USC Week: A State Of The Program Address

Posted by AMurawa on July 7th, 2012

We’ve been all around the USC program in the past week, but we’ve got time for one more post. At the end of every week we like to take a step back and look at the overall state of the program – not just how the team performed last year or is expected to perform next year, but what the long term prognosis for the program is. And with USC, much like it has been with their basketball program for some time, the future is cloudy. As we pointed out in the first post of the week, it has been 26 years since the Trojans earned a piece of the Pac-10 title and 51 years since they won a conference title outright (back when there were only four other teams competing in their conference). By comparison, in that same time frame the Trojans have won six national titles in football and vacated another one. It’s absolutely no secret that the importance that the athletic department puts on the success of their basketball program pales in comparison to the football program. Heck, basketball probably isn’t even a second fiddle to football, as numerous other programs around the SC campus have won multiple national titles (baseball, for instance, has won nine national titles since the basketball program last won a conference title outright; men’s water polo has won seven national titles; and men’s tennis has won 16). Let’s call basketball the gong at the back of the orchestra.

USC

The Basketball Program Runs Far Behind Other USC Athletic Programs, Including Their Iconic Football Team

One thing USC’s basketball program does have going for it that it hadn’t had in the past is a beautiful on-campus arena in the Galen Center, which opened in 2006. A definite upgrade from their previous home – the decaying publicly owned Los Angeles Sports Arena – the Galen Center jumps right onto the list of the nicest Pac-12 venues and gives SC a clear recruiting boost. When it opened, there was talk of a newfound commitment to the basketball program around Heritage Hall, and the arrival of O.J. Mayo on campus a year later certainly instilled a level of excitement around the Trojan basketball program that hadn’t really been felt since the days of Harold Miner. But, after three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament under Tim Floyd, any momentum the program had built up was flushed away in controversy, as stories of payments from Floyd to Mayo surfaced, Floyd then resigned in disgrace, and USC self-imposed sanctions on its hoops program, including a one-year ban on any postseason play.

While all of that could go down as just an isolated incident related to one bad egg as head coach, its overall impact may be bigger. The Trojans were on their way to becoming regular NCAA Tournament participants, and had a bead on a strong incoming 2009 recruiting class including future Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams that surely would have extended USC’s success out a couple more years. Regardless of the history of the program, if SC had been able to string together six or seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances, that could have started a positive feedback loop, setting up USC as a legitimate and attractive landing spot for elite basketball recruits.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

USC Week: Evaluating The Recent Past

Posted by AMurawa on July 2nd, 2012

It has now been 20 seasons since the USC Trojans last finished a season with less than 10 losses, 26 years since they earned at least a piece of the Pac-10 title and 51 whopping years since they won their conference outright (then known as the Athletic Association of Western Universities – or the Big Five). Compared to that history of futility, the recent past in USC basketball has been relatively successful. Between the 2006-07 and the 2010-11 seasons, the Trojans posted a combined 103-66 record, finished tied for third twice and never finished lower than a tie for fifth. And then came last season, when the wheels came off the bus entirely, as the team limped home to a school-worst 6-26 record, helped along by an almost unbelievable stretch of injuries. Of the five players who started in USC’s first exhibition game last summer in Brazil, just one was still active when their season wrapped up, and all told, just six scholarship players remained available.

Kevin O'Neill, USC

The USC Basketball Program Had Been Relatively Successful In Kevin O’Neill’s First Two Seasons, But Nothing Went Right Last Year (Rick Scuteri/AP)

Teams are going to have injuries from time to time, and head coach Kevin O’Neill understands that, but last year’s streak of bad luck came at a particularly tough time, with the program left in a fragile state by previous head coach Tim Floyd. In June 2009, Floyd resigned abruptly in the wake of NCAA investigations (and eventual penalties) related to illegal benefits for O.J Mayo, just shortly after starters DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett had all decided to leave school early to pursue professional careers. With the change in staff and the NCAA sleuthing around, the Trojans lost all but one player from their 2009 recruiting class, including Derrick Williams, Momo Jones and Renardo Sidney. The Trojans were able to scrape into the NCAA Tournament in 2011 behind a molasses-slow tempo and stingy defense, but the program was still in recovery mode from the Floyd fiasco, lacking the depth to be able to mask the multiple injuries they endured last year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.07.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 7th, 2012

  1. On the eve of the kickoff of the Pac-12 Tournament comes news that the conference has reached an agreement to move at least the next two conference tournaments to Las Vegas. No official announcement has been made yet, but it could be official as early as Saturday night. The games would be played at the MGM Grand Arena, making it the fourth different conference tournament to be held in Las Vegas (joining the WCC, MW and WAC). Given declining attendance and a reputation for a less-than-thrilling atmosphere at its current home at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, this could be a welcome boost of adrenaline for a flagging event.
  2. Heading into the tournament, we’re still wondering whether the Pac-12 can get two teams, maybe even three, into the NCAA Tournament. Of all the teams, it appears that California is the safest best to get in, with an RPI of #37 and a couple wins over top 50 RPI teams. California Golden Blogs notes that Joe Lunardi says that the Bears can get in even with an opening round loss to Stanford this week, but, of course, if they want to be safe, they get that win and even another one against Oregon (which could, paradoxically, knock the Ducks out of the top 50 in the RPI and knock the Bears back down to 0-3 in that metric) to tighten up their case.
  3. At the Autzen Zoo, they’re making a case for three Pac-12 teams worthy of bids, a stance that is not particularly surprising given that the third team would be their beloved Oregon Ducks. They write that “the Pac-12 isn’t as bad as the biased east-coast fans think it is” and I would agree with that – I think that the top four, maybe even as deep as the top six teams are capable Pac-12 squads, even if there is no one great team here. The problem is of course that the tournament resumes of these teams are not good at all. There are no real statement wins against great teams; there are precious few wins against any teams of NCAA Tournament-caliber; and there are poor RPI numbers right on down the line. If there is disappointment around the conference on Selection Sunday, it is deserved.
  4. John Gasaway takes the stance that, although this conference is literally the weakest major conference in years, it’s not as bad as some make it out to be. What really drags the overall conference numbers down is the bottom of the conference – teams like USC, Utah and Arizona State that have suffered through horrifically bad seasons. Further, he sees the top five or so teams as consistent with what we’ve seen out of similar teams in the past two years in the conference. The bad news is, the past two years in the conference have been down years for the league as well, albeit not as far down as this season. Still, Gasaway sees promise in California and Washington, as well as UCLA, who he notes has been better on a possession-by-possession basis than the Huskies and right in the same general area as Arizona and Oregon.
  5. Lastly, Jeff Faraudo and Jon Wilner try to provide some reasons for the depths to which the Pac-12 has plunged. Among their reasons: 1) the decision to sign a TV contract with Fox instead of ESPN, hurting their national TV exposure and keeping Pac-12 teams off the radar of some recruits; 2) changes in personnel not only on rosters (early NBA entries, outgoing transfers), but on benches (Lute Olson, Tony Bennett, Tim Floyd); 3) UCLA’s well-publicized problems in their program; and 4) the fact that there just haven’t been a ton of elite-level recruits coming out of California in recent years.
Share this story

Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.06.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 6th, 2012

  1. The Pac-12 announced its postseason awards on Monday, handing the Player of the Year award to California’s Jorge Gutierrez and the Coach of the Year to Washington’s Lorenzo Romar for the third time in his career. Gutierrez also claimed the Defensive Player of the Year, earning a spot on the All-Defensive team for the third consecutive season. Washington State’s Brock Motum is the no-brainer for Most Improved Player, while the Huskies’ Tony Wroten was the similarly obvious choice for Freshman of the Year. The All-Conference team was also announced, but at some point, somebody in the league office has got to come to some understanding that you put five players – not 10 – on your basketball All-Conference team. If you want to honor more than just five players, go ahead and name a second team, and even a third if you so choose.
  2. Washington’s Terrence Ross was a strong contender for Player of the Year, and may or may not have been named the RTC Pac-12 POY (check back later today for our conference awards), but upon finding out that Gutierrez had won the award, he said he felt “snubbed.” Ross did congratulate the winner, but felt surprised that neither he nor teammate Wroten won the award. Wroten echoed Ross’ thoughts, saying that he expected his teammate to earn the honor, but said that the Huskies will use the perceived slight as motivation in the conference tournament.
  3. Doug Haller, the Arizona State beat writer at The Arizona Republic, is on the very short list of the best beat writers in the conference, and on Monday he released a barrage of blog posts, giving his thoughts on the official Pac-12 awards, offering up his own picks for All-Pac-12 and some other honors, naming his All-Defensive team, and his All-Freshman team. Now, I certainly don’t agree with his pick of Tony Wroten as the POY and I’ve detailed my objections here in the past (refresher course: He’s not the best player on his team, he’s certainly not the go-to guy in the clutch on his team, his shot selection leaves much to be desired as does his actual shooting, and he turns the ball over too much), but while I would have had picked Tad Boyle as COY a week ago, I’ve shifted to the Dana Altman camp given Colorado’s season-ending slide. But other than that, everything else there looks pretty good; I particularly like the inclusion of USC’s Byron Wesley on his All-Freshman team because, as Haller notes, he’s probably improved more than any other conference freshman over the course of the season.
  4. Reaction to last week’s Sports Illustrated story on the UCLA program continues to roll in. On Sunday, former USC coach Tim Floyd weighed in on Ben Howland’s side, saying that although he and Howland “weren’t close” and “didn’t exchange Christmas cards” (have to admit, I sorta miss Floyd – he’s sure got a way with words, don’t he?), he has great respect for his former adversary and that he is one of the three best coaches he’s ever coached against (with Eddie Sutton and former Colorado State and Fresno State coach Boyd Grant the other two). Check out the whole article though. The last line out of Floyd’s mouth is worth the effort. Elsewhere, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar weighed in on the state of the program as well, calling for the UCLA program to return to the “Wooden way,” something that is far easier said than done. Still, at the heart of his article, the call for Howland to show more interest in the development of his players off of the court should not fall on deaf ears.
  5. Lastly, we talked about it yesterday in our Morning Five, but Arizona’s loss to Arizona State on Sunday is still reverberating throughout Wildcat world. Great line from Scott Terrell of the Tucson Citizen about how “It’s not so much that the Arizona Wildcats lost to Arizona State… Actually, that’s not true. It is that the Cats lost to ASU.” Given how bad the Sun Devils have been for the bulk of this season, he’s right. That result is perhaps the most shocking result of the entire conference schedule. We talked about some of the anomalies that occurred in that game yesterday (ASU’s 1.27 points per possession in that game was a serious outlier compared to their previous results), but Terrell adds a few more: ASU shoots 67% from the free throw line on the year, but shot 92% on Sunday; they hadn’t scored 87 points in a game in 26 months; and Arizona has held opponents to 40% field goal shooting this year, but allowed ASU to shoot 56% on Sunday. Worst of all for the Arizona faithful, the loss leaves the Wildcats needing to win the conference tournament in order to go dancing. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if the Sun Devils can use this win as a springboard for some success in the Pac-12 Tourney.
Share this story

Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.27.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 27th, 2012

  1. Sometimes, life just ain’t fair. After earning Pac-12 Player of the Week honors last week after averaging 28.5 points per game last week, Washington State senior guard Faisal Aden left the Cougars game with Arizona late in the first half Thursday night with a knee injury. While we are by no means doctors here, it is quite possible that Aden has played his final game in a Washington State uniform. Washington State beat writer Christian Caple reports that it is a sprained MCL, but we will get more details later. After what appeared to be a complete makeover in his game the last several games, the prospect that Aden does not get a chance to work towards proving his growth as a player and proving his critics wrong is, in a word, depressing. Who knows? Maybe the injury isn’t as bad as it seemed, and he’ll be back sooner rather than later. We can hope. As for the rest of the game, the Wildcats hit 15-of-27 three-point attempts, shot a 63.6 eFG%, held WSU to 38.5 eFG%, forced 16 Cougar turnovers and committed just nine. In short, a confidence-building performance heading into Saturday’s tough match-up with Washington.
  2. Herb Sendek got excellent effort out of his undermanned Arizona State team Thursday night, but they still struggled to score with consistency, scoring just one point in the first six minutes of the second half as Washington turned a two-point halftime deficit into an 11-point lead. Arizona State got back within four late in the game, but Washington held on for a six-point win. Tony Wroten had a great game for the Huskies, scoring 22 points on 12 field goal attempts (including a serious throw-down late in the game), grabbing six rebounds, handing out four assists, swiping a couple steals, and only turning the ball over twice, in what may have been his second-best all-around game in a U-Dub uniform. Freshman Jonathan Gilling did his best to keep the Sun Devils around, scoring a career-high 20 points and hitting five threes (three in the second half), but it was not to be.
  3. UCLA took apart Utah is a game only a mother could love (and really, that mother would be up for a mother-of-the-year award for pretending to love this thing). After a sluggish Bruin first half (in which they still out-scored the Utes by 15), they really turned it on early in the second half, building their lead up as high as 37 behind balanced scoring. Seven Bruins scored eight points or more, UCLA shot a 68.5 eFG% and held Utah to just 42.4 eFG%. Beyond that, yuck.
  4. At least the game across town was interesting in a train-wreck type of way. USC’s nightmare season continued as they got absolutely owned by Colorado, who earned their first-ever Pac-12 road win in dominating fashion. It’s hard to take a lot out of a win over these Trojans this year, but winning at USC may be a good first step towards further road success for the Buffaloes the rest of the way. Thursday night, they were mighty impressive, holding USC to 36.4 eFG% and killing the Trojans on the boards. Colorado grabbed 92.9% of defensive rebound opportunities and 43.5% on the offensive end. Five Buffs scored in double figures, and five grabbed more than five boards while the trio of Colorado players making a return to their Southern California home (Carlon Brown, Askia Booker, and Spencer Dinwiddie) combined for 34 points and 27 rebounds. Even worse for the Trojans, sophomore center DeWayne Dedmon left early in the first half with a knee injury and did not return. USC has already lost three players for the season to injury.
  5. Lastly, ESPN’s Jay Bilas weighed in on the weakness of the Pac-12, blaming not only the early defections of some conference players to the NBA, but also the number of new coaches up and down the conference. Certainly Arizona has had to deal with the transition from the Lute Olson era to the Sean Miller era, while USC’s struggles in the wake of the Tim Floyd era helped bolster the Wildcats a bit. Then there’s Oregon’s struggles keeping players around the start of the Dana Altman era, and the loss of Tony Bennett from Washington State was a crushing blow, but that explanation does nothing to excuse the problems at UCLA, Washington, or Arizona State.
Share this story

Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.17.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 17th, 2012

  1. Arizona State came out of Saturday’s action with a big win over Oregon State, but along the way they took a loss as well, as junior guard Trent Lockett sprained his ankle with ten minutes left and did not return. Lockett, who had taken over as the team’s point guard in the wake of the dismissal of Keala King, is currently questionable for ASU’s games next week. But Herb Sendek hopes that Chris Colvin, who handed out five assists in the ten minutes that Lockett missed on Saturday, can use his performance against OSU as a springboard to better things. Colvin began the season as the team’s point guard in the wake of Jahii Carson’s eligibility issues, but struggled early and often, eventually losing his starting spot, getting suspended on two different occasions and being relegated to a minor role in the three conference games he has played in.
  2. Elsewhere in the infirmary, California’s junior point guard Brandon Smith has missed the Bears’ last three games after suffering a concussion against Oregon State on January 5, but could be due for a return soon. Head coach Mike Montgomery said that Smith will returns once he can pass his concussion battery tests, and currently his reaction times are not quite up to snuff. Justin Cobbs, in particular, has been excellent in Smith’s absence, handing out a career-high 11 assists in the Bears’ win over Utah on Saturday.
  3. The Pac-12 handed out its Player of the Week award on Monday morning, and Terrence Ross of Washington was this week’s recipient. We here at RTC opted for Josh Huestis of Stanford, but Ross’ 30-point outburst Sunday night in helping the Huskies come back from a second-half deficit against Washington State was certainly deserving. Ross became the third Husky to win the award this season; he was preceded in the honor by teammates C.J. Wilcox and Tony Wroten.
  4. At this time last week, Colorado was the talk of the conference, having jumped out to a 3-0 start in conference play. But, this week the Buffaloes set out on the road for the first time and were treated rather rudely in the Bay Area, losing both their contests. Head coach Tad Boyle said that he was pleased with CU’s effort in a seven-point loss at California, but that Saturday’s 20-point defeat to Stanford was something of a step back. Senior guard Carlon Brown noted that the Buffs let the road environment get them out of their game, but teammate Austin Dufault thinks the Buffs will improve on the road as the season progresses.
  5. Lastly, in the wake of USC’s 0-5 conference start and, most recently, a 19-point home loss to cross-town rival UCLA, some Trojans fans are beginning to talk about needing a new coach. But athletic director Pat Haden promises that he’ll show patience with head coach Kevin O’Neill, blaming some of SC current troubles on the mess that Tim Floyd left this program in. But even Haden admits that there is some frustration with the team’s complete inability to produce any type of offense. Nevertheless, for those Trojan fans hoping for a new basketball coach: Don’t expect any changes any time soon.
Share this story

Checking In On… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 13th, 2012

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can also find his musings online at http://www.duclarion.com/sports or on Twitter @broncos2thebowl.

Reader’s Take:

 

The Week That Was

  • 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 Dwight McCombs 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 Chris Crawford 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 Robert Goff, 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.

Power Rankings

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 Damier Pitts 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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 Darius Morrow 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.
  12. 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.

Looking Ahead

  • 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.

Share this story

Checking In On… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2011

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can also find his musings online at http://www.duclarion.com/sports or on Twitter @broncos2thebowl.

Reader’s Take:

 

The Week That Was

  • 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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Summer Updates: Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 18th, 2011

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

Summer Storylines

  • 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 Justin Coleman, 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 Robert Goff and Dennis Tinnon 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.

Power Rankings

  1. 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 Josh Pastner 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 »
Share this story

Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2011

 

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.

Power Rankings

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.  
  3. 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.
  4. 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.  
  5. 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.
  6. 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.  
  7. 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.  
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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 Julyan Stone.
  • 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.
Share this story

The Week That Was: Feb. 21-28

Posted by jstevrtc on March 1st, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

 

Introduction

March is here. Need we say more? Those three little words should be enough to put an extra skip in your step this morning and the rest of the week. March is the month when it’s not only socially acceptable to call in sick from work to watch sports — it’s encouraged. The way this season’s gone, the Tournament should be beyond epic, possibly even exceeding last year’s chaotic first two rounds. And if more male cheerleaders are involved, that’s OK by us. It’s March and we’re in a good mood.

 

What We Learned

Baring an epic collapse during the final two weeks of the regular season, BYU should get a #1 seed when the NCAA Tournaments brackets are released March 13. And none of this “in the discussion” talk. The Jimmer Fredettes (er, Cougars) are definitely one of the top four teams in the nation after their 13-point shakedown of San Diego State at hostile Viejas Arena on Saturday afternoon, a place where the Aztecs hadn’t lost a game all year. After San Diego State took a brief 2-0 lead, the Cougars led the rest of the way in an eye-opening performance that proved two important things: BYU can play some D, and it doesn’t always have to be all Jimmer, all the time. The Cougars held Kawhi Leonard to 17 points on 6-14 shooting, blocking his shot twice and harassing the Aztec big man whenever the he set up in the paint. BYU also had three players other than Fredette score in double figures. Charles Abouo led the way with 18 points, while Noah Hartsock finished with 15 and Jackson Emery added 13. The knock on the Cougars was always that they relied too much on Fredette. While it’s still a justified criticism (Fredette has the fifth highest usage rate in the nation), BYU gave teams reason to think twice about doubling Fredette, especially on the perimeter.

Will This One Do It for the Hokies?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your Tivo: 02.26-02.27

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 25th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We are now only about two weeks away from Selection Sunday. Teams are locking up bids and others are hurting their chances down the stretch. It’s another big weekend in the college hoops world, headlined by a top ten battle in the Mountain West. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#20 Syracuse @ #11 Georgetown – 12 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

Coach Thompson and the Hoyas Will Likely Be Without Their Most Important Player on Saturday

The Orange will look to avenge another home defeat by winning on the road, this time in Washington, D.C. Here’s a quirky fact for you: Syracuse has lost to all three of its repeat opponents (Georgetown, Villanova and Seton Hall) at the Carrier Dome but a win on Saturday would give them wins in the home buildings of all three teams. That has become more likely in this one, after Chris Wright broke his hand in Wednesday’s loss to Cincinnati. As a talented senior point guard, Wright is Georgetown’s most indispensible player. He doesn’t wow you with his shooting but he passes the ball well and does an excellent job of running John Thompson III’s complex offensive sets.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story