Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2010

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

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

A Look Back

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

Power Rankings

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

A Look Ahead

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 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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