Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.
A Look Back
- Three-Team Tie Atop Conference Standings: With UAB’s win last Saturday, the Blazers moved into a three-way tie for first place in the conference standings. Now, UAB, UTEP and Memphis share the top spot in Conference USA with five weeks remaining in the regular season schedule.
- Tulsa Nips UTEP in 69-68 Thriller: Only days after losing a nail-biter to SMU, Tulsa got its own dramatic victory on Saturday when they knocked off UTEP on Justin Hurtt’s 16-foot jumper that went in with 6.8 second remaining. Hurtt scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half, soaring past Preseason Conference Player of the Year Randy Culpepper in the final seconds to make the clutch shot. Culpepper finished with 28 points and had made a big-time three-pointer only seconds before Hurtt nailed the game-winner on the other end of the court.
- Memphis Slams UCF, Falters Against Marshall: Inconsistent play continues to sidetrack Memphis this season as the Tigers were able to earn a double-figure win earlier in the week against Central Florida, but couldn’t compete at all on Saturday night in a 85-70 loss to Marshall. DeAndre Kane continues to lead the Thundering Herd, scoring 20 points and adding four assists.
- Southern Mississippi Recovers, Blasts Past ECU and Tulane: A week after losing a pair of conference games, Southern Mississippi retaliated by dropping East Carolina and Tulane by a combined 20 points. Gary Flowers continued his dominance, scoring 15 points and grabbing 13 boards in the win over Tulane. The Golden Eagles outrebounded the Green Wave, 42-26, and went on to score 24 points in the paint, including 17 second-chance points.
- UAB Sweeps Week, Hands UCF Sixth Consecutive Loss: Central Florida has plummeted from mid-major darling to Conference-USA doormat, losing six in a row, including a loss last Saturday to UAB. The Blazers couldn’t have marched to the top of the conference in a more dominating fashion. First they topped surging Marshall on Wednesday night 60-56, then beat the Knights, a team that was undefeated until earlier this month. Against UCF, the Blazers saw big games from Dexter Fields (19 points), Jamarr Sanders (18 points) and Aaron Johnson (11 points, 11 assists).
- SMU Squeaks Pasts Tulsa On Game-Winning Shot, Completes Perfect Week by Knocking Off Rice: Junior Robert Nyakundi shined in Saturday’s win over Rice, notching a career-best 29 points. However, Nyakundi’s best moment of the week came in Wednesday’s victory over Tulsa, when he hit a game winning three-pointer from the left corner with 1.1 seconds remaining. The Golden Hurricane blew a perfect opportunity, missing seven free throws in the final eight minutes and allowed SMU to win a game in which they didn’t score in the final eight minutes of play.
- Tulane Road Woes Extend Losing Streak To Five: It’s a toss-up as to which team is struggling more—Tulane or UCF. Although the Green Wave have the better conference record, they have struggled more than most people can see. During their six-game win streak, the team scored above 85 four of six times. However, that offense has disappeared, as the team has failed to score more than 67 in five straight losses that now have them at the bottom of the conference after starting 2-0 on the opening weekend.
- Rice Edges Houston in OT. Arsalan Kazemi was the story once again for the Owls as the team claimed their second conference win this year, beating Houston 79-71 in overtime. The sophomore forward and sure-ballot First-Team Conference USA, scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. It didn’t stop there – Kazemi recorded four assists, four steals and four blocks as well. Teammate Connor Frizzelle carried a bit of the burden too, leading the team with 18 points and hitting a crucial three pointer with 13 seconds left in regulation.
- UTEP (17-5, 5-2) –You can’t really blame Tim Floyd’s squad for coming up short at Tulsa, especially losing in the final seconds. While senior Randy Culpepper may get all the attention, fellow classman Julyan Stone has emerged as a team leader. Stone averages 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, both team best.
- Memphis (16-5, 5-2) – The Tigers have to be disappointed in the loss to Marshall, however the conference crown is still a possibility. With their young talent, Memphis can be dangerous, what they really need is consistency. Freshmen Will Barton and Tarik Black are finding their stride.
- UAB (13-5, 5-2) –UAB survived 19 lead changes against a UCF team desperate for a win. The made it through with a win and a share of the conference’s No. 1 spot because they made 10 of 20 three-pointers. In addition, 19 points from sophomore Dexter Fields off the bench was gigantic. The team needs to continue that type of play against a tough upcoming schedule.
- Southern Miss (16-5, 5-3) – Southern Miss got back on track against a struggling Tulane. Credit the Golden Eagles for a 16-1 run in the second half to close out the win. Trumping East Carolina had to give them some confidence as well. The team is 30th in the nation in rebounding behind Gary Flowers. The forward leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks.
- Marshall (14-7, 2-4) – Like the teams above them in the standings, Marshall has found its way to 14 or more wins thanks in large part to a dominating trio of scorers. For the Thundering Herd, these men are all starting guards—DeAndre Kane, Damier Pitts and Shaquille Johnson—who just defeated Memphis this past weekend. Credit senior Tirell Baines for dropping 17 points in the big game.
- SMU (13-8, 4-3) –Papa Dia and Robert Nyakundi have become the conference’s best duo over the past three weeks and they have the Mustangs surging heading into February.
- Tulsa (10-9, 4-3) – The Golden Hurricane have interchanged a win for a loss since Dec. 30, hence their just above .500 record in conference play. Although not consistent, Tulsa has emerged as a looming threat thanks to Justin Hurtt. The senior, who averages 20.5 points per game, will have no problem being on the First Team All-Conference at the end of the season.
- East Carolina (12-9, 4-3) – 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.
- Houston (11-9, 3-4) –A three-game losing streak has Houston reeling in the conference standings. It may be time to hit the panic button if the Cougars lose to Marshall on Tuesday night. They have an opportunity to get back to the top of the conference—the product of a tight conference race, which means Adam Brown will need to continue to be the team’s offensive spark.
- UCF (14-6, 1-6) –Coach Donnie Jones must right the ship and do it fast, because the Knights out of conference wins will be meaningless if this team doesn’t have a surge in February. Although they have lost six straight, they are only four back of the conference lead.
- Tulane (12-8, 2-5) – Kendall Timmons is leading this team every single game, however, the support has faded and so have the Green Wave.
- Rice (10-11, 2-5) –You can’t mention sophomore Arsalan Kazemi enough when talking about the Owls. The Iran native is one of the more interesting stories in college basketball, averaging 11.6 rebounds a night, while carrying the team offensively.
A Look Ahead
- Houston and Marshall Joust To Stay Alive in Conference Standings: Tuesday night the conference schedule gets started early as the Cougars and the Thundering Herd square off. Houston is struggling currently, however, the league has been inconsistent thus far and the Cougars have the experience necessary to get back on track.
- UAB Hosts So. Miss In Mid-Week Showdown: The game of the week has to be Southern Miss traveling to UAB. The inside match-up, as well as the guard play, will be more than interesting to watch. The winner adds a pretty solid win to their resume.
- Struggling UCF Looks To Tap UTEP for Second CUSA Win: The Knights may rank last in the conference standings, and the Miners rank tied for first, however the standings don’t matter for a UCF team taking it one game at a time. Keith Clanton has been a consistent threat for the Knights, but can he top Randy Culpepper?
- Memphis Looks to Avoid Consecutive Losses To Tulsa, Gets Ready for Gonzaga: Memphis remains atop the conference standings, because of their high-scoring offense, which is led by young, talented guards like Will Barton. The question remains though, can these youngsters be consistent for the Tigers? The home test versus Tulsa will gauge how serious this team is and then their out of conference showdown will display whether or not they are ready for March.
- SMU and East Carolina Duel to Stay a Game Back of Conference Leaders: The Pirates have won their last two road contests. In addition, they played Memphis close on the road, losing by three on January 8. ECU remains a game back of the conference lead due to great road play. If they can beat a surging SMU team, it will be big for the program.
- Rice Travels to Tulane In Battle of the Basement: Arsalan Kazemi and Kendall Timmons square off in a match-up between conference bottom-dwellers. Tulane looks to end a five game losing streak, while the Owls look to ascend from the bottom and reach the middle of the pack.