RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Deep South

Posted by zhayes9 on September 29th, 2009


Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Atlantic South) are located here.

It’s time for the fourth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of states bordering the Gulf of Mexico known as the Deep South region.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Deep South Region (FL, AL, MS, LA, TX)


Ed. Note: our assumption is that Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney will not be eligible to play this season.

  • Aubrey Coleman – Sr, G – Houston. Young Mr. Coleman was a controversial pick for our panel, to say the least.  There’s no denying his talent, but the 6’4 rock of a player went national (and viral) last season for his footplant on Chase Budinger’s face during a game at Arizona.  Seriously, that thing made what Christian Laettner did to Aminu Timberlake in 1992 look like playtime in the sandbox.  Coleman served his one-game suspension for the ugly incident, and proceeded to take out any residual anger he might have on the rest of Conference USA to the tune of twelve double-doubles and becoming the only player to finish in the top five in both CUSA scoring and rebounding.  Yeah, rebounding.  At 6’4.  Playing guard.  If that doesn’t give you a clue as to Coleman’s toughness (despite his cowardly act against Budinger), we don’t know what will.  Despite his position, Coleman makes it a common practice to regularly venture into the lane for frequent trips to the foul line on offense and for rebounds on defense (ranks #294 in def reb%).  He also ranked in the top 25 nationally in steals, and we should point out that only three guards in the entire country pulled down more boards per game than Coleman.  About the only part of Coleman’s game that isn’t quite honed is his outside shot (21% on threes), but he doesn’t take many, which shows recognition of his strengths and weaknesses.  With two star players (including Kelvin Lewis) returning for their senior seasons in Houston, it’s safe to say that Tom Penders is sitting on an explosive duo who could lead UH to a successful slate in a wide-open CUSA and its first NCAA Tournament appearance in nearly twenty years.
  • Damion James – Sr, F – Texas. Just three days prior to the declaration deadline for the 2009 NBA Draft, Damion James told Texas head coach Rick Barnes that he’d be returning for a final season in Austin, a decision that drastically alters the expectations of a Longhorns team that underachieved a campaign ago. Texas should be a top-five team in 2009-10 due to an influx of talent from all angles: from returnees like Dexter Pittman, to transfers like Jai Lucas, stud freshmen like Avery Bradley and, most importantly, a senior season from Damion James. James has just about as much pure athletic talent as any forward in the nation featuring an NBA-ready body, constant activity on the glass and an ability to run the floor like few other 6’7 forwards. The issue with James has always been complacency and wavering effort. Often James will hang around the perimeter, settle for outside shots, disappear when his team needs him the most or settle for being a secondary figure when a player with the ability of James should always be The Man. When James is motivated, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player in the Big 12 that can contain him. James finished on the All-Big 12 Second Team his junior season after finishing with 15.4 ppg and 9.2 rpg a year following a sophomore campaign in which James averaged a double-double. James ranked fourth in the Big 12 in rebounding, tenth in the conference in scoring and totaled double-figures on 31 occasions in 2008-09. A player the caliber of James should be right there with Cole Aldrich and Craig Brackins at the top of potential Big 12 POY candidates for the upcoming season. He should be a first round pick and he should average another double-double. One of the reasons I have Texas pegged #2 in the nation preseason is because I trust James to provide that consistent effort for Rick Barnes in search of a very realistic Final Four.
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05.26.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on May 26th, 2009

It’s been a while since we updated things (Wall to Kentucky), so let’s get caught up this evening…

  • RIP Wayman. You’ve undoubtedly heard the sad news about 44-year old Wayman Tisdale’s passing on May 15.  Obviously, we never met Tisdale, but everyone agrees that he was a person who touched the lives of many through his athletic and musical career.  ESPN takes a look back here, and CNNSI reflected on his legacy in the state of Oklahoma here.   Jeff Goodman tells a story about Tisdale following through on a promise to a budding jouralist (him).   Tisdale’s public memorial service was last Wednesday.
  • Smoke, then Fire.  We mentioned previously that it’s unfathomable to us that USC wouldn’t take Renardo Sidney, given their astonishing and proven ability to look the other way.  Maybe they knew that Rodney Guillory’s associate, Louis Johnson, was chirping like a parrot to anyone who will listen that he witnessed Tim Floyd handing Guillory a cool grand in return for the delivery of OJ Mayo.  Now Mayo’s talking to the feds about Guillory, and at least one writer thinks the whole darned ship is going up in flames.  The million-dollar question is whether the NCAA investigators have the sack to do it.  (our response: yes, but half-assed).  Update: Noel Johnson, a 2009 signee, left the program today, leaving Dwight Lewis, and um, Lil Romeo?
  • Transfers. Iowa’s Jeff Peterson (11 ppg) will transfer to Arkansas for the 2010-11 season; Indiana’s Nick Williams (9/5) will return to the South to play for Ole Miss (he was the Alabama POY in 2008); and, Clark Kellogg’s kid, Alex, will leave Providence for Ohio University (Bobcats, not Buckeyes) to play his senior season.  In corollary news, Oklahoma’s Juan Pattillo was shown the door by Jeff Capel for undisclosed team violations.
  • NBA Draft News.  Duke’s Gerald Henderson made it official and signed with an agent, forgoing his final year in Durham.  Xavier’s Derrick Brown, a borderline first-rounder, is highly unlikely to return to XU next season.  Meanwhile, word last week was that Florida’s Nick Calathes signed a contract for $1.1M/year (+ a home, car and tax credits) to play in Greece (where he holds dual citizenship), and Clemson’s Terrence Oglesby is leaving school after his sophomore year to pursue a pro career in Europe (he’s also a dual citizen with Norway).  Southern Miss’s Jeremy Wise will not return either.  BYU’s Jonathan Tavernari decided to wise up and will return to the Cougs for his senior season, as will Arkansas leading scorer Michael Washington.  FYI, now that the draft lottery is set (Clips win!), the new mocks are coming out.  Here’s NBADraft.net’s Top 14.
  • Obligatory Kentucky News.  It’s out with the old and in with the new, as three scholarship at Kentucky are given the pink slip to make room for Calipari’s motherlode of talent.  The buzz is already loud for Kentucky as the preseason #1 next year, but we’re a little surprised Jodie Meeks hasn’t made his decision yet (he’s unlikely to move up to the first round).
  • Coaching News.  Illinois top man Bruce Weber got a $500k raise and a three-year extension based on his stellar work in Champaign last season.  Villanova’s Jay Wright talked to and then withdrew from the search for a new Philadelphia 76ers head man.  Wazzu’s new man Ken Bone signed with the school for seven years and $650k per year, according to school records.   Michigan’s John Beilein will chair the NCAA’s Ethics Comittee, featuring Johnny Dawkins, Jeff Capel and the omnipresent Dave Odom…  does anyone else find it odd that Beilein’s charge here is to clarify the rules as written, even though he used legal loopholes to get out of his stated buyout with WVU when he left for greener pastures?   Finally, here’s a rather-suspect list of the top ten coaches in America today – it omits Bill Self and John Calipari, which leads us to believe that the author did not watch the 2008 national championship game.
  • Other Errata.  CJ Henry is officially enrolled at Kansas and will get to play with his brother, super-wing Xavier Henry, next season in Lawrence.
  • Former Tennessee guard Ramar Smith (whom Coach Bruce Pearl kicked off the team in 2008) was arrested for robbery (the holy trinity: money, guns and marijuana) last week, and he’s currently awaiting trial.
  • Luke Winn gives us a glimpse at what Mississippi St. will look like next year (with John Riek and Renardo Sidney in the fold).
  • Please tell us that some irate Kentucky fan with rivers of money will buy these and burn them.
  • What WILL we do with those nefarious message board posters!?!?
  • Campbell University will rejoin the Big South (its former home until 1994), leaving the Atlantic Sun after the 2010-11 academic year.
  • The Big Sky is moving to a Friday/Saturday conference weekend model to save costs beginning next season.
  • This is a sad story, but we’re glad that the authorities found this Olympic champion safe and sound.
  • Well, sucks for them (next, USC?).
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04.15.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on April 15th, 2009

Happy Income Redistribution Day, everyone!

  • Who?  Depaul’s Dar Tucker (Mr. 0-18, with an agent) and Southern Miss’ Jeremy Wise (no agent) have decided to throw their hats in the early entry ring as well. 
  • More Greg Paulus.  Thought we were rid of this guy.  So…  he’s not good enough to play for Duke at QB, but he might be at Michigan?  Wow, Rich Rodriguez has a lot further to go than we thought. 
  • The Man Who Replaced Wooden.  Former UCLA and UAB coach Gene Bartow was recently diagnosed with stomach cancer, and will begin treatment immediately. 
  • Dolla Dolla Bills.  Mizzou’s Mike Anderson parlayed 31 wins and an Elite 8 appearance into seven more years on his contract at a minimum of $1.35M per. 
  • Isiah Will Work for Free (sorta).  FIU introduced Isiah Thomas as their new head coach today, and he will not take a salary of $200-300K this season (the Knicks are still paying him $12M for his final two years on his contract).  Jeff Goodman thinks there’s a reasonable chance it might work out for Isiah there, maybe he took some of those sleeping pills as well?  Mike Freeman has a slightly different take.
  • Let’s Get Wattaded.  Georgetown guard Omar Wattad will transfer out of the program, destination unknown. 
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Conference USA Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009

Memphis passed its last regular season road test and now only has a few games to go to return to the “promised land” that they’ve never really left.

While the Tigers’ dominance over the rest of CUSA is nearly unparalleled in the history of modern college basketball, it doesn’t mean that every other team is chopped liver. Basically anything can happen in a tournament setting and the Tigers have endured a few close calls this year.


So here are the teams as they are seeded and some pertinent info:

#1: Memphis Tigers

Coach: John Calipari

Record: 28-3 overall (16-0 in CUSA)

Players to Watch: G Tyreke Evans, F Robert Dozier, F Shawn Taggart, G Antonio Anderson

Season Highlights: In a year that many thought would be fraught with ‘rebuilding’ and the like, the Tigers continue to look dominant. The arrival of the latest one-year wonder: Tyreke Evans, has allowed the blue and gray not miss a beat from last year’s final four squad. But the veteran leadership of guys like Antonio Anderson, Doneal Mack, Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier has been a huge factor too. They suffered early-season setbacks against Xavier and Syracuse, but they’re currently riding 20+ game winning streak. There have been a few close calls and at the end of the day they’re still undefeated against the rest of the conference.

They Will Win If: They simply show up and play their game. I don’t want to imply that the Tigers will simply cream whomever they play, because they could well lose. But they’re playing an extremely favorable draw on their home court. This is a recipe for success and it also doesn’t hurt that they’ve won over 50 games in a row against CUSA teams.

First Game: vs. the winner of #8 Tulane/#9 East Carolina; Thursday at 8:30 pm.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on February 25th, 2009

Allen R. of Houston Basketball Junkies is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

The moment of truth for Conference USA has come and in the next couple of weeks there will be major tests for the flagship program of the conference:  Memphis.

But the biggest story still is the fact that the Tigers have dominated in a year that for all intents and purposes was supposed to be a down year.

1.) Two More Tests for the Tigers:  There are only 4 games left on their schedule, but 2 of them will pose serious challenges for Memphis, who is currently 12-0 in Conference USA. Last Saturday UTEP gave the Tigers a tough game before losing 70-63. The first challenge will come this Wednesday night on the road against UAB. In a conference desperate for some true rivalries, a heated one is developing between the Tigers and Blazers. The last game ended in an ugly altercation between Memphis players and the UAB student section after a hard-fought Tiger win. There probably won’t be an altercation this year, but I still expect a hard-fought game. Keep in mind that in 2006 the Blazers handed the Tigers their last CUSA loss. If the Blazers don’t stop the Tigers, Houston hosts the Tigers for their last road game of the year and the Cougars will try to recapture the same magic that led to a 2005 upset in Houston.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2009

Allen R of Houston Basketball Junkies is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

For the last few seasons there’s always been the hope (misguided or not) that Conference USA basketball will return to the level it was prior to the Big East/Atlantic 10 exodus of a few years back.

As we enter the 2009 calendar, it’s looking more and more like the 2008-09 season will be another year of futility for the conference. There are still a few months to go in the season, but it’s clear that the teams in CUSA did not prove much in non-conference play.

1.) Ole Missed: The news has been mostly negative lately when it comes to CUSA basketball, but the Southern Miss program scored a huge win last Wednesday by defeating in-state rival Ole Miss 78-59. It has been an up and down few years for Golden Eagles coach Larry Eustachy, but it appears as though he has a pretty good team now in Hattiesburg. The credit for this improvement also should go to veteran guards Jeremy Wise and R.L. Horton. They are now sitting at 9-4 and have as good of a shot as anyone to be a top-echelon CUSA team.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #8 – Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2008

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Memphis  (34-1, 16-0)
  2. UAB  (26-9, 12-4)
  3. Tulsa  (22-13, 11-5)
  4. UTEP  (21-12, 10-6)
  5. Houston  (20-13, 9-7)
  6. Southern Miss  (19-15, 9-7)
  7. Marshall  (18-15, 8-8)
  8. UCF  (17-16, 8-8)
  9. Tulane  (14-18, 6-10)
  10. SMU  (13-20, 5-11)
  11. ECU  (11-21, 4-12)
  12. Rice  (9-23, 2-14)


WYN2K.  The story of Conference USA basketball the last few seasons has been the absolute dominance of Memphis. This year should be no different as the Tigers return a great combination of veteran talent and blue chip freshmen. To put it in perspective, they have not lost a Conference USA game since an 80-74 loss at UAB on February 2nd, 2006. Despite the recent Tiger dominance, the arrival of quality coaches like Tom Penders (Houston), Mike Davis (UAB), Larry Eustachy (Southern Miss) and Ben Braun (Rice) has helped raise the level of play. There is enough talent in the conference to get two NCAA tournament teams and a few other teams in the other postseason tournaments. There will be close calls, but in the end none of the other teams will score that elusive upset over Memphis.

Predicted Champion.  Memphis (#2 seed NCAA). It’s really too easy to predict this one. I realize that the three most valuable players from last season: G Derrick Rose, G Chris Douglas-Roberts and C Joey Dorsey are all gone, but there are some talented players ready to step in. The star of Memphis coach John Calipari’s latest collection of blue-chip prospects is G Tyreke Evans from American Christian in suburban Philadelphia. Evans was one of the most highly-sought out prep point guards in the nation and is the heir apparent to Rose at the position. The other incoming player that should see a lot of action is F Wesley Witherspoon, a small forward from Lilburn, Georgia. Among the returners, F Robert Dozier is without a doubt the best athlete in the low post and is the leading returning scorer (9.2 ppg), rebounder (6.8 rpg) and shot-blocker (1.7 bpg). Depth abounds at the guard position where Willie Kemp, Antonio Anderson, Shawn Taggart and Doneal Mack all have proven they can step up in key situations. The only area where the Tigers lack a proven commodity is at the center position, where Joey Dorsey starred the past couple of seasons. But there is the enough talent on this roster to dominate the Conference USA field and make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.  Here’s a bone for UM fans (last year’s highlight mix)…

Others Considered.  Do not sleep on UAB (NCAA #9) this season. If there is any team in this conference with a legitimate shot at making the NCAA tournament outside of Memphis, it’s these guys. They were missing point guard Paul Delaney III for practically all of last season and still ended up finishing second behind Memphis in conference play. The Blazers also return the best shooter in Conference USA, Robert Vaden, and a solid scoring threat at small forward in Lawrence Kinnard. I could definitely see these guys getting in the dance as #9 or #10 seed if they avoid the costly slip-ups. Don’t call these guys one year wonders either because Blazer coach Mike Davis’ 2009 recruiting class is one of the best in the country. There is an outside shot that Tulsa (NIT) could make the NCAA Tournament with their very experienced squad. The Golden Hurricanes have Jerome Jordan, a 7-footer who has the NBA scouts drooling and is poised for a breakout year after a dominant finish last season. It doesn’t hurt Jordan that he has an all-conference point guard in Tony Uzoh getting him the ball. There is an interesting collection of incoming talent on this Houston (NIT) squad, including former St. John’s F Qa’rraan Calhoun and G Desmond Wade, a point guard from New Jersey who led his high school team to two state titles. But the Cougars lost way too much talent to seriously consider making the NCAA tournament. I have similar feelings about UTEP who returns one of the best athletes in this league – Stafon Jackson – and in the low post they bring in talented Memphis transfer Kareem Cooper. The Miners return most all of their key players from last season, but I’m just still not sold that they can put it all together under Coach Tony Barbee and make the NCAA Tournament. If nothing else, the Miners will be extremely tough on their home floor, the Don Haskins Center. Former national Coach of the Year Larry Eustachy has the most experienced team in the league at Southern Miss. Guards Jeremy Wise and Courtney Beasley are all-conference level guards who give the Eagles and Eustachy a shot at being a top-echelon C-USA team.

Important Games.  Every time Memphis plays a top-half Conference USA team it could be an interesting contest, since a lot of teams seem to ‘play up’ for the Tigers. But I doubt anyone will beat the Tigers at FedEx Forum this season, so the road games will be the most interesting challenges. Specifically, trips to El Paso and Birmingham loom large on the Tigers’ schedule. There are also a couple of contests that will determine who is behind Memphis in the conference pecking order.

  • UAB @ Houston (01.10.09)
  • UAB @ Tulsa (01.28.09)
  • Memphis @ UTEP (02.21.09)
  • Memphis @ UAB (02.26.09)
  • Conference USA Championship Game (03.14.09)

RPI Boosters.  If this league wants to move past its status as a ‘one-bid’ league then they’ll need to pull of at least a few decently high-profile upsets in the non-conference season. There are opportunities for every team in the league to get a marquee win at some point. Memphis will not be included in this particular list because they will be favored in most, if not all of their games this season. Not all of these are booster games against big conference foes, there are also some interesting match-ups against other mid-major teams.

  • Tulsa @ Oklahoma State (11.20.08)
  • UNLV @ UTEP (11.24.08)
  • VCU @ East Carolina (11.25.08)
  • Miami (FL) vs. Southern Miss (11.21.08) @ Paradise Jam (VI)
  • Rice @ Texas (11.27.08)
  • Western Kentucky @ Tulane (12.06.08)
  • SMU @ Texas A&M (12.17.08)
  • UAB @ Louisville (12.29.08)
  • Houston @ Mississippi State (01.03.09)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.  As compared to the past few seasons, this is a much deeper and generally more talented group of Conference USA teams. Even the middle of the pack teams like Marshall, UCF and Tulane could put some scares into the top teams. But this conference is still fundamentally Memphis and the proverbial eleven dwarves at the end of the day. The other teams are gradually getting stronger and this could become one of the better “mid-major” conferences in the next few seasons.

Neat-o Stats. 

  • I know I’ve made the point ad nauseum, but Memphis has absolutely dominated the Conference USA competition in the past three seasons. The Tigers’ combined record in C-USA play in those three seasons: 45-1. If that’s not domination, frankly I do not know what is.
  • Since basketball powers Marquette, Cincinnati, Louisville, and DePaul left for the Big East in 2005 there’s only been one season where the C-USA has had multiple NCAA tournament teams. In the 2005-06 season, both Memphis (#1 seed) and UAB (#9 seed) qualified for the tournament. No C-USA team besides Memphis has made it to the Big Dance since.
  • Incoming UCF freshman big man Jakub Kusmieruk may be the biggest guy in all of college basketball since the 7’7” Kenny George of UNC-Asheville had to retire due to injury. Listed at an astonishing 7’4” and 295 pounds, this native of Poland is worth keeping an eye on. He probably won’t see too many minutes in his first season, but all indications are that the kid has a good work ethic and can become a force in the low post for the Golden Knights.

65 Team Era.  It’s amazing how far CUSA has fallen since the great exodus of 2005.  Consider that in 2004, the league earned SIX bids to the NCAA Tournament, racking up four first-round wins.  Now it’s very fortunate to get a team other than Memphis into the Big Dance (only happening once – UAB in 2006).  Thus, the historical stats (48-42, .533) don’t hold much meaning because the league has changed so much from its current iteration. 

Final Thought.  The quality of basketball in Conference USA has taken a dive since the “basketball” teams all left for the Big East and Atlantic 10. But it would be foolish to presume that no team outside of Memphis is worth talking about. In fact this conference’s best days of basketball are ahead of them. UAB is bringing in a top-rated recruiting class and has a couple of serious NBA prospects on their roster currently. UTEP has Stafon Jackson and he could be the best athlete in all of Conference USA. While they aren’t tournament contenders right now, Marshall brought in an impressive recruiting class that includes Florida’s Mr. Basketball, Shaquille Johnson. Outside of Memphis few C-USA teams have players leave early for the draft, but Jeremy Wise is a great combo guard and could be the best player in Southern Miss history. There are multiple strong OOC games for C-USA teams to prove themselves in. Basically the onus is on the teams outside of Memphis to make a name for themselves and continue to elevate the national opinion when it comes to Conference USA basketball.

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