Conference USA Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

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

Postseason Preview


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

Predictions:

First Round:

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

Second Round:

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

Semifinals:

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

Final:

  • UTEP 75, UAB 69

NCAA Tournament Outlook:

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

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on 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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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011


Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

  • Central Florida Shocked By Houston For First Loss: Central Florida certainly didn’t look like a team that deserved to be undefeated in the first half of their Saturday 76-71 loss to Houston. The Knights couldn’t come back from a 36-21 deficit despite scoring 50 points in the second half. UCF struggled from the field, missing 31 shots and finishing 20-51 from the field, including 3-14 from the three-point arc. Houston’s Zamal Nixon led all scorers with 17 points, playing nearly the entire game.
  • UAB Wins In Triple OT In Conference Opener: It took three overtimes to decide the winner of UTEP-UAB on Saturday afternoon. In a nationally televised game, the Blazers and Miners went back and forth with UAB coming away with a much-needed 100-97 win in their conference opener. The Blazers had been beaten by more than 20 points earlier in the week by No. 1 Duke. Before that, the team had won five in a row. As for the Miners, they had been winners of ten of their last eleven until Saturday’s loss.
  • Conference USA Has Seven Ten-Win Teams: Conference USA has been drawing some serious attention around the nation, as it should, because it hosts seven ball clubs that have already accumulated ten wins. The teams within the conference played a tough non-conference schedule that featured wins against the Big Ten, ACC, SEC (five wins), Big 12, Big East and the Pac-10. In addition, the conference stables the son of the legendary Michael Jordan, Marcus, who has vaulted to the status of  C-USA “Player of the Year,” according to ESPN’s Andy Katz.
  • C-USA, Fox Agree To Contract: Earlier this week, Conference USA announced they had ended their TV agreement with ESPN in order to sign a new contract with Fox Sports. The deal starts with the 2011 football season and ends in 2016. According to a report in the Sports Business Journal, the contract will give the league $7 million per year in revenue. The league already makes that much from a television contract it has with CBS. The conference announced in a press release that it would have at least 20 regular season men’s basketball games aired on Fox.
  • Tulane gets 12th Win Against SMU To Stretch Streak To Six: Tulane’s December surge has carried into January, as the Green Wave have now won their first two conference games, including Saturday afternoon’s 79-70 victory of the SMU Mustangs. Kendall Timmons led all scorers with 26 points, but three other Tulane players finished in double-digits.
  • Thundering Herd Halted By Knights: After winning seven of eight, Marshall was defeated on the road in their conference opener against Central Florida on January 5. Marcus Jordan finished with 26 points, 18 of which came in the second half after the two squads were tied at halftime.
  • Struggling Tennessee Pounds Memphis by 19 In Midweek Contest: Tennessee struggled during the later weeks of December, but found their stride against Memphis on Wednesday, beating the Tigers 104-85. The Vols jumped out to an early lead, dominating 49-34 after the first half. Tobias Harris finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Vols.
  • Kazemi and Timmons split Player of the Week Honor: Arsalan Kazemi led Rice in back-to-back wins over LSU and TCU and was awarded with conference Co-Player of the Week alongside Tulane’s Kendall Timmons. Kazemi averaged 19.5 points and 12.5 rebounds for the Owls in the wins, getting the club over the .500 mark after early season struggles. As for Timmons, he dropped a career-high 33 points while also grabbing 19 rebounds in a December 30 win over Lamar.
  • Top-ranked Duke Blows Past UAB: Nolan Smith dashed the Blazers for 33 points earlier this week as Duke steamrolled UAB 85-64 to continue their undefeated rout of their non-conference schedule. For the Blazers, Jamarr Sanders led all scorers with 21 points, but the team was inconsistent all night, shooting under 40 percent from the field.

Power Rankings

  1. Central Florida (14-1, 1-1). Saturday afternoon’s lost hurts for sure, but the Knights are still the toast of the conference after winning its first 14 games. Marcus Jordan is playing as well as anybody in the conference.
  2. Tulane (12-3, 2-0). The Green Wave is surging currently and it’s playing as if it’s are the best team in the conference. Kendall Timmons is entering the Player of the Year conversation, averaging team high’s in both points (17.1) and rebounds (9.4). His 2.7 assists and 2.1 steals are very respectable as well.
  3. Memphis (12-3, 1-0). Everyone knows the Tigers are the most talented team in the conference, yet they are struggling hard right now, barely escaping East Carolina over the weekend. The team needs to find leadership and get healthy or they could miss the NCAA Tournament once again.
  4. UTEP (13-4, 1-1). Clearly tried their best to stay perfect in conference, but succumbed in the third overtime to UAB. The Miners are still contenders as long as Randy Culpepper is on the court. The senior scored 34 points on Saturday.
  5. UAB (11-3, 1-0). UAB is a balanced scoring team, however, Cameron Moore and Aaron Johnson have been a two-man show all season with Moore dominating the glass and Johnson controlling the open floor. Much was the same in UAB’s win over UTEP, where Moore finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds, while Johnson went for 26 points and 14 assists. The team finished with just 20 assists.
  6. Southern Miss (12-3, 1-1). It’s hard to believe that a team as solid as Southern Miss might be the sixth-best team in the conference. Gary Flowers has been sensational this season, scoring 21.2 points a game while grabbing 7.7 rebounds. The team is #12 in the nation in rebounding through Saturday’s games. However, they are coming off a thirty-point loss against Marshall, which looks bad.
  7. Marshall (11-4, 1-1). The Herd got a big win at home Saturday evening, crushing Southern Miss 95-65, however, they have two big tests coming up against Memphis (January 15) and West Virginia (January 19). If they are going to compete, the offense needs to run as smoothly as it has this season. The Herd is averaging 76.3 points per game.
  8. Houston (9-6, 1-1). The Cougars got itself back on the map by knocking of UCF. Houston uses nine to ten guys a game and that depth has helped them immensely, as they have seven players scoring more than six points per game.
  9. Tulsa (8-7, 1-1). The team has some nice wins over Stanford and TCU as well as closes loses to Wichita State and UNLV. Still, the team has struggled to be inconsistent. In addition they only have four players—Justin Hurtt, Steven Idlet, Scottie Haralson and Jordan Clarkson—who seem capable of playing at this level.
  10. Southern Methodist (9-6, 0-1). The Mustangs are one of the worst teams in the nation in rebounding despite Papa Dia’s presence. The senior forward has been the team MVP thus far, grabbing 8.4 rebounds a game to along with his 16.8 points a game.
  11. East Carolina (8-7, 0-1). Strong effort in game one against Memphis is a good sign for a team that has now lost five of its last six. Once a team in the middle of the conference standings, the Pirates have returned to the bottom.
  12. Rice (8-8, 0-2). Sophomore Arsalan Kazemi is making a strong case to end up on the first team all conference. The 6’7 forward and Iranian native has scored in double digits every game this season and has finished with a double-double eleven times.

A Look Ahead

  • Central Florida Travels To Southern Miss In Early Marquee Conference Battle: The Knights need to rebound from their first loss of the season, but it won’t be easy against an up and coming Southern Miss team that seems poised to make the NIT at the very least. If UCF wants to prove its legitimacy, they will have to deal with the adversity of overcoming a loss. The game is Saturday afternoon.
  • Tulane Hosts UTEP In Matchup of Major Individual Talents. Wednesday’s game between the Miners and the Green Wave could be the second great conference game of the year (the first was UTEP’s 3OT loss to UAB). Nobody is hotter in the conference then Tulane’s Kendall Timmons, while the Green Wave need to worry more about stopping the Miners’ Randy Culpepper. Both players have dazzled thus far.
  • Memphis In Rankings Jeopardy: The No. 22-ranked Memphis Tigers could be unranked for the first time this season after a rough week that featured a blowout loss to instate rival Tennessee and a bad-looking win against bottom dweller-East Carolina. The Tigers have struggled on offense, dealing with injuries and transfers throughout the season.
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ATB: NPOY Race Getting Crowded With Jimmer, Nolan, Sullinger All Crushing…

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2011

The Lede.  It was an eventful night across the college basketball landscape, from Tennessee’s beatdown to Jimmer’s blow-up and the general sense that Duke might never lose a game again.  There were undefeated teams staying undefeated and there were disappointing teams staying disappointing.  Let’s flesh it out.

Fredette Was Unconscious at Times Tonight (LV Sun/J. Bowen)

Your Watercooler MomentMust-See Jimmer.  Was it when Jimmer Fredette pulled up from 28 feet the first time or the second time?  Was it when Memphis missed its second 1-on-5 fast break or the third time against Tennessee?  Since we’re feeling charitable tonight, we’ll go with Jimmer.  Thanks to CBS College Sports for allowing the nation to see BYU’s game at UNLV tonight, because otherwise, Fredette’s superb 39-point performance would have just ended up as another box score line without any real context for how ridiculously hot this guy can get.  Here’s a brief synopsis: at the five-minute mark of the first half, Fredette had five points and was 2-8 from the floor.  Not coincidentally, BYU was down eight points and looking shaky in a rocking Thomas & Mack Center.  Then: 3-ball, 3-ball, 3-ball, 3-ball.  All before halftime, as BYU took a three-point lead into the break.  Fredette hit three more in the second half and Jackson Emery added six more himself as the Cougars tormented UNLV from the perimeter with ball-fakes leading to open jumpers and pull-ups off the delayed break.  When Dave Rose’s team is hitting bombs like they were tonight (14-28), they appear unbeatable; of course, that’s not always the case, but Fredette is approaching that JJ Redick/Adam Morrison level of explosiveness where his games are nearly must-watch theater just in case you miss something special.

Tonight’s Quick Hits...

  • Heir Jordan.  UCF moved to a perfect 14-0 after defeating Marshall tonight, as the younger progeny of MJ (Marcus) seems to have really found his confidence.  He blew up for his second consecutive game of 26 points (plus six rebounds and five assists), and it’s clear that the sophomore guard is asserting control over this team.  He is looking to attack the basket relentlessly, and although he doesn’t have the athleticism or size of his pops, he’s showing an ability to get into the paint, create scoring opportunities and draw fouls (6.5 per game).  We’re starting to wonder if he isn’t just scratching the surface of his talent.
  • Forget Singler — We Should Be Talking Nolan Smith For NPOY.  Kyle Singler is still a fantastic player (he passed the 2,000-point mark at Duke tonight), but his teammate Nolan Smith is killing it right now and frankly deserves to be in the NPOY discussion at this point in the year.  In his last five games, the senior guard is averaging 26 PPG and knocking down over 60% of his twos and threes.  On the season, he’s at 20/5/6 APG and it’s hard to believe that we all thought Duke might struggle somewhat without Kyrie Irving around to run the Blue Devil offense.  Obviously, ACC defenses are familiar with how to play Smith after three previous seasons defending him, but we have to give it up for the guy.  He’s only getting better and better.
  • Bruce Pearl With His Back Against the Wall.  It never fails.  EVERY time the Vol coach looks like he’s down and out in Knoxville, his team comes out and plays like a top ten team.  We’ll get to Josh Pastner’s band of buffoons below (seriously, someone ranked them?), but in the last game before Pearl’s SEC-imposed suspension, his team ran, shot, blocked and dunked all over intrastate rival Memphis tonight.  The twenty-point margin was a gift, honestly, as UT spent most of the game up thirty points or more.  That this same Tennessee team lost to Charlotte, Oakland and Charleston shows that the only problem with Pearl’s team is between the temples — when they are focused and ready to play, they’re as talented as all but a few teams in America.  Oh, and PS… his quote that he told his team they shouldn’t get too excited over beating a CUSA team… priceless.
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ATB: Holiday Hoops? Yes, Please.

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

The Lede.  If you’re anything like us, and we suspect that you are, you spent tonight stationed in front of your television (hopefully HD) for anywhere between four to six hours, munching on way too many Christmas cookies, filling your stomach with eggnog or some similar milky concoction, and watching game after game of college hoops.  Now Texas, now Michigan State and Illinois!  On, Mizzou!  On Gonzaga, on Kansas and Cal! To the top of the polls!  To the top of the key!  Now get out on the break!  Fill those lanes!  Throw it down, all! It was Holiday Hoops at its best this evening, with several marquee matchups on the tube and nothing else on our agenda other than to nod knowingly when the Significant Other Unit started complaining about finishing the shopping.  This guy pretty much nailed it when he said that having the holiday spirit combined with some great hoops on the TV tonight equaled one incomparable thing: bliss.

This is a Snapshot Image of MSU's Evening (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

Your Watercooler Moment. What the Hell is Wrong With Michigan State? Nothing.  The Spartans are who they are.  They were never the second-best team in America — not this year, not last year, nor the year before.  In explaining why there’s nothing wrong with them, we got a little word-happy and decided to turn it into a separate post, which is located here.  Just remember that March basketball is a different animal than December basketball and that Izzo knows and understands this, and you’ll be fine.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Whelliston’s Red Line Upset Record.  The Mid-Majority’s record of what he calls “red line upsets” was equaled tonight with ten teams from mid-major leagues defeating major-conference teams.  The Las Vegas Classic was particularly inspiring for the little guys, as New Mexico dropped Colorado and Northern Iowa got past Indiana.  The others: North Texas over LSU, Siena over Georgia Tech, Dayton over Seton Hall, Cleveland State over South Florida, Seattle over Virginia, Furman over South Carolina, Green Bay over Wyoming, Butler over Utah, and Northern Arizona over Air Force (note: Whelliston considers the Mountain West a major conference).  And nice representation among the power leagues, with the MWC dropping three games and the ACC, Big East and SEC grabbing two a piece.  Shockingly, the Pac-10 had none tonight (and yes, Oregon State played — see below).
  • Tristan Thompson.  The 6’8 freshman forward was seemingly everywhere for Texas tonight, dropping 17 points and grabbing 15 boards (six offensive) against the typically beefy Michigan State front line.  He’s had his ups and downs this season, but tonight was his best performance of the year, and if Rick Barnes can convince this human pogo stick to crash the glass like this on a nightly basis, Texas suddenly becomes a darkhorse Final Four candidate this year.
  • Jordanesque.  Coming off the bench nursing a sprained ankle to hit several key FTs down the stretch to get a big road win?  That’s what Marcus Jordan did tonight at UMass in a tight contest that could have gone either way, the first such exposure for UCF as a nationally-ranked team.  We’re not going to oversell this — after all, he only scored seven points in fifteen minutes — but UCF is turning into one of the better stories of this college basketball season, and a large part of it due to Heir Jordan.
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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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ATB: Selby Debuts at Kansas

Posted by rtmsf on December 20th, 2010

The Lede.  Did you spend the weekend getting your Christmas shopping finished or watching basketball games?  It was quite a bit of both around the RTC compound, and we learned that should you not under any circumstances expect Tennessee to handle pressure well or question your significant other whether she already has “enough shoes.”  These are hard and fast rules that are inviolate, and the quicker we learn those two maxims, the better off we’ll be.

Your Watercooler MomentHelp Save Kyrie’s Toe (h/t Beyond the Arc).  In the spirit of the holiday season, Duke fans ask us to dig deep to pray for the return of their superstar point guard Kyrie Irving this season.  Fairly clever, even for a bunch of Dookies (especially enjoyed the Durham… New Jersey… bit).

Season Debuts.  The semester break has started most everywhere and there were several significant and long-awaited debuts over the weekend.

  • The most anticipated such debut, of course, was at Kansas where point guard Josh Selby came off the bench and pretty much won the game for his team down the stretch against USC.  His five threes included two in the last four minutes that each time regained the lead for the Jayhawks, the second without which would have more than likely ended the KU 64-game homecourt winning streak.  So we know that Selby is a difference-maker — his offensive scoring punch and playmaking abilities provide a dimension to the Kansas attack that the Jayhawks previously didn’t have.  But does he make KU better?  Keep in mind that from what we saw on Saturday, Selby needs to have the ball in his hands to be effective — he took a team-high eleven shots and handed out only one assist (to four turnovers).  Will team chemistry be affected by this?  How will it play with the juniors and seniors who have been through the wars and earned their places as the team leaders?  We’ll admit that we could be very wrong about this, but something just didn’t rub us the right way about how Kansas played on Saturday.  Maybe it was a one-time adjustment to bringing on the talent of a player like Selby, but we have our misgivings.
  • Fordham transfer and USC point guard Jio Fontan also made his debut in the same game as Selby, and his fifteen points as well as leadership were the primary reasons that the Trojans had a realistic shot at knocking off Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.  He only had two assists on this day, and in fact it was his fifth turnover when he stepped on the sideline that ultimately proved the difference, but Southern Cal looked nothing like the same team that Rider destroyed in the Galen Center or TCU punched in the mouth three weeks ago.  Fontan will make a world of difference for the Trojans, and in a Pac-10 that appears to be punctuated with mediocrity up and down the standings, his ability to lead talented big men such as Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson means that USC could surprise some people.

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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 7th, 2010

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Knights Thrive Outside Of Conference Play: What a start it has been for Donnie Jones’s Knights. UCF is out to a 7-0 start after beating in-state foe Florida 57-54 last Wednesday in Orlando. Jones, a first-year coach, defeated his old boss, Billy Donovan, in his first signature win since taking over the program. An impressive stat—the Knights missed 14 consecutive shots in the middle of the second half, yet were still able to win by holding Florida to only 24 points in the second stanza.
  • Marcus Jordan, the team’s leading scorer, came through in more ways than one. He shot 6-11 from the field, leading the team with 18 points. In addition, he shut down Florida’s leading scorers, Kenny Boynton and Chandler Parsons, while breaking down Florida’s perimeter defense at will. Jordan’s clutch free throws in the waning seconds helped the Knights get the win and remain undefeated so far this season.
  • Player of the Week: UAB junior Cameron Moore. A dominator of the hardwood, Moore is becoming a household name. The center averaged 22.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game during a four game stretch where the Blazers went 3-1. Moore has five double-doubles on the season, which leads the league, but none may have been more impressive than his 28-point, 15-rebound effort against Kent State. Moore has scored above 14 points in every game this season and has put up a twenty-point performance in three consecutive games. Besides a two-point loss to Georgia on Friday, the Blazers had a blemish-free week. So far, UAB has lost two games by a total of five points.
  • Pastner Quick to Notice Tigers’ Struggles against Red Wolves: The 9th-best scoring offense in the nation couldn’t finish off Arkansas State in regulation, but in overtime, Memphis’ talent was too much for the Red Wolves. Memphis won the extra period 13-6 on its way to a 78-71 victory. The performance was disdained strongly by head coach Josh Pastner.  “I have never been more disappointed in a group of guys and the way they played. Absolutely disappointed in them. We got outplayed by Arkansas State, and we were fortunate to get the ‘W,’” said Pastner in a postgame interview. Pastner would go on further to say the team had no urgency, which was blatant during the second half, when the Red Wolves outscored the Tigers 41-30. Memphis responded by beating Western Kentucky handily in preparation for their date with Kansas on Tuesday.
  • DeAndre Kane Lifts Thundering Herd to Consecutive Wins: Leading your team in scoring as a freshman isn’t hard, at least not for DeAndre Kane, who is averaging a team-high 17.6 points per game for Marshall this season. Kane recorded his second-straight 25-point outing against Florida International, leading the Herd to an 88-79 victory. A game later, Kane was back again, leading the Herd in scoring as they topped Ohio 65-57. Kane also leads the team in assists with 3.6 per contest.
  • Southern Miss Hangs 100 On Alcorn, Gets First Loss to Ole Miss: After beating winless Alcorn State early last week, the Golden Eagles dropped a game. Despite a second half comeback against Ole Miss, USM was unable to overcome a 44-34 deficit at halftime. Gary Flowers, the second leading scorer in the conference, poured in 31 points and nine rebounds against the Braves, while cooling off against the Rebels and only scoring 19. The Golden Eagles are currently the #1 rebounding team in the nation, averaging 48.3 boards a game so far this season.
  • UTEP Survives New Mexico State; Culpepper Catches Fire: In a battle between two stout southwestern basketball programs, the Miners were able to win their second straight game thanks in large part to a 32-point performance from senior Randy Culpepper. The guard was electric in the first half, scoring 25 points and hitting five three-pointers. Despite their success in past season, the Aggies are now 2-6 and losers of six consecutive games, including back-to-back losses to the Miners. On November 23, UTEP won 73-56 in the teams’ initial meeting.
  • East Carolina Pushes Win Streak To Five: The Pirates are winners of five in a row after barely beating Charlotte 62-61 last Wednesday. The team earned its seventh win of the season this past weekend when they trounced Fayetteville State 91-70. Not exactly the best competition, but behind Brock Youngs’s 22-point, seven-assist effort, the Pirates were able to improve to 7-0 at home this season.  Next, they play host to Old Dominion on Tuesday night.
  • Arsalan Kazemi Needs Some Help: Rice Sophomore Arsalan Kazemi is doing everything a big man is supposed to do. The 6’7 forward is grabbing an average of 10.6 rebounds a night, while leading his team in scoring with 15.8 points. Most amazingly, Kazemi has yet to shoot a three-pointer this season and has scored in double figures in every game. However, his good play hasn’t been enough for Rice in recent play as the team has dropped three of its last four games.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (7-0): Despite sub-par play against Arkansas State, the Tigers have a chance to redeem themselves at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night when they take on Kansas in the Jimmy V Classic.
  2. Central Florida (7-0): Currently, the Knights are shooting better than all but four teams in the nation, averaging 52.5 percent from the field, which has enabled the club to score an even 80 points per game. In addition, the Knights are passing the ball well, which is clearly setting up the high shooting percentage. Right now, UCF is the top team in the conference in assists, led by A.J. Rompza, who is averaging five a game.
  3. UAB (7-2): The Blazers have proven that they belong, competing in all nine of their games, losing two by a total of five points. The combination of Aaron Johnson and Cameron Moore appears to be the best guard-center duo in the conference at this point.
  4. UTEP (5-2): The Miners haven’t blown out anybody yet, but they have been in every game they have played in. Having Randy Culpepper doesn’t hurt either. Although they are currently in a logjam of three 5-2 teams in the standings, the Miners are looking like one of the conference’s top five teams.
  5. Southern Miss (5-1): Seniors R.L. Horton and Gary Flowers are currently taking this team on their collective back. The leaders currently average 37 points per game combined. Flowers, at 2.4 blocks per game, has been impressive on defense as well. Angelo Johnson (6.3 APG) and DJ Newbill (11 PPG/8 RPG per game) are also contributing nicely.
  6. East Carolina (7-2): A noticeable leap for the Pirates in the power rankings. Despite soft competition on the schedule, ECU has helped itself to five wins in a row, which is worth noticing for a team that was picked to be dead last in the conference.
  7. Marshall (5-2): The Herd will get a good test on Tuesday when they take on James Madison (6-2) at home. Marshall is currently undefeated at home this season, scoring above 80 points in three of four contests. Four players averaging double figures in scoring make the Thundering Herd a team worth watching.
  8. Houston (5-3): The Cougars had a close call against Sam Houston State last Saturday, pulling out a 75-71 win in overtime. Houston was unable to win on the road before that game, going 0-3 against Louisiana Tech, TCU and LSU on the road previously.
  9. Tulane (5-2): The Green Wave are one of five CUSA teams who are undefeated at home this year after winning two games last week. Kris Richard and Kendall Timmons are both averaging over 14 points a game, which has helped Tulane get off to a good start.
  10. Tulsa (4-3): Three close losses have knocked the Golden Hurricane slightly in the power rankings. Next up: a big-time showdown versus instate rival Oklahoma State. The Cowboys travel to Tulsa, bringing their 7-1 record with them. Senior Justin Hurtt and freshman Jordan Clarkson are leading this team, while Steven Idlet and Scottie Haralson are also carrying a lot of the weight.
  11. SMU (5-4): Papa Dia continues to have a spectacular season for the Mustangs, averaging 17.3 points a game and 7.6 rebounds. After a slow start, SMU has won four of their last five. Too bad they don’t play a real team (read: one in KenPom’s top 120) until January 5.
  12. Rice (4-4): After a close game versus Texas, the Owls were throttled by Arizona at home, losing 84-57. They responded by beating Lamar 75-73. Rice is idle until December 16.

A Look Ahead

Tigers Look To Avenge 2008 Championship loss:: When #14 Memphis and #4 Kansas take the court at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, there will be more on the line than bragging rights. In this matchup, redemption is on the line for Memphis. For Kansas, a big time stage to show the entire nation that they are for real after scuffling in its win over UCLA. The Jayhawks are currently the top team in the nation in assists per game and field goal percentage and are coming off a pair of wins over Pac-10 foes Arizona and UCLA.  While KU has been proving itself, Memphis has taken a minor step backward. After beating Miami (FL) and LSU, the Tigers allowed 80 points to Tennessee-Martin and faltered against Arkansas State in regulation only to pull out an overtime win.  After KU lay more challenges, as the Tigers have to take on Georgetown and Tennessee before they get to breathe a little easier with Conference USA play.  At the Garden, expect great play in the backcourt. The matchup between Tyshawn Taylor and Joe Jackson should provide plenty of excitement. This one will come down to who can exercise their offensive strength within the paint. Rebounds will be key, as well as second chance opportunities.

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