Set Your Tivo: 12.23.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 23rd, 2010

***** – 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.

Not a bad set of games tonight but nothing that jumps out at you as a must watch. The best games of the night may very well be in paradise as opposed to Memphis. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#11 Baylor vs. Washington State (in Honolulu, HI) – 6:30 pm on ESPNU (****)

A Rare Klay Thompson Sighting on National TV Tonight

The theory that good guard play wins in college basketball will be put to the test in this game from the Diamond Head Classic. Washington State’s guard-heavy lineup goes up against Baylor’s powerful front court, though the Bears have a star guard in LaceDarius Dunn. The Cougars have surprised this year and sit at 9-1 with wins over Gonzaga and Mississippi State in addition to a close home loss against Kansas State. Washington State shares one common opponent with Baylor, that’s Gonzaga. Baylor lost to the Bulldogs this past Saturday in Dallas while Washington State rolled the Zags 81-59 at home ten days earlier. Baylor’s offense has struggled a bit against the two decent teams they’ve played, Gonzaga and Arizona State. Combine that with the fact that Washington State defends the three exceptionally well, the Bears should look to use their strength and athleticism inside and pound the ball into the paint. Rebounding is a concern for the Cougars, especially against a Baylor team that averages 41 RPG. Even if the Bears miss some shots inside, they’re sure to get a bunch of put-back chances against the WSU front line. For Washington State, DeAngelo Casto must have a good night on the glass in order to contain Baylor’s front court, led by Perry Jones and Quincy Acy. The Cougars must look to their back court for scoring and they’ll feel comfortable knowing they have Klay Thompson on their team. Thompson had 28 points against Mississippi State on Wednesday and will be in the running for Pac 10 POY honors. In addition to Thompson, Faisal Aden has enjoyed a terrific season so far. Aden and Thompson form a strong guard duo capable of draining three’s with regularity. Washington State is very good inside the arc as well but Baylor’s interior defense poses the toughest challenge the Cougars have faced so far. They need to be clicking from deep or else it could be a long night. Baylor’s back court isn’t too shabby either with Dunn and A.J. Walton, but each player struggles with turnovers. Washington State enjoys a great turnover margin and that’s how they’re going to get extra possessions against the turnover-prone Bears. With the expected rebounding problem, Washington State has to create turnovers to win this game. Expect Baylor to have an edge at the free throw line as well, enjoying a nice free throw rate on both ends of the floor. The Bears also shoot five percent better from the line than Washington State. The Cougars are a good team but Baylor has something to prove after falling to Gonzaga. We’ll take the Bears behind a big game from Acy inside.

#9 Georgetown @ Memphis – 8 pm on ESPN2 (***)

With the departure of Angel Garcia, the injury to Wesley Witherspoon and their struggles on the court, Memphis is going through some adversity. How Josh Pastner gets his young team to overcome that will determine how far he can take his talented group of players. The Tigers have had three close calls against bad teams and are struggling a bit offensively. Memphis averaged 85 PPG in its first seven games but that number has dropped to 69 PPG over the last three contests. Memphis is not a particularly great shooting team but they get to the charity stripe often and do make up some points there. The pregame story is whether or not Witherspoon will play, as Pastner did not rule him out and said he was day-to-day. If he doesn’t play, the guard-laden Tigers will be severely undersized and thin overall. If he does play, they’ll still be undersized but at least will have a scorer capable of pulling the Georgetown big men away from the basket. For the purposes of this preview, we’ll go on the assumption that he doesn’t play and wouldn’t be near 100% even if he does. Memphis already struggles rebounding the basketball and that’ll be a huge problem against a Hoya team with good rebounding guards and two strong post men. Look for Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson to own the paint with Witherspoon out. For Memphis, Will Coleman and Tarik Black have to make their presence known, otherwise Georgetown will focus its defense on the Tiger guards all night. A freshman, Black has had a tough time adjusting to a bigger role on this Memphis team. Tonight is a huge opportunity to assert himself and make himself a strong option for his head coach. The story for Georgetown is obviously their terrific trio of guards. They account for 57% of their points and all are great three point shooters. Point guard Chris Wright is also averaging seven assists per game during his senior season in the nation’s capital. Jason Clark is one of the most underrated players in the game today and has the potential to break out at any time. Austin Freeman is their rock. The preseason Big East POY leads the team in scoring and is a lights out three point shooter. When Freeman is hot, Georgetown is incredibly difficult to beat. The Hoyas are third nationally in offensive efficiency, first in effective field goal percentage and fourth in two point percentage, showing they can get it done both inside and out. It’s no surprise Georgetown hoists a lot of three’s, getting a third of their points from the arc. Memphis has to do a good job defensively on the perimeter otherwise Georgetown will shoot them out of the building. The Tigers also have to worry about turnovers, currently averaging 16 per game with Joe Jackson accounting for almost a quarter of those. Jackson is another freshman who’s incredibly talented but a bit undisciplined at this point in his career. He needs to play well and also get Chris Crawford and Charles Carmouche involved from the arc. With almost all of their players being guards, Memphis is going to have to try to match Georgetown’s outside shooting and get to the foul line. The Tigers will be in this game if they can disrupt the flow and score by getting to the stripe but Georgetown is just too experienced and talented for the young Tigers to overcome. Expect the Hoyas to pick up a nice road win at the FedEx Forum tonight after missing an opportunity at Temple a couple weeks ago.

A few other games to monitor:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2010

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

[ed note: this post was written before Tuesday’s games]

A Look Back

  • Knights stay perfect, top Miami after power outage.  The No. 3 shooting team in the nation resides in Orlando. That’s right, the Knights of Central Florida are shooting the ball as well as any team in the nation, a huge reason for the team’s 10-0 record so far. On Saturday, the team stayed undefeated when they ousted Miami 84-78 at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida, after trailing as much as 43-31 in the first half. The 12-point deficit was the largest the team faced this season, however the Knights rebounded by scoring 51 points and shooting 75 percent in the second half after a 25-minute delay due to a power outage. The loss snapped a five-game win streak for the Hurricanes, while UCF’s Marcus Jordan led all scorers with 23 points.
  • Central Florida cracks top 25 for the first time this season.  Following the 10-0 start to begin their season, Central Florida was rewarded Monday afternoon when the new AP Top 25 poll was released. UCF is ranked No. 24 in the poll, marking the first time the team has been ranked this year. For now, the Knights remain unranked in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, however they were the top vote getter among unranked teams, garnering 47 votes.
  • UTEP extends win streak to six, tops Texas Tech and SFA.  UTEP is carrying a six-game winning streak into their road contest with BYU on Thursday after the Miners were able to top Texas Tech 82-71 last week. On Monday, the Miners beat Stephen F. Austin 61-52. In both games, Randy Culpepper was the leading scorer, finishing with 28 and 18 points, respectively. With the win, the Miners extended their winning streak to six. They haven’t lost since Nov. 26 when they were beaten by Georgia Tech.
  • Thin Memphis lineup survives scares over weaker opponents; wins 300th in past decade.  After a nationally televised loss to Kansas, the Memphis Tigers struggled against two lesser opponents. On Dec. 16, the Tigers failed to beat Austin Peay in regulation, surviving the Governors 70-68 in overtime. The win marked the second Memphis overtime win in four games. With a thin lineup suffering from injuries and transfers, coach Josh Pastner only played nine players against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The result wasn’t pretty, as the Tigers slipped past the Islanders after going into halftime down a point. Joe Jackson finished with a team-high and career-high 23 points. With the win, the Tigers became only the third NCAA Division I program to register 300 wins over the last decade.
  • DeAndre Kane’s double-double performance lifts Herd, keeps win streak alive.  Marshall limited VMI’s high-octane offense on Sunday night, edging the Keydets 98-70. Sophomore DeAndre Kane led the Herd, scoring 18 points and dishing out 13 assists. Shaquille Johnson led the team in scoring, recording 19 points. With the win, Marshall extended its winning streak to five games.

Power Rankings

  1. Central Florida (10-0).  For the first time this season, the Knights are ranked in the top 25. As a reward, they top the CUSA standings this week after Memphis’ recent struggles. The balanced scoring of Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan, who both average more than 16 points a game, is making this one of the better offensive teams in the nation.
  2. Memphis (9-1).  With a big non-conference game coming up against Georgetown, the Tigers have to be concerned about where they are right now. The team is limited in terms of depth and is struggling on the rebounds as well as in the first half of games. Freshmen Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford need to continue to step up for the injured Wesley Witherspoon.
  3. UTEP (9-2).  After some early season struggles, senior Randy Culpepper has regained his grip on the conference’s POY discussion, leading the Miners with 19.8 points per game. The Miners take a six-game winning streak with them this week when they take on No. 23 BYU on Thursday night.
  4. Southern Mississippi (7-1).  Although they didn’t play, the Golden Eagles dropped one spot in the conference rankings. Senior Gary Flowers remains one of the best players in the conference.
  5. Marshall (8-2).  With Damier Pitts returning from injury, Marshall just got that much better as they look to add to their five-game winning streak when they take on 8-3 James Madison this week. Senior Tirrell Baines is playing huge in the low post for the Herd, who need as many big bodies as they can find.
  6. UAB (8-2).  The Blazers have a huge non-conference game against VCU tonight. If they want to win they will need to rely heavily on junior Cameron Moore, who is averaging 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
  7. Tulane (6-3).  Nothing wrong with how the Green Wave played VCU on Saturday, however the team can’t expect to win games after falling behind by 13 in the first half.
  8. Southern Methodist (6-4).  SMU used a pair of wins over bottom competition to rise in the CUSA power rankings. Junior Robert Nyakundi has been a scoring machine of late, finishing in double figures in six consecutive games.
  9. East Carolina (7-4).  After a five-game winning streak, the Pirates have dropped back-to-back games, losing narrowly to Coastal Carolina last Saturday on a buzzer-beating jump shot.
  10. Houston (6-5).  The Cougars have struggled on the road this year, but luckily they have a pair of home games before they start conference play on Jan. 5. The team lost in overtime to Texas A&M-CC last Saturday.
  11. Rice (5-4).  Tough games against Miami and LSU loom for the Owls. The team has won its last two games though.
  12. Tulsa (5-5).  The Golden Hurricane have played back-to-back overtime games, barely edging out Weber State last week 81-79. Senior guard Justin Hurtt dropped a season-high 36 points in the game. Hurtt has scored above 20 points in half of the team’s games this season.

A Look Ahead

  • Wednesday is loaded. On Wednesday, Southern Miss takes on East Tennessee State in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, while Rice continues their play in Vegas when they take on Miami. In addition, East Carolina travels to George Washington looking to snap a two game losing streak. The games of the night have to be 8-2 Marshall at 8-3 James Madison and UCF taking their unbeaten record on the road against UMass.
  • Thursday trumps all; two top 25 teams duke it out in Memphis.  While the early days of the week have some intriguing matchups, Thursday tops the week off with a plethora of good basketball. The top game, of course, is No. 17 Memphis hosting No. 9 Georgetown. UTEP at No. 23 BYU is also one to watch as well.
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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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Set Your Tivo: 12.07.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 7th, 2010

***** – 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.

All eyes will be focused on the Big Apple this evening as four quality teams take center stage at Madison Square Garden in the 2010 Jimmy V. Classic. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

The Jimmy V is Outstanding This Year

#4 Kansas vs. #18 Memphis – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

This is quite an undercard but that’s why we love the Jimmy V. The classic 2008 championship game rematch happens for the second year in a row, this time in New York after playing in St. Louis last year. Memphis almost knocked off the powerhouse Jayhawks in the ‘Lou but fell short by two points. Kansas is just as good this year, but Memphis is better than they were. The young Tigers don’t have a true star yet, but Josh Pastner has a roster full of solid players who do a good, not great, job in most areas of the game. Combining all of that talent into an efficient unit has been a work in progress so far but you’d have to figure they’ll click at some point. Pastner faces a number of challenges in his first big test of the season under the bright lights of the big city and ESPN’s cameras. This should be an up-tempo game but Memphis doesn’t handle the ball very well. They average 16 turnovers per contest with Joe Jackson being the key culprit. The freshman point guard has a ton of talent but he’s just that: a freshman. With Jackson’s assist to turnover ratio at 1.19, Kansas has to be salivating at the prospect of quick transition buckets off turnovers tonight. Memphis is not a great three point shooting team and KU ranks second in the country in three point defense. Therefore the Tigers should be looking at their mid range game with Will Barton as well as in the paint with Wesley Witherspoon, shooting 61% on the year. The problem there is that Memphis doesn’t have a great rebounder to go up against Kansas’ Markieff Morris, plus the Tigers have little front court depth. Perhaps the best strategy is to go right at the Kansas bigs and get them in foul trouble. One thing Memphis does extremely well is get to the line. They rank #17 in free throw attempts per field goal attempts and shoot a respectable 73% from the line. In fact, Memphis gets 26% of their points from the stripe, attempting an average of 30 free throws per game. Aside from a bit of a slip up against UCLA, Kansas has looked outstanding. One story to watch is Jayhawk point guard Tyshawn Taylor returning to the New York area for the first time in a college game. Taylor played for Hall of Famer Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony High School, right across the Hudson River in Jersey City, NJ. Taylor has been tremendous handling the ball for Bill Self, averaging almost seven assists a game with a 2.31 A/T ratio. We said Memphis should look to get Kansas in foul trouble but you can bet the Jayhawks will try to do the same on their end. If Marcus Morris can stretch the defense a bit, leaving brother Markieff to go one-on-one with the 6’9 Witherspoon, Memphis’ leading scorer may pick up a couple early fouls. Pastner may turn to Tarik Black or Angel Garcia to defend Markieff as Witherspoon is more of a face up player. Black played 27 minutes against Western Kentucky on Saturday, perhaps getting him prepared to face Kansas tonight. Kansas gets 60% of its production inside the arc and foul trouble for Memphis will only make it tougher for the Tigers to compete with the deep and talented Jayhawks. Memphis will hope to catch Kansas on another off-night defensively as UCLA and Arizona each put up over 75 points on KU, but the matchups really favor the Jayhawks in this game. We’d be surprised if Memphis won but this could be a close game for a while. In the end, expect Kansas to pull away and win by about ten points.

#6 Michigan State vs. #14 Syracuse – 9:30 pm on ESPN (*****)

As for the nightcap, what a matchup this is. Michigan State, tested three times already, faces a Syracuse team that hasn’t faced a top notch opponent but will be playing in front of what is sure to be a highly partisan crowd clad in Orange this evening. Syracuse is undefeated but they’ve struggled offensively. The Orange shoot just 43% as a team, second to last in the Big East. Syracuse’s strength is inside with Rick Jackson (13/12) and Kris Joseph (14/5) but they’ll face a Spartan defense that allows just 39% shooting inside the arc. That’s bad news for Syracuse, ranked #281 in three point shooting at just under 30%. The Orange must be able to score inside to win so they’ll need solid efforts from Jackson and Joseph along with Scoop Jardine driving and dishing. Jardine averages seven assists per game and has to create in order for poor-shooting Syracuse to get easy buckets. Defensively, Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone hasn’t been as airtight as last year’s edition. Syracuse defends the three well but opponents get 39% of their points from deep, probably because of the volume of shots put up trying to shoot over the top of the zone. The Spartans shoot 43% from three so look for that to be a key factor in this game. With Korie Lucious handling the point for the most part, Kalin Lucas had had more opportunities to shoot the three ball at the two guard position. Lucas is connecting at a 44% clip and Tom Izzo’s top four scorers are all threats from long range. Syracuse has to contain the three, otherwise they’ll have very little chance to win this game. The problem for Michigan State has been turnovers. They average 18 per game and 20 turnovers against Duke doomed them. Sparty let a huge opportunity against the Blue Devils slip by the wayside as they out-shot and out-rebounded Duke on their home floor. They had 21 giveaways against Bowling Green on Saturday and Izzo actually said his team is “tired” from all the tough games early on. Turnovers will only keep the Orange in the game, but Michigan State can use its rebounding prowess to their advantage. They’ll have an edge overall but specifically on the offensive boards. Izzo loves sending each player to the glass, one of his trademarks over the years. Syracuse is vulnerable on the glass in their zone, ranking just #154 in opponents offensive rebounding percentage. Michigan State should be able to work the ball into the free throw line and paint against the zone with their guards, enabling Draymond Green to go to work. The Orange defense is just #128 in defending the two and Green, at 6’6/235, can take advantage of that. Averaging 14/9/4 a game, the versatile junior will be a vital part of MSU’s offensive attack tonight. He’s also expanded his game this year, taking 24 three’s and hitting 54%, giving State yet another weapon on the wing. We don’t know if Izzo’s “tired” comment is an omen but Michigan State is the deeper team and should use that to its advantage. Syracuse will no doubt come out amped up in front of a big crowd at MSG but they have to shoot better than they have been if they hope to win. This game has the makings of a classic, especially if Syracuse is able to tap into the energy of the Garden crowd. Expect this game to come down to the last few possessions with free throws and coaching strategy playing a huge role. Neither team shoots it well from the line so this game won’t be decided until the buzzer sounds. It’s going to be a great night in New York.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2010

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

A Look Back

  • Kendrick out at Memphis: There may not be a bigger headline from Conference USA this season than the news of Memphis cutting ties with their McDonald’s All-American Jelan Kendrick before the Tigers’ first regular season game.  It’s a surprising move for second-year coach Josh Pastner, who cut the start recruit for an overall indifference towards the team. According to reports, Kendrick missed at least two weeks of practice in the preseason for “personal reasons.” In addition, Kendrick had several opportunities to make good with the head coach and his staff, but failed due to an utter indifference toward the program’s rules. From a personnel standpoint, his departure is a disappointment to most fans, considering the hype around Pastner’s club has sky-rocketed from last season to this season, where the Tigers are slotted as a preseason top 20 team.  The absence of the 6’6 freshman, who seemed poised to start and possibly lead the team in scoring, leaves a hole in the Memphis lineup. However, the move speaks highly to Pastner’s belief in the team and their ability to win without Kendrick. Pastner’s confidence has paid off thus far, as the Tigers have jumped out to a 4-0 start, beating Miami 72-68 on national television the day after cutting Kendrick loose. Pastner continues to make character a high priority. During the season opener against Centenary, the 33-year-old coach didn’t play freshman Chris Crawford, citing academic reasons. Also, he kept star Wesley Witherspoon on the bench after he showed up late to practice. Three weeks into the college basketball season, one thing is clear in Memphis — if you want to get on the court, you have to play by Pastner’s rules.
  • Clarkson rising for Tulsa: Freshman Jordan Clarkson, of San Antonio, has emerged as a possible favorite for freshman of the year. The guard finished with two double-figure scoring games, while leading the Golden Hurricanes to a pair of wins. At week’s end, Clarkson was shooting 66% from the floor and above 50 percent from the field.  Tulsa was able earn wins over Oral Roberts and Missouri State due to Clarkson’s 17-point and 13-point efforts, respectively.
  • Culpepper continues to score: The Preseason Player of the Year is well on his way, as UTEP’s Randy Culpepper has already emerged as the conference’s top scorer. After only three games, the guard is averaging 20.3 points a game, shooting over 45 percent from both the field and the three-point range.
  • Dia lifts Mustangs to SMU Invitational victory: Papa Dia’s performance in the SMU Invitational was enough to cement the senior center as the tournament’s MVP, while the Mustangs (2-3) ran away with wins over Lamar and Portland State. Dia was also named C-USA Player of the Week, after averaging 18.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists in four games last week. The big man is shooting a crazy 71.8 percent from the field.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (4-0): Undoubtedly the best team in conference. Wins over Miami and LSU help create momentum as this team continues a rough out of conference schedule. So far, all the players have responded positively to the last minute departure of Jelan Kendrick. If they continue to win games, Josh Pastner will look like a coaching genius for cutting his prize recruit on the eve of the Miami game.
  2. Southern Miss (3-0): R.L. Horton shoulders too much of the scoring load, averaging 19.5 a game. However, the Golden Eagles are undefeated thus far and after trouncing South Alabama last week, everything is looking good. Angelo Johnson in the backcourt could pose a problem to many clubs come conference play.
  3. UAB (2-1): It is impossible not to mention Aaron Johnson when talking about UAB. The guard’s 9.3 assists per game are unmatched right now; the next best is Zamal Nixon of Houston with 6.8 a game. It doesn’t hurt that Cameron Moore is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds thus far. A close loss to Arizona State is a good measuring stick to where this team is. This week they will travel to Little Rock, Ark., to take on Arkansas.
  4. Central Florida (3-0): Although South Florida is a bottom tier Big East team, UCF still has to feel good about their out-of-conference upset. However, Marcus Jordan and Keith Clanton carry too much of the scoring burden at the moment. They are the only teammates, besides Tulsa’s Jordan Hurtt and Steven Idlet, which rank in the top ten scorers in conference. Clanton’s above 73 percent shooting percentage is impressive.
  5. UTEP (2-1): Randy Culpepper may be leading the conference in scoring, but the Miners will need to amp up their scoring all around if they want to topple New Mexico State and Georgia Tech this upcoming week.
  6. Houston (3-1): The Cougars remain in the top part of the conference, still relying on the magic from last season’s improbable run in the conference tournament. It helps that Maurice McNeil is averaging 11 rebounds a game, while registering 1.8 blocks a contest. A perfect 3-0 record will be tested in upcoming weeks, as the schedule gets tougher.
  7. Marshall (3-1): Marshall doesn’t boast any big wins, defeating Maryville and Glenville State by large margins. Tom Herrion’s club has a good record, but right now the out of conference schedule remains soft, which forces the question. How good can the Thundering Herd be if they aren’t competing against high quality opponents?
  8. Tulsa (2-1): The duo of Jordan Clarkson and Justin Hurtt give this team a lot of talent in the backcourt. Add in newcomer Scottie Haralson, who is currently averaging 15 points, a game, and the Golden Hurricanes could a trio of guards that make them a threat come March. Battles with UNLV and potentially Stanford (if not Murray State) loom.
  9. Tulane (3-1): Kendall Timmons is having an outstanding start to the year, averaging 13.7 points in the conference. In addition, he is second in the conference in rebounds (11.3 rpg) and first in steals (3 spg). However, the Green Wave have beaten up on lowly Maryville and Centenary, so it is hard to tell what kind of a team they are at this moment.
  10. SMU (2-3): The Mustangs are the only team with a losing record in conference. However, that will most likely change with Wayland Baptist coming in on Wednesday. Not an ideal early start for SMU, but stout performances by senior center Papa Dia has people excited.
  11. Rice (3-1): Projected to be one of the worst teams in the conference by most analysts, the Owls have jumped off to a quick start, but don’t be fooled by the record. Last week’s 75-58 win over St. Gregory’s is nothing to get excited about. North Texas comes into tonight and should prove to be a good measuring stick. Arsalan Kazemi is currently leading the conference with 12 rebounds per game.
  12. East Carolina (3-2): Two losses to North Carolina State and Charlotte should have them ranked higher, but considering whom they have beaten, East Carolina is still a low tier team in this conference.

A Look Ahead

  • Memphis’ schedule only gets tougher: Surviving Miami and LSU wasn’t easy, however Memphis can’t be looking for a breather just yet. The team’s out of conference schedule only gets tougher from here.  The December schedule features a game against a tough Western Kentucky team, which is followed by games against Kansas and Georgetown. In addition, the Tigers will hit the road later this season to take on Tennessee and Gonzaga. Overcoming Miami’s backcourt tandem of Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant as Memphis did in the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon is a good sign for what is a very young and inexperienced backcourt. Freshmen Joe Jackson and Will Barton will be relied upon as the season progresses, an will certainly be tested during a tough opening stretch. Also, the duo has had to deal with the departure of the aforementioned Kendrick, which only increases the pressure.
  • UTEP enters pivotal nonconference stretch: At 2-1, the UTEP Miners could be looking at a sub-.500 record if they can’t pull out a key victory over either New Mexico State or Georgia Tech. Tonight UTEP hosts NMSU at 7:05 CST, while they travel to Atlantic City on Friday to play in the Legends Classic Championship where they will take on Georgia Tech. UTEP advanced to the championship in Atlantic City after a home victory against Western Carolina last week in the Legends Classic Regional’s.
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RTC Conference Primers: #9 – Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 28th, 2010

Steve Coulter of the DU Clarion is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Memphis (15-1)
  2. UTEP (14-2)
  3. UAB (12-4)
  4. Marshall (10-6)
  5. Southern Mississippi (9-7)
  6. Houston (8-8)
  7. Tulsa (8-8)
  8. East Carolina (6-10)
  9. Southern Methodist (6-10)
  10. Central Florida (5-11)
  11. Tulane (2-14)
  12. Rice (1-15)

All-Conference First Team

  • G: Justin Hurtt, Tulsa, Sr.
  • G: Randy Culpepper, UTEP, Sr. (Preseason Player of the Year)
  • F: Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis, Jr.
  • F:  Gary Flowers, Southern Mississippi
  • F/C: Will Coleman, Memphis, Sr.

All-Conference Second Team

  • G: Brock Young, East Carolina, Sr.
  • G: Joe Jackson, Memphis, Fr.
  • G/F: Will Barton, Memphis, Fr.
  • F: Jeremy Williams, UTEP, Jr.
  • F/C: Papa Dia, SMU, Sr.

Memphis has a talented stable of young talent, including the recently-cleared Will Barton. (bouncemag.com)

Impact Newcomers

Several freshman and transfer players will suit up for C-USA squads this season, but three that have grabbed everyone’s attention before the season has gone under way.

  • Charles Carmouche, SG, Memphis: The junior transfer from New Orleans is a sharpshooter who can be the difference-maker late in the season. He is eligible to play right way, as the Privateers dismantled their program and moved to Division III status.
  • Scottie Haralson, G, Tulsa: The UConn transfer could get a lot of playing time and be one of those studs that people talk about at the end of the season. Of course, it really depends whether he is cleared to play.
  • Joseph Young, G, Houston: The freshman was a Parade All-America Third-Team selection from Yates High School. He is a talented young guard in a class with athletic forwards that makes Houston a contender in the conference once again. The infusion of a guy like Young into the lineup could spark a team looking for a playmaker. Young was the Texas Gatorade Basketball Player of the Year last season.

What You Need to Know

  • There are six first-year coaches in the league this season; Tim Floyd getting hired at UTEP was probably the biggest offseason coaching move.
  • The Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championships will be held in El Paso, giving UTEP a slight home court advantage against their conference opponents. The first game tips off on Wednesday, March 9. The tournament ends on Saturday, March 12 and the final will be broadcasted on CBS.
  • UAB’s Aaron Johnson enters the season in need of 173 assists to become the school’s all-time leader. 597 assists is currently the record and the senior point guard leads a well-balanced UAB squad that could emerge as an at-large dark horse. The 5’8 point guard finished his junior year averaging 9.6 points per game, 4.8 assists per game, and 2.5 rebounds per game.

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The RTC Big Four State Tournament: First Round (day 2)

Posted by rtmsf on September 2nd, 2010

Yesterday we introduced our 2010 RTC Big Four State Tournament, and it was great to see some of the responses and feedback on it.  We’re convinced this is going to be a fun series.  Today we’re back for the second day of First Round games (the right side of the below bracket), including our analysis and projected winner, but we encourage you guys to make your picks for each game in the accompanying polls.

In case you missed yesterday’s post explaining what we’re talking about, here’s our selection criteria:

  1. Similar to the Fanhouse post, we picked the top four programs in each of the 33 states (including DC) with at least that many D1 universities.
  2. We then chose the top sixteen states based on the current status and power of those four programs within each state.
  3. Next, we chose a starting lineup ”dream team” of players from those programs in each state, thinking about how to best integrate them by position (three guards & two bigs; or vice versa).
  4. We also chose two subs — one guard and one big man — as well as a head coach.
  5. We limited each school to two starters and one bench player for a maximum of three per team (sorry, Duke).  We also made sure to include at least one player from each of the four chosen programs (hi, Seattle).
  6. Finally, we seeded the sixteen teams into our bracket and analyzed the matchups.  We encourage you to use the polls below to do likewise.

#2 North Carolina vs. #15 California

The first thought we had when analyzing this matchup is… that’s all you got, Cali?  Good grief — the nation’s most populous state by far can only muster a lineup of players that includes Jorge Gutierrez as a starter?   No offense to the ponytailed energizer bunny from Cal, but this game is a mismatch from start to finish.  Sadly, even if we had included every single one of California’s 24 D1 schools and added some studs like Stanford’s Jeremy Green, LMU’s Drew Viney and Vernon Teel, Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster, San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver and the St. Mary’s backcourt of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavadova, the Tar Heel Staters still wipe the floor with this team.  Maybe California could draft Kobe Bryant, Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry to their squad?  There’s simply too much talent on Coach K’s team from top to bottom (sound familiar?) for his team to sweat this one too terribly much.  The only area that North Carolina has a problem with California is in the post, where SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard can take advantage of the slighter frames of the NC bigs to put in some work.  But the speed, athleticism and scoring punch of the #2 seed is far too powerful here.  North Carolina rolls in a blowout.

RTC Choice: North Carolina 82, California 59.

#7 Washington vs. #10 Tennessee

 

The matchups at the two guard spots and the wing are tantalizing in this game. The fatal flaw with the boys from the Volunteer State is their lack of a true point guard. Adding Melvin Goins or Brad Tinsley to the roster would have meant sacrificing one of Wesley Witherspoon, Scotty Hopson, Jeffery Taylor or bench ace John Jenkins, and it’s hard to blame coach Pearl for not making that move. Luckily for him, his team is loaded with intriguing first round talent, albeit at times inconsistent and frustrating talent. It also helps that Washington’s point man, Isaiah Thomas, isn’t much of a distributor either. Although Elias Harris may be limited by the length of Taylor, it’s his Zag teammate Robert Sacre that’s primed for a monster performance being guarded by Brian Williams at 2-3 inches shorter and the inexperienced Tobias Harris. Plus, we haven’t even mentioned Klay Thompson, a popular choice for Pac-10 Player of the Year.  It’ll be a well-played back-and-forth game, but we have the Washingtonians moving on.

RTC Choice: Washington 81, Tennessee 77.

#3 Pennsylvania vs. #14 Wisconsin

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Memphis’ Barton Will Not Be Eligible Next Season

Posted by rtmsf on August 5th, 2010

Josh Pastner’s hopes in bringing Memphis back to national prominence in the 2010-11 season took a major hit with the reported news on Wednesday evening that  one of his first five-star recruits, 6’6 wing Will Barton from Baltimore, Maryland, is unlikely to be academically eligible this year.  According to several sources, the issue befalling Barton relates to the fact that he attended four high schools in four years (an automatic red-flag for the NCAA eligibility center) and may not have completed the NCAA-mandated eight semesters of coursework.  He plans to appeal the decision, but he’s going to have trouble meeting the criteria required by the NCAA as his transcript has been referred to as a “total mess” by Gary Parrish (based in Memphis).  Barton must see the writing on the wall, as he has already tweeted out his feelings on the matter:

The obvious answers to his question about where to go from here are threefold: the NBDL, Europe, or stick around Memphis in the Renardo Sidney mold and try to play in 2011-12.  Although few draft sites have Barton as a potential first or second-rounder in next year’s NBA Draft, there has been talk of him becoming a one-and-done player; but as Sidney well knows, scouts don’t like it much when they can’t see players in live-game conditions for a year.  The NBDL and Europe are fraught with their own specific risks.  We certainly wish him well, but it doesn’t appear that he will be playing college basketball at Memphis next year, or possibly ever.

As for the Tigers, the loss of Barton, expected to fill in at the shooting guard position for the departed Elliot Williams, is a significant blow to a team that returns only a handful of regulars from last year’s 24-10 NIT team.  Among last year’s starters, only forwards Wesley Witherspoon and Will Coleman return, so much was expected from a star-studded recruiting class (#2 behind Kentucky) that included Barton and other guards Jelan Kendrick, Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson.  Obviously the remaining freshmen will need to step up, but Pastner has a difficult job ahead of him putting the pieces together if he hopes to have his team dancing next March.  There is plenty of talent available to him, but will there be enough lace-em-up talent with the loss of Barton to get the Tigers past UTEP and Southern Miss in Conference USA?

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Soon-To-Be Household Names: 12 Breakout Players for 2010-11

Posted by zhayes9 on July 2nd, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

One of my favorite parts of the college basketball season is watching players make the leap to stardom, from the game notes to the headline, from role player to All-America candidate. Every season players spring up in November and December with performances that make you wonder if they’ve finally harnessed all of that talent and are prepared to take off to unforeseen heights, a recent example being Wes Johnson’s virtuoso two-game clinic at MSG against California and North Carolina. It was Jacob Pullen emerging as a top scorer in the loaded Big 12. It was Austin Freeman pouring in 33 in a huge comeback win over Connecticut. It was Darington Hobson leading the Mountain West champs team in scoring, rebounds and assists or Jordan Crawford scoring 87 points in three NCAA Tournament games. Who will those bust-out performers be next season? Here are my most likely candidates:

Marcus Morris, F, Kansas- On a team with Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry, any Kansas fan will tell you that during more than one stretch in 2009-10, Marcus Morris was their most reliable player. Coach Bill Self expects Morris to break out and become a bona fide star and likely first round pick, forming a dynamic inside-outside duo with incoming freshman Josh Selby and the many wings at Self’s disposal this season. Morris averaged 13/6 in around 25 MPG as a sophomore despite all of that talent around him and I don’t believe it’s a stretch he could boost those totals to 18/9 next season. He’s also shown outstanding efficiency in his game- 57% FG, 66% FT (not bad for a college PF and up 6% from his first year), along with rankings of #52 in offensive rating and #62 in efficient FG% in the nation. Morris is a solid rebounder and even has displayed improving range on his jumper. Expect Morris to be one of the main reasons the Jayhawks remain atop the Big 12 even after their numerous personnel losses.

Morris, along with Josh Selby, will lead the KU attack

Kris Joseph, F, Syracuse- Quick trivia question: Who was the third leading scorer on last year’s Syracuse squad after Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins? The answer is the mega-talented Kris Joseph, a slashing swingman from Montreal that has Jim Boeheim already expecting big things heading into his junior season, similar vibes from the Hall-of-Fame coach that we heard last summer regarding Wesley Johnson (and look how that worked out). Joseph has all of the athletic tools to mold into a lottery pick before our very eyes and lead a Syracuse team to back-to-back Big East titles. His first-step quickness is outstanding and Joseph could live at the free throw line this season if his aggressiveness is maintained. Sure, the mid-range shooting game needs improvement, but anyone who watched Joseph score seven of the last ten Orange points in a road win over Georgetown last February knows it’s all about commitment and dedication. If Boeheim pushes the right buttons- and why would we believe otherwise?- watch out.

Terrell Holloway, G, Xavier- Everyone remembers Crawford’s shooting display against Kansas State, but it was fellow guard Terrell Holloway’s clutch buckets and nerve-wracking free throws that kept Xavier breathing time and time again. Holloway will now have to take over as the Musketeers’ go-to offensive threat with both Crawford and senior forward Jason Love on their way out. Holloway saw his minutes jump from 20 to 30 per game in his sophomore season and made newly minted head coach Chris Mack seem awfully smart- his FG% jumped 5% and his scoring average more than doubled. Holloway notched 26 in the crosstown Cincy rivalry game, dropped 20 on LSU, 24 on Richmond and 22 on Dayton, so it’s not as if Holloway is beating up on the dregs of the non-conference schedule. A name still relatively unknown to the casual college hoops fan, Holloway should change that wisdom this season.

Jordan Williams, F, Maryland- The departures of seniors Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne means diaper dandy Jordan Williams is suddenly the focal point of a Terps offense that will look to relish an underdog role for 2010-11. Williams certainly showed signs he can become an impact big man in the ACC in just his second season at College Park. The headline player of last year’s recruiting class, Williams nearly averaged a double-double and shot over 50% as a freshman in one of the toughest conferences in the nation. Now it’ll be Adrian Bowie, Sean Mosley, Dino Gregory and the baby-faced Williams that will have to lead the push. Williams is the youngest and has the highest ceiling of the pack: a bulky 6’10, 260 pound frame, a high basketball IQ, tremendous rebounding instincts and advanced post moves for a player his age. If his 18/5 on 8-12 FG against Trevor Booker and Clemson, his 15/11 against Brian Zoubek and Duke or his 21/17 in the opening round against Houston are any indication, Williams is the next star for the Terps, and that star could shine as soon as this winter.

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Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by jstevrtc on January 26th, 2010

James Vickers is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

In what has been a crazy year defined by change for Conference USA, this past week in Conference USA basketball was no different. A streak ended, there is a new outright conference leader for the first time in four years, and there is a freshman who doesn’t go to Memphis that is grabbing national headlines. Marshall showed its conference-mates that they are a legitimate contender, even if they did go 0-2 for the week. Was losing a game addition by subtraction for Memphis? The Tigers had a streak end that we all know lasted for four years; however, the way they bounced back in their game against Houston, is the monkey off their back for the year? What is wrong with Tulsa? Is UTEP now the team to beat in conference play? Can the conference show any form or consistency whatsoever?

Many questions can be asked about conference play from the past week. I hope to tackle a number of these in the upcoming team capsules. What we did find out was that the conference race this year will go down to the wire. The parity in conference play will make for a better chance of multiple bids from CUSA.

UAB (5-0, 17-2)

The Blazers are off to the best start in school history since the 1985-86 and 1993-94 campaigns. The Blazers can also be considered this years “Cardiac Kids” and the school should consider giving free EKG’s to their fan base plans to watch their games night after night. Trailing with 5:30 left in the second half against Southern Miss (53-47) and going almost seven minutes without a field goal in the second half against Marshall, the Blazers showed their resiliency and fought through to come out of the week 2-0 and become co-leaders of the conference with Tulsa. Junior Elijah Millsap (younger brother of Utah Jazz F Paul Millsap) continues his solid conference play, registering his league best 10th double-double against Southern Miss but was held in check against a longer and more athletic Marshall. UAB will continue to rely heavily on their guard play from Millsap, using his size and strength to get to the basket with ease in a conference where size at the guard position is at a premium. Aaron Johnson will be the “Big Man on Campus” this week for the Blazers, hitting the game winner against Southern Miss and canning five free throws in the final five minutes of play against Marshall to help seal the win. UAB will continue to need this type of play from their guards Johnson and Millsap if they want to continue to lead CUSA as the play of their low post players has left people desiring more.  Howard Crawford continues to have a solid season (12.5/4.8) against Marshall with 19 pts and 8 rebs. The rest of league play will be much easier for the Blazers if they can rely on low post scoring from Crawford and the continued emergence of Johnson since his streaky beginning to the season. While UAB might not be the deepest or most talented team in CUSA, they have been battle-tested in out-of-conference play. The Blazers have a home-and-home remaining with Memphis and UTEP, and home games against Tulsa and Houston. The bulk of their schedule remains, but a regular season conference title is not out of the question.

Tulsa (5-0, 16-3)

The Golden Hurricanes struggled this week against what can only be defined as inferior opponents. Tulsa trailed by as much as 15 in a game where, to be honest, Oral Roberts should not have been on the court with them. But in rivalry games like the Mayor’s Cup, anything can happen. Should Tulsa worry from this game? I think so. Against a smaller, faster team, the Golden Hurricanes were clearly out-hustled in this game. Tulsa, who led the country in rebounding differential at 9.9 RPG, was out-rebounded with Jerome Jordan in foul trouble and on the bench for most of the game. Tulsa trailed in this game for almost 34 minutes. The Golden Hurricanes shot 22% behind the arc and a paltry 61% at the free throw line. Fast-forward to the Rice game, and the numbers aren’t much better. Tulsa’s trouble from behind the arc continued, shooting just 18%, and 68% from the free throw line. Can this be considered just a mid-season slump, or are there underlying issues that coach Doug Wojcik must take care of as the bulk of conference play remains and a date against Duke looming in the near future (Feb. 25.)

Marshall (4-1, 15-4)

In what can be described as a moral victory in the mold of Memphis’ game versus Kansas, Marhsall lost to West Virginia this week, 68-60. This game will be used as a measuring stick for the Marshall coaching staff down the road. Hassan Whiteside continues his assault on college basketball this year, turning in a solid outing against the Mountaineers with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. The Herd used a stifling zone in the first half that held the Mountaineers without a field goal for the first five minutes of the game. The use of this zone will come in handy in CUSA play against the likes of Memphis, UTEP, and Tulsa, who all like to drive to the basket and pound the ball down low. Against UAB, the Herd held the Blazers without a field goal for almost seven minutes in the second half, yet could not make it over the hump to finally take the lead for good. The Herd struggled mightily from behind the arc against UAB’s man defense, shooting just 11%, and only 59% from the free throw line. Youth can be blamed for many of the mid-season struggles that Marshall had this past week. With a Wednesday game this week against Memphis, Herd fans will finally be able to see…is this the year we make it over the hump, or will we have to wait another year?

Memphis (4-1, 14-5)

The streak is over. The world is ending in Memphis, some fans would say. Not the time to get down on your Tigers,  Memphis. Memphis’ failure to execute down the stretch cost the Tigers the game against UTEP. Alternating between man defense and a solid zone, UTEP hit some amazing shots down the stretch and the ball just didn’t bounce the Tiger’s way on Wednesday night. Tiger fans should take solace in the play of Pierre Henderson-Niles and Wesley Witherspoon. Showing a renewed toughness, Witherspoon has begun to use his size and versatility to get to the basket for shots and rebounds. Against UTEP, Witherspoon totaled 12/4 and against Houston he tallied 20/6 in what was his best line of the year. Niles has produced solid numbers as well over the past week with 7/9 and 8/7. This developing low post presence for the Tigers bodes well down the line. The breakout half for Roburt Sallie against Houston also is a welcome sign for coach Josh Pastner. While earning just three points in the first half against the Cougars, Sallie finished with 20/7. It was a welcome sight for Tiger fans that their players did not show any signs of a hangover against Houston, and actually showed new signs of life. You never want to lose, but especially not to UTEP where former Memphis coach Tony Barbee currently resides. But after this loss, the Tigers seemed to play a little less tight and enjoyed the game more. The final Memphis box score for the game:

MEMPHIS TIGERS
STARTERS MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
Pierre Henderson-Niles, F 24 4-7 0-0 0-3 1 7 0 1 1 2 1 8
Roburt Sallie, G 36 4-10 3-8 9-12 2 7 4 1 0 0 1 20
Wesley Witherspoon, G-F 29 7-11 2-2 4-6 2 6 2 2 2 2 5 20
Elliot Williams, G 23 3-3 0-0 4-6 0 0 1 0 0 2 4 10
Doneal Mack, G 34 7-11 2-4 1-1 1 2 5 1 2 1 3 17
BENCH MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
Willie Kemp, G 30 4-5 2-2 1-2 0 0 4 2 0 4 2 11
Will Coleman, F 18 1-2 0-0 2-5 2 6 0 0 1 0 4 4
D.J. Stephens, G-F 6 0-0 0-0 2-4 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 2
TOTALS FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
30-49 9-16 23-39 8 28 16 7 6 12 20 92

One could make the simple assumption early in the year that as Elliot Williams went, so did the Tigers. If Williams was on the bench, this would equal bad news. Against the Cougars, Williams was on the bench for approximately 17 minutes. This night, your role players stepped up and contributed. Could this be the game that finally turns the corner for many of these players? Solid contribution from Witherspoon on a game-by-game basis will propel the Tigers to the next level. Contribution on a nightly basis from either Doneal Mack or Roburt Sallie will also push the Tigers to further success. With games on the horizon against Marshall, UAB and Gonzaga, the Tigers will need solid contribution from their entire core to come out on the winning side in this stretch.

UTEP (4-1, 13-5)

Randy Culpepper could be the poster boy for the saying “size doesn’t matter.” Culpepper, it seems, has the green light to take a shot once he crosses onto the Miners’ side of the court. Culpepper (17/3/2) had a solid night in his return home to Memphis along with the two other Memphians on the UTEP bench, ending Memphis’ run on Conference USA. Playing with chips on their shoulders, Jeremy Williams chipped in 18/12, Culpepper tossed in 13/1 and Arnett Moultrie added 6/4 but was solid on the defensive end, keeping the Memphis wing players from driving to the basket. Is there much that can be taken from this game? I believe it further displayed what many have known all year about the Tigers. The trio of Williams, Moultrie and Derrick Caracter exposed Memphis’ lack of depth in the front court, and their energy around the basket on the offensive end of the court tipped the scales in their favor. Down the stretch, being able to alternate subbing between Caracter and Moultrie will spell big success for the Miners in conference play. If they can continue to get solid play from Williams after his breakout game against the Tigers, the Miners will be a top contender for the regular season title. If, however, the Memphis game was an aberration, with players playing over their heads coming home to play in the forum, this could spell trouble. Against a solid UCF team, UTEP took a step in dispelling this train of thought. Once again winning the rebounding battle against the Black Knights, the Miners leaned on their sharp shooter Randy Culpepper who threw in 39. With games against UAB and Houston on the schedule in the upcoming week, we will know more about the consistency of the Miners and where they really stand.

Houston (3-3, 10-9)

Aubrey Coleman will be a rich man this time next year. Having the opportunity to watch him a number of times this year, it is a joy to see him shoot the basketball. Not having much of a supporting cast, Coleman continued his assault on the CUSA record books this week with 30 and 32, respectively, against UCF and Memphis. You know what you are going to get from this super scorer every game. The question for the Cougars is:  where is the rest of our offense going to come from? Kelvin Lewis has been streaky at best this year. Most teams that have played the Cougars seem to take the stance that Coleman will get his points and we are not going to let the rest of the team beat us. Lewis tossed in 14/6 against the Black Knights but was a non-factor in the Memphis game. The other factor in Houston not having the year many thought they would is the inconsistent play of their low post players Maurice McNeil, Kahmell Broughton, Kendrick Washington, and Sean Coleman. McNeil has had solid games against UCF and Memphis, putting up 10/9 and 10/11, respectively, but he has received no help from any of the other players consistently throughout the year. If Houston wants to turn the corner for the rest of the year, S. Coleman, Broughton and Washington will need to put up better numbers off the bench to help the backcourt of Lewis and A. Coleman. This lack of production can be directly related to the close loss against the Black Knights and the blowout loss to the Tigers. Another thing that should worry the Cougars — though they usually take good care of the ball, the Tigers forced Houston into a new team high 16 turnovers.

UCF (2-3, 10-9)

“I wanna be like Marcus.” Marcus Jordan keyed the Black Knights’ big upset road victory Wednesday against Houston. Jordan tossed in 23 while A.J. Tyler had a career high 19 as the Black Knights used the same stifling defense they used to swarm Marshall in that close loss at home. UCF held the usually hot-shooting Cougars to 25% from the field. This game could be huge down the road as Houston and UCF could be jockeying for that 6-7 position come conference tournament time. Suffering from what could have been a hangover from the Houston win, UCF ran into a buzz saw on a hot streak called the UTEP Miners. This game further exploited what was said in the conference round up about the Black Knights, their lack of size. Out-rebounded 42-30, and held scoreless for the first five minutes of the second half, UCF cannot afford these lapses in offensive productivity and this lack of effort on the boards. UCF must use the same tactic that Memphis has had to use this year: rebounding by committee. That did not happen in their game against UTEP.  UCF has to capitalize against teams at home where they can use the crowd noise from their wonderful fan base. While not out of the race yet, UCF needs to use their speed in the back court to create havoc for teams with larger, slower guards.

SMU (1-3, 8-10)

While not a signature victory on which Matt Doherty can hang his hat, the Mustangs’ win over Rice can be a solid step forward for an SMU program looking for relevance in the league. Showing perseverance down the stretch when Rice had closed the gap to 69-65, SMU used solid free throw shooting to get their first conference win of the year against a team that pushed Tulsa and Memphis throughout their games with them. Getting solid production from Papa Dia and Derek Williams for most of the year, SMU can use this win as a building block and should key on games remaining against UCF, Tulane, Rice and East Carolina to build a conference record that will be respectable come tournament time.

Southern Miss (1-4, 11-8)

Larry Eustachy should be proud of the way his young team is performing in the face of adversity this year. Having already taken UTEP and Memphis to the wire earlier in the season, Southern Miss took it on the road to UAB. Gary Flowers continues to play outstanding basketball in his first year in CUSA. Currently, Flowers is fourth in CUSA in blocks per game (4) and sixth in rebounding per game (8). Flowers (25/10) was the only contributor for the Golden Eagles in that heartbreaking 57-56 loss to the Blazers, though USM used their man defense to hold the Blazers to 27% from behind the arc and only 40% from the field. If Southern Miss continues to play solid defense throughout the year, they will knock a few teams off down the road.

Tulane (1-4, 6-12)

Tulane dropped two games this week when it should have been 1-1. Tulane traveled to Marshall on Wednesday and dropped that game by ten, then came back home and dropped a game to a rebuilding ECU team by 15. Many of the Green Wave’s problems can be attributed to key injuries to starting PG Kevin Sims (12/3/3) and junior swingman Aaron Holmes (7/4/2.) Senior Asim McQueen has tried to pick up some of the slack for the Green Wave with a solid 20/10 effort against the Thundering Herd of Marshall and then faded back to obscurity with a 0/5 effort against ECU. This form of inconsistency has plagued a depleted and undersized Green Wave team all year. With Sims out, there is no real floor leader for the Green Wave or comforting factor for coach Dave Dickerson. Tulane is in for a long stretch down the road with these key injuries.

Players of the Week

Wesley Witherspoon (v. UTEP 12/4/1, v. Houston 20/6/2)

While this might seem like an off-the-wall pick, I am making this pick based on what it means to your respective team. Memphis has been looking all year for a consistent second scorer, and an alternate playmaker behind Elliot Williams. Witherspoon is slowly starting to turn the corner for Josh Pastner in providing that for his team. The question about Witherspoon is whether or not he can bring it every game, and be there mentally for the whole 40 minutes. Since the East Carolina game, “Spoon” has averaged 15 PPG and almost 5 RPG. This total would have possibly been higher if it wasn’t for an injury scare in the Rice game. If Witherspoon can provide that low post versatile wing compliment to Pierre Henderson-Niles on a consistent basis the rest of the year, they sky is the limit for the Tigers.

Aubrey Coleman (v. UCF 30/9/2 v. Memphis 32/4/1)

Of course I wasn’t going to leave off a player that puts up these types of numbers, even if they are in a loss. A 6’4 physical specimen that can create matchup problems at the 2, Aubrey Coleman is wowing many scouts at the next level with his solid shooting stroke and consistently beating most team’s best and second-best defenders at one time. Against UCF, Coleman showed his ability to get to the basket not only to score, but to get rebounds as well. Against a Memphis team that threw top perimeter defenders Roburt Sallie and Elliot Williams at him, Coleman threw in 32 while shooting 8-9 from the free throw line. That is possibly the most telling statistic about Coleman. While he might be shooting a lower percentage from the field, many of these misses are on drives to the basket where he gets fouled. He is shooting 72% from the free throw line, but over the last five it’s closer to 85%. If you have an opportunity to see Mr. Coleman play on TV or in person anytime soon, go watch this baller. He is well worth the admission.

Freshman/Newcommer of the weekHassan Whiteside (v. West Virginia 18/6/2 blocks, v. 11/13/5 blocks)

This week, Hassan Whiteside was able to show on ESPN why many are beginning to believe he might be a one-and-done diaper dandy. Against Da’Sean Butler and West Virginia’s frontcourt, Whiteside showed an athletic ability to get to the basket and rebound against bigger more experienced defenders. UAB used double teams against Whiteside but he contributed in other areas, like rebounding and altering shots under the basket. While both of these games were losses for his team, without Whiteside, Marshall is not the same team. Teams now have to alter game plans for Whiteside and in my mind that makes you an all-conference caliber of player.

Games of the Week

Tulsa v. UAB on Tuesday, January 26

This game could be a preview of the Conference USA Championship matchup. A few teams could have a say in that statement between now and then, but this game will be a good one. UAB cannot afford to fall behind by double digits in this one and Tulsa is a deep and talented team that can slow the game down if need be, and limit possessions for the Blazers. The key to the game will be whether or not UAB can slow down Jerome Jordan like Oral Roberts and Rice did with smaller big men and double teams. Tulsa leads the league in rebounding, but UAB is not far behind. Both teams take care of the ball, averaging only 13 TOPG a piece. Elijah Millsap will have another opportunity to shine and will not disappoint as Ben Uzoh will have his hands full.

Since this game’s in Birmingham and with the the home crowd behind the Blazers, UAB comes out on top 65-59

Memphis v. Marshall on Wednesday, January 27

Can Memphis contain Hassan Whiteside? If they can, how will they contain Trey Wilkerson? The Memphis frontcourt will be tested again, just like against UTEP. The emergence of Wesley Witherspoon is a positive for the Tigers and Pierre Niles’ play has been a pleasant surprise. The Tigers will need solid play from Will Coleman to match the athleticism of Whiteside when Niles is on the bench. I expect Memphis to play zone for a portion of this game and force the Herd to try and beat them from the outside, if the Memphis bigs get into foul trouble. Memphis has not always had an easy time playing in Huntington so this will be another good game between top teams in CUSA.

Marshall comes out on top in this one, 68-64.

UTEP v UAB on Saturday, January 30

UAB gets another big game at home in terms of conference positioning. UTEP has played well on the road this year in conference so far and I do not expect this to change. The front court of Arnett Moultrie and Derrick Caracter will challenge the Blazers more than Jerome Jordan of Tulsa, because Moultrie and Caracter are much more polished offensively than Jordan. Christian Polk and Randy Culpepper will extend the UAB man defense and I believe it will be too much for UAB. An ESPN analyst made the comment that UAB was the most talented team in CUSA; I tend to disagree. If Caracter can continue to play with his head on straight and play team basketball, UTEP can be a scary prospect.

UTEP wins another one on the road in an up and down affair, 85-79.

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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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2009-10 Conference Primers: #8 – Conference USA

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2009

seasonpreview

RTC is seeking a 2009-10 correspondent for Conference USA.  If you’re interested, please email us at rushthecourt@yahoo.com

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Tulsa (13-3)
  2. UTEP (12-4)
  3. Memphis (12-4)
  4. Houston (11-5)
  5. Marshall (9-7)
  6. Southern Miss (8-8)
  7. Tulane (8-8)
  8. UAB (6-10)
  9. Rice (6-10)
  10. Central Florida (6-10)
  11. East Carolina (3-13)
  12. SMU (1-15)

All-Conference Team:

  • Aubrey Coleman (G), Houston
  • Arnett Moultrie (F/C), UTEP
  • Jerome Jordan (C), Tulsa
  • Ben Uzoh (G), Tulsa
  • Randy Culpepper (G), UTEP

Impact Newcomer. Will Coleman (F), Memphis

6th Man Kelvin Lewis (G), Houston (not a true “6th man” but could easily be on the first team)
cusa logo
 

What You Need To Know.  Everyone knows about Memphis’ off-season.  First and foremost, it’s important to know who’s breathing down Memphis‘ neck if they should falter like many are predicting.  Tulsa is a popular preseason pick because of the excellent senior duo of Ben Uzoh and Jerome Jordan, the latter being the popular pick for preseason CUSA Player Of The Year.  Ignore UTEP at your own peril, with a formidable inside-outside duo of their own in the 6’11 sophomore Arnett Moultrie and junior guard Randy Culpepper.  Houston boasts the best true guard combo with seniors Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis, both averaging around 19 PPG.  Even Marshall and Central Florida look to be improved this season.  Now, keep in mind, this is all IF Memphis actually loses a conference game (we still can’t get over their 61 straight CUSA wins) and trips up.  He might just be 31 years old, but new head coach Josh Pastner will surprise everyone with how easily he takes to his new job.  People might forget that Duke transfer Elliot Williams is eligible for the Tigers now, and he will provide immediate help along with the rim-kissing (literally…there are photos of this) 6’9 260-pound junior-college transfer Will Coleman.  This will be a fun conference to watch this season because the issue isn’t so much that Memphis is free-falling back to the rest of the conference — it’s the fact that the rest of the conference is actually catching up to Memphis.

Predicted Champion. Tulsa (NCAA Seed:  #7). The Golden Hurricane is our choice to supplant Memphis and take the title in Conference USA this season, as Doug Wojcik’s team has been waiting for this opportunity.  If John Calipari, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and so on were currently residing in Memphis, we wouldn’t be considering this, but Memphis’ loss is Tulsa’s gain because they have an exceptionally talented and experienced team returning this year.  Point guard Ben Uzoh and center Jerome Jordan enter the 2009-10 season as two of the best players at their position in the conference, and it’s easy to understand why: Uzoh did a little bit of everything last season, to the tune of 14.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, and 1.5 SPG in over 35 minutes per game, while Jordan continued to progress toward play-for-pay with 13.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and 2.6 BPG on 58.6% shooting from the field.  Justin Hurtt, Glenn Andrews and Steven Idlet also return as key contributors from a team that was 25-11 overall and 12-4 in CUSA, including three losses by a combined four points (especially tough was a buzzer-beating 1-point loss vs. Memphis).  Even if Memphis had remained intact, Tulsa would have still viewed the 2009-10 season as a likely NCAA one, it’s just that now they’re going in as the favorite.

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