Checking in on… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011


Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

  • Central Florida Shocked By Houston For First Loss: Central Florida certainly didn’t look like a team that deserved to be undefeated in the first half of their Saturday 76-71 loss to Houston. The Knights couldn’t come back from a 36-21 deficit despite scoring 50 points in the second half. UCF struggled from the field, missing 31 shots and finishing 20-51 from the field, including 3-14 from the three-point arc. Houston’s Zamal Nixon led all scorers with 17 points, playing nearly the entire game.
  • UAB Wins In Triple OT In Conference Opener: It took three overtimes to decide the winner of UTEP-UAB on Saturday afternoon. In a nationally televised game, the Blazers and Miners went back and forth with UAB coming away with a much-needed 100-97 win in their conference opener. The Blazers had been beaten by more than 20 points earlier in the week by No. 1 Duke. Before that, the team had won five in a row. As for the Miners, they had been winners of ten of their last eleven until Saturday’s loss.
  • Conference USA Has Seven Ten-Win Teams: Conference USA has been drawing some serious attention around the nation, as it should, because it hosts seven ball clubs that have already accumulated ten wins. The teams within the conference played a tough non-conference schedule that featured wins against the Big Ten, ACC, SEC (five wins), Big 12, Big East and the Pac-10. In addition, the conference stables the son of the legendary Michael Jordan, Marcus, who has vaulted to the status of  C-USA “Player of the Year,” according to ESPN’s Andy Katz.
  • C-USA, Fox Agree To Contract: Earlier this week, Conference USA announced they had ended their TV agreement with ESPN in order to sign a new contract with Fox Sports. The deal starts with the 2011 football season and ends in 2016. According to a report in the Sports Business Journal, the contract will give the league $7 million per year in revenue. The league already makes that much from a television contract it has with CBS. The conference announced in a press release that it would have at least 20 regular season men’s basketball games aired on Fox.
  • Tulane gets 12th Win Against SMU To Stretch Streak To Six: Tulane’s December surge has carried into January, as the Green Wave have now won their first two conference games, including Saturday afternoon’s 79-70 victory of the SMU Mustangs. Kendall Timmons led all scorers with 26 points, but three other Tulane players finished in double-digits.
  • Thundering Herd Halted By Knights: After winning seven of eight, Marshall was defeated on the road in their conference opener against Central Florida on January 5. Marcus Jordan finished with 26 points, 18 of which came in the second half after the two squads were tied at halftime.
  • Struggling Tennessee Pounds Memphis by 19 In Midweek Contest: Tennessee struggled during the later weeks of December, but found their stride against Memphis on Wednesday, beating the Tigers 104-85. The Vols jumped out to an early lead, dominating 49-34 after the first half. Tobias Harris finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Vols.
  • Kazemi and Timmons split Player of the Week Honor: Arsalan Kazemi led Rice in back-to-back wins over LSU and TCU and was awarded with conference Co-Player of the Week alongside Tulane’s Kendall Timmons. Kazemi averaged 19.5 points and 12.5 rebounds for the Owls in the wins, getting the club over the .500 mark after early season struggles. As for Timmons, he dropped a career-high 33 points while also grabbing 19 rebounds in a December 30 win over Lamar.
  • Top-ranked Duke Blows Past UAB: Nolan Smith dashed the Blazers for 33 points earlier this week as Duke steamrolled UAB 85-64 to continue their undefeated rout of their non-conference schedule. For the Blazers, Jamarr Sanders led all scorers with 21 points, but the team was inconsistent all night, shooting under 40 percent from the field.

Power Rankings

  1. Central Florida (14-1, 1-1). Saturday afternoon’s lost hurts for sure, but the Knights are still the toast of the conference after winning its first 14 games. Marcus Jordan is playing as well as anybody in the conference.
  2. Tulane (12-3, 2-0). The Green Wave is surging currently and it’s playing as if it’s are the best team in the conference. Kendall Timmons is entering the Player of the Year conversation, averaging team high’s in both points (17.1) and rebounds (9.4). His 2.7 assists and 2.1 steals are very respectable as well.
  3. Memphis (12-3, 1-0). Everyone knows the Tigers are the most talented team in the conference, yet they are struggling hard right now, barely escaping East Carolina over the weekend. The team needs to find leadership and get healthy or they could miss the NCAA Tournament once again.
  4. UTEP (13-4, 1-1). Clearly tried their best to stay perfect in conference, but succumbed in the third overtime to UAB. The Miners are still contenders as long as Randy Culpepper is on the court. The senior scored 34 points on Saturday.
  5. UAB (11-3, 1-0). UAB is a balanced scoring team, however, Cameron Moore and Aaron Johnson have been a two-man show all season with Moore dominating the glass and Johnson controlling the open floor. Much was the same in UAB’s win over UTEP, where Moore finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds, while Johnson went for 26 points and 14 assists. The team finished with just 20 assists.
  6. Southern Miss (12-3, 1-1). It’s hard to believe that a team as solid as Southern Miss might be the sixth-best team in the conference. Gary Flowers has been sensational this season, scoring 21.2 points a game while grabbing 7.7 rebounds. The team is #12 in the nation in rebounding through Saturday’s games. However, they are coming off a thirty-point loss against Marshall, which looks bad.
  7. Marshall (11-4, 1-1). The Herd got a big win at home Saturday evening, crushing Southern Miss 95-65, however, they have two big tests coming up against Memphis (January 15) and West Virginia (January 19). If they are going to compete, the offense needs to run as smoothly as it has this season. The Herd is averaging 76.3 points per game.
  8. Houston (9-6, 1-1). The Cougars got itself back on the map by knocking of UCF. Houston uses nine to ten guys a game and that depth has helped them immensely, as they have seven players scoring more than six points per game.
  9. Tulsa (8-7, 1-1). The team has some nice wins over Stanford and TCU as well as closes loses to Wichita State and UNLV. Still, the team has struggled to be inconsistent. In addition they only have four players—Justin Hurtt, Steven Idlet, Scottie Haralson and Jordan Clarkson—who seem capable of playing at this level.
  10. Southern Methodist (9-6, 0-1). The Mustangs are one of the worst teams in the nation in rebounding despite Papa Dia’s presence. The senior forward has been the team MVP thus far, grabbing 8.4 rebounds a game to along with his 16.8 points a game.
  11. East Carolina (8-7, 0-1). Strong effort in game one against Memphis is a good sign for a team that has now lost five of its last six. Once a team in the middle of the conference standings, the Pirates have returned to the bottom.
  12. Rice (8-8, 0-2). Sophomore Arsalan Kazemi is making a strong case to end up on the first team all conference. The 6’7 forward and Iranian native has scored in double digits every game this season and has finished with a double-double eleven times.

A Look Ahead

  • Central Florida Travels To Southern Miss In Early Marquee Conference Battle: The Knights need to rebound from their first loss of the season, but it won’t be easy against an up and coming Southern Miss team that seems poised to make the NIT at the very least. If UCF wants to prove its legitimacy, they will have to deal with the adversity of overcoming a loss. The game is Saturday afternoon.
  • Tulane Hosts UTEP In Matchup of Major Individual Talents. Wednesday’s game between the Miners and the Green Wave could be the second great conference game of the year (the first was UTEP’s 3OT loss to UAB). Nobody is hotter in the conference then Tulane’s Kendall Timmons, while the Green Wave need to worry more about stopping the Miners’ Randy Culpepper. Both players have dazzled thus far.
  • Memphis In Rankings Jeopardy: The No. 22-ranked Memphis Tigers could be unranked for the first time this season after a rough week that featured a blowout loss to instate rival Tennessee and a bad-looking win against bottom dweller-East Carolina. The Tigers have struggled on offense, dealing with injuries and transfers throughout the season.
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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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