RTC Summer Updates: Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 18th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our newest update comes courtesy of our Conference USA correspondent, Steve Coulter.

Reader’s Take I

Summer Storylines

  • Joe Jackson Goes Patriotic: The Memphis guard and MVP of the CUSA Championship was selected as a member of USA Basketball’s U-19 Would Championship squad on June 23. After a week of training camp, Jackson was among the final twelve players selected by the USA Basketball committee. The squad left for Europe on June 30 and returned July 10. While Team USA disappointed in finishing fifth, Jackson more than held his own against some of the top international talent in the world, averaging over 11 points and 4 assists in 9 games. Jackson was accompanied to Latvia for the competition with eleven other collegiate sophomores including Michigan State’s Keith Appling, Villanova’s James Bell, Stanford’s Anthony Brown, Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr., Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb, Illinois’ Meyers Leonard, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, North Texas’ Tony Mitchell, Butler’s Khyle Marshall and Florida’s Patric Young.

Memphis guard Joe Jackson was a bright spot for Team USA in Latvia, despite a fifth-place finish in the FIBA U-19 World Championships. (Vytautas Mikaitis)

  • Thundering Herd Runs Deep: Marshall already had one of the more loaded backcourts heading into the 2011-12 season with stars Damier Pitts and DeAndre Kane, but with the addition of Justin Coleman, a one-time Louisville commit, the Thundering Herd will certainly have the deepest backcourt the conference has to offer. Coleman sat out last year, but he will be coming off the bench as a shooting guard this season. Along with Coleman, junior college transfers Robert Goff and Dennis Tinnon will be new faces for the Herd. Goff and Tinnon are strong power forwards, looking to aid a weak Marshall frontcourt.
  • Memphis Coaching Legend Larry Finch Passes Away: Former Memphis coach Larry Finch passed away from natural causes at Saint Francis Hospital in Memphis on April 2 at the age of 60. Finch finished his career with the most wins in Tiger basketball history, a record he still holds today. Before leading the Tigers from 1986-97, Finch was a player at Memphis from 1970-73 and worked as an assistant at his alma mater from 1979-86. He passed away as not only a celebrated coach of the game, but a rare influence at the collegiate level. During his 11-year stint as head coach, Finch had seven 20-win seasons, made six NCAA appearances, amassed 220 wins and propelled 7 former players into NBA Draft selections. He finished his career with a loaded resume, having taken his alma mater to the Final Four, getting his jersey retired by the program and becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis: Freshman swingman Adonis Thomas, the No. 16 ranked prospect on Scout Inc.’s Top 100, is the conference’s best newcomer and he joins the already lethal Wesley Witherspoon as a scorer on a loaded Tigers roster that includes two of the nation’s best young guards in Joe Jackson and Will Barton. Head coach Josh Pastner can continue his Conference USA dominance this season, but the Tigers need to play solid defense and claim more out of conference wins then they did last season. Otherwise, they will be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives again come March.  As of now, Witherspoon and Barton are two of only four Conference USA prospects in the Top 100, ranking in at No. 79 and No. 80, respectively. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Daily Diaries: First Four – Tuesday

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2011

RTC will be covering the NCAA Tournament from cover to cover this year, with correspondents at each of the fourteen sites over the next three weeks.  These diaries are intended to give you insights to the games, coaches, players, fans media and everything else that you wouldn’t otherwise have known simply from watching on television.  As always, feel free to offer suggestions for feedback in future versions that we can pass along to our correspondents.  Here’s Tuesday’s Diary from Dayton…

The First Four, Tuesday – by John Stevens

What a privilege to be in attendance for history. Assuming the First Four sticks and they bring it back every year, we can say we were at the first First Four. It took a while for UD Arena to fill, but not only was the 6:30 PM ET start time a tad early for a Tuesday night game, but the interstate highways near the arena are undergoing construction, resulting in several bottlenecks and resultant standstills. If you were hoping to slide in just a few minutes before tipoff of either game, there’s no way you made it. By the late second half of UALR vs UNCA, the place was about 80% full.

Here’s how cruel fate can be: when UAB (and VCU, for that matter) were announced as having made the Tournament, you probably heard what ESPN’s Jay Bilas thought of it. That soundbite, by now, is famous; you know, the one where he slams the committee for letting those two teams in ahead of Colorado and Virginia Tech, even wondering if the committee was aware that basketballs were, in fact, round. On the drive up here today, I was listening to ESPN radio play a clip with the response by UAB’s senior guard Aaron Johnson, the Conference USA Player of the Year. In it, Johnson said, “Nothing stopped me from dancing in my room when they announced us, and even when Jay Bilas was talking down about us and everything, we’re just happy to get to play.” That’s a great response, a kid sticking up for his team and his school. There is no other response. Late in the game against Clemson, the matter all but decided, Johnson hustled back to defend what turned out to be a run-out layup with an and-one opportunity for Clemson. Johnson fell awkwardly, but the play happened right in front of me and it looked like a simple cramp. Wrong. Johnson broke his tibia on the play. The replay showed a left limb that simply should not move the way a foot and leg should. When he was taken off the floor, he tried to restrain his tears. He failed. He and his trainers went right by me en route back to the locker room. The look on Johnson’s eyes was not just one of immense pain. It was one of soul-consuming fear, a look of a kid who wondered if he’d ever walk normally again, let alone ever play basketball for money, as he was poised to do someday. A broken tibia entails an arduous recovery and a long rehab. We hope he makes it all the way back, and fulfills his dreams. The most evil aspect of this was noted in a tweet by Mid-Majority’s Kyle Whelliston — and that’s the fact that if UAB wasn’t selected for the Tournament, Johnson doesn’t play in this game.

What strange statistics at halftime of UAB/Clemson. At the break, UAB was 2-12 from inside the two-point arc, but 7-15 outside of it. Clemson, by contrast, couldn’t hit from three-point range, shooting 1-7. Inside the arc, they fared much better in the first half, hitting a blistering 14 of 20 shots! In the second half, the Tigers fared slightly better from range, hitting 3-6, but a couple of those were late-minute bombs from subs. With just about three minutes remaining, Clemson had shot only two treys, hitting one of them. It’s not something Clemson does well to begin with, and this is the time of year where one of the best things you can do is know yourself. By now, teams should know their strengths and weaknesses, what to avoid, and the best way to play up what they do best. If you don’t have long range shooters, hey, don’t shoot a lot of threes. Not that seven three-point attempts is a lot for a half, but you know this was a point emphasized by Clemson head coach Brad Brownell at halftime. His team followed through, and put the Blazers away easily in the second half on the strength of good shot selection — and, of course, multiple turnovers by UAB.

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RTC Live: First Four — Day One

Posted by jstevrtc on March 15th, 2011

Welcome to…history.

RTC is proud to be in Dayton for the debut of the First Four. No mere kickoff event, this, and certainly no play-in set of games, so don’t even call it that. This is the official first round of the NCAA Tournament. Each of the two days will feature a game between two winners of smaller-conference tournaments followed by a game pitting two of the last four at-larges granted admission. On Tuesday, Solomon Bozeman leads his Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans and one of the best three point shooting teams in the nation (their 39.8% from range was 12th in the country) against Big South Tournament champions UNC-Asheville, who will try to keep the pace quick and coax unforced errors out of UALR (UNCA forced 17 turnovers per game against its opponents, 7th nationally). After that one, UAB and their trio of double-figure scorers — namely, Jamarr Sanders (17.7 PPG), Cameron Moore (14.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG) and Aaron Johnson (12.0 PPG, 7.7 APG) — take on Clemson, a team whose defense held opponents to 0.898 points per possession during the season, 10th in the nation. The first game tips off at 6:30 PM ET on TruTV. We hope you’ll have us alongside for both of them, and join in the conversation. Let’s Dance!

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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2011

Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay so we may as well get used to it. The road from 68 pretenders to 16 contenders begins on Tuesday night at the First Four in Dayton, and we’ll be breaking down every game for you throughout. Here’s tonight’s two games, and keep in mind that we’ll have a correspondent with RTC Live at every single game in this year’s Big Dance.

#16 UNC-Asheville vs. #16 Arkansas-Little Rock – Southeast Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 6:30 pm ET on truTV.

Primm & UNCA Are Primed for Tonight

The NCAA Tournament tips off with the first round in Dayton tonight. Arkansas-Little Rock is making its third NCAA appearance, its first in 21 years since losing to UNLV in the first round of the 1990 Tournament, while UNC-Asheville is here for the second time in its history. These teams play a vastly different style of basketball and whoever can impose their will on the game will likely win. The Bulldogs of Asheville are much better defensively, ranked #89 in efficiency and first in the Big South Conference. They’ve won six straight games and no opponent has scored more than 63 points against them during this streak. Asheville likes to play at a quick pace and ranks tenth in defensive turnover percentage. They have to speed up this game and create a positive turnover margin in order to take Little Rock out of their comfort zone, a halfcourt setting. Turnovers have been a problem for Asheville (15 per game) with their two best players, guards Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm, accounting for six of those combined. With center D.J. Cunningham injured, Asheville has to depend on its backcourt almost exclusively. The Trojans shoot 39.7% from three (#12 nationally) but this guard-oriented team gets very little production inside. South Florida transfer Solomon Bozeman is by far their best player, averaging 16.5 PPG on 46.4% shooting from distance. If the shots aren’t falling, Little Rock will have a tough time winning this game. Guards control tempo and that will determine the outcome tonight.

The RTC Certified Pick: UNC-Asheville.

#12 Clemson vs. #12 UAB – East Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 9 pm ET on truTV.

Stitt Is Happy to be Dancing Again

The most stunning and controversial inclusion into this year’s field was UAB, whose conference tournament quarterfinal loss to East Carolina was believed to have sealed their NCAA fate. Instead, the Blazers’ stellar RPI boosted their credibility in the eyes of the committee enough to warrant a spot in the newly instituted at-large play-in games in Dayton. They’ll take on Clemson, a team whose late-season wins over Virginia Tech and Boston College aided their cause. The Tigers new head coach, Brad Brownell, always sported formidable defensive units during his time at Wright State; his debut season at Clemson has proved no different as the Tigers rank ninth in the nation in defensive efficiency. Clemson has held opponents to a meager 44% from two-point territory and 32% from three-point range. The Tigers also boast a capable senior inside-outside duo in Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, the latter ranking near the top of the nation in effective FG%, offensive rebounding and shot blocking. But the real matchup to watch involves Stitt against UAB point guard Aaron Johnson, a true floor general in every sense of the word. Johnson ranks fourth in the country in assist rate and the onus will be on Stitt to make life miserable in the halfcourt for Johnson. Both teams are below average when it comes to offensive efficiency when compared to other NCAA Tournament participants. Which point guard performs better between Stitt and Johnson could very well determine the outcome. We’re more trusting of Clemson’s talented supporting cast – Andre Young, Tanner Smith, Devin Booker and the aforementioned Grant to name a few – to make life easier for their point guard.

The RTC Certified Pick: Clemson.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2011

 

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

 

  • Conference USA/Fox Deals Hit Road Bump: What was originally believed to be a finalized deal between Conference USA and Fox has hit a road block. The deal between the two organizations was reached last month, totaling in $43 million deal that gives media rights of the conference to the Fox entertainment network. The problem that has risen stems from the conference’s current rights holders—ESPN and CBS College Sports. Both media outlets feel their current contracts with C-USA should allow them to offer a new package, or deal, before a company like Fox can interfere. ESPN told the SportsBusiness Journal, “Conference USA never fulfilled their contractual obligation relating to ESPN’s future rights. We are exploring possible solutions to resolve this situation but remain prepared to take any necessary steps to protect our rights.” The agreement, which seemed to be a lock, has apparently infringed upon some rights, which could come down to a courtroom settlement, if not worse.
  • UTEP’s Floyd Escorted Off Court By Cop, Lands On National TV: UTEP’s losing skid reached an all-time low when head coach Tim Floyd was ejected and escorted off the floor at Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum last Wednesday night by a police officer. Floyd’s rant and overreaction caught the eye of the national media, landing on ESPN’s SportsCenter the following morning. The loss was the Miners third in four games, and allowed their opponent, ECU, to snap a three-game losing skid of their own.
  • UAB Gets To Ten Conference Wins, Holds Slim Lead: The Blazers eclipsed the 20-win mark and earned their 10th win in conference play, when they beat Houston last weekend, 68-55. With the win, UAB moves into sole possession of first place with two games to go. They have a one game lead over UTEP, Memphis, So. Miss and Tulsa. The loss was Houston’s ninth in ten games, dropping them to the bottom of the conference standings.
  • So. Miss Loses Nail-Biter to UCF. The Knights won for the fourth time in five games, edging the Golden Eagles 65-64 last weekend at home. Although the Knights have played themselves out of a bid to the NCAA tournament, the team has fought back from a horrible start in conference play. Reserve guard A.J Rompza hit a deep three-pointer to give the Knights their fifth conference win of the season with 3.8 seconds remaining. Michael Jordan was in attendance to see his son Marcus score 20 points, which tied for the game high.
  • UTEP Demolishes Memphis at Home, Following Losing Skid: The Miners beat the Tigers soundly over the weekend, 74-47, behind a big performance from senior Randy Culpepper. The guard finished with 20 points, four assists and four rebounds. Memphis entered the game winners of five of their last six, but failed to find consistency offensively, recording a mere 20 points in the first half.
  • Marshall Edges SMU at Home: A nine-point surge late in the second half of last Saturday’s contest allowed the Thundering Herd to reach 20 wins on the season and improve to 8-6 in conference played. Marshall beat visiting SMU 64-62, following Robert Nyakundi’s three-pointer with seven seconds left, which got the Mustangs within two, 62-60. Damier Pitts drained two key free throws, finishing with 19 points and six assists. Papa Dia’s double-double couldn’t get SMU the key road win.
  • Tulsa Tops Tulane: Kendall Timmons continued a spectacular individual season for lowly Tulane, dropping 27 points and grabbing ten rebounds, while recording five steals in a losing effort. The Golden Hurricane out dueled the Green Wave, 66-59, behind a 24-point effort from Justin Hurtt.
  • East Carolina Keeps Rice Buried With Late Three-Pointer. In another close contest, ECU nipped Rice thanks in large part to Jontae Sherrod, who drained a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left on Saturday to help the Pirates edge the Owls 71-68. The Pirates knocked down 14 three-point baskets in the contest.

Power Rankings

 

  1. UAB (20-7, 10-4) – UAB controls its own destiny with one to play. They can lock up the conference’s coveted No. 1 seed by knocking off Southern Miss on Wednesday night. Jamarr Sanders, Cameron Moore and Aaron Johnson give this team a trio of consistent performers, while Ovie Soko, Dexter Fields and Preston Purifoy have shown up as solid role players.
  2. Southern Miss. (21-7, 9-5) – The Golden Eagles have won seven of their last nine and an early season victory over UAB could help the team claim the conference’s top spot, if they can top the Blazers once again on Wednesday. Gary Flowers’ 19.3 points per night and 7.7 rebounds a game has certified him as a conference first team member.  
  3. UTEP (21-7,9-5) – Despite a solid overall record, the Miners could fail to get a spot in the Big Dance if they can’t propel themselves to 11 conference wins and a top two or three seed in the conference tournament. It will be a season of disappointment if UTEP is a No. 4 or No. 5 seed heading into the conference tournament.
  4. Memphis (21-8, 9-5) – Memphis has to win both games this week to earn a top spot in the postseason tournament. Josh Pastner’s club has a postseason berth right now, but it isn’t guaranteed.  
  5. Tulsa (16-12, 9-5) – This Tulsa team has silently crept up in the conference standings and with a big game against USM this weekend, they can claim a partial share of the conference crown. Justin Hurtt has been the team MVP but transfer Scottie Haralson has to have the coaching staff pleased with how he has seamlessly transitioned.
  6. Marshall (20-9, 8-6) – Two losses to top dog UAB hurts, however, this is a different team at this point in the season. Marshall has won five in a row since their lose to the Blazers on February 9. Marshall deserves to be ranked higher truthfully, the team’s guard play is outstanding spearheaded by 5’10-junior Damier Pitts and newcomer DeAndre Kane. The 6’4’ guard for Pittsburgh has made his case as Freshman of the Year.  
  7. SMU (17-11, 8-6) - Beware of the Mustangs come conference tournament time. SMU has beaten Memphis, Southern Miss., and Tulsa. They could potentially be a spoiler team with Papa Dia down low.  
  8. UCF (18-9, 5-9) – It’s interesting to think about the Knights finishing the season with four straight wins and a 20-9 record. If they sweep this week, they will have beaten UTEP, Southern Miss, SMU and Marshall. Their only non-conference win of real value is against Florida, which won’t get them into the Big Dance, but they have an opportunity—like Marshall and SMU to play spoiler and potentially ruin a bid that appears to be on the table for a lackluster Tigers team or a struggling Miners club.
  9. East Carolina (15-13, 7-7) – The Pirates got their biggest win last week, knocking of UTEP at home and causing Tim Floyd to freak, however ECU finishes against Memphis and UAB. There path in the conference could look similarly as they are the No. 8-seed currently.
  10. Rice (12-16, 4-10) – They will battle on Saturday night to finish the season. If they top the Cougars, and spoil Tulsa’s top-spot opportunity when they host the Golden Hurricane tomorrow then they will be in for a 6-10 record in conference, which was a lot better than expected. So far they have only beaten one top team in conference—Memphis—and could use the morale boost after another trying year.
  11. Houston (12-15, 4-10) – Maurice McNeil can do a lot of things—13.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.5 BPG— but he can’t do everything. The Cougars need a third contributor to join McNeil and Adam Brown, which would give them three double-digit scorers. So far this season, the team hasn’t found that consistency and is paying for it harshly, losing nine of their last ten and being denied more than 71 points in every loss. Although it’s not a drastically bad offense, the Cougars simply can’t win games with this style of play.
  12. Tulane (12-15, 2-12). Like McNeil, sophomore forward Kendall Timmons does everything for the Green Wave. He averages 16.9 PPG, 3,3 APG, 8.7 RPG and 1.9 SPG. An unbelievable season no doubt for Timmons, he will get to show off his talent in a matchup for last place against Houston tomorrow night.

A Look Ahead

  • Regular Season Winding Down: After this weekend’s round of games, it is off to the conference tournament, where teams will duke it out for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, C-USA spoiled a bid for an at-large team as Houston went on a heroic four-day triumph out of nowhere to get to the Big Dance. This year, several mid-tier teams could prove to be the shocker. As we all know, anything can happen in March.
  • UAB and So. Miss Claw For First: As previewed, the Blazers and the Golden Eagles will go head-to-head tomorrow night in Reed Green Coliseum, where USM has only lost twice this season. Gary Flowers is the player to watch in this one, if he can go for 22 points like he did on the road against UAB on February 2, then Southern Miss will be the top team in conference and in control of their own destiny on the road against Tulsa on Saturday.
  • UCF Looks To Continue Streaks Over Mustangs, Herd: The Knights of Central Florida went through some trying times only weeks ago. Although they may not be able to erase those mistakes, UCF hasn’t given up and they won’t die easy. One of the brightest teams in the first half of the season, the Knights fire went out, only to come back on with a few weeks to go. Donnie Jones was primed for Coach of the Year. He may not get it now, but he has my vote.
  • UTEP Hosts Red-Hot Marshall In Battle of Top Guards: It’s hard to find better guard play than that of UTEP and Marshall. Luckily, these two squads face off at the Don Haskins Center for a game that is crucial for both teams. The Miners rank No. 29 in the nation in assists spearheaded by Randy Culpepper, Christian Polk and Julyan Stone.
  • Memphis Tries to Recover Against ECU, Tulane: On paper, the Tigers have the easiest path however a road game against ECU early in the week could knock them out of contention for the No. 1 spot. Saturday’s game against Tulane should be an easy win.
  • Tulsa Awaits Home Duel With So. Miss on Saturday. With a win on Wednesday, Tulsa will also be in control of their own destiny. A win at home against USM could very possibly give them the top spot in the conference, if the Golden Eagles clip the Blazers earlier in the week. However, Tulsa isn’t a good road team and Rice, their opponent on Wednesday, will give them a good game.
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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 2011

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Memphis Earns Big Conference Win, Knocks Off Southern Miss.: Although the Tigers have won their last three games by a total margin of 11 points, Memphis has been good enough of late to position itself only a half-game back of the conference lead. The team’s win over Southern Mississippi on Saturday may have been their biggest, knocking the Golden Eagles a game back in the conference standings. Tarik Black, who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, led the Tigers. Will Barton added 16 points, extending Memphis’ streak to 16 straight wins over Southern Miss.
  • Sanders and Johnson carry UAB to Victory Over Rice: Jamarr Sanders scored 37 points in a career night, while fellow teammate Aaron Johnson also enjoyed a career night as he became UAB’s all-time leader in assists. The Blazers overcame a four-point halftime deficit, dropping the Owls 74-68 following a 16-5 second-half run that gave the Blazers a lead with under eight minutes remaining. Johnson had nine assists, four of which came in the run.
  • Houston Survives At Home, Drops Tulane to Basement: Tulane’s descent in the conference standings continued last weekend as the Green Wave lost 79-68 on the road to Houston. The Cougars cruised the entire game, leading by as many as 17 points in the second half. Maurice McNeil played a big part in the win, finishing with a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
  • UTEP Stays Atop Conference Despite Dia’s Double-Double: Papa Dia scored 18 points and grabbed ten rebounds in a 67-57 loss to UTEP last weekend as the Miners stayed atop of the Conference USA standings. Christian Polk and Randy Culpepper led the way, finishing with 18 points and 14 points, respectively. SMU got within four late in the game, but the Miners limited the Mustangs to only three shots the rest of the way, and held them scoreless.
  • UCF Snaps Losing Streak, Nips Tulsa at Home. The Knights snapped their eight-game losing streak as the beat Tulsa 58-57 last weekend. Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan scored 16 and 15 points, respectively, as UCF escaped the conference cellar for the first time in a few weeks. Justin Hurtt led all scorers, dropping 23 points and grabbing five rebounds.
  • Pitts Leads Thundering Herd in Crucial Road Win. With the threat of being 3-7 in conference looming, Marshall earned a huge win on the road, dropping East Carolina, 78-65. The Thundering Herd went up 13 points in the first half and held on to win by that margin. Damier Pitts scored a career-high 28 points in the win, leading the Herd with seven late points to ward off the Pirates.

Power rankings

  1. UTEP (19-5, 7-2) – The top of the conference will see some hearty action in the middle of this week as UTEP takes on the fourth place So. Miss, while No. 2 and No. 3 will square off the very same night. Randy Culpepper continues to be a team leader, while Christian Polk, Jeremy Williams and Julyan Stone continue to be key role players. Everything is going nicely for Tim Floyd’s club.
  2. Memphis (19-6, 7-3) – Josh Pastner has his club playing for its 20th win of the season this week. However, the Tigers are still a half-game back of UAB in the conference standings, but get a chance to correct that when the two teams face off this week. The 42nd-ranked scoring offense has been stabilized in recent weeks, the Tigers haven’t scored more than 70 in their last five contests.
  3. UAB (18-6, 8-3) – The Blazers have won five of their last six and have a big matchup looming against Memphis this Wednesday. The team has three alpha dogs in Jamarr Sanders, Cameron Moore and Aaron Johnson, but it also has two trustworthy supporters in Ovie Soko and Dexter Fields. Moore and Soko have combined to average a little under 16 rebounds. Johnson has been a force in the backcourt, averaging 7.5 assists.
  4. Southern Miss. (18-6, 7-4) – The loss to Memphis hurts a little bit, but the Golden Eagles can erase that if they can top UTEP on Wednesday. So. Miss continues to battle for the top conference spot, a position that undoubtedly would help their at-large chances come March. The 19th-ranked rebounding team in the country will need to continue to thrive under the basket.
  5. SMU (15-9, 6-4) – The Mustangs got beat by the best team in conference, but Papa Dia and Robert Nyakundi are still enjoying great seasons as they have SMU solidified in the fourth spot in the conference rankings. Upcoming games against Houston, Tulsa and Rice are all must wins.
  6. Marshall (16-9, 4-6) – DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts have kept the Thundering Herd alive as the team prepares for its final stretch of the regular season. If these two guards can continue to flourish, then this team has a chance to contend.
  7. Tulsa (13-11, 6-4) – Justin Hurtt carried the team in its worst loss of the season last weekend as the Golden Hurricane fell to lowly UCF. Tulsa needs to redirect itself at this point.
  8. East Carolina (13-11, 5-5) – Inconsistent play has bogged down the Pirates as they yet to compile a two game winning streak since January 22. However, ECU has avoided multiple losses in a row. The schedule gets tough this week and doesn’t ease up as UTEP and Memphis still loom following bots against Tulsa and Southern Miss.
  9. Houston (12-11, 4-6) – The Cougars lost five games in a row until beating Tulane last weekend. Senior Maurice McNeil is trying to rally the troops again as he leads Houston with 13 points and eight rebounds a night.
  10. Rice (11-13, 3-7) – Following a two-game win streak in January, the Owls have lost three of their last four, including back-to-back losses against conference powerhouses UTEP and UAB. Sophomore Arsalan Kazemi continues to be the talk of the team, averaging 15.9 points and 11.6 rebounds a night. Fellow sophomore Tamir Jackson is having a notable season as well, averaging 13 points a game, while adding 3.6 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game.
  11. UCF (15-8, 2-8) – With six games remaining, the Knights have a chance at going 8-8 in conference, however the reality is that the Knights have put themselves in too much of a hole to overcome at this pint. Games against UAB, UTEP and So. Miss. will determine this teams fate.
  12. Tulane (12-12, 2-9) – The Green Wave haven’t won since January 8, and a string of nine losses as them as the undisputed bottom team in conference. A strong season from sophomore Kendall Timmons has gone to waste.

A Look Ahead

  • Conference Game of the Week: No doubt about it, the game of the week takes place on Wednesday night when the Miners travel to Hattiesburg, Miss., to take on the Golden Eagles. Both teams boast talented lineups spearheaded by preseason First-Team Conference USA players. Senior Randy Culpepper leads UTEP, while senior forward Gary Flowers has made a pretty good case for Conference Player of the Year this season for Southern Miss.
  • Marshall Hosts Rice In Must-Win Game: It hasn’t been defined as a “must-win” game yet, however this mid-week contest between Marshall and Rice is just that for each team. With the Owls rising from the cellar of the conference and the Thundering Herd trying to stay alive in the standings, both teams need this win. DeAndre Kane versus Arsalan Kazemi is the main story line, as these to lower classmen will showcase their skills.
  • UAB and Memphis Square Off In Key February Showdown: The top of the conference standings is congested with several teams within a game of the top spot. Memphis and UAB duel on Wednesday in a game that features two of the conference’s top teams. Last time the Tigers and Blazers squared off, UAB fell three points short. This time around, there is a lot more on the line in terms of position for the conference’s postseason tournament.
  • SMU Finds Itself In Heart Of Conference, Road Game In Houston Looms: The Mustangs have put themselves in a good position with three weeks remaining in the regular season. However, this team needs to rebound from last week’s loss when they travel to in-state rival Houston on Wednesday night.
  • Pirates Look to Survive Golden Hurricane in Battle Between Revamped Squads: East Carolina and Tulsa have fought this season to stay alive in the conference standings, following slow starts out of conference and early in January. Guard play will be key in this one as Brock Young, one of the conference’s best passers, squares off against Justin Hurtt, arguably the best scoring guard in the conference.
  • Bottom Two Clubs Face Off in New Orleans as UCF Travels to Tulane: It hasn’t been the season that Tulane and UCF thought it was going to be when they entered the conference season with 10 or more wins from non-conference play. Despite the strong early starts, both teams have faltered to pathetic conference records, struggling equally the same the past four weeks. The Knights have lost all their conference road games this season, and bring with them a nine-game losing streak.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 31st, 2011

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Three-Team Tie Atop Conference Standings: With UAB’s win last Saturday, the Blazers moved into a three-way tie for first place in the conference standings. Now, UAB, UTEP and Memphis share the top spot in Conference USA with five weeks remaining in the regular season schedule.
  • Tulsa Nips UTEP in 69-68 Thriller: Only days after losing a nail-biter to SMU, Tulsa got its own dramatic victory on Saturday when they knocked off UTEP on Justin Hurtt’s 16-foot jumper that went in with 6.8 second remaining. Hurtt scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half, soaring past Preseason Conference Player of the Year Randy Culpepper in the final seconds to make the clutch shot. Culpepper finished with 28 points and had made a big-time three-pointer only seconds before Hurtt nailed the game-winner on the other end of the court.
  • Memphis Slams UCF, Falters Against Marshall: Inconsistent play continues to sidetrack Memphis this season as the Tigers were able to earn a double-figure win earlier in the week against Central Florida, but couldn’t compete at all on Saturday night in a 85-70 loss to Marshall. DeAndre Kane continues to lead the Thundering Herd, scoring 20 points and adding four assists.
  • Southern Mississippi Recovers, Blasts Past ECU and Tulane: A week after losing a pair of conference games, Southern Mississippi retaliated by dropping East Carolina and Tulane by a combined 20 points. Gary Flowers continued his dominance, scoring 15 points and grabbing 13 boards in the win over Tulane. The Golden Eagles outrebounded the Green Wave, 42-26, and went on to score 24 points in the paint, including 17 second-chance points.
  • UAB Sweeps Week, Hands UCF Sixth Consecutive Loss: Central Florida has plummeted from mid-major darling to Conference-USA doormat, losing six in a row, including a loss last Saturday to UAB. The Blazers couldn’t have marched to the top of the conference in a more dominating fashion. First they topped surging Marshall on Wednesday night 60-56, then beat the Knights, a team that was undefeated until earlier this month. Against UCF, the Blazers saw big games from Dexter Fields (19 points), Jamarr Sanders (18 points) and Aaron Johnson (11 points, 11 assists).
  • SMU Squeaks Pasts Tulsa On Game-Winning Shot, Completes Perfect Week by Knocking Off Rice: Junior Robert Nyakundi shined in Saturday’s win over Rice, notching a career-best 29 points. However, Nyakundi’s best moment of the week came in Wednesday’s victory over Tulsa, when he hit a game winning three-pointer from the left corner with 1.1 seconds remaining. The Golden Hurricane blew a perfect opportunity, missing seven free throws in the final eight minutes and allowed SMU to win a game in which they didn’t score in the final eight minutes of play.
  • Tulane Road Woes Extend Losing Streak To Five: It’s a toss-up as to which team is struggling more—Tulane or UCF. Although the Green Wave have the better conference record, they have struggled more than most people can see. During their six-game win streak, the team scored above 85 four of six times. However, that offense has disappeared, as the team has failed to score more than 67 in five straight losses that now have them at the bottom of the conference after starting 2-0 on the opening weekend.
  • Rice Edges Houston in OT. Arsalan Kazemi was the story once again for the Owls as the team claimed their second conference win this year, beating Houston 79-71 in overtime. The sophomore forward and sure-ballot First-Team Conference USA, scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. It didn’t stop there – Kazemi recorded four assists, four steals and four blocks as well. Teammate Connor Frizzelle carried a bit of the burden too, leading the team with 18 points and hitting a crucial three pointer with 13 seconds left in regulation.

Power Rankings

  1. UTEP (17-5, 5-2) –You can’t really blame Tim Floyd’s squad for coming up short at Tulsa, especially losing in the final seconds. While senior Randy Culpepper may get all the attention, fellow classman Julyan Stone has emerged as a team leader. Stone averages 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, both team best.
  2. Memphis (16-5, 5-2) – The Tigers have to be disappointed in the loss to Marshall, however the conference crown is still a possibility. With their young talent, Memphis can be dangerous, what they really need is consistency. Freshmen Will Barton and Tarik Black are finding their stride.
  3. UAB (13-5, 5-2) –UAB survived 19 lead changes against a UCF team desperate for a win. The made it through with a win and a share of the conference’s No. 1 spot because they made 10 of 20 three-pointers. In addition, 19 points from sophomore Dexter Fields off the bench was gigantic. The team needs to continue that type of play against a tough upcoming schedule.   
  4. Southern Miss (16-5, 5-3) – Southern Miss got back on track against a struggling Tulane. Credit the Golden Eagles for a 16-1 run in the second half to close out the win. Trumping East Carolina had to give them some confidence as well. The team is 30th in the nation in rebounding behind Gary Flowers. The forward leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks.
  5. Marshall (14-7, 2-4) – Like the teams above them in the standings, Marshall has found its way to 14 or more wins thanks in large part to a dominating trio of scorers. For the Thundering Herd, these men are all starting guards—DeAndre Kane, Damier Pitts and Shaquille Johnson—who just defeated Memphis this past weekend. Credit senior Tirell Baines for dropping 17 points in the big game.
  6. SMU (13-8, 4-3) –Papa Dia and Robert Nyakundi have become the conference’s best duo over the past three weeks and they have the Mustangs surging heading into February.   
  7. Tulsa (10-9, 4-3) – The Golden Hurricane have interchanged a win for a loss since Dec. 30, hence their just above .500 record in conference play. Although not consistent, Tulsa has emerged as a looming threat thanks to Justin Hurtt. The senior, who averages 20.5 points per game, will have no problem being on the First Team All-Conference at the end of the season.  
  8. East Carolina (12-9, 4-3) – Jontae Sherron and Darrius Morrow have provided a spark for a team that appeared to be stuck in the bottom part of the conference only weeks ago.  
  9. Houston (11-9, 3-4) –A three-game losing streak has Houston reeling in the conference standings. It may be time to hit the panic button if the Cougars lose to Marshall on Tuesday night. They have an opportunity to get back to the top of the conference—the product of a tight conference race, which means Adam Brown will need to continue to be the team’s offensive spark.
  10. UCF (14-6, 1-6) –Coach Donnie Jones must right the ship and do it fast, because the Knights out of conference wins will be meaningless if this team doesn’t have a surge in February. Although they have lost six straight, they are only four back of the conference lead.   
  11. Tulane (12-8, 2-5) – Kendall Timmons is leading this team every single game, however, the support has faded and so have the Green Wave.
  12. Rice (10-11, 2-5) –You can’t mention sophomore Arsalan Kazemi enough when talking about the Owls. The Iran native is one of the more interesting stories in college basketball, averaging 11.6 rebounds a night, while carrying the team offensively.  

A Look Ahead

  • Houston and Marshall Joust To Stay Alive in Conference Standings: Tuesday night the conference schedule gets started early as the Cougars and the Thundering Herd square off. Houston is struggling currently, however, the league has been inconsistent thus far and the Cougars have the experience necessary to get back on track.
  • UAB Hosts So. Miss In Mid-Week Showdown: The game of the week has to be Southern Miss traveling to UAB. The inside match-up, as well as the guard play, will be more than interesting to watch. The winner adds a pretty solid win to their resume.
  • Struggling UCF Looks To Tap UTEP for Second CUSA Win: The Knights may rank last in the conference standings, and the Miners rank tied for first, however the standings don’t matter for a UCF team taking it one game at a time. Keith Clanton has been a consistent threat for the Knights, but can he top Randy Culpepper?
  • Memphis Looks to Avoid Consecutive Losses To Tulsa, Gets Ready for Gonzaga: Memphis remains atop the conference standings, because of their high-scoring offense, which is led by young, talented guards like Will Barton. The question remains though, can these youngsters be consistent for the Tigers? The home test versus Tulsa will gauge how serious this team is and then their out of conference showdown will display whether or not they are ready for March.
  • SMU and East Carolina Duel to Stay a Game Back of Conference Leaders: The Pirates have won their last two road contests. In addition, they played Memphis close on the road, losing by three on January 8. ECU remains a game back of the conference lead due to great road play. If they can beat a surging SMU team, it will be big for the program.
  • Rice Travels to Tulane In Battle of the Basement: Arsalan Kazemi and Kendall Timmons square off in a match-up between conference bottom-dwellers. Tulane looks to end a five game losing streak, while the Owls look to ascend from the bottom and reach the middle of the pack.

 

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011


Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

  • Central Florida Shocked By Houston For First Loss: Central Florida certainly didn’t look like a team that deserved to be undefeated in the first half of their Saturday 76-71 loss to Houston. The Knights couldn’t come back from a 36-21 deficit despite scoring 50 points in the second half. UCF struggled from the field, missing 31 shots and finishing 20-51 from the field, including 3-14 from the three-point arc. Houston’s Zamal Nixon led all scorers with 17 points, playing nearly the entire game.
  • UAB Wins In Triple OT In Conference Opener: It took three overtimes to decide the winner of UTEP-UAB on Saturday afternoon. In a nationally televised game, the Blazers and Miners went back and forth with UAB coming away with a much-needed 100-97 win in their conference opener. The Blazers had been beaten by more than 20 points earlier in the week by No. 1 Duke. Before that, the team had won five in a row. As for the Miners, they had been winners of ten of their last eleven until Saturday’s loss.
  • Conference USA Has Seven Ten-Win Teams: Conference USA has been drawing some serious attention around the nation, as it should, because it hosts seven ball clubs that have already accumulated ten wins. The teams within the conference played a tough non-conference schedule that featured wins against the Big Ten, ACC, SEC (five wins), Big 12, Big East and the Pac-10. In addition, the conference stables the son of the legendary Michael Jordan, Marcus, who has vaulted to the status of  C-USA “Player of the Year,” according to ESPN’s Andy Katz.
  • C-USA, Fox Agree To Contract: Earlier this week, Conference USA announced they had ended their TV agreement with ESPN in order to sign a new contract with Fox Sports. The deal starts with the 2011 football season and ends in 2016. According to a report in the Sports Business Journal, the contract will give the league $7 million per year in revenue. The league already makes that much from a television contract it has with CBS. The conference announced in a press release that it would have at least 20 regular season men’s basketball games aired on Fox.
  • Tulane gets 12th Win Against SMU To Stretch Streak To Six: Tulane’s December surge has carried into January, as the Green Wave have now won their first two conference games, including Saturday afternoon’s 79-70 victory of the SMU Mustangs. Kendall Timmons led all scorers with 26 points, but three other Tulane players finished in double-digits.
  • Thundering Herd Halted By Knights: After winning seven of eight, Marshall was defeated on the road in their conference opener against Central Florida on January 5. Marcus Jordan finished with 26 points, 18 of which came in the second half after the two squads were tied at halftime.
  • Struggling Tennessee Pounds Memphis by 19 In Midweek Contest: Tennessee struggled during the later weeks of December, but found their stride against Memphis on Wednesday, beating the Tigers 104-85. The Vols jumped out to an early lead, dominating 49-34 after the first half. Tobias Harris finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Vols.
  • Kazemi and Timmons split Player of the Week Honor: Arsalan Kazemi led Rice in back-to-back wins over LSU and TCU and was awarded with conference Co-Player of the Week alongside Tulane’s Kendall Timmons. Kazemi averaged 19.5 points and 12.5 rebounds for the Owls in the wins, getting the club over the .500 mark after early season struggles. As for Timmons, he dropped a career-high 33 points while also grabbing 19 rebounds in a December 30 win over Lamar.
  • Top-ranked Duke Blows Past UAB: Nolan Smith dashed the Blazers for 33 points earlier this week as Duke steamrolled UAB 85-64 to continue their undefeated rout of their non-conference schedule. For the Blazers, Jamarr Sanders led all scorers with 21 points, but the team was inconsistent all night, shooting under 40 percent from the field.

Power Rankings

  1. Central Florida (14-1, 1-1). Saturday afternoon’s lost hurts for sure, but the Knights are still the toast of the conference after winning its first 14 games. Marcus Jordan is playing as well as anybody in the conference.
  2. Tulane (12-3, 2-0). The Green Wave is surging currently and it’s playing as if it’s are the best team in the conference. Kendall Timmons is entering the Player of the Year conversation, averaging team high’s in both points (17.1) and rebounds (9.4). His 2.7 assists and 2.1 steals are very respectable as well.
  3. Memphis (12-3, 1-0). Everyone knows the Tigers are the most talented team in the conference, yet they are struggling hard right now, barely escaping East Carolina over the weekend. The team needs to find leadership and get healthy or they could miss the NCAA Tournament once again.
  4. UTEP (13-4, 1-1). Clearly tried their best to stay perfect in conference, but succumbed in the third overtime to UAB. The Miners are still contenders as long as Randy Culpepper is on the court. The senior scored 34 points on Saturday.
  5. UAB (11-3, 1-0). UAB is a balanced scoring team, however, Cameron Moore and Aaron Johnson have been a two-man show all season with Moore dominating the glass and Johnson controlling the open floor. Much was the same in UAB’s win over UTEP, where Moore finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds, while Johnson went for 26 points and 14 assists. The team finished with just 20 assists.
  6. Southern Miss (12-3, 1-1). It’s hard to believe that a team as solid as Southern Miss might be the sixth-best team in the conference. Gary Flowers has been sensational this season, scoring 21.2 points a game while grabbing 7.7 rebounds. The team is #12 in the nation in rebounding through Saturday’s games. However, they are coming off a thirty-point loss against Marshall, which looks bad.
  7. Marshall (11-4, 1-1). The Herd got a big win at home Saturday evening, crushing Southern Miss 95-65, however, they have two big tests coming up against Memphis (January 15) and West Virginia (January 19). If they are going to compete, the offense needs to run as smoothly as it has this season. The Herd is averaging 76.3 points per game.
  8. Houston (9-6, 1-1). The Cougars got itself back on the map by knocking of UCF. Houston uses nine to ten guys a game and that depth has helped them immensely, as they have seven players scoring more than six points per game.
  9. Tulsa (8-7, 1-1). The team has some nice wins over Stanford and TCU as well as closes loses to Wichita State and UNLV. Still, the team has struggled to be inconsistent. In addition they only have four players—Justin Hurtt, Steven Idlet, Scottie Haralson and Jordan Clarkson—who seem capable of playing at this level.
  10. Southern Methodist (9-6, 0-1). The Mustangs are one of the worst teams in the nation in rebounding despite Papa Dia’s presence. The senior forward has been the team MVP thus far, grabbing 8.4 rebounds a game to along with his 16.8 points a game.
  11. East Carolina (8-7, 0-1). Strong effort in game one against Memphis is a good sign for a team that has now lost five of its last six. Once a team in the middle of the conference standings, the Pirates have returned to the bottom.
  12. Rice (8-8, 0-2). Sophomore Arsalan Kazemi is making a strong case to end up on the first team all conference. The 6’7 forward and Iranian native has scored in double digits every game this season and has finished with a double-double eleven times.

A Look Ahead

  • Central Florida Travels To Southern Miss In Early Marquee Conference Battle: The Knights need to rebound from their first loss of the season, but it won’t be easy against an up and coming Southern Miss team that seems poised to make the NIT at the very least. If UCF wants to prove its legitimacy, they will have to deal with the adversity of overcoming a loss. The game is Saturday afternoon.
  • Tulane Hosts UTEP In Matchup of Major Individual Talents. Wednesday’s game between the Miners and the Green Wave could be the second great conference game of the year (the first was UTEP’s 3OT loss to UAB). Nobody is hotter in the conference then Tulane’s Kendall Timmons, while the Green Wave need to worry more about stopping the Miners’ Randy Culpepper. Both players have dazzled thus far.
  • Memphis In Rankings Jeopardy: The No. 22-ranked Memphis Tigers could be unranked for the first time this season after a rough week that featured a blowout loss to instate rival Tennessee and a bad-looking win against bottom dweller-East Carolina. The Tigers have struggled on offense, dealing with injuries and transfers throughout the season.
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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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Set Your Tivo: 12.03.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 3rd, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

After an unexpectedly interesting game last night in Lawrence complete with controversy, your Friday night slate features a clash in the deep south and an intriguing battle out west. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

UAB @ Georgia – 7 pm on FS South/ESPN3 (**)

Georgia Needs a Healthy Thompkins to Reach Its Goals

Georgia had a very disappointing trip to Orlando last week for the Old Spice Classic, coming away with only one win. Even that win was a struggle, 61-58 over a bad Manhattan team. The Bulldogs did get Trey Thompkins back but he’s still trying to work himself back into game shape. Thompkins averaged 15/7 in the three games but turned the ball over almost four times a game. Georgia is not a very good defensive team, rated #104 in efficiency and #328 against the three. That will be a problem against a UAB team that features a 65% three-point shooter in forward Cameron Moore (18/9). Granted he’s only taken 17 treys so far this year, but he is a threat that could pull Thompkins away from the basket and open up the inside for point guard Aaron Johnson to distribute the ball. Johnson is averaging 10 points and a superb nine assists per contest this season. At 5’9 he really struggles shooting but makes up for that deficiency by getting others involved. UAB has only given up 61 PPG and is #14 in defending the three so Georgia is going to have to work hard for points. The Bulldogs are not a good three-point shooting team (29%) so they get most (62%) of their points from inside the arc. The good news for Georgia is that while they’re turnover prone, UAB doesn’t force many turnovers at all because they play a slower style. The rebounding battle will be important in this game and might very well determine the winner. Travis Leslie is an excellent rebounder for his size, pulling down nine a game. He’ll need to be on his game along with Thompkins for Georgia to control the glass, though UAB is a poor offensive rebounding team. Coach Mike Davis plays four guys at least 30 minutes per game so tired legs are something to watch for in the second half. The Bulldogs are the favorite at home but this really could be looked at as a toss-up game. UAB has some talent and they’ll certainly give Georgia a game tonight at Stegeman Coliseum.

#5 Kansas State @ Washington State – 11 pm on FSN (****)

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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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