A Conference in Considerable Flux – Before Memphis, Houston, UCF, and SMU defect to the Big East – which officially makes a geographic mockery of the Big East’s name – C-USA will have one final season together as a full-fledged “upper-level” Division I conference. With only six NCAA Tournament teams and zero NCAA tournament victories in the past three seasons, however, can C-USA muster together a respectable showing for the 2012-13 campaign that doesn’t rival most mid-major conferences? Memphis is the only virtual lock to go dancing, yet several other programs (see Marshall, UTEP, and Tulane) are on the rise and could conceivably end up on the right side of the tournament bubble come March. Still, it may be overly optimistic to think C-USA will break the two-team NCAA bid barrier that has eluded the conference since 2005.
A Run Towards Perfection – In his fourth season as Memphis’ head coach, Josh Pastner has an opportunity to do something his predecessor, John Calipari, did with apparent ease for three straight seasons prior – have his Tigers run the table in C-USA. With the conference slightly weaker heading into this season (according to Ken Pomeroy), Memphis has a real opportunity to put up a perfect 16-0 regular season mark against their conference foes. It will still prove to be difficult, especially when facing UCF and Marshall twice as part of their unbalanced schedule, yet Memphis returns four starters and is sitting on a potential NBA lottery pick in Adonis Thomas if the 6’7” small forward can stay healthy for much of the season.
Josh Pastner leads a talented home-grown roster in Memphis’ final season in C-USA.
Welcoming Back a Legend – Anytime you can hire a head coach with a resume such as the 71-year old Larry Brown, I guess you have to do it, given SMU’s desperation to hire a big name. After all, you’re talking about a guy with an NCAA championship and an NBA championship on his resume. The problem is – aside from his age and inability to coach through the initial contract at his last three destinations – Brown has been away from the college game for nearly 25 years, when he won the 1988 NCAA championship coaching Danny Manning (who, interestingly, is a new C-USA coach himself) and the Kansas Jayhawks. How much can the Mustangs reasonably expect from Brown under these conditions? The cupboard is bare with the graduation of leading scorer and most efficient player, Robert Nyakundi, and the removal of four players including starting point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas, so you have to wonder if Brown will have the patience to stick around long enough to fully rebuild a SMU program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993. One benefit from Brown’s hiring is that he has assembled an impressive coaching staff, which includes the Mustangs possible head-coach-in-waiting in Tim Jankovich.
New Coaching Blood – Including Brown, there are four C-USA programs that hired new coaches this offseason, which makes up a whopping one third of the entire league. The most notable new hires are Brown and the aforementioned Danny Manning, who left his assistant post at Kansas in an attempt to push Tulsa out of complacency. Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss) and Jerod Haase (UAB) complete the list of coaches. It will be an uphill battle in season one; research has shown head coaches typically struggle in their first season at their newest destination. Perhaps these men can buck the trend and adapt quickly, although the more likely scenario has some of the league taking advantage and pushing ahead of these rebuilding programs for the time being. Well, maybe except for Rice (more on that later)…
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our newest update comes courtesy of our Conference USA correspondent, Steve Coulter.
Reader’s Take I
Joe Jackson Goes Patriotic: The Memphis guard and MVP of the CUSA Championship was selected as a member of USA Basketball’s U-19 Would Championship squad on June 23. After a week of training camp, Jackson was among the final twelve players selected by the USA Basketball committee. The squad left for Europe on June 30 and returned July 10. While Team USA disappointed in finishing fifth, Jackson more than held his own against some of the top international talent in the world, averaging over 11 points and 4 assists in 9 games. Jackson was accompanied to Latvia for the competition with eleven other collegiate sophomores including Michigan State’s Keith Appling, Villanova’s James Bell, Stanford’s Anthony Brown, Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr., Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb, Illinois’ Meyers Leonard, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, North Texas’ Tony Mitchell, Butler’s Khyle Marshall and Florida’s Patric Young.
Memphis guard Joe Jackson was a bright spot for Team USA in Latvia, despite a fifth-place finish in the FIBA U-19 World Championships. (Vytautas Mikaitis)
Thundering Herd Runs Deep: Marshall already had one of the more loaded backcourts heading into the 2011-12 season with stars Damier Pitts and DeAndre Kane, but with the addition of JustinColeman, a one-time Louisville commit, the Thundering Herd will certainly have the deepest backcourt the conference has to offer. Coleman sat out last year, but he will be coming off the bench as a shooting guard this season. Along with Coleman, junior college transfers RobertGoff and DennisTinnon will be new faces for the Herd. Goff and Tinnon are strong power forwards, looking to aid a weak Marshall frontcourt.
Memphis Coaching Legend Larry Finch Passes Away: Former Memphis coach Larry Finch passed away from natural causes at Saint Francis Hospital in Memphis on April 2 at the age of 60. Finch finished his career with the most wins in Tiger basketball history, a record he still holds today. Before leading the Tigers from 1986-97, Finch was a player at Memphis from 1970-73 and worked as an assistant at his alma mater from 1979-86. He passed away as not only a celebrated coach of the game, but a rare influence at the collegiate level. During his 11-year stint as head coach, Finch had seven 20-win seasons, made six NCAA appearances, amassed 220 wins and propelled 7 former players into NBA Draft selections. He finished his career with a loaded resume, having taken his alma mater to the Final Four, getting his jersey retired by the program and becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach.
Memphis: Freshman swingman Adonis Thomas, the No. 16 ranked prospect on Scout Inc.’s Top 100, is the conference’s best newcomer and he joins the already lethal Wesley Witherspoon as a scorer on a loaded Tigers roster that includes two of the nation’s best young guards in Joe Jackson and Will Barton. Head coach JoshPastner can continue his Conference USA dominance this season, but the Tigers need to play solid defense and claim more out of conference wins then they did last season. Otherwise, they will be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives again come March. As of now, Witherspoon and Barton are two of only four Conference USA prospects in the Top 100, ranking in at No. 79 and No. 80, respectively. Read the rest of this entry »
Justin Glover is the RTC correspondent for the Southern Conference.
Mike Young's Terriers Look to Lead the SoCon Again
Around The SoCon
Former Citadel coach Ed Conroy moves on to coach Tulane University. The Bulldogs hired former Maryland assistant coach Chuck Driesell, who was with the Terps for four seasons under head coach Gary Williams.
The Mountaineers hired former UNC star forward Jason Capel, who becomes the youngest head coach in Division I at 30 years old, to replace Buzz Peterson, who departs for UNC-Wilmington.
The Georgia Southern Eagles made a splash in its recruiting class coming in, ranking sixth among mid-major programs, according to ESPN.com.
Asheville, North Carolina, has been awarded the league’s men’s and women’s basketball tournament for 2012-14, to be held in the Asheville Civic Center, just a stone’s throw away from the Western Carolina campus. The facility will undergo a considerable renovation to prepare for the event.
The Southern Conference will likely be a one-bid league in 2010-11, but the recent NCAA tournament expansion will certainly add motivation for teams on the rise to perform. With the return of forward Noah Dahlman (16.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG last season), Wofford is the early favorite to repeat as SoCon champs next season.
Western Carolina – The Catamounts lost some very good talent from a team that won 22 games in 2009-10, including an impressive 14-2 home record. WCU lost its top two scorers in Brandon Giles and Jake Robinson, but return former freshman of the year Harouna Mutombo. Also, the Catamounts bring back spark plug Mike Williams, who contributed 9.4 points off the bench last season. Starting center Richie Gordon returns after posting 8.5 ppg and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. WCU welcomes four newcomers, including 6’4 guard Brandon Boggs, from Greenville, South Carolina. Boggs averaged 16 PPG in his senior season, earning him a spot on the South Carolina all-star team. Boggs scored a game-high 24 points in the contest.
Appalachian State - The Mountaineers lost Buzz Peterson to UNC-Wilmington and welcome a new era with Jason Capel, who becomes the nation’s youngest head coach heading into the 2010-11 season. ASU won an impressive 24 games en route to the North Division crown last season. To repeat as champs, they are going to need Donald Sims to perform at a level similar to last season, when he averaged 20.4 points per game and was a sure thing from the stripe, with a league-leading 95 percent. Also returning is Isaac Butts, who led the team in rebounding, grabbing 8.1 rebounds per game last season. Two newcomers for the Mountaineers are Anthony Breeze, who transferred from Coastal Carolina last season, and Omar Carter, who transferred from Charleston Southern.
Chattanooga – The Mocs have three starters returning from a team that went 15-18 last season. Chattanooga went 6-12 in conference play, tying UNC-Greensboro for third in the north division. Rising junior guard Ricky Taylor returns after putting up 11.4 points per game in 2009-2010. Keegan Bell, who averaged 7.6 points per game last season, is another starter from a year ago. Together, Taylor and Bell will look to provide the Mocs with a 1-2 punch in the backcourt. Three newcomers round out the roster, including some size in the frontcourt in Philip Jurick, who stands 6’11 and played at Chattanooga State Community College last season.
Samford – The Bulldogs head into 2010-11 returning three starters from last year’s team, including leading scorer Josh Davis, who averaged 12.5 points per game and netted a team-high 85 three pointers. Also returning is starting center Andy King, who posted 6.6 points per game last season. The Bulldogs struggled on the road last season, going 4-10 away from Birmingham, and the team hopes that more veteran leadership will change their fate this season. Three newcomers will join the squad, including two in the frontcourt in Levi Barnes (6’10) and Drew Windler (6’9). Guard Greg Wooten rounds out the recruiting class for Samford.
UNC-Greensboro – The Spartans return rising sophomore Kyle Randall, who was second on the team in points per game with 9.5. Also returning is fellow guard Brandon Evans, who averaged 8.5 points per game last season. The Spartans had a tough non-conference slate containing six ACC opponents, which contributed to a 2-11 record before conference play started. While overmatched in most of those contests, they hung around with Virginia Tech until late in the game Six of those losses came at home. Three newcomers join the team this season in Aaron Brackett, David Williams, and Aloysius Henry, who hopes to contribute right away.
Elon - The Phoenix return their leading scorer in Drew Spradlin, who averaged 13.3 points per game last season as a sophomore. Also returning is starting guard Chris Long, who posted 9.9 points per game in his junior season. Sixth man Terrance Birdette returns as well, after scoring 6.8 points per game and seeing court time in all 32 games last season. There are five newcomers who join the Phoenix hoops squad in 2010. Incoming freshmen include Ryley Beaumont, Jack Isenbarger, Sebastian Koch, Lucas Troutman. Sophomore transfer Egheosa Edomwonyi from Rice will be a part of Elon’s quest for a Southern Conference championship. Isenbarger was a McDonalds All-American nominee and could be the prize in the recruiting class.
We asked the question in yesterday’s Morning Five, and today we got the answer — well, not really. New NCAA prez Mark Emmert simply said (despite the headline of the linked article) he’d reserve comment about tournament expansion until the current 68-team proposal is approved. That approval will likely come today, so we’ll be on the lookout for Emmert’s tabled comments on the matter, that’s for sure.
You won’t be hearing anything about PTPers or dipsy-doo-dunkeroos or the Bald Dome Index on any of the Turner stations when they start covering the NCAA Tournament. Dick Vitale has no interest in ditching his analyst’s seat in the studio at ESPN for a color commentating spot at Turner. No matter your opinion on his announcing style, you’ve got to hand it to the guy: his enthusiasm for this game is still unmatched, he’s still adored by coaches and players, and, considering he’d be 84 the next time he could possibly do color for an NCAA Tournament game at ESPN, his loyalty to his current employer is admirable.
C. J. Leslie has decided to stay at home and play for North Carolina State, disappointing reported fellow finalists Connecticut and Kentucky in doing so. Leslie, a 6’9 and 205-pound power forward, is ranked 11th in the ESPNU-100 list of high school seniors, and happy Wolfpack supporters are beaming about the prospects of how he’ll meld with point guard prospect Ryan Harrow, ranked at 39th in the same list. Add underrated 6’4 shooting guard Lorenzo Brown into the mix, and you’ve got an NC State squad that’s gong to be a lot of fun to watch next season.
Chuck Driesell has decided to bid a fond farewell to his assistant coaching position at Maryland to become the new boss at The Citadel. And if the last name and the Maryland ties didn’t clue you in…yes, it’s Lefty’s son. Despite a 20-13 (15-5) record in 2008-09, the Bulldogs slipped to 17-16 and 9-9 in a tougher-than-expected Southern Conference last season. After four years at the helm in Charleston, Ed Conroy now departs for Tulane, so it’s now on Driesell to lead The Citadel to their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid.
Preseason Expectations: The Wildcats were the heavy favorites to repeat as Southern Conference champions and both the AP and the ESPN/USA Today poll had Davidson at No. 20 in their preseason polls. It can be argued that ranking was inflated because of the star status of Stephen Curry because this team was clearly not the same without players like Jason Richards and Thomas Sander.
Best Wins: Davidson beat North Carolina State (72-67) and West Virginia (68-65) in back-to-back games in early December and a quick glance at the schedule shows that those wins were far and away the team’s best although the win over West Virginia should come with an asterisk.
Worst Losses: With Curry out with a gimpy ankle, Bob McKillop‘s club got shellacked, 64-46, by the Citadel on February 18th. The Citadel, under the guidance of Ed Conroy, has made vast improvements this season and finished third in the Southern Conference, but getting trounced by the Bulldogs was inexcusable for a team hoping for an at-large bid—even if Curry was out.
Where it ended: Right around the beginning of the second half of today’s game against College of Charleston. The Cougars outscored the Wildcats 39-23 in the second half to send Curry and company home in the semifinal of the Southern Conference tournament.
What went wrong: Aside from the second half of the game against College of Charleston, it can’t be stressed enough how important former point guard Richards was to this team. He averaged 12.7 points per game along with 8.1 assists per game, and had one of the better assist/turnover ratios (2.8/1) in the country. Without his steady hand to run the offense, Curry was forced to move over to the point guard and was unable to run around the court trying to get free on screens. Teams were able to focus their defense on Curry and he struggled with all the attention.
What’s next: It is a very good question, and one that Bob McKillop would more than likely like to put off thinking about it for at least another month. But if the Wildcats fail to make the tournament, it is a realistic possibility that Curry will go pro. While the cupboard won’t be bare, the Wildcats will have scoring issues without Curry and Andrew Lovedale (a senior) on the court. The team will be forced to shift their offensive focus to developing players like Ben Allison and Frank Ben-Eze.
Best wins: Maryland has two fantastic wins on their resume: they had a borderline miraculous comeback victory over North Carolina, 88-85 in overtime, and they also had a big win over Michigan State, 80-62, early in the season when they played in the Old Spice Classic.
Worst losses: Unfortunately the Terps also have two very bad losses. They had every opportunity to solidify their tournament resume on Saturday in Charlottesville against the Virginia Cavaliers, but they blew their opportunity with sloppy play and porous defense as the Wahoos prevailed 68-63. But, possibly a worse loss was back in early January when the Terps let a double-digit lead slip away at home and they lost to Morgan State 66-65.
Where it ended: When Mamade Diane hit a 3-pointer with just under 40 seconds left to give the Cavaliers a three-point lead, Terps fans could see the NCAA tournament slipping away. The Cavaliers gave Maryland every opportunity to step up and run away with the game, but the Terps let the Cavaliers hang around and eventually take the lead in the second half. From that point on Maryland was forced to play catch up and they just didn’t have the firepower to pull it off.
What went wrong: Gary Williams had all year to develop someone to play second fiddle to Greivis Vasquez, and at times, Cliff Tucker, Landon Milbourne, and Dave Neal all played that role. But the role players on the squad were maddeningly inconsistent, disappearing for stretches of the season. In the end the Terps were too reliant on Vasquez to create offensive opportunities with his drive and kick, and Vasquez didn’t respond well to all the responsibility as there were times when he forced bad shots and tried to do too much.
What’s next: If Williams and company don’t make it to the NCAA tournament, Terps fans can take solace in the fact that it will give Williams more time to court top prospect Lance Stephenson, who would be the perfect offensive weapon to add to the Terp arsenal. Neal is the only player who will be moving on unless Vasquez decides to go pro, and the Terps add depth on the frontline with the addition of recruits Jordan Williams and James Padgett. Even if Stephenson does not end up in College Park, the Terps will have a great shot to end their tournament drought.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Southern Conferences.
Stephen Curry is back to full strength from his ankle injury. That is the single most important factor in the Southern Conference tournament. Curry just was voted the Southern Conference’s Player of the Year for the second straight year. Davidson started out conference play by winning 15 straight games before hitting a rough patch and going 2-2with both losses at home. Since then, Davidson has won their final three conference games by an average margin of 25 points. First teamers Curry and Andrew Lovedale have led this team back to the brink of the NCAA tournament. They are sitting on the other side of the bubble right now, so a Southern Conference Tournament Championship is what they need to feel secure come Selection Sunday. We all would like a chance to see Curry and Davidson tackle the giants in the tournament again. With an 18-2 conference record, they are heavy favorites.
WYN2K. The Southern Conference has a reputation as a league on the rise, and deservedly so. After stellar regular seasons in 2006-07 from division winners Davidson and Appalachian St., including five wins over BCS schools among the league members (the highest total wins among the conferences we’ve rated thus far), the league has its sights on breaking into mid-major territory. If this is to ultimately happen, it will likely be led by Davidson, who with spectacular sophomore guard Stephen Curry, will challenge itself with several elite OOC games this season. Even though the league has been a one-bid conference throughout the 64/65 team era, last year Appalachian St. was very close to earning an at-large NCAA bid before ultimately settling for an NIT berth. And with the name cachet of Bobby Cremins bringing in exceptional recruits at College of Charleston, this league could be knocking on the door for two bids sooner rather than later.
Predicted Champion. Davidson (#9 seed NCAA) is the clear choice here. Davidson returns all five starters from the team that pushed extremely talented and athletic Maryland in the NCAA first round last year (down only four after the last tv timeout), including the aforementioned Curry, who had sick numbers for a freshman guard (22 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg, 2 spg, .408 3fg%, .855 ft%) including a run of 26.1 ppg the last ten games. But this is no one-man show. Aside from excellent point guard Jason Richards (#2 nationally in total assists), post men Thomas Sander and Boris Meno also both had outstanding seasons manning the inside, clearing boards and playing tough defense. Coach Bob McKillop also adds two significant recruits – Aaron Bond, who received some Burger Boy consideration last year; and his son, Brendan McKillop, who turned down ACC teams Virginia Tech and NC State to play for his pops. Knowing that Davidson needs a high RPI to offset any chance of being left at the altar should the Wildcats stumble in the conference tourney, McKillop has beefed up the OOC schedule considerably, setting up made-for-tv games with local bullies UNC and Duke in Charlotte and a trip to Raleigh to play NC State. Another road trip will include a game vs. UCLA at the Wooden Classic. All four of those teams are ranked in the Top 25.
Others Considered. We don’t expect another team to push Davidson like Appalachian St. did last season, but if Davidson gets lackadaisical or suffers a significant injury, we’d expect UNC-Greensboro to be next in line. Believe it or not, Curry didn’t win conference POY last year, and it’s not a sure thing that he will this year either. This is due to the fact that UNCG has a 6’6, 230 lb. Sir Charles clone named Kyle Hines returning in the post. Hines has scored in double figures in fifty straight games, and the last time a team went single coverage on him, he dropped 38 on their heads. Although #2 scorer Ricky Hickman is gone, UNCG returns a trio of talented sophomore wing scorers who all showed promise of bright futures. Appalachian St. is another team to watch despite losing three key seniors. The key is that two post men, Donte Minter (who should be healthy this year) and Jeremy Clayton, are returning, and in a league of little size, this could carry them a long way. One concern is the loss of heady PG DJ Thompson, who led the team’s uptempo attack, along with two other guards that saw significant time. Georgia Southern is another team on our radar, simply because they have an all-conference performer in the post (Louis Graham – #18 nationally in defReb%) and at the point guard position (Dwayne Foreman – #32 nationally in asstRate). And although College of Charleston lost three starters and a transfer from a 13-5 team, Bobby Cremins brought in the best recruiting class the league has seen in some time, and we should keep an eye on his team for that reason alone.
Games to Watch. The SoCon is going to a 20-game round robin conference schedule this season, which is the largest we’ve ever seen. Next year when the league expands to twelve teams with the addition of Samford, we suspect there will be a push by league coaches to return to a more reasonable sixteen game schedule. But for this year, it guarantees that Davidson will have to visit every road arena to test its mettle.
Davidson @ Appalachian St. (11.26.07) & Appalachian St. @ Davidson (02.27.08)
UNCG @ Appalachian St. (01.12.08) & Appalachian St. @ UNCG (02.16.08)
Southern Conference Championship Game (03.10.08) ESPN2
RPI Booster Games. We alluded to it above, but the SoCon went 5-38 (.118) against BCS teams last year (Appalachian St. – 2; Davidson – 1; Furman – 1; Wofford – 1). The number will be reduced this year, thanks to the additional conference games, but we expect a similar showing.
UNCG @ Georgia Tech (11.09.07)
Western Carolina @ Cincinnati (11.10.07)
Davidson vs. UNC (Charlotte) (11.14.07) ESPN
College of Charleston @ Arkansas (11.15.07) ESPNU
Chattanooga @ S. Illinois (11.22.07) ESPNU
Wichita St. @ Appalachian St. (11.28.07)
Davidson vs. Duke (Charlotte) (12.01.07) ESPNU
Tennessee @ Chattanooga (12.04.07) ESPNU
Davidson @ UCLA (12.08.07)
Georgia Southern @ Florida (12.15.07)
Western Carolina @ Illinois (12.17.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. This one is interesting, because if Davidson performs well against the ACC trio + UCLA, has a great SoCon record (like 18-2), yet loses in the conference tourney, we believe that this will be a two-team league.
Neat-o Stat. The Citadel must be one of the most historically horrific basketball programs in the NCAA. It joined the Southern Conference in 1937, and has yet to see its first NCAA or NIT bid. Pat Conroy wrote of his losing season there in the 60s, and not much has changed since. His cousin, Ed Conroy, will begin his second season at the school with what he calls the youngest team in America – 15 freshmen (incl. redshirts), one sophomore, one junior and one senior. Good luck, Ed, you’re going to need it.
64/65-Team Era. The SoCon has been a one-bid league throughout this era, and it will probably remain so this year (unless Davidson lays an egg in the conference tourney). The conference record (3-23, .115) reflects the success of two Tennessee teams, one of which is no longer in the league. In 1992, #14 ETSU defeated #3 Arizona 87-80 in one of Lute Olson’s earlier tankjobs, and in 1997, #14 UT-Chattanooga went to the Sweet 16 by defeating #3 Georgia (the year prior to Tubby Smith winning the NCAA title at Kentucky) 73-70, and #6 Illinois 75-63. Since then the conference (as an average #13.6 seed) has lost ten straight first round games by an average of 13.0 pts – not too encouraging. Still, the last four years show improvement, as the league representative has only lost by an average of 9.8 pts. Below is a nice clip of Curry dropping three of his thirty against Maryland.
Final Thought. This league is all about Davidson this year. The MSM will remember the Wildcats’ performance against Maryland in the NCAA Tournament and pundits like Dickie V. will be touting Curry as a PTPer all season long. Even if Davidson merely pulls one upset against the four ranked teams it plays in the pre-conference schedule, that’ll be enough to entice everyone to claim it as their Cinderella come March. But there are other good teams in this conference, so Davidson shouldn’t be reading its press clippings too closely. Several other teams could surprise much as Davidson did last year, and the level of talent entering the league is rising. It should make for a very fun SoCon season this time around.