C-USA Championship Preview
Looks like March Madness began a little early for Conference USA.
Less than one week after Marquette and Cincinnati faced off in one of the most exciting games of the season (a game and result which was predicted here on Hoopville, by the way, but more on that later), the Golden Eagles and Bearcats both suffered letdowns against second-division conference opponents.
Marquette lost a 51-46 decision to East Carolina on Feb. 26 and Cincinnati dropped a 74-71 game to Louisville the very next night.
The loss was especially costly to Cincinnati, which saw a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament disappear. Still, with Marquette’s loss, the Bearcats clinched a share of their seventh straight regular-season title. That’s 7-for-7 during C-USA’s history.
Louisville’s Reece Gaines scored 26 points to help Louisville salvage what has been a very disappointing season and give the Cardinals momentum into the C-USA tournament and an almost certain NIT bid.
Meanwhile, East Carolina’s season was made with an upset on its home floor over then-No. 9 Marquette. The win put East Carolina in the conference tournament, which is about as much as coach Bill Herrion could have hoped for in the Pirates initial season in the league.
The losses won’t hurt the tournament standing of either Marquette or Cincinnati too much as long as neither team has a particularly bad C-USA tournament. The Bearcats are a solid No. 2 seed and could sneak back up to No. 1 if they win the conference tournament and some breaks fall their way. Marquette is at least a No. 4 seed and would get a No. 3 seed if they win the title.
Crime and punishment
As much as it pains me to say this, Conference USA is probably going to win the mythical national championship for strife and turmoil amongst its players and coaches.
The worst of recent events includes Houston guard Kevin Gaines being dismissed for the rest of the season after allegedly assaulting a woman in a Greenville, NC nightclub. Three other Cougars were suspended indefinitely for curfew violations related to the incident. Gaines’ career at Houston is almost definitely over even if he manages to avoid jail time.
The dismissals derailed Houston’s momentum as coach Ray McCallum was starting to rebuild after a few dismal recent seasons.
Meanwhile, at DePaul, a group of fans recently staged a walkout during a home game to protest the team’s poor performance under coach Pat Kennedy. The Blue Demons are 9-18 overall and only 2-13 in the conference and will miss the conference tournament and postseason play yet again.
The only way Kennedy won’t be fired is if DePaul’s athletic department doesn’t want to pay off the remainder of Kennedy’s contract.
Some national publications are hyping Cincinnati’s Steve Logan as a player of the year candidate, though it would be hard to imagine Duke’s Jason Williams not winning the Wooden Award. Logan, who is averaging about 22 points and 5 assists a game, has won C-USA’s Player Of The Week award five times, matching Kenyon Martin as the only person to ever achieve that honor.
Patting ourselves on the back dept.
Three weeks ago after Marquette pounded Cincinnati, we predicted that the Bearcats and Golden Eagles next contest on Feb. 22 would be a “64-63 type affair with bodies flying all over the court and at least a dozen lead changes”.
Well, the score was actually 63-62 and there were only 11 lead changes. Hey, no one’s perfect!
Other national awards:
Cincinnati’s Bob Huggins and Marquette’s Tom Crean are both among the 20 nominees for the Naismith Award for National Coach of the Year. If I had a vote, I would cast it for Huggins, whose motivational job with a modestly talented, but hardworking Bearcat team has been nothing short of amazing. Huggins is not one of the, shall we say, most beloved coaches in the country however, so he probably won’t win the award.
In or out:
Marquette and Cincinnati are in the NCAA Tournament and Memphis and Charlotte are on the bubble. The Tigers (22-7, 12-3) lost most of their games without Kelly Wise, so since he’s back and healthy I’d say Memphis needs only one more win to be considered a lock. Charlotte (17-9, 11-4) is a little trickier, but the 49ers are hot and have a great RPI (32 as of Feb. 28). I’d say 19 wins would put them in.
Any of the other eight teams would need to win the conference tournament to get a berth.