C-USA ShootAround: Can anyone challenge Memphis?
AP Photo/Ed Reinke
Can UAB create guard-centric "havoc"?
By Jeff Shelman
Special to ESPN.com
We have to come up with something for our personnel that can cause havoc for other teams.
--UAB coach Mike Davis
Five things to watch in '08-09
By Jeff Shelman
Special to ESPN.com
When Conference USA went from being the league that featured Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati and Memphis to being what it is today, C-USA has been the Tigers and everybody else. In the three seasons since the change, Memphis has gone 45-1 in league play and has won 33 consecutive regular-season C-USA games. Add in the C-USA tournament and Memphis has gone 54-1 against the rest of the league and its winning streak is at 42. The last time John Calipari's team lost to a C-USA opponent was March 2, 2006 at UAB. Will it continue? With Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey all gone, the Tigers aren't going to be quite as dominant as they were last season. Does that mean that UAB, Tulsa, Southern Miss, UTEP, Houston and the rest of the conference has a chance? The Tigers still have the most talent in the conference, but the gap isn't what it once was. • A multibid league?
In three years of the current conference alignment, Conference USA has earned exactly four NCAA tournament berths. Other than UAB's at-large berth in 2006, C-USA has been limited to only Memphis' three automatic berths. Last season, only four teams ended the regular season in the top 100 in the RPI. East Carolina, SMU and Rice all had sub-250 RPIs. Last season, only Memphis had a victory over a top 50 RPI team and the other 11 were a combined 0-18 vs. the RPI top 50 and a combined 7-32 against the top 100. If Conference USA is going to be more than simply the Tigers and everybody else, the other 11 schools are going to have to win some games of note. Tulsa, for example, has games this season against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and possibly Illinois. UTEP could potentially play two teams from the top six conferences at the Anaheim Classic. If C-USA teams can beat some quality opponents that will help the league's chances come March. • Can Tulsa build on the CBI?
There was some scoffing in the college basketball world when the College Basketball Invitational was announced. After all, if the NCAA tournament has the best 65 teams in the country and the NIT grabs the next 32, did there really need to be a tournament to determine just who was No. 98? Well, the CBI turned out to be a good thing for Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane won the best-of-three final against Bradley. Combine the CBI with a surprise run to the championship game of the C- USA tournament and a strong finish to the regular season, and Doug Wojcik's team went 15-4 after Feb. 6. How that will impact the 2008-09 season is unclear, but the Golden Hurricane players certainly learned more about what it takes to win. • A continuing trend
Coincidence or not, Conference USA seems to be a place where coaches get another chance. There's former Texas coach Tom Penders at Houston, former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy at Southern Miss., former North Carolina coach Matt Doherty at SMU and former Indiana coach Mike Davis at UAB. Now there's one more coach to add to that list. Less than two weeks after being fired at California, Ben Braun was hired at Rice. Braun, who previously led Cal and Eastern Michigan to the NCAA tournament, is one of only 17 active coaches with more than 500 victories. The Golden Bears were only 6-12 in Pac-10 play each of the past two seasons. • Thirty for the record
Entering their senior seasons, the Memphis duo of Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson has known little other than winning. In three seasons, the Tigers have won 104 games. If Memphis can win another 30 games this season -- certainly a good possibility -- the Tigers will have won more games in a four-year span than any team in NCAA history. Duke currently holds the record with 133 victories from 1998-2001. Memphis' 104 victories put the Tigers in a tie with Kentucky (1996-98) for the most wins in a three-year period. If Memphis is going to be a contender again for a deep tournament run, Dozier and Anderson are going to have to assert themselves offensively. Both have shown signs of being scorers and both were key parts in last season's success, but neither player averaged double figures in scoring.
If I were Conference USA commish
By Andy Katz
2008-09 Team CapsulesBy Jeff Shelman
Special to ESPN.com
Even when last season ended, it was unclear whether interim coach Mack McCarthy would return. Eventually, East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland gave McCarthy, who led Chattanooga to the Sweet 16 in the late '90s, the job on a less tenuous basis. The Pirates will again be very young as only two players have been in the program longer than two years. Sam Hinnant (11.0 ppg) is the conference's top returning 3-point shooter (40.4 percent). Houston
During the past three seasons, the high-scoring Cougars were among the top teams in the conference other than Memphis. This season, however, will be one of change for Tom Penders' team. Houston lost four starters from a year ago, and guard Kelvin Lewis (10.2 ppg) is the only returnee who scored in double figures. Junior college transfer Aubrey Coleman should make an immediate impact on the perimeter. Penders also added a pair of juco forwards in Qa'rraan Calhoun (who started at St. John's) and Sean Coleman. Marshall
The Thundering Herd have the potential to be one of the more interesting teams in C-USA. Four of the top five scorers from a year ago -- a season in which Marshall played better basketball down the stretch -- return. More interesting is that second-year coach Donnie Jones also has a trio of transfer players who will be eligible this season. That group includes former Purdue guard Chris Lutz, former Florida guard Brandon Powell and former Georgetown wing Octavius Spann. Memphis
John Calipari put together an impressive recruiting class this spring. In this case, however, we're not talking about landing players. When assistant coach Chuck Martin left for the head coach job at Marist and Derek Kellogg became the next coach at UMass, Calipari had significant holes to fill. He went out and landed two top recruiting assistants in Josh Pastner (from Arizona) and Orlando Antigua (from Pittsburgh). Those hires should help keep the Tigers continue to recruit at a high level. Rice
The best news for Rice is that the Owls will no longer be nomads thanks to renovations to the Autry Court. After playing home games at three different Houston-area venues, Rice moves back to campus and will play at the new building. New coach Ben Braun has a roster filled with returning players, but those players went 3-27 last season and didn't win a C-USA game. Rice will enter November's season opener against Portland St. with a 20-game losing streak. The Owls have not yet won a game in 2008. SMU
Matt Doherty, now in his third season leading the Mustangs, has a team that is very short on experience. SMU has only one senior and two juniors on its roster to go along with five sophomores and five freshmen. What SMU does have is a pretty good interior duo in 7-1 Bamba Fall and 6-9 Papa Dia. The two, who are both from Senegal, combined to average 23.3 points and 11.7 rebounds in C-USA play last season. A third Senegal native on the SMU roster is Georgia Tech transfer Mouhammad Faye. Faye, who averaged 3.9 points per game as a freshmen for the Yellow Jackets, will be eligible at the end of the first semester. Southern Miss
Larry Eustachy's team has as much experience returning as any team in C-USA, and Southern Miss certainly has the potential to finish among the league leaders. The Golden Eagles have their top seven scorers returning from a year ago. Jeremy Wise -- who has been an all-C-USA selection during each of his first two seasons -- is the primary offensive threat for Southern Miss. That said, R.L. Horton and Courtney Beasley each averaged in double figures for a team that seemed to get better as the season went along. Tulane
A bit of good news for Tulane: In Kevin Sims, the Green Wave has an effective point guard who can also score. But beyond Sims there are serious questions as last season's primary scoring option -- David Gomez -- is gone. Robinson Louisme made 60.2 percent of his shots a year ago to lead C-USA in field-goal percentage. He is going to have to be more assertive offensively as Tulane's other returners were role players a year ago, a season in which the Green Wave suffered an eight-game losing streak in league play. Tulsa
With guard Ben Uzoh (15.6 ppg) and center Jerome Jordan (10.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg), the Golden Hurricane have one of the better inside-out duos in Conference USA. Jordan, a 7-footer from Jamaica, set a single-season C- USA mark with 143 blocked shots. Entering his fourth season at Tulsa, Doug Wojcik is moving the Golden Hurricane program back in the direction it was in the 1990s. Tulsa returns two-thirds of both its scoring and rebounding from a team that went 16-5 after Feb. 1 and won the first College Basketball Invitational. UAB While much is known about Robert Vaden and Paul Delaney, the player on the UAB roster that has the potential to surprise some people is guard Terrence Roderick. Roderick fell off the radar a little bit when the NCAA declared him ineligible last season. The Philadelphia native, who was highly thought of coming out of high school, practiced with the Blazers while waiting for the NCAA's ruling. After that came in December, Roderick was no longer able to practice. The 6-6 Roderick, however, stayed in school and gained his eligibility. Central Florida Will Jermaine Taylor get any help? That's the biggest thing that Knights coach Kirk Speraw has to ensure between now and November. Taylor, a 6-4 shooting guard, is a good offensive player. A year ago, he finished fourth in C-USA and 23rd nationally in scoring at 20.8 points per game. Even with two other double-figure scorers on the UCF roster (both of whom are now departed), Taylor still led the Knights in scoring in 24 of 31 games. While returning forward Tony Davis and big man Kenrick Zondervan both played about 22 minutes a game last season, neither proved to be a major scoring threat. UTEP If the Miners are going to make another step and move into the C-USA's top tier, UTEP is going to have to be more than a team that just wins at home. Dating back to the 2006-07 season, the Miners have won just four of their past 19 true road games. One thing that could help is the prospect of improved rebounding. Only Houston gave up more rebounds than UTEP a year ago, but 7-foot Memphis transfer Kareem Cooper is eligible this season. The good news for the Miners is that Stefon Jackson -- who averaged 25 points a night in conference games -- returns.
2007-08 C-USA Standings
|Overall record||C-USA record|
#CBI berth For all the Conference USA news and notes, check out the conference page.
Top returning scorers
|Stefon Jackson, UTEP, Senior||23.6|
|Robert Vaden, UAB, Senior||21.1|
|Jermaine Taylor, UCF, Senior||20.8|
|Jeremy Wise, Southern Miss, Junior||18.7|
|Ben Uzoh, Tulsa, Junior||15.6|
Top returning rebounders
|Jerome Jordan, Tulsa, Junior||7.9|
|Gabe Blair, East Carolina, Junior||6.9|
|Lawrence Kinnard, UAB, Senior||6.8|
|Robert Dozier, Memphis, Senior||6.8|
|Papa Dia, Southern Methodist, Sophomore||6.5|