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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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 2011

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Memphis Earns Big Conference Win, Knocks Off Southern Miss.: Although the Tigers have won their last three games by a total margin of 11 points, Memphis has been good enough of late to position itself only a half-game back of the conference lead. The team’s win over Southern Mississippi on Saturday may have been their biggest, knocking the Golden Eagles a game back in the conference standings. Tarik Black, who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, led the Tigers. Will Barton added 16 points, extending Memphis’ streak to 16 straight wins over Southern Miss.
  • Sanders and Johnson carry UAB to Victory Over Rice: Jamarr Sanders scored 37 points in a career night, while fellow teammate Aaron Johnson also enjoyed a career night as he became UAB’s all-time leader in assists. The Blazers overcame a four-point halftime deficit, dropping the Owls 74-68 following a 16-5 second-half run that gave the Blazers a lead with under eight minutes remaining. Johnson had nine assists, four of which came in the run.
  • Houston Survives At Home, Drops Tulane to Basement: Tulane’s descent in the conference standings continued last weekend as the Green Wave lost 79-68 on the road to Houston. The Cougars cruised the entire game, leading by as many as 17 points in the second half. Maurice McNeil played a big part in the win, finishing with a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
  • UTEP Stays Atop Conference Despite Dia’s Double-Double: Papa Dia scored 18 points and grabbed ten rebounds in a 67-57 loss to UTEP last weekend as the Miners stayed atop of the Conference USA standings. Christian Polk and Randy Culpepper led the way, finishing with 18 points and 14 points, respectively. SMU got within four late in the game, but the Miners limited the Mustangs to only three shots the rest of the way, and held them scoreless.
  • UCF Snaps Losing Streak, Nips Tulsa at Home. The Knights snapped their eight-game losing streak as the beat Tulsa 58-57 last weekend. Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan scored 16 and 15 points, respectively, as UCF escaped the conference cellar for the first time in a few weeks. Justin Hurtt led all scorers, dropping 23 points and grabbing five rebounds.
  • Pitts Leads Thundering Herd in Crucial Road Win. With the threat of being 3-7 in conference looming, Marshall earned a huge win on the road, dropping East Carolina, 78-65. The Thundering Herd went up 13 points in the first half and held on to win by that margin. Damier Pitts scored a career-high 28 points in the win, leading the Herd with seven late points to ward off the Pirates.

Power rankings

  1. UTEP (19-5, 7-2) – The top of the conference will see some hearty action in the middle of this week as UTEP takes on the fourth place So. Miss, while No. 2 and No. 3 will square off the very same night. Randy Culpepper continues to be a team leader, while Christian Polk, Jeremy Williams and Julyan Stone continue to be key role players. Everything is going nicely for Tim Floyd’s club.
  2. Memphis (19-6, 7-3) – Josh Pastner has his club playing for its 20th win of the season this week. However, the Tigers are still a half-game back of UAB in the conference standings, but get a chance to correct that when the two teams face off this week. The 42nd-ranked scoring offense has been stabilized in recent weeks, the Tigers haven’t scored more than 70 in their last five contests.
  3. UAB (18-6, 8-3) – The Blazers have won five of their last six and have a big matchup looming against Memphis this Wednesday. The team has three alpha dogs in Jamarr Sanders, Cameron Moore and Aaron Johnson, but it also has two trustworthy supporters in Ovie Soko and Dexter Fields. Moore and Soko have combined to average a little under 16 rebounds. Johnson has been a force in the backcourt, averaging 7.5 assists.
  4. Southern Miss. (18-6, 7-4) – The loss to Memphis hurts a little bit, but the Golden Eagles can erase that if they can top UTEP on Wednesday. So. Miss continues to battle for the top conference spot, a position that undoubtedly would help their at-large chances come March. The 19th-ranked rebounding team in the country will need to continue to thrive under the basket.
  5. SMU (15-9, 6-4) – The Mustangs got beat by the best team in conference, but Papa Dia and Robert Nyakundi are still enjoying great seasons as they have SMU solidified in the fourth spot in the conference rankings. Upcoming games against Houston, Tulsa and Rice are all must wins.
  6. Marshall (16-9, 4-6) – DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts have kept the Thundering Herd alive as the team prepares for its final stretch of the regular season. If these two guards can continue to flourish, then this team has a chance to contend.
  7. Tulsa (13-11, 6-4) – Justin Hurtt carried the team in its worst loss of the season last weekend as the Golden Hurricane fell to lowly UCF. Tulsa needs to redirect itself at this point.
  8. East Carolina (13-11, 5-5) – Inconsistent play has bogged down the Pirates as they yet to compile a two game winning streak since January 22. However, ECU has avoided multiple losses in a row. The schedule gets tough this week and doesn’t ease up as UTEP and Memphis still loom following bots against Tulsa and Southern Miss.
  9. Houston (12-11, 4-6) – The Cougars lost five games in a row until beating Tulane last weekend. Senior Maurice McNeil is trying to rally the troops again as he leads Houston with 13 points and eight rebounds a night.
  10. Rice (11-13, 3-7) – Following a two-game win streak in January, the Owls have lost three of their last four, including back-to-back losses against conference powerhouses UTEP and UAB. Sophomore Arsalan Kazemi continues to be the talk of the team, averaging 15.9 points and 11.6 rebounds a night. Fellow sophomore Tamir Jackson is having a notable season as well, averaging 13 points a game, while adding 3.6 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game.
  11. UCF (15-8, 2-8) – With six games remaining, the Knights have a chance at going 8-8 in conference, however the reality is that the Knights have put themselves in too much of a hole to overcome at this pint. Games against UAB, UTEP and So. Miss. will determine this teams fate.
  12. Tulane (12-12, 2-9) – The Green Wave haven’t won since January 8, and a string of nine losses as them as the undisputed bottom team in conference. A strong season from sophomore Kendall Timmons has gone to waste.

A Look Ahead

  • Conference Game of the Week: No doubt about it, the game of the week takes place on Wednesday night when the Miners travel to Hattiesburg, Miss., to take on the Golden Eagles. Both teams boast talented lineups spearheaded by preseason First-Team Conference USA players. Senior Randy Culpepper leads UTEP, while senior forward Gary Flowers has made a pretty good case for Conference Player of the Year this season for Southern Miss.
  • Marshall Hosts Rice In Must-Win Game: It hasn’t been defined as a “must-win” game yet, however this mid-week contest between Marshall and Rice is just that for each team. With the Owls rising from the cellar of the conference and the Thundering Herd trying to stay alive in the standings, both teams need this win. DeAndre Kane versus Arsalan Kazemi is the main story line, as these to lower classmen will showcase their skills.
  • UAB and Memphis Square Off In Key February Showdown: The top of the conference standings is congested with several teams within a game of the top spot. Memphis and UAB duel on Wednesday in a game that features two of the conference’s top teams. Last time the Tigers and Blazers squared off, UAB fell three points short. This time around, there is a lot more on the line in terms of position for the conference’s postseason tournament.
  • SMU Finds Itself In Heart Of Conference, Road Game In Houston Looms: The Mustangs have put themselves in a good position with three weeks remaining in the regular season. However, this team needs to rebound from last week’s loss when they travel to in-state rival Houston on Wednesday night.
  • Pirates Look to Survive Golden Hurricane in Battle Between Revamped Squads: East Carolina and Tulsa have fought this season to stay alive in the conference standings, following slow starts out of conference and early in January. Guard play will be key in this one as Brock Young, one of the conference’s best passers, squares off against Justin Hurtt, arguably the best scoring guard in the conference.
  • Bottom Two Clubs Face Off in New Orleans as UCF Travels to Tulane: It hasn’t been the season that Tulane and UCF thought it was going to be when they entered the conference season with 10 or more wins from non-conference play. Despite the strong early starts, both teams have faltered to pathetic conference records, struggling equally the same the past four weeks. The Knights have lost all their conference road games this season, and bring with them a nine-game losing streak.

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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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RTC Conference Primers: #9 – Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 28th, 2010

Steve Coulter of the DU Clarion is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Memphis (15-1)
  2. UTEP (14-2)
  3. UAB (12-4)
  4. Marshall (10-6)
  5. Southern Mississippi (9-7)
  6. Houston (8-8)
  7. Tulsa (8-8)
  8. East Carolina (6-10)
  9. Southern Methodist (6-10)
  10. Central Florida (5-11)
  11. Tulane (2-14)
  12. Rice (1-15)

All-Conference First Team

  • G: Justin Hurtt, Tulsa, Sr.
  • G: Randy Culpepper, UTEP, Sr. (Preseason Player of the Year)
  • F: Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis, Jr.
  • F:  Gary Flowers, Southern Mississippi
  • F/C: Will Coleman, Memphis, Sr.

All-Conference Second Team

  • G: Brock Young, East Carolina, Sr.
  • G: Joe Jackson, Memphis, Fr.
  • G/F: Will Barton, Memphis, Fr.
  • F: Jeremy Williams, UTEP, Jr.
  • F/C: Papa Dia, SMU, Sr.

Memphis has a talented stable of young talent, including the recently-cleared Will Barton. (bouncemag.com)

Impact Newcomers

Several freshman and transfer players will suit up for C-USA squads this season, but three that have grabbed everyone’s attention before the season has gone under way.

  • Charles Carmouche, SG, Memphis: The junior transfer from New Orleans is a sharpshooter who can be the difference-maker late in the season. He is eligible to play right way, as the Privateers dismantled their program and moved to Division III status.
  • Scottie Haralson, G, Tulsa: The UConn transfer could get a lot of playing time and be one of those studs that people talk about at the end of the season. Of course, it really depends whether he is cleared to play.
  • Joseph Young, G, Houston: The freshman was a Parade All-America Third-Team selection from Yates High School. He is a talented young guard in a class with athletic forwards that makes Houston a contender in the conference once again. The infusion of a guy like Young into the lineup could spark a team looking for a playmaker. Young was the Texas Gatorade Basketball Player of the Year last season.

What You Need to Know

  • There are six first-year coaches in the league this season; Tim Floyd getting hired at UTEP was probably the biggest offseason coaching move.
  • The Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championships will be held in El Paso, giving UTEP a slight home court advantage against their conference opponents. The first game tips off on Wednesday, March 9. The tournament ends on Saturday, March 12 and the final will be broadcasted on CBS.
  • UAB’s Aaron Johnson enters the season in need of 173 assists to become the school’s all-time leader. 597 assists is currently the record and the senior point guard leads a well-balanced UAB squad that could emerge as an at-large dark horse. The 5’8 point guard finished his junior year averaging 9.6 points per game, 4.8 assists per game, and 2.5 rebounds per game.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by jstevrtc on January 26th, 2010

James Vickers is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

In what has been a crazy year defined by change for Conference USA, this past week in Conference USA basketball was no different. A streak ended, there is a new outright conference leader for the first time in four years, and there is a freshman who doesn’t go to Memphis that is grabbing national headlines. Marshall showed its conference-mates that they are a legitimate contender, even if they did go 0-2 for the week. Was losing a game addition by subtraction for Memphis? The Tigers had a streak end that we all know lasted for four years; however, the way they bounced back in their game against Houston, is the monkey off their back for the year? What is wrong with Tulsa? Is UTEP now the team to beat in conference play? Can the conference show any form or consistency whatsoever?

Many questions can be asked about conference play from the past week. I hope to tackle a number of these in the upcoming team capsules. What we did find out was that the conference race this year will go down to the wire. The parity in conference play will make for a better chance of multiple bids from CUSA.

UAB (5-0, 17-2)

The Blazers are off to the best start in school history since the 1985-86 and 1993-94 campaigns. The Blazers can also be considered this years “Cardiac Kids” and the school should consider giving free EKG’s to their fan base plans to watch their games night after night. Trailing with 5:30 left in the second half against Southern Miss (53-47) and going almost seven minutes without a field goal in the second half against Marshall, the Blazers showed their resiliency and fought through to come out of the week 2-0 and become co-leaders of the conference with Tulsa. Junior Elijah Millsap (younger brother of Utah Jazz F Paul Millsap) continues his solid conference play, registering his league best 10th double-double against Southern Miss but was held in check against a longer and more athletic Marshall. UAB will continue to rely heavily on their guard play from Millsap, using his size and strength to get to the basket with ease in a conference where size at the guard position is at a premium. Aaron Johnson will be the “Big Man on Campus” this week for the Blazers, hitting the game winner against Southern Miss and canning five free throws in the final five minutes of play against Marshall to help seal the win. UAB will continue to need this type of play from their guards Johnson and Millsap if they want to continue to lead CUSA as the play of their low post players has left people desiring more.  Howard Crawford continues to have a solid season (12.5/4.8) against Marshall with 19 pts and 8 rebs. The rest of league play will be much easier for the Blazers if they can rely on low post scoring from Crawford and the continued emergence of Johnson since his streaky beginning to the season. While UAB might not be the deepest or most talented team in CUSA, they have been battle-tested in out-of-conference play. The Blazers have a home-and-home remaining with Memphis and UTEP, and home games against Tulsa and Houston. The bulk of their schedule remains, but a regular season conference title is not out of the question.

Tulsa (5-0, 16-3)

The Golden Hurricanes struggled this week against what can only be defined as inferior opponents. Tulsa trailed by as much as 15 in a game where, to be honest, Oral Roberts should not have been on the court with them. But in rivalry games like the Mayor’s Cup, anything can happen. Should Tulsa worry from this game? I think so. Against a smaller, faster team, the Golden Hurricanes were clearly out-hustled in this game. Tulsa, who led the country in rebounding differential at 9.9 RPG, was out-rebounded with Jerome Jordan in foul trouble and on the bench for most of the game. Tulsa trailed in this game for almost 34 minutes. The Golden Hurricanes shot 22% behind the arc and a paltry 61% at the free throw line. Fast-forward to the Rice game, and the numbers aren’t much better. Tulsa’s trouble from behind the arc continued, shooting just 18%, and 68% from the free throw line. Can this be considered just a mid-season slump, or are there underlying issues that coach Doug Wojcik must take care of as the bulk of conference play remains and a date against Duke looming in the near future (Feb. 25.)

Marshall (4-1, 15-4)

In what can be described as a moral victory in the mold of Memphis’ game versus Kansas, Marhsall lost to West Virginia this week, 68-60. This game will be used as a measuring stick for the Marshall coaching staff down the road. Hassan Whiteside continues his assault on college basketball this year, turning in a solid outing against the Mountaineers with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. The Herd used a stifling zone in the first half that held the Mountaineers without a field goal for the first five minutes of the game. The use of this zone will come in handy in CUSA play against the likes of Memphis, UTEP, and Tulsa, who all like to drive to the basket and pound the ball down low. Against UAB, the Herd held the Blazers without a field goal for almost seven minutes in the second half, yet could not make it over the hump to finally take the lead for good. The Herd struggled mightily from behind the arc against UAB’s man defense, shooting just 11%, and only 59% from the free throw line. Youth can be blamed for many of the mid-season struggles that Marshall had this past week. With a Wednesday game this week against Memphis, Herd fans will finally be able to see…is this the year we make it over the hump, or will we have to wait another year?

Memphis (4-1, 14-5)

The streak is over. The world is ending in Memphis, some fans would say. Not the time to get down on your Tigers,  Memphis. Memphis’ failure to execute down the stretch cost the Tigers the game against UTEP. Alternating between man defense and a solid zone, UTEP hit some amazing shots down the stretch and the ball just didn’t bounce the Tiger’s way on Wednesday night. Tiger fans should take solace in the play of Pierre Henderson-Niles and Wesley Witherspoon. Showing a renewed toughness, Witherspoon has begun to use his size and versatility to get to the basket for shots and rebounds. Against UTEP, Witherspoon totaled 12/4 and against Houston he tallied 20/6 in what was his best line of the year. Niles has produced solid numbers as well over the past week with 7/9 and 8/7. This developing low post presence for the Tigers bodes well down the line. The breakout half for Roburt Sallie against Houston also is a welcome sign for coach Josh Pastner. While earning just three points in the first half against the Cougars, Sallie finished with 20/7. It was a welcome sight for Tiger fans that their players did not show any signs of a hangover against Houston, and actually showed new signs of life. You never want to lose, but especially not to UTEP where former Memphis coach Tony Barbee currently resides. But after this loss, the Tigers seemed to play a little less tight and enjoyed the game more. The final Memphis box score for the game:

Pierre Henderson-Niles, F 24 4-7 0-0 0-3 1 7 0 1 1 2 1 8
Roburt Sallie, G 36 4-10 3-8 9-12 2 7 4 1 0 0 1 20
Wesley Witherspoon, G-F 29 7-11 2-2 4-6 2 6 2 2 2 2 5 20
Elliot Williams, G 23 3-3 0-0 4-6 0 0 1 0 0 2 4 10
Doneal Mack, G 34 7-11 2-4 1-1 1 2 5 1 2 1 3 17
Willie Kemp, G 30 4-5 2-2 1-2 0 0 4 2 0 4 2 11
Will Coleman, F 18 1-2 0-0 2-5 2 6 0 0 1 0 4 4
D.J. Stephens, G-F 6 0-0 0-0 2-4 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 2
30-49 9-16 23-39 8 28 16 7 6 12 20 92

One could make the simple assumption early in the year that as Elliot Williams went, so did the Tigers. If Williams was on the bench, this would equal bad news. Against the Cougars, Williams was on the bench for approximately 17 minutes. This night, your role players stepped up and contributed. Could this be the game that finally turns the corner for many of these players? Solid contribution from Witherspoon on a game-by-game basis will propel the Tigers to the next level. Contribution on a nightly basis from either Doneal Mack or Roburt Sallie will also push the Tigers to further success. With games on the horizon against Marshall, UAB and Gonzaga, the Tigers will need solid contribution from their entire core to come out on the winning side in this stretch.

UTEP (4-1, 13-5)

Randy Culpepper could be the poster boy for the saying “size doesn’t matter.” Culpepper, it seems, has the green light to take a shot once he crosses onto the Miners’ side of the court. Culpepper (17/3/2) had a solid night in his return home to Memphis along with the two other Memphians on the UTEP bench, ending Memphis’ run on Conference USA. Playing with chips on their shoulders, Jeremy Williams chipped in 18/12, Culpepper tossed in 13/1 and Arnett Moultrie added 6/4 but was solid on the defensive end, keeping the Memphis wing players from driving to the basket. Is there much that can be taken from this game? I believe it further displayed what many have known all year about the Tigers. The trio of Williams, Moultrie and Derrick Caracter exposed Memphis’ lack of depth in the front court, and their energy around the basket on the offensive end of the court tipped the scales in their favor. Down the stretch, being able to alternate subbing between Caracter and Moultrie will spell big success for the Miners in conference play. If they can continue to get solid play from Williams after his breakout game against the Tigers, the Miners will be a top contender for the regular season title. If, however, the Memphis game was an aberration, with players playing over their heads coming home to play in the forum, this could spell trouble. Against a solid UCF team, UTEP took a step in dispelling this train of thought. Once again winning the rebounding battle against the Black Knights, the Miners leaned on their sharp shooter Randy Culpepper who threw in 39. With games against UAB and Houston on the schedule in the upcoming week, we will know more about the consistency of the Miners and where they really stand.

Houston (3-3, 10-9)

Aubrey Coleman will be a rich man this time next year. Having the opportunity to watch him a number of times this year, it is a joy to see him shoot the basketball. Not having much of a supporting cast, Coleman continued his assault on the CUSA record books this week with 30 and 32, respectively, against UCF and Memphis. You know what you are going to get from this super scorer every game. The question for the Cougars is:  where is the rest of our offense going to come from? Kelvin Lewis has been streaky at best this year. Most teams that have played the Cougars seem to take the stance that Coleman will get his points and we are not going to let the rest of the team beat us. Lewis tossed in 14/6 against the Black Knights but was a non-factor in the Memphis game. The other factor in Houston not having the year many thought they would is the inconsistent play of their low post players Maurice McNeil, Kahmell Broughton, Kendrick Washington, and Sean Coleman. McNeil has had solid games against UCF and Memphis, putting up 10/9 and 10/11, respectively, but he has received no help from any of the other players consistently throughout the year. If Houston wants to turn the corner for the rest of the year, S. Coleman, Broughton and Washington will need to put up better numbers off the bench to help the backcourt of Lewis and A. Coleman. This lack of production can be directly related to the close loss against the Black Knights and the blowout loss to the Tigers. Another thing that should worry the Cougars — though they usually take good care of the ball, the Tigers forced Houston into a new team high 16 turnovers.

UCF (2-3, 10-9)

“I wanna be like Marcus.” Marcus Jordan keyed the Black Knights’ big upset road victory Wednesday against Houston. Jordan tossed in 23 while A.J. Tyler had a career high 19 as the Black Knights used the same stifling defense they used to swarm Marshall in that close loss at home. UCF held the usually hot-shooting Cougars to 25% from the field. This game could be huge down the road as Houston and UCF could be jockeying for that 6-7 position come conference tournament time. Suffering from what could have been a hangover from the Houston win, UCF ran into a buzz saw on a hot streak called the UTEP Miners. This game further exploited what was said in the conference round up about the Black Knights, their lack of size. Out-rebounded 42-30, and held scoreless for the first five minutes of the second half, UCF cannot afford these lapses in offensive productivity and this lack of effort on the boards. UCF must use the same tactic that Memphis has had to use this year: rebounding by committee. That did not happen in their game against UTEP.  UCF has to capitalize against teams at home where they can use the crowd noise from their wonderful fan base. While not out of the race yet, UCF needs to use their speed in the back court to create havoc for teams with larger, slower guards.

SMU (1-3, 8-10)

While not a signature victory on which Matt Doherty can hang his hat, the Mustangs’ win over Rice can be a solid step forward for an SMU program looking for relevance in the league. Showing perseverance down the stretch when Rice had closed the gap to 69-65, SMU used solid free throw shooting to get their first conference win of the year against a team that pushed Tulsa and Memphis throughout their games with them. Getting solid production from Papa Dia and Derek Williams for most of the year, SMU can use this win as a building block and should key on games remaining against UCF, Tulane, Rice and East Carolina to build a conference record that will be respectable come tournament time.

Southern Miss (1-4, 11-8)

Larry Eustachy should be proud of the way his young team is performing in the face of adversity this year. Having already taken UTEP and Memphis to the wire earlier in the season, Southern Miss took it on the road to UAB. Gary Flowers continues to play outstanding basketball in his first year in CUSA. Currently, Flowers is fourth in CUSA in blocks per game (4) and sixth in rebounding per game (8). Flowers (25/10) was the only contributor for the Golden Eagles in that heartbreaking 57-56 loss to the Blazers, though USM used their man defense to hold the Blazers to 27% from behind the arc and only 40% from the field. If Southern Miss continues to play solid defense throughout the year, they will knock a few teams off down the road.

Tulane (1-4, 6-12)

Tulane dropped two games this week when it should have been 1-1. Tulane traveled to Marshall on Wednesday and dropped that game by ten, then came back home and dropped a game to a rebuilding ECU team by 15. Many of the Green Wave’s problems can be attributed to key injuries to starting PG Kevin Sims (12/3/3) and junior swingman Aaron Holmes (7/4/2.) Senior Asim McQueen has tried to pick up some of the slack for the Green Wave with a solid 20/10 effort against the Thundering Herd of Marshall and then faded back to obscurity with a 0/5 effort against ECU. This form of inconsistency has plagued a depleted and undersized Green Wave team all year. With Sims out, there is no real floor leader for the Green Wave or comforting factor for coach Dave Dickerson. Tulane is in for a long stretch down the road with these key injuries.

Players of the Week

Wesley Witherspoon (v. UTEP 12/4/1, v. Houston 20/6/2)

While this might seem like an off-the-wall pick, I am making this pick based on what it means to your respective team. Memphis has been looking all year for a consistent second scorer, and an alternate playmaker behind Elliot Williams. Witherspoon is slowly starting to turn the corner for Josh Pastner in providing that for his team. The question about Witherspoon is whether or not he can bring it every game, and be there mentally for the whole 40 minutes. Since the East Carolina game, “Spoon” has averaged 15 PPG and almost 5 RPG. This total would have possibly been higher if it wasn’t for an injury scare in the Rice game. If Witherspoon can provide that low post versatile wing compliment to Pierre Henderson-Niles on a consistent basis the rest of the year, they sky is the limit for the Tigers.

Aubrey Coleman (v. UCF 30/9/2 v. Memphis 32/4/1)

Of course I wasn’t going to leave off a player that puts up these types of numbers, even if they are in a loss. A 6’4 physical specimen that can create matchup problems at the 2, Aubrey Coleman is wowing many scouts at the next level with his solid shooting stroke and consistently beating most team’s best and second-best defenders at one time. Against UCF, Coleman showed his ability to get to the basket not only to score, but to get rebounds as well. Against a Memphis team that threw top perimeter defenders Roburt Sallie and Elliot Williams at him, Coleman threw in 32 while shooting 8-9 from the free throw line. That is possibly the most telling statistic about Coleman. While he might be shooting a lower percentage from the field, many of these misses are on drives to the basket where he gets fouled. He is shooting 72% from the free throw line, but over the last five it’s closer to 85%. If you have an opportunity to see Mr. Coleman play on TV or in person anytime soon, go watch this baller. He is well worth the admission.

Freshman/Newcommer of the weekHassan Whiteside (v. West Virginia 18/6/2 blocks, v. 11/13/5 blocks)

This week, Hassan Whiteside was able to show on ESPN why many are beginning to believe he might be a one-and-done diaper dandy. Against Da’Sean Butler and West Virginia’s frontcourt, Whiteside showed an athletic ability to get to the basket and rebound against bigger more experienced defenders. UAB used double teams against Whiteside but he contributed in other areas, like rebounding and altering shots under the basket. While both of these games were losses for his team, without Whiteside, Marshall is not the same team. Teams now have to alter game plans for Whiteside and in my mind that makes you an all-conference caliber of player.

Games of the Week

Tulsa v. UAB on Tuesday, January 26

This game could be a preview of the Conference USA Championship matchup. A few teams could have a say in that statement between now and then, but this game will be a good one. UAB cannot afford to fall behind by double digits in this one and Tulsa is a deep and talented team that can slow the game down if need be, and limit possessions for the Blazers. The key to the game will be whether or not UAB can slow down Jerome Jordan like Oral Roberts and Rice did with smaller big men and double teams. Tulsa leads the league in rebounding, but UAB is not far behind. Both teams take care of the ball, averaging only 13 TOPG a piece. Elijah Millsap will have another opportunity to shine and will not disappoint as Ben Uzoh will have his hands full.

Since this game’s in Birmingham and with the the home crowd behind the Blazers, UAB comes out on top 65-59

Memphis v. Marshall on Wednesday, January 27

Can Memphis contain Hassan Whiteside? If they can, how will they contain Trey Wilkerson? The Memphis frontcourt will be tested again, just like against UTEP. The emergence of Wesley Witherspoon is a positive for the Tigers and Pierre Niles’ play has been a pleasant surprise. The Tigers will need solid play from Will Coleman to match the athleticism of Whiteside when Niles is on the bench. I expect Memphis to play zone for a portion of this game and force the Herd to try and beat them from the outside, if the Memphis bigs get into foul trouble. Memphis has not always had an easy time playing in Huntington so this will be another good game between top teams in CUSA.

Marshall comes out on top in this one, 68-64.

UTEP v UAB on Saturday, January 30

UAB gets another big game at home in terms of conference positioning. UTEP has played well on the road this year in conference so far and I do not expect this to change. The front court of Arnett Moultrie and Derrick Caracter will challenge the Blazers more than Jerome Jordan of Tulsa, because Moultrie and Caracter are much more polished offensively than Jordan. Christian Polk and Randy Culpepper will extend the UAB man defense and I believe it will be too much for UAB. An ESPN analyst made the comment that UAB was the most talented team in CUSA; I tend to disagree. If Caracter can continue to play with his head on straight and play team basketball, UTEP can be a scary prospect.

UTEP wins another one on the road in an up and down affair, 85-79.

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