RTC Conference Primers: #9 – Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 28th, 2010

Steve Coulter of the DU Clarion is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Memphis (15-1)
  2. UTEP (14-2)
  3. UAB (12-4)
  4. Marshall (10-6)
  5. Southern Mississippi (9-7)
  6. Houston (8-8)
  7. Tulsa (8-8)
  8. East Carolina (6-10)
  9. Southern Methodist (6-10)
  10. Central Florida (5-11)
  11. Tulane (2-14)
  12. Rice (1-15)

All-Conference First Team

  • G: Justin Hurtt, Tulsa, Sr.
  • G: Randy Culpepper, UTEP, Sr. (Preseason Player of the Year)
  • F: Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis, Jr.
  • F:  Gary Flowers, Southern Mississippi
  • F/C: Will Coleman, Memphis, Sr.

All-Conference Second Team

  • G: Brock Young, East Carolina, Sr.
  • G: Joe Jackson, Memphis, Fr.
  • G/F: Will Barton, Memphis, Fr.
  • F: Jeremy Williams, UTEP, Jr.
  • F/C: Papa Dia, SMU, Sr.

Memphis has a talented stable of young talent, including the recently-cleared Will Barton. (bouncemag.com)

Impact Newcomers

Several freshman and transfer players will suit up for C-USA squads this season, but three that have grabbed everyone’s attention before the season has gone under way.

  • Charles Carmouche, SG, Memphis: The junior transfer from New Orleans is a sharpshooter who can be the difference-maker late in the season. He is eligible to play right way, as the Privateers dismantled their program and moved to Division III status.
  • Scottie Haralson, G, Tulsa: The UConn transfer could get a lot of playing time and be one of those studs that people talk about at the end of the season. Of course, it really depends whether he is cleared to play.
  • Joseph Young, G, Houston: The freshman was a Parade All-America Third-Team selection from Yates High School. He is a talented young guard in a class with athletic forwards that makes Houston a contender in the conference once again. The infusion of a guy like Young into the lineup could spark a team looking for a playmaker. Young was the Texas Gatorade Basketball Player of the Year last season.

What You Need to Know

  • There are six first-year coaches in the league this season; Tim Floyd getting hired at UTEP was probably the biggest offseason coaching move.
  • The Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championships will be held in El Paso, giving UTEP a slight home court advantage against their conference opponents. The first game tips off on Wednesday, March 9. The tournament ends on Saturday, March 12 and the final will be broadcasted on CBS.
  • UAB’s Aaron Johnson enters the season in need of 173 assists to become the school’s all-time leader. 597 assists is currently the record and the senior point guard leads a well-balanced UAB squad that could emerge as an at-large dark horse. The 5’8 point guard finished his junior year averaging 9.6 points per game, 4.8 assists per game, and 2.5 rebounds per game.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by jstevrtc on January 26th, 2010

James Vickers is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

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

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

UAB (5-0, 17-2)

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

Tulsa (5-0, 16-3)

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

Marshall (4-1, 15-4)

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

Memphis (4-1, 14-5)

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

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

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

UTEP (4-1, 13-5)

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

Houston (3-3, 10-9)

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

UCF (2-3, 10-9)

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

SMU (1-3, 8-10)

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

Southern Miss (1-4, 11-8)

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

Tulane (1-4, 6-12)

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

Players of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Games of the Week

Tulsa v. UAB on Tuesday, January 26

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

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

Memphis v. Marshall on Wednesday, January 27

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

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

UTEP v UAB on Saturday, January 30

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

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

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2010

Change

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

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

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

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

Team Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Games of the Week (January 17-23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ATB: Snow Problem, Plenty of Hoops…

Posted by rtmsf on December 20th, 2009

The Debacle in Hinkle#17 Butler 69, Xavier 68. The story over the weekend was the bizarre and (some say) unconscionable ending to the Butler-Xavier game on Saturday afternoon.  If you somehow missed it, check out our post on the subject from last night.  We pretty much agree that the referee crew followed the rules as they’re written, but that the rules as they’re written pretty much suck in a situation such as this.  RTC Live was there, and as our correspondent wrote at the time:

That would be one ballsy crew to take a full second OFF the clock against a visitor down by 1 point.  HUGE controversy WOW…. I have been doing bball for years and I cannot believe that they just did that?!?!?!?!?!”

Ballsy they were, but also correct by the letter of the law.  Unfortunately for Xavier and Chris Mack, the Musketeers were left holding the bag when a timing error led them to believe they’d have a final shot to win the game.  The NCAA needs to step up and immediately clarify this rule, including what kind of stopwatch can and cannot be used to estimate the time so that we’re not faced with an equally ridiculous ending on a much bigger stage later this year.

Jerry’s Joint#2 Texas 103, #10 UNC 90.  The featured game of the weekend at Jerry’s World known as the new-and-improved-to-a-ridiculous-degree Cowboys Stadium showed why many people are very high on Rick Barnes’ Texas team to cut down the nets in April.  UT put four players in the 20+ points column, including huge dub-dubs from seniors Damion James (25/15) and Dexter Pittman (23/15) to go along with Avery Bradley’s 20/4 assts/3 stls and J’Covan Brown’s 21/5/3 assts.  Showing the depth that Barnes now has at his disposal, much ballyhooed transfer Jai Lucas (recently eligible) only played six minutes and recorded zero points.  He’d start for most of the teams in the Top 25 from day one.  UNC’s Ed Davis was the only Carolina player who seemed comfortable with the waves of Texas players inside, as he blew up for 21/9/4 blks for one of his best performances of the year.  Texas will get another test on Tuesday of this week as Michigan State visits Austin, while UNC will head back home for a few easier games prior to the start of the ACC in early January.  We’re still worried about UNC’s point guard play, but we’d imagine that Texas is going to make a lot of pretty good teams look bad over the course of this season.  That team is loaded!

The JumboTron Dwarfs the Court (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

Gonz-awfulness#7 Duke 76, #15 Gonzaga 41.  In a game all too reminiscent of other early-season blowouts that Duke has administered on overrated teams, the Devils completely overwhelmed the Zags defensively to, as Mark Few put it after the game, “woodshed” his team on Saturday afternoon at MSG.  Duke’s defense held Gonzaga to a mere fifteen FGs for the game, 28% shooting, a single three-pointer and a quarter-century team low of 41 points.  Despite all the hype for the Duke bigs coming into the season, it’s been the backcourt play of Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, combining for 36 PPG, 7 RPG, and 10 APG that has truly driven this team to have the look as one of the best teams in America this year.  Scheyer’s ridiculous A:TO ratio of 5.8 to 1 actually went down after two TOs in this one, but his 20/5/8 assts more than made up for the miscue.  Smith added 24/3/3 assts, and we’re going to spare talking about the Gonzaga awfulness since not a single Zag got into double figures on the day.

Shot of the WeekendCornell 91, Davidson 88 (OT). Ryan Wittman’s 30-footer at the buzzer in overtime gave the Big Red its eighth win of the year and a shot at a Big East team (St. John’s) on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.  Lost in the heroics and glee of Wittman’s shot was the fact that it wouldn’t have even been possible had Louis Dale not hit a driving layup with 0.7 seconds remaining in regulation.  Cornell’s only two losses this year were against Big East teams (Seton Hall and Syracuse), so this will likely be the Ivy League favorite’s best chance to get a huge win this season (Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse is not realistic).  We haven’t been able to locate a video of this shot yet, but if you see one, let us know.

SEC Sucktitude. A week ago, we were ready to start believing that the SEC is much-improved this year.  Then the SEC East craps itself on Saturday and Sunday.  We’re reserving judgment for now, which of course means we really think this league is terrible and deserves only one bid (ok, not really).

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #8 – Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2009

seasonpreview

RTC is seeking a 2009-10 correspondent for Conference USA.  If you’re interested, please email us at rushthecourt@yahoo.com

Predicted Order of Finish:

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

All-Conference Team:

  • Aubrey Coleman (G), Houston
  • Arnett Moultrie (F/C), UTEP
  • Jerome Jordan (C), Tulsa
  • Ben Uzoh (G), Tulsa
  • Randy Culpepper (G), UTEP

Impact Newcomer. Will Coleman (F), Memphis

6th Man Kelvin Lewis (G), Houston (not a true “6th man” but could easily be on the first team)
cusa logo
 

What You Need To Know.  Everyone knows about Memphis’ off-season.  First and foremost, it’s important to know who’s breathing down Memphis‘ neck if they should falter like many are predicting.  Tulsa is a popular preseason pick because of the excellent senior duo of Ben Uzoh and Jerome Jordan, the latter being the popular pick for preseason CUSA Player Of The Year.  Ignore UTEP at your own peril, with a formidable inside-outside duo of their own in the 6’11 sophomore Arnett Moultrie and junior guard Randy Culpepper.  Houston boasts the best true guard combo with seniors Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis, both averaging around 19 PPG.  Even Marshall and Central Florida look to be improved this season.  Now, keep in mind, this is all IF Memphis actually loses a conference game (we still can’t get over their 61 straight CUSA wins) and trips up.  He might just be 31 years old, but new head coach Josh Pastner will surprise everyone with how easily he takes to his new job.  People might forget that Duke transfer Elliot Williams is eligible for the Tigers now, and he will provide immediate help along with the rim-kissing (literally…there are photos of this) 6’9 260-pound junior-college transfer Will Coleman.  This will be a fun conference to watch this season because the issue isn’t so much that Memphis is free-falling back to the rest of the conference — it’s the fact that the rest of the conference is actually catching up to Memphis.

Predicted Champion. Tulsa (NCAA Seed:  #7). The Golden Hurricane is our choice to supplant Memphis and take the title in Conference USA this season, as Doug Wojcik’s team has been waiting for this opportunity.  If John Calipari, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and so on were currently residing in Memphis, we wouldn’t be considering this, but Memphis’ loss is Tulsa’s gain because they have an exceptionally talented and experienced team returning this year.  Point guard Ben Uzoh and center Jerome Jordan enter the 2009-10 season as two of the best players at their position in the conference, and it’s easy to understand why: Uzoh did a little bit of everything last season, to the tune of 14.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, and 1.5 SPG in over 35 minutes per game, while Jordan continued to progress toward play-for-pay with 13.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and 2.6 BPG on 58.6% shooting from the field.  Justin Hurtt, Glenn Andrews and Steven Idlet also return as key contributors from a team that was 25-11 overall and 12-4 in CUSA, including three losses by a combined four points (especially tough was a buzzer-beating 1-point loss vs. Memphis).  Even if Memphis had remained intact, Tulsa would have still viewed the 2009-10 season as a likely NCAA one, it’s just that now they’re going in as the favorite.

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RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: November/December

Posted by zhayes9 on October 18th, 2009

seasonpreview

To get our readers excited for the endless possibilities of 2009-10, I’ve compiled an extensive list of the top 65 college basketball games of the upcoming season. Any true college hoops fan knows why we selected the number 65. Splitting up this season preview feature into three posts the next three Mondays (November/December, January and February/March), hopefully this list will provide you with the most vital of dates to circle on your calendar. Coaches are realizing more and more the importance of compiling a respectable non-conference slate to boost RPI/SOS numbers and provide their team adequate experience and preparation for the grind of conference play. Let’s lead off with the first batch of potentially memorable meetings during the first two months of the season:

Ed. Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.

November 17- Gonzaga at Michigan State (#59 overall)- The featured game in ESPN’s 24-hour hoops marathon pits a backcourt-laden Gonzaga squad in the first of many difficult road tests against a top-five Michigan State team. The State backcourt of Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Chris Allen and Korie Lucious will be given a true test from the Bulldogs trio of scoring senior Matt Bouldin, deep marksman junior Stephen Gray and emerging sophomore Demetri Goodson.

4393705_Michigan_State_at_Ohio_State[1]

November 17- Memphis vs. Kansas in St. Louis (#64 overall)- A young and largely inexperienced Memphis team will receive a stiff test right away with the likely #1 team in the nation- Kansas. Guards Doneal Mack and Roburt Sallie must shoot well from deep for the Tigers to stay competitive. Former JUCO standout Will Coleman and burly senior Pierre Henderson-Niles will have their hands full down low with likely All-American Cole Aldrich.

November 19- North Carolina vs. Ohio State in NYC (#39 overall)- November and December means one thing: plenty of electrifying non-conference action at Madison Square Garden. This semifinal matchup could prove the best. Ohio State has their entire team returning besides the underwhelming B.J. Mullens and return defensive stalwart David Lighty from injury. They could definitely surprise the inexperienced Heels, who should have a distinct frontcourt advantage with Dallas Lauderdale sidelined.

December 1- Michigan State at North Carolina (#10 overall)- The Spartans and Heels meet in a rematch of the national title game that once again headlines this year’s ACC/Big Ten challenge. State may be able to avenge those two harsh defeats a year ago by taking advantage of the point guard mismatch. With Ty Lawson no longer around, Kalin Lucas could dominate against Larry Drew or Dexter Strickland. On the flip side, Draymond Green should have his hands full with a loaded UNC frontline.

December 5- North Carolina at Kentucky (#8 overall)- Notice a trend with this list so far? Roy Williams has challenged his team with an extremely difficult non-conference schedule, and this early season matchup in Lexington should be one of the best on the early season. There will be loads of projected lottery picks on the floor in this one, from North Carolina’s Ed Davis to Kentucky’s John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

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Questionable Test Scores Piling Up At Memphis

Posted by nvr1983 on June 3rd, 2009

As we mentioned in an update to yesterday’s column about how Memphis was handling Derrick Rose‘s questionable test scores, more reports of questionable test scores out of Memphis are surfacing. As Gary Parrish reported earlier today, Robert Dozier‘s SAT scores were questionable enough that Georgia refused to admit him. What most of the media has missed is that a third member of that Memphis team (Doneal Mack) that lost to Kansas in one of the most exciting title games of the past 20 years also had a suspicious ACT score that led Florida to deny him admission too.

the-perfect-score

While Memphis claims to be innocent in Rose’s case because the actions took place before he enrolled at Memphis and that they were unaware of potential inconsistencies in his test scores, the fact that they admitted two other players who had already been denied admission to other schools because of questionable standardized test scores makes the school’s claims of innocence more laughable unless they are going for another version of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with regards to SAT scores. Since John Calipari has already headed to Kentucky the administration at Memphis is left handling this mess.

The question is what kind of punishment, if any, will be handed down by the NCAA. Given the fact that they have done absolutely nothing with the mess at USC, it seems unlikely the Tigers will face any major sanctions particularly since there probably will not be any money trail like there was at Michigan where the Fab 5 played. It will be interesting to see if the NCAA and Kentucky police Calipari more closely than usual to avoid a Kelvin Sampson situation where he committed several violations at Indiana after committing similar violations at Oklahoma.

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Memphis Responds… and Guess What, Everything Was a Big Misunderstanding!

Posted by rtmsf on June 3rd, 2009

Memphis responded to the NCAA’s allegations against their basketball program, and surprise of all surprises, the UM athletic department doesn’t believe that it should be punished even if the NCAA stands by its position that Derrick Rose cheated on his SAT exam to gain his collegiate eligibility.

95264148_memphis_v_houston

In a wide-ranging letter dealing with allegations involving both the women’s golf as well as the men’s basketball program, University Counsel Sheri Lipman revealed that there were rumors involving Rose’s ACT test score being fraudulent (remember, the NCAA’s allegation involves the SAT) prior to his only season as a Tiger.  This is what those lawyer types might call “notice.”  Yet, the Memphis athletic department determined through undoubtedly probing interviews with Rose himself and the coaching staff (whaaa??) that these rumors were unfounded.  Furthermore, the school claims that it attempted to get copies of materials from the applicable testing service, but was “unable to do so.”

Here’s an idea.  You could have had Rose produce the ACT information, and if he is unable to do so, as it were, suspend him until he does so.  That could have, at worst, solved the issue involving the rumor, and at best, put the issue to bed AND provided considerable cover in the form of due diligence when Mr. NCAA came knocking on the door a year-and-a-half later.  But Memphis didn’t do that.  We’d be very interesting in learning why not.

Getting back to the invalidated test score at issue here – the SAT – according to Memphis, the NCAA’s sole evidence that Rose had a stand-in take this test for him comes down to a forensic examiner’s review of his handwriting.  This review determined that Rose “probably” did not write the paragraph that the ETS uses to verify identity.  But according to Dana O’Neil’s reporting at ESPN.com, ETS only invalidates scores when two of the following three pieces of evidence are present in an examination: 1) handwriting comparisons; 2) comparisons to people seated nearby during the exam; and, 3) substantial jumps in scores.   We already know that the ETS (and the NCAA) is relying on #1, so we’re probably also looking at #3 as the other piece of evidence, and if you know anything about statistical probability, there’s virtually no chance that if Rose scored something like a 600-650 on a previous SAT administration, he then jumped up to a 950-1000 to gain eligibility.

sat-test

All that said, Memphis is taking the painted corner position that, even if Derrick Rose cheated on his SAT, the program could not have known nor should it have known about such a fraud perpetrated on humanity.  In other words… sorry if Rose cheated in high school, but how were we to know? – we didn’t find out about the allegation until after he was already gone.  If Memphis is acting in completely good faith here, this is a fair argument.  But the only way we’re going to presume good faith is if we see more credible evidence that the university made attempts to get to the bottom of the ACT issue, and if they did no such thing, then they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt here.  Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and if Memphis only scratched the surface of investigation in order to get Rose into school and eligible, then we don’t want to hear any complaining later if they’re nailed for looking the other way.

As for the other allegation involving the Memphis program, of particular comedic value is the Memphis response that the free hotel and plane trips provided to Derrick Rose’s brother, Reggie, were inadvertant administrative mistakes that “could have occurred for any member of the public traveling with the men’s basketball team.”  Right, because universities and athletic departments in particular are in the regular business of accidentally allowing thousands of dollars in freebies to be given to members of the public – especially, as it happens in this case, when the public is none other than the star player’s brother!  This is the less hot-button of the two major basketball allegations in this complaint, but there’s not much defensible here.

It’ll be very interesting to see what evidence the NCAA presents to combat these responses from Memphis.  Saturday is the hearing, and the university should expect to hear something later this summer.  It says here that UM isn’t going to like what it hears.

Update: Gary Parrish is reporting that Robert Dozier also had a “fishy” SAT which precluded his entrance into Georgia in 2004, and we’ve already discussed Doneal Mack’s rejection from Florida based on a test score issue.  Are there others?

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Ruh-Ro…

Posted by rtmsf on May 27th, 2009

Tough day in Lexington.  Not only did the former head coach turned Little Lord Fauntleroy (more on this later) sue his former employer for the entire value of his contract ($6M), but the Memphis Commercial-Appeal released a letter from the NCAA alleging two major violations at Memphis while under the dominion of current wundercoach, John Calipari.

One allegation involves providing free travel on the team plane for an associate of a player (valued at $2,260), but the much more serious allegation in our view is the one that accuses a Memphis player (presumably Derrick Rose) of pulling the old switcheroo with respect to his SAT examination.  Put more directly, Rose is accused of having someone else take the test for him.  The names are redacted, but see the relevant allegation from the NCAA letter below.

derrick-rose-sat

It goes without saying that academic fraud is something that catches the NCAA’s attention, especially when it involves a superstar player capable of nearly leading his team to a national title in his freshman season.  The letter doesn’t present the NCAA’s evidence, but you can rest assured that they wouldn’t come at Memphis with these allegations if there wasn’t a considerable evidentiary basis for it.  If Rose is in fact later deemed to have been ineligible during the 2007-08 season, Memphis’ record 38 victories and its F4 appearance could be vacated.

d-rose-memphis
Calipari isn’t specifically named in the NCAA letter, but reports indicate that he has been called to Indianapolis to discuss these allegations on June 6th.  What’s striking is that this isn’t the first time that a Calipari player has had his entrance exam score called into question.  Doneal Mack was a former Florida recruit whom the school refused to admit based on his ACT score rising “too sharply from one test to the next.”  Of course, Calipari welcomed him to Memphis with open arms, and Mack has been a productive bench player in his three seasons with the Tigers.

And of course Kentucky fans are all too familiar with Eric Manuel’s sad tale of academic fraud from the late 80s which ultimately led to some of the darkest days in the program’s history. You have to wonder if the school’s frustration with Tubby and then Gillispie has opened the door to another era of the ‘anything goes’ mentality in Lexington.  After all, it’s been a generation since Eddie Sutton was run out of town; most of the students at UK weren’t even alive yet for that particular abomination.

One thing’s for sure about this whole mess.  Calipari is starting to remind us a little of Elijah Price in “Unbreakable” – bad shhtuff seems to follow him around wherever he goes, but nothing ever seems to get pinned directly onto him.  Whether this is something Kentucky fans are worried about is up for debate, but this has to be a tad unsettling for Kentucky fans over the age of 30. (or maybe they’ll queue up another YouTube video of John Wall, who incidentally pled guilty to B&E today, and say wtf)

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Now, back to Gillispie.  As we said above, he’s suing UK for $6M based on his firing without cause (sucking, apparently, doesn’t count).  What’s incredible is that, while Gillispie is battling the university over dollars, he continues to prance around Lexington area bars as if he were still the king of the castle.  From Matt Jones’ KSR blog over the weekend…  phenomenal.

clyde3clyde4

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on December 15th, 2008

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

The week of final examinations usually equates to a slow basketball week and Conference USA is no exception to the rule.

In fact Houston, Memphis, Tulane, Rice, ECU, UAB, UTEP, Marshall and SMU all refrained from scheduling games during the week.

However there were a few games and storylines worth talking about in this rather uneventful week: Read the rest of this entry »

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ATB: Is Michigan Back?

Posted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2008

afterbuzzer1

Game of the Night. Michigan 55, UCLA 52. Remember our stat from last week about Ben Howland’s UCLA teams going 1-2 on the eastern seaboard in his five seasons there?  After tonight’s semifinal matchup with Michigan, make that 1-3.  It’s true that his teams don’t seem to play well back east, but there’s more to it than that.  One of the few  coherent things that Vitale said during tonight’s game was that we all had rated UCLA based on Ben Howland and his ridiculous freshman class rather than the current experience and skills of players he is actually putting on the court.  There’s some validity to that, and it showed tonight. UCLA will end up being a good team, but they have serious offensive flaws in their frontcourt (6-17 tonight).  Even though they defended and rebounded well (holding Michigan to 43% from the field), in close games they have to depend on their playmakers Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday to produce points because their frontcourt players simply aren’t reliable in that role (yet).  And what about John Beilein’s Michigan team?  The backdoor cut by Deshawn Sims (18/5) that led to the dunk effectively ending the game was classic Beilein.  Manny Harris also contributed 15/5/4 assts, but the key takeaway here is that Michigan is 3-0 and is showing signs of putting together a good season regardless of what happens tomorrow night vs. Duke (who will likely kill Michigan).  The victory tonight over UCLA was the program’s biggest in twelve seasons (#1 Duke in 1997).  It is absolutely incomprehensible to us that a program with the prestige and resources of the University of Michigan hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.  With John Beilein’s system already beginning to bear fruit in Y2 of his rebuild, it won’t be long before we see the Wolverines playing in the March again.  (Yes, we realize that former coach Tommy Amaker played deep into March several times… in the NIT.)  For more detail on the partisan side of things, check the UM Hoops and Bruins Nation writeups.

Tale of Two Halves.

  • Duke 83, S. Illinois 58. The other half of the CvC semifinals was a decent game for twenty minutes until Duke’s Gerald Henderson woke up and delivered his best performance of the year (see below) in the form of several timely threes and nasty dunks, and the rest of his teammates stopped throwing the ball to SIU (17 first half TOs).  A few things struck us in this game:  first, Duke had 17 turnovers in the first half and still went into halftime with a 6-pt lead.  How?  SIU head coach Chris Lowery had the answer – The Blue Devils spent the final nine minutes of the half parading to the free-throw line, where they had just as many tries (19) as field-goal attempts. “That killed us,” Lowery said. “We felt we had a good game plan going in, we just didn’t expect to be in that kind of foul trouble.” – stop us if you’ve heard this before.  Duke shot 47 FTs to SIU’s 19.  Maybe this is explained by SIU’s tendency to foul, right?  Nah.  In their first two games this season, they’ve allowed 49 total free throws.  In two games.  Next, Duke’s defense continues to be as good as ever.  The Devils held SIU to 35% from the field, and only two Salukis made it into double figures.  Third, Duke’s presumptive center, Brian Zoubek, will never be confused with Bill Walton, but he doesn’t have to be.  What he needs to be, though, is merely serviceable.  Tonight he was – 10/6 in 19 minutes was one of the best games of his Duke career.  Duke will play the upstart Michigan Wolverines tomorrow night for the CvC Championship.  Final comment on this game: Bob Knight’s first shot at commentator was a good effort.  His coaching insights are invaluable to students of the game (esp. when he says something like “Duke has only gotten 1 of their last 5 possible points.”), but his demeanor is a little more boring than his role as studio analyst.  Perhaps he’ll get a little more animated as he grows into this position.

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  • Seton Hall 63, USC 61. This also doubles as the Upset of the Night, but we wanted to use both of these screen grabs showing the tale of two halves.  Rough night for the Pac-10, losing to two unranked teams, but USC under Tim Floyd has made a habit of these early losses. to unranked teams  Seton Hall worked its way back from a late first-half 15-pt deficit when USC seemed to fall asleep (see below).  Daniel Hackett missed a three at the buzzer which went along with his otherwise miserable shooting game (0-7), while Taj Gibson had 19/18 in a losing effort.  The Hall was led by John Garcia’s 11/18, and at 3-0 might be an early surprise out of the Big East.

usc-seton-hall-1st-half

Puerto Rico Tipoff. Xavier will meet Virginia Tech and Memphis will play Seton Hall on Friday in the semifinals of the PR Tipoff.

  • Memphis 83, UT-Chattanooga 71. Memphis opened the Puerto Rico Tipoff with a late first-half surge to put UTC away.  UM shot 52%, led by Doneal Mack’s 19 and Shawn Taggart’s 16/11, but they once again really struggled from long range (Mack hit 5-9, but the rest of the team was 1-14 from three).  UTC was led by Stephen McDowell’s 27 pts.
  • Xavier 75, Missouri 71. The Muskies came back from a seven-pt deficit with seven minutes to go in the game behind Terrell Holloway’s perfect game (10-10) from the line.  DeMarre Carroll led Mizzou with 17 pts.  Xavier severely outrebounded Missouri in this game 39-24.
  • Virginia Tech 74, Fairfield 57. AD Vassallo had 24/4 in his home ‘state’ and Jeff Allen 18/8 as the Hokies rolled over Fairfield by shooting 56% for the game.

Ridiculous Score of the Year. Texas Tech 167, East Central 116. Apparently Pat Knight decided to beef up his schedule this year with a high school team – what, Riverdale or Poly was already booked?  But seriously, a 77-pt first half followed by a NINETY-point second half?  The Red Raiders shot 59% while putting an absurd TEN players into double figures tonight.  We definitely feel bad for TT freshman guard Tyree Graham, who was the only player of fourteen who did not score for the Red Raiders tonight (0-5 in 18 mins).

txtech-167-pts

Other Games of Mild Interest.

  • Florida 64, S. Utah 50. It took 39:37 for Florida to hit a three to keep its streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer (546) alive.  The Gators went 1-16 from three, but 22-34 otherwise and managed to stay just enough ahead of S. Utah to avoid an upset possibility.
  • Illinois 69, Vanderbilt 63. Another home loss for an SEC team.  Illinois shook off a poor shooting night by hitting its threes (10-19) and FTs (11-11) and capitalized on a late 7-0 run to beat Vandy in Memorial Gymnasium, no small task.  Good night for the Big Ten.
  • Ohio St. 70, Delaware St. 42. We only show this score because we couldn’t believe that the OSU court was doubling as a volleyball court (see below).  We know OSU can afford to not do this, so what gives?  It looks terrible.  Oh, and BJ Mullens had 7/3 in his debut.

ohiost-court

On Tap Friday (all times EST):

  • Xavier v. Virginia Tech (ESPNU) – 1:30pm  (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
  • Miami (FL) (-7) v. Southern Miss – 3pm  (Paradise Jam)
  • S. Illinois v. UCLA (ESPN2) – 5pm (CvC)
  • USC v. UT-Chattanooga (ESPNU) – 5pm  (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
  • San Diego (-6) v. Valparaiso – 5:30pm  (Paradise Jam)
  • Ole Miss (-2) v. Utah – 6:30pm
  • Duke v. Michigan (ESPN2) – 7pm (CvC)
  • Syracuse v. Oakland – 7pm
  • Memphis v. Seton Hall (ESPNU) – 7pm (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
  • Pittsburgh (-21) v. Akron (ESPN FC & 360) – 7pm
  • Davidson v. Winthrop – 7pm
  • Connecticut (-16) v. Lasalle – 8pm
  • Maryland v. Vermont – 8pm
  • Tennessee (-10) @ Middle Tennessee St. – 8pm
  • Notre Dame (-21.5) @ Loyola Marymount – 10pm
  • UNC (-17.5) @ UC Santa Barbara (ESPNU) – 10pm
  • Wisconsin (-16) v. Iona – 10:30pm  (Paradise Jam)
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