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Conference USA Notebook

December 30, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Are the Pirates for real this time?

We have seen this before. During the past two seasons, the East Carolina Pirates have gotten off to terrific starts in December, only to fall apart a few weeks into conference play. After its most impressive win of the season, a 74-67 triumph at Virginia Tech, the Pirates are sitting pretty at 7-1. Are they any different than the 2001-2002 or 2002-2003 editions?

Perhaps they are. They are more experienced than they ever have been. Four of the five starters were also in the starting lineup last season. Their frontcourt is one of the best in the conference and is made up of very different style players. Gabriel Mikulas is a classic big man, playing with his back to the basket. Erroyl Bing is a very athletic players and a great rebounder and Moussa Badiane is one of the best shot blockers in the country.

The question mark coming into the season was in the frontcourt. So far, Derrick Wiley and Japhet McNeil have provided steady play. In fact, Wiley is leading the team in scoring with 15.3 points per game. The Pirates are also getting great contributions from the bench, led by Belton Rivers 9.4 points per game.

So how quickly will we find out if the Pirates are for real? Right away, as their first three conference games are big, but very winnable. They play at home against UAB, then travel on the road to Charlotte, before hosting No. 20 Louisville. Last season, ECU faced Louisville at home on national TV. They were blown out and never recovered. The Louisville game could once against be a make-or-break game for the Pirates.

The Cardinals are for real

Cincinnati better hope they do not somehow rise to No. 1 by the time they it faces Louisville on Jan. 21, because if it happens they are going to lose. For the second time this season, the Cardinals knocked off the top team in the country. This time came against bitter rival Kentucky; on the Wildcats home floor no less.

After getting behind by a dozen early, the Cardinals slowly chipped away at the lead, eventually taking the lead with five minutes to go. Francisco Garcia, who had a quiet game throughout, hit the clinching shot of the game, a three-pointer with one minute left to give the Cardinals a five-point lead. Free throws down the stretch clinched the win for Louisville.

The Cardinals received two huge boosts from their bench players, as Otis George scored thirteen points and grabbed eight rebounds while Larry O’Bannon netted eleven points. While the Cards did not play a beautiful game, but the Wildcats could not buy a shot during the second half. After a season-opening loss to Iowa, Louisville has won its last seven and looks like a serious contender.

The Bearcats are for real too

Prior to Tuesday, No. 11 Cincinnati had not played any opponent that halfway represented a good team. Then No. 22 Dayton traveled to Cincinnati. They then promptly thrashed the Flyers, 82-53, to prove that yes, they are for real. Cincinnati improved to 8-0 after an 83-63 win against Miami (OH) Saturday.

The Bearcats however return to their easy schedule for the next three weeks, starting with a home contest against Elon Tuesday. Look for their game at Marquette, Jan. 14 as a true test to see how they play on the road against a solid ball club.

Paging Mr. Finley

Morris Finley continues to sit as his injured shoulder heals, and the Blazers are scrambling to find answers in his absence. Last week UAB went 1-1 in Finley’s absence, winning at home against Louisiana Tech before losing on the road to LSU. In his absence though, they may have found a more-than-capable replacement.

Ronnell Taylor played the best game of his career against LSU, almost single-handedly keeping the Blazers alive. The 6-foot-5 junior scored 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists. For the season Taylor is now averaging 11.8 points per game. His play will be vital for UAB if Finley does not come back soon.

Aren’t they point guards?

Andre Owens is a point guard. Taquan Dean is a point guard. They sure didn’t act like it last week. Dean went for 31 points, including a school record nine three-pointers, in the Cards romp over VMI. Owens went crazy against Texas A&M, going for 41 points. More so than any other league in the country, the point guards of C-USA are as much scorers as they are set-up men.

The rest of C-USA

Charlotte (6-3)

The 49ers returned from a ten-day hiatus to play yet another thriller, only to fall in overtime to Rhode Island, 96-90. Curtis Withers and Demon Brown each scored 21 points to lead Charlotte. The Niners actually led in regulation 80-75 with less than a minute remaining but could not hold the lead. The Rams clinched with win in overtime by hitting 7-of-8 free throws down the stretch. Up next – against Delaware State, Dec. 30.

DePaul (5-4)

The Blue Demons are fading fast and the conference slate has not even started. DePaul lost its third straight game Saturday, 76-62 to DePaul. Freshman Sammy Mejia scored a career-high eighteen points to go along with Delonte Holland’s eighteen, but the Demons could not overcome the Pirates’ Andre Barrett’s 25 points. While DePaul has not won a game since defeating Ohio on Dec. 9, all three losses have come against tough competition. Look for the Blue Demons to be running on all cylinders come C-USA play. Up next – against SE Missouri State, Dec. 31.

Marquette (8-2)

After a tough non-conference schedule that has included Notre Dame, Arizona and Wisconsin, the Golden Eagles took a bit a of a break last week with a 83-63 win against Florida A&M Monday. The Eagles had no problem with the Rattlers, building a 43-16 lead with two minutes remaining during the first half. With the game well in hand, Marquette went on cruise control during the final 20 minutes, letting the reserves playing most of the second half. Scott Novack led the Eagles with nineteen points. Up next – against Sacred Heart, Dec. 29.

Memphis (7-2)

The Tigers are a hard team to figure out. At home against Samford, not Stanford, Memphis needed a basket by Sean Banks with nineteen seconds remaining to beat the Bulldogs 63-62. Then at home Saturday against No. 13 Missouri, the Tigers withstood a late rally to win 61-59, for their first win against a ranked opponent this season. Antonia Burks averaged 18.5 points during the two wins for Memphis. While Missouri is a struggling team, the Tigers’ win is proof they will be able to hang with likes of Louisville and Cincinnati come conference play. Up next – against Oakland, Dec. 29.

USF (4-5)

The Bulls blew a chance to get back above .500 after losing at home Monday to Colorado State, 66-65. With the game tied at 65, the Bulls held the ball for seemingly the last possession. It appeared to work to perfection as Bradley Mosley attempted a driving lay-up with only a few seconds remaining. But Mosley missed, and USF was called for a loose ball foul going for the offensive rebound. The Rams’ Matt Williams then went to the line and hit one free throw to win the game. Terrance Leather continued his great early season, scoring 24 points and grabbing a career-high fifteen rebounds. Up next – against South Alabama, Dec. 29.

Southern Miss (6-3)

The Golden Eagles beat up on a weakling Monday, knocking of NAIA opponent William Carey 91-59. With seemingly all the scoring coming from the front court this season for Southern Miss, the backcourt finally got into the action. The leader was senior Clement Carter, who set career highs with 30 points and ten rebounds. Carter went crazy from beyond the arc, hitting 9-of-13 three-pointers. Southern Miss, who has struggled shooting the ball as of late, went 33-of-62 from the field. Up next – at Auburn, Dec. 30.

Saint Louis (5-4)

The Billikens know they are not a deep team; they are determined to find ways to win anyway. They did that against Butler Saturday, winning 72-54 to get back above .500. Saint Louis out-rebounded the Bulldogs 41-22 and shot 54 percent from the field to Butler’s 32 percent. Only seven players entered the game for the Billikens and all seven played at least 21 minutes. Four players scored in double digits. SLU was led by Tom Fredricks’ eighteen points and twelve rebounds, his first career double-double. Up next – at No. 22 Dayton, Dec. 31.

TCU (3-6)

The Horned Frogs lost their only game of the week, 64-58 to Arkansas State Monday. Any other season this may have been a bad loss, but the Indians are having a terrific season to date, owners of an 8-1 record. Both teams played nearly identical, as they both hit fifteen free throws and five three-pointers. TCU had eighteen turnovers and Arkansas State had nineteen turnovers. ASU however hit three more field goals, creating the six-point winning margin. Corey Santee struggled from the field, only hitting 3-of-13 shots and finished with eight points. Up next – against Grambling, Dec. 29.

Tulane (5-4)

The Green Wave would be happy if they never have to see the SEC ever again. Tulane lost two games this past week, both to SEC teams, bringing their current losing streak to three. Tuesday the Green Wave lost at LSU, 67-48, before coming home Saturday and lost to Mississippi State, 72-50. Against the Bulldogs, Tulane simply could not buy a shot. They shot less than 30 percent from the field and only hit nineteen shots. Up next – against Nicholls State, Dec. 31.

Player of the Week

Andre Owens, Houston

Owens averaged 31.5 points and seven assists during the Cougars’ two wins last week. Houston is on a four-game win streak and Owens is a big part of that, scoring more than 20 during three of those wins and grabbing at least six boards in each game.

Games to watch

Charlotte at Southern Illinois, Friday at 8 p.m.
The Salukis are good again, 8-1 so far this season. Charlotte is 6-3 and always fun to watch. The Niners already have a big win in their bag by beating Syracuse but this would be just as big of a win.

East Carolina at Mississippi, Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Pirates again are off to a great start, this time at 7-1. But they have done this the past two seasons and fallen apart as soon as January came rolling around. If they are for real this season, this is a must-win game for them.

Murray State at No. 20 Louisville, Saturday at 2 p.m.
Call it the Mick Cronin Bowl, as the former Louisville assistant returns to Freedom Hall. The Cardinals are on cloud nine after beating Kentucky, but the Racers are off to a terrific 10-1 start.


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