Morning Five: 07.09.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 9th, 2014

morning5

  1. Here’s hoping everyone out there is enjoying the summer and had a safe and happy Independence Day holiday weekend. Legitimate college basketball news remains somewhat incorporeal at this time of year (unless you enjoy silly contrivances over which coach is the “best” at his job), but over the last week-plus there have been a few stories that have made their way into the chattering class. The one that probably holds the most interest from a train wreck meets a dumpster fire convergence is the ongoing saga of former North Carolina guard Rashad McCants. At this point, UNC fans no doubt wish that the key cog of the 2005 national championship team would just go away, as his personal media circus in the aftermath of admissions that he was kept eligible from 2002-05 through a series of bogus classes and other academic shenanigans continues to get weirder. On a SiriusXM radio show earlier this week, McCants made reference to both UNC and the NCAA having a deal worth a total of $310 million “in the works” for him, $10 million from the school to repay him for his exploitation and “lack of education received,” and $300 million from the organization to help him “facilitate sports education programs across the country.” Nobody seems to have a clue as to what he is talking about, as UNC claims that it has yet to speak or hear from McCants since a June 6 letter asking him to do so, and the NCAA probably lost his request somewhere down in the mail room.
  2. On a more serious note, however, UNC fans have been quick to character assassinate McCants, who very well may be in some strange way attempting to shake down the school for what he perceives to have been a lack of ongoing support. At the same time, whistleblowers and other informants rarely come without motive or personality flaws, so the question needs to remain focused on whether McCants (and possibly other members of the basketball program) were recipients of the benefits of sham African-American Studies classes at UNC rather than whether he alone is a reliable source. His unofficial transcript – which shows that all of the As and Bs he earned in Chapel Hill were within the beleaguered department — are enough to call into question the integrity of those courses. And that is presumably what the NCAA is doing with the news last week that it has decided to reopen its previously-closed case into academic misconduct at North Carolina. Also keep in mind here that, in light of the undressing over the concept of “student-athletes” that the NCAA suffered last month at the Ed O’Bannon trial, the organization needs a public “win” that supports the notion that it takes academics seriously. Coming down hard on one of the true blue-bloods of one of its primary revenue sports to set an example wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility in this climate. We’ll all have to wait to see how it shakes out.
  3. To that very point, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation at 2:30 PM later today is expected to tackle the topic of Promoting the Well-Being and Academic Success of College Athletes.” Chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va) and supported by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), the committee will explore the NCAA’s stated mission to integrate college sports and academics, and whether the commercial enterprise unfairly exploits athletes. Sound familiar? The NCAA is taking hits on all sides, with interested parties from the political to the business to the legal to the educational sectors all clamoring to understand the justifications for a lucrative business model that doesn’t share the wealth with its labor source. If the NCAA is lucky, Mark Emmert won’t be asked to testify if for no other reason than to avoid another jaw-dropping Freudian slip
  4. The reason that everyone is getting so chummy with the NCAA’s operations, of course, is that there’s a ton of money involved. The crazy realignment of a few summers ago has calmed down (for now), but as Boise State‘s recent financial settlement with the AAC illustrates, organizations tend to lose their damn minds when there’s a windfall to be grabbed (even if said windfall never actually materialized because it wasn’t thought through). That’s right, Boise State has agreed to pay a total of $2.3 million to the AAC (formerly the Big East) as a penalty for joining and then leaving a league that none of its teams ever actually played for. The Big West, another league that never suited up a single Broncos team, has already received $1.8 million in exit fees, meaning that the final tally in penalties for never actually leaving the Mountain West is $4.1 million. Congratulations to everyone involved, and let there be a lesson learned somewhere within this.
  5. This has been a fun M5, so let’s end it by continuing the theme of poor behavior with some coaching news. College of Charleston head coach Doug Wojcik hit the news late last week with the release of a 50-page report (on a late afternoon heading into a holiday weekend, no less) summarizing a pattern of verbally abusive behavior levied toward his players. Among the details released were that Wojcik had used a homophobic slur on one of his players and generally made a habit of degrading and humiliating them during practice sessions. CofC’s athletic director, Joe Hull, initially wanted to fire Wojcik for his transgressions, but he was overruled by school president George Benson, who instead decided to give Wojcik a one-month suspension without pay (meaning he will miss July’s key recruiting window) and instituting a zero-tolerance policy for any future abuse. Personalities are difficult to change overnight, especially in such stressful positions, so it’ll be interesting to watch how well Wojcik does under these new constraints.
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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 14th, 2014

Go home Mountain West, you’re drunk! How else to explain looking at the standings two weeks in and seeing Nevada – they of the eight non-conference losses, including to such luminaries as Pacific, Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, and New Orleans – alone atop the conference standings? How about Boise State and UNLV, two teams expected to contend for NCAA Tournament bids prior to the season, sitting back at 1-2? How about the worst team in the conference, San Jose State, giving New Mexico everything the Lobos can handle? How about the conference, home of terrific home court advantages up and down the West, sporting just a combined 10-9 record in league play so far? How about a San Diego State team in a rebuilding year with a work-in-progress offense carrying the banner for the conference with a top 15 ranking in the most recent RTC Top 25? Face it. Not a lot in this conference makes a ton of sense this year. And it is fascinating.

Deonte Burton Has Led A Wolf Pack Resurgence In Conference Play (US Presswire)

Deonte Burton Has Led A Wolf Pack Resurgence In Conference Play. (US Presswire)

Team of the Week

Nevada – This team was – not to put too fine a point on it – awful in the non-conference. They didn’t share they ball, they couldn’t rebound, they couldn’t defend. Less patient athletic directors may have begun their next coaching searches before Christmas. Now, while we’ve still no reason to suspect that the Wolf Pack are actually going to challenge for the conference title, much less an NCAA Tournament bid, these guys have turned into a real team. You actually want to find a way to watch them just to see what’s going on. They’ve got an NBA talent in Deonte Burton; they’ve got newcomer A.J. West providing some toughness up front; and they’ve got a handful of talented ancillary parts. And with sophomore Marqueze Coleman now back from injury, they’re starting to get back to whole. And – get this – they’re actually allowing less than a point per possession in four conference games. Maybe you can believe in this team, at least for a little while.

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Who Won the Week? Illinois, DePaul and Fans Everywhere…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 14th, 2012

wonweek

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: The Fans

Oregon Pit Crew student fans support Arsalan Kazemi on the night of his debut as a Duck. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

Fans, this horrible week is over. You’ve been freed, just like Arsalan Kazemi. (Also, can we please ignore the fact that a UO student misspelled “anchor”? I got my degree from there, and so did this photographer, and neither of us seemed to have any issues with that word.) (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

Let’s face it – this finals week was about the worst thing on record. Save for an upset win over Wichita State by Tennessee, which magically scored more than 40 points to shockingly hand the Shockers their first loss, the week was bereft of interesting match-ups. But the good news is, it’s over. (I’ve got a little bit of bad news though: Winter break’s not much better in terms of captivating contests.) Let’s celebrate that and move on with our lives.

(Related winners: None. Related losers: Anyone who had to sit through games last week.)

LOSER: Halil Kanacevic

The 6’8” forward for St. Joseph’s thought it would be a good idea to show support for his Hawks by flipping the double bird to Villanova fans during a Big 5 game after making his only field goal of the night, a three-pointer to give St. Joe’s a 50-47 lead in the second half. Instead, Kanacevic got popped with a technical foul for the display of unsportsmanlike conduct. Late in the game, he then proceeded to miss two clutch free throws with a minute to go that would have stretched the Hawks’ one-point lead. Instead, the Wildcats came back for a 65-61 home win that helped right their ship an embarrassing 18-point defeat to Columbia and Big 5 losses to La Salle and Temple. For his trouble, Kanacevic got suspended for two games as well.

(Related winners: Villanova; Temple, the likely Big 5 favorite. Related losers: St. Joseph’s; Langston Gallaway, the Hawks guard whose six three-pointers and 22 points were lost in the shuffle.)

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CIO… the Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 4th, 2012

Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

Looking Back

  • A Sunny New CAA Destination: After more than a month of negotiations, the CAA announced Friday that it will add the College of Charleston as a full-time member beginning next July. C of C, located in a prime tourism spot, will be the Colonial’s 10th full member once Old Dominion and Georgia State are gone (it will also be the southernmost, and strangely enough, the westernmost in longitude). Charleston, coached by Doug Wojcik, went 19-12 last season, and should fit into the top half of CAA basketball after leaving the weaker Southern Conference. Commissioner Tom Yeager said he isn’t necessarily done shopping for new members, but won’t pull the trigger on any school unless it’s the right fit.
  • Four Hofstra Players Arrested, Suspended: Hours after the Charleston announcement was made, this less cheerful news broke: Jimmy Hall, Shaquille Stokes, Kentrell Washington and Dallas Anglin were arrested and charged in six burglaries that took place on Hofstra’s campus. They are charged with stealing laptops, cell phones, and money in October and November. All players pled not guilty, but each is suspended from school until the case is resolved. Putting aside the more important societal issues, it’s a big blow to coach Mo Cassara’s team. Hall, an early Rookie of the Year favorite, was the Pride’s second leading scorer and top rebounder. Stokes, a Hawaii transfer, averaged 10 points per game in his first year with the Pride.
  • Another Weak Week: The CAA continued its brutal non-conference stretch by going 3-13 this week (not including the one intra-conference game between William & Mary and Old Dominion). The CAA has won just 40 percent of its games this year (32-47 combined record outside the conference) and looks like a definite one-bid league. Who’ll get that bid? No one has stood out thus far. While there’s still plenty of season left, the majority of the non-conference portion will wind down at the end of the month. The CAA has done nothing through November, though, to earn it much respect nationally.

Tim Rusthoven is putting together an excellent junior season for William & Mary, but without winning the conference tournament, he may not get a chance to play on the big stage.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. George Mason (5-3) – Maryland was just a bit too big, fast, and defensively imposing for George Mason, who played the Terrapins tight in a neutral-site game last weekend. Still, the Patriots can build on some things from that defeat. They turned the Terps over 19 times and limited future first-round draft pick Alex Len to 12 points. Freshman Patrick Holloway has emerged as a wild card for the Pats, hitting four threes and scoring 17 points in that game against Maryland. Unfortunately for Holloway, his three double-digit scoring games have come in the Patriots’ three losses. Still, the skinny hometown guard is stealing minutes from more veteran players and could really flourish once CAA play comes around. Holloway had announcers comparing him to Stephen Curry . Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: National Championship Monday

Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2012

  1. In a rather surprising move, Kansas State announced that it was hiring Bruce Weber to be its next head coach. Weber replaces Frank Martin who left the school earlier in the week to take over at South Carolina (technically that was more surprising than the Weber hire). Weber, who has a 313-155 record in stops at Southern Illinois and Illinois, reached the national championship game at Illinois in 2005, but was criticized by Illini fans for having done so with Bill Self’s recruits and then failing to land many of the top recruits out of Illinois. Now he will be tasked with running a program that Martin revitalized and will also have to deal with a familiar foe in-state: Bill Self.
  2. Less than a month after getting fired from Tulsa, Doug Wojcik has found a new head coaching position at Charleston. Wojcik, who went 140-92 at Tulsa in seven seasons, replaces Bobby Cremins, who retired due to health issues. Interestingly, Wojcik was fired in large part because of his inability to make the NCAA Tournament, but he takes over a program where Cremins was widely praised despite his inability to get his team to the NCAA Tournament. Will Charleston be as forgiving if Wojcik continues to fail to make the NCAA Tournament when he is at Charleston?
  3. Mississippi State is taking another route to find its next head coach. Instead of hiring a retread the Bulldogs are going with Rick Ray, who has served as assistant at Indiana State, Purdue, and Clemson. Although Ray has not had any experience as a head coach he has experienced a good amount of success as an assistant and comes in with high praise based on the quotes we have seen. Some may view hiring someone without head coaching experience as a risky proposition and it is to some degree, but we would rather see a program do that than hire someone with a track record of mediocrity as a head coach.
  4. Like Wojcik, Jim Baron did not have to wait long after being fired to find another job. The former Rhode Island coach, who was fired after going 184-165 in 11 seasons, but went 7-24 this past season is set to be named as the next head coach at Canisius later this week. Even though we have been critical of teams hiring retreads (see above) this seems like it would be a decent hire for Canisius as Baron’s team had won 20 or more games in the past four seasons, which would be a huge turnaround from where Canisius has been recently.
  5. In a sign that the times may be changing, Ohio is reportedly has taken Jim Christian away from TCU. Yes, a (soon to be) Big XII school might be losing a coach to a MAC school. Christian’s record at TCU (56-73) is not exactly inspiring, but he was very successful at Kent State, another MAC school, going 138-58 there including 10-5 against Ohio. The school has not released a statement on the topic, but is expected to introduce Christian on Tuesday so we suspect that an official announcement would come out some time later today.
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Analyzing the Illinois and Tulsa Coaching Hires – Exciting New Fits

Posted by EJacoby on March 29th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

More coaching vacancies continue to get filled across the country, as it became official on Thursday that Ohio head coach John Groce was hired for Illinois’ coaching vacancy and Kansas assistant Danny Manning agreed to become the new head coach at Tulsa. The Illini coaching search had been a major news story of the past few weeks, but Tulsa’s job had also been open for quite some time since earlier this month. Both hires come as somewhat of a surprise and make for exciting new eras for the Fighting Illini and Golden Hurricane programs. Here’s a look at how each coach might fit in.

Illinois

Groce Parlayed a Sweet Sixteen Trip Into a Big Ten Job (credit: Chicago Tribune)

Bruce Weber experienced a tragic downfall at Illinois during this past season that included ugly performances by the team during Big Ten play and painful press conferences filled with admissions of poor coaching tactics. What started off as a perfect fit for Weber, a man who brought the Illini to the National Championship game in his second season, never developed into a comfortable pairing. Weber was unable to bring in the top recruits that the previous Bill Self regime had (whose players were the ones that Weber coached to the Final Four), and even when some big names eventually came to the program, Weber never developed their talents as expected. As a result, a program that has brought in a total of nine RSCI top-80 recruits since 2009 just completed a terribly disappointing 17-15 campaign, and Weber is long gone.

Bringing in Groce certainly is not the big name that some people were expecting when this job became free. CBS and Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis both stated that Illinois is a top 10 coaching job, and some other media members echoed that belief. But perhaps the job has lost a bit of its luster in recent years, as several top candidates decided to pass up on the opportunity to stay at their current mid-major programs, including Shaka Smart of VCU and Brad Stevens at Butler. It took Ohio’s magical run to the Sweet Sixteen before Groce came into the picture, and while he may not have been the school’s first target, he should be a great fit in Champaign.

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Morning Five: 03.12.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 12th, 2012

  1. The decision by Illinois to fire Bruce Weber  (his press conference reaction here) was probably the most speculated on move this season, but when the school did so it was met with swift reaction. The most notable was Michigan State coach Tom Izzo who said that he and his wife shed tears over the firing although we aren’t clear if they were actual or symbolic tears. The firing was also probably the most significant so far this season as it opens up one of the premier jobs in the country, which could lead to a cascade of movement on the annual coaching carousal.
  2. After putting up with three seasons of relatively futility this was supposed to be a glorious March for Verdell Jones, but those dreams came to a crashing halt as he tore his right ACL during Indiana‘s win over Penn State. The loss of Jones, who finishes his career at #23 on the all-time scoring list at the school, appears to have hit the Hoosiers hard and will make their path through the South Region even more difficult. The Hoosiers have the talent to cover up for Jones over brief periods of time, but the experience he gained from his 103 starts will be hard to recreate late in games.
  3. Over the next three weeks you are going to be seeing plenty of video of Christian Laettner, but the one thing you would see or hear mentioned much is that the Duke great will appear in court this week along with his former teammate Brian Davis in the ongoing case regarding loans they took out on real estate investments. Looking through some of the names involved in this case (including Johnny Dawkins) this could turn into a college basketball media circus as more details come out.
  4. While Weber garnered the majority of the headlines over the weekend, two more coaches were fired over the weekend. At NebraskaDoc Sadler was fired after going 12-18 this season leading Tom Osbourne, the school’s athletic director, to decide to move in a new direction. Meanwhile, Tulsa fired Doug Wojcik, who was the school’s all-time leader in wins, citing a 35% decline in season ticket sales among the reasons. To us, the biggest reason for his firing and the one that probably most directly impacted season ticket sales was the lack of a NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons despite a 139-89 record including two 25-win seasons.
  5. We tried to keep the selection of NCAA Tournament teams out of this Morning Five, but Miami and Durand Scott would not let us. Late on Friday, the school announced that the NCAA had declared Durand ineligible for taking impermissible benefits. The time of the suspension, the third for the Hurricanes this season (all for different players), could not have come at a worse time for the team as they were just about to play a game against Florida State, which they lost. Although we cannot definitely say that they would have made the NCAA Tournament had they won that game, they were one of the first four teams left out and a win over a team that would have been a #5 seed at worst probably would have put them over the top. Instead, they are let with nobody to blame, but themselves (and possibly their former head coach).
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The Next Jimmer? Creighton’s Doug McDermott Is Well On His Way to National Stardom…

Posted by rtmsf on December 21st, 2011

Charlie Parks is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Creighton vs. Tulsa game on Monday night.

If you don’t know about Doug McDermott yet, then get ready, because you are about to. I didn’t know much about McDermott myself before the game Monday night. I knew the 6’7″ sophomore from Ames, Iowa, was second in the nation in scoring with 25.2 points per game, and that his play has put Creighton in the Top 25 and positioned him as the early favorite for Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. What I didn’t expect (but quickly found out) was that McDermott just might already be one of the best players in the country. He has a different type of game than last season’s mid-major darling from BYU but he’s equally effective, even more efficient, and still has two-and-a-half more seasons of eligibility in front of him.

Get to Know Him Now... (AP)

McDermott not only dropped a career high 35 points in 34 minutes on the road against Tulsa, but he put together one of the most complete and fundamentally sound basketball games I have ever seen.  He finished the night shooting 16-of-23 from the field (.695 FG%) with seven boards (four offensive), and he was automatic within ten feet of the hoop. But what was the most impressive about McDermott’s game was the way in which he put up those numbers.

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Set Your TiVo: 12.19.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2011

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.
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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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06.24.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on June 24th, 2009

What’s this?  Two days in a row with FBs?  Indeed.  There’s a lot to get caught up on…

  • Duke Downer.  The biggest news today was the news that Duke point guard Elliot Williams (he of the happy, happy feet) will be leaving the Duke program so that he can move closer to Memphis, his hometown.  Reportedly his mother is facing a life-threatening illness there and Williams wants to be nearby for support as she battles her disease.  He plans on petitioning the NCAA to waive the one-year transfer obligation so that he will be able to play immediately at his new school (presumably Memphis).  This is undoubtedly a major blow to Coach K’s backcourt in 2009-10, as he’ll now be left with only Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith to log minutes there.  Big things were expected of Williams based on his insertion into the starting lineup at midseason and his excellent all-around play down the stretch.  Duke fans are largely crushed by this news, given the unfortunate circumstances causing it as well as the huge, gaping hole in the backcourt it leaves (while, ironically, the perfect fix named Seth Curry can only wait and watch next season).  In other Duke news that came out today, Coach K is the highest paid Duke employee by far ($3.6M last year) – no surprise there.
  • Like Father, Not Like Son.  A bit of a surprise today is that Jeffrey Jordan (you know, that Mike guy’s son) is ending his basketball career at Illinois to focus on his studies.  This comes on the heels of news from earlier this year that Jordan’s hard work and commitment to the program had resulted in a scholarship for the rest of his time at the school.  Guess he’d had enough.  Actually, we can totally understand this.  Jordan was undeniably under more pressure to perform than any walk-on turned scholarship player in the history of college basketball, and although it made for nice copy, it’s safe to say that Jordan probably didn’t love the sport anywhere near the same as his famous dad.  He probably reached a personal epiphany of some kind that included a heart-to-heart with pops, and once MJ gave him the blessing, he’s now free to pursue the activities he truly enjoys.  Good for him.  And good for him for working his tail off in his two years at Illinois to go from walk-on to scholarship to expected contributor, despite limited talent.
  • Vegas, Baby.  The WAC has followed its mid-major brethren WCC and Mountain West Conferences by moving its postseason tournament to Las Vegas, where the Orleans Arena will host beginning in 2011.  This comes on the heels of a very successful WCC Tournament at the Orleans last year, where a sold-out, raucous arena was shown on national television for St. Mary’s vs. Gonzaga.  The MWC already holds its conference tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center down the street, and this move by the WAC means that Vegas will become the basketball destination for every legitimate conference (save the Pac-10) west of the Rockies every March.  Sounds like a really fun environment for fans of these leagues.
  • No, No, NoEveryone got this wrongDerrick Rose wasn’t flashing a gang sign in the below pic, he was practicing universal remote hand signals for the letter “B” on the SAT exam.

derrick rose hand signals

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