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C-USA Notebook

February 6, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments

C-USA Notebook

What did we learn from Marquette’s through 74-60 pounding of Cincinnati on Feb. 2?

1. Cincinnati is a very good team and will, as I said before the season started, scare the bejeezus out of Duke or Maryland or Kansas, et al before the NCAA Tournament is over.

That said, this team wasn’t going to run the table in Conference USA. The Bearcats will probably lose two more games before the regular season is over. Anyone who thinks Cincinnati is one of the top six teams in the nation needs to reevaluate where they’re getting that estimate from.

2. Marquette is probably the most underrated team in the nation. It took beating Cincinnati to get the Golden Eagles back into the Top 25, which is a joke. And even then, only at No. 23.

Marquette was 18-3 coming into the Cincinnati game with wins against Indiana and Gonzaga, the same Gonzaga which just cracked the Top 10. Their losses are to Wisconsin, Wake Forest and Charlotte, not exactly cream puffs. How this team couldn’t be considered better than say – Indiana or Missouri or Illinois – is a total mystery.

3. We learned that team defense is the backbone of any successful college basketball team. You can cover up a lot of personnel problems by playing suffocating defense, which has been Cincinnati’s template all season, and Marquette is finally getting some credit for being an outstanding defensive team, definitely one of the 10 best in the nation.

4. We learned that the Friday, Feb. 22 rematch at Cincinnati is going to be a barnburner. I’m going on the record right now and saying it will probably be one of the most exciting regular-season games you’ll see all year. I’m thinking a 64-63 type affair with bodies flying all over the court and at least a dozen lead changes.

C-USA Slammed in National Magazine
An interesting article (“Con Men”) by Charles P. Pierce in the March 2002 issue of Esquire covers his recent disaffection with college basketball and Conference USA in particular. The piece makes some sharp points about how C-USA came into being and some of the infamous coaches in the league, including Rick Pitino, John Calipari and Bob Huggins.

Pierce argues that C-USA exists solely as a means to make money for its member schools, lacking a tradition of geography or culture. He saves most of his wrath for Calipari and Huggins, saying Calipari at U-Mass “ran a program that was quite literally a whorehouse; his players mingled with so many sharpies, lowlifes and dancers who didn’t perform for Alvin Ailey that the Minutemen’s Final Four appearance has been completely written out of the history of the tournament…his record indicates he shouldn’t be allowed on a college campus without an armed escort.”

Of Huggins, Pierce says, “(T)he grand old man of the league, with his zero percent graduation rate and his gift for recruiting the likes of Ruben Patterson (who, to be fair, didn’t get nailed on the sex rap until after he left), Art Long, who punched out a police horse, and Dontonio Wingfield, who once trashed his mother’s kitchen when she wouldn’t let him borrow the car.”

RPI Watch
The hot Charlotte 49ers are bounding up the Ratings Percentage Index, coming in with a ranking of 30th as of Feb. 4. After struggling to a .500 record in the non-conference slate, the young 49ers are 8-1 in C-USA, tied with Marquette and Cincinnati for first place in the American Division.

If the season ended today, C-USA would have either four or five teams in the NCAA Tournament. Cincinnati (8th in the RPI), Marquette (26th), Charlotte (30th) and Memphis (41st) would have to more or less be considered locks. South Florida is on the bubble and 48th in the RPI. Louisville is 59th and sinking like a stone.

The always notable, always quotable Pitino
Louisville’s Rick Pitino set off a bit of a firestorm with some comments he made about Memphis’ coach John Calipari prior to the Louisville-Memphis game.

Pitino said that Calipari (I’m paraphrasing) was more of a brie cheese kind of guy than a cheeseburger kind of guy and that he’s not a hands-on coach and instead has a bunch of lackeys who handle the heavy lifting.

That remark was precipitated by Calipari actually talking up the Cardinals and their win over Memphis last season, but misstating that the win was by 20 points, rather than 10 and forgetting that most of the key players from that team are gone now.

In my opinion, it was the case of the media overhyping a game and a rivalry which frankly needed some hype and making a mountain out of a molehill. Pitino and Calipari aren’t close friends, but they know they share enough eerie similarities to be considered alike in the minds of the casual sports fan. This was their way of creating some juice for what should be an excellent rivalry in years to come once Pitino has revived the Cardinals. There’s no serious animosity there though.

Running Away
By the time you read this, Memphis may have already clinched C-USA’s National Division.

Well, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it is a question of when – rather than if – the Tigers notch the regular season division title. Memphis is 9-0 and sports a 4 1/2 game lead over Houston and South Florida. The general (and surprising) weakness of the division has helped the Tigers, as USF, UAB (3-5) and Southern Miss (2-7) have all struggled more than anticipated. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ difficult non-conference schedule has prepared them well for the rigors of the C-USA schedule.

As for the heavyweights in the American Division, Memphis hasn’t faced Cincinnati and Charlotte yet and won’t face Marquette this year, thanks to C-USA’s dumb schedule (see previous columns for my rants on this subject).

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