Your Way Too Early 2014-15 AAC Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 7th, 2014

As we anxiously wait to see whether UConn can deliver a title to the American Athletic Conference in its very first season of existence, it’s important to take some time to wildly speculate about how the conference will shake out next season. We don’t yet have a complete list of who is heading to the NBA Draft and we haven’t watched even one minute of East Carolina or Tulane basketball this season, but that won’t stop us from sticking our necks out with everyone’s predicted finish for next season.

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

  1. SMU. Every top team in the conference is losing at least two important pieces except for the Mustangs. Graduating senior Nick Russell was a valuable contributor this season, but SMU has guys like Keith Frazier and Sterling Brown waiting in the wings. Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore will continue to get better and don’t forget about incoming uber-recruit Emmanuel Mudiay who could be in the starting lineup from Day One.
  2. Connecticut. People thought Kemba Walker was irreplaceable until Shabazz Napier stepped up, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the Huskies have another superstar guard ready to fill the void. Napier’s departure will leave the biggest hole, but Niels Giffey was an efficient offensive player and Lasan Kromah was dependable as well. The team’s success will likely hinge whether DeAndre Daniels decides to turn pro. If he stays for his senior season and Omar Calhoun turns around a once promising career, those two and Ryan Boatright form a solid nucleus to rebuild around. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Game of the Week: Saint Louis-VCU Pt. II, Iona-Manhattan & More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 27th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Saint Louis (25-2) at Virginia Commonwealth (20-7) – 6:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday. Yes, this was our Game of the Week just two short weeks ago and yes, the Billikens all-but-clinched the Atlantic 10 crown by winning on their home floor. So why does the second iteration once again headline the week? Well, for one thing, it was a really good basketball game the first time around. Saint Louis held serve in Chaifetz Arena, sure, but not before VCU forced 17 turnovers and battled back from a double-figure deficit to make the final two minutes thrilling — it took a Rob Loe three-pointer with around 30 seconds left to ice it for the home team. And the defenses lived-up to their dominant billing, each limiting the opposing offense to well-under one point per possession on the afternoon. Even if you had tuned in for just five minutes of action, the high level of play and serious potential of both teams would have become quickly evident.

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (Chris Lee, AP)

And that’s the overarching reason why Saturday’s tilt — this time in Richmond — is the main event in an already-loaded week; Saint Louis-VCU isn’t merely a marquee A-10 match-up, it’s a marquee national match-up. Everything at stake in a high-profile power-conference game is also at stake here: perception, NCAA Tournament profile, late-season momentum, bragging rights, and in the case of the Billikens, a very long winning streak. Jim Crews’ bunch has reeled off 19 straight victories over the course of three full months, last losing way back on December 1 to still-undefeated Wichita State. Shaka Smart’s group, meanwhile — fresh off a painfully-close road loss to UMass last Friday — has not dropped a home game in more than a year, obliterating visiting opponents this season by nearly 17 points per contest. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object in Verizon Wireless Arena, and the basketball-watching public will be the beneficiary. KenPom has the home squad pegged as 62 percent favorites, which is to say, it’s more or less a toss-up. Tune in on Saturday — Round II should be great.

Four More to Watch

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O26 Weekly Awards: New Mexico, Jeremy Ingram, Donnie Tyndall & ECU…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 26th, 2014

Think about it, folks: this time next week, it will be March. Let that sink in for a minute… Now let’s take a step back and give some recognition to several of last week’s top performers and performances.

O26 Team of the Week

The Lobos made it loud and clear that they're legitimate. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

The Lobos made it loud and clear that they’re legitimate. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports)

New Mexico. If the Lobos made one thing abundantly clear last week, it’s this: They are every bit the team we thought they were back in the preseason (they are who we thought they were!). While San Diego State has captured the lofty rankings and national media attention for much of 2013-14, New Mexico — once favorites to win the Mountain West — has lurked under the radar for the better part of three months, amassing plenty of wins but not many headlines. But after a pair of statement victories in a four-night span, over two of its biggest rivals? That all changed in a hurry.

Entering last Wednesday’s game at UNLV, head coach Craig Neal was confronted with the challenge of having to focus his team on the task at hand without looking ahead to Saturday’s enormous tilt against San Diego State. Not necessarily an easy task, but an especially important one considering that the Runnin’ Rebels had more or less handled New Mexico in its own gym just one month earlier. Lucky for Neal, he never had to worry much at the Thomas & Mack Center — his senior point guard Kendall Williams took any possible questions about “focus” and immediately extinguished them with a flurry points. Williams nailed a three in the first minute of the contest to give the Lobos an early lead, then helped his team maintain that advantage for the remainder of the night by notching 29 points — including 17 in the first half — along with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. The outcome was never in question, and what made the 68-56 final even more impressive was the fact that New Mexico, not especially known for its defense, held UNLV to a paltry 31.7 percent from the field. Now the Lobos could look ahead.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume II

Posted by jbaumgartner on November 25th, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. teams playing havoc with the minds and emotions of AP Poll voters. Perfect example this week – North Carolina. After laying a giant stink bomb at home against Belmont and making everyone wonder exactly how much of a difference P.J. Hairston will make even when he’s back, those same short-handed Heels went out and took it straight to the defending champs during Sunday’s convincing win over Louisville. So which is the real Carolina? Hard to say at this point, but yet another reminder that this is a year where almost any team can put up a W.

UNC Took It to the Champs on Sunday (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

UNC Took It to the Champs on Sunday (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

I LOVED…. efficient scorers. Marcus Paige‘s 32 points on 9-of-13 shooting brought to my attention that we do have a number of examples this year of quantity scorers who are putting up their numbers without dominating the ball — not the most common find with today’s shoot-first mentality. The two names that immediately come to mind are Duke’s Jabari Parker (after two weeks, still for real) and UK’s Julius Randle. Parker is now shooting almost 56 percent for the year (65 percent from three) and has only been under 50 percent shooting once all year, while Randle has never been below that mark. Meanwhile, both are still putting up over 20 points per game. It’s hard to not love a teammate who can fill it up while still leaving shots for the other guys on the floor.

I LOVED…. Russ Smith‘s ability to slice the double team. I’ll harp on his decision-making when appropriate, but there is no one better in the college game about sizing up two defenders at the top of the key, hesitating momentarily to draw them closer and then knifing through to create an instantaneous 5-on-3 situation in the lane that usually results in a layup. He’s a fun talent to see up close.

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Big East M5: 03.27.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 27th, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. If nothing else, fans of the current Big East are going to have plenty of channels to catch their favorite schools on when the schools all go their separate ways. The ACC is taking over Big Monday and should have an increased presence on ESPN, the Big East (Catholic edition) will be on FOX, and the soon-to-be-the-conference-formerly-known-as-the-Big-East just inked a deal with CBS, which will get first dibs on the conference’s games through 2019-20. Oh, and West Virginia seemed to be on ESPN like every week this year… so good for the ‘Eers.
  2. Louisville was the number one overall seed in 2009, much like it is this year. That team hoisted both the Big East regular season and tournament trophies, and made a run to the Elite Eight before falling to Michigan State. That team featured excellent former Cardinals like Terrence Williams, Andre McGee, and Earl Clark, and apparently those guys won’t stop talking about that season. Peyton Siva would like to reclaim bragging rights over the 2009 squad with the one trophy they weren’t able to claim — a national title. “I don’t know a lot (about 2009), I just know T-Will and Dre were on it and they always brag about being the No. 1 overall seed… Our whole goal for the year — they had Andre’s picture on the wall from that ’09 team — is to take him off the wall.”
  3. Otto Porter is a finalist for the Naismith Award this season, and for good reason. A very good argument can be made that there was no player more important to his team this season, and it showed in Georgetown‘s best games — Porter scored 33 points in front of over 35,000 raucous Syracuse fans to stun the Orange at the Carrier Dome — as well as their worst — Porter could only muster 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting in Georgetown’s shocking loss to Florida Gulf Coast last weekend. While Porter is up against stiff competition for the Naismith Award, he already has accolade in his back pocket as Basketball Times has named the forward its National Player of the year.
  4. Expansion fever — catch the excitement! Today in schools moving conferences, the old Big East continues it’s mission to restore the halcyon days of mid-2000s Conference USA. Brett McMurphy reports that Tulsa will become the 12th member of the conference, calling the addition “imminent.” According to McMurphy, the Golden Hurricanes will join up in 2014 with Tulane and East Carolina, who will be elevated to full-member status to balance the conference numbers and fill the critical role of having basketball-playing Pirates in the league.
  5. The Journal-Sentinel sat down with former Marquette great Brian Wardle, currently the head coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay, to discuss the state of Warriors basketball. Wardle was obviously thrilled with the success that the program has had under Buzz Williams, and before him, Tom Crean, stating that MU has entered the ranks of the elite in college ball. “The level that Marquette basketball is at now is an elite level that it has not been in for a long time… they’ve gone to three Sweet Sixteens in a row, a Final Four, everything takes time to build. Nothing happens overnight. You’ve got to go through some failures to succeed. You’re seeing Marquette in the Sweet Sixteen every year with the Michigan States, the Dukes, with Kansas.”  There is no denying the success that Marquette has had recently, though dropping the ‘e’ word seems a bit strong.  Until Marquette makes a few more Final Fours or captures a national title, they’re a rung or two below the nation’s elite schools, at least to me. However, they’re not far behind, and with the consistent success that Buzz Williams has had with the program, it may only be a matter of time until they break through.
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Big East M5: 11.28.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 28th, 2012

  1.  Everyone has already used up all the good “Big East is turning into Conference USA” jokes so I will refrain, but we would be remiss not to mention that two more C-USA teams — East Carolina and Tulaneplan to defect to the Big East and will join the conference in 2014. The move is considered a reactionary decision to Rutgers’ impending departure, and a proactive decision considering the conference, smartly, expects more teams to defect in the coming months (Connecticut and Louisville, we are looking at you). As Big East fans, I wish we could say we were excited, but from a basketball perspective, Tulane and East Carolina hardly move the needle, if they move it at all. Don’t get us wrong, the Big East is trying to stave off irrelevancy and adding more teams is really the only way to do that, but adding mediocre teams from Conference USA is really only a band-aid, especially if UConn and others don’t plan on staying for much longer. I seriously doubt basketball fans are going to pack Madison Square Garden for a Big East Tournament matchup between Tulane and SMU.
  2. Things started well enough for Villanova as Jay Wright’s club began the season 3-0 including a solid win over Purdue in Madison Square Garden. But since then, everything has gone downhill in a hurry. A blowout loss to Alabama was followed by an embarrassing home loss to Columbia, and things hit a low point on Sunday when the Wildcats blew a second-half lead and lost in overtime to Big Five rival La Salle. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Wright and his team, but things were never supposed to get this bad, and the Wildcats have enough talent that they have no business losing by double figures to a mediocre team from the Ivy League. It should also be noted that this sort of embarrassing effort has become commonplace for ‘Nova over the last few seasons, and if they don’t start playing with more intensity and passion, Wright, even with his Final Four pedigree, could find himself on the hot seat at the end of the season.
  3. The biggest match-up involving a team from the Big East will be Thursday’s showdown between Notre Dame and Kentucky in the SEC/Big East Challenge. The Wildcats aren’t the same dominating force they were last year, but as the Fighting Irish understand, they are probably just as supremely athletic, especially in the frontcourt. Notre Dame probably has the advantage in the backcourt, at least when it comes to experience, but it will be extremely interesting to see Jack Cooley square off against Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein in the post as it figures to be a battle between great athleticism and great fundamentals. Cooley isn’t half as athletic as Kentucky’s young frontcourt, but he is more experienced and he won’t get rattled in the post.
  4. With UConn guard R.J. Evans out for at least another game because of a chest injury, coach Kevin Ollie has turned to junior combo guard Niels Giffey to pick up the slack. And if the first six games are any indication, Giffey will be up to the challenge. The Huskies have a talented backcourt duo in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, but Ollie  considers Giffey the team MVP to this point because of his work ethic, intensity, and “glue guy” qualities. Giffey won’t wow anybody with his athleticism or overall skill set, but he can knock down an open three-pointer, rebounds well for his size, and is the type of scrappy player that every good team needs in the rotation. Conference play will really tell us what type of role Giffey has carved out on this team, but it’s not as if the Huskies have played all pushovers, so if Ollie and his team leave an impression this season, chances are Giffey will be a big reason why.
  5. Speaking of role players on teams without a lot of scholarship athletes who are being forced into crucial roles, Providence freshman Joshua Fortune has been playing A LOT for coach Ed Cooley. The forgotten guard in the Friars’ much-ballyhooed recruiting class has been thrust into duty because of injuries and is averaging better than 38 minutes and nearly 10 points per game through six contests. The Friars have very few competent Big East players and the 6’5″ Fortune is one of them. His shot selection and decision-making has been sketchy as he has more turnovers (22) than assists (17), but these are valuable minutes considering he will soon experience the brunt of a Big East schedule. One thing is for certain, there is no way Cooley can expect Fortune to handle this workload all season, as no freshman can. The good news is that fellow guard Kris Dunn should be back some time after the new year, and when he and senior Vincent Council return, Cooley will finally boast one of the best backcourts in the conference.
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Morning Five: 11.28.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 28th, 2012

  1. We might as well call this the “Realignment Day” edition of the Morning Five because it will be the dominant theme. Rumors have been swirling all week that the ACC was poised to counteract the Big Ten’s raid of Maryland over the weekend by adding another team in the Terps’ place. According to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, the ACC presidents are meeting this morning (probably while you’re reading this blurb) to decide if it wants to add a 14th school in all sports, and an “industry source” expects that the choice will be Louisville. Cincinnati and Connecticut are reportedly the other two schools under consideration, but the ACC feels that it can grab those two at a later date if it decides to expand to 16 members — figuring they will be there in the future with a lack of other viable options. Louisville in the ACC makes about as much sense as any of the other crazy realignment moves, but in terms of sheer basketball prowess, can a league harboring Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim really not self-combust into nucler winter wormhole of egomania? If true, this news is astonishing.
  2. Speaking of Maryland, top brass at the school have openly contemplated a reduced exit fee when it ultimately leaves the ACC for the greener pastures of the Big Ten. Only one problem with that idea — the ACC isn’t having it. In fact, the conference slapped a lawsuit on the Terps Tuesday that quite clearly states it expects a check for the sum of $52.26 million payable to league offices as a result of Maryland’s decision to leave. Upon the addition of Notre Dame in all sports except football back in September, the league presidents voted to nearly triple the exit fee to prevent situations like this from occurring — all of the 12 signed except for two, Florida State and Maryland. Whether the league ultimately gets the total amount paid is important in that it could set a compelling precedent if another school — namely, those Seminoles — also feels the draw elsewhere in pursuit of endless television dollars thrown their way by another conference. Even for big-time athletic programs, $50M is a lot of money, and especially so for broke ones like Maryland. This could get ugly before Maryland ever steps foot onto a Big Ten playing surface.
  3. The only “real” realignment news of yesterday was that the Big East added Tulane (in all sports) and East Carolina (in football only) to its ongoing transformation from the best basketball conference in all of the land to a watered-down Conference USA. We are assuming it will only be a matter of time before East Carolina joins for all sports, of course, but it has to be said that this league is becoming an absolute joke. This is clearly a panicked move, but at this point the Big East is probably looking for anything fill in the gaps before the conference falls apart. We have to wonder, though, that if the Big East could put the genie back in the bottle and go back to that ridiculous but ultimately sublime premise of a northeastern-based basketball league anchored by the likes of Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, and St. John’s, if they’d now be willing to turn back that clock. It’s too late now.
  4. Yesterday we referenced an investigation into Missouri’s suspended guard Michael Dixon and later Tuesday a police report surfaced in which the narrative shows that Dixon was accused of forcible rape in August, but was not charged with a crime by local prosecutors. Somewhat similar to the Dez Wells story at Xavier, there was insufficient evidence to reasonably bring charges against Dixon and so the case against him was closed on November 16. Presumably this may have caused some of the strange tweeting by Dixon, Kim English and a woman who claims that Dixon assaulted her over the Thanksgiving weekend, but without knowing the details of the Dixon case, it’s difficult to speculate too much further. A school certainly has discretion to punish Dixon if it feels the facts are warranted, but we have trouble with situations like this one appears to be, where there is insufficient evidence to accuse a player of a crime but a school still feels the need to punish someone. Let’s hope this all resolves itself soon.
  5. The ACC might be bolstering its basketball presence for years to come with a presumed addition of top 10 historical program Louisville, but as of now, the first night of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge fell squarely on the side of their midwestern-based counterparts. Not only did #2 Indiana lambaste #14 North Carolina in the headliner game, but #23 Minnesota ripped #25 Florida State in Tallahassee and Nebraska did likewise at Wake Forest. With #3 Michigan’s solid home win against #21 NC State and Maryland’s strong win at Northwestern coupled with Virginia Tech’s surprising blowout of Iowa, the Big Ten has taken a commanding 4-2 lead into tonight’s action. Why is it commanding — the answer lies in the conference’s two road wins. With three home team all favored tonight — Wisconsin, Illinois, and Penn State — along with a reasonable chance for one of Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State to pull off a road upset, it appears that the Big Ten is well-positioned to win its fourth Challenge in a row. It says here that the final tally will be 8-4.
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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2012

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

Top Storylines

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

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

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

Reader’s Take I


Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Memphis (14-2)
  2. Marshall (12-4)
  3. UTEP (11-5)
  4. UCF (10-6)
  5. UAB (9-7)
  6. Southern Mississippi (8-8)
  7. Tulane (7-9)
  8. East Carolina (7-9)
  9. Houston (6-10)
  10. Tulsa (5-11)
  11. SMU (5-11)
  12. Rice (2-14)
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Checking In On… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 13th, 2012

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can also find his musings online at http://www.duclarion.com/sports or on Twitter @broncos2thebowl.

Reader’s Take:

 

The Week That Was

  • UCF Hits Speed Bump With Transfers: Usually at this point in the season it’s all about lacing up the sneakers and getting to business. However, the challenges striking the Central Florida men’s basketball program persist. Transfer guard Jeffrey Jordan, Michael’s oldest son, left the Knights over the weekend citing “personal reasons” and Central Florida Future announced Thursday that senior forward Dwight McCombs will be following suit after he was handed a season-ending suspension on Wednesday. The losses may not seem like that big of a deal with Jordan sitting on the bench and McCombs only averaging 2.4 points and 2.5 rebounds a night; however, the decisions of both players to leave the school only adds additional trouble to a program that has been marred with the departure of its athletic director this season.
  • Memphis Continues Success Against Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles took the nation’s seventh-longest winning streak into FedEx Forum on Wednesday night (11 games), but exited with their third loss of the season and their 18th consecutive loss to the Memphis Tigers. On the other sideline, the Tigers enjoyed their 135th home victory since the 2004-2005 season. Memphis is the winningest home team in the nation at 135-16 since that year. The Tigers were able to hold to a close victory behind a pair of Chris Crawford free throws with 31.7 seconds remaining.
  • Dennis Tinnon Has A Career Night: Marshall barely escaped with a victory last night, defeating UAB 60-58 and setting up a marquee conference matchup with UCF on Saturday night.  Junior forward Dennis Tinnon led the Thundering Herd, grabbing a career-high 19 rebounds. Another unheralded junior, forward Robert Goff, sealed the victory for Marshall with a gigantic three-point play with under a minute to play. DeAndre Kane also enjoyed a successful evening, scoring 21 points and recording 10 rebounds. UAB senior Cameron Moore put the Blazers up late, but failed to convert on what would have been a game-tying basket in the final seconds.
  • Kazemi Keeps Rolling: Rice’s Arsalan Kazemi continued his case for conference player of the year last night in a 68-52 rout against Southern Methodist. The junior forward recorded his 40th career double-double, the 13th of the season, which ranks him as the nation’s best. The Iran native finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman Ahmad Ibrahim made a solid first career start for the Owls, recording 14 points.

Head Coach Donnie Jones (left) Hit A Bump In The Road When Dwight McCombs And Jeffrey Jordan Decided To Leave The Knights.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (11-5, 2-0): They may not have the conference’s best overall record, but the Tigers are the deepest team in conference and they have the most offensive firepower. Wednesday’s win over Southern Miss proved that the Tigers can win defensive bouts too. Memphis has won six of its last seven after falling from the national rankings. Will Barton continues to put forth a First-Team All-Conference effort, averaging 18.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per night.
  2. Southern Miss (15-3, 2-1): The Golden Eagles were unquestionably the best team in conference until last night, which should be a great learning lesson for a relatively young team. Southern Miss can rebound the ball almost better than anyone in conference, averaging 38.1 boards a night as a team, which is third only to UCF and Marshall in C-USA. Senior guard Darnell Dodson has elevated his play.
  3. UCF (13-3, 3-0): With guard A.J. Rompza back in the lineup, the Knights have been unbeatable, winning both at home (carrying a 16-game home win streak) and on the road. Forward Keith Clanton and guard Marcus Jordan continue to be the conference’s best duo for coach Donnie Jones in what has been an up-and-down season for the Knights.
  4. Marshall (12-4, 3-0): If Marshall—the same team that has wins over Cincinnati and Iona—is the fourth best team in conference, then C-USA could be presenting a reasonable case for four teams come March. The Thundering Herd have revived from a two-game losing streak by winning their first three conference games. DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts have found a force in the low post in junior forward Dennis Tinnon. Marshall is fourth in the country in rebounds with over 42 a night.
  5. Rice (10-7, 1-1): Arsalan Kazemi continues to be the story here. The junior forward is averaging 14.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, leading the nation in double-doubles with 13 this season. Fellow junior Tamir Jackson has been a pivotal player, running the team’s offense and averaging 12.9 points per game. The Owls don’t seem to be in the upper echelon of the conference, but with Kazemi they will contend throughout the season.
  6. Tulane (12-4, 0-2): After a 9-0 start, the Green Wave has stumbled; however, there isn’t a team in the conference that has played a tougher schedule in recent weeks. Since their December 22 loss to top-ranked Syracuse, the Green Wave has played two of the conference’s best teams in UCF and Southern Miss.
  7. Houston (9-7, 1-2): The Cougars have followed a five-game win streak with back-to-back conference loses at UTEP and UCF. With the losses, Houston has fallen to the middle of the conference rankings, but have a huge opportunity this weekend when they play host to the Memphis Tigers. If the Cougars can continue shooting the way they have this past month, then they can contend with anybody. Currently, Houston ranks 25th in the country in shooting percentage, knocking down 48.3% of their shots from the field.
  8. SMU (9-7, 1-1): Senior forward Robert Nyakundi continues to lead the Mustangs, averaging 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. The Arlington native hasn’t had to do it alone, though, with the addition of Texas transfer Shawn Williams. The sophomore swingman has been an immediate contributor in Dallas since joining the team on the court eight games ago. Williams isn’t the only transfer making a difference. Junior guard London Giles, a Nevada transfer, has been a crucial performer at SMU all season, averaging 11.5 points per game.
  9. Tulsa (8-9, 1-2): Another team on the outside looking in, the Golden Hurricane have struggled consistently this season in close games, losing three times in overtime and four times by three points or less. Jordan Clarkson will end up on an All-Conference team, but he hasn’t much help thus far.
  10. UTEP (8-9, 1-2): Tim Floyd’s squad enjoyed a bit of a revival before the holidays, but has floundered since, failing to win consecutive games since December 22. The Miners enjoyed a nice home victory over Houston, but haven’t been able to win a true road game all season. Although they haven’t found a replacement for Randy Culpepper, the Miners are extremely deep with a bench of 11 players.
  11. East Carolina (9-6, 0-2): The backcourt has been stout this season for the Pirates. Junior Miguel Paul has emerged as one of the best point guards in the conference, scoring 16.2 points and dishing out 5.7 assists per night. Senior forward Darius Morrow has also been a force for ECU, averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. In addition, the big man is shooting 54 percent from the field for a streaky Pirate club that won five straight heading into conference play, but have gone 0-2 early on.
  12. UAB (5-10, 0-2): The Blazers have continued a porous non-conference run with a rough conference start, dropping contests at home to Memphis and Marshall. UAB’s offense is still the worst in conference, averaging less than 60 points per game. Even worse, preseason conference player of the year Cameron Moore has been spectacular, but hasn’t been able to abate the Blazers’ woes. With their next four games scheduled against Southern Miss, Rice, UCF and Marshall, the losing skid could very well continue.

Looking Ahead

  • UCF at Marshall, January 14 at 7 p.m. ET: While the Southern Miss-Memphis showdown lived up to the hype, C-USA fans will be watching this one with a close eye as first place in the conference is on the line. It will be extremely interesting to watch the backcourt duo of A.J. Rompza and Marcus Jordan duel against DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts. Marshall boasts a three-game winning streak; however, it is UCF that is undoubtedly the hottest team in the conference. The Knights have won nine of their last 10.
  • Rice at Tulane, January 14 at 8 p.m. ET: Two of the conference’s best individual talents will square off on Saturday when Arsalan Kazemi leads the Owls into New Orleans against Kendall Timmons and the Green Wave. Tulane is coming off a full week’s rest and is arguably the most rested team in conference, which should play into their favor against a Rice team that has played five games since the holiday break.
  • Memphis at Houston, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: The Tigers are riding an emotional high into Saturday’s contest at the Hofheinz Pavillion, which gives the Cougars the perfect opportunity to pull the upset. Houston is probably the best team in conference to matchup against Memphis’ high-powered offense. Currently, the Cougars are 39th in the nation in points per game with 76.6 a night. Houston has developed a quartet of double-digit scorers in addition to three other players that average more than six points a night. The Cougars are surprisingly deep and shouldn’t be overlooked.
  • SMU at UTEP, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: Neither of these clubs is able to rebound well, lacking frontcourt talent and depth. The Mustangs rank 326th in the nation in rebounding with an average of 30.4 boards a game, while the Miners are even worse at 335th with 29.6 rebounds a night. However, UTEP has been able to improve its field goal percentage in recent weeks, shooting 47.4% from the field. Last time they played in the Don Haskins Center, the Miners shot 61.2% in a 70-50 thumping over Houston on January 7.
  • Marshall at West Virginia, January 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3): This game serves as the conclusion for Marshall’s non-conference schedule and provides head coach Tom Herrion’s club with another opportunity to showcase their talent on national TV. Of course, this is an in-state rivalry so the emotions will be as high as any game this season. So far, Marshall is 1-1 against Big East competition. Another win against the nation’s deepest conference, in addition to their victory over Iona, could serve them come March if they fall short in the conference tournament.
  • Memphis at UCF, January 18 at 8 p.m.: It’s not too early to look towards next week’s conference schedule with Memphis traveling to take on Central Florida in a matchup that could be for first place in the conference. Another marquee game to look ahead at is Marshall at Southern Miss, which won’t be played until January 21 and will be aired on national television. These are the four top teams in conference and for the second straight week in a row, there will be a pair of pivotal conference matchups that feature all four.

Spotlight On…Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan

UCF has greatly benefited from the addition of A.J. Rompza and from the development of sophomore guard Isaiah Sykes. However, it has been the tandem of Clanton and Jordan that has fueled the Knights this season with consistent performance. Clanton is arguably the best post player in the conference, averaging 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. His latest performance against Houston, a 18 point and 13 rebound outing that included 5 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals, showed that he will be able to dominate teams with inferior big men, which the conference is chock full of. To further understand Clanton’s importance, one only needs to evaluate the Knights as a team. They are ranked 200th or lower in every major statistical category other than rebounding, where they rank 38th in the country with an average of 38.9 boards a night. In addition to Clanton, Marcus Jordan has been playing top-notch ball for head coach Donnie Jones. In addition to be the team’s leading scorer, Jordan has been the epitome of consistency, scoring in double-digits in all fourteen games he has played in so far this season. In a season filled with tons of upheaval for the UCF athletic department, the Knights basketball program has weathered the storm, winning nine of its last ten. They couldn’t have done it without the stellar play of both Clanton and Jordan.

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Checking In On… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 26th, 2011

Steve Coulter—is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can also find his musings online at http://www.duclarion.com/sports or on Twitter @broncos2thebowl.

Reader’s Take:

 

The Week That Was

  • Rice Upsets Texas A&M; Kazemi Records 36th Career Double-Double: The conference had arguably its best night of the season on Thursday, posting a 6-2 overall record, which was highlighted by Rice’s 65-58 upset victory over Texas A&M at College Station. Junior forward Arsalan Kazemi led Rice with 10 points and 13 rebounds, recording his ninth double-double of the season and 36th of his career, as the Owls snapped the Aggies’ 80-game regular season, non-conference home win streak. Kazemi is now six double-doubles shy of the conference record. The junior carried the scoring load in his sophomore season, but has found help this season from fellow junior Tamir Jackson and senior Lucas Kuipers.
  • Tulane Drops Second Game, Falling to Syracuse: The conference’s only losses Thursday night came against ranked competition. Tulane took on #1 Syracuse, losing 80-61 in a lopsided contest. However, the team’s trio of top scorers Kendall Timmons, Jordan Callahan and Ricky Tarrant were not shut out, combining for 41 points. Timmons was the top performer, scoring 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
  • Memphis’ Continues To Tumble: The high-powered Memphis Tiger offense was contained and exposed on Thursday night when it faced the #16 Georgetown Hoyas, falling 70-59. Despite averaging 80 points a contest, Memphis was held in check throughout the game, which has become a trend when the Tigers take on tougher competition. Sophomore guard Will Barton continued his fantastic play, contributing a double-double in the losing effort. Barton finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but fellow sophomore Chris Crawford led the team with 17 points. Barton currently leads the conference in scoring with an average of 19.9 points per game, which is more than two points higher than UCF’s Marcus Jordan, who is second in scoring.
  • UTEP Builds Mo’ In Hawaii: In the first game of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, UTEP had a chance to make a statement and did, dominating Clemson. The Miners walked away with a 61-48 victory, following a 23-8 run during the game’s final 13 minutes. The Tigers recorded a lone field goal during that span. With the win, UTEP improves to .500 for the first time this season. Though they fell to the streaking Wildcats in the semifinal game, UTEP bounced back in the consolation round, holding off Auburn 83-76. The Miners are streaking at the right time, winners of four of their last five. Sophomore guard Michael Perez is finally filling the void left by Randy Culpepper, as he averaged over 17 points per game in the Diamond Head Classic.

Marcus Jordan Is Second In Conference USA In Scoring And The Knights Boast Two Of The League's Top Five Point-Scorers (Credit: Chris Schubert).

Power Rankings

  1. Tulane (11-2): The Green Wave suffered its second loss of the season on Thursday night, but they take a lot of experience away from facing the top-ranked team in the country. Tulane is the best defensive team in conference, allowing only 55.1 points a night. In comparison, the league’s worst defensive team, Memphis, allows 74.3 points per night. Kendall Timmons has found a long-term running partner in freshman Ricky Tarrant, who has blossomed into a star in the early part of this season.
  2. Southern Miss (10-2): It’s hard to pick nits on a team that has won six in a row. Southern Miss has emerged as one of the best teams in conference because they play complete team basketball. Lacking a consistent top performer, the Golden Eagles have relied on several players to make plays.  A lot of credit goes to the Golden Eagles seniors such as Darnell Dodson and Maurice Bolden, who each recorded a double-double in Thursday night’s win over South Florida. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2011

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can also find his musings online at http://www.duclarion.com/sports or on Twitter @broncos2thebowl.

Reader’s Take:

 

The Week That Was

  • Memphis Drops From Top 25: Memphis is unranked following the program’s 76-72 loss to Murray State last week. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Memphis and catapulted the Racers into the Top 25. The Tigers received 13 votes in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches poll along with 27 votes in the Associated Press poll, neither number being high enough to keep Memphis in the rankings with a mediocre 5-3 start. The Tigers have a chance at redemption this Saturday when they travel to No. 4 Louisville for a pivotal non-conference game. Following that contest, they travel to No. 17 Georgetown on December 22, where they will look to avenge an early season overtime loss to the Hoyas.

Once Again, Memphis Has No Shortage Of Mental Miscues To Iron Out

  • Tulane Gains Votes, Syracuse Looms: Before losing its first contest of the season last week, the Tulane Green Wave were marching to the beat of an undefeated drum. And the national media took notice. In the December 5 USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll, the Green Wave received some votes following a 9-0 start. Although the team didn’t receive any votes in Monday’s poll, they have a chance to prove themselves against top-ranked Syracuse on Dec. 22.
  • Washburn Gets Dap: UTEP freshman swingman Julian Washburn claimed his first C-USA Freshman of the Week Award on Monday, following a career-best performance in the Miners’ 73-69 win over non-conference rival New Mexico State. In the contest, Washburn recorded a career-high 16 points, three rebounds, four assists and a block. The win snapped a three game losing skid for the Miners and avenged an early season road loss to the Aggies on Nov. 19. Next up for UTEP is UNLV tonight at 10 PM ET. The Runnin’ Rebels are off to a 9-2 start, including a win over then-top ranked UNC. The Miners are statistically one of the worst offenses in the NCAA, ranking #320 overall. UNLV has had no problems offensively so far this season, averaging over 80 points a game, which is good for 24th in the nation.
  • Tarrant Gathers Accolades: Tulane freshman guard Ricky Tarrant chose a good time to deliver the best performance of his young career, gashing the Georgia Tech defense for 24 points, 20 of which were scored before halftime, en route to a 57-52 upset victory. Tarrant’s performance, which included a seven rebound effort, was good enough for him to take home both Conference USA Player and Freshman of the Week honors on December 5. It was Tarrant’s second consecutive Freshman of the Week honor, winning his first honor just a week earlier. The sweep marks the first time a freshman took home both weekly awards since 2008. In addition to the win over Georgia Tech, Tarrant helped the surging Green Wave past Southern earlier in the week.

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Checking In On… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2011

Steve Coulter—is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can also find his musings online at http://www.duclarion.com/sports or on Twitter @broncos2thebowl

Reader’s Take

 

Caught on Film

Conference USA Player of the Week Alandise Harris had the throwdown of the week with this dunk in a win over Arkansas that earned the top spot on ESPN’s Top Plays.

The Week That Was

  • Memphis Falls In Maui, Picks Itself Up: The 13th ranked Memphis Tigers have had an up-and-down beginning of their season, finishing with a total of 196 points in their two victories, while shooting a miserable 33 percent from the field in their lone loss to No. 15-ranked Michigan. The Tigers failed to find an offensive spark against the Wolverines, losing 73-61 in the opening round of the Maui Invitational on Monday. Senior Charles Carmouche was the only Memphis player to shoot 50% in the game making six of his 12 attempted shots and finishing with a team-high 14 points. On Tuesday night, the Tigers redeemed themselves, holding on to narrowly defeat in-state foe Tennessee 99-97 in double overtime. Memphis was in control most of the way, but blew its ten-point halftime lead as the Volunteers surged late behind a stellar performance from junior Jeronne Maymon, who hit a game-tying shot in the closing second of regulation. He finished with 32 points and 20 rebounds while guard Will Barton had 25 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomores Antonio Barton and freshman Adonis Thomas helped the Tigers, providing a spark off the bench and finishing with 21 and 19 points, respectively. Antonio, the little brother of Will, hit a crucial jump shot in the second overtime with a little over a minute remaining.
  • Rice, Marshall, Tulane Off To Hot Starts: While the conference’s current leaders—Rice, Marhsall, Tulane (all 4-0)—will see tougher competition in weeks to come, the three teams have gotten to the top of the conference standings by throttling weaker competition. Junior swingman Arsalan Kazemi has the Owls started in the right direction, averaging a double-double through the first four contests. Similarly, junior swingman Kendall Timmons has been an integral part of the Green Wave’s early season surge out of the conference cellar. Timmons is shooting a pristine 66.7% from the field while averaging 18.7 points a game for Tulane. The Thundering Herd are the least shocking of the unbeatens remaining in conference; however, they’ve taken advantage of a weak early schedule. Marshall can prove themselves in weeks to come when they play a pair of Big East giants—Cincinnati and Syracuse—on the road. Read the rest of this entry »
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