s club has sky-rocketed from last season to this season, where the Tigers are slotted as a preseason top 20 team.  The absence of the 6’6 freshman, who seemed poised to start and possibly lead the team in scoring, leaves a hole in the Memphis lineup. However, the move speaks highly to Pastner’s belief in the team and their ability to win without Kendrick. Pastner’s confidence has paid off thus far, as the Tigers have jumped out to a 4-0 start, beating Miami 72-68 on national television the day after cutting Kendrick loose. Pastner continues to make character a high priority. During the season opener against Centenary, the 33-year-old coach didn’t play freshman Chris Crawford, citing academic reasons. Also, he kept star Wesley Witherspoon on the bench after he showed up late to practice. Three weeks into the college basketball season, one thing is clear in Memphis — if you want to get on the court, you have to play by Pastner’s rules.
  • Clarkson rising for Tulsa: Freshman Jordan Clarkson, of San Antonio, has emerged as a possible favorite for freshman of the year. The guard finished with two double-figure scoring games, while leading the Golden Hurricanes to a pair of wins. At week’s end, Clarkson was shooting 66% from the floor and above 50 percent from the field.  Tulsa was able earn wins over Oral Roberts and Missouri State due to Clarkson’s 17-point and 13-point efforts, respectively.
  • Culpepper continues to score: The Preseason Player of the Year is well on his way, as UTEP’s Randy Culpepper has already emerged as the conference’s top scorer. After only three games, the guard is averaging 20.3 points a game, shooting over 45 percent from both the field and the three-point range.
  • Dia lifts Mustangs to SMU Invitational victory: Papa Dia’s performance in the SMU Invitational was enough to cement the senior center as the tournament’s MVP, while the Mustangs (2-3) ran away with wins over Lamar and Portland State. Dia was also named C-USA Player of the Week, after averaging 18.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists in four games last week. The big man is shooting a crazy 71.8 percent from the field.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (4-0): Undoubtedly the best team in conference. Wins over Miami and LSU help create momentum as this team continues a rough out of conference schedule. So far, all the players have responded positively to the last minute departure of Jelan Kendrick. If they continue to win games, Josh Pastner will look like a coaching genius for cutting his prize recruit on the eve of the Miami game.
  2. Southern Miss (3-0): R.L. Horton shoulders too much of the scoring load, averaging 19.5 a game. However, the Golden Eagles are undefeated thus far and after trouncing South Alabama last week, everything is looking good. Angelo Johnson in the backcourt could pose a problem to many clubs come conference play.
  3. UAB (2-1): It is impossible not to mention Aaron Johnson when talking about UAB. The guard’s 9.3 assists per game are unmatched right now; the next best is Zamal Nixon of Houston with 6.8 a game. It doesn’t hurt that Cameron Moore is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds thus far. A close loss to Arizona State is a good measuring stick to where this team is. This week they will travel to Little Rock, Ark., to take on Arkansas.
  4. Central Florida (3-0): Although South Florida is a bottom tier Big East team, UCF still has to feel good about their out-of-conference upset. However, Marcus Jordan and Keith Clanton carry too much of the scoring burden at the moment. They are the only teammates, besides Tulsa’s Jordan Hurtt and Steven Idlet, which rank in the top ten scorers in conference. Clanton’s above 73 percent shooting percentage is impressive.
  5. UTEP (2-1): Randy Culpepper may be leading the conference in scoring, but the Miners will need to amp up their scoring all around if they want to topple New Mexico State and Georgia Tech this upcoming week.
  6. Houston (3-1): The Cougars remain in the top part of the conference, still relying on the magic from last season’s improbable run in the conference tournament. It helps that Maurice McNeil is averaging 11 rebounds a game, while registering 1.8 blocks a contest. A perfect 3-0 record will be tested in upcoming weeks, as the schedule gets tougher.
  7. Marshall (3-1): Marshall doesn’t boast any big wins, defeating Maryville and Glenville State by large margins. Tom Herrion’s club has a good record, but right now the out of conference schedule remains soft, which forces the question. How good can the Thundering Herd be if they aren’t competing against high quality opponents?
  8. Tulsa (2-1): The duo of Jordan Clarkson and Justin Hurtt give this team a lot of talent in the backcourt. Add in newcomer Scottie Haralson, who is currently averaging 15 points, a game, and the Golden Hurricanes could a trio of guards that make them a threat come March. Battles with UNLV and potentially Stanford (if not Murray State) loom.
  9. Tulane (3-1): Kendall Timmons is having an outstanding start to the year, averaging 13.7 points in the conference. In addition, he is second in the conference in rebounds (11.3 rpg) and first in steals (3 spg). However, the Green Wave have beaten up on lowly Maryville and Centenary, so it is hard to tell what kind of a team they are at this moment.
  10. SMU (2-3): The Mustangs are the only team with a losing record in conference. However, that will most likely change with Wayland Baptist coming in on Wednesday. Not an ideal early start for SMU, but stout performances by senior center Papa Dia has people excited.
  11. Rice (3-1): Projected to be one of the worst teams in the conference by most analysts, the Owls have jumped off to a quick start, but don’t be fooled by the record. Last week’s 75-58 win over St. Gregory’s is nothing to get excited about. North Texas comes into tonight and should prove to be a good measuring stick. Arsalan Kazemi is currently leading the conference with 12 rebounds per game.
  12. East Carolina (3-2): Two losses to North Carolina State and Charlotte should have them ranked higher, but considering whom they have beaten, East Carolina is still a low tier team in this conference.

A Look Ahead

  • Memphis’ schedule only gets tougher: Surviving Miami and LSU wasn’t easy, however Memphis can’t be looking for a breather just yet. The team’s out of conference schedule only gets tougher from here.  The December schedule features a game against a tough Western Kentucky team, which is followed by games against Kansas and Georgetown. In addition, the Tigers will hit the road later this season to take on Tennessee and Gonzaga. Overcoming Miami’s backcourt tandem of Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant as Memphis did in the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon is a good sign for what is a very young and inexperienced backcourt. Freshmen Joe Jackson and Will Barton will be relied upon as the season progresses, an will certainly be tested during a tough opening stretch. Also, the duo has had to deal with the departure of the aforementioned Kendrick, which only increases the pressure.
  • UTEP enters pivotal nonconference stretch: At 2-1, the UTEP Miners could be looking at a sub-.500 record if they can’t pull out a key victory over either New Mexico State or Georgia Tech. Tonight UTEP hosts NMSU at 7:05 CST, while they travel to Atlantic City on Friday to play in the Legends Classic Championship where they will take on Georgia Tech. UTEP advanced to the championship in Atlantic City after a home victory against Western Carolina last week in the Legends Classic Regional’s.
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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by jstevrtc on January 26th, 2010

James Vickers is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

In what has been a crazy year defined by change for Conference USA, this past week in Conference USA basketball was no different. A streak ended, there is a new outright conference leader for the first time in four years, and there is a freshman who doesn’t go to Memphis that is grabbing national headlines. Marshall showed its conference-mates that they are a legitimate contender, even if they did go 0-2 for the week. Was losing a game addition by subtraction for Memphis? The Tigers had a streak end that we all know lasted for four years; however, the way they bounced back in their game against Houston, is the monkey off their back for the year? What is wrong with Tulsa? Is UTEP now the team to beat in conference play? Can the conference show any form or consistency whatsoever?

Many questions can be asked about conference play from the past week. I hope to tackle a number of these in the upcoming team capsules. What we did find out was that the conference race this year will go down to the wire. The parity in conference play will make for a better chance of multiple bids from CUSA.

UAB (5-0, 17-2)

The Blazers are off to the best start in school history since the 1985-86 and 1993-94 campaigns. The Blazers can also be considered this years “Cardiac Kids” and the school should consider giving free EKG’s to their fan base plans to watch their games night after night. Trailing with 5:30 left in the second half against Southern Miss (53-47) and going almost seven minutes without a field goal in the second half against Marshall, the Blazers showed their resiliency and fought through to come out of the week 2-0 and become co-leaders of the conference with Tulsa. Junior Elijah Millsap (younger brother of Utah Jazz F Paul Millsap) continues his solid conference play, registering his league best 10th double-double against Southern Miss but was held in check against a longer and more athletic Marshall. UAB will continue to rely heavily on their guard play from Millsap, using his size and strength to get to the basket with ease in a conference where size at the guard position is at a premium. Aaron Johnson will be the “Big Man on Campus” this week for the Blazers, hitting the game winner against Southern Miss and canning five free throws in the final five minutes of play against Marshall to help seal the win. UAB will continue to need this type of play from their guards Johnson and Millsap if they want to continue to lead CUSA as the play of their low post players has left people desiring more.  Howard Crawford continues to have a solid season (12.5/4.8) against Marshall with 19 pts and 8 rebs. The rest of league play will be much easier for the Blazers if they can rely on low post scoring from Crawford and the continued emergence of Johnson since his streaky beginning to the season. While UAB might not be the deepest or most talented team in CUSA, they have been battle-tested in out-of-conference play. The Blazers have a home-and-home remaining with Memphis and UTEP, and home games against Tulsa and Houston. The bulk of their schedule remains, but a regular season conference title is not out of the question.

Tulsa (5-0, 16-3)

The Golden Hurricanes struggled this week against what can only be defined as inferior opponents. Tulsa trailed by as much as 15 in a game where, to be honest, Oral Roberts should not have been on the court with them. But in rivalry games like the Mayor’s Cup, anything can happen. Should Tulsa worry from this game? I think so. Against a smaller, faster team, the Golden Hurricanes were clearly out-hustled in this game. Tulsa, who led the country in rebounding differential at 9.9 RPG, was out-rebounded with Jerome Jordan in foul trouble and on the bench for most of the game. Tulsa trailed in this game for almost 34 minutes. The Golden Hurricanes shot 22% behind the arc and a paltry 61% at the free throw line. Fast-forward to the Rice game, and the numbers aren’t much better. Tulsa’s trouble from behind the arc continued, shooting just 18%, and 68% from the free throw line. Can this be considered just a mid-season slump, or are there underlying issues that coach Doug Wojcik must take care of as the bulk of conference play remains and a date against Duke looming in the near future (Feb. 25.)

Marshall (4-1, 15-4)

In what can be described as a moral victory in the mold of Memphis’ game versus Kansas, Marhsall lost to West Virginia this week, 68-60. This game will be used as a measuring stick for the Marshall coaching staff down the road. Hassan Whiteside continues his assault on college basketball this year, turning in a solid outing against the Mountaineers with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. The Herd used a stifling zone in the first half that held the Mountaineers without a field goal for the first five minutes of the game. The use of this zone will come in handy in CUSA play against the likes of Memphis, UTEP, and Tulsa, who all like to drive to the basket and pound the ball down low. Against UAB, the Herd held the Blazers without a field goal for almost seven minutes in the second half, yet could not make it over the hump to finally take the lead for good. The Herd struggled mightily from behind the arc against UAB’s man defense, shooting just 11%, and only 59% from the free throw line. Youth can be blamed for many of the mid-season struggles that Marshall had this past week. With a Wednesday game this week against Memphis, Herd fans will finally be able to see…is this the year we make it over the hump, or will we have to wait another year?

Memphis (4-1, 14-5)

The streak is over. The world is ending in Memphis, some fans would say. Not the time to get down on your Tigers,  Memphis. Memphis’ failure to execute down the stretch cost the Tigers the game against UTEP. Alternating between man defense and a solid zone, UTEP hit some amazing shots down the stretch and the ball just didn’t bounce the Tiger’s way on Wednesday night. Tiger fans should take solace in the play of Pierre Henderson-Niles and Wesley Witherspoon. Showing a renewed toughness, Witherspoon has begun to use his size and versatility to get to the basket for shots and rebounds. Against UTEP, Witherspoon totaled 12/4 and against Houston he tallied 20/6 in what was his best line of the year. Niles has produced solid numbers as well over the past week with 7/9 and 8/7. This developing low post presence for the Tigers bodes well down the line. The breakout half for Roburt Sallie against Houston also is a welcome sign for coach Josh Pastner. While earning just three points in the first half against the Cougars, Sallie finished with 20/7. It was a welcome sight for Tiger fans that their players did not show any signs of a hangover against Houston, and actually showed new signs of life. You never want to lose, but especially not to UTEP where former Memphis coach Tony Barbee currently resides. But after this loss, the Tigers seemed to play a little less tight and enjoyed the game more. The final Memphis box score for the game:

MEMPHIS TIGERS
STARTERS MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
Pierre Henderson-Niles, F 24 4-7 0-0 0-3 1 7 0 1 1 2 1 8
Roburt Sallie, G 36 4-10 3-8 9-12 2 7 4 1 0 0 1 20
Wesley Witherspoon, G-F 29 7-11 2-2 4-6 2 6 2 2 2 2 5 20
Elliot Williams, G 23 3-3 0-0 4-6 0 0 1 0 0 2 4 10
Doneal Mack, G 34 7-11 2-4 1-1 1 2 5 1 2 1 3 17
BENCH MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
Willie Kemp, G 30 4-5 2-2 1-2 0 0 4 2 0 4 2 11
Will Coleman, F 18 1-2 0-0 2-5 2 6 0 0 1 0 4 4
D.J. Stephens, G-F 6 0-0 0-0 2-4 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 2
TOTALS FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
30-49 9-16 23-39 8 28 16 7 6 12 20 92

One could make the simple assumption early in the year that as Elliot Williams went, so did the Tigers. If Williams was on the bench, this would equal bad news. Against the Cougars, Williams was on the bench for approximately 17 minutes. This night, your role players stepped up and contributed. Could this be the game that finally turns the corner for many of these players? Solid contribution from Witherspoon on a game-by-game basis will propel the Tigers to the next level. Contribution on a nightly basis from either Doneal Mack or Roburt Sallie will also push the Tigers to further success. With games on the horizon against Marshall, UAB and Gonzaga, the Tigers will need solid contribution from their entire core to come out on the winning side in this stretch.

UTEP (4-1, 13-5)

Randy Culpepper could be the poster boy for the saying “size doesn’t matter.” Culpepper, it seems, has the green light to take a shot once he crosses onto the Miners’ side of the court. Culpepper (17/3/2) had a solid night in his return home to Memphis along with the two other Memphians on the UTEP bench, ending Memphis’ run on Conference USA. Playing with chips on their shoulders, Jeremy Williams chipped in 18/12, Culpepper tossed in 13/1 and Arnett Moultrie added 6/4 but was solid on the defensive end, keeping the Memphis wing players from driving to the basket. Is there much that can be taken from this game? I believe it further displayed what many have known all year about the Tigers. The trio of Williams, Moultrie and Derrick Caracter exposed Memphis’ lack of depth in the front court, and their energy around the basket on the offensive end of the court tipped the scales in their favor. Down the stretch, being able to alternate subbing between Caracter and Moultrie will spell big success for the Miners in conference play. If they can continue to get solid play from Williams after his breakout game against the Tigers, the Miners will be a top contender for the regular season title. If, however, the Memphis game was an aberration, with players playing over their heads coming home to play in the forum, this could spell trouble. Against a solid UCF team, UTEP took a step in dispelling this train of thought. Once again winning the rebounding battle against the Black Knights, the Miners leaned on their sharp shooter Randy Culpepper who threw in 39. With games against UAB and Houston on the schedule in the upcoming week, we will know more about the consistency of the Miners and where they really stand.

Houston (3-3, 10-9)

Aubrey Coleman will be a rich man this time next year. Having the opportunity to watch him a number of times this year, it is a joy to see him shoot the basketball. Not having much of a supporting cast, Coleman continued his assault on the CUSA record books this week with 30 and 32, respectively, against UCF and Memphis. You know what you are going to get from this super scorer every game. The question for the Cougars is:  where is the rest of our offense going to come from? Kelvin Lewis has been streaky at best this year. Most teams that have played the Cougars seem to take the stance that Coleman will get his points and we are not going to let the rest of the team beat us. Lewis tossed in 14/6 against the Black Knights but was a non-factor in the Memphis game. The other factor in Houston not having the year many thought they would is the inconsistent play of their low post players Maurice McNeil, Kahmell Broughton, Kendrick Washington, and Sean Coleman. McNeil has had solid games against UCF and Memphis, putting up 10/9 and 10/11, respectively, but he has received no help from any of the other players consistently throughout the year. If Houston wants to turn the corner for the rest of the year, S. Coleman, Broughton and Washington will need to put up better numbers off the bench to help the backcourt of Lewis and A. Coleman. This lack of production can be directly related to the close loss against the Black Knights and the blowout loss to the Tigers. Another thing that should worry the Cougars — though they usually take good care of the ball, the Tigers forced Houston into a new team high 16 turnovers.

UCF (2-3, 10-9)

“I wanna be like Marcus.” Marcus Jordan keyed the Black Knights’ big upset road victory Wednesday against Houston. Jordan tossed in 23 while A.J. Tyler had a career high 19 as the Black Knights used the same stifling defense they used to swarm Marshall in that close loss at home. UCF held the usually hot-shooting Cougars to 25% from the field. This game could be huge down the road as Houston and UCF could be jockeying for that 6-7 position come conference tournament time. Suffering from what could have been a hangover from the Houston win, UCF ran into a buzz saw on a hot streak called the UTEP Miners. This game further exploited what was said in the conference round up about the Black Knights, their lack of size. Out-rebounded 42-30, and held scoreless for the first five minutes of the second half, UCF cannot afford these lapses in offensive productivity and this lack of effort on the boards. UCF must use the same tactic that Memphis has had to use this year: rebounding by committee. That did not happen in their game against UTEP.  UCF has to capitalize against teams at home where they can use the crowd noise from their wonderful fan base. While not out of the race yet, UCF needs to use their speed in the back court to create havoc for teams with larger, slower guards.

SMU (1-3, 8-10)

While not a signature victory on which Matt Doherty can hang his hat, the Mustangs’ win over Rice can be a solid step forward for an SMU program looking for relevance in the league. Showing perseverance down the stretch when Rice had closed the gap to 69-65, SMU used solid free throw shooting to get their first conference win of the year against a team that pushed Tulsa and Memphis throughout their games with them. Getting solid production from Papa Dia and Derek Williams for most of the year, SMU can use this win as a building block and should key on games remaining against UCF, Tulane, Rice and East Carolina to build a conference record that will be respectable come tournament time.

Southern Miss (1-4, 11-8)

Larry Eustachy should be proud of the way his young team is performing in the face of adversity this year. Having already taken UTEP and Memphis to the wire earlier in the season, Southern Miss took it on the road to UAB. Gary Flowers continues to play outstanding basketball in his first year in CUSA. Currently, Flowers is fourth in CUSA in blocks per game (4) and sixth in rebounding per game (8). Flowers (25/10) was the only contributor for the Golden Eagles in that heartbreaking 57-56 loss to the Blazers, though USM used their man defense to hold the Blazers to 27% from behind the arc and only 40% from the field. If Southern Miss continues to play solid defense throughout the year, they will knock a few teams off down the road.

Tulane (1-4, 6-12)

Tulane dropped two games this week when it should have been 1-1. Tulane traveled to Marshall on Wednesday and dropped that game by ten, then came back home and dropped a game to a rebuilding ECU team by 15. Many of the Green Wave’s problems can be attributed to key injuries to starting PG Kevin Sims (12/3/3) and junior swingman Aaron Holmes (7/4/2.) Senior Asim McQueen has tried to pick up some of the slack for the Green Wave with a solid 20/10 effort against the Thundering Herd of Marshall and then faded back to obscurity with a 0/5 effort against ECU. This form of inconsistency has plagued a depleted and undersized Green Wave team all year. With Sims out, there is no real floor leader for the Green Wave or comforting factor for coach Dave Dickerson. Tulane is in for a long stretch down the road with these key injuries.

Players of the Week

Wesley Witherspoon (v. UTEP 12/4/1, v. Houston 20/6/2)

While this might seem like an off-the-wall pick, I am making this pick based on what it means to your respective team. Memphis has been looking all year for a consistent second scorer, and an alternate playmaker behind Elliot Williams. Witherspoon is slowly starting to turn the corner for Josh Pastner in providing that for his team. The question about Witherspoon is whether or not he can bring it every game, and be there mentally for the whole 40 minutes. Since the East Carolina game, “Spoon” has averaged 15 PPG and almost 5 RPG. This total would have possibly been higher if it wasn’t for an injury scare in the Rice game. If Witherspoon can provide that low post versatile wing compliment to Pierre Henderson-Niles on a consistent basis the rest of the year, they sky is the limit for the Tigers.

Aubrey Coleman (v. UCF 30/9/2 v. Memphis 32/4/1)

Of course I wasn’t going to leave off a player that puts up these types of numbers, even if they are in a loss. A 6’4 physical specimen that can create matchup problems at the 2, Aubrey Coleman is wowing many scouts at the next level with his solid shooting stroke and consistently beating most team’s best and second-best defenders at one time. Against UCF, Coleman showed his ability to get to the basket not only to score, but to get rebounds as well. Against a Memphis team that threw top perimeter defenders Roburt Sallie and Elliot Williams at him, Coleman threw in 32 while shooting 8-9 from the free throw line. That is possibly the most telling statistic about Coleman. While he might be shooting a lower percentage from the field, many of these misses are on drives to the basket where he gets fouled. He is shooting 72% from the free throw line, but over the last five it’s closer to 85%. If you have an opportunity to see Mr. Coleman play on TV or in person anytime soon, go watch this baller. He is well worth the admission.

Freshman/Newcommer of the weekHassan Whiteside (v. West Virginia 18/6/2 blocks, v. 11/13/5 blocks)

This week, Hassan Whiteside was able to show on ESPN why many are beginning to believe he might be a one-and-done diaper dandy. Against Da’Sean Butler and West Virginia’s frontcourt, Whiteside showed an athletic ability to get to the basket and rebound against bigger more experienced defenders. UAB used double teams against Whiteside but he contributed in other areas, like rebounding and altering shots under the basket. While both of these games were losses for his team, without Whiteside, Marshall is not the same team. Teams now have to alter game plans for Whiteside and in my mind that makes you an all-conference caliber of player.

Games of the Week

Tulsa v. UAB on Tuesday, January 26

This game could be a preview of the Conference USA Championship matchup. A few teams could have a say in that statement between now and then, but this game will be a good one. UAB cannot afford to fall behind by double digits in this one and Tulsa is a deep and talented team that can slow the game down if need be, and limit possessions for the Blazers. The key to the game will be whether or not UAB can slow down Jerome Jordan like Oral Roberts and Rice did with smaller big men and double teams. Tulsa leads the league in rebounding, but UAB is not far behind. Both teams take care of the ball, averaging only 13 TOPG a piece. Elijah Millsap will have another opportunity to shine and will not disappoint as Ben Uzoh will have his hands full.

Since this game’s in Birmingham and with the the home crowd behind the Blazers, UAB comes out on top 65-59

Memphis v. Marshall on Wednesday, January 27

Can Memphis contain Hassan Whiteside? If they can, how will they contain Trey Wilkerson? The Memphis frontcourt will be tested again, just like against UTEP. The emergence of Wesley Witherspoon is a positive for the Tigers and Pierre Niles’ play has been a pleasant surprise. The Tigers will need solid play from Will Coleman to match the athleticism of Whiteside when Niles is on the bench. I expect Memphis to play zone for a portion of this game and force the Herd to try and beat them from the outside, if the Memphis bigs get into foul trouble. Memphis has not always had an easy time playing in Huntington so this will be another good game between top teams in CUSA.

Marshall comes out on top in this one, 68-64.

UTEP v UAB on Saturday, January 30

UAB gets another big game at home in terms of conference positioning. UTEP has played well on the road this year in conference so far and I do not expect this to change. The front court of Arnett Moultrie and Derrick Caracter will challenge the Blazers more than Jerome Jordan of Tulsa, because Moultrie and Caracter are much more polished offensively than Jordan. Christian Polk and Randy Culpepper will extend the UAB man defense and I believe it will be too much for UAB. An ESPN analyst made the comment that UAB was the most talented team in CUSA; I tend to disagree. If Caracter can continue to play with his head on straight and play team basketball, UTEP can be a scary prospect.

UTEP wins another one on the road in an up and down affair, 85-79.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2010

Change

Bob Dylan wrote a famous song, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” One could make a valid argument that this could be the theme song for the Conference USA Men’s 2009-10 basketball season. For the first time since conference realignment and the 2005-06 season, a new preseason champion was selected (Tulsa), the conference tournament will not be held in Memphis (again, Tulsa) and the de facto commissioner of the league is no longer with us (John Calipari).

How will this “change” translate for the rest of the league? In speaking with many of the coaches around the league by the national media, most coaches are drooling at the chance of being the first to knock off Memphis and their amazing conference winning streak (currently the streak stands at 64 games lasting since March 2, 2006). While Memphis might not be the runaway favorite that so many have become accustomed too, this should translate into a positive for the league giving the conference regular and postseason a competitive edge it hasn’t seen in over five years. Nipping at the heels of Memphis this year will be the usual suspects of UTEP, Houston and Tulsa. The surprise of the year so far has been the excellent play of Marshall. Young, long, and talented, this will be one of the most exciting Marshall teams to date and one of the most competitive. CUSA shouldn’t sleep on this year’s sleeper team.

In the wake of John Calipari’s voluntary departure (or declaration of war as most Memphis fans have described) from Memphis, many coaches throughout the league are finding themselves on the proverbial hot seat. Fan bases are seeing this as the year certain coaches need to produce before Memphis has a chance to recuperate from its losses (Memphis brings in the #1 ranked recruiting class for the 2010-11 season) and return to league dominance. We start with Houston. Coach Tom Penders brings back one of the elite scorers in the league named Aubrey Coleman and a team that always seems to give Memphis a run each time they play. However, his lack of production in the postseason has put the coach in a sticky situation. Coach Mike Davis at UAB also finds himself looking over his shoulder more and more year after year. After initially getting a commitment from one of the top big men in the country last year in DeMarcus Cousins, it seemed that Coach Davis was finally going to turn the corner on recruiting in the state of Alabama. Unfortunately, Mr. Cousins is wearing blue not green this year, and to make matters worse, another seemingly solid pick up for Davis left the state for bluer pastures as well in Eric Bledsoe. Pair these mishaps with a disappointing season last year and Davis needs to produce this season with a team capable of pulling off some upsets. Lastly, Matt Doherty at SMU seems to already have a foot out of the door. This has been one of the biggest mysteries in my mind. With immaculate facilities, one of the largest cities in the US to recruit, and a fan base with deep pockets looking for a winner, Doherty has continually underachieved. A record of 33-58 over three years for Doherty looms ominous over a coach without a signature win.

What should be an entertaining year for the league has only gotten better with the improved play of Marshall and UAB. Both of these teams have some signature wins already under their belt this year along with currently being undefeated in league play. Tulsa and Memphis also find themselves undefeated but with a few losses that will not help the resume come NCAA tourney time. Let’s take a look at each team and see how their season is going.

Team Reviews

Marshall (4-0, 15-2) - HASSAN WHITESIDE HASSAN WHITESIDE HASSAN WHITESIDE… Remember that name folks. What is possibly the feel-good story of the year depending on if you are playing Marshall or not, Marshall has consistently improved year after year under coach Donnie Jones. With the addition of possible CUSA newcomer of the year Hassan Whiteside, Marshall boasts on of the best frontcourts in the league with he (13/9) and Tyler Wilkerson (13/7). Marshall trails only Tulsa in team rebounding at 40.1 per game. The post presence for Marshall will be the key all year.The early development has been the storyline of the year for the Thundering Herd. Throw in Tirrell Baines and Dago Pena and you have quality depth in your frontcourt along with guards Chris Lutz, Shaquille Johnson and Damier Pitts and Marshall could be poised to make a run not only at the regular season title but the conference title as well. Key out of conference wins for the Herd includes a win against an Old Dominion team who can boast a defeat of Georgetown. So long as this team can stay healthy and continues to play the uptempo style of ball that fits their personnel, the sky is the limit for the Thundering Herd in CUSA this year.

Tulsa (4-0, 14-3) – Even with the loss of shut down defender Ray Reese, Tulsa seems poised to snap Memphis’ streak of conference wins and tourney titles. Doug Wojcik returns a team with a lot of firepower both in the frontcourt and backcourt with many upperclassmen. Scouts are salivating over 7’0 PF/C Jerome Jordan. Jordan (14/8) continues to grow as a player with a developing back to the basket game and toughness on the defensive end of the court, and he is the star of this team. Bishop Wheatley, while undersized for a power forward, consistently outworks and outhustles bigger opposing players with his nonstop motor. Not a go to scorer or rebounding machine under the basket, Wheatley is the “glue” guy of this team giving minutes and hustle plays that don’t show up on a stat sheet.  In the backcourt, Tulsa relies on Ben Uzoh. A tweener in the mold of Elliot Williams for Memphis, Uzoh (17/5/4) is not a true PG but can get the job done and is a terrific on the ball defender. Justin Hurtt (16/4) is also a reliable threat with the ball in his hands. Tulsa can boast they have possibly the best backcourt in CUSA along with Memphis.  With wins against Oklahoma State and Nebraska out of conference and a big conference win at Houston, Tulsa has solidified themselves as the team to beat so far in CUSA. The season and conference tourney position could come down to the final game March 6 at Memphis. Tulsa travels to Duke on February 25 in what will obviously be used as a measuring stick for not only Jerome Jordan’s development as a play but Tulsa’s chances in the NCAA tournament. 

UAB (3-0, 15-2)Mike Davis has the Blazers on a roll. With the only truly bad loss on the schedule coming against a mediocre Kent State team early in the season, there is legitimate talk about UAB being the other sleeper in CUSA. With wins against solid SEC opponents Georgia and Arkansas and a solid Big East team in Cincinnati and mid-major power Butler, UAB has also quietly built a nice resume for the NCAA tourney. Consistency will be the key with this young team.  Transfer Elijah Millsap is as versatile of a player you will find in CUSA. At 6’6 and 218 lbs, Millsap (17/10) has the ability to break down a defender and get to the basket with his size and strength. Posting solid minutes against Cincinnati and super frosh Lance Stephenson, Millsap put up a solid line of 22 points and 15 rebounds in a win. Howard Crawford, starting at forward for the Blazers, has a developing inside-out game but is more comfortable around the basket where he can use his 240 pound frame to impose his will on opposing defenders.  With a bulk of their tough conference games still remaining, home/home with UTEP and Memphis, and home versus Houston, Tulsa and Marshall, it will remain to be seen how UAB will hold up against opponents that are familiar with their game plan. UAB will be a top four team come conference tournament time. 

Memphis (3-0, 13-4) – The streak continues. Some things have changed for the University of Memphis, this has not. Over 1100 days have passed since their last defeat in conference play. Will this be the year that streak comes to an end? All signs point to yes; however, don’t tell this team that or their new coach Josh Pastner.  Contending for Player of the Year honors with Aubrey Coleman and Newcommer of the Year honors with Hassan Whiteside, Elliot Williams (20/4/4) has been a true gift to Memphis in the wake of the turmoil that ensued in March. The key to the season for the Tigers will be who can step up as another reliable scorer for Memphis when teams key on him. Roburt Sallie (10/4) and Doneal Mack (10/2) have been inconsistent at best this year for the Tigers and no real inside presence has been established. Wesley Witherspoon (11/4) is a utility player able to play the 2, 3, 4 or 5 position for Memphis but is most comfortable on the wing. Will Coleman (7/6), the number two ranked JUCO player for 2008-09, has yet to produce consistently and adapt to the D1level. A prime example of Memphis’ erratic play can be seen in their one bad loss this year at UMass. Constantly outrebounded by smaller and less skilled players due to lack of hustle and poor positioning was the Achilles heel for Memphis in the UMass game. Usually one of the top rebounding teams in conference, it is rebounding by committee this year for the Tigers due to their lack of frontcourt depth. Will the streak continue? Watch ESPN on January 20 and 23 to find out.

Houston (3-1,10-7) – The roller coaster ride continues for a Houston squad that came into the season with high expectations. Losing starters Marcus Cousins (10/8) and Qa’rraan Calhoun (10/5) in the frontcourt obviously has hurt the Cougars. JUCO transfer Maurice McNeil (8/8) has helped weather the storm in the loss of Cousins and Calhoun but he is not getting much help from his cast of supporters: Sean Coleman, Nick Mosley and Kahmell Broughton. While the frontcourt is struggling for the Cougars, the back court tandem of Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis is thriving. Coleman (25/7/3 apg) and Lewis (17/4) could be considered the top backcourt in the league. Coleman continues to be Mr. Reliable with the basketball getting to the rim with ease due to his size and speed and Lewis could be described as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Houston leads the league in scoring at 83 points per game. Get ready for a track meet when UH comes to play. The lone “signature” win of the season for the Cougars comes against a struggling Oklahoma team dealing with frontcourt losses of their own in the Griffin brothers. Losses to Nevada, San Diego, Louisiana Tech and UT-San Antonio will leave Houston fighting in conference play and the conference tournament for a shot at the NCAA. The seat is getting a little hotter for Coach Penders down in Houston.

UTEP (2-1, 11-5) – Head coach Tony Barbee got a wonderful Christmas present this year named Derrick Caracter. The biggest question about Caracter will be his character. Can Barbee control this super-talented kid? Will he be able to ever produce like he did in high school and was recruited to do the same at Louisville? Can UTEP replace the scoring production vacated by Stefon Jackson? Many questions surround Tony Barbee down in El Paso.  The knock on Caracter about his attitude and overall approach to the game seems to have subsided somewhat now that he is playing under control. Averaging 14 points and 8 rebounds a game, it seems as he is showing a renewed commitment to the game and to his coach who, like his mentor John Calipari, is giving his star pupil a second chance. Randy Culpepper is not disappointing on the offensive end, averaging 16 points and 2.5 assists a game. The knock on Culpepper is his size. Listed at 6’0, Culpepper is more 5’9 to 5’10. However, you can’t teach will power, hustle or the way he can put the ball in the basket. After securing the starting job opposite Culpepper, Christian Polk as turned into a viable offensive threat averaging 11 points and 2 assists per game. After a big summer with USA basketball, Arnett Moultrie has gone from an under the radar forward — the kid with big potential — to averaging a solid 12 points and 7 rebounds a game. His production has slipped some since the arrival of Caracter, but he still continues to be a force in and around the basket that could earn him a big paycheck one day.  With a tough loss on the road to Houston, people have begun to question UTEP. I, on the other hand, feel this is as dangerous of a team as Marshall, Tulsa or UAB. The problem I see is effort for the whole game. With a frontcourt of Moultrie and Caracter, there is no reason UTEP should not be in the top five of the league in rebounding. This will be a scary team come conference tournament time and a tough out.

UCF (1-2, 9-8) – UCF will be a scary team this year in the conference as their overall record does not depict properly the type of team they have shown to be this year. Wins over UMass and Auburn and close defeats at the hands of USF and UConn, the Knights have a solid yet very young and inexperienced team. Consistency will play a key role with this team all year long.  Going up against Marshall earlier last week, UCF showed poise down the stretch running with a team that honestly was just better than they were. Guards Isaac Sosa and A.J. Rompza are good with the ball in their hands and excellent defenders even if they are undersized. Scoring distribution for this team is even as six players on the team average between 10 and 6 points per game.  While this is still a developing year for UCF, a #5 or #6 seed in conference play is not out of reach. Look for UCF to surprise some people at home this year.

Tulane (1-3, 6-11) – Tulane coach Dave Dickerson has amassed a record of 60-62 in his four-year tenure at Tulane. Quite a feat considering the academic standards he must abide by and a school still struggling in many ways post-Katrina. Posting a win already this year over conference foe Rice, Tulane relies heavily on the play of their guards Kris Richard (14/4/3) and Kevin Sims (12/3/3). As with any team that relies heavily on their guards, rebounding will be the biggest enemy of the Green Wave as they rank last in CUSA in rebounds per game. With recruit Rakeem Brookins on deck for the 2010-11 season, Tulane will only get stronger.

SMU (0-3, 6-10) - Coach Matt Doherty enters his fourth year with the Mustangs with an experienced roster yet not many expectations. Most recently against UAB the Mustangs were leading by 24 points yet lost the game 63-62. With the low post presence of Papa Dia (12/8) and Mouhammad Faye (12/6) and guard play of Derek Williams (16/3) and Paul McCoy (8/4), few can find a reason as to why the Mustangs aren’t more competitive. Consistently underachieving year in and year out, Doherty is running out of excuses. Boasting some of the best facilities in the league and being able to recruit from one of the largest cities in the US, SMU has to produce better. Non-conference games against Occidental College, Florida Gulf Coast, and Houston Baptist are unacceptable in D1 basketball. The four-point win against Huston-Tillotson was laughable at best.

Southern Mississippi (0-3, 10-7) - Larry Eustachy finds himself with one of his more talented teams in recent memory at Southern Miss. Newcommers Maurice Bolden and Gary Flowers give the Golden Eagles something to cheer about down in Hattiesburg. Flowers (14/8) is a physical small forward that can use his size and strength to get to the basket at will. Highly recruited out of high school from Texas, Flowers spent the last year at Chipola Junior College before transferring to the Golden Eagles to give them more depth in the frontcourt.  As with any young team, the Golden Eagles have experienced some growing pains this year but have displayed the ability to hang with teams more talented than they. After leading for a majority of the Ole Miss game, Southern Miss fell 81-79 in the final minutes. Against a Memphis team that came out firing on all cylinders, the Golden Eagles trailed by 15 at the half, yet came out with much more intensity in the second half holding Memphis to only two made FGs only to fall by a bucket, 59-57. Another team that is looking to the future, Eustachy has a talent base growing down in Hattiesburg that will cause the rest of the conference to take notice in the coming years.

East Carolina (0-4,6-12) – East Carolina finds themselves struggling this year. Losses to Wake Forest and Clemson can be deemed acceptable for a team continuing to build; however, losses to Campbell and Northern Iowa hurt the overall conference RPI and can deal a blow to a team that was expecting to win between 14 and 16 games this year. Brock Young is possibly one of the best players in America you haven’t heard of. Playing with a lack of interior post presence, Young is a 5’11 PG putting the team on his shoulders and getting what he can while averaging 16 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists a game. While 0-4 in conference, the meat of their conference schedule is behind them (@UAB, @Memphis, Houston, Marshall) and the rest of the conference schedule sets up nicely for this young team to continue to grow and develop the young talent they have in Wakefield Ellison, Corvonn Gaines and Erin Straughn. While eight wins in conference play might be asking a lot for a young team without much frontcourt help, it is a solid goal that I believe the Pirates can achieve.

Rice (0-4, 6-11) - With a newly renovated arena and one of the best freshman classes the Rice basketball program has seen, the future looks bright for the Owls. Unfortunately, this year will be a year of growing pains for a team with a bright future. With the only true loss from the 2008-09 season being Rodney Foster (13.4 ppg), the Owls return Trey Stanton, Conor Frizzelle and Lawrence Ghoram. The additions of highly touted Tamir Jackson and Arsalan Kazemi will be a solid foundation for the Owls to build on.  Having watched the Rice versus Memphis game this past week, I came away very impressed with Stanton (9/4), Jackson (12/3) and Kazemi (10/8). Kazemi is a basketball coach’s dream. He is a  hard-nosed player who has a knack for always attacking the basket. With Memphis’ lack of size and aggressiveness inside, Kazemi (15/11 vs. Memphis) had an array of putback dunks and a quick first step to the basket driving against his defender. Trey Stanton, while not your typical low post player, is a versatile big man that can step out and hit the mid-range jumper to the three-point line. He will not be much of a force against powerful low post players but can use his speed and range to exploit slower lumbering defenders. Against Pierre Niles and Will Coleman for Memphis he put up 18 points on 6-12 shooting from the field and 2-3 from the 3-point line. Tamir Jackson had a tougher night going up against two of the better on-ball defenders in the league in Willie Kemp and Elliot Williams. Yet, he showed poise and tempo under pressure that should make Ben Braun a happy coach for the next few years.

Games of the Week (January 17-23)

1/20 – #12 West Virginia @ Marshall – How far would this go in solidifying Marshall as a legitimate power in Conference USA? It would put them ahead of Tulsa as league leader in my book. Marshall averages 40.1 rebounds per game and relies heavily on Hassan Whiteside who Bob Huggins will almost assuredly key all of his defensive focus. Da’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks will be a tough threesome for Marshall to handle. Tyler Wilkerson and Whiteside will have their hands full inside. Coming off a one point loss to Syracuse, West Virginia will be looking to rebound. Marshall would love to pick up this win as their next stretch of games includes UAB and Memphis at home. This is a critical stretch of games in the schedule for the Thundering Herd as it could spell huge success for the season or whether there is still growing to do. 2-1 through this stretch would work wonders for the Herd’s confidence but I see more along the lines of 1-2.

Prediction: West Virginia comes out on top in this one, 85-70.

1/20 – UTEP v. Memphis (CSS) – Tony Barbee returns to Memphis with probably his best chance of beating the Tigers at home for the foreseeable future. The frontcourt of Moultrie and Caracter will be a lot for Pierre Henderson-Niles, Will Coleman, Wesley Witherspoon and the undersized DJ Stephens to handle. The backcourt tandems provide intriguing matchup possibilities. Randy Culpepper returns home to Memphis with Julyan Stone and Christian Polk to match up against Willie Kemp, Elliot Williams and Roburt Sallie. Kemp, Williams and Sallie are three of the most tenacious on ball defenders in CUSA routinely shutting down threats from outside every week. Randy Culpepper always seems to put on a show when he comes to Memphis so look for some fireworks in this matchup. The key to this game will be whether Memphis do a good enough job by committee on Caracter and Moultrie while the guards go to work. You could see a lot of zone from Memphis in this game if Niles, Coleman or Witherspoon get into foul trouble.

Prediction: I think FedEx Forum and the crowd Memphis will have on their side keeps the streak alive, 73-68.

1/23 – Houston v. Memphis (ESPN2) – Memphis will be coming off an emotional game against UTEP three days earlier, while Houston will be coming off a game against UCF. Memphis matches up much better against Houston than UTEP but Aubrey Coleman can keep Houston in any game. Houston faces some of the same interior problems Memphis faces when it comes to play of their big men. JUCO big men Will Coleman and Maurice McNeil will go head to head in this one at some point. This will be a good game to gauge how far each has come since the beginning of the season as each of their skill sets mimic each other. In this one, the battle again will be between the guards, Elliot Williams and Aubrey Coleman. Coleman has not seen a defender like Williams. Elliot can play on both ends of the court while Coleman is a much greater offensive threat than defensive. I believe you will see Tom Penders run a team of defenders against Elliot Williams or at some point play a zone if Memphis is cold from outside the arc. Games like these are where Elliot’s supporting staff needs to step up. The solid play of Willie Kemp again has been a surprise, but Doneal Mack, Roburt Sallie and Wesley Witherspoon need to step up and make plays. 

Prediction: Memphis escapes again thanks to the Sixth Man, the FedEx forum crowd, 79-71.

1/23 – UAB v. Marshall – Marshall will be coming off a highly emotional game against West Virginia. Elijah Millsap will be key getting to the basket and taking advantage of his mismatches. This game could determine conference positioning from #2-#5. A must-win at this point early in the season for both teams.

Prediction: Marshall takes it at home, 68-63.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted 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.

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