Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2010

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Tiger Attrition: Since the Tigers lost to Kansas last week, Josh Pastner has had to deal with a slew of personnel matters. Forward Wesley Witherspoon underwent surgery for a right knee cartilage tear on Friday and will be sidelined for the next five weeks of the season. Witherspoon is currently the team’s leading scorer and has begun rehabilitation already. The coaching staff hopes to have him back in time for the Tigers’ game against Marshall on January 15. He suffered the injury on November 17 against Northwestern State, but continued to play despite the pain.  Junior forward Angel Garcia is transferring from Memphis at the end of this semester to pursue a career in Spain. Garcia, who averaged 6.1 points for the Tigers, plans to finish his final exams and then will sign a professional contract in Spain. In a press conference, the 6’11 Garcia claimed he is making the decision so he can help his family financially.  Finally, sophomore forward D.J. Stephens will miss the next two games for the Tigers because of a groin injury. Without Garcia, Stephens and Witherspoon, the Tigers are down to nine active players for their Thursday game against Austin Peay.
  • Brock Young Moves to No. 6 on ECU’s Assist List: Old Dominion ended East Carolina’s five-game win streak last week when they beat the Pirates 81-68 last Tuesday. Although the Pirates drop to 7-3 overall, the team’s point guard Brock Young kept things upbeat by moving into sixth place on the conference’s career assists list.
  • Cougs Drop First Home Game: Maurice McNeil’s career-high 26-point performance wasn’t enough to help Houston protect its perfect home record as the Cougars were beaten 68-63 by Texas-San Antonio last Saturday. The loss was UH’s first at Hofheinz Pavilion this season and ended an eight-game home winning streak that had started late last season.
  • Marshall Makes a Run: With four players reaching the double-digit plateau, Marshall was able to keep its winning streak alive and earn its best win of the season over James Madison (7-3). The two clubs will play again when the Thundering Herd travels to take on the Dukes on December 22.
  • Flowers Knocks off Cal with Game-Winner: Gary Flowers is garnering Player of the Year consideration after scoring the final 12 points in Southern Mississippi’s big win over California on Sunday. The biggest basket was a turnaround jumper with three seconds left that lifted the Golden Eagles past the Golden Bears 80-78. Flowers finished with 28 points and currently leads the team with 21.7 points per game. The senior is currently pacing the conference in scoring.
  • Knights Remain Unbeaten: Central Florida is one of 14 teams in Division-I to have an unblemished record going into Tuesday’s action. The Knights stayed unbeaten last week when they beat Bethune-Cookman 76-59. Sophomore Keith Clanton led the team with 16 points and eight rebounds, while senior Tom Herzog dropped 14 and finished with eight blocks, tying school record. In the Knights’ previous win against Southeastern Louisiana, Clanton had eight swats.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (7-1): Despite a plethora of injuries and their first loss of the season, the Tigers remain atop this conference. Will Barton is going to need to step up in the weeks to come.
  2. Central Florida (8-0): The last unbeaten in the conference, while several one and two-loss teams rank ahead of them in KenPom. The Knights have played solid defense so far this season, limiting their opponents to 61 points or fewer in all eight of their games. An upcoming game against Miami will be a good test.
  3. Southern Mississippi (7-1): The top rebounding team in the nation currently averages over 45 boards per game this season. Gary Flowers is dominating at the moment and could be named conference player of the year.
  4. UAB (7-2): With the week off due to exams, the Blazers are looking to build off of a solid non-conference performance thus far. They are winners of five of their last six.
  5. Marshall (6-2): The fab four—DeAndre Kane, Tirrell Baines, Shaquille Johnson and Dago Pena—have been outstanding for the Herd so far, averaging over 52 points combined this season. Marshall looks to add to their three-game win streak with a set of very winnable games.
  6. UTEP (6-2): The Miners returned from their break to pummel Arkansas Pine-Bluff 77-54 on Sunday. The team looks to win its fourth consecutive game Wednesday when they host Louisiana-Monroe. A battle with Texas Tech on Saturday is not to be overlooked.
  7. East Carolina (7-3): The team is currently on break because of exams, but when the Pirates return on Saturday, they will play an 8-2 Coastal Carolina club that has won six in a row, including an overtime win against LSU.
  8. Tulane (5-2): Kris Richard and Kendall Timmons look to spark the Green Wave against New Orleans and VCU after a week off. The duo is currently averaging 29.3 points per game combined.
  9. Houston (6-4): All of Houston’s losses have come against teams with winning records. Luckily for the Cougars, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is 3-6. Senior Maurice McNeil is 36th in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, but is shooting just 54.5% from the stripe. The Cougars’ search for life after Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis is still a work in progress.
  10. SMU (5-4): The Mustangs return to play on Saturday after a two-week break for exams. Papa Dia’s 17.3 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game make him a prime candidate for All-Conference first team honors. The Mustangs have a mediocre record and have eight teams on their schedule who are either ranked below 300 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings or are in D-II. There isn’t much to get excited about in Dallas.
  11. Rice (4-4): The Owls have been on break since they barely beat Lamar on December 4. Arsalan Kazemi’s 15.8 points and 10.6 rebounds a game have kept this team afloat early on. Sadly, tougher competition looms as the Owls take on Miami, Oral Roberts, LSU and TCU before conference play begins on January 5.
  12. Tulsa (4-5): Three straight losses for the Golden Hurricane after the team dropped a double OT thriller to Princeton on Sunday, but the schedule hasn’t been bad. Justin Hurtt keeps on fighting the good fight.

A Look Ahead:

While the action tapers off this week, keep an eye on how Memphis adjusts to their suddenly short bench. Three games to watch Saturday:

  • Miami at UCF
  • Texas Tech at UTEP
  • Tulane at VCU
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles… (With a Wednesday Twist)

Posted by zhayes9 on February 3rd, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.

This week’s Scribbles column will look ahead to a couple months down the road in Indianapolis, where 65 deserving teams will be whittled down to just four, and to that blissful Monday night in April when one lucky group will be dancing at mid-court to the tune of One Shining Moment. In my estimation, there are ten squads with a promising-to-slight chance of hoisting a 2010 National Champions banner during their home opener next season. I’m here to tell you those ten teams, why they have hopes of winning a national title, what’s holding them back, and the most realistic scenario as I see it come late March or beginning of April. These teams are ranked in reverse order from 10-1 with the #1 school holding the best cards in their deck.

10. Duke

Why they can win it all: Their floor leader and senior stalwart Jon Scheyer is the steadiest distributor in all of college basketball, evident from his incredibly stellar 3.28 A/T ratio and a 5.6 APG mark that ranks third in the ACC and 23d in the nation. Scheyer is also a deadly shooter coming off screens when he has time to square his body to the basket, nailing a career-high 39% from deep to go along with 44% from the floor overall. Duke is also a tremendous free-throw shooting team as a whole and Coach K has the ability to play a group of Scheyer-Kyle Singler-Nolan Smith-Mason Plumlee-Lance Thomas that doesn’t feature one player under 70% from the charity stripe. Duke also features a ton more size in the paint than during previous flameouts in the NCAA Tournament. When Singler plays small forward, Coach K can rotate Miles and Mason Plumlee, the glue guy Thomas, rebounding force Brian Zoubek and even Ryan Kelly at two positions with no player under 6’8. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more efficient backcourt in the nation than Scheyer and Smith. And it’s widely known that exceptional guard play is the ultimate key to winning in March.

What Makes Duke 2010 Different than Duke 2006-09?

Why they won’t win it all: Depth could certainly be an issue for the Blue Devils’ chances of raising their first banner since 2001. Andre Dawkins has fallen almost entirely out of the rotation and Coach K has started to limit Mason Plumlee’s minutes during important games. Also, Brian Zoubek’s tendency to immediately step into foul trouble limits his availability. It wouldn’t shock me to see Duke play Scheyer, Smith and Singler 40 minutes per game during their time in the NCAA Tournament. That could cause those key players, who rely primarily on their jump shot, to lose their legs and start throwing up bricks. Kyle Singler isn’t quite the superstar he was last season, either. Singler’s numbers are down across the board — scoring, rebounding, FG%, 3pt% — and he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury that may not improve in the weeks and months ahead. Duke also lacks the athleticism of teams like Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas. They could struggle with quicker guards like John Wall and athletic rebounders of the Damion James mold.

Likely scenario: I see Duke reaching the Sweet 16 as a #2 seed where they fall to a more athletic, quick group of guards that can explode to the rim and draw fouls. Duke may have height, but most of that height just isn’t a threat offensively by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually getting into a jump shooting contest could be the Blue Devils’ downfall if two of Smith, Scheyer and Singler go cold.

9. West Virginia

Why they can win it all: Da’Sean Butler is one of the best players in the nation when the chips are on the table. If the Mountaineers need a big shot to keep their season alive, Butler will demand the basketball and more than likely deliver. He’s downed Marquette and Louisville on game-deciding jumpers and led the second half charge against Ohio State. West Virginia is also supremely athletic and Bob Huggins’ teams always crash the boards with a tremendous ferocity. No contender can match the height across the board that West Virginia touts other than Kentucky. Huggins has experimented with lineups in which all of his players are 6’6 or taller, including 6’9 Devin Ebanks acting as a point-forward and 6’7 Da’Sean Butler capable of posting up smaller two-guards. Sophomore Kevin Jones is an incredible talent and a rebounding machine (7.7 RPG) that hits 55% of his shots from the floor and 44% from deep. West Virginia has the luxury of any of their forwards being able to step out and drain a mid-range jumper, from Ebanks to Jones to Wellington Smith to John Flowers every once in a full moon.

Ebanks is the X-factor for West Virginia

Why they won’t win it all: Let’s face it: Bob Huggins doesn’t have exactly the best track record when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Huggins hasn’t reached the Elite 8 since 1995-96 with Cincinnati and only one Sweet 16 in the last ten years. In 2000 and 2002, his Bearcats lost just four games all season and yet didn’t reach the second weekend of March both times. Most also question whether the Mountaineers can hit outside shots on a consistent basis. They’ve struggled mightily in the first half of Big East games and can’t afford to fall behind against elite competition in March like they did against Dayton last season. Point guard play is a prudent question for West Virginia, as well. Joe Mazzulla is a quality perimeter defender and a capable distributor, but he’ll never be the offensive threat he was two seasons ago due to that shoulder injury. Darryl Bryant can certainly catch a hot streak shooting-wise, but in all honestly he’s more suited as an undersized two-guard. Bryant is averaging just 3.6 APG in 25+ MPG of action.

Likely scenario: I’m still fairly high on this team. I love Butler at the end of games and Ebanks can do anything for Huggins — from score to rebound to run the point — and Kevin Jones is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big East. In the end, I see a clankfest from outside ultimately costing West Virginia their season. And for all their rebounding history, the Mountaineers are in the mid-60s in the nation. The Elite Eight seems like a proper place for their season to conclude.

8. Texas

Why they can win it all: No team boasts better perimeter defenders than Texas. Anyone that watched Dogus Balbay completely shut down James Anderson in the second half Monday night knows he’s the best perimeter defender in the nation, even stronger than Purdue’s Chris Kramer. Avery Bradley came in with the reputation as an elite defender and he’s certainly lived up to that billing. Even J’Covan Brown off the bench is a capable defensive player and Justin Mason is a plus defender. When Dexter Pittman stays out of foul trouble, Texas boasts a legitimate shot-blocking presence that can negate quick guards on the rare occasion they slip past Balbay or Bradley. Texas is also the deepest team in the nation and Rick Barnes has the capability of playing 10 or 11 men on any night if he feels the need. The preserved minutes could pay dividends in the form of fresh players come March. Damion James should also be on a mission come March as a senior. He’s never reached a Final Four during his Longhorns career and came back for a fourth year in Austin to accomplish that very feat.

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RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: November/December

Posted by zhayes9 on October 18th, 2009

seasonpreview

To get our readers excited for the endless possibilities of 2009-10, I’ve compiled an extensive list of the top 65 college basketball games of the upcoming season. Any true college hoops fan knows why we selected the number 65. Splitting up this season preview feature into three posts the next three Mondays (November/December, January and February/March), hopefully this list will provide you with the most vital of dates to circle on your calendar. Coaches are realizing more and more the importance of compiling a respectable non-conference slate to boost RPI/SOS numbers and provide their team adequate experience and preparation for the grind of conference play. Let’s lead off with the first batch of potentially memorable meetings during the first two months of the season:

Ed. Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.

November 17- Gonzaga at Michigan State (#59 overall)- The featured game in ESPN’s 24-hour hoops marathon pits a backcourt-laden Gonzaga squad in the first of many difficult road tests against a top-five Michigan State team. The State backcourt of Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Chris Allen and Korie Lucious will be given a true test from the Bulldogs trio of scoring senior Matt Bouldin, deep marksman junior Stephen Gray and emerging sophomore Demetri Goodson.

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November 17- Memphis vs. Kansas in St. Louis (#64 overall)- A young and largely inexperienced Memphis team will receive a stiff test right away with the likely #1 team in the nation- Kansas. Guards Doneal Mack and Roburt Sallie must shoot well from deep for the Tigers to stay competitive. Former JUCO standout Will Coleman and burly senior Pierre Henderson-Niles will have their hands full down low with likely All-American Cole Aldrich.

November 19- North Carolina vs. Ohio State in NYC (#39 overall)- November and December means one thing: plenty of electrifying non-conference action at Madison Square Garden. This semifinal matchup could prove the best. Ohio State has their entire team returning besides the underwhelming B.J. Mullens and return defensive stalwart David Lighty from injury. They could definitely surprise the inexperienced Heels, who should have a distinct frontcourt advantage with Dallas Lauderdale sidelined.

December 1- Michigan State at North Carolina (#10 overall)- The Spartans and Heels meet in a rematch of the national title game that once again headlines this year’s ACC/Big Ten challenge. State may be able to avenge those two harsh defeats a year ago by taking advantage of the point guard mismatch. With Ty Lawson no longer around, Kalin Lucas could dominate against Larry Drew or Dexter Strickland. On the flip side, Draymond Green should have his hands full with a loaded UNC frontline.

December 5- North Carolina at Kentucky (#8 overall)- Notice a trend with this list so far? Roy Williams has challenged his team with an extremely difficult non-conference schedule, and this early season matchup in Lexington should be one of the best on the early season. There will be loads of projected lottery picks on the floor in this one, from North Carolina’s Ed Davis to Kentucky’s John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

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