A Conference in Considerable Flux – Before Memphis, Houston, UCF, and SMU defect to the Big East – which officially makes a geographic mockery of the Big East’s name – C-USA will have one final season together as a full-fledged “upper-level” Division I conference. With only six NCAA Tournament teams and zero NCAA tournament victories in the past three seasons, however, can C-USA muster together a respectable showing for the 2012-13 campaign that doesn’t rival most mid-major conferences? Memphis is the only virtual lock to go dancing, yet several other programs (see Marshall, UTEP, and Tulane) are on the rise and could conceivably end up on the right side of the tournament bubble come March. Still, it may be overly optimistic to think C-USA will break the two-team NCAA bid barrier that has eluded the conference since 2005.
A Run Towards Perfection – In his fourth season as Memphis’ head coach, Josh Pastner has an opportunity to do something his predecessor, John Calipari, did with apparent ease for three straight seasons prior – have his Tigers run the table in C-USA. With the conference slightly weaker heading into this season (according to Ken Pomeroy), Memphis has a real opportunity to put up a perfect 16-0 regular season mark against their conference foes. It will still prove to be difficult, especially when facing UCF and Marshall twice as part of their unbalanced schedule, yet Memphis returns four starters and is sitting on a potential NBA lottery pick in Adonis Thomas if the 6’7” small forward can stay healthy for much of the season.
Josh Pastner leads a talented home-grown roster in Memphis’ final season in C-USA.
Welcoming Back a Legend – Anytime you can hire a head coach with a resume such as the 71-year old Larry Brown, I guess you have to do it, given SMU’s desperation to hire a big name. After all, you’re talking about a guy with an NCAA championship and an NBA championship on his resume. The problem is – aside from his age and inability to coach through the initial contract at his last three destinations – Brown has been away from the college game for nearly 25 years, when he won the 1988 NCAA championship coaching Danny Manning (who, interestingly, is a new C-USA coach himself) and the Kansas Jayhawks. How much can the Mustangs reasonably expect from Brown under these conditions? The cupboard is bare with the graduation of leading scorer and most efficient player, Robert Nyakundi, and the removal of four players including starting point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas, so you have to wonder if Brown will have the patience to stick around long enough to fully rebuild a SMU program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993. One benefit from Brown’s hiring is that he has assembled an impressive coaching staff, which includes the Mustangs possible head-coach-in-waiting in Tim Jankovich.
New Coaching Blood – Including Brown, there are four C-USA programs that hired new coaches this offseason, which makes up a whopping one third of the entire league. The most notable new hires are Brown and the aforementioned Danny Manning, who left his assistant post at Kansas in an attempt to push Tulsa out of complacency. Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss) and Jerod Haase (UAB) complete the list of coaches. It will be an uphill battle in season one; research has shown head coaches typically struggle in their first season at their newest destination. Perhaps these men can buck the trend and adapt quickly, although the more likely scenario has some of the league taking advantage and pushing ahead of these rebuilding programs for the time being. Well, maybe except for Rice (more on that later)…
UCF Hits Speed Bump With Transfers: Usually at this point in the season it’s all about lacing up the sneakers and getting to business. However, the challenges striking the Central Florida men’s basketball program persist. Transfer guard Jeffrey Jordan, Michael’s oldest son, left the Knights over the weekend citing “personal reasons” and Central Florida Future announced Thursday that senior forward DwightMcCombs will be following suit after he was handed a season-ending suspension on Wednesday. The losses may not seem like that big of a deal with Jordan sitting on the bench and McCombs only averaging 2.4 points and 2.5 rebounds a night; however, the decisions of both players to leave the school only adds additional trouble to a program that has been marred with the departure of its athletic director this season.
Memphis Continues Success Against Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles took the nation’s seventh-longest winning streak into FedEx Forum on Wednesday night (11 games), but exited with their third loss of the season and their 18th consecutive loss to the Memphis Tigers. On the other sideline, the Tigers enjoyed their 135th home victory since the 2004-2005 season. Memphis is the winningest home team in the nation at 135-16 since that year. The Tigers were able to hold to a close victory behind a pair of ChrisCrawford free throws with 31.7 seconds remaining.
Dennis Tinnon Has A Career Night: Marshall barely escaped with a victory last night, defeating UAB 60-58 and setting up a marquee conference matchup with UCF on Saturday night. Junior forward Dennis Tinnon led the Thundering Herd, grabbing a career-high 19 rebounds. Another unheralded junior, forward RobertGoff, sealed the victory for Marshall with a gigantic three-point play with under a minute to play. DeAndre Kane also enjoyed a successful evening, scoring 21 points and recording 10 rebounds. UAB senior Cameron Moore put the Blazers up late, but failed to convert on what would have been a game-tying basket in the final seconds.
Kazemi Keeps Rolling: Rice’s Arsalan Kazemi continued his case for conference player of the year last night in a 68-52 rout against Southern Methodist. The junior forward recorded his 40th career double-double, the 13th of the season, which ranks him as the nation’s best. The Iran native finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman Ahmad Ibrahim made a solid first career start for the Owls, recording 14 points.
Head Coach Donnie Jones (left) Hit A Bump In The Road When Dwight McCombs And Jeffrey Jordan Decided To Leave The Knights.
Memphis (11-5, 2-0): They may not have the conference’s best overall record, but the Tigers are the deepest team in conference and they have the most offensive firepower. Wednesday’s win over Southern Miss proved that the Tigers can win defensive bouts too. Memphis has won six of its last seven after falling from the national rankings. Will Barton continues to put forth a First-Team All-Conference effort, averaging 18.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per night.
Southern Miss (15-3, 2-1): The Golden Eagles were unquestionably the best team in conference until last night, which should be a great learning lesson for a relatively young team. Southern Miss can rebound the ball almost better than anyone in conference, averaging 38.1 boards a night as a team, which is third only to UCF and Marshall in C-USA. Senior guard Darnell Dodson has elevated his play.
UCF (13-3, 3-0): With guard A.J. Rompza back in the lineup, the Knights have been unbeatable, winning both at home (carrying a 16-game home win streak) and on the road. Forward Keith Clanton and guard Marcus Jordan continue to be the conference’s best duo for coach Donnie Jones in what has been an up-and-down season for the Knights.
Marshall (12-4, 3-0): If Marshall—the same team that has wins over Cincinnati and Iona—is the fourth best team in conference, then C-USA could be presenting a reasonable case for four teams come March. The Thundering Herd have revived from a two-game losing streak by winning their first three conference games. DeAndre Kane and DamierPitts have found a force in the low post in junior forward Dennis Tinnon. Marshall is fourth in the country in rebounds with over 42 a night.
Rice (10-7, 1-1): Arsalan Kazemi continues to be the story here. The junior forward is averaging 14.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, leading the nation in double-doubles with 13 this season. Fellow junior Tamir Jackson has been a pivotal player, running the team’s offense and averaging 12.9 points per game. The Owls don’t seem to be in the upper echelon of the conference, but with Kazemi they will contend throughout the season.
Tulane (12-4, 0-2): After a 9-0 start, the Green Wave has stumbled; however, there isn’t a team in the conference that has played a tougher schedule in recent weeks. Since their December 22 loss to top-ranked Syracuse, the Green Wave has played two of the conference’s best teams in UCF and Southern Miss.
Houston (9-7, 1-2): The Cougars have followed a five-game win streak with back-to-back conference loses at UTEP and UCF. With the losses, Houston has fallen to the middle of the conference rankings, but have a huge opportunity this weekend when they play host to the Memphis Tigers. If the Cougars can continue shooting the way they have this past month, then they can contend with anybody. Currently, Houston ranks 25th in the country in shooting percentage, knocking down 48.3% of their shots from the field.
SMU (9-7, 1-1): Senior forward Robert Nyakundi continues to lead the Mustangs, averaging 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. The Arlington native hasn’t had to do it alone, though, with the addition of Texas transfer Shawn Williams. The sophomore swingman has been an immediate contributor in Dallas since joining the team on the court eight games ago. Williams isn’t the only transfer making a difference. Junior guard London Giles, a Nevada transfer, has been a crucial performer at SMU all season, averaging 11.5 points per game.
Tulsa (8-9, 1-2): Another team on the outside looking in, the Golden Hurricane have struggled consistently this season in close games, losing three times in overtime and four times by three points or less. Jordan Clarkson will end up on an All-Conference team, but he hasn’t much help thus far.
UTEP (8-9, 1-2): Tim Floyd’s squad enjoyed a bit of a revival before the holidays, but has floundered since, failing to win consecutive games since December 22. The Miners enjoyed a nice home victory over Houston, but haven’t been able to win a true road game all season. Although they haven’t found a replacement for Randy Culpepper, the Miners are extremely deep with a bench of 11 players.
East Carolina (9-6, 0-2): The backcourt has been stout this season for the Pirates. Junior Miguel Paul has emerged as one of the best point guards in the conference, scoring 16.2 points and dishing out 5.7 assists per night. Senior forward DariusMorrow has also been a force for ECU, averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. In addition, the big man is shooting 54 percent from the field for a streaky Pirate club that won five straight heading into conference play, but have gone 0-2 early on.
UAB (5-10, 0-2): The Blazers have continued a porous non-conference run with a rough conference start, dropping contests at home to Memphis and Marshall. UAB’s offense is still the worst in conference, averaging less than 60 points per game. Even worse, preseason conference player of the year Cameron Moore has been spectacular, but hasn’t been able to abate the Blazers’ woes. With their next four games scheduled against Southern Miss, Rice, UCF and Marshall, the losing skid could very well continue.
UCF at Marshall, January 14 at 7 p.m. ET: While the Southern Miss-Memphis showdown lived up to the hype, C-USA fans will be watching this one with a close eye as first place in the conference is on the line. It will be extremely interesting to watch the backcourt duo of A.J. Rompza and Marcus Jordan duel against DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts. Marshall boasts a three-game winning streak; however, it is UCF that is undoubtedly the hottest team in the conference. The Knights have won nine of their last 10.
Rice at Tulane, January 14 at 8 p.m. ET: Two of the conference’s best individual talents will square off on Saturday when Arsalan Kazemi leads the Owls into New Orleans against Kendall Timmons and the Green Wave. Tulane is coming off a full week’s rest and is arguably the most rested team in conference, which should play into their favor against a Rice team that has played five games since the holiday break.
Memphis at Houston, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: The Tigers are riding an emotional high into Saturday’s contest at the Hofheinz Pavillion, which gives the Cougars the perfect opportunity to pull the upset. Houston is probably the best team in conference to matchup against Memphis’ high-powered offense. Currently, the Cougars are 39th in the nation in points per game with 76.6 a night. Houston has developed a quartet of double-digit scorers in addition to three other players that average more than six points a night. The Cougars are surprisingly deep and shouldn’t be overlooked.
SMU at UTEP, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: Neither of these clubs is able to rebound well, lacking frontcourt talent and depth. The Mustangs rank 326th in the nation in rebounding with an average of 30.4 boards a game, while the Miners are even worse at 335th with 29.6 rebounds a night. However, UTEP has been able to improve its field goal percentage in recent weeks, shooting 47.4% from the field. Last time they played in the Don Haskins Center, the Miners shot 61.2% in a 70-50 thumping over Houston on January 7.
Marshall at West Virginia, January 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3): This game serves as the conclusion for Marshall’s non-conference schedule and provides head coach Tom Herrion’s club with another opportunity to showcase their talent on national TV. Of course, this is an in-state rivalry so the emotions will be as high as any game this season. So far, Marshall is 1-1 against Big East competition. Another win against the nation’s deepest conference, in addition to their victory over Iona, could serve them come March if they fall short in the conference tournament.
Memphis at UCF, January 18 at 8 p.m.: It’s not too early to look towards next week’s conference schedule with Memphis traveling to take on Central Florida in a matchup that could be for first place in the conference. Another marquee game to look ahead at is Marshall at Southern Miss, which won’t be played until January 21 and will be aired on national television. These are the four top teams in conference and for the second straight week in a row, there will be a pair of pivotal conference matchups that feature all four.
Spotlight On…Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan
UCF has greatly benefited from the addition of A.J. Rompza and from the development of sophomore guard Isaiah Sykes. However, it has been the tandem of Clanton and Jordan that has fueled the Knights this season with consistent performance. Clanton is arguably the best post player in the conference, averaging 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. His latest performance against Houston, a 18 point and 13 rebound outing that included 5 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals, showed that he will be able to dominate teams with inferior big men, which the conference is chock full of. To further understand Clanton’s importance, one only needs to evaluate the Knights as a team. They are ranked 200th or lower in every major statistical category other than rebounding, where they rank 38th in the country with an average of 38.9 boards a night. In addition to Clanton, Marcus Jordan has been playing top-notch ball for head coach Donnie Jones. In addition to be the team’s leading scorer, Jordan has been the epitome of consistency, scoring in double-digits in all fourteen games he has played in so far this season. In a season filled with tons of upheaval for the UCF athletic department, the Knights basketball program has weathered the storm, winning nine of its last ten. They couldn’t have done it without the stellar play of both Clanton and Jordan.
Rice Upsets Texas A&M; Kazemi Records 36th Career Double-Double: The conference had arguably its best night of the season on Thursday, posting a 6-2 overall record, which was highlighted by Rice’s 65-58 upset victory over Texas A&M at College Station. Junior forward Arsalan Kazemi led Rice with 10 points and 13 rebounds, recording his ninth double-double of the season and 36th of his career, as the Owls snapped the Aggies’ 80-game regular season, non-conference home win streak. Kazemi is now six double-doubles shy of the conference record. The junior carried the scoring load in his sophomore season, but has found help this season from fellow junior Tamir Jackson and senior Lucas Kuipers.
Tulane Drops Second Game, Falling to Syracuse: The conference’s only losses Thursday night came against ranked competition. Tulane took on #1 Syracuse, losing 80-61 in a lopsided contest. However, the team’s trio of top scorers KendallTimmons, Jordan Callahan and Ricky Tarrant were not shut out, combining for 41 points. Timmons was the top performer, scoring 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
Memphis’ Continues To Tumble: The high-powered Memphis Tiger offense was contained and exposed on Thursday night when it faced the #16 Georgetown Hoyas, falling 70-59. Despite averaging 80 points a contest, Memphis was held in check throughout the game, which has become a trend when the Tigers take on tougher competition. Sophomore guard Will Barton continued his fantastic play, contributing a double-double in the losing effort. Barton finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but fellow sophomore Chris Crawford led the team with 17 points. Barton currently leads the conference in scoring with an average of 19.9 points per game, which is more than two points higher than UCF’s Marcus Jordan, who is second in scoring.
UTEP Builds Mo’ In Hawaii: In the first game of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, UTEP had a chance to make a statement and did, dominating Clemson. The Miners walked away with a 61-48 victory, following a 23-8 run during the game’s final 13 minutes. The Tigers recorded a lone field goal during that span. With the win, UTEP improves to .500 for the first time this season. Though they fell to the streaking Wildcats in the semifinal game, UTEP bounced back in the consolation round, holding off Auburn 83-76. The Miners are streaking at the right time, winners of four of their last five. Sophomore guard Michael Perez is finally filling the void left by Randy Culpepper, as he averaged over 17 points per game in the Diamond Head Classic.
Marcus Jordan Is Second In Conference USA In Scoring And The Knights Boast Two Of The League's Top Five Point-Scorers (Credit: Chris Schubert).
Tulane (11-2): The Green Wave suffered its second loss of the season on Thursday night, but they take a lot of experience away from facing the top-ranked team in the country. Tulane is the best defensive team in conference, allowing only 55.1 points a night. In comparison, the league’s worst defensive team, Memphis, allows 74.3 points per night. Kendall Timmons has found a long-term running partner in freshman Ricky Tarrant, who has blossomed into a star in the early part of this season.
Southern Miss (10-2): It’s hard to pick nits on a team that has won six in a row. Southern Miss has emerged as one of the best teams in conference because they play complete team basketball. Lacking a consistent top performer, the Golden Eagles have relied on several players to make plays. A lot of credit goes to the Golden Eagles seniors such as Darnell Dodson and Maurice Bolden, who each recorded a double-double in Thursday night’s win over South Florida. Read the rest of this entry »
Memphis Drops From Top 25: Memphis is unranked following the program’s 76-72 loss to Murray State last week. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Memphis and catapulted the Racers into the Top 25. The Tigers received 13 votes in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches poll along with 27 votes in the Associated Press poll, neither number being high enough to keep Memphis in the rankings with a mediocre 5-3 start. The Tigers have a chance at redemption this Saturday when they travel to No. 4 Louisville for a pivotal non-conference game. Following that contest, they travel to No. 17 Georgetown on December 22, where they will look to avenge an early season overtime loss to the Hoyas.
Once Again, Memphis Has No Shortage Of Mental Miscues To Iron Out
Tulane Gains Votes, Syracuse Looms: Before losing its first contest of the season last week, the Tulane Green Wave were marching to the beat of an undefeated drum. And the national media took notice. In the December 5 USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll, the Green Wave received some votes following a 9-0 start. Although the team didn’t receive any votes in Monday’s poll, they have a chance to prove themselves against top-ranked Syracuse on Dec. 22.
Washburn Gets Dap: UTEP freshman swingman Julian Washburn claimed his first C-USA Freshman of the Week Award on Monday, following a career-best performance in the Miners’ 73-69 win over non-conference rival New Mexico State. In the contest, Washburn recorded a career-high 16 points, three rebounds, four assists and a block. The win snapped a three game losing skid for the Miners and avenged an early season road loss to the Aggies on Nov. 19. Next up for UTEP is UNLV tonight at 10 PM ET. The Runnin’ Rebels are off to a 9-2 start, including a win over then-top ranked UNC. The Miners are statistically one of the worst offenses in the NCAA, ranking #320 overall. UNLV has had no problems offensively so far this season, averaging over 80 points a game, which is good for 24th in the nation.
Tarrant Gathers Accolades: Tulane freshman guard Ricky Tarrant chose a good time to deliver the best performance of his young career, gashing the Georgia Tech defense for 24 points, 20 of which were scored before halftime, en route to a 57-52 upset victory. Tarrant’s performance, which included a seven rebound effort, was good enough for him to take home both Conference USA Player and Freshman of the Week honors on December 5. It was Tarrant’s second consecutive Freshman of the Week honor, winning his first honor just a week earlier. The sweep marks the first time a freshman took home both weekly awards since 2008. In addition to the win over Georgia Tech, Tarrant helped the surging Green Wave past Southern earlier in the week.
Conference USA Player of the Week Alandise Harris had the throwdown of the week with this dunk in a win over Arkansas that earned the top spot on ESPN’s Top Plays.
The Week That Was
Memphis Falls In Maui, Picks Itself Up: The 13th ranked Memphis Tigers have had an up-and-down beginning of their season, finishing with a total of 196 points in their two victories, while shooting a miserable 33 percent from the field in their lone loss to No. 15-ranked Michigan. The Tigers failed to find an offensive spark against the Wolverines, losing 73-61 in the opening round of the Maui Invitational on Monday. Senior Charles Carmouche was the only Memphis player to shoot 50% in the game making six of his 12 attempted shots and finishing with a team-high 14 points. On Tuesday night, the Tigers redeemed themselves, holding on to narrowly defeat in-state foe Tennessee 99-97 in double overtime. Memphis was in control most of the way, but blew its ten-point halftime lead as the Volunteers surged late behind a stellar performance from junior Jeronne Maymon, who hit a game-tying shot in the closing second of regulation. He finished with 32 points and 20 rebounds while guard Will Barton had 25 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomores Antonio Barton and freshman Adonis Thomas helped the Tigers, providing a spark off the bench and finishing with 21 and 19 points, respectively. Antonio, the little brother of Will, hit a crucial jump shot in the second overtime with a little over a minute remaining.
Rice, Marshall, Tulane Off To Hot Starts: While the conference’s current leaders—Rice, Marhsall, Tulane (all 4-0)—will see tougher competition in weeks to come, the three teams have gotten to the top of the conference standings by throttling weaker competition. Junior swingman Arsalan Kazemi has the Owls started in the right direction, averaging a double-double through the first four contests. Similarly, junior swingman Kendall Timmons has been an integral part of the Green Wave’s early season surge out of the conference cellar. Timmons is shooting a pristine 66.7% from the field while averaging 18.7 points a game for Tulane. The Thundering Herd are the least shocking of the unbeatens remaining in conference; however, they’ve taken advantage of a weak early schedule. Marshall can prove themselves in weeks to come when they play a pair of Big East giants—Cincinnati and Syracuse—on the road. Read the rest of this entry »
Syracuse all-american forward Wes Johnson will enter the NBA Draft after one season with the Orange. He burst onto the national scene with two scintillating performances in Coaches vs. Cancer games versus California and UNC at Madison Square Garden, and for a few fleeting moments in November and early December he was considered the frontrunner for NPOY. Prior to February injuries to his back and shooting hand, Syracuse was playing as well as anyone in the country. He will sign with an agent, a good move considering that he will likely become a high lottery pick in June. He also expects to graduate later this summer.
UNC forward Ed Daviswill also enter the NBA Draft. After a superb freshman campaign where he was a key contributor to the 2008-09 national championship Tar Heels, Davis had an up-and-down sophomore year that ended with a broken wrist suffered in a game against Duke. He averaged 13/9/3 blks per game prior to that injury, but there was a lingering feeling among folks that he could be doing more with his ample athletic gifts. Nevertheless, he is still viewed as a lottery pick in the draft. Finally, remember the flap about Davis supposedly signing with an agent back in February? Trust us, today’s news shocked nobody.
It’s draft day for forwards apparently, as West Virginia’s Devin Ebanksalso declared his intention to go pro today. The 6’8 swing player who averaged 12/8 in his sophomore year really distinguished himself as an elite defender this season, and could probably play at the next level on that talent alone for many years. Mock drafts have Ebanks falling into the middle of the first round at this point. He plans to sign with an agent.
In a mild surprise, Purdue center JaJuan Johnson is reportedly planning to announced that he too will enter this year’s NBA Draft but he will not sign with an agent, leaving the door open for a return to school next season. Boiler Nation awaits his final decision (by May 8) with baited breath. Unless JJJ is dead-set on going pro, he’s a likely candidate to return because most experts have him as a late first-rounder at this point.
Mountain West POY and New Mexico guard Darington Hobson also plans on evaluating himself over the next few weeks before making a final decision as to whether to enter the draft, as ESPN.com reports that he will make a formal announcement tomorrow. He has some work to do, as he’s considered a second rounder by most experts, and could stand to spend another season honing his game (particularly strength) in Las Cruces.
Memphis guard Elliot Williams‘ strong sophomore season (18/4/4 assts) has resulted in his decision to declare for the draft today as well. We suppose it was not only a good decision to leave Duke for his family concerns but also for his professional career — he is projected as a mid-first rounder.
Finally, Illinois junior guard Demetri McCameyalso declared today, but he is expected to be only testing the waters as he will not sign with an agent. He is currently projected as a late first/early second round pick.
Another going involves two Missouri players — Miguel Paul and Tyler Stone — who are transferring out of the program. Neither player saw much run for Mike Anderson, averaging sixteen minutes per game combined in 2009-10. With the spring signing period starting later this week, we’re sure Anderson has a couple of athletic replacements already in mind.
It’s not a coming or a going, rather a staying, but Mississippi State’s Rick Stansbury has reportedly turned down the Clemson job vacated by Oliver Purnell. This is interesting given that the ACC is more prestigious in basketball than the SEC West, but Stansbury has built a solid program in Starkville and he may have the services of Renardo Sidney next year at his disposal.