A Conference in Considerable Flux – Before Memphis, Houston, UCF, 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 Marshall, UTEP, 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)…
Here’s hoping everyone had a safe and fun Independence Day yesterday. As we mentioned earlier in the week, holiday or not, this is a landmark week in the history of a number of schools that officially jumped conferences last weekend. Texas A&M in particular celebrated its admission to the SEC with a borderline embarrassing flag-raising ceremony, while Missouri, West Virginia, TCU, Butler, VCU and a few others joined with more modest showings. Much of the talk of course centers on the impact of conference realignment on the college football landscape, but Athlon Sportsrecently published a look at the winners and losers of all the moves from a basketball perspective. It’s not terribly in-depth but it gives a good overview of the situation as of today.
Marshall received some excellent news this week as senior forward Dennis Tinnonwas granted another year of eligibility with the Thundering Herd. Tinnon, a player who had multiple run-ins with the law before turning his life around at junior college, averaged a double-double (10/10) and was also selected to the CUSA All-Defensive team in his only season at Marshall. He’s already one of the best offensive rebounders in the country (4.0 per game), and his return along with DeAndre Kane’s to an NIT team gives head coach Tom Herrion high hopes for another successful year in Huntington.
Tinnon successfully went from the junior college route to Division I, but it appears that Michael Bradley (formerly of Connecticut) will take the reverse course even if it’s only for a short period. Bradley, you certainly recall, never played in his two seasons in Storrs (due to a redshirt year and subsequent injuries) but the NCAA would not allow him to play immediately at his favored transfer school, Western Kentucky, so he has decided to attend a junior college rather than sitting out a third consecutive year. Assuming all goes well, his transfer to Vincennes (IN) University will allow him to play one year of competitive basketball before then seeking to move back into Division I with two years of eligibility still intact. For a player who has certainly had to deal with more than his fair share of turmoil in his personal and basketball life, we certainly wish him the best with this plan of action and hope to see him again about a year from now.
TheFayetteville Observercaught up with Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow, the NC State transfer whom John Calipari will entrust with his dribble-drive offense next season. Harrow’s parents still live in the Raleigh area, and the shadow of his single season as a member of the Wolfpack still hovers over them. Calipari certainly has an illustrious history of getting the most from his point guards, but Harrow is a little older than his freshman counterparts and he had an up-and-down season in his only year of basketball at the D-I level (9/3 on 39% shooting). That top five rating Kentucky has in the preseason polls will be largely dependent on Harrow’s improvement on those numbers.
In five full seasons at Michigan, John Beilein has won a share of a Big Ten championship, taken the Wolverines to three NCAA Tournaments, and even beaten out none other than Duke and Florida for the services of an elite recruit. As the school’s basketball profile has risen, Beilein is finding that he has considerably more cachet to walk into the living rooms of top prep players across the country with a realistic chance of getting their attention and signing them. This is a somewhat newfound situation for Beilein to find himself in, as this AnnArbor.com profile explains, for a head coach who had previously made most of his career through finding recruiting diamonds in the rough (one word: Pittsnogle). With an elite class already committed for 2013 and a brand-new practice facility to sell on recruits, there’s no reason to believe Michigan basketball is headed anywhere but up.
During their one-point loss on Tuesday Michigan State was called for a controversial backcourt violation with less than 2 minutes remaining when Keith Appling appeared to fumble an in-bounds pass and then picked up the ball in the backcourt. Many people criticized the officials afterwards citing Rule 4, Section 3, Article 6 of the NCAA rulebook that says a team must establish possession in the frontcourt inbounds and then cross into the backcourt to be called for a violation. They noted a similar call had been made against Virginia Tech in the their ACC/Big Ten challenge loss to Minnesota and the Big Ten disciplined the official after that game for making the wrong call. However, this time the Big Ten has come out and said that the official on Tuesday made the right call because Appling had established possession in the frontcourt.
We were not sure it was possible, but the Pac-12 just got weaker. The bigger news in terms of the conference race and the national picture was the announcement by California that it was dismissing Richard Solomon for the rest of the season after he was ruled academically ineligible. Even though Solomon only averages 6 points per game it is a big loss for the Bears as he is their top rebounder at 6.2 rebounds per game and provides some much needed depth off the bench as well as an interior presence. Without him the Bears will need Harper Kamp and David Kravish to step up their games and help balance their team, which relies heavily on its three star guards.
The bigger story from an individual impact on a team is Josh Watkins getting kicked off Utah‘s team for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Based on statements from the Larry Krystkowick it appears that this was more a pattern of behavior than a single incident. Watkins, the team’s leading scorer and lone senior, had already been suspended earlier this season, but apparently he still did not get the message. The Utes were already a historically bad BCS-level college basketball team even before they got rid of the player with the highest usage rate in Division I basketball (38.4%) so we cannot wait to see what they are like without Watkins in the line-up.
If you are not a fan of mid-major basketball you may not be familiar with Dennis Tinnon. Even if do know of the tenth-leading rebounder in Division I you probably are not aware of the unique road that he took to get to Marshall. Luke Winn, in a departure from his usual statistical analysis work, takes a look at how Tinnon went from working at a beef processing plant at the age of 20 after serving four months in jail for a parole violation to being the leading rebounder on what might be the best team in Conference USA. It is an interesting read and does a good job of getting into Tinnon’s struggles while still keeping a focus on his impact on the court.
McDonald’s announced the list of nominees for their coveted All-American designation. When we say list we mean pretty much every decent senior in the country as their list includes over 600 nominees (combined boys and girls). Eventually the list will be whittled down to 24 boys and 24 girls, but for now if you want to see which seniors in your area are the best it might be worth checking out. If you are into state bragging rights, the leaders for the boys team are Iowa (36 nominees) and Washington (30) far outdistancing New York (9) and California (8). We are not exactly sure what the political reasons are behind such a stark disparity, but it is amusing.
UCF Hits Speed Bump With Transfers: Usually at this point in the season it’s all about lacing up the sneakers and getting to business. However, the challenges striking the Central Florida men’s basketball program persist. Transfer guard Jeffrey Jordan, Michael’s oldest son, left the Knights over the weekend citing “personal reasons” and Central Florida Future announced Thursday that senior forward DwightMcCombs will be following suit after he was handed a season-ending suspension on Wednesday. The losses may not seem like that big of a deal with Jordan sitting on the bench and McCombs only averaging 2.4 points and 2.5 rebounds a night; however, the decisions of both players to leave the school only adds additional trouble to a program that has been marred with the departure of its athletic director this season.
Memphis Continues Success Against Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles took the nation’s seventh-longest winning streak into FedEx Forum on Wednesday night (11 games), but exited with their third loss of the season and their 18th consecutive loss to the Memphis Tigers. On the other sideline, the Tigers enjoyed their 135th home victory since the 2004-2005 season. Memphis is the winningest home team in the nation at 135-16 since that year. The Tigers were able to hold to a close victory behind a pair of ChrisCrawford free throws with 31.7 seconds remaining.
Dennis Tinnon Has A Career Night: Marshall barely escaped with a victory last night, defeating UAB 60-58 and setting up a marquee conference matchup with UCF on Saturday night. Junior forward Dennis Tinnon led the Thundering Herd, grabbing a career-high 19 rebounds. Another unheralded junior, forward RobertGoff, sealed the victory for Marshall with a gigantic three-point play with under a minute to play. DeAndre Kane also enjoyed a successful evening, scoring 21 points and recording 10 rebounds. UAB senior Cameron Moore put the Blazers up late, but failed to convert on what would have been a game-tying basket in the final seconds.
Kazemi Keeps Rolling: Rice’s Arsalan Kazemi continued his case for conference player of the year last night in a 68-52 rout against Southern Methodist. The junior forward recorded his 40th career double-double, the 13th of the season, which ranks him as the nation’s best. The Iran native finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman Ahmad Ibrahim made a solid first career start for the Owls, recording 14 points.
Head Coach Donnie Jones (left) Hit A Bump In The Road When Dwight McCombs And Jeffrey Jordan Decided To Leave The Knights.
Memphis (11-5, 2-0): They may not have the conference’s best overall record, but the Tigers are the deepest team in conference and they have the most offensive firepower. Wednesday’s win over Southern Miss proved that the Tigers can win defensive bouts too. Memphis has won six of its last seven after falling from the national rankings. Will Barton continues to put forth a First-Team All-Conference effort, averaging 18.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per night.
Southern Miss (15-3, 2-1): The Golden Eagles were unquestionably the best team in conference until last night, which should be a great learning lesson for a relatively young team. Southern Miss can rebound the ball almost better than anyone in conference, averaging 38.1 boards a night as a team, which is third only to UCF and Marshall in C-USA. Senior guard Darnell Dodson has elevated his play.
UCF (13-3, 3-0): With guard A.J. Rompza back in the lineup, the Knights have been unbeatable, winning both at home (carrying a 16-game home win streak) and on the road. Forward Keith Clanton and guard Marcus Jordan continue to be the conference’s best duo for coach Donnie Jones in what has been an up-and-down season for the Knights.
Marshall (12-4, 3-0): If Marshall—the same team that has wins over Cincinnati and Iona—is the fourth best team in conference, then C-USA could be presenting a reasonable case for four teams come March. The Thundering Herd have revived from a two-game losing streak by winning their first three conference games. DeAndre Kane and DamierPitts have found a force in the low post in junior forward Dennis Tinnon. Marshall is fourth in the country in rebounds with over 42 a night.
Rice (10-7, 1-1): Arsalan Kazemi continues to be the story here. The junior forward is averaging 14.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, leading the nation in double-doubles with 13 this season. Fellow junior Tamir Jackson has been a pivotal player, running the team’s offense and averaging 12.9 points per game. The Owls don’t seem to be in the upper echelon of the conference, but with Kazemi they will contend throughout the season.
Tulane (12-4, 0-2): After a 9-0 start, the Green Wave has stumbled; however, there isn’t a team in the conference that has played a tougher schedule in recent weeks. Since their December 22 loss to top-ranked Syracuse, the Green Wave has played two of the conference’s best teams in UCF and Southern Miss.
Houston (9-7, 1-2): The Cougars have followed a five-game win streak with back-to-back conference loses at UTEP and UCF. With the losses, Houston has fallen to the middle of the conference rankings, but have a huge opportunity this weekend when they play host to the Memphis Tigers. If the Cougars can continue shooting the way they have this past month, then they can contend with anybody. Currently, Houston ranks 25th in the country in shooting percentage, knocking down 48.3% of their shots from the field.
SMU (9-7, 1-1): Senior forward Robert Nyakundi continues to lead the Mustangs, averaging 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. The Arlington native hasn’t had to do it alone, though, with the addition of Texas transfer Shawn Williams. The sophomore swingman has been an immediate contributor in Dallas since joining the team on the court eight games ago. Williams isn’t the only transfer making a difference. Junior guard London Giles, a Nevada transfer, has been a crucial performer at SMU all season, averaging 11.5 points per game.
Tulsa (8-9, 1-2): Another team on the outside looking in, the Golden Hurricane have struggled consistently this season in close games, losing three times in overtime and four times by three points or less. Jordan Clarkson will end up on an All-Conference team, but he hasn’t much help thus far.
UTEP (8-9, 1-2): Tim Floyd’s squad enjoyed a bit of a revival before the holidays, but has floundered since, failing to win consecutive games since December 22. The Miners enjoyed a nice home victory over Houston, but haven’t been able to win a true road game all season. Although they haven’t found a replacement for Randy Culpepper, the Miners are extremely deep with a bench of 11 players.
East Carolina (9-6, 0-2): The backcourt has been stout this season for the Pirates. Junior Miguel Paul has emerged as one of the best point guards in the conference, scoring 16.2 points and dishing out 5.7 assists per night. Senior forward DariusMorrow has also been a force for ECU, averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. In addition, the big man is shooting 54 percent from the field for a streaky Pirate club that won five straight heading into conference play, but have gone 0-2 early on.
UAB (5-10, 0-2): The Blazers have continued a porous non-conference run with a rough conference start, dropping contests at home to Memphis and Marshall. UAB’s offense is still the worst in conference, averaging less than 60 points per game. Even worse, preseason conference player of the year Cameron Moore has been spectacular, but hasn’t been able to abate the Blazers’ woes. With their next four games scheduled against Southern Miss, Rice, UCF and Marshall, the losing skid could very well continue.
UCF at Marshall, January 14 at 7 p.m. ET: While the Southern Miss-Memphis showdown lived up to the hype, C-USA fans will be watching this one with a close eye as first place in the conference is on the line. It will be extremely interesting to watch the backcourt duo of A.J. Rompza and Marcus Jordan duel against DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts. Marshall boasts a three-game winning streak; however, it is UCF that is undoubtedly the hottest team in the conference. The Knights have won nine of their last 10.
Rice at Tulane, January 14 at 8 p.m. ET: Two of the conference’s best individual talents will square off on Saturday when Arsalan Kazemi leads the Owls into New Orleans against Kendall Timmons and the Green Wave. Tulane is coming off a full week’s rest and is arguably the most rested team in conference, which should play into their favor against a Rice team that has played five games since the holiday break.
Memphis at Houston, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: The Tigers are riding an emotional high into Saturday’s contest at the Hofheinz Pavillion, which gives the Cougars the perfect opportunity to pull the upset. Houston is probably the best team in conference to matchup against Memphis’ high-powered offense. Currently, the Cougars are 39th in the nation in points per game with 76.6 a night. Houston has developed a quartet of double-digit scorers in addition to three other players that average more than six points a night. The Cougars are surprisingly deep and shouldn’t be overlooked.
SMU at UTEP, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: Neither of these clubs is able to rebound well, lacking frontcourt talent and depth. The Mustangs rank 326th in the nation in rebounding with an average of 30.4 boards a game, while the Miners are even worse at 335th with 29.6 rebounds a night. However, UTEP has been able to improve its field goal percentage in recent weeks, shooting 47.4% from the field. Last time they played in the Don Haskins Center, the Miners shot 61.2% in a 70-50 thumping over Houston on January 7.
Marshall at West Virginia, January 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3): This game serves as the conclusion for Marshall’s non-conference schedule and provides head coach Tom Herrion’s club with another opportunity to showcase their talent on national TV. Of course, this is an in-state rivalry so the emotions will be as high as any game this season. So far, Marshall is 1-1 against Big East competition. Another win against the nation’s deepest conference, in addition to their victory over Iona, could serve them come March if they fall short in the conference tournament.
Memphis at UCF, January 18 at 8 p.m.: It’s not too early to look towards next week’s conference schedule with Memphis traveling to take on Central Florida in a matchup that could be for first place in the conference. Another marquee game to look ahead at is Marshall at Southern Miss, which won’t be played until January 21 and will be aired on national television. These are the four top teams in conference and for the second straight week in a row, there will be a pair of pivotal conference matchups that feature all four.
Spotlight On…Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan
UCF has greatly benefited from the addition of A.J. Rompza and from the development of sophomore guard Isaiah Sykes. However, it has been the tandem of Clanton and Jordan that has fueled the Knights this season with consistent performance. Clanton is arguably the best post player in the conference, averaging 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. His latest performance against Houston, a 18 point and 13 rebound outing that included 5 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals, showed that he will be able to dominate teams with inferior big men, which the conference is chock full of. To further understand Clanton’s importance, one only needs to evaluate the Knights as a team. They are ranked 200th or lower in every major statistical category other than rebounding, where they rank 38th in the country with an average of 38.9 boards a night. In addition to Clanton, Marcus Jordan has been playing top-notch ball for head coach Donnie Jones. In addition to be the team’s leading scorer, Jordan has been the epitome of consistency, scoring in double-digits in all fourteen games he has played in so far this season. In a season filled with tons of upheaval for the UCF athletic department, the Knights basketball program has weathered the storm, winning nine of its last ten. They couldn’t have done it without the stellar play of both Clanton and Jordan.
Rice Upsets Texas A&M; Kazemi Records 36th Career Double-Double: The conference had arguably its best night of the season on Thursday, posting a 6-2 overall record, which was highlighted by Rice’s 65-58 upset victory over Texas A&M at College Station. Junior forward Arsalan Kazemi led Rice with 10 points and 13 rebounds, recording his ninth double-double of the season and 36th of his career, as the Owls snapped the Aggies’ 80-game regular season, non-conference home win streak. Kazemi is now six double-doubles shy of the conference record. The junior carried the scoring load in his sophomore season, but has found help this season from fellow junior Tamir Jackson and senior Lucas Kuipers.
Tulane Drops Second Game, Falling to Syracuse: The conference’s only losses Thursday night came against ranked competition. Tulane took on #1 Syracuse, losing 80-61 in a lopsided contest. However, the team’s trio of top scorers KendallTimmons, Jordan Callahan and Ricky Tarrant were not shut out, combining for 41 points. Timmons was the top performer, scoring 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
Memphis’ Continues To Tumble: The high-powered Memphis Tiger offense was contained and exposed on Thursday night when it faced the #16 Georgetown Hoyas, falling 70-59. Despite averaging 80 points a contest, Memphis was held in check throughout the game, which has become a trend when the Tigers take on tougher competition. Sophomore guard Will Barton continued his fantastic play, contributing a double-double in the losing effort. Barton finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but fellow sophomore Chris Crawford led the team with 17 points. Barton currently leads the conference in scoring with an average of 19.9 points per game, which is more than two points higher than UCF’s Marcus Jordan, who is second in scoring.
UTEP Builds Mo’ In Hawaii: In the first game of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, UTEP had a chance to make a statement and did, dominating Clemson. The Miners walked away with a 61-48 victory, following a 23-8 run during the game’s final 13 minutes. The Tigers recorded a lone field goal during that span. With the win, UTEP improves to .500 for the first time this season. Though they fell to the streaking Wildcats in the semifinal game, UTEP bounced back in the consolation round, holding off Auburn 83-76. The Miners are streaking at the right time, winners of four of their last five. Sophomore guard Michael Perez is finally filling the void left by Randy Culpepper, as he averaged over 17 points per game in the Diamond Head Classic.
Marcus Jordan Is Second In Conference USA In Scoring And The Knights Boast Two Of The League's Top Five Point-Scorers (Credit: Chris Schubert).
Tulane (11-2): The Green Wave suffered its second loss of the season on Thursday night, but they take a lot of experience away from facing the top-ranked team in the country. Tulane is the best defensive team in conference, allowing only 55.1 points a night. In comparison, the league’s worst defensive team, Memphis, allows 74.3 points per night. Kendall Timmons has found a long-term running partner in freshman Ricky Tarrant, who has blossomed into a star in the early part of this season.
Southern Miss (10-2): It’s hard to pick nits on a team that has won six in a row. Southern Miss has emerged as one of the best teams in conference because they play complete team basketball. Lacking a consistent top performer, the Golden Eagles have relied on several players to make plays. A lot of credit goes to the Golden Eagles seniors such as Darnell Dodson and Maurice Bolden, who each recorded a double-double in Thursday night’s win over South Florida. Read the rest of this entry »
Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
It’s a slow Monday night but keep your eye on what happens in these two games, even though neither will be on the tube.
Belmont at Marshall – 7:00 PM EST no TV (***)
For Tom Herrion, keeping control of the basketball has to be at the top of his game plan tonight. Marshall has a poor turnover margin, mostly due to its 15 turnovers per game average. It won’t be easy against Belmont either, a team that thrives off of giveaways and easy baskets. Offensively, Marshall has an edge in the paint with Dennis Tinnon (10/10) and Robert Goff. The Thundering Herd averages 42 RPG and is #2 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. If Marshall’s guards, including top two scorers DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts play well and can handle the ball, this team has to be favored at home.
With four losses on its resume already, Belmont has pretty much wrecked any chance it had of an at-large NCAA bid should it need one. Of course, the Bruins could win the Atlantic Sun tournament and make it anyway. As we mentioned, rebounding is a strength for Marshall and therefore a concern for Belmont. Rick Byrd’s team needs to create turnovers to help offset what should be a significant disadvantage on the glass. Belmont is #16 in offensive efficiency and it will need a quality game out of guards Kerron Johnson and Drew Hanlen. Hanlen is the team’s best three point shooter at 42.6%. Defensively, the Bruins do not have a good free throw rate. Luckily for them in this game, Marshall is one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country.
After Challenging Duke In Its Opener Belmont Has Struggled
Belmont is 1-4 on the road so you’d think it is due for a win away from home. Both teams shoot a lot of three pointers but the Bruins are much more efficient. Marshall shoots only 26.4% from deep but gets a lot of offensive rebounds, leading to a two point FG% of 52.6%. An astounding 43.7% of Belmont’s field goal attempts are triples so you can bet those will have to be falling in order for the Bruins to win this one on the road. Expect a close game throughout with Marshall being the ever so slight favorite.