AAC M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 12th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Huge letdown for Houston! They were almost going to finish .500 in conference play, something coach James Dickey said the team really wanted to do! After beating three bad teams and upsetting one decent one things were getting looking good! And then they lost their last regular-season game of the season… to Central Florida… by 21 points. Hopes, dashed. Dreams, shattered. Forgive my sarcasm but Houston doesn’t deserve any sympathy and Dickey on the record about wanting to finish .500 only makes it worse. There is talent and top-flight athleticism all up and down the Cougars’ roster and it shows on the offensive end. But the Cougars aren’t just a bad defensive team, they are a terrible one, and it makes little sense given the athletes and size in the rotation. In fact, under Dickey, the Cougars have never finished better than 248th in defensive efficiency even though Tom Penders-coached teams never came close to being that bad defensively. Dickey’s players deserve to shoulder some of the blame, but at some point you have to wonder why your coach can’t get more defensive ability out of a group with as much talent as this one.
  2. Still got some snark left and I saved it for today’s “Hey look everybody! He is such a team player!” story about UConn guard Shabazz Napier. Napier is a contender for conference player of the year honors, but he really wants to win a national championship because of course he does. Kudos to Napier — who made an excellent point about how Jimmer Fredette would probably trade his National Player of the Year award for Kemba Walker’s National Championship — for saying the right thing, I guess, but the real news would be if Napier had said he would prefer the individual award. That probably would have made national waves. I also like at the end that the author insinuates that Temple coach Fran Dunphy would vote for Napier after the coach called all three frontrunners “unbelievable”. Uhhh, jump to conclusions much?
  3. No disrespect to USA Today‘s Scott Gleeson who did yeoman’s work overall with his major conference tournament preview, but I am not really feeling his AAC prediction. He is of course right in saying that the bottom half of the conference “doesn’t stand a chance” and I guess he is right that UConn, Memphis, and SMU have the “weaponry to go on a title run,” but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Louisville and Cincinnati don’t meet in the title game. The Mustangs are a decent sleeper pick, but they are a different team away from home and Louisville has handled them in each of the team’s two matchups. UConn and Memphis play each other and the Tigers have been thumped by the Bearcats both times this season and UConn looked terrible in the last game of the season against Louisville. I know anything can happen in a tournament, but all bets should be on the Cardinals.
  4. In our conference tournament podcast I think I said SMU had the most to gain from winning the tournament. But after giving it some thought, it’s clear that Memphis has the most to gain from winning this tournament. The Tigers never lost back-to-back games this season, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t also inconsistent. They showed a lot of toughness and grit and moxie, but they also lost some games they shouldn’t have and don’t exactly inspire confidence in many armchair tournament prognosticators. This tournament is being played in their city, on their home floor, and they have a chance to not only avenge a pair of losses to UConn but a pair of losses to Cincinnati as well. Who cares about how this will help them in terms of seeding. Memphis needs to prove to the country that it is not the same Memphis team from Conference-USA that wilts in the NCAA Tournament, and winning the AAC Tournament would be a good place to start.
  5. There is no link to follow in this item because I would prefer to talk about what I heard SMU coach Larry Brown say while he was giving the guys from Pardon the Interruption “Five Good Minutes.” Brown has always been candid about his distaste for recruiting and when asked about it today he basically hammered home the point by reiterating how much he hates it. My first instinct was to tease Brown for being a shining example of why age bias is particularly alive and well in college basketball, but let’s give him some credit. He knows what he is best at and that is teaching the game. He doesn’t seem particularly bothered with the rest of the responsibilities of the job and that’s fine, because he is Larry Brown and he has both an NCAA and an NBA Championship under his belt. But he knew his own limitations and interests well enough to hire Jerrance Howard and Tim Jankovich, two excellent recruiters as evidenced by these past two recruiting classes. So yeah, he might come off as that cranky old teacher in high school who was impossible to understand because he knew he was too smart and just didn’t care, but he wins, which is good enough for SMU fans.
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Former Houston Coach Makes Strong Accusations Against Another Big 12 School

Posted by dnspewak on August 2nd, 2012

We’ve got a bit of a whodunnit on our hands this week in the Big 12. In light of the recent Central Florida sanctions, a USA Today article about third-party influences in college basketball quoted former Houston coach Tom Penders of accusing a Big 12 school of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to an AAU coach in exchange for a recruit. Normally, we might skim over this kind of news because it is so commonplace in this day and age of Reggie Bush, O.J. Mayo, Worldwide Wes, point-shaving scandals and god knows what other sorts of shenanigans programs engage in these days. We’ve all seen Blue Chips. We know the world is a dark, dark place.

Tom Penders Made Some Waves on Wednesday

But this accusation by Penders is different, simply because it is so incredibly easy to pinpoint who the culprits may be in this situation. Penders “declined” to name the recruit in question, but read the following quote from USA Today. He basically does our job for us.

Others move in the shadows of the sport. In six seasons as head coach at Houston, Penders estimated, an AAU coach or his agent asked Penders for money in return for the commitment of a prospect at least 25 times. On one occasion, an AAU coach and his agent visited Penders’ office with two offers: Pay tens of thousands of dollars in return for a player’s commitment, or place an AAU coach on his staff to establish a pipeline. ”I threw him out of my office,” Penders said. Penders said the player, whom the coach declined to identify, spent one season at a Big 12 school before being drafted in the second round of the NBA draft. Penders said the AAU coach collected “six figures” from the Big 12 school that chose to engage in the scheme.

So we’re looking for a one-and-done Big 12 player drafted in the second round between 2005 and 2010. As fellow college hoops scribe Rob Dauster points out, that leaves us with three possibilities:

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Welcoming the Big East Newcomers: Houston

Posted by mlemaire on December 8th, 2011

The Big East announced in a teleconference this week that they would be adding five new schools to the fold. Three of those schools, Houston, Central Florida, and Southern Methodist, will play all of their sports in the conference starting in 2013. Of course it is far too early to tell what sort of basketball impact these schools will have in their new conference, but that won’t stop us from pontificating. First up is Houston.

The Past

Of the three schools, there is no question that Houston has the best track record. There first season was in 1946, but it wasn’t until then-assistant and former player Guy Lewis took over for the 1956-57 season until the program really took off. In his 30 years at the helm, Lewis led the Cougars to 27 consecutive winning seasons, 14 trips to the NCAA Tournament, and five trips to the Final Four, including two appearances in the NCAA championship game, both of which they lost. Lewis is also responsible for recruiting some of the school’s most famous alumni, including Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Birdsong and Clyde Drexler.

Hakeem Olajuwon And Clyde Drexler Are The Most Prominent Members Of Houston's Storied Basketball Past

Despite all that history and tradition, Houston has barely been a blip on the college basketball radar since. Since joining Conference USA in 1996, the Cougars have made the NCAA Tournament exactly once (2010), and perhaps the most exciting time for the program was the failed Clyde Drexler coaching experiment that started in 1998 and lasted just two seasons. Former coach Tom Penders led the team to three twenty-win seasons in his six years as head coach from 2004-10, but they never got over the hump. The team still occasionally roped in top-flight talent like Bo Outlaw, Alton Ford, and Aubrey Coleman, but the Cougars never seemed to meet expectations.

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Morning Five: 07.20.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on July 20th, 2011

  1. Sporting News‘ Mike DeCourcy posted a fine summary yesterday of 2012 prospect Myles Davis‘ decision to verbally commit to Xavier, and we also saw that Mr. DeCourcy later tweeted a confirmation that Myles Davis was indeed named after…Miles Davis. This automatically makes him the coolest player in the 2012 class. We hope someone someday challenges Davis about his shot selection in some post-game press conference, so he can reply with something to the effect of, “There are no bad shots, just shots in the wrong places.” If this happens, inasmuch as we can’t reward Davis, we pledge to mow Chris Mack’s lawn on an as-needed basis for the entire off-season next summer.
  2. As MSNBC’s Mike Miller tweeted early yesterday, the fallout from this David Salinas possible Ponzi scheme story will come in the form of a “slow burn of incriminating details” over the rest of the summer. SI.com’s Pablo Torre has the latest on this fiasco, including names of coaches, amounts of money with which they entrusted Salinas, and a list of players who came through Salinas’ AAU program in Houston that, as the author says, “sparks potential questions.” Certainly true, especially when considering what (as the author notes in his article) former Houston coach Tom Penders told The Daily on Monday — that Salinas once offered him the chance to invest $100,000 with him, in the process making “a strong, strong implication” that the 100-large would grease the rails for Penders in terms of access to prospects at Salinas’ program. Yeesh. By the way, the biggest loss from Salinas’ business practices appears to have been $2.3 million (!!) that once belonged to new Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie.
  3. Kentucky’s Jon Hood tore his right ACL during a pick-up game on Monday and will likely have to redshirt the 2011-12 season. Surgery has yet to be scheduled as they wait for inflammation around the knee to subside. You might look at Hood’s 0.8 PPG and 4.3 MPG from last season and write this off as an unfortunate incident for the young man and just a minor loss for the team, but beware; Hood is the only rising junior on the team, and Kentucky lost a potential senior when DeAndre Liggins left a year early for the NBA. They still have Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas as returning seniors, but when you’re as heavy on freshmen and sophomores as Kentucky, you’ll take any upperclassmen leadership you can get.
  4. Any coach will tell you that when you take over for another coach at a struggling program, it’s not just about new offenses and new defenses and so on. It often involves a change of the very culture of the place, and sometimes even a re-commitment to basic matters of professionalism by everyone concerned, and the process can sometimes take a couple of years. Coach-turned-announcer-turned-coach Mark Gottfried has a long row to hoe at NC State, but he knows that his first job is to convince his players that success begins with things as elementary as daily off-court habits that have little or nothing to do with basketball.
  5. If the latest “Hoop Thoughts” from Seth Davis doesn’t get your mid-July college basketball juices flowing, we wonder what will. In the latest edition, Davis takes the pulses of nine programs, each based on recent conversations he had with the coaches of those teams. We don’t want to give too much away, but Duke, Louisville, Michigan State, and Ohio State backers should take note. And he leads off with a proclamation of who will be the next official Cinderella in the vein of Gonzaga and Butler.
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What In The World Is Going On At Providence?

Posted by jstevrtc on July 21st, 2010

Did Keno Davis run over a nun, or something?  Is there a Boston College fan somewhere snickering  sinisterly while poking pins into a Providence College doll?

This past Saturday, Kadeem Batts, a redshirt freshman at Providence, was arrested outside a club on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and failure to leave premises.  He’s still on the team, but it’s not the most confidence-inspiring start, and it’s just another in an improbable string of unfortunate events that have befallen the PC men’s basketball program in recent months.

Back in April, forward Johnnie Lacy and guard James Still, both freshmen, were charged with felony assault in the beating of a PC student.  They’re not just off the team, they’re gone, expelled from the college.  About a month later, sophomore Jamine Peterson — only the team’s leading scorer (19.6 PPG) and rebounder (10.2 RPG) — was dismissed from the squad for violating team rules (not otherwise specified) while hosting a recruit for a weekend.

And then there’s this Joseph Young situation.  In case you’re not familiar, Young is the son of former Houston Cougar and Phi Slamma Jamma member Michael Young, who’s currently the Director of Basketball Operations and Performance Enhancement at the University of Houston.  Last month, Joseph signed a letter of intent to play for Providence as a freshman in the 2010-2011 season.  He changed his mind soon after, citing his concern for an aunt to whom he’s particularly close who is awaiting a heart transplant, and an increased desire to therefore attend school close to home.  He asked Providence for a release from his LOI — and was denied.

At this point, if we were Coach Davis we'd be looking upward for random falling anvils. (AP/H.R. Abrams)

Providence didn’t do this just to be mean, though.  Check it out:  Mr. Young was quickly hired to his current position at Houston (he was also an assistant coach for a year and strength/conditioning coach for five years) after James Dickey was brought on to replace the retired Tom Penders, and Young happens to have a basketball-playing son with some skills.  You can’t blame Providence for at least raising an eyebrow in regard to the timing, here — the elder Young is hired to a new position at the hometown school right at the time the younger Young is about to embark on his college basketball career? With all that Providence has had to deal with recently, you can’t blame them for wanting to hold onto a player for whom they have high hopes, especially if they have reason to think they’re not being given the whole story about that player’s desires to leave.  Providence has stated that they expect Joseph Young to honor his commitment, a lesson it’s never too late to teach (or learn).

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Billy Clyde Back in the Saddle?

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2010

Could Billy Gillispie be making his way back into coaching?  That’s the rumor going around the University of Houston, at least.  The former Texas A&M/Kentucky head coach turned scofflaw has presumably been living large back in his home state of Texas for the last year after he sued and ultimately settled with UK for roughly three million dollars

Where Will Penders Land Next?

Why Houston, you say?  Well, Cougars head coach Tom Penders announced his resignation from the school today.  He was 121-77 in six years at the school, culminating with the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in eighteen years over the weekend.  The 64-year old man who has coached for over thirty years at five different schools along the way was quick to say that he’s not retiring:

I came to the University of Houston in 2004 with the goal of getting UH back to the NCAA tournament.  We achieved this goal and now it is time for me to move on.  We’ll go down in history as the team that brought UH back to national prominence, and I’m so proud of my players and staff.

It’s odd that he would resign without having another job in hand, but maybe there’s more to the story than meets the eye.  We won’t speculate on what that might be, but he spent three years in the early 2000s as a tv and radio analyst between jobs at GW and Houston, so maybe he figures he’ll fall back on that for a while until another coaching challenge presents itself. 

As for the Gillispie angle, current Houston AD Mack Rhoades has a connection with the embattled coach that dates back to their time spent at UTEP together in the early part of the last decade.  That could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on Rhoades’ point of view, but he was quick to say that Gillispie might be a possibility for the opening.  This could actually be a very reasonable spot for BCG to resurface, as he’s very familiar with the Texas recruiting landscape and the expectations in Houston will be considerably more tempered than they were at Kentucky.

If he gets the job, the first thing on an ESPN programming director’s agenda should be to set up a Houston road game at Lexington.  With Jeannine Edwards as the sideline reporter.  And Alan Cutler as the first questioner in the postgame press conference.  Please… somebody make this happen.

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.16.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

South Region Notes (Patrick Sellars)

  • The first “upset” of the tournament occurred in the South Region when SWAC champion Arkansas Pine-Bluff took down the Big South tournament champion Winthrop, 61-44. The Golden Lions earned the right to play top seeded Duke on Friday night.
  • When #9 Louisville takes on #8 California on Friday night, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino says he’ll be ready for the Bears’ “organized chaos.”  There is also an interesting quote in the article from Cardinals’ guard Edgar Sosa that says he has heard Cal referred to as “poor man’s Marquette”.
  • Utah State’s leading scorer, junior guard Tai Wesley, broke his nose in the WAC tournament final on Saturday when the Aggies got pounded by New Mexico State.  He will play in the Aggies’ upcoming game versus Texas A&M, but you have to wonder what kind of effect it will have on USU’s star. On TAMU’s side, they will have Dash Harris back in the lineup after he missed the Big 12 Tournament with a bone bruise in his right wrist. Head coach Mark Turgeon said that if his team wants any chance to win this weekend, they will need Harris healthy.
  • Fran McCaffery is not letting his Siena team think they can beat Purdue by just showing up in Spokane on Friday. He says Purdue is by far the best team Siena will face all season even without Robbie Hummel. You’d have to think a Butler Bulldogs fan would think otherwise.
  • Here is an interesting article from The Times-Picayune which highlights the #3 Baylor vs. #14 Sam Houston State game. Not only are the two teams from Texas, but they have two New Orleans natives returning to their home town for the first round. Star senior guards Tweety Carter (Baylor) and Ashton Mitchell (Sam Houston State) both played their high school ball in The Big Easy.
  • Villanova head coach Jay Wright told the Philadelphia Inquirer about his team’s lackluster play in first round games the past two seasons. Wright said “we’ve survived first-round games, but we really haven’t played well in first-round games.”

East Region Notes (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2010

Change

Bob Dylan wrote a famous song, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” One could make a valid argument that this could be the theme song for the Conference USA Men’s 2009-10 basketball season. For the first time since conference realignment and the 2005-06 season, a new preseason champion was selected (Tulsa), the conference tournament will not be held in Memphis (again, Tulsa) and the de facto commissioner of the league is no longer with us (John Calipari).

How will this “change” translate for the rest of the league? In speaking with many of the coaches around the league by the national media, most coaches are drooling at the chance of being the first to knock off Memphis and their amazing conference winning streak (currently the streak stands at 64 games lasting since March 2, 2006). While Memphis might not be the runaway favorite that so many have become accustomed too, this should translate into a positive for the league giving the conference regular and postseason a competitive edge it hasn’t seen in over five years. Nipping at the heels of Memphis this year will be the usual suspects of UTEP, Houston and Tulsa. The surprise of the year so far has been the excellent play of Marshall. Young, long, and talented, this will be one of the most exciting Marshall teams to date and one of the most competitive. CUSA shouldn’t sleep on this year’s sleeper team.

In the wake of John Calipari’s voluntary departure (or declaration of war as most Memphis fans have described) from Memphis, many coaches throughout the league are finding themselves on the proverbial hot seat. Fan bases are seeing this as the year certain coaches need to produce before Memphis has a chance to recuperate from its losses (Memphis brings in the #1 ranked recruiting class for the 2010-11 season) and return to league dominance. We start with Houston. Coach Tom Penders brings back one of the elite scorers in the league named Aubrey Coleman and a team that always seems to give Memphis a run each time they play. However, his lack of production in the postseason has put the coach in a sticky situation. Coach Mike Davis at UAB also finds himself looking over his shoulder more and more year after year. After initially getting a commitment from one of the top big men in the country last year in DeMarcus Cousins, it seemed that Coach Davis was finally going to turn the corner on recruiting in the state of Alabama. Unfortunately, Mr. Cousins is wearing blue not green this year, and to make matters worse, another seemingly solid pick up for Davis left the state for bluer pastures as well in Eric Bledsoe. Pair these mishaps with a disappointing season last year and Davis needs to produce this season with a team capable of pulling off some upsets. Lastly, Matt Doherty at SMU seems to already have a foot out of the door. This has been one of the biggest mysteries in my mind. With immaculate facilities, one of the largest cities in the US to recruit, and a fan base with deep pockets looking for a winner, Doherty has continually underachieved. A record of 33-58 over three years for Doherty looms ominous over a coach without a signature win.

What should be an entertaining year for the league has only gotten better with the improved play of Marshall and UAB. Both of these teams have some signature wins already under their belt this year along with currently being undefeated in league play. Tulsa and Memphis also find themselves undefeated but with a few losses that will not help the resume come NCAA tourney time. Let’s take a look at each team and see how their season is going.

Team Reviews

Marshall (4-0, 15-2) - HASSAN WHITESIDE HASSAN WHITESIDE HASSAN WHITESIDE… Remember that name folks. What is possibly the feel-good story of the year depending on if you are playing Marshall or not, Marshall has consistently improved year after year under coach Donnie Jones. With the addition of possible CUSA newcomer of the year Hassan Whiteside, Marshall boasts on of the best frontcourts in the league with he (13/9) and Tyler Wilkerson (13/7). Marshall trails only Tulsa in team rebounding at 40.1 per game. The post presence for Marshall will be the key all year.The early development has been the storyline of the year for the Thundering Herd. Throw in Tirrell Baines and Dago Pena and you have quality depth in your frontcourt along with guards Chris Lutz, Shaquille Johnson and Damier Pitts and Marshall could be poised to make a run not only at the regular season title but the conference title as well. Key out of conference wins for the Herd includes a win against an Old Dominion team who can boast a defeat of Georgetown. So long as this team can stay healthy and continues to play the uptempo style of ball that fits their personnel, the sky is the limit for the Thundering Herd in CUSA this year.

Tulsa (4-0, 14-3) – Even with the loss of shut down defender Ray Reese, Tulsa seems poised to snap Memphis’ streak of conference wins and tourney titles. Doug Wojcik returns a team with a lot of firepower both in the frontcourt and backcourt with many upperclassmen. Scouts are salivating over 7’0 PF/C Jerome Jordan. Jordan (14/8) continues to grow as a player with a developing back to the basket game and toughness on the defensive end of the court, and he is the star of this team. Bishop Wheatley, while undersized for a power forward, consistently outworks and outhustles bigger opposing players with his nonstop motor. Not a go to scorer or rebounding machine under the basket, Wheatley is the “glue” guy of this team giving minutes and hustle plays that don’t show up on a stat sheet.  In the backcourt, Tulsa relies on Ben Uzoh. A tweener in the mold of Elliot Williams for Memphis, Uzoh (17/5/4) is not a true PG but can get the job done and is a terrific on the ball defender. Justin Hurtt (16/4) is also a reliable threat with the ball in his hands. Tulsa can boast they have possibly the best backcourt in CUSA along with Memphis.  With wins against Oklahoma State and Nebraska out of conference and a big conference win at Houston, Tulsa has solidified themselves as the team to beat so far in CUSA. The season and conference tourney position could come down to the final game March 6 at Memphis. Tulsa travels to Duke on February 25 in what will obviously be used as a measuring stick for not only Jerome Jordan’s development as a play but Tulsa’s chances in the NCAA tournament. 

UAB (3-0, 15-2)Mike Davis has the Blazers on a roll. With the only truly bad loss on the schedule coming against a mediocre Kent State team early in the season, there is legitimate talk about UAB being the other sleeper in CUSA. With wins against solid SEC opponents Georgia and Arkansas and a solid Big East team in Cincinnati and mid-major power Butler, UAB has also quietly built a nice resume for the NCAA tourney. Consistency will be the key with this young team.  Transfer Elijah Millsap is as versatile of a player you will find in CUSA. At 6’6 and 218 lbs, Millsap (17/10) has the ability to break down a defender and get to the basket with his size and strength. Posting solid minutes against Cincinnati and super frosh Lance Stephenson, Millsap put up a solid line of 22 points and 15 rebounds in a win. Howard Crawford, starting at forward for the Blazers, has a developing inside-out game but is more comfortable around the basket where he can use his 240 pound frame to impose his will on opposing defenders.  With a bulk of their tough conference games still remaining, home/home with UTEP and Memphis, and home versus Houston, Tulsa and Marshall, it will remain to be seen how UAB will hold up against opponents that are familiar with their game plan. UAB will be a top four team come conference tournament time. 

Memphis (3-0, 13-4) – The streak continues. Some things have changed for the University of Memphis, this has not. Over 1100 days have passed since their last defeat in conference play. Will this be the year that streak comes to an end? All signs point to yes; however, don’t tell this team that or their new coach Josh Pastner.  Contending for Player of the Year honors with Aubrey Coleman and Newcommer of the Year honors with Hassan Whiteside, Elliot Williams (20/4/4) has been a true gift to Memphis in the wake of the turmoil that ensued in March. The key to the season for the Tigers will be who can step up as another reliable scorer for Memphis when teams key on him. Roburt Sallie (10/4) and Doneal Mack (10/2) have been inconsistent at best this year for the Tigers and no real inside presence has been established. Wesley Witherspoon (11/4) is a utility player able to play the 2, 3, 4 or 5 position for Memphis but is most comfortable on the wing. Will Coleman (7/6), the number two ranked JUCO player for 2008-09, has yet to produce consistently and adapt to the D1level. A prime example of Memphis’ erratic play can be seen in their one bad loss this year at UMass. Constantly outrebounded by smaller and less skilled players due to lack of hustle and poor positioning was the Achilles heel for Memphis in the UMass game. Usually one of the top rebounding teams in conference, it is rebounding by committee this year for the Tigers due to their lack of frontcourt depth. Will the streak continue? Watch ESPN on January 20 and 23 to find out.

Houston (3-1,10-7) – The roller coaster ride continues for a Houston squad that came into the season with high expectations. Losing starters Marcus Cousins (10/8) and Qa’rraan Calhoun (10/5) in the frontcourt obviously has hurt the Cougars. JUCO transfer Maurice McNeil (8/8) has helped weather the storm in the loss of Cousins and Calhoun but he is not getting much help from his cast of supporters: Sean Coleman, Nick Mosley and Kahmell Broughton. While the frontcourt is struggling for the Cougars, the back court tandem of Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis is thriving. Coleman (25/7/3 apg) and Lewis (17/4) could be considered the top backcourt in the league. Coleman continues to be Mr. Reliable with the basketball getting to the rim with ease due to his size and speed and Lewis could be described as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Houston leads the league in scoring at 83 points per game. Get ready for a track meet when UH comes to play. The lone “signature” win of the season for the Cougars comes against a struggling Oklahoma team dealing with frontcourt losses of their own in the Griffin brothers. Losses to Nevada, San Diego, Louisiana Tech and UT-San Antonio will leave Houston fighting in conference play and the conference tournament for a shot at the NCAA. The seat is getting a little hotter for Coach Penders down in Houston.

UTEP (2-1, 11-5) – Head coach Tony Barbee got a wonderful Christmas present this year named Derrick Caracter. The biggest question about Caracter will be his character. Can Barbee control this super-talented kid? Will he be able to ever produce like he did in high school and was recruited to do the same at Louisville? Can UTEP replace the scoring production vacated by Stefon Jackson? Many questions surround Tony Barbee down in El Paso.  The knock on Caracter about his attitude and overall approach to the game seems to have subsided somewhat now that he is playing under control. Averaging 14 points and 8 rebounds a game, it seems as he is showing a renewed commitment to the game and to his coach who, like his mentor John Calipari, is giving his star pupil a second chance. Randy Culpepper is not disappointing on the offensive end, averaging 16 points and 2.5 assists a game. The knock on Culpepper is his size. Listed at 6’0, Culpepper is more 5’9 to 5’10. However, you can’t teach will power, hustle or the way he can put the ball in the basket. After securing the starting job opposite Culpepper, Christian Polk as turned into a viable offensive threat averaging 11 points and 2 assists per game. After a big summer with USA basketball, Arnett Moultrie has gone from an under the radar forward — the kid with big potential — to averaging a solid 12 points and 7 rebounds a game. His production has slipped some since the arrival of Caracter, but he still continues to be a force in and around the basket that could earn him a big paycheck one day.  With a tough loss on the road to Houston, people have begun to question UTEP. I, on the other hand, feel this is as dangerous of a team as Marshall, Tulsa or UAB. The problem I see is effort for the whole game. With a frontcourt of Moultrie and Caracter, there is no reason UTEP should not be in the top five of the league in rebounding. This will be a scary team come conference tournament time and a tough out.

UCF (1-2, 9-8) – UCF will be a scary team this year in the conference as their overall record does not depict properly the type of team they have shown to be this year. Wins over UMass and Auburn and close defeats at the hands of USF and UConn, the Knights have a solid yet very young and inexperienced team. Consistency will play a key role with this team all year long.  Going up against Marshall earlier last week, UCF showed poise down the stretch running with a team that honestly was just better than they were. Guards Isaac Sosa and A.J. Rompza are good with the ball in their hands and excellent defenders even if they are undersized. Scoring distribution for this team is even as six players on the team average between 10 and 6 points per game.  While this is still a developing year for UCF, a #5 or #6 seed in conference play is not out of reach. Look for UCF to surprise some people at home this year.

Tulane (1-3, 6-11) – Tulane coach Dave Dickerson has amassed a record of 60-62 in his four-year tenure at Tulane. Quite a feat considering the academic standards he must abide by and a school still struggling in many ways post-Katrina. Posting a win already this year over conference foe Rice, Tulane relies heavily on the play of their guards Kris Richard (14/4/3) and Kevin Sims (12/3/3). As with any team that relies heavily on their guards, rebounding will be the biggest enemy of the Green Wave as they rank last in CUSA in rebounds per game. With recruit Rakeem Brookins on deck for the 2010-11 season, Tulane will only get stronger.

SMU (0-3, 6-10) - Coach Matt Doherty enters his fourth year with the Mustangs with an experienced roster yet not many expectations. Most recently against UAB the Mustangs were leading by 24 points yet lost the game 63-62. With the low post presence of Papa Dia (12/8) and Mouhammad Faye (12/6) and guard play of Derek Williams (16/3) and Paul McCoy (8/4), few can find a reason as to why the Mustangs aren’t more competitive. Consistently underachieving year in and year out, Doherty is running out of excuses. Boasting some of the best facilities in the league and being able to recruit from one of the largest cities in the US, SMU has to produce better. Non-conference games against Occidental College, Florida Gulf Coast, and Houston Baptist are unacceptable in D1 basketball. The four-point win against Huston-Tillotson was laughable at best.

Southern Mississippi (0-3, 10-7) - Larry Eustachy finds himself with one of his more talented teams in recent memory at Southern Miss. Newcommers Maurice Bolden and Gary Flowers give the Golden Eagles something to cheer about down in Hattiesburg. Flowers (14/8) is a physical small forward that can use his size and strength to get to the basket at will. Highly recruited out of high school from Texas, Flowers spent the last year at Chipola Junior College before transferring to the Golden Eagles to give them more depth in the frontcourt.  As with any young team, the Golden Eagles have experienced some growing pains this year but have displayed the ability to hang with teams more talented than they. After leading for a majority of the Ole Miss game, Southern Miss fell 81-79 in the final minutes. Against a Memphis team that came out firing on all cylinders, the Golden Eagles trailed by 15 at the half, yet came out with much more intensity in the second half holding Memphis to only two made FGs only to fall by a bucket, 59-57. Another team that is looking to the future, Eustachy has a talent base growing down in Hattiesburg that will cause the rest of the conference to take notice in the coming years.

East Carolina (0-4,6-12) – East Carolina finds themselves struggling this year. Losses to Wake Forest and Clemson can be deemed acceptable for a team continuing to build; however, losses to Campbell and Northern Iowa hurt the overall conference RPI and can deal a blow to a team that was expecting to win between 14 and 16 games this year. Brock Young is possibly one of the best players in America you haven’t heard of. Playing with a lack of interior post presence, Young is a 5’11 PG putting the team on his shoulders and getting what he can while averaging 16 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists a game. While 0-4 in conference, the meat of their conference schedule is behind them (@UAB, @Memphis, Houston, Marshall) and the rest of the conference schedule sets up nicely for this young team to continue to grow and develop the young talent they have in Wakefield Ellison, Corvonn Gaines and Erin Straughn. While eight wins in conference play might be asking a lot for a young team without much frontcourt help, it is a solid goal that I believe the Pirates can achieve.

Rice (0-4, 6-11) - With a newly renovated arena and one of the best freshman classes the Rice basketball program has seen, the future looks bright for the Owls. Unfortunately, this year will be a year of growing pains for a team with a bright future. With the only true loss from the 2008-09 season being Rodney Foster (13.4 ppg), the Owls return Trey Stanton, Conor Frizzelle and Lawrence Ghoram. The additions of highly touted Tamir Jackson and Arsalan Kazemi will be a solid foundation for the Owls to build on.  Having watched the Rice versus Memphis game this past week, I came away very impressed with Stanton (9/4), Jackson (12/3) and Kazemi (10/8). Kazemi is a basketball coach’s dream. He is a  hard-nosed player who has a knack for always attacking the basket. With Memphis’ lack of size and aggressiveness inside, Kazemi (15/11 vs. Memphis) had an array of putback dunks and a quick first step to the basket driving against his defender. Trey Stanton, while not your typical low post player, is a versatile big man that can step out and hit the mid-range jumper to the three-point line. He will not be much of a force against powerful low post players but can use his speed and range to exploit slower lumbering defenders. Against Pierre Niles and Will Coleman for Memphis he put up 18 points on 6-12 shooting from the field and 2-3 from the 3-point line. Tamir Jackson had a tougher night going up against two of the better on-ball defenders in the league in Willie Kemp and Elliot Williams. Yet, he showed poise and tempo under pressure that should make Ben Braun a happy coach for the next few years.

Games of the Week (January 17-23)

1/20 - #12 West Virginia @ Marshall – How far would this go in solidifying Marshall as a legitimate power in Conference USA? It would put them ahead of Tulsa as league leader in my book. Marshall averages 40.1 rebounds per game and relies heavily on Hassan Whiteside who Bob Huggins will almost assuredly key all of his defensive focus. Da’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks will be a tough threesome for Marshall to handle. Tyler Wilkerson and Whiteside will have their hands full inside. Coming off a one point loss to Syracuse, West Virginia will be looking to rebound. Marshall would love to pick up this win as their next stretch of games includes UAB and Memphis at home. This is a critical stretch of games in the schedule for the Thundering Herd as it could spell huge success for the season or whether there is still growing to do. 2-1 through this stretch would work wonders for the Herd’s confidence but I see more along the lines of 1-2.

Prediction: West Virginia comes out on top in this one, 85-70.

1/20 – UTEP v. Memphis (CSS) – Tony Barbee returns to Memphis with probably his best chance of beating the Tigers at home for the foreseeable future. The frontcourt of Moultrie and Caracter will be a lot for Pierre Henderson-Niles, Will Coleman, Wesley Witherspoon and the undersized DJ Stephens to handle. The backcourt tandems provide intriguing matchup possibilities. Randy Culpepper returns home to Memphis with Julyan Stone and Christian Polk to match up against Willie Kemp, Elliot Williams and Roburt Sallie. Kemp, Williams and Sallie are three of the most tenacious on ball defenders in CUSA routinely shutting down threats from outside every week. Randy Culpepper always seems to put on a show when he comes to Memphis so look for some fireworks in this matchup. The key to this game will be whether Memphis do a good enough job by committee on Caracter and Moultrie while the guards go to work. You could see a lot of zone from Memphis in this game if Niles, Coleman or Witherspoon get into foul trouble.

Prediction: I think FedEx Forum and the crowd Memphis will have on their side keeps the streak alive, 73-68.

1/23 – Houston v. Memphis (ESPN2) – Memphis will be coming off an emotional game against UTEP three days earlier, while Houston will be coming off a game against UCF. Memphis matches up much better against Houston than UTEP but Aubrey Coleman can keep Houston in any game. Houston faces some of the same interior problems Memphis faces when it comes to play of their big men. JUCO big men Will Coleman and Maurice McNeil will go head to head in this one at some point. This will be a good game to gauge how far each has come since the beginning of the season as each of their skill sets mimic each other. In this one, the battle again will be between the guards, Elliot Williams and Aubrey Coleman. Coleman has not seen a defender like Williams. Elliot can play on both ends of the court while Coleman is a much greater offensive threat than defensive. I believe you will see Tom Penders run a team of defenders against Elliot Williams or at some point play a zone if Memphis is cold from outside the arc. Games like these are where Elliot’s supporting staff needs to step up. The solid play of Willie Kemp again has been a surprise, but Doneal Mack, Roburt Sallie and Wesley Witherspoon need to step up and make plays. 

Prediction: Memphis escapes again thanks to the Sixth Man, the FedEx forum crowd, 79-71.

1/23 – UAB v. Marshall – Marshall will be coming off a highly emotional game against West Virginia. Elijah Millsap will be key getting to the basket and taking advantage of his mismatches. This game could determine conference positioning from #2-#5. A must-win at this point early in the season for both teams.

Prediction: Marshall takes it at home, 68-63.

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Conference USA Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009

Memphis passed its last regular season road test and now only has a few games to go to return to the “promised land” that they’ve never really left.

While the Tigers’ dominance over the rest of CUSA is nearly unparalleled in the history of modern college basketball, it doesn’t mean that every other team is chopped liver. Basically anything can happen in a tournament setting and the Tigers have endured a few close calls this year.

2009-cusa-tourney-bracket

So here are the teams as they are seeded and some pertinent info:

#1: Memphis Tigers

Coach: John Calipari

Record: 28-3 overall (16-0 in CUSA)

Players to Watch: G Tyreke Evans, F Robert Dozier, F Shawn Taggart, G Antonio Anderson

Season Highlights: In a year that many thought would be fraught with ‘rebuilding’ and the like, the Tigers continue to look dominant. The arrival of the latest one-year wonder: Tyreke Evans, has allowed the blue and gray not miss a beat from last year’s final four squad. But the veteran leadership of guys like Antonio Anderson, Doneal Mack, Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier has been a huge factor too. They suffered early-season setbacks against Xavier and Syracuse, but they’re currently riding 20+ game winning streak. There have been a few close calls and at the end of the day they’re still undefeated against the rest of the conference.

They Will Win If: They simply show up and play their game. I don’t want to imply that the Tigers will simply cream whomever they play, because they could well lose. But they’re playing an extremely favorable draw on their home court. This is a recipe for success and it also doesn’t hurt that they’ve won over 50 games in a row against CUSA teams.

First Game: vs. the winner of #8 Tulane/#9 East Carolina; Thursday at 8:30 pm.

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01.29.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by nvr1983 on January 29th, 2009

Lot of good links today with many of them follow-ups of stories we have reported on in the past.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2009

Allen R of Houston Basketball Junkies is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

For the last few seasons there’s always been the hope (misguided or not) that Conference USA basketball will return to the level it was prior to the Big East/Atlantic 10 exodus of a few years back.

As we enter the 2009 calendar, it’s looking more and more like the 2008-09 season will be another year of futility for the conference. There are still a few months to go in the season, but it’s clear that the teams in CUSA did not prove much in non-conference play.

1.) Ole Missed: The news has been mostly negative lately when it comes to CUSA basketball, but the Southern Miss program scored a huge win last Wednesday by defeating in-state rival Ole Miss 78-59. It has been an up and down few years for Golden Eagles coach Larry Eustachy, but it appears as though he has a pretty good team now in Hattiesburg. The credit for this improvement also should go to veteran guards Jeremy Wise and R.L. Horton. They are now sitting at 9-4 and have as good of a shot as anyone to be a top-echelon CUSA team.

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CvC Starts Tonight

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

So if you haven’t heard, tonight is the beginning of college basketball regular season games.  What we’re really talking about, though, is two games from Durham as part of the Coaches v. Cancer Tournament (only one televised on ESPNU).  In fact, the first game (Houston v. Georgia Southern) starts in about forty minutes. 

So we wanted to throw up the brackets again just to remind ourselves of who was playing in this thing, and what we might expect to see in a week or so.  Some predictions below the bracket.

Duke Regional.  Obviously, Duke will be heavily favored in both games, but Houston is a slight sleeper here.  The Cougars won 24 games last season, defeated Kentucky, and played Memphis tough in both of their CUSA contests.  They lost their top two players from last year, but return their next four, and Coach Tom Penders’ teams play hard and typically can score with anybody. 

SIU Regional.  Two easy first round game for S. Illinois and UMass, but that matchup presents an interesting contrast in styles – SIU with their methodical pace and UMass with its breakneck pace (#4 nationally in possessions/game last year).  We’d expect SIU to win because they simply don’t lose many nonconference games at home, but it could be an interesting game.

UCLA Regional.   Ho-hum.  UCLA will have no problem with anyone in this region, but we’d recommend bringing your iced double latte if the Bruins play Miami (OH) in the second round.  That game won’t break 100 pts total. 

Michigan Regional.  It wouldn’t shock us if Michigan lost a second-round matchup with Northeastern here.  In fact, this is probably the most likely shot at an upset in the four regionals.  Northeastern returns its entire starting lineup from a team that some expect to make some noise in the CAA this year.  And while we love John Beilein, he’s probably a couple years away from fully implementing his system in Ann Arbor. 

The Picks to go to MSG.  Duke, S. Illinois, UCLA, Northeastern.

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