Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.
All-Conference — Midseason Edition
With about a third of the 2013-14 season in the books and conference play coming next week, it is time to review the strongest candidates for a midseason All-Conference Team. Some of the same players show up a second year in a row. Chaz Williams, for example, is doing what everyone thought he would… just better. Other names (Cady Lalanne and Cedrick Lindsay) might be new to the list, but fans of the Minutemen and Spiders know who they are.
The RTC “Pre-A10 season” first team consists on an eclectic group of standouts.
Guard — Chaz Williams, Massachusetts. With the resurgence of the Minutemen program, Williams stands an excellent chance to take Player of the Year honors at season’s end. The senior guard leads the conference in total assists (82) and assists per game (7.8),and leads Massachusetts in scoring (173) and points per game (15.7).
Guard — Cedrick Lindsay, Richmond. The junior point guard leads the Spiders in points scored (205), points per game (18.6), assists (54) and minutes played (378). Given Chris Mooney’s preference for a deep rotation, the last statistic is especially impressive as it represents 76.3 percent of the available minutes at Richmond’s point guard spot. With three games left before they start conference play — two of them very winnable — the chances are good that Richmond will start conference play with at least 10 wins in the book.
Guard — Treveon Graham, VCU. The 6′ 6″ off guard leads Shaka Smart’s squad in scoring (203) and points per game (15.6) and is second in rebounding (85).
Forward — Dwayne Evans, St. Louis. Evans was named to the preseason All-Conference First Team along with Chaz Williams, and like his UMass rival, Evans has not disappointed. The 6’6″ senior forward leads the Billikens in points scored (207) and has been a crucial piece in their 11-2 season.
Center — Cady Lalanne, Massachusetts. The 6’10” center might be Williams’ teammate but also his biggest competitor for Player of the Year honors. Lalanne and Williams have both been named Player of the Week twice. The junior has started all 11 games for UMass, averages a double-double (14.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG), and leads the conference in blocked shots (32).
Conference Realignment, Round Two – When back in March 2012, Temple — followed quickly by Charlotte — announced their intent to leave the conference at the end of the 2012-13 season, Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade had nearly 15 months to deliver their replacements. The former ACC Associate Commissioner took less than eight weeks to ink two stellar programs (VCU and Butler) that could potentially eclipse the departing teams. Through an accident of timing, the conference drew five NCAA bids from its 16 teams, matching their previous bid highs of 1996-97 and 1997-98. The A-10’s second brush with Realignment Fever (Butler and Xavier to the Big East, effective June 30, 2013) handed McGlade a far smaller window to audition replacements. Her second attempt at matchmaking yielded George Mason and Davidson, two solid additions that fall short of her first effort. That headliners Temple, Xavier and Butler (Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye) departed together, with Davidson not due to join until 2014-15, leaves the conference with less name recognition than it has had since the early 1990s.
It has been a whirlwind 18 months for Bernadette McGlade and the Atlantic 10 conference. (AP)
The “It” Place – Inking a five-year deal with the Barclays Center to host the Atlantic 10 Tournament seemed prudent at the time. The shovels had barely turned the dirt on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and the conference was in the early stages of negotiations for television coverage. McGlade’s gamble paid dividends as the 2013 conference tournament offered the strongest field in a decade in one of the year’s hottest new basketball venues. Couple the exposure from basketball (the Brooklyn Nets, the A-10 Tournament, several in season double- and triple-headers) and music, and suddenly the Barclays Center has become one of the most popular entertainment venues in New York City. For the A-10, the challenge will be to develop comparable gate numbers to those of the venue’s higher profile entertainment offerings.
Predicted Order of Finish
Rankings from the conference coaches’ Media Day Poll are in square brackets to the right of the projected conference record.
Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.
Despite having two teams earn bids into the NCAA Tournament last season, Conference USA walked away without a win.
Can Memphis Pull Away?: While the Tigers have fielded strong teams since John Calipari left after the 2008-09 season, they’ve never had quite as much talent in that time as they figure to show this season. With essentially every notable contributor returning, a huge gap could form quickly. On the other hand, chemistry rarely comes instantly, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Memphis have a double-digit loss season, either.
Central Florida Continues To Build: Thanks partially to a soft non-conference schedule of six opponents with KenPom ratings 200 or lower and a non-D-I matchup, UCF cracked the national rankings for the first time in school history. While the Knights came down to Earth once conference play began, momentum is important no matter how it’s established. After winning two postseason games, we’re excited to see how the UCF follows up on a surprising season.
Realignment Hovers Over C-USA: Perhaps no single conference houses as many schools that were rumored to be on their way out than Conference USA, even if its membership ultimately stayed intact. East Carolina and UCF are frequently connected to the Big East; Memphis’ basketball program is as valuable a commodity as there is outside of the Power Six, and in its shakier days, the Big 12 could have found itself eyeing the Texas schools as a contingency plan in case the Longhorns and Sooners packed up for the Pac-12. It didn’t come to pass, but you have to wonder just what C-USA will look like in the long term.
This Year's Tigers, Led By Will Barton, Could Be Pastner's Most Talented Memphis Team Ever
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our newest update comes courtesy of our Conference USA correspondent, Steve Coulter.
Reader’s Take I
Joe Jackson Goes Patriotic: The Memphis guard and MVP of the CUSA Championship was selected as a member of USA Basketball’s U-19 Would Championship squad on June 23. After a week of training camp, Jackson was among the final twelve players selected by the USA Basketball committee. The squad left for Europe on June 30 and returned July 10. While Team USA disappointed in finishing fifth, Jackson more than held his own against some of the top international talent in the world, averaging over 11 points and 4 assists in 9 games. Jackson was accompanied to Latvia for the competition with eleven other collegiate sophomores including Michigan State’s Keith Appling, Villanova’s James Bell, Stanford’s Anthony Brown, Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr., Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb, Illinois’ Meyers Leonard, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, North Texas’ Tony Mitchell, Butler’s Khyle Marshall and Florida’s Patric Young.
Memphis guard Joe Jackson was a bright spot for Team USA in Latvia, despite a fifth-place finish in the FIBA U-19 World Championships. (Vytautas Mikaitis)
Thundering Herd Runs Deep: Marshall already had one of the more loaded backcourts heading into the 2011-12 season with stars Damier Pitts and DeAndre Kane, but with the addition of JustinColeman, a one-time Louisville commit, the Thundering Herd will certainly have the deepest backcourt the conference has to offer. Coleman sat out last year, but he will be coming off the bench as a shooting guard this season. Along with Coleman, junior college transfers RobertGoff and DennisTinnon will be new faces for the Herd. Goff and Tinnon are strong power forwards, looking to aid a weak Marshall frontcourt.
Memphis Coaching Legend Larry Finch Passes Away: Former Memphis coach Larry Finch passed away from natural causes at Saint Francis Hospital in Memphis on April 2 at the age of 60. Finch finished his career with the most wins in Tiger basketball history, a record he still holds today. Before leading the Tigers from 1986-97, Finch was a player at Memphis from 1970-73 and worked as an assistant at his alma mater from 1979-86. He passed away as not only a celebrated coach of the game, but a rare influence at the collegiate level. During his 11-year stint as head coach, Finch had seven 20-win seasons, made six NCAA appearances, amassed 220 wins and propelled 7 former players into NBA Draft selections. He finished his career with a loaded resume, having taken his alma mater to the Final Four, getting his jersey retired by the program and becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach.
Memphis: Freshman swingman Adonis Thomas, the No. 16 ranked prospect on Scout Inc.’s Top 100, is the conference’s best newcomer and he joins the already lethal Wesley Witherspoon as a scorer on a loaded Tigers roster that includes two of the nation’s best young guards in Joe Jackson and Will Barton. Head coach JoshPastner can continue his Conference USA dominance this season, but the Tigers need to play solid defense and claim more out of conference wins then they did last season. Otherwise, they will be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives again come March. As of now, Witherspoon and Barton are two of only four Conference USA prospects in the Top 100, ranking in at No. 79 and No. 80, respectively. Read the rest of this entry »
Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.
A Look Back
Conference USA/Fox Deals Hit Road Bump: What was originally believed to be a finalized deal between Conference USA and Fox has hit a road block. The deal between the two organizations was reached last month, totaling in $43 million deal that gives media rights of the conference to the Fox entertainment network. The problem that has risen stems from the conference’s current rights holders—ESPN and CBS College Sports. Both media outlets feel their current contracts with C-USA should allow them to offer a new package, or deal, before a company like Fox can interfere. ESPN told the SportsBusiness Journal, “Conference USA never fulfilled their contractual obligation relating to ESPN’s future rights. We are exploring possible solutions to resolve this situation but remain prepared to take any necessary steps to protect our rights.” The agreement, which seemed to be a lock, has apparently infringed upon some rights, which could come down to a courtroom settlement, if not worse.
UTEP’s Floyd Escorted Off Court By Cop, Lands On National TV: UTEP’s losing skid reached an all-time low when head coach Tim Floyd was ejected and escorted off the floor at Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum last Wednesday night by a police officer. Floyd’s rant and overreaction caught the eye of the national media, landing on ESPN’s SportsCenter the following morning. The loss was the Miners third in four games, and allowed their opponent, ECU, to snap a three-game losing skid of their own.
UAB Gets To Ten Conference Wins, Holds Slim Lead: The Blazers eclipsed the 20-win mark and earned their 10th win in conference play, when they beat Houston last weekend, 68-55. With the win, UAB moves into sole possession of first place with two games to go. They have a one game lead over UTEP, Memphis, So. Miss and Tulsa. The loss was Houston’s ninth in ten games, dropping them to the bottom of the conference standings.
So. Miss Loses Nail-Biter to UCF. The Knights won for the fourth time in five games, edging the Golden Eagles 65-64 last weekend at home. Although the Knights have played themselves out of a bid to the NCAA tournament, the team has fought back from a horrible start in conference play. Reserve guard A.J Rompza hit a deep three-pointer to give the Knights their fifth conference win of the season with 3.8 seconds remaining. Michael Jordan was in attendance to see his son Marcus score 20 points, which tied for the game high.
UTEP Demolishes Memphis at Home, Following Losing Skid: The Miners beat the Tigers soundly over the weekend, 74-47, behind a big performance from senior Randy Culpepper. The guard finished with 20 points, four assists and four rebounds. Memphis entered the game winners of five of their last six, but failed to find consistency offensively, recording a mere 20 points in the first half.
Marshall Edges SMU at Home: A nine-point surge late in the second half of last Saturday’s contest allowed the Thundering Herd to reach 20 wins on the season and improve to 8-6 in conference played. Marshall beat visiting SMU 64-62, following Robert Nyakundi’s three-pointer with seven seconds left, which got the Mustangs within two, 62-60. Damier Pitts drained two key free throws, finishing with 19 points and six assists. Papa Dia’s double-double couldn’t get SMU the key road win.
Tulsa Tops Tulane: Kendall Timmons continued a spectacular individual season for lowly Tulane, dropping 27 points and grabbing ten rebounds, while recording five steals in a losing effort. The Golden Hurricane out dueled the Green Wave, 66-59, behind a 24-point effort from Justin Hurtt.
East Carolina Keeps Rice Buried With Late Three-Pointer. In another close contest, ECU nipped Rice thanks in large part to Jontae Sherrod, who drained a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left on Saturday to help the Pirates edge the Owls 71-68. The Pirates knocked down 14 three-point baskets in the contest.
UAB (20-7, 10-4) – UAB controls its own destiny with one to play. They can lock up the conference’s coveted No. 1 seed by knocking off Southern Miss on Wednesday night. Jamarr Sanders, Cameron Moore and Aaron Johnson give this team a trio of consistent performers, while Ovie Soko, Dexter Fields and Preston Purifoy have shown up as solid role players.
Southern Miss. (21-7, 9-5) – The Golden Eagles have won seven of their last nine and an early season victory over UAB could help the team claim the conference’s top spot, if they can top the Blazers once again on Wednesday. Gary Flowers’ 19.3 points per night and 7.7 rebounds a game has certified him as a conference first team member.
UTEP (21-7,9-5) – Despite a solid overall record, the Miners could fail to get a spot in the Big Dance if they can’t propel themselves to 11 conference wins and a top two or three seed in the conference tournament. It will be a season of disappointment if UTEP is a No. 4 or No. 5 seed heading into the conference tournament.
Memphis (21-8, 9-5) – Memphis has to win both games this week to earn a top spot in the postseason tournament. Josh Pastner’s club has a postseason berth right now, but it isn’t guaranteed.
Tulsa (16-12, 9-5) – This Tulsa team has silently crept up in the conference standings and with a big game against USM this weekend, they can claim a partial share of the conference crown. Justin Hurtt has been the team MVP but transfer Scottie Haralson has to have the coaching staff pleased with how he has seamlessly transitioned.
Marshall (20-9, 8-6) – Two losses to top dog UAB hurts, however, this is a different team at this point in the season. Marshall has won five in a row since their lose to the Blazers on February 9. Marshall deserves to be ranked higher truthfully, the team’s guard play is outstanding spearheaded by 5’10-junior Damier Pitts and newcomer DeAndre Kane. The 6’4’ guard for Pittsburgh has made his case as Freshman of the Year.
SMU (17-11, 8-6) – Beware of the Mustangs come conference tournament time. SMU has beaten Memphis, Southern Miss., and Tulsa. They could potentially be a spoiler team with Papa Dia down low.
UCF (18-9, 5-9) – It’s interesting to think about the Knights finishing the season with four straight wins and a 20-9 record. If they sweep this week, they will have beaten UTEP, Southern Miss, SMU and Marshall. Their only non-conference win of real value is against Florida, which won’t get them into the Big Dance, but they have an opportunity—like Marshall and SMU to play spoiler and potentially ruin a bid that appears to be on the table for a lackluster Tigers team or a struggling Miners club.
East Carolina (15-13, 7-7) – The Pirates got their biggest win last week, knocking of UTEP at home and causing Tim Floyd to freak, however ECU finishes against Memphis and UAB. There path in the conference could look similarly as they are the No. 8-seed currently.
Rice (12-16, 4-10) – They will battle on Saturday night to finish the season. If they top the Cougars, and spoil Tulsa’s top-spot opportunity when they host the Golden Hurricane tomorrow then they will be in for a 6-10 record in conference, which was a lot better than expected. So far they have only beaten one top team in conference—Memphis—and could use the morale boost after another trying year.
Houston (12-15, 4-10) – Maurice McNeil can do a lot of things—13.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.5 BPG— but he can’t do everything. The Cougars need a third contributor to join McNeil and Adam Brown, which would give them three double-digit scorers. So far this season, the team hasn’t found that consistency and is paying for it harshly, losing nine of their last ten and being denied more than 71 points in every loss. Although it’s not a drastically bad offense, the Cougars simply can’t win games with this style of play.
Tulane (12-15, 2-12). Like McNeil, sophomore forward Kendall Timmons does everything for the Green Wave. He averages 16.9 PPG, 3,3 APG, 8.7 RPG and 1.9 SPG. An unbelievable season no doubt for Timmons, he will get to show off his talent in a matchup for last place against Houston tomorrow night.
A Look Ahead
Regular Season Winding Down: After this weekend’s round of games, it is off to the conference tournament, where teams will duke it out for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, C-USA spoiled a bid for an at-large team as Houston went on a heroic four-day triumph out of nowhere to get to the Big Dance. This year, several mid-tier teams could prove to be the shocker. As we all know, anything can happen in March.
UAB and So. Miss Claw For First: As previewed, the Blazers and the Golden Eagles will go head-to-head tomorrow night in Reed Green Coliseum, where USM has only lost twice this season. Gary Flowers is the player to watch in this one, if he can go for 22 points like he did on the road against UAB on February 2, then Southern Miss will be the top team in conference and in control of their own destiny on the road against Tulsa on Saturday.
UCF Looks To Continue Streaks Over Mustangs, Herd: The Knights of Central Florida went through some trying times only weeks ago. Although they may not be able to erase those mistakes, UCF hasn’t given up and they won’t die easy. One of the brightest teams in the first half of the season, the Knights fire went out, only to come back on with a few weeks to go. Donnie Jones was primed for Coach of the Year. He may not get it now, but he has my vote.
UTEP Hosts Red-Hot Marshall In Battle of Top Guards: It’s hard to find better guard play than that of UTEP and Marshall. Luckily, these two squads face off at the Don Haskins Center for a game that is crucial for both teams. The Miners rank No. 29 in the nation in assists spearheaded by Randy Culpepper, Christian Polk and JulyanStone.
Memphis Tries to Recover Against ECU, Tulane: On paper, the Tigers have the easiest path however a road game against ECU early in the week could knock them out of contention for the No. 1 spot. Saturday’s game against Tulane should be an easy win.
Tulsa Awaits Home Duel With So. Miss on Saturday. With a win on Wednesday, Tulsa will also be in control of their own destiny. A win at home against USM could very possibly give them the top spot in the conference, if the Golden Eagles clip the Blazers earlier in the week. However, Tulsa isn’t a good road team and Rice, their opponent on Wednesday, will give them a good game.
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. TarikBlack, 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 RandyCulpepper 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 MarcusJordan 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.
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 JulyanStone continue to be key role players. Everything is going nicely for Tim Floyd’s club.
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.
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.
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.
SMU (15-9, 6-4) – The Mustangs got beat by the best team in conference, but Papa Dia and RobertNyakundi 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.
A Look Back
Culpepper Ends Starting Streak: Once named the Conference USA Sixth Man of the Year, senior UTEP guard RandyCulpepper returned to the bench last weekend, snapping a streak of 40 games started in a row. The Preseason Player of the Year dropped 24 points coming off the bench and ultimately lead the Miners to a 65-56 win over Michigan.
ECU’s Young Reaches 500-assist Plateau: Senior guard Brock Young became the seventh player in conference history to reach 500 career assists during the Pirates’ 81-53 win over UNC Greensboro. Despite a slow start and limited playing time, Young was able to reach the milestone only seven games into the Pirates schedule.
UAB Tops Arkansas in OT: Senior guard JamarrSanders led the way with 19 points, while all five starters scored in double digits for UAB as they ousted Arkansas 70-65 in overtime. Sophomore Ovie Soko finished with 17 points, but the most impressive performance came from sophomore Cameron Moore, who ended up with his third double-double. Moore scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Rice keeps it close with #20 Texas: Texas guard Cory Joseph’s layup with 37 seconds left lifted the Longhorns over the Owls. Despite beginning the second half trailing 23-20, Texas walked away with a 62-59 win after making nine three-pointers in the second half. The Owls (3-3) were led by Arsalan Kazemi, who finished with 13 points and has scored in double digits every game this season.
UTEP Splits in Atlantic City: After a win over New Mexico State on Tuesday, UTEP split a pair of games in the Legends Classic this past weekend. On Friday, the Miners were beaten by Georgia Tech 71-61, but rebounded with a 65-56 win over Michigan. The Miners finished third in the tournament.
Clarkson Remains hot, Tulsa Rolls Past Stanford: After being named C-USA Freshman of the Week, Tulsa guard Jordan Clarkson scored a career-high 20 points to lead Tulsa to a 66-53 win over Stanford. The day before, the Golden Hurricanes were dropped by UNLV, 80-71. Against the Rebels, Clarkson was limited to just nine points.
Houston Loses In-State Battle With TCU: Houston couldn’t win its first road game against in-state foe TCU. Ronnie Moss and Garlon Green led the Horned Frogs (4-2) with 17 and 16 points, respectively. After winning their previous two games at home, the Cougars couldn’t overcome 19 turnovers and ended up losing 79-63.
Caught On Film
Marcus Jordan Dunking like Dad: Despite being in only his second season at Central Florida, Marcus Jordan has begun to compile a highlight reel. On Tuesday night, the guard intercepted an inbound pass from Stetson sophomore Ridge Graham and dunked over the dazed Graham. The result was Jordan ending up at #7 on SportsCenter next day as seen in the highlight below.
The Knights went on to win the contest 85-48, then obliterated Alabama State 84-48 on Saturday. Jordan scored 18 points in that contest and has scored in double figures in all five games this season. He leads the 5-0 Knights, averaging 16.8 points per game. Older brother Jeff sits on the bench this season after transferring from Illinois last year.
Memphis (5-0): The conference’s only ranked team also is in the top ten among scoring offenses in the nation. Everything seems to be running smoothly for the Tigers following the departure of Jelan Kendrick. Freshmen Will Barton and Joe Jackson are combining for 23 points a game, while junior Will Witherspoon is having a big season, scoring 15.4 points and 5.6 rebounds a contest. The team is a week away from taking on #4 Kansas in Madison Square Garden.
Central Florida (5-0): The Knights have been absolutely dominant thus far, earning small wins over Stetson and Alabama State this past week. Currently, UCF is #12 in the nation in points per game and is shooting over 55% from the field. Limiting their last four opponents to fewer than 60 points has helped the quick start.
Southern Mississippi (4-0): Winless Alcorn State looms for the Golden Eagles as the number three rebounding team in the nation looks to get to 5-0 before next weekend’s matchup vs. Ole Miss. Freshman guard D.J. Newbill has come on strong, recording two double-doubles so far this season. Meanwhile, seniors Josimar Ayarza and Gary Flowers have provided stability.
UAB (4-1): The Blazers make a strong case to be inside the conference’s top four teams. Apart from a three-point loss to Arizona State, the Blazers are perfect and utilizing all team members. In their win over Arkansas, all five starters scored in double digits. Also, AaronJohnson continues to shine, averaging 9.6 assists per contest.
UTEP (4-2): The move of benching Culpepper paid dividends last weekend, but it is unseen whether or not head coach Tim Floyd is going to keep his superstar from the starting lineup. Senior Jeremy Williams grabbed ten rebounds against the Wolverines. He is currently second on the team, averaging 6.3 boards a game.
Houston (4-2): Big performances off the bench helped the Cougars stay in their last game against TCU, but the starting lineup will need to play better if Houston plans on having the same success as they did last year. Tuesday night they will travel to LSU to continue their tough out of conference schedule. Senior guard Adam Brown is shooting over 50 percent from the three-point line and is averaging 15.5 points per game.
Marshall (3-2): Tough loss to Louisville (4-0), but it is important to note that the Thundering Herd led 34-33 at halftime only to be outscored by 15 in the second half. DeAndre Kane finished with a career-high 25 points, averaging a little less than 14 per game. The biggest problem for Marshall right now: turnovers. Six giveaways in the first couple of minutes in the second half allowed Louisville to take over and never look back.
Tulsa (4-2): With a trio of scorers in Justin Hurtt, Steven Idlet and JordanClarkson, the Golden Hurricane looks to be a spoiler team come conference play. Wins over Oral Roberts and Stanford have helped.
East Carolina (5-2): Five weak wins for the Pirates, which means they still remain in the bottom tier of the conference. Senior guard Jontae Sherrod scored 17 off the bench. He currently leads the team in scoring and has scored in double-digits in three consecutive games.
SMU (4-3): The Mustangs are one of the worst rebounding teams in the nation, despite the inside presence of Papa Dia who is averaging 15.3 points a game and 8.3 rebounds per contest. Dia’s double-double against Central Arkansas helped the Mustangs hold on for their fourth victory. With a three-game winning streak, SMU travels to Louisiana Tech, then return home to host Grambling.
Rice (3-3): Despite never trailing by more than five points in the second half against Texas, this is a team that can comfortably set up shop in the bottom tier of the standings. It only gets tougher for the Owls as they travel to take on Arizona on Wednesday.
Tulane (3-2): Getting dropped by Nicholls State (2-2) for the first time in 19 meetings didn’t help the Green Wave get out of the conference’s cellar. On the bright side, the scoring duo of Kris Richard and Kendall Timmons is averaging over 30 points per game and gives Tulane reason to be confident as the season progresses.
A Look Ahead
Central Florida Gets a Shot Against The Gators: The Knights have an early season test this week when they host on in-state foe Florida. So far, UCF is 5-0 with small victories. The Gators (5-1) are a ranked #18 currently and are coming off a big road win against Florida State. Besides an early win over South Florida, this is the first quality game UCF will play this season.
UAB Hits the Road: On Friday, UAB will travel to Athens., to take on Georgia, which will be the second SEC team the Blazers have faced in as many weeks. Last Saturday, the Blazers took on Arkansas in a neutral location and walked away with the upset victory. After the game against the Bulldogs, UAB’s schedule gets a little easier until they have to travel to take on top-ranked Duke on January 5.
Steve Coulter of the DU Clarion is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.
Predicted Order of Finish
All-Conference First Team
G: JustinHurtt, Tulsa, Sr.
G: RandyCulpepper, UTEP, Sr. (Preseason Player of the Year)
F: WesleyWitherspoon, Memphis, Jr.
F: GaryFlowers, Southern Mississippi
F/C: WillColeman, Memphis, Sr.
All-Conference Second Team
G: BrockYoung, East Carolina, Sr.
G: JoeJackson, Memphis, Fr.
G/F: WillBarton, Memphis, Fr.
F: JeremyWilliams, UTEP, Jr.
F/C: PapaDia, SMU, Sr.
Memphis has a talented stable of young talent, including the recently-cleared Will Barton. (bouncemag.com)
Several freshman and transfer players will suit up for C-USA squads this season, but three that have grabbed everyone’s attention before the season has gone under way.
Charles Carmouche, SG, Memphis: The junior transfer from New Orleans is a sharpshooter who can be the difference-maker late in the season. He is eligible to play right way, as the Privateers dismantled their program and moved to Division III status.
Scottie Haralson, G, Tulsa: The UConn transfer could get a lot of playing time and be one of those studs that people talk about at the end of the season. Of course, it really depends whether he is cleared to play.
Joseph Young, G, Houston: The freshman was a Parade All-America Third-Team selection from Yates High School. He is a talented young guard in a class with athletic forwards that makes Houston a contender in the conference once again. The infusion of a guy like Young into the lineup could spark a team looking for a playmaker. Young was the Texas Gatorade Basketball Player of the Year last season.
What You Need to Know
There are six first-year coaches in the league this season; Tim Floyd getting hired at UTEP was probably the biggest offseason coaching move.
The Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championships will be held in El Paso, giving UTEP a slight home court advantage against their conference opponents. The first game tips off on Wednesday, March 9. The tournament ends on Saturday, March 12 and the final will be broadcasted on CBS.
UAB’s Aaron Johnson enters the season in need of 173 assists to become the school’s all-time leader. 597 assists is currently the record and the senior point guard leads a well-balanced UAB squad that could emerge as an at-large dark horse. The 5’8 point guard finished his junior year averaging 9.6 points per game, 4.8 assists per game, and 2.5 rebounds per game.