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Conference USA Notebook

December 8, 2001 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Notebook

How big is too big?

With continual growth through its six years of expansion, Conference USA now stands at 14 teams, and as a result each team won’t play three other league members this season.

This little factoid is brought to your attention because a potential contest between Marquette and South Florida – which at this point in the season would be one of the league’s marquee matchups – won’t be happening unless the two teams meet in the conference tournament.

You can call me a fogey or a sentimentalist, but I seem to remember a time when teams in the same conference played each other at least once per season.

My little rant is relevant because Marquette and South Florida aren’t exactly two of the conference’s media darlings, but are tearing up their non-conference games and a potential matchup between the two teams would focus some much-deserved attention on two of the nation’s more underappreciated programs.

My proposal to fix this problem would be to have each C-USA school play nine games in their division and all seven teams in the other division. Each school would play three schools in their division twice and three other schools in their division once, with the schedule to rotate every year.

In other words, if Cincinnati plays Marquette, Louisville and Charlotte twice each this year, next year it would play those schools once and play DePaul, East Carolina and Saint Louis twice.

However, having each school miss three opponents every season ultimately impacts C-USA’s national profile and hurts a team like South Florida, which could boost its RPI by beating a good Marquette team.

Instead, we’ll have to imagine what the game would have been like. Maybe we can re-program the BCS computers to tell us which team would have won?

Speaking of Marquette and South Florida: Memphis, Cincinnati and Charlotte got all the hype coming into the season, but all the Golden Eagles and Bulls have done is defeat everyone they’ve faced.

Marquette has ascended to 17th in the AP rankings after winning its first eight games, including wins over Tennessee, Indiana and Gongaza en route to the Great Alaska Shootout championship.

The Golden Eagles aren’t just beating people – they’re blowing them out – winning 14 of 16 halves.

Meanwhile, South Florida was a fashionable sleeper pick in the conference, but its opponents have been getting the wake up call. The Bulls (7-0) have posted their best start in school history. And they’ve also been blowing people out, including a record setting 70-point victory over Morris Brown, 127-57.

BB Walton and Altron Jackson have been a dominating 1-2 punch, scoring more than 35 points per game and giving opposing defenses fits. By season’s end the two will likely be the two highest scorers in C-USA’s history.

But with a Dec. 8 matchup against Florida looming, it’ll be interesting to see how South Florida matches up against one of the nation’s better teams.

Struggling early: Despite having a team that many people thought could compete for an NCAA Tournament berth, Alabama-Birmingham has stumbled to a 3-4 mark including losses to LaSalle, Richmond and Murray State.

If the Blazers fail to make the postseason again this year, look for the heat to be cranked up on coach Murry Bartow. In fairness to Bartow, it must be difficult to handle the pressure of coaching in an arena named for your father and trying to meet the expectations that come with it.

Wagner watch: Young Dajuan Wagner has been just as good as advertised in Memphis’ run to a 6-2 start, averaging more than 20 points a game, though the Tigers have had their ups and downs.

As might be expected with a young team, they’ve been up and down, but a key stretch of non-conference games awaits, including games against Mississippi, Tennessee, Temple and Arkansas, all of which will be televised on either ESPN or ESPN2.

Never underestimate the drawing power of young Mr. Wagner.

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