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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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.


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


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


  • 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 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 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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BGTD: Afternoon Games Analysis

Posted by jstevrtc on December 18th, 2010

Hello, Donnie. Get ready to see head coach Donnie Jones and his Knights of Central Florida in the next Top 25 that comes out in about 48 hours. They knocked off Miami (FL) earlier, 84-78, and are now 10-0. Understandably, your attention may immediately gravitate to Marcus Jordan (15.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 3.4 APG), given his famous papa, and he was outstanding tonight with 23 points. The name you also need to know is Keith Clanton (16.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.7 BPG), their star 6’8 sophomore forward. They’ll next put that undefeated record on the line at Massachusetts on Wednesday.

Save somethin’ for the second half (of the season), big fella. There’s not much else to say about Jared Sullinger, but it’s still fun talking about how ridiculously good he is. South Carolina isn’t exactly long, and they looked like a team feeling the effects of a post-finals week, pre-holiday road trip — they shot terribly (38.3% FG, 42.9% FT), didn’t take care of the ball (15 turnovers) and their defense in transition was non-existent — but 30/19 for the Ohio State big fella is still an outstanding performance. And when he’s hitting halftime buzzer-beating spinning jumpers off glass from near the hash marks, you know what kind of day you’re in for.

An Early Christmas? Perhaps a little post-finals malaise from Illinois? You might drop a clanger of a game every once in a while and get away with it, but 18-55 (32.7%) from the field and 4-17 (23.7%) from beyond the three-point arc wasn’t going to get the Illini by Illinois-Chicago today. The Flames (now 5-7) forced some late Illinois turnovers and UIC’s Darrin Williams took advantage of every late scoring chance he had in helping his team pull off the upset, but the story here was how the Flames removed Illinois’ bigs from the equation. The Illini starting front line had a combined 13 points on 5-16 shooting, and they only got five more points from big guys off the bench.

Making a Point. North Carolina will take the next step forward when Kendall Marshall eats up more of Larry Drew II’s minutes. Drew plays twice as much as Marshall on the average but Marshall has shown to be a better distributor of the basketball, is great at getting into the lane and finding an open teammate, and is a little more comfortable getting physical than Drew appears to be. What do you think, Tar Heel fans? Would you be comfortable with Marshall seeing more time at Drew’s expense? Despite Harrison Barnes’ clutch three to tie it at 76 (his first three of the game and only UNC’s third) Texas just stunned the Heels in Greensboro on Cory Joseph’s stick in the final seconds.

Orange Bawl. From here, Kansas State has officially removed itself from consideration as one of the elite teams in the nation that could conceivably contend for a national title. We probably gave them longer than most people, actually. Losing to Florida in the Gators’ home state (this was an Orange Bowl Classic affair) is no crime, but that the Wildcats can be goaded into some of the shots they took tonight (15-55 or 27.3% FG, and 3-19 or 15.8% from three) shows that they aren’t ready to be considered among the big boys at this time.

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Set Your Tivo: Weekend Review

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 17th, 2010

***** – 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.

This is the last major weekend before conference play begins in earnest and it features a bunch of solid games but none that really jump out at you as must-watch. All in all it’s a pretty good set of games. Don’t forget about the two games in the Bahamas on Saturday (Richmond vs. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State). They’re not on television but are meaningful, especially the latter. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Texas vs. North Carolina (Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC) – 4 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

A Smaller Venue in Greenboro, But Still a Great Game

You may never see a game between two unranked teams have this much talent on the court as this one. Yes the Longhorns are ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls but they aren’t in our own top 25. Texas has played better this year on the strength of defense and better chemistry though a loss at USC was cause for concern. Still, Texas has a ton of talent and has the ability to turn this season into a successful one. Leading scorer Jordan Hamilton still has a so-so shot selection but he’s connecting on 41% of his treys, a positive sign for Rick Barnes. Freshman Tristan Thompson has also been a plus for the Longhorns, giving them an athletic post presence who can score and defend very well. When you look at this matchup with North Carolina however, Tyler Zeller (16/8) is going to have a significant height advantage inside. You may see Barnes turn to Matt Hill for a bigger defensive presence in the paint in an attempt to control UNC’s big man. Each team has had some issues at the point guard, especially North Carolina. The Tar Heels have seen better play from Larry Drew II (2:1 A/T ratio) but questions remain with the team averaging 15 turnovers per contest. With a talented freshman in waiting, Roy Williams has to make a decision on who should see the majority of time at the point as they head into ACC play. For Texas, Dogus Balbay has seen his minutes drop in favor of freshman Cory Joseph, a move that’s understandable from an offensive standpoint but questionable in the eyes of some who see the experienced Balbay as a team leader and an effective distributor, not to mention an outstanding defender. Texas is not a particularly great shooting team as a whole so the transition to Joseph could be more about transition opportunities and easy buckets plus Joseph is a much better shooter. As for North Carolina, getting Harrison Barnes going could be the key between middling outside the top 25 and being a consistently ranked team and #2 in the ACC. Barnes is still in a slump, shooting just 33% overall over his last five games including a dismal 5-24 (21%) from three. He’s still averaging double figures and has done a nice job rebounding but the Tar Heels need more out of their star freshman. To become a really good team, UNC needs John Henson to become a consistent third option. He rebounds very well but he’s in double figures one night and single digits the next. He may have a hard time with Thompson inside but Henson is able to stretch his game out a bit and that may open things up inside for the Tar Heels. This figures to be another close game, far different from last year’s Texas blowout. This time North Carolina has the crowd to their advantage and may come out on top by a few points. It’s a huge game for UNC, their last non-conference opportunity for a quality win. Texas still has games with Michigan State and Connecticut but this is a big game for them too in a quasi-road environment. We wouldn’t be surprised either way but a slight edge has to go to UNC in this game.

#5 Kansas State vs. Florida (BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL) – 3:30 pm Saturday on FSN (****)

This is the first of two key games for Kansas State, the second coming on Tuesday against UNLV. Winning one or both will certainly help the Wildcats grab a better seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. Against Florida, K-State will have to contend with the Gators’ trapping pressure defense, something that could be a problem given their propensity for turnovers and some point guard issues. Jacob Pullen has been the main distributor at four assists per game but he turns it over more than three times per game, the most on a team that averages 16 turnovers as a unit. Florida’s back court pressure could cause a lot of problems for Kansas State and plenty of extra possessions for the Gators. Pullen doing a lot of ball handling could also be a factor in his overall struggle relative to last season. He’s never been a great shooter, 40% overall from the floor for his career, but his three point shooting is down over six percent to 33% this season. It is true that other teams are trying to lock him up like Duke did, but Pullen has to work through this and become a better player in order to lift Kansas State to the next level where they can compete for a national championship. Frank Martin may go with Will Spradling at the point in order to take some pressure off Pullen. As for Florida, expect them to fire up three’s as usual (17 per game) even though the Gators shoot just 32% as a team. Billy Donovan loves the trey, yet another Rick Pitino protégé who sticks to the system no matter the personnel he has. Erving Walker has improved dramatically but Kenny Boynton still can’t find the range for Florida. Walker shoots 20% better than Boynton from deep yet Boynton has 15 more attempts this season. Kansas State should look to isolate Walker and aggressively defend him, keeping the ball out of his hands. Pullen and Rodney McGruder may have to match Walker’s deep shooting but Martin will be content with Boynton chucking shots up and hitting once in a while, requiring Kansas State to clear the boards well. Both teams rank high in offensive rebounding percentage so the Wildcats must put an emphasis on keeping Florida off the glass as that will lead to easy Gator put backs. Florida is #15 in two point percentage, largely a result of offensive rebounds and the play of Vernon Macklin inside. Macklin against Curtis Kelly will be a key matchup to watch in the low post as each player finishes well and can rebound the basketball effectively. Kansas State should not bank on outscoring Florida from the line considering their awful free throw shooting (55%) and Florida’s ability to keep opponents off the line, second in the nation in defensive free throw rate. Only three players on K-State’s roster shoot over 70% from the line and Pullen is the only one of those three who gets there often. Martin’s depth will take a hit if Wally Judge is out, dealing with personal issues, but we don’t think that will have a major impact on the game. Kansas State is still a very deep team, able to go eight or nine deep if necessary. This should be a terrific game that may come down to the very end. Ken Pomeroy predicts a two-point Florida win so this game is essentially a toss-up. We see it that way as well.

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ATB: UCSB Continues Surprising Upset Week

Posted by rtmsf on December 16th, 2010

The LedeUpset Week and We Never Saw It Coming? A quiet week has turned into a not-so-quiet one as now two nights in a row at least one ranked team has dropped a home game to a visiting mid-major.  Tonight’s victim was the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, who ran into a team in UC Santa Barbara that acts as a sort-of nemesis to the desert school.  The two teams don’t play on a regular basis, but they have played a few times in the past dozen or so years since the Rebs left the Big West, and UCSB has won them all.  It’s fairly amazing what UCSB was able to do against one of the better offensive teams in the nation, but the Gauchos entered the Thomas & Mack Center tonight and shut down Lon Kruger’s team.  UNLV was only able to hit 29% of its shots and 6-29 from deep, startling figures for a team that came into the game as the fifth-best effective field goal shooting team in America.  UCSB, with James Nunnally (23/7) and Orlando Johnson (12/15), is projected to win the Big West in March, but the Gauchos hadn’t put it together yet this year, already losing games to North Dakota State, Portland and Oregon.  Perhaps this win is their coming-out, and they’ll have another chance soon to prove their mettle at SDSU over the weekend.  Over the last two evenings, we’ve now witnessed Oakland, Drexel and UC Santa Barbara all enter ranked teams’ buildings and come out with victories — each name is one you should keep an eye on heading into March because each will be very dangerous given the right matchups.

UNLV is Hanging Their Heads (LV Sun/S. Morris)

Your Watercooler MomentJon Diebler Finds the Zone, Enjoys His Time There.  Ohio State’s Jon Diebler is one of the best three-point shooters in the nation; the big Buckeye guard hit 212 treys at a 42% clip in the last two seasons, so you knew he had the stroke.  Tonight his performance from beyond the arc can only be described as sublime.  After missing his first two shots, Diebler proceeded to drain his next nine bombs from various places all over the court, matching a Buckeye record set by Jay Burson.  He then missed his final three, logging a 9-14 shooting night from deep and upping his percentage on the year to 49.2%.  OSU, of course, is on everyone’s short list of teams challenging Duke for the role of championship contender, and a big reason for that is the consistent play of Diebler.  He doesn’t take bad shots, and even though a ridiculous 83% of his attempts are behind the arc, when you have offensive weapons like Jared Sullinger inside and William Buford on the wing, his role as the Lee Humphrey bomber is exactly what Thad Matta needs.

Tonight’s Quick Hits...

  • Minny’s Trevor Mbakwe.  It took forever-and-a-day to get him into a Gopher uniform, but he’s been well worth the wait.  Tonight he put up his seventh dub-dub of the season (13/13/2 blks) in only eleven games, and he’s proven an absolute force inside with his strong hands and girth.  On the year, he’s pulling 14/11 on 62% shooting, and in just about any other conference than the Big Ten, that’d be good enough for first-team all-conference consideration.  Mbakwe is definitely a major reason that the Gophers are currently 10-1 and looking like a team ready to make some noise in the Big Ten race.
  • Central Florida’s 9-0 Start.  UCF crushed Louisiana-Lafayette tonight to keep their undefeated record intact.  The laudable part of the win tonight, though, was that the Knights were able to win by 21 points without a good game from their rising star Marcus Jordan.  The Son of GOAT shot 2-9 from the field in a 7-point, 4-turnover performance, but his slack was picked up by sophomore forward Keith Clanton’s 28/8/3 blks, a player who may not have the name recognition or pedigree but who actually is having a better season (17/9 on 59% shooting).  The two make a formidable duo that the rest of Conference USA does not look forward to facing this season.
  • Welcome Back, J’Mison Morgan.  The last time we saw the enigmatic Morgan, the 6’11 redshirt junior was on his way out of Westwood to places unknown after leaving UCLA.  He’s been coming off the bench for Scott Drew’s team this year, but tonight against Bethune-Cookman he showed some of the reasons why he was such a highly rated recruit a few years ago.  In only fifteen minutes of action, he had 11 points, five rebounds and four blocks against their undersized opponent — his best game of the season so far.  With the size and length that Baylor has at its disposal this year inside (6’11 Perry Jones, 6’10 Anthony Jones and Morgan), Morgan doesn’t figure to play starter’s minutes, but he can certainly provide talented depth off the bench beyond what most teams in the country can produce.

… and Misses.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2010

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Tiger Attrition: Since the Tigers lost to Kansas last week, Josh Pastner has had to deal with a slew of personnel matters. Forward Wesley Witherspoon underwent surgery for a right knee cartilage tear on Friday and will be sidelined for the next five weeks of the season. Witherspoon is currently the team’s leading scorer and has begun rehabilitation already. The coaching staff hopes to have him back in time for the Tigers’ game against Marshall on January 15. He suffered the injury on November 17 against Northwestern State, but continued to play despite the pain.  Junior forward Angel Garcia is transferring from Memphis at the end of this semester to pursue a career in Spain. Garcia, who averaged 6.1 points for the Tigers, plans to finish his final exams and then will sign a professional contract in Spain. In a press conference, the 6’11 Garcia claimed he is making the decision so he can help his family financially.  Finally, sophomore forward D.J. Stephens will miss the next two games for the Tigers because of a groin injury. Without Garcia, Stephens and Witherspoon, the Tigers are down to nine active players for their Thursday game against Austin Peay.
  • Brock Young Moves to No. 6 on ECU’s Assist List: Old Dominion ended East Carolina’s five-game win streak last week when they beat the Pirates 81-68 last Tuesday. Although the Pirates drop to 7-3 overall, the team’s point guard Brock Young kept things upbeat by moving into sixth place on the conference’s career assists list.
  • Cougs Drop First Home Game: Maurice McNeil’s career-high 26-point performance wasn’t enough to help Houston protect its perfect home record as the Cougars were beaten 68-63 by Texas-San Antonio last Saturday. The loss was UH’s first at Hofheinz Pavilion this season and ended an eight-game home winning streak that had started late last season.
  • Marshall Makes a Run: With four players reaching the double-digit plateau, Marshall was able to keep its winning streak alive and earn its best win of the season over James Madison (7-3). The two clubs will play again when the Thundering Herd travels to take on the Dukes on December 22.
  • Flowers Knocks off Cal with Game-Winner: Gary Flowers is garnering Player of the Year consideration after scoring the final 12 points in Southern Mississippi’s big win over California on Sunday. The biggest basket was a turnaround jumper with three seconds left that lifted the Golden Eagles past the Golden Bears 80-78. Flowers finished with 28 points and currently leads the team with 21.7 points per game. The senior is currently pacing the conference in scoring.
  • Knights Remain Unbeaten: Central Florida is one of 14 teams in Division-I to have an unblemished record going into Tuesday’s action. The Knights stayed unbeaten last week when they beat Bethune-Cookman 76-59. Sophomore Keith Clanton led the team with 16 points and eight rebounds, while senior Tom Herzog dropped 14 and finished with eight blocks, tying school record. In the Knights’ previous win against Southeastern Louisiana, Clanton had eight swats.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (7-1): Despite a plethora of injuries and their first loss of the season, the Tigers remain atop this conference. Will Barton is going to need to step up in the weeks to come.
  2. Central Florida (8-0): The last unbeaten in the conference, while several one and two-loss teams rank ahead of them in KenPom. The Knights have played solid defense so far this season, limiting their opponents to 61 points or fewer in all eight of their games. An upcoming game against Miami will be a good test.
  3. Southern Mississippi (7-1): The top rebounding team in the nation currently averages over 45 boards per game this season. Gary Flowers is dominating at the moment and could be named conference player of the year.
  4. UAB (7-2): With the week off due to exams, the Blazers are looking to build off of a solid non-conference performance thus far. They are winners of five of their last six.
  5. Marshall (6-2): The fab four—DeAndre Kane, Tirrell Baines, Shaquille Johnson and Dago Pena—have been outstanding for the Herd so far, averaging over 52 points combined this season. Marshall looks to add to their three-game win streak with a set of very winnable games.
  6. UTEP (6-2): The Miners returned from their break to pummel Arkansas Pine-Bluff 77-54 on Sunday. The team looks to win its fourth consecutive game Wednesday when they host Louisiana-Monroe. A battle with Texas Tech on Saturday is not to be overlooked.
  7. East Carolina (7-3): The team is currently on break because of exams, but when the Pirates return on Saturday, they will play an 8-2 Coastal Carolina club that has won six in a row, including an overtime win against LSU.
  8. Tulane (5-2): Kris Richard and Kendall Timmons look to spark the Green Wave against New Orleans and VCU after a week off. The duo is currently averaging 29.3 points per game combined.
  9. Houston (6-4): All of Houston’s losses have come against teams with winning records. Luckily for the Cougars, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is 3-6. Senior Maurice McNeil is 36th in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, but is shooting just 54.5% from the stripe. The Cougars’ search for life after Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis is still a work in progress.
  10. SMU (5-4): The Mustangs return to play on Saturday after a two-week break for exams. Papa Dia’s 17.3 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game make him a prime candidate for All-Conference first team honors. The Mustangs have a mediocre record and have eight teams on their schedule who are either ranked below 300 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings or are in D-II. There isn’t much to get excited about in Dallas.
  11. Rice (4-4): The Owls have been on break since they barely beat Lamar on December 4. Arsalan Kazemi’s 15.8 points and 10.6 rebounds a game have kept this team afloat early on. Sadly, tougher competition looms as the Owls take on Miami, Oral Roberts, LSU and TCU before conference play begins on January 5.
  12. Tulsa (4-5): Three straight losses for the Golden Hurricane after the team dropped a double OT thriller to Princeton on Sunday, but the schedule hasn’t been bad. Justin Hurtt keeps on fighting the good fight.

A Look Ahead:

While the action tapers off this week, keep an eye on how Memphis adjusts to their suddenly short bench. Three games to watch Saturday:

  • Miami at UCF
  • Texas Tech at UTEP
  • Tulane at VCU
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Set Your Tivo: 12.01.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 1st, 2010

***** – 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.

It’s going to be hard to top the game of the year to date, Georgetown’s thrilling overtime win over Missouri last night, but we have some good matchups on the schedule tonight as we head into the second month of the season. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#25 Richmond @ Old Dominion – 7 pm on WSKY4 Hampton Roads, VA (****)

Richmond is coming off a huge win for their program, a 65-54 win over Purdue to take the Chicago Invitational crown. The Spiders star player, Kevin Anderson, led the way with 28 points and Richmond’s defense held the Boilermakers to 30% shooting. Old Dominion is coming off a tournament victory of their own as they defeated Xavier to win the Paradise Jam last week. Richmond is a solid offensive team, eighth in the country in effective field goal percentage. That will be the story of the game as they go up against an Old Dominion defense ranked #16 in efficiency. The one weakness for the Monarchs defensively is their three point defense, #193 in the country. Richmond is an outstanding three point shooting team averaging almost 43% on the season behind Anderson and quite a few other shooters such as Darien Brothers (64% from deep). Richmond is going to get points from the outside so Old Dominion must try to lock them up inside through physical play, rebounding and blocked shots. Key to that effort will be Frank Hassell who averages 13/10 and blocks almost two shots per game. He’ll have to stop 6’10 Justin Harper who has a height advantage on Hassell. However, Hassell outweighs Harper by 20 pounds so he should be able to get position and be physical with the Richmond big man. These are arguably the two best teams in the state of Virginia going at it, although we’re sure Seth Greenberg and the folks from Blacksburg may have something to say about that. If Richmond gets off to a hot start they should win this game as ODU lacks offensive punch and would rather win the game in the 50’s. Expect a hard fought, close game with the winner holding the edge on the glass and in the paint.

#18 Purdue @ Virginia Tech – 7:30 pm on ESPN (****)

Coming off the aforementioned loss to Richmond, Purdue faces a tough road game in the hostile environment of Cassell Coliseum. If there’s any good news for the Boilermakers it’s that Virginia Tech is struggling a bit itself when considering injuries and on-court performance. The Hokies escaped Oklahoma State but lost to UNLV in the 76 Classic, their second loss of the season. Malcolm Delaney has been doing it all offensively for Seth Greenberg but he’s not getting much help elsewhere. Jeff Allen and Dorenzo Hudson are Virginia Tech’s other main scoring threats but Allen has a hard time staying on the floor with foul trouble and Hudson is nursing an injured finger on his shooting hand. After that, Greenberg is having a hard time figuring out a rotation. The Hokies are thin up front and that’s something Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson should exploit this evening. Purdue’s star big man is averaging 17/9 and three blocks but is just 11-29 (38%) shooting in his last two games. He’ll go up against Victor Davila in this game and should be able to break out against the thin Hokie front court. With Allen coming over to help, foul trouble could become a concern yet again for the Virginia Tech forward. Johnson and Purdue do have to get to the line more often, ranking #241 in free throw attempts per field goal attempts. The Boilers don’t shoot it very well from there, either. This should be a low scoring game as both teams are strong defensively and force turnovers. Extra possessions and rebounds will be something to watch as Virginia Tech averages only 34 RPG, giving Purdue second chance opportunities and leading to foul trouble for the Hokies. Virginia Tech is not a strong outside shooting team other than Delaney so they’ll have to get a lot of their scoring inside against a tough Purdue defense that will get in the passing lanes and really disrupt their half court offense. Virginia Tech definitely can win this game but more has to go right for them than for Purdue. Matt Painter’s team has more options plus the matchup advantages are in their favor for the most part. However, playing on the road is always difficult, especially in a nationally televised game such as this. Expect this game to come down to the very end with free throws possibly deciding the outcome.

#6 Michigan State @ #1 Duke – 9:30 pm on ESPN (*****)

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