RTC Conference Primers: #9 – Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 28th, 2011

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

Reader’s Take

Despite having two teams earn bids into the NCAA Tournament last season, Conference USA walked away without a win.

 

Top Storylines

  • Can Memphis Pull Away?: While the Tigers have fielded strong teams since John Calipari left after the 2008-09 season, they’ve never had quite as much talent in that time as they figure to show this season. With essentially every notable contributor returning, a huge gap could form quickly. On the other hand, chemistry rarely comes instantly, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Memphis have a double-digit loss season, either.
  • Central Florida Continues To Build: Thanks partially to a soft non-conference schedule of six opponents with KenPom ratings 200 or lower and a non-D-I matchup, UCF cracked the national rankings for the first time in school history. While the Knights came down to Earth once conference play began, momentum is important no matter how it’s established. After winning two postseason games, we’re excited to see how the UCF follows up on a surprising season.
  • Realignment Hovers Over C-USA: Perhaps no single conference houses as many schools that were rumored to be on their way out than Conference USA, even if its membership ultimately stayed intact. East Carolina and UCF are frequently connected to the Big East; Memphis’ basketball program is as valuable a commodity as there is outside of the Power Six, and in its shakier days, the Big 12 could have found itself eyeing the Texas schools as a contingency plan in case the Longhorns and Sooners packed up for the Pac-12. It didn’t come to pass, but you have to wonder just what C-USA will look like in the long term.

This Year's Tigers, Led By Will Barton, Could Be Pastner's Most Talented Memphis Team Ever

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Summer Updates: Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 18th, 2011

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

Summer Storylines

  • 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 Justin Coleman, 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 Robert Goff and Dennis Tinnon 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.

Power Rankings

  1. 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 Josh Pastner 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 »
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O26 Primers: Conference USA, Mountain West, Southland, SWAC and WAC Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 9th, 2011

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

With three conference tournaments concluding last night, it is only appropriate that five more get underway today. Conference USA and the Southland Conference are two of the most balanced leagues in the nation, while the WAC and Mountain West were just the opposite as they were dominated at the top. The SWAC is always a bit of a mystery come Championship Week and tournament time, but Texas Southern is the class of the league this year and will no doubt do their best to bring respect to the league if they are fortunate enough to advance to the Dance.

Conference USA

The Favorite: UAB won the regular season title with a 12-4 record, but that means very little in the ultra competitive CUSA this season as five teams are just behind the Blazers. There is something to be said though about UAB’s strong play down the stretch and the steady play of Jamarr Sanders and Cameron Moore. These reasons alone amidst several injuries that Mike Davis‘ club has overcome makes UAB the slight favorite over the rest of the bunch.

Dark Horse: Southern Mississippi is one the teams that are nipping at UAB’s heels. Although they fell in their last three games of the regular season, Larry Eustachy’s squad proved throughout the year they can beat anyone in the conference. Having Gary Flowers roam around the pain never hurts either.

Who’s Hot: UAB has won their last four games and seven of eight heading into the tournament. As well as UAB is playing, it would be very easy for that to stop on a dime. Throughout each week during the conference schedule, it appeared that one team in CUSA was emerging as the top dog, but they would quickly fade. Can UAB keep their streak going all the way into the NCAA Tournament?

Player to Watch: Papa Dia, Southern Methodist’s senior forward all the way from Senegal, is enjoying the best season of his career as he is averaging 18.5 points and 9 rebounds a game. In each of the previous three seasons, SMU has been below .500; Dia and his teammates clearly have something to prove in this tournament.

First-Round UpsetCentral Florida over East Carolina. UCF was the nation’s favorite story in the early going as they jumped out to a 14-0 record with wins over Florida, Miami (FL), and Princeton. The Knights then went onto lose eight straight games, thus proving that their early success was a fluke. Now, UCF has won five of seven games and if they can regain that success they had in those 14 games, a victory over East Carolina is absolutely within reach.

How’d They Fare? After going 7-9 in the conference, Houston caught fire in the tournament to surprise everyone by winning the title. In doing so, the Cougars stole a bid from a team on the bubble and earned a #13 seed in the Tournament where they lost to Maryland 89-77. UTEP—the team Houston beat to advance onward—was trounced by Butler as a #12 seed.

Interesting Fact: The last team to win an NCAA Tournament game hailing from Conference USA not named Memphis was Louisville in the 2005 Tournament. The ‘Ville advanced all the way to the Final Four that year where they lost to Illinois 57-52 in the semifinals. Both UAB and Cincinnati also won Tournament games that year.

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Conference USA Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. With the C-USA tournament set to tip on Wednesday, RTC has you covered on the regular season wrapup and postseason preview.

Postseason Preview


  • Who’s Hot: UAB - The Blazers are red hot heading into the postseason and they match up favorably against all the teams in their part of the bracket. If they play Memphis in the semi-finals, which they may not considering Southern Miss is the No. 5, UAB has an advantage in the backcourt with Aaron Johnson. The point guard has proven to be the top passer in the conference, and that has to make any team comfortable heading into the postseason.
  • Memphis Skids Into No. 4 Seed – The Tigers can’t be a team anyone wants to play due to their previous success and overall young talent, however the team enters the postseason as one of the colder teams and despite a first-round bye will be challenged in every contest.
  • Tulsa Nabs No. 2 Seed. Tulsa doesn’t have big bodies, which could prove to be a problem when they host either SMU or Rice at 8 p.m. on Thursday night. The Golden Hurricane is playing its best basketball of the season, but that could abruptly end.

Predictions:

First Round:

  • UCF 82, ECU 72
  • Southern Miss. 73, Tulane 51
  • Marshall 88, Houston 69
  • Rice 77, SMU 73 (OT)

Second Round:

  • UAB 83, UCF 77
  • Memphis 75, Southern Miss. 71
  • UTEP 90, Marshall 81
  • Tulsa 73, Rice 62

Semifinals:

  • UAB 76, Memphis 71
  • UTEP 73, Tulsa 62

Final:

  • UTEP 75, UAB 69

NCAA Tournament Outlook:

Although many have UTEP out of the Dance right now, a C-USA championship game run would give them 25 wins, including victories over Michigan and Memphis. Their losses hurt, but they should be credited for playing BYU, even if not well. They lost in triple OT to conference-winner UAB and came within one at Tulsa, the No. 2 team in conference (1-1 on the season).

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2011

 

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

 

  • Conference USA/Fox Deals Hit Road Bump: What was originally believed to be a finalized deal between Conference USA and Fox has hit a road block. The deal between the two organizations was reached last month, totaling in $43 million deal that gives media rights of the conference to the Fox entertainment network. The problem that has risen stems from the conference’s current rights holders—ESPN and CBS College Sports. Both media outlets feel their current contracts with C-USA should allow them to offer a new package, or deal, before a company like Fox can interfere. ESPN told the SportsBusiness Journal, “Conference USA never fulfilled their contractual obligation relating to ESPN’s future rights. We are exploring possible solutions to resolve this situation but remain prepared to take any necessary steps to protect our rights.” The agreement, which seemed to be a lock, has apparently infringed upon some rights, which could come down to a courtroom settlement, if not worse.
  • UTEP’s Floyd Escorted Off Court By Cop, Lands On National TV: UTEP’s losing skid reached an all-time low when head coach Tim Floyd was ejected and escorted off the floor at Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum last Wednesday night by a police officer. Floyd’s rant and overreaction caught the eye of the national media, landing on ESPN’s SportsCenter the following morning. The loss was the Miners third in four games, and allowed their opponent, ECU, to snap a three-game losing skid of their own.
  • UAB Gets To Ten Conference Wins, Holds Slim Lead: The Blazers eclipsed the 20-win mark and earned their 10th win in conference play, when they beat Houston last weekend, 68-55. With the win, UAB moves into sole possession of first place with two games to go. They have a one game lead over UTEP, Memphis, So. Miss and Tulsa. The loss was Houston’s ninth in ten games, dropping them to the bottom of the conference standings.
  • So. Miss Loses Nail-Biter to UCF. The Knights won for the fourth time in five games, edging the Golden Eagles 65-64 last weekend at home. Although the Knights have played themselves out of a bid to the NCAA tournament, the team has fought back from a horrible start in conference play. Reserve guard A.J Rompza hit a deep three-pointer to give the Knights their fifth conference win of the season with 3.8 seconds remaining. Michael Jordan was in attendance to see his son Marcus score 20 points, which tied for the game high.
  • UTEP Demolishes Memphis at Home, Following Losing Skid: The Miners beat the Tigers soundly over the weekend, 74-47, behind a big performance from senior Randy Culpepper. The guard finished with 20 points, four assists and four rebounds. Memphis entered the game winners of five of their last six, but failed to find consistency offensively, recording a mere 20 points in the first half.
  • Marshall Edges SMU at Home: A nine-point surge late in the second half of last Saturday’s contest allowed the Thundering Herd to reach 20 wins on the season and improve to 8-6 in conference played. Marshall beat visiting SMU 64-62, following Robert Nyakundi’s three-pointer with seven seconds left, which got the Mustangs within two, 62-60. Damier Pitts drained two key free throws, finishing with 19 points and six assists. Papa Dia’s double-double couldn’t get SMU the key road win.
  • Tulsa Tops Tulane: Kendall Timmons continued a spectacular individual season for lowly Tulane, dropping 27 points and grabbing ten rebounds, while recording five steals in a losing effort. The Golden Hurricane out dueled the Green Wave, 66-59, behind a 24-point effort from Justin Hurtt.
  • East Carolina Keeps Rice Buried With Late Three-Pointer. In another close contest, ECU nipped Rice thanks in large part to Jontae Sherrod, who drained a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left on Saturday to help the Pirates edge the Owls 71-68. The Pirates knocked down 14 three-point baskets in the contest.

Power Rankings

 

  1. UAB (20-7, 10-4) – UAB controls its own destiny with one to play. They can lock up the conference’s coveted No. 1 seed by knocking off Southern Miss on Wednesday night. Jamarr Sanders, Cameron Moore and Aaron Johnson give this team a trio of consistent performers, while Ovie Soko, Dexter Fields and Preston Purifoy have shown up as solid role players.
  2. Southern Miss. (21-7, 9-5) – The Golden Eagles have won seven of their last nine and an early season victory over UAB could help the team claim the conference’s top spot, if they can top the Blazers once again on Wednesday. Gary Flowers’ 19.3 points per night and 7.7 rebounds a game has certified him as a conference first team member.  
  3. UTEP (21-7,9-5) – Despite a solid overall record, the Miners could fail to get a spot in the Big Dance if they can’t propel themselves to 11 conference wins and a top two or three seed in the conference tournament. It will be a season of disappointment if UTEP is a No. 4 or No. 5 seed heading into the conference tournament.
  4. Memphis (21-8, 9-5) – Memphis has to win both games this week to earn a top spot in the postseason tournament. Josh Pastner’s club has a postseason berth right now, but it isn’t guaranteed.  
  5. Tulsa (16-12, 9-5) – This Tulsa team has silently crept up in the conference standings and with a big game against USM this weekend, they can claim a partial share of the conference crown. Justin Hurtt has been the team MVP but transfer Scottie Haralson has to have the coaching staff pleased with how he has seamlessly transitioned.
  6. Marshall (20-9, 8-6) – Two losses to top dog UAB hurts, however, this is a different team at this point in the season. Marshall has won five in a row since their lose to the Blazers on February 9. Marshall deserves to be ranked higher truthfully, the team’s guard play is outstanding spearheaded by 5’10-junior Damier Pitts and newcomer DeAndre Kane. The 6’4’ guard for Pittsburgh has made his case as Freshman of the Year.  
  7. SMU (17-11, 8-6) - Beware of the Mustangs come conference tournament time. SMU has beaten Memphis, Southern Miss., and Tulsa. They could potentially be a spoiler team with Papa Dia down low.  
  8. UCF (18-9, 5-9) – It’s interesting to think about the Knights finishing the season with four straight wins and a 20-9 record. If they sweep this week, they will have beaten UTEP, Southern Miss, SMU and Marshall. Their only non-conference win of real value is against Florida, which won’t get them into the Big Dance, but they have an opportunity—like Marshall and SMU to play spoiler and potentially ruin a bid that appears to be on the table for a lackluster Tigers team or a struggling Miners club.
  9. East Carolina (15-13, 7-7) – The Pirates got their biggest win last week, knocking of UTEP at home and causing Tim Floyd to freak, however ECU finishes against Memphis and UAB. There path in the conference could look similarly as they are the No. 8-seed currently.
  10. Rice (12-16, 4-10) – They will battle on Saturday night to finish the season. If they top the Cougars, and spoil Tulsa’s top-spot opportunity when they host the Golden Hurricane tomorrow then they will be in for a 6-10 record in conference, which was a lot better than expected. So far they have only beaten one top team in conference—Memphis—and could use the morale boost after another trying year.
  11. Houston (12-15, 4-10) – Maurice McNeil can do a lot of things—13.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.5 BPG— but he can’t do everything. The Cougars need a third contributor to join McNeil and Adam Brown, which would give them three double-digit scorers. So far this season, the team hasn’t found that consistency and is paying for it harshly, losing nine of their last ten and being denied more than 71 points in every loss. Although it’s not a drastically bad offense, the Cougars simply can’t win games with this style of play.
  12. Tulane (12-15, 2-12). Like McNeil, sophomore forward Kendall Timmons does everything for the Green Wave. He averages 16.9 PPG, 3,3 APG, 8.7 RPG and 1.9 SPG. An unbelievable season no doubt for Timmons, he will get to show off his talent in a matchup for last place against Houston tomorrow night.

A Look Ahead

  • Regular Season Winding Down: After this weekend’s round of games, it is off to the conference tournament, where teams will duke it out for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, C-USA spoiled a bid for an at-large team as Houston went on a heroic four-day triumph out of nowhere to get to the Big Dance. This year, several mid-tier teams could prove to be the shocker. As we all know, anything can happen in March.
  • UAB and So. Miss Claw For First: As previewed, the Blazers and the Golden Eagles will go head-to-head tomorrow night in Reed Green Coliseum, where USM has only lost twice this season. Gary Flowers is the player to watch in this one, if he can go for 22 points like he did on the road against UAB on February 2, then Southern Miss will be the top team in conference and in control of their own destiny on the road against Tulsa on Saturday.
  • UCF Looks To Continue Streaks Over Mustangs, Herd: The Knights of Central Florida went through some trying times only weeks ago. Although they may not be able to erase those mistakes, UCF hasn’t given up and they won’t die easy. One of the brightest teams in the first half of the season, the Knights fire went out, only to come back on with a few weeks to go. Donnie Jones was primed for Coach of the Year. He may not get it now, but he has my vote.
  • UTEP Hosts Red-Hot Marshall In Battle of Top Guards: It’s hard to find better guard play than that of UTEP and Marshall. Luckily, these two squads face off at the Don Haskins Center for a game that is crucial for both teams. The Miners rank No. 29 in the nation in assists spearheaded by Randy Culpepper, Christian Polk and Julyan Stone.
  • Memphis Tries to Recover Against ECU, Tulane: On paper, the Tigers have the easiest path however a road game against ECU early in the week could knock them out of contention for the No. 1 spot. Saturday’s game against Tulane should be an easy win.
  • Tulsa Awaits Home Duel With So. Miss on Saturday. With a win on Wednesday, Tulsa will also be in control of their own destiny. A win at home against USM could very possibly give them the top spot in the conference, if the Golden Eagles clip the Blazers earlier in the week. However, Tulsa isn’t a good road team and Rice, their opponent on Wednesday, will give them a good game.
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Set Your Tivo: 02.11-02.13

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 11th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

So many games, so little time to talk about them. Here are the biggest games of the weekend and why you should pay attention to them. Fair warning: it’s a long list. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#12 Syracuse @ #19 Louisville – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

The Cards Need Knowles To Catch Fire Over the Angry Syracuse Zone

With Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Dieng practicing again for Louisville, the Cardinals are starting to get some of their depth back. Their status for this game is unknown but there’s a chance at least one of them will play. The Cardinals beat Syracuse twice last season and they’ll look to do it again in what is an important separation game for both teams. Only one game in the loss column separates third and eleventh place in the Big East with both of these teams in the thick of that jumbled mess.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 9th, 2011

 

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Memphis Edges Gonzaga in Non-Conference Showdown: Despite faltering in the conference standings, the Tigers squeaked out a four-point win against Gonzaga in a non-conference game. Both teams have enjoyed success at the mid-major level, however both programs are battling for an opportunity in March. For Memphis, the win does help their overall record of 17-6. Although their conference record is not flashy (5-3), they still have half a conference schedule ahead of them.
  • UTEP Ward Off Rice on Kazemi’s Career Night: Arsalan Kazemi grabbed a career-high rebounds against the Miners, however it wasn’t enough as UTEP topped Rice 59-53 last weekend. Kazemi is the only player in conference who is currently averaging a double-double (15 ppg and 11 rpg). Although it was in a losing effort, the sophomore’s efforts only help him gain attention. He ranks fourth nationally in rebounding.
  • UCF Continues Struggle, Falls to ECU: Frustration can be the only feeling in Orlando these days, especially following the Knights’ loss to ECU. Despite a great effort from Marcus Jordan (game-high 24 points), UCF lost to lowly East Carolina and descended to the bottom the conference with a 1-7 record. The game was hard fought, at least in the first half, as the clubs exchanged seven lead changes and tied five times.
  • Tulsa Tops Houston in OT Action: Tulsa completed their best week of the season, knocking off Houston in an overtime battle. Once again, senior guard Justin Hurtt led the Golden Hurricane, draining a game-tying three with 8.6 seconds remaining in overtime. Hurtt teamed up with Scottie Haralson, the young transfer guard, and they each scored 22 points.
  • UAB Hurdles Tulane in Defensive Brawl: Tulane simply couldn’t score, as the Green Wave tried out-defending the Blazers, but their efforts fell short. The big performance came from junior forward Cameron Moore, who scored 14 points and grabbed 16 boards in the win. UAB improves to 8-1 against Tulane in the Mike Davis era.
  • So. Miss Holds On Over Marshall: Senior Gary Flowers continued to be a force for the Golden Eagles as they notched their eighteenth victory of the season. In a battle of player of the week representatives, Flowers outdid freshman DeAndre Kane of Marshall .

Power Rankings:

  1. UTEP (18-5, 6-2) –The Miners don’t have No. 1 wrapped up by any means. However, they share the best conference record with Southern Miss, and they are playing solid basketball. Seniors Jeremy Williams and Randy Culpepper are enjoying strong final seasons. However, the senior that may be enjoying himself the most is guard Julyan Stone, who led the team with a career-high 23 points. He has been playing his best basketball of late, and the Miners have thrived from it.  
  2. Memphis (17-6, 5-3) – The Barton brothers seem to be anchoring this team as Antonio scored 17 points against Gonzaga. Will Barton, his brother, finished with 12 points, seven rebound and six assists. The Tigers improve got to 5-2 in their all-time series against Gonzaga.
  3. Southern Miss. (18-5, 7-3) – Senior Gary Flowers led by example in the Golden Eagles win over Marshall, scoring 20 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Freshman D.J. Newbill followed nicely with his own double-double, which included 12 points and ten rebounds.  This team is rising fast, especially after their win over UAB last week.
  4. UAB (16-6, 6-3) –Dexter Fields converted on eight three-pointers in the Blazers 75-71 loss to Southern Miss last Wednesday. Fields’ great individual effort wasn’t enough to help the Blazers as they dropped a pivotal conference standings, which has them outside the top 3 for the first time in a while.
  5. Tulsa (13-10, 6-3) –Tulsa has emerged thanks to Justin Hurtt. The senior, who averages 20.5 points per game, has solidified a First Team All-Conference USA spot at the end of the season. He has cemented himself at the top of the conference in terms of scoring, recording 20 or more points in 11 games this season. Tulsa has a three-game winning streak heading into the most important stretch of the season.
  6. SMU (14-8, 5-3) –Four wins in a row and the Mustangs seem to be the hottest basketball team in Dallas right now. Papa Dia and Robert Nyakundi continue to be one of the best duos in the conference over the past three weeks. Dia, a senior forward, had been a force in the post, scoring 13 points and 13 rebounds (his ninth double-double of the season) in the Mustangs win over East Carolina.
  7. Marshall (15-8, 3-5) – The name DeAndre Kane is becoming synonymous with the Thundering Herd program. The freshman guard has started off his career with consistent stellar play for a team that is still very much of the things. He led all scorers with 24 points against Houston and did the same a few nights later against Southern Miss, dropping 20 points on four threes (a career high). Kane is the best freshman in the conference at this point.
  8. East Carolina (13-10, 5-4) – Senior Jontae Sherron finished with 23 points against UCF as the Pirates rose above .500 in conference play, which is unusual considering the last time they were above .500 this late in February was 2002-2003.
  9. Houston (11-9, 3-4) –Their game this weekend against Tulane is a must win as the Cougars seems spiraling out of control.
  10. Rice (11-12, 3-6) –The Iran native Arsalan Kazemi is one of the more interesting stories in college basketball. He averages 15.8 points and 11.9 rebounds a night, but his back story transcends those numbers. And fortunately for the Owls, the numbers have been enough to move them out of the conference cellar.
  11. UCF (14-7, 1-7) –The Knights have forgotten that there are two parts in a college basketball season—the non-conference schedule and the conference schedule. UCF cruised early on, but their season may not be savable at this point.
  12. Tulane (12-10, 2-7) – UCF belongs here at the bottom, however it is hard to tell which team is worse at this point. Tulane went from a top 3 team in early January to dead last before the middle of February. Not much has gone right for the Green Wave, their 47-39 loss to UAB says a lot about where this club is at right now.

A Look Ahead

  • UAB Travels To Marshall: On Wednesday night, the conference schedule gets started for the week as the Blazers and the Thundering Herd square off. The Herd need a nice resume win and could get one tonight.
  • UCF Goes For Second Win On Nationally Televised Game Against Memphis: The UCF ballclub that went 14-0 to start the season has disappeared. However, this team could somehow still make their resume look better by beating Memphis. In desperation, any win counts and a chance to drop the Tigers to 5-4 makes it even more intriguing.
  • SMU and Tulane Square Off in Dallas: SMU hosts Tulane tonight in Dallas as the Mustangs look to continue their winning streak while keeping Tulane down. The Mustangs would be tied for the third best record in conference with the win. Papa Dia should have his way with the weak Tulane low-post defense.
  • Houston Hosts Tulane in Battle of Bottom-Dwellers: With both team’s reeling, Houston and Tulane each need a win badly. Both have losing streaks—Houston’s at five and Tulane’s at seven—however, they can retain some pride by ending the season on the right foot and entering the postseason with whatever hope there is left to salvage.
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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 26th, 2011

 

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Memphis Tops UAB in OT Duel For Conference Supremacy. Memphis took a one-game conference lead over UAB last Saturday night when the Tigers beat the Blazers 76-73 in OT in one of the best games in the early part of the conference season. In the final two minutes of regulation, there were four lead changes, which ultimately resulted in a tie. In overtime, the Tigers, led by the dynamic Will Barton, took control and limited the Blazers to a mere five points in extra play. Barton finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists, while UAB’s Cameron Moore led all scorers with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Despite missing five of six free throws in the final 25 seconds of overtime, and shooting a putrid 14-27 from the charity stripe, the Tigers held off the Blazers to earn their third consecutive win.
  • UTEP KOs Houston On The Road, Snaps’ Cougars Three-Game Win Streak. UTEP handed in-state foe Houston its first home loss in conference play last weekend, while extending their win-streak to three games. In addition, the loss halts Houston’s own three-game win-streak and drops them a game back in the conference standings. In what was a back-and-forth game, the Miners’ Randy Culpepper finished with 18 points, while teammate Julyan Stone dropped four crucial points in the game’s final minute.
  • Marshall Edges No. 21 West Virginia in Chesapeake Energy Classic. Last week, the Thundering Herd dropped the Mountaineers, the then-No. 21-ranked team in the AP poll, 75-71. Marshall got off to a fast start, jumping out to a 35-21 lead in the first half, and they never looked back. The Herd got its first trademark win under first-year head coach Tom Herrion knocking off in-state rival WVU behind a dynamic performance from Damier Pitts. The junior guard exploded for a career-high 25 points, while recording four rebounds and five assists.
  • SMU Earns Second Quality Conference Win By Knocking off So. Miss. Two of the conference’s most inconsistent teams shared the court last weekend, resulting in SMU’s second conference win of the season and their second against a team win 14 wins or more. Earlier this season, SMU topped Memphis, however, the Mustangs have been consistent all season long. The game also featured two of the conference’s premier post-players in SMU’s Papa Dia and USM’s Gary Flowers.
  • Bottom-dweller Rice Halts UCF, Drops Knights To 1-4 In Conference Play. Head coach Donnie Jones can’t seem to catch a break. After starting off 1-2 in conference with a pair of road losses, Jones’ Knights couldn’t get their second conference win despite playing back-to-back home games against teams that ranked near the bottom in conference standings. Following a shocking 12-point loss to East Carolina, the Knights fell to lowly Rice 57-50 last Saturday. Since starting 14-0, UCF has lost four in a row.
  • Tulane’s losing streak extends to three with loss to Tulsa. After winning nine of ten, Tulane has dropped three consecutive conference games following last weekend’s 65-61 home-loss to Tulsa. The Green Wave could not overcome five Golden Hurricane players scoring in double figures.
  • East Carolina Rises Behind Jontae Sherrod’s Strong Performance. Senior guard Jontae Sherrod earned Player of the Week honors after leading the Pirates to a 2-1 record in a daunting three-game week. Sherrod averaged 18.7 points per game, while recording 21 points against UCF.

Power Rankings

  1. UTEP (16-4, 4-1) – The best team in the conference is only four wins away from reaching the 20-win mark. In fact, the Miners may be closer to that number with four of five games against teams with a sub-.500 conference record.
  2. Memphis (15-4, 4-1) –Despite a sluggish start—a close win over ECU and a loss to SMU – the Tigers have rallied and overcome injury issues by beating three of the conference’s top teams. Although they have yet to win a game in dominating fashion, Memphis doesn’t need to look further than their team free throw percentage to understand why they play in so many close games.
  3. UAB (13-5, 3-2) –The Blazers roughest stretch began with a narrow, hard-fought loss to Memphis. Now, UAB must take on Marshall (twice), UCF, USM and Tulane in their next five games.  
  4. Southern Miss. (14-5, 3-3) – Following a bad loss to SMU, So. Miss will look to rebound against a surging East Carolina team. Gary Flowers has cemented himself as a first-team All Conference member, averaging 20.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.
  5. Marshall (13-6, 1-3) – The out-of-conference win over WVU helps the team confidence, now they have to top UAB on the road to really prove themselves.  
  6. UCF (14-4, 1-4) –Once a top 30 defensive team, the Knights have given up 74 or more points in three of their four losses this season. So far, the Knights have one conference win with a stretch that doesn’t favor their revival. Their upcoming schedule includes Memphis, UAB and UTEP.  
  7. East Carolina (11-8, 3-2) – Jontae Sherron and Darrius Morrow have provided a spark for a team that appeared to be stuck in the bottom part of the conference only weeks ago.  
  8. Houston (11-7, 3-2) –Before losing to UTEP last weekend, Houston’s three-game win streak was the squad’s longest of the season. They have yet to lose three in a row.
  9. Tulane (12-6, 2-3) – A few weeks ago, this was the hottest team in conference. Now, with a three game losing streak and games against UTEP and USM looming, the Green Wave appear to be in trouble.  
  10. Tulsa (10-9, 3-2) – The team lacks a point guard currently and it can be shown by the fact they are only averaging 12 team assists a game.
  11. SMU (11-8, 2-3) – Besides Papa Dia and Robert Nyakundi, the team lacks a true third scoring option and team’s have began to notice this.  
  12. Rice (9-10, 1-4) –By beating a team that was No. 1 in conference standings until January 8, the Owls were able to notch their first conference win of the year and now get back-to-back home games against Houston and SMU. Arsalan Kazemi could take home player of the year honors. The sophomore forward currently averages four offensive rebounds a night.

A Look Ahead

  • Struggling UCF Looks to Rebound Against Surging Memphis. Two weeks ago this game appeared to be a match-up that would determine who was No. 1 in conference. With the Knights struggling, Memphis appears to be in charge of the C-USA once again.
  • UTEP and UAB Hope To Continue Home Dominance. UTEP and UAB have more in common then their abbreviated names. Both programs are dominating at home this season. The Miners are 12-1 in El Paso, while the Blazers are 9-1 in Birmingham. While the Blazers will be test by Marshall in a game featuring two 13-win teams, the Miners get to extend Tulane’s losing streak to four.
  • So. Miss Tries To Get Off The Schnide Against Hot East Carolina. Back-to-back losses to Memphis and SMU have dropped Southern Mississippi to the middle of the pack. However, Gary Flowers and company plan to change that by dropping East Carolina tonight.
  • Tulsa and SMU Tangle In Middle Tier Battle. After appearing in the bottom of the conference in the first two weeks, Tulsa and SMU have rebounded to the middle of the Conference USA standings. Furthermore, each team has done it different ways—SMU relying on two or three main scoring threats, while Tulsa has distributed the scoring equally. We’ll see which style wins out tonight.
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RTC Top 25: NPOY Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on December 28th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Every week here at Rush the Court, the powers-that-be provide our RTC Top 25, unanimously labeled as the most accurate college basketball poll in the nation by a team of Harvard scientists. Rather than focusing on the teams, here’s my take on the top 25 players in the nation as it stands now. Don’t think of it as 25 candidates to win national player of the year. There are only a handful of players that have a realistic shot to take home that award barring some unforeseen breakthrough. Instead, consider it a power ranking of the cream of the crop in college hoops. Exceptional efficiency, consistent production and value relative to their team are just a few of the traits these 25 players have brought to the hardwood thus far in 2010-11.

No surprise who the frontrunner for NPOY is

1. Kemba Walker, Connecticut- Change the wording from “national player of the year” to “most valuable player” and Walker’s stock only rises. The Bronx native made an early mark in Maui, notching 31 against Wichita State, 30 against Michigan State and finishing off the superhuman performance with 29 in the championship game vs. Kentucky. Walker is averaging nearly 27 PPG and shooting 50% with opposing defenses centering their game plan on his offensive capabilities. He’s a jet in the full court, a crafty scorer in the lane and has improved his outside jump shot tremendously.

2. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State- When Evan Turner suggested over the summer than Sullinger was going to win Big Ten POY, many didn’t take his prediction seriously. Sullinger’s play this year has silenced even the most fervent doubters. The local hero is averaging a double-double at 17.5 PPG and 10.2 RPG while shooting 59% and already posted a 26/10 at Florida, a 40/13 against IUPUI and 30/19 vs. South Carolina. Sullinger is also the fifth best defensive rebounder in the nation while playing for a team that appears destined for a Final Four.

3. Derrick Williams, Arizona- This sensational sophomore truly does it all for Sean Miller and is one of the most versatile forwards the nation has to offer. The proof is in the pudding: Williams is shooting 13 for 19 from deep and hauling down seven rebounds per contest. Williams is also averaging 19.3 PPG on an incredible 63% from the floor and ranks 15th nationally in offensive rating, 11th in efficient FG% and seventh in true shooting percentage. His ability to step away from the basket at 6’8 makes Williams nearly impossible to lock up.

4. Jon Leuer, Wisconsin- Leuer has been the prototypical player under Bo Ryan that improves substantially each season until he’s one of the top players in the Big Ten come senior season. Leuer can operate in the paint at 6’10, but like most Wisconsin forwards, is comfortable around the perimeter with a dependable mid-range game that extends out beyond the arc. Leuer is averaging almost 20 PPG and 7.3 RPG while making 79% of his free throws and 50% of his treys.  Leuer’s numbers have increased every season in Madison.

5. Kyrie Irving, Duke- When Irving was directing the Duke offense, the Blue Devils operated like a well-oiled machine. The New Jersey native possesses incredible court vision, a smooth jump shot and maturity beyond his years. An ankle injury has temporarily derailed his season, but Irving’s impact is still worth mentioning. He’s averaging 17.4 PPG and 5.1 APG while making 53% of his twos, 90% of his free throws and 45% of his threes as a true freshman in the pressure cooker position that is Duke point guard.

6. Austin Freeman, Georgetown- Freeman has been a darling of the efficiency geeks for a few years now and his senior campaign is changing none of that. The DeMatha graduate is top 25 in the nation in offensive rating, efficient FG% and true shooting percentage, a surprise to nobody that’s watched Freeman pour in the points this season for the Hoyas. He’s a sneaky capable athlete with a quick release that can nail any shot past the halfcourt stripe. Freeman is pouring in 18.9 PPG and draining 49% of his threes.

7. Marcus Morris, Kansas- Morris is another ultra-versatile forward who is comfortable utilizing drop steps in the paint or facing up to hit a three in a defender’s grill. Morris takes less than ten shots per game and is averaging 15.5 PPG. Along with a 60% mark from the field and 46% from three, Morris is an elite rebounder. There’s a reason why Bill Self reminded the masses that the Kansas offense would still revolve around Morris when Josh Selby put on a Jayhawk uniform.

8. Demetri McCamey, Illinois- The fact McCamey led the nation in assist rate as a junior and currently ranks 12th as a senior with a 2.5 A/T ratio would be enough to justify consideration for this list. But McCamey is also one of the best scorers in the country, using his strong frame and unlimited range to spark the Illini offensive attack. He’s averaging 15.7 PPG and 7.1 APG on 50% shooting and 49% from deep. McCamey may be the best passing point guard in the nation.

9. Klay Thompson, Washington State- Thompson has overcome a late-season shooting slump last season to emerge as one of the top pure gunners in the nation. He’s vitally important to the Cougars, averaging 22.3 PPG, grabbing over four boards and dishing out over four assists all while shooting an efficient 50% from the floor and 42% from three. Thompson has already scored 35 against Portland, 24 in the win over Gonzaga, 28 against Mississippi State and 31 vs. Butler and is even an asset for Ken Bone on the defensive end.

10. Jimmer Fredette, BYU- Here’s a dire warning for upcoming Mountain West foes: The Jimmer is fifth in the nation in scoring (24.2 PPG) even while shooting 7% lower from three this season than last. When Fredette reclaims his stroke from downtown, watch out. He’s simply the most gifted scorer the college game has to offer. Fredette is confident from long range, but also has an uncanny way of penetrating the lane for floaters, short jumpers or scoop shots. His array of offensive moves is second to none.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2010

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

[ed note: this post was written before Tuesday’s games]

A Look Back

  • Knights stay perfect, top Miami after power outage.  The No. 3 shooting team in the nation resides in Orlando. That’s right, the Knights of Central Florida are shooting the ball as well as any team in the nation, a huge reason for the team’s 10-0 record so far. On Saturday, the team stayed undefeated when they ousted Miami 84-78 at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida, after trailing as much as 43-31 in the first half. The 12-point deficit was the largest the team faced this season, however the Knights rebounded by scoring 51 points and shooting 75 percent in the second half after a 25-minute delay due to a power outage. The loss snapped a five-game win streak for the Hurricanes, while UCF’s Marcus Jordan led all scorers with 23 points.
  • Central Florida cracks top 25 for the first time this season.  Following the 10-0 start to begin their season, Central Florida was rewarded Monday afternoon when the new AP Top 25 poll was released. UCF is ranked No. 24 in the poll, marking the first time the team has been ranked this year. For now, the Knights remain unranked in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, however they were the top vote getter among unranked teams, garnering 47 votes.
  • UTEP extends win streak to six, tops Texas Tech and SFA.  UTEP is carrying a six-game winning streak into their road contest with BYU on Thursday after the Miners were able to top Texas Tech 82-71 last week. On Monday, the Miners beat Stephen F. Austin 61-52. In both games, Randy Culpepper was the leading scorer, finishing with 28 and 18 points, respectively. With the win, the Miners extended their winning streak to six. They haven’t lost since Nov. 26 when they were beaten by Georgia Tech.
  • Thin Memphis lineup survives scares over weaker opponents; wins 300th in past decade.  After a nationally televised loss to Kansas, the Memphis Tigers struggled against two lesser opponents. On Dec. 16, the Tigers failed to beat Austin Peay in regulation, surviving the Governors 70-68 in overtime. The win marked the second Memphis overtime win in four games. With a thin lineup suffering from injuries and transfers, coach Josh Pastner only played nine players against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The result wasn’t pretty, as the Tigers slipped past the Islanders after going into halftime down a point. Joe Jackson finished with a team-high and career-high 23 points. With the win, the Tigers became only the third NCAA Division I program to register 300 wins over the last decade.
  • DeAndre Kane’s double-double performance lifts Herd, keeps win streak alive.  Marshall limited VMI’s high-octane offense on Sunday night, edging the Keydets 98-70. Sophomore DeAndre Kane led the Herd, scoring 18 points and dishing out 13 assists. Shaquille Johnson led the team in scoring, recording 19 points. With the win, Marshall extended its winning streak to five games.

Power Rankings

  1. Central Florida (10-0).  For the first time this season, the Knights are ranked in the top 25. As a reward, they top the CUSA standings this week after Memphis’ recent struggles. The balanced scoring of Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan, who both average more than 16 points a game, is making this one of the better offensive teams in the nation.
  2. Memphis (9-1).  With a big non-conference game coming up against Georgetown, the Tigers have to be concerned about where they are right now. The team is limited in terms of depth and is struggling on the rebounds as well as in the first half of games. Freshmen Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford need to continue to step up for the injured Wesley Witherspoon.
  3. UTEP (9-2).  After some early season struggles, senior Randy Culpepper has regained his grip on the conference’s POY discussion, leading the Miners with 19.8 points per game. The Miners take a six-game winning streak with them this week when they take on No. 23 BYU on Thursday night.
  4. Southern Mississippi (7-1).  Although they didn’t play, the Golden Eagles dropped one spot in the conference rankings. Senior Gary Flowers remains one of the best players in the conference.
  5. Marshall (8-2).  With Damier Pitts returning from injury, Marshall just got that much better as they look to add to their five-game winning streak when they take on 8-3 James Madison this week. Senior Tirrell Baines is playing huge in the low post for the Herd, who need as many big bodies as they can find.
  6. UAB (8-2).  The Blazers have a huge non-conference game against VCU tonight. If they want to win they will need to rely heavily on junior Cameron Moore, who is averaging 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
  7. Tulane (6-3).  Nothing wrong with how the Green Wave played VCU on Saturday, however the team can’t expect to win games after falling behind by 13 in the first half.
  8. Southern Methodist (6-4).  SMU used a pair of wins over bottom competition to rise in the CUSA power rankings. Junior Robert Nyakundi has been a scoring machine of late, finishing in double figures in six consecutive games.
  9. East Carolina (7-4).  After a five-game winning streak, the Pirates have dropped back-to-back games, losing narrowly to Coastal Carolina last Saturday on a buzzer-beating jump shot.
  10. Houston (6-5).  The Cougars have struggled on the road this year, but luckily they have a pair of home games before they start conference play on Jan. 5. The team lost in overtime to Texas A&M-CC last Saturday.
  11. Rice (5-4).  Tough games against Miami and LSU loom for the Owls. The team has won its last two games though.
  12. Tulsa (5-5).  The Golden Hurricane have played back-to-back overtime games, barely edging out Weber State last week 81-79. Senior guard Justin Hurtt dropped a season-high 36 points in the game. Hurtt has scored above 20 points in half of the team’s games this season.

A Look Ahead

  • Wednesday is loaded. On Wednesday, Southern Miss takes on East Tennessee State in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, while Rice continues their play in Vegas when they take on Miami. In addition, East Carolina travels to George Washington looking to snap a two game losing streak. The games of the night have to be 8-2 Marshall at 8-3 James Madison and UCF taking their unbeaten record on the road against UMass.
  • Thursday trumps all; two top 25 teams duke it out in Memphis.  While the early days of the week have some intriguing matchups, Thursday tops the week off with a plethora of good basketball. The top game, of course, is No. 17 Memphis hosting No. 9 Georgetown. UTEP at No. 23 BYU is also one to watch as well.
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The Other 26: Week Five

Posted by rtmsf on December 18th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

Oakland Had Reason to Celebrate (AP/W. Payne)

For about a four hour stretch on Tuesday evening, I was glued to my TV. Watching college basketball on the ESPN family of networks is a beautiful distraction during finals week. Somehow, watching Oakland shock Tennessee and then Drexel hand Louisville its first loss of the season was more appealing than writing a paper. To the average hoops fans, both of these games would be of little interest. I mean, the Summit League vs. the SEC and the CAA vs. the Big East? Call me crazy, but I greatly anticipated both of these matchups. Teams coming from obscurity that are comprised of players who were a mere afterthought when recruited excites me. When further investigating both Oakland and Drexel, it wasn’t inconceivable that an upset could happen. Oakland had just lost to Michigan State by a point, and Drexel had won six of seven games. The point being, there are many teams from the Other 26 conferences that when they catch a talented BCS team on an off night, can knock them off. This is, after all, the allure of the NCAA Tournament—watching the little guy win. Seeing the likes of Oakland and Drexel defeat the big kids on Tuesday night could be a preview of what is to come during March.

Tidbits from the Rankings:

  • Steady at the Top: Although UNLV lost to drop them in the rankings, San Diego State and BYU maintained their positions at one and two. A lot can happen this coming week though as both teams play three games each.
  • The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 lead the way in the rankings: #1 and #2 are from the MWC and #3 and #4 from the A-10.
  • There was not a whole lot of upward movement in the rankings, but two teams did have significant falls. UNLV, after losing two games, dropped five spots to number eight, and Virginia Commonwealth moved from #10 to #19 after Richmond beat them handily.
  • Cleveland State, at 12-0, is still outside of the top ten, but will have an opportunity to potentially crack it with a victory against West Virginia.
  • Two come and two go, again: Drexel and Southern Mississippi entered the top 20, while Dayton and Missouri State departed.
  • Breakdown: 4 (MWC), 4 (CAA) 3 (A10), 3 (CUSA), 2 (Horizon), 2 (WCC), 1 (MVC), 1 (WAC)

What team impressed the most?

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The Week That Was: December 11-17

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

It’s the holiday season, and this past week teams in the top 25 definitely got into the spirit of giving. Now these squads weren’t giving away toys to needy girls and boys. Instead #4 Tennessee, #20 Louisville and #21 UNLV gave the gift of an RPI-boosting upset, and in the college hoops world that’s a pretty nice present. TWTW hopes that Oakland, Drexel and UC Santa Barbara enjoyed their gifts this week, they certainly came at a hefty price — a chance to be the last undefeated squad standing. But hey, it’s the thought that counts, and we’re sure that deep down our ranked friends knew they did the right thing given the season.

Now if only #22 Memphis wasn’t such a Grinch …

Is the Presumptive Puerto Rican Olympic Coach's Louisville Team Legit?

What We Learned

  • Last week we openly wondered if Notre Dame’s hot start was an aberration or the start of a strong season for the Irish, and their loss to Kentucky made TWTW more inclined to label them a fraud rather than a legit power. This week we get to dissect another Big East squad that just suffered its first loss of the season — Louisville. The Cardinals’ eight-game winning streak to open the season came ended in disastrous fashion Tuesday night when Louisville fell 52-46 to Drexel. Yes, you read that correctly. The Cardinals could only muster 46 points against Drexel of all teams. Louisville connected on only 15 of 47 shots from the floor and struggled to adjust once it was apparently the Dragons weren’t going to let the Cardinals get out and run up and down the court. While shooting 33.3% is bad, what’s more troubling is Louisville’s 12-25 effort at the free throw line, and its -20 rebound loss on the boards. Those two things could haunt the Cardinals in Big East play and make TWTW hesitant to think they’re dramatically better than last year’s team that lost to Cal in the first round of the NCAAs.
  • What a week for Tennessee. On Saturday the Vols scored arguably the best win of the young season when they traveled to Pittsburgh and beat Jamie Dixon’s squad at the “neutral” Consol Energy Center. TWTW was ready to join the rest of the nation in singing Bruce Pearl’s praises and declaring the Vols the team to beat in a down SEC. While UT still may be the top dog down South, TWTW can’t fully endorse Tennessee right now. Not after the Vols lost at home to Oakland 89-82 on Tuesday night. That’s no knock against the Golden Grizzlies, who made the NCAA Tournament out of the Summit League last year and fell one point short of beating Michigan State this past weekend. Oakland is good, but we expect more from Tennessee. And we at least expect better defense. The Vols shouldn’t give up 89 points to any squad, especially not at home, and Oakland hit 54% of its shots (30-56) led by Keith Benson’s 26. Pearl better hope this loss refocuses his squad. Tennessee will definitely need all the mental strength it can muster when he begins his eight-game suspension at the start of conference play.
  • Gonzaga just might have overextended itself with its scheduling. Mark Few at least is entertaining that idea after his Bulldogs’ 4-5 start to the season, the worst record in Few’s 12-year tenure at Gonzaga. Four of Gonzaga’s five losses came in games against teams currently ranked in RTC’s top 25 (San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois and Notre Dame), and the Bulldogs still have to play Baylor on Saturday and Memphis in February. TWTW wonders why that kind of scheduling is necessary for a team with Gonzaga’s cache. It’s tough to think of the Zags as a mid-major anymore based on their 12 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, and their consistent presence in the top 25 (at least until this year). Gonzaga doesn’t need to prove itself with a murderers’ row schedule. Sure, schedule a couple of games against elite competition, but there’s no need to have a slate of games that could shatter a team’s confidence. Gonzaga isn’t a program that’s used to struggling in December, it will be interesting to see how the Zags respond to this adversity once play begins in the WCC.
  • Think you know all there is about Coach K? Think all of your hate is justified? Well you should do yourself a favor and sit down and read the first two parts of Dan Wiederer’s mega-feature in the Fayetteville Observer. Part one delves into K off the court and his family life. It includes this incredible anecdote of the Duke coach at the beach during a family vacation and declaring that he’s the “Black Mamba of Beach Bocce” after pulling off a game-winning bocce toss. The second part discusses all the hate Coach K and the Duke program endures from the rest of the nation. While that angle has been written before, Wiederer’s piece comes off fresh because of all of his great tidbits and inside access. And there’s more to come with Part 3 scheduled to run this Sunday. So check it out. TWTW guarantees you’ll learn something new about K, and maybe it will open your mind to the notion that he’s not that bad of a guy. After all, with Krzyzewski likely to become college basketball’s all-time wins leader either this season or early next year, it’s the perfect time to dissect one of the most polarizing characters in the sport.

Media Blackout

The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week.

  • Like many of you out there, TWTW watched the basketball competition during 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and thought, “Boy this is great. But you know what’s missing? Rick Pitino.” We kid, we kid. But it looks like there’s a real possibility Pitino will coach the Puerto Rican nation team during next summer’s pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in Argentina. Carlos J. Beltran, president of the Puerto Rican Basketball Federation, said the national team is in “very advanced talks” with Pitino, and J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks told ESPNDallas.com that he and fellow nation team member Carlos Arroyo would meet with Pitino on Sunday if any deal with the Louisville coach is finalized. With Pitino on board, Puerto Rico would instantly become one of the most compelling squads in the Olympics should it qualify. That’s a big if, though. Puerto Rico failed to qualify for the 2008 Games and was eliminated in the first round during this summer’s World Championships in Turkey. Should a Pitino-led Puerto Rico squad make the Olympics, TWTW has but one request. Puerto Rico must face Team USA (and Coach K) at some point in round-robin play.
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