Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.
A Look Back
- Memphis Earns Big Conference Win, Knocks Off Southern Miss.: Although the Tigers have won their last three games by a total margin of 11 points, Memphis has been good enough of late to position itself only a half-game back of the conference lead. The team’s win over Southern Mississippi on Saturday may have been their biggest, knocking the Golden Eagles a game back in the conference standings. Tarik Black, who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, led the Tigers. Will Barton added 16 points, extending Memphis’ streak to 16 straight wins over Southern Miss.
- Sanders and Johnson carry UAB to Victory Over Rice: Jamarr Sanders scored 37 points in a career night, while fellow teammate Aaron Johnson also enjoyed a career night as he became UAB’s all-time leader in assists. The Blazers overcame a four-point halftime deficit, dropping the Owls 74-68 following a 16-5 second-half run that gave the Blazers a lead with under eight minutes remaining. Johnson had nine assists, four of which came in the run.
- Houston Survives At Home, Drops Tulane to Basement: Tulane’s descent in the conference standings continued last weekend as the Green Wave lost 79-68 on the road to Houston. The Cougars cruised the entire game, leading by as many as 17 points in the second half. Maurice McNeil played a big part in the win, finishing with a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
- UTEP Stays Atop Conference Despite Dia’s Double-Double: Papa Dia scored 18 points and grabbed ten rebounds in a 67-57 loss to UTEP last weekend as the Miners stayed atop of the Conference USA standings. Christian Polk and Randy Culpepper led the way, finishing with 18 points and 14 points, respectively. SMU got within four late in the game, but the Miners limited the Mustangs to only three shots the rest of the way, and held them scoreless.
- UCF Snaps Losing Streak, Nips Tulsa at Home. The Knights snapped their eight-game losing streak as the beat Tulsa 58-57 last weekend. Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan scored 16 and 15 points, respectively, as UCF escaped the conference cellar for the first time in a few weeks. Justin Hurtt led all scorers, dropping 23 points and grabbing five rebounds.
- Pitts Leads Thundering Herd in Crucial Road Win. With the threat of being 3-7 in conference looming, Marshall earned a huge win on the road, dropping East Carolina, 78-65. The Thundering Herd went up 13 points in the first half and held on to win by that margin. Damier Pitts scored a career-high 28 points in the win, leading the Herd with seven late points to ward off the Pirates.
- UTEP (19-5, 7-2) – The top of the conference will see some hearty action in the middle of this week as UTEP takes on the fourth place So. Miss, while No. 2 and No. 3 will square off the very same night. Randy Culpepper continues to be a team leader, while Christian Polk, Jeremy Williams and Julyan Stone continue to be key role players. Everything is going nicely for Tim Floyd’s club.
- 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 Robert Nyakundi are still enjoying great seasons as they have SMU solidified in the fourth spot in the conference rankings. Upcoming games against Houston, Tulsa and Rice are all must wins.
- 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.