Is former Duke forward Lance Thomas destined to become the next Corey Maggette, or worse? For those of you not familiar with the one-and-done freak of an athlete who came off the bench for the 1998-99 national runner-up Blue Devils, Maggette admitted under oath in 2000 as part of a federal grand jury proceeding that he took cash payments in high school from an agent named Myron Piggie, (theoretically) putting his amateur eligibility at considerable risk. The NCAA chose to not vacate Duke’s 37 wins from that season nor did it ask the program to remove its banner — ever since then, Duke haters have pointed to this decision as Exhibit A of the NCAA’s selective enforcement process. Well. Get ready for part two. With the news Tuesday that Thomas had come to a settlement agreement with the New York City jeweler who floated him a $67,800 loan nearly three years ago, the NCAA will need a Deep Throat (or at least a James Carter, IV) if it has any inclination of properly investigating this case. The strong likelihood is that nobody — not Thomas, not the jeweler, not anyone who had a red hand in this transaction — will say anything to to governing body… which begs the question: Will the NCAA make a prima facie case against Thomas to rule him retroactively ineligible (see: Rose, Derrick); or, will they suffer the howling of the masses for what will appear to be Duke getting away with special treatment a second time around (see: Maggette, Corey). Gonna be interesting.
Senior forward Julius Randle is the top player in the Class of 2013, depending on whom you consult with, and he’s gotten a lot of attention this week for taking an official visit to Kentucky (where he was photographed with Drake) and giving a review of each of his in-home visits with Eric Bossi at Rivals.com. The tea leaves with respect to Randle are all over the place at this point, as he still plans on doing another round of in-home visits with a number of other schools and plans on waiting until spring to make his final decision. Clearly this kid likes the attention. Still, with John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self, and Roy Williams all vying for Randle’s services, this is already one of the most power-packed recruitments we’ve seen in some time. And it promises to only get better.
While on the subject of recruiting elite players, SI.com‘s Luke Winn reported yesterday that surprise Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi plans on requesting a waiver from the NCAA so that he has an opportunity to play right away in the 2012-13 season. He didn’t give Winn additional detail on the basis of that waiver request, but it is notable that Oregon is the only school on his current list that hasn’t started classes for the fall term yet (September 24). He plans on making a final decision by the end of this week, and not coincidentally, Dana Altman’s program in addition to everybody’s possible destination, Kentucky, appear to be his “early leaders.”
The Ed O’Bannon class action lawsuit against the NCAA for the use of his and other student-athletes’ likenesses continues to churn on in a federal courtroom in San Francisco, and a series of recently unsealed emails and depositions from the organization clearly reveals that school administrators and NCAA senior management have had serious and frank discussions about the legality of their strategies. One of the more interesting memoranda showed that a senior policy advisor at the NCAA suggested to incoming president Mark Emmert in 2010 that the organization ditch the term “student-athlete,” which if you recall from last fall’s The Atlantic piece from Taylor Branch, was an invention by former NCAA head honcho Walter Byers in the 1950s to explain away the notion that scholarships, room, and board were payment in kind. The article from ESPN.com cited above is worth the read, as there are a number of interesting quotes and anecdotes buried within it relating to how the NCAA does business.
We didn’t have space for this one yesterday but it’s something we wanted to make sure we got up on the M5 this week anyway. Marquette is back in action with what’s becoming an annual tradition around those parts — a karaoke-inspired mash-up of clips from various Golden Eagles singing (or whatever you want to call it) pop tunes that will be used as timeout fodder during next season’s MU home games. If you can bear listening to the whole thing, you’re one step ahead of us…
The NCAA eligibility train rolls on, and NC State’s Mark Gottfried was Monday’s recipient of the excellent news that superstar freshman Rodney Purvisis eligible to suit up in a Wolfpack uniform next season. The issue in Purvis’ case revolved around the legitimacy of his high school — Upper Room Christian Academy, in Raleigh, whose first-ever class to graduate included Purvis — but during an 80-minute deliberation on Monday, an NCAA core course subcommittee saw enough evidence that the big guard is adequately prepared for the rigors of a college education and made the right decision to let him play. We’ll have more on this later today, but the early buzz is that this makes NC State the favorite to win the ACC for the first time in… how long?
Speaking of getting a college education, UNC chancellor Holden Thorpannounced on Monday that this academic year would be his last at the university in that position. Even though the academic scandal that has rocked the university in recent months most likely started prior to his tenure as chancellor of the school in 2008, the most recent black eye involving fundraising director Matt Kupec and Tyler Hansbrough’s mother, Tami, taking personal trips on the university dime, happened on his watch. One member of the Board of Governors said that Thorp, as “captain of the ship” at UNC, had become “the face of damage control” and lauded him for sacrificing himself for the good of the school. It doesn’t take an insider to see the writing on the wall that more changes are likely to come in Chapel Hill as additional details about the academic scandal are revealed by the upcoming Martin Report, due to release next month.
Everybody is well aware of the near-mutiny that occurred in Lubbock earlier this month at Texas Tech (side note: Billy Gillispie has been ordered by his doctors to avoid stress for the next 30 days), but what is going on on the other side of the state at Rice? Ben Braun’s team lost four transfers over the summer and followed that up by losing two more players in just the past week — notably, Omar Oraby (USC), and most importantly, Owls starArsalan Kazemi. The 6’7″ senior who averaged 12/10 last season en route to all-CUSA honors, was roommates with Oraby and no doubt must have missed their nightly games on the PlayStation. Jeff Goodman reported Monday that Kazemi is looking at six schools including Texas, Oregon, Cincinnati, Florida, Ohio State and Kentucky. He will have to sit out the mandated transfer year per NCAA rules, but the talented Iranian would provide a very nice one-year punch to any of those schools in 2013-14.
Louisville may have found its replacement for preseason All-American Peyton Siva in 2013-14 and perhaps beyond, as 5’11″ waterbug Chris Jones committed to the Cardinals out of the junior college ranks on Monday. The rising sophomore, originally from Memphis, averaged 18/5/4 APG in leading his Northwest Florida State team to a 26-1 record and an appearance in the NJCAA Division I championship game last year. According to Jones, Rick Pitino does not want the reins of his offense in a freshman point guard’s hands, so if things work out properly he’ll have upperclassman leadership at that position for the next three seasons.
Speaking of Pitino and in light of Jim Calhoun’s recent retirement, CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander took a look at the 11 current college basketball coaches with at least one national title and handicapped each one’s probable date of retirement. Be sure to take a look at his entire list, but he’s got more than half of those guys — six, to be exact — retiring within the next four years. The exercise here is one that depends on so many different and volatile factors (health, family, motivation, recruiting, etc.), but it says here that Pitino won’t hang up the whistle until he gets that elusive and self-validating second championship, while Krzyzewski is only likely to do so after he wins his fifth. Time will tell.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
A Look Back
For months now we’ve heard talk of a merger, in some form or another, between the Mountain West and Conference USA. Monday, we got a clearer picture of what that will look like, as it was reported that the remaining members from those two conferences will join together in a newly named conference, beginning as early as the 2013-14 season. So, here we are in the middle of yet another great Mountain West basketball season, and we’re faced with the eventuality of the MW going away.
We’ve known (but tried to forget, at least temporarily) that Boise State’s stopover in the conference was a short-term thing, as they would be headed to the Big East, but the fact that San Diego State would be sending its football team with them (because, you know, San Diego just screams East!) and sending its other sports to the Big West was a low blow. TCU already had plans to head to the Big East (Texas, frontier of the wild, wild East!), but reneged on that and chose a more suitable landing spot in the Big 12. But, with Nevada and Fresno State set to move to the conference next season, it looked like the MW was well on its way to guaranteeing survival in pretty solid shape. Now, however, we’re looking at a future where teams like UNLV and New Mexico are going to be shoehorned into a new conference with teams like Rice and Marshall (not to be confused with Dave Rice and Anthony Marshall).
In short, it has been an extremely fun ride in the MW, specifically over the last five years or so, but that wild ride is coming to an end. Maybe the next ride will be even more fun and exciting than this one has been, but it is hard to imagine a mid-major basketball conference that can survive the subtraction of such great rivalries as SDSU/UNLV, Utah/BYU, and UNLV/BYU and not skip a beat.
Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming Appear Headed To A Still-To-Be-Named New Conference
But, let’s put all that behind us for the next month or so. Right now we’ve got high quality basketball to salve those wounds. First and foremost, this past weekend marked the start of the second half of the MW schedule, and we were treated to another excellent battle between the two teams at the top of the conference. You can read more about UNLV’s win over SDSU below.
Elsewhere, New Mexico won its fifth straight in an absolute slugfest (and some would say abomination) with Wyoming, while Colorado State’s NCAA Tournament chances took a huge hit in a loss at TCU and their RPI continues its downward spiral; two weeks ago they had an RPI of #18, last week it dropped to #24 and today it sits at #30. Couple that with a rather unimpressive schedule that features only an upset of SDSU as any kind of quality win and I’m considerably less bullish on their NCAA chances today that I was two weeks ago.
Lastly, Boise State won its first conference game of the year, knocking off an Air Force team that had quite a shakeup, as head coach Jeff Reynolds was fired last Wednesday and replaced by assistant coach Dave Pilipovich. We’ll have more on this below, but this marks the second time in as many seasons that a MW coach was let go in the middle of the season, a trend is not particularly appealing.
Team of the Week
UNLV – In a short week like this, when each team only played one conference game, it is easy to just pick the team that beat the best team as Team of the Week. And that honor goes to the Rebels, who knocked off San Diego State and created a three-way tie at the top of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
With the Big 12 introducing an 18-game schedule for the first time in history, conference play begins a week earlier than usual in 2012. In recent years, the week after New Year’s meant tune-up games with low-major opponents, but this season, Big 12 teams won’t have much time to recover from the holidays. Kansas and Kansas State in particular must be in tip-top shape, as the two state rivals will face each other on Wednesday (January 4).
GAME OF THE WEEK
#23 Kansas State (11-1) at #14 Kansas (10-3), Wednesday 7 PM CT
Thomas Robinson Was Unstoppable This Weekend
Kansas State responded from the graduation of Jacob Pullen by ripping through its non-conference schedule, which included wins over Virginia Tech and Alabama, in addition to a Diamond Head Classic championship. The early success has helped Frank Martin‘s team crack the Top 25, but the Wildcats will now face three top-15 teams during the next eight days. It all begins with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday, marking the first meeting of the season between the two underrated rivals. Kansas State may be overachieving, but the Jayhawks are still finding their way after losing games to Kentucky, Duke and Davidson during the first two months of the season. Bill Self doesn’t have a vintage KU team this season, as it lacks depth and still has not executed all that well offensively. That doesn’t mean these Jayhawks can’t ball, though. They can, especially when Thomas Robinson plays like an animal (30 points and 21 rebounds against North Dakota on Saturday) and Tyshawn Taylor takes care of the basketball. Taylor has heard a lot of criticism for his turnovers, but he may be turning his season around in that department. He led KU to a rout at USC by dishing out nine assists and limiting himself to just two turnovers and he’s averaged just two turnovers per game during the last three contests.
Of course, in those games, Kansas did not face the sort of defense it will see out of Kansas State. Martin’s teams are always defined by their intensity on the defensive end, and this 2011-12 team is no different. The Wildcats are deep, athletic and physical, and forwards Thomas Gipson, Jordan Henriquez and Jamar Samuels can test Robinson on the boards a little better than North Dakota did. Bill Self’s teams will always defend, and despite his relative lack of depth, he has more skilled and proven scorers than KSU with Robinson, Taylor and the emerging Elijah Johnson. But if Rodney McGrudercan play like a star and provide some heroics, his team may hang around at the Phog. The junior guard, who leads his team at 12.5 points per game, scored 28 against Long Beach State during Christmas week to win the Diamond Head Classic.
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 »
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
USC point guard and best returning player, Jio Fontan, flew back to Los Angeles on Wednesday due to an injury he suffered on Tuesday night during an exhibition game in Sao Paolo against a professional team, Mogi Das Cruzes. According to reports, he landed awkwardly on his knee on a drive to the hoop and was removed from the game immediately thereafter. X-rays taken in Brazil were negative, but the injury was deemed serious enough that Fontan was sent back to the US rather than try to get an MRI in Rio de Janeiro, the Trojans’ next stop on their international tour. Needless to say, this seems very bad, and if Fontan did in fact do something tragic like tear his ACL, Kevin O’Neill’s program will once again be facing an uphill battle toward respectability in both the Pac-12 and nationally next season.
The Miami (FL)/Nevin Shapiro aftermath began in earnest yesterday, with opinions flying from all over the blogosphere as to what will happen next, what should happen next, and what can be done to fix it (if anything). If you read nothing else on this topic and couldn’t care less whether the U ever suits up in the green and orange again, read this Dan Wetzel piece from Yahoo Sports Wednesday. He poignantly and eloquently calls out this situation for what it is — nothing more than another slap-in-the-face example of student-athletes following the apparent lead (read: greed and avarice) of the administrators at their schools and at the NCAA. He asks why should we expect anyone to act differently when the “people running college athletics are desperate for money – for themselves and their salaries and their facilities, for their private planes and their comped cars and their golf-course memberships. They want to avoid paying players and taxes as if they run a little league, then get paid and pampered like they run the NFL. Everyone is chasing the cash.” Answer: they shouldn’t, we shouldn’t, and the whole damn system is rotten to the core. Compelling stuff.
As we noted yesterday, basketball is a relatively minor part of this scandal, but it probably doesn’t feel that way to Missouri administrators, fans and new head coach Frank Haith right now. As Luke Winn writes, ‘character and integrity’ were the two attributes that Mizzou AD Mike Alden relied upon when he made the decision last spring to hire Haith, but if the allegations against him have any legs whatsoever, it will be difficult to to justify keeping him on board in Columbia. Mike DeCourcy writes that Haith is harmed by the NCAA’s gag order policy on pending investigations, and it’s a good point. The narrative involving Shapiro buying off DeQuan Jones on Haith’s behalf is already being told, written, and memorialized, and Haith has veritably no recourse to defend his position in the interim. Whether Haith will survive the next month or longer at Missouri is anyone’s guess, but our best speculation suggests that if UM brass catches any whiff of impropriety related to this situation, he’ll be gone immediately. (By the way, DeQuan Jones’ career total points at Miami: 372, or $26.88 per point, allegedly.)
Things continue to improve down in the great state of Florida. Didn’t we already refer to the Miami Hurricanes fiasco in the two spaces above? Right, we did. But it was a different Orange State school a few hours north that on Wednesday received an official notice of inquiry from the NCAA related to potential violations in both the basketball and football programs. Central Florida is now feeling the heat over its association with booster Ken Caldwell, a Chicago native who has allegedly been involved in steering several basketball recruits and one football recruit to the school. With all the shenanigans going on down there, maybe the NCAA should consider setting up a special Florida Task Force just to deal with its rampant NCAA lawlessness (and remember, Isiah is still at FIU).
Some international hoops updates. First, Team USA has rolled through its four games so far in the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, this week. So far, the Yanks have defeated Mexico by 41 points, Hungary by 49 points, South Korea by 44 points, and most recently, Finland by 60. The team has clinched the top seed in its group, and will play one more game against Israel before moving into the quarterfinal round on Saturday. Five players are averaging double figures, led by Ashton Gibbs’ (Pittsburgh) 13.5 PPG, John Jenkins’ (Vanderbilt) 13.0 PPG, and JaMychal Green’s (Alabama) 12.3 PPG. The team is shooting a very nice 51% from the field and 42% from three while holding its opponents to an icy 36% overall and 22% from outside the arc. Impressive. One other quick international note is that Rice junior Arsalam Kazemiwill not be able to play for his native Iran in the upcoming FIBA Asia Championships in September because he’d have to miss two much coursework.
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. With the C-USA tournament set to tip on Wednesday, RTC has you covered on the regular season wrapup and 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.
UCF 82, ECU 72
Southern Miss. 73, Tulane 51
Marshall 88, Houston 69
Rice 77, SMU 73 (OT)
UAB 83, UCF 77
Memphis 75, Southern Miss. 71
UTEP 90, Marshall 81
Tulsa 73, Rice 62
UAB 76, Memphis 71
UTEP 73, Tulsa 62
UTEP 75, UAB 69
NCAA Tournament Outlook:
Although many have UTEP out of the Dance right now, a C-USA championship game run would give them 25 wins, including victories over Michigan and Memphis. Their losses hurt, but they should be credited for playing BYU, even if not well. They lost in triple OT to conference-winner UAB and came within one at Tulsa, the No. 2 team in conference (1-1 on the season).