Morning Five: 03.14.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 14th, 2014

morning5

  1. The coaching carousel continues to turn with most of the movement off of it. The latest departure is Ben Braun, who was fired after six seasons at Rice. As it appears to be the trend these days Braun officially “stepped down”, but when you go 63-128 you don’t really step down as much as the school lets you save face especially when the biggest story of your tenure was about accusations of your athletic director making racially insensitive comments towards your players and an assistant coach that were reportedly ignored by you and your staff. Braun’s time at Rice might not have been that successful, but he does have 613 career wins (465 at the Division I level) and made it to two Sweet 16s so he will probably end up being an assistant in the not too distant future.
  2. One job that apparently will not be opening up is Boston College as they have reportedly decided to stick with Steve Donahue. Given Donahue’s 54-76 record it would not have been shocking to see Boston College move in a different direction, but it is somewhat refreshing to see a school give a coach a little more time to work things out particularly at an ACC school. Having said that Boston College was one of the most disappointing teams in the country this year going 8-24 despite having a roster that most would consider competitive to at least be in the middle of the ACC standings. Donahue should expect to have most of his rotation back for next season so perhaps the school is giving him one more season to show some improvement before they decide to move on.
  3. It seems like we are dealing with a lot of cases where schools attempt to dismiss a student-athlete only to have the student fight back. One of the most notable involves Dez Wells, who was dismissed from Xavier only to end up at Maryland and play right away thanks to a NCAA waiver. In addition to obtaining that waiver Wells also sued the school for his dismissal claiming that they ignored the evidence the prosecutor provided. Xavier tried to have the suit dismissed, but on Tuesday a federal judge refused Xavier’s motion to dismiss the case. The judge also denied Wells’ request to have his appeal overturned, but it appears that Wells will get his day in court against the school.
  4. If you are looking for a potential cult figure to latch on to for the NCAA Tournament you could do a lot worse than Ethan Wragge. You probably know Wragge from his tendency to shoot and make ridiculously deep three-point attempts. You may have seen his performance against Villanova or if you are a regular reader of this column you have probably seen Luke Winn’s shot charts for Wragge. When you combine that with how great of a college player his mother was you have the potential for a frequently mentioned story in March particularly if Wragge (and some guy named McDermott) can lead the Bluejays deep in the NCAA Tournament.
  5. We get hear plenty of stories during March. Usually they are inspirational, but sometimes they are just dumb. The one involving a deluded Kentucky fan who got a tattoo “2014 Nati9nal Champions UK” definitely falls into the latter camp. Doing this in the preseason would have been a little presumptuous, but the fan got the tattoo yesterday. The ridiculousness of doing that might be the primary focus of this story, but our favorite part has to be the tattoo artist, who asked that his now nationally (in)famous tattoo not be attributed to him and instead asked to not be named.
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Ben Braun: An Uncertain Future at Rice

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 23rd, 2012

When Ben Braun was hired to be the head coach at Rice University in 2008, it looked like a home run hire. For Rice’s standards anyway. Here was a guy who did a great job with Eastern Michigan, taking a five-win team in year one of his tenure to an NCAA Tournament appearance two years later and then a Sweet Sixteen two years after that. He took the California job in 1996 and went on to four more Tournaments in his first six years in the Bay Area. He was Mr. Fix It. But walking into Tudor Fieldhouse last night was like walking into the old Autry Court. It was the same school that hasn’t been to the NCAAs since 1970. It was still the place where Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, not former athletes, get more attention even in an athletic facility. It was still the place where visiting team’s fans outnumbered Owls’ diehards. It had the same feel of a program stuck between neutral and reverse, the worst feeling a program can have.

Ben Braun has had some trouble getting Rice basketball off the ground. (Houston Chronicle)

Ben Braun has had some trouble getting Rice basketball off the ground. (Houston Chronicle)

But then Mr. Fix It was methodically at it again.  The Owls finished last season 19-16 and had a solid core returning to make a run at some kind of postseason action with second team all-CUSA forward Arsalan Kazemi along with Tamir Jackson, Dylan Ennis, Ahmad Ibrahim and Omar Oraby. Everything was going according to plan. Or so it seemed.

Then a May article in the Houston Chronicle announced that Rice assistant Marco Mocros, an integral part of the recruitment of Kazemi and Oraby, would not return to the staff and unfortunately set off a dangerous domino effect. Ibrahim was the first who decided to leave the program to play basketball overseas. Ennis transferred to Villanova, Oraby left for Southern Cal and Kazemi alighted to Oregon. CBSSports.com then reported that the transfers of Kazemi and Oraby were both due to racial discrimination by Rice athletic director Rick Greenspan. The AD and Braun vehemently denied those dangerous accusations (which can put a black eye on the program for years) but as far as this season was concerned, they were already cooked. All the hard work Braun had put in for four years at Rice was gone in a matter of  months.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 M5: 11.16.12 Edition

Posted by KDanna on November 16th, 2012

  1. Great news for the Ducks, as the NCAA has granted transfer Arsalan Kazemi a waiver and he will be available to play for Oregon right away. It’s a good thing, because Oregon has a huge home date with Vanderbilt later tonight. Many figured this was coming since Omar Oraby, a fellow Rice transfer, was not required to sit out a year given similar circumstances. An interesting point of contention with the Oraby and Kazemi transfers is that USC and Oregon alleged that the two faced racial discrimination at Rice, primarily by Rice AD Rick Greenspan. Rice head coach Ben Braun and Greenspan vehemently denied these allegations in a statement from the school, which is posted in full in the CBS Sports article (the first link). Without getting too much into Rice’s situation, the school said it did not sign off on waivers that would allow Oraby and Kazemi to play right away. Whatever is going on there can’t bode well for Braun, the former Cal coach who has seen six players leave his school via the transfer route since the end of last year. In any case, this is a huge positive for the Ducks, as they get a Kazemi who averaged a double-double last year in a conference (C-USA) that was comparable to the level of Pac-12 play. He will add a lot to a front line that already includes Tony Woods and Waverly Austin.
  2. Not so great news for the Washington Huskies, as Lorenzo Romar says he is unsure if Scott Suggs will play this weekend after he suffered a concussion in Tuesday’s loss to Albany. Suggs, whose status is day-to-day, is obviously a big asset to this team, but it would be great for the Huskies to have him available this weekend because the team travels to the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut for the Tip-Off Hall of Fame Classic. A win against Seton Hall would mean (most likely) a date with No. 4 Ohio State. A loss and it’s a game against lowly Rhode Island, a team that is 0-2 on the season and isn’t expected to do much of anything in a loaded Atlantic 10. And, after losing to the Great Danes, Washington needs all the RPI love it can get. If Suggs is on the floor, the Huskies have one more shooter to space the offense and provide another option for Abdul Gaddy on a penetrate and pitch. If he can’t go, Andrew Andrews will get the starting nod, per Romar.
  3. Not much of a surprise here, but Colorado coach Tad Boyle has received a one-year extension on his contract that now lasts through the 2016-17 season. The folks in Boulder absolutely love Boyle, just ask our very own Parker Baruh. He has turned around a program that was consistently in the bottom tier of the Big 12 and led them to two straight 24-win seasons, the last one in the year after losing a lottery pick in Alec Burks. If Boyle can lead the Buffs to another 24 wins in 2012-13, he would have to be a leading candidate for Pac-12 Coach of the Year, considering he lost Carlon Brown and two other key seniors from last year in Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault. Just hours later, Boyle earned his 50th win as the Buffs’ head coach when Colorado beat Dayton in the first round of the Charleston Classic. Good timing for that extension.
  4. Speaking of the Charleston Classic, it’s one of a few non-conference tournaments that houses Pac-12 constituents. While Colorado knocked off Dayton after being behind for most of the game, the same can’t be said for Oregon State, which lost a close one to Alabama in the first game of the 2K Sports Classic in Madison Square Garden. The other tournament going on, as mentioned earlier, is the Tip-Off Hall of Fame Classic, which features Washington. Again, these tournaments are largely where conferences make or break its reputation for the season, as most of the other non-conference games come against guarantee-game opponents with a few challenges sprinkled in here and there. For the Pac-12 to have an acceptable weekend, each team needs to win at least one game: Colorado has done the bare minimum, but could really help out the Pac by beating Murray State or St. John’s in the third place game if a victory doesn’t come against Baylor. Oregon State needs to knock off Purdue to even itself up in Madison Square Garden, and that won’t be an easy task. Washington, again, really needs a win against Seton Hall, because a loss to Ohio State would probably look better than a win against Rhode Island. The non-conference tournaments are huge for the Pac-12 this year, especially considering what happened last year, with failures like Washington State going 0-3 against a weak field in the 76 Classic and UCLA going 0-2 against D-I teams in the Maui Invitational.
  5. Connor here, stepping in to finish off the M5 with our weekly Pick’em contest. Unfortunately, with Utah’s uninspiring loss last week in Seattle, I still trail Drew by four games with only 14 left to play. But it ain’t over til it’s over, and I’m pulling out everything I’ve got this week to make up some ground. I’m talking a Washington State upset in the desert. I’m taking a Cal team playing in what will likely be their head coach’s final game at the university. These may be long shots, but I’ve got no choice at this point. Our picks below, with, as always, our game of the week in bold.
Game Connor’s Pick Drew’s Pick
Washington at Colorado Washington Washington
Washington State at Arizona State Washington State Arizona State
USC at UCLA USC UCLA
Stanford at Oregon Oregon 52-20 Oregon 62-24
Arizona at Utah Utah Arizona
California at Oregon State California Oregon State
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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2012

Ryan Peters is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can find him on Twitter @pioneer_pride and read his musings online at Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.

Top Storylines

  • A Conference in Considerable Flux – Before MemphisHoustonUCF, and SMU defect to the Big East – which officially makes a geographic mockery of the Big East’s name – C-USA will have one final season together as a full-fledged “upper-level” Division I conference. With only six NCAA Tournament teams and zero NCAA tournament victories in the past three seasons, however, can C-USA muster together a respectable showing for the 2012-13 campaign that doesn’t rival most mid-major conferences? Memphis is the only virtual lock to go dancing, yet several other programs (see MarshallUTEP, and Tulane) are on the rise and could conceivably end up on the right side of the tournament bubble come March. Still, it may be overly optimistic to think C-USA will break the two-team NCAA bid barrier that has eluded the conference since 2005.
  • A Run Towards Perfection – In his fourth season as Memphis’ head coach, Josh Pastner has an opportunity to do something his predecessor, John Calipari, did with apparent ease for three straight seasons prior – have his Tigers run the table in C-USA. With the conference slightly weaker heading into this season (according to Ken Pomeroy), Memphis has a real opportunity to put up a perfect 16-0 regular season mark against their conference foes. It will still prove to be difficult, especially when facing UCF and Marshall twice as part of their unbalanced schedule, yet Memphis returns four starters and is sitting on a potential NBA lottery pick in Adonis Thomas if the 6’7” small forward can stay healthy for much of the season.

Josh Pastner leads a talented home-grown roster in Memphis’ final season in C-USA.

  • Welcoming Back a Legend – Anytime you can hire a head coach with a resume such as the 71-year old Larry Brown, I guess you have to do it, given SMU’s desperation to hire a big name. After all, you’re talking about a guy with an NCAA championship and an NBA championship on his resume. The problem is – aside from his age and inability to coach through the initial contract at his last three destinations – Brown has been away from the college game for nearly 25 years, when he won the 1988 NCAA championship coaching Danny Manning (who, interestingly, is a new C-USA coach himself) and the Kansas Jayhawks. How much can the Mustangs reasonably expect from Brown under these conditions? The cupboard is bare with the graduation of leading scorer and most efficient player, Robert Nyakundi, and the removal of four players including starting point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas, so you have to wonder if Brown will have the patience to stick around long enough to fully rebuild a SMU program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993. One benefit from Brown’s hiring is that he has assembled an impressive coaching staff, which includes the Mustangs possible head-coach-in-waiting in Tim Jankovich.
  • New Coaching Blood – Including Brown, there are four C-USA programs that hired new coaches this offseason, which makes up a whopping one third of the entire league. The most notable new hires are Brown and the aforementioned Danny Manning, who left his assistant post at Kansas in an attempt to push Tulsa out of complacency. Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss) and Jerod Haase (UAB) complete the list of coaches. It will be an uphill battle in season one; research has shown head coaches typically struggle in their first season at their newest destination. Perhaps these men can buck the trend and adapt quickly, although the more likely scenario has some of the league taking advantage and pushing ahead of these rebuilding programs for the time being. Well, maybe except for Rice (more on that later)…

Reader’s Take I


Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Memphis (14-2)
  2. Marshall (12-4)
  3. UTEP (11-5)
  4. UCF (10-6)
  5. UAB (9-7)
  6. Southern Mississippi (8-8)
  7. Tulane (7-9)
  8. East Carolina (7-9)
  9. Houston (6-10)
  10. Tulsa (5-11)
  11. SMU (5-11)
  12. Rice (2-14)
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Pac-12 M5: 10.19.12 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 19th, 2012

  1. A judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought forth by current Los Angeles Laker and former UCLA Bruin, Reeves Nelson, on Thursday. Nelson sued Sports Illustrated and writer George Dohrmann after the story, “Not The UCLA Way” ran last March. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Murphy found that the lawsuit infringed on the right to free speech, not to mention Dohrmann had numerous sources to back up the claims made against Nelson. The story cited accounts from Bruins players and staff members who alleged Nelson urinated on players’ clothes and got into numerous fights with teammates, while also mistreating team managers and walk-ons. Nelson was kicked off the UCLA team last December, three months before the story ran.
  2. With that out of the way, we’re going to designate this “Preview Friday” here at the Pac-12 wing of RTC. We start with a look at the league from CollegeBasketballTalk, who thinks the increased talent brought into the conference this season will lead to a better product and more respect nationally. To narrow down the important stuff, the story gives us 13 impact newcomers to watch, five breakout players, a player of the year, a coach under pressure, and an all-conference team. In the projected standings category, CBT throws us for a loop by slotting UCLA at third behind Arizona and Stanford. Colorado, California, and USC round out the upper half.
  3. Each preseason there is usually a conference with more coaches on the hot seat than the rest of them, and it comes as no surprise after last year’s awful play that the Pac-12 trumps all of them in 2012-13Johnny Dawkins. Craig RobinsonHerb Sendek. Even former California head man Ben Braun makes the list. What’s really interesting is that all three coaches have gotten on their hot seats through different circumstances. Not too long ago on The Farm, Stanford was a basketball powerhouse, and the fact that Dawkins hasn’t made an NCAA Tournament in his four seasons there doesn’t sit well with Cardinal fans. That NIT Championship last April? Just means you should take the next step this year. Craig Robinson’s Oregon State Beavers have been somewhat of a bust after winning the CBI in his first season. With four returning starters, Robinson needs to get the Beavs to the NIT this year. And in Tempe, Herb Sendek gave Arizona State fans a taste of victory by winning 20+ games in three consecutive seasons. But just 22 wins over the last two years has his seat scorching going into 2012-13.
  4. CBSSports national preseason honors list features a pair of UCLA freshmen. Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish named forward Shabazz Muhammad the National Freshman of the Year, a member of the All-First Team roster, and All-Freshman First Team roster. Bruin point guard Kyle Anderson comes in on the fourth team All-American roster and first team All-Freshmen list.
  5. We end with a terrific Pac-12 Preview, straight from the Jon Rothstein files. Included are five burning questions facing the conference, preseason power rankings, a first team roster, and 10 breakout players, among other things. Be sure to check back throughout the day as we continue Preview Friday with an in-depth Oregon preview and our second burning question of the preseason.
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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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Conference USA Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009

Memphis passed its last regular season road test and now only has a few games to go to return to the “promised land” that they’ve never really left.

While the Tigers’ dominance over the rest of CUSA is nearly unparalleled in the history of modern college basketball, it doesn’t mean that every other team is chopped liver. Basically anything can happen in a tournament setting and the Tigers have endured a few close calls this year.

2009-cusa-tourney-bracket

So here are the teams as they are seeded and some pertinent info:

#1: Memphis Tigers

Coach: John Calipari

Record: 28-3 overall (16-0 in CUSA)

Players to Watch: G Tyreke Evans, F Robert Dozier, F Shawn Taggart, G Antonio Anderson

Season Highlights: In a year that many thought would be fraught with ‘rebuilding’ and the like, the Tigers continue to look dominant. The arrival of the latest one-year wonder: Tyreke Evans, has allowed the blue and gray not miss a beat from last year’s final four squad. But the veteran leadership of guys like Antonio Anderson, Doneal Mack, Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier has been a huge factor too. They suffered early-season setbacks against Xavier and Syracuse, but they’re currently riding 20+ game winning streak. There have been a few close calls and at the end of the day they’re still undefeated against the rest of the conference.

They Will Win If: They simply show up and play their game. I don’t want to imply that the Tigers will simply cream whomever they play, because they could well lose. But they’re playing an extremely favorable draw on their home court. This is a recipe for success and it also doesn’t hurt that they’ve won over 50 games in a row against CUSA teams.

First Game: vs. the winner of #8 Tulane/#9 East Carolina; Thursday at 8:30 pm.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 02.07.09 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 7th, 2009

dynamite1

We’re back with another thrilling edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite where we try to cover every single game on TV. Since we have only two people working on BGTD, we appreciate any reader tips on what games everyone should be watching since there are so many on TV and the Internet. For a rundown of the games today, check out today’s Set Your Tivos.

11:40 AM: ESPN GameDay is live from Spokane site of the Memphis-Gonzaga game tongiht at 9 PM. The crowd is fairly small, but I’ll give the Bulldog fans a break since it started at 8 AM local time on a Saturday morning at a school with just 4,515 undergraduates. I’m still waiting for a basketball GameDay to match a college football GameDay in terms of attendance and crazy fans. Looking at the schedule, I’m going to have go with February 21st when Oklahoma plays Texas in Austin, TX as the ESPN GameDay where the fans actually show up.

Noon: Some great work by the ESPN camera crew making Philadelphia look like something other a dump. The Syracuse-Villanova game should be one of the better ones today with both teams being in the 2nd tier in the Big East after UConn, Pittsburgh, and Louisville. The jury is still out on Marquette after last night’s debacle. Like we said watch the Jonny Flynn versus Scottie Reynolds match-up. The Arinze Onuaku injury could be big particularly with Dante Cunningham on the inside.

12:40 PM: Sorry for the delay in posting, but we’re having some problems with WordPress. Anyways, Villanova is absolutely destroying Syracuse right now. A basket by Cunningham stretches the lead to 21 at 36-15. It might be a while before we have another update on this game unless the Orange make a run. If the game continues like this, Jim Boeheim‘s squad will fall out of the top 25 leaving just 5 Big East teams in the rankings.

1:00 PM: The ESPN announcers just said that Donovan McNabb played some basketball when he was at Syracuse. Either he had some ridiculous intramural basketball career that I’m not aware of or they just assume that every mobile black QB was a two-sports star. I’m guessing it is the latter.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on February 3rd, 2009

Allen R of Houston Basketball Junkies is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

  1. Memphis: 18-3 (7-0)
  2. UCF: 15-6 (5-2)
  3. Tulsa: 15-7 (5-2)
  4. UTEP: 13-8 (4-3)
  5. UAB: 14-8 (4-3)
  6. Houston: 12-7 (3-3)
  7. Southern Miss: 13-7 (3-3)
  8. Tulane: 9-11 (3-4)
  9. East Carolina: 10-10 (2-5)
  10. Marshall: 9-12 (2-5) 
  11. Rice: 7-14 (2-5)
  12. SMU: 6-13 (1-6)

“It’s the same old song…”

That isn’t just a line from a classic ‘Motown’ song, but the story of Conference USA basketball summed up in five choice words.

Some things change, but as last week proved, there are some things that always remain the same for a while.

1.) Don’t Boo the Aubrey: In his first game coming off the one game suspension by Conference USA, Houston guard Aubrey Coleman responded to boos and jeers from the Memphis student section by scoring 35 points. The only problem was none of Coleman’s teammates showed up and they combined for a total of 33 points, as the Tigers beat the Cougars 83-68 at the Fed Ex Forum. It was quite evident last Saturday that even in a down year, Memphis has far more talent than even the upper-tier CUSA teams like Houston.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2009

Allen R of Houston Basketball Junkies is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

For the last few seasons there’s always been the hope (misguided or not) that Conference USA basketball will return to the level it was prior to the Big East/Atlantic 10 exodus of a few years back.

As we enter the 2009 calendar, it’s looking more and more like the 2008-09 season will be another year of futility for the conference. There are still a few months to go in the season, but it’s clear that the teams in CUSA did not prove much in non-conference play.

1.) Ole Missed: The news has been mostly negative lately when it comes to CUSA basketball, but the Southern Miss program scored a huge win last Wednesday by defeating in-state rival Ole Miss 78-59. It has been an up and down few years for Golden Eagles coach Larry Eustachy, but it appears as though he has a pretty good team now in Hattiesburg. The credit for this improvement also should go to veteran guards Jeremy Wise and R.L. Horton. They are now sitting at 9-4 and have as good of a shot as anyone to be a top-echelon CUSA team.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on December 7th, 2008

Allen R of Houston Basketball Junkies is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

There is no polite way to spin it: this was a bad week for Conference USA basketball.

From the outset of the season I have said that this league as a whole needs to win some significant non-conference games.

Not only did the conference not win any games of significance, there were several embarrassing losses this week.

1.)    A New Tiger Comes Aboard: It was a generally ‘ho-hum’ week in Memphis as the Tigers beat Marist 100-61 and then entered into an 11 day layoff for final exams. But this past Thursday the NCAA cleared Tiger freshman F Matt Simpkins to practice and play with the team. Previously Simpkins had academic issues that kept him off the court. Coming out of the Patterson School in North Carolina, Simpkins was a 4-star prospect and expected to make immediate contributions.

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Fast Breaks 07.16.07

Posted by rtmsf on July 16th, 2007

For some reason, we don’t recall summers growing up as this boring…

  • Mizzou players Kalen Grimes (accused of assault with a shotgun in, of all places, a Jack in the Box) and DeMarre Carroll (shot in the ankle outside a nightclub) were involved in separate incidents within five days of each other. Mike Anderson’s honeymoon is apparently over in Columbia.
  • Bad Luck in Durham: Duke’s Brian Zoubek broke his foot in a pickup game; and Demarcus Nelson broke his wrist at the Pan Am trials within the last week. No word on whether Greg Paulus’s mishap with autoerotic asphyxiation will affect his play next year.
  • The Big East moves to an 18-game conference schedule for 2007-08, so each team will play at least once next year. We like this trend.
  • SEC Commish Mike Slive will head the NCAA Selection Committee in 2009 – Ole Miss and Vandy are already making hotel reservations to reward their 18-10 records.
  • New Ohio St. President Gordon Gee says that he will not tolerate bad behavior on his watch within the Buckeye program… we’re still waiting on the punchline here.
  • The 2007 HOF Challenge on December 1 is set with two solid matchups: UConn vs. Gonzaga and BC vs. Providence.
  • Cal assistant Joe Pasternack takes the head coaching job at the University of New Orleans. Bears fans lament that Ben Braun didn’t take the job.
  • The Fanhouse put together its admittedly premature top 20 for the summer. Georgetown is too low on their list and Indiana is too high.
  • UCLA’s incoming frosh Kevin Love is the Gatorade POY. Still not sure how we feel about him – is he another Psycho T or Aaron Gray?
  • Wake got 2008 verbals from the #3 and #18 players last week (to go along with already committed #10), but is the Class of 2008 any good? Speaking of Wake, TrueHoop unearthed a fantastic introspective piece into the mind of the greatest Deac of all, Tim Duncan.
  • Seth Davis gives his takes from the road on the summer circuit.
  • Apparently Steve Lavin knows how to throw a party.
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