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Conference USA Notebook

January 19, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

No move in 2004

It looks as if the snag in speeding up the country-wide conference alignment for the 2004-05 season came from none other than C-USA. Instead, only Miami and Virginia Tech will move from the Big East to the ACC next season. The rest of the moves, including seven current C-USA teams leaving and five new ones coming, will not happen until a year later.

The roadblock was $10 million that C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky was asking for from the respective conferences, $6-8 million from the Big East and the rest from the respective leagues. The deal never happened and now it appears the move is as dead as the ARod-Nomar trade.

Southern Miss romps at home*

*If you consider home being more than 1,100 miles away from campus. That’s what the Golden Eagles of Southern Miss did against the Golden Eagles of Marquette 83-61, in off all places, Green Bay. For some bizarre reason, Southern Miss decided to move its home game against Marquette to Green Bay to pay homage to its alumnus and future NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre. However Favre was not in attendance; in fact he was at home, in Hattiesburg.

For the actual game, Marquette easily played its worst game of the season. There were two disappearance acts: Scott Novack and Marquette’s second half defense. While Novack scored seventeen points on 5-of-9 shooting from deep against Cincinnati Wednesday, the sophomore was shutout and only took three shots against Southern Miss. Their defense during the second half was not to be found during either loss this week – Cincinnati scored 51 during the final 20 minutes, Southern Miss scored 54.

The problem Marquette ran into was the inability to contain multiple threats. Five players scored in double digits during both losses, leaving the Golden Eagles with an 11-4 overall record and a 2-2 record in C-USA. The Eagles improved to 9-6 overall and 2-2 in C-USA, after dropping a nail bitter earlier in the week at Saint Louis, 56-55. David Haywood had a shot for the win, but his three-point attempt from the corner at the buzzer was off the rim.

There is still another Diener

With all the media attention Marquette junior guard Travis Diener is receiving this year, it’s becoming easier and easier to forget about his cousin Drake, who plays at DePaul. However, Drake is making it tough for anyone to ignore him for much longer. Diener scored a career high 27 points against Memphis Tuesday, shooting 9-of-12 from the field, including 6-of-8 from deep.

Then against UAB, he settled for a modest fourteen points, hitting 5-of-9 from the field. Diener is averaging 11.9 points per game, a four-point improvement from last season. His play has kept the Blue Demons alive while Andre Brown continues to sit out with his knee injury.

The Bearcats super subs

No. 7 Cincinnati improved to 13-0 this week with a big road win at No. 22 Marquette, 85-73, before winning easily at home against TCU, 85-57. Coming up big during both games, like they have all season, were bench players Tony Bobbitt and Eric Hicks.

Bobbitt has been nothing short of sensational for Cincinnati. He is second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.5 points per game, and is first in steal, averaging 2.2 per contest. He has led the team in scoring in seven games, including all four of the Bearcats’ conference wins. He is twelfth in the conference in scoring, first among non-starters, and second in the conference in steals. Last week, he averaged seventeen points and shot 55 percent from the field.

Hicks is becoming a rebounding and more specifically offensive rebounding machine. Hicks is averaging six rebounds per game and nearly three offensive rebounds per game. He is also automatic when he takes a shot from the field, leading C-USA in field goal percentage at 68 percent. Against Marquette, he went for fifteen points and ten rebounds, his second career double-double.

Bad to worse for East Carolina

The Pirates have started their January swoon; they are now 0-4 in C-USA play after losing 76-66 to No. 9 Louisville and 55-53 to Houston. But to make matters worse, they have lost one of their leaders and best players in history, senior forward Gabriel Mikulas.

Mikulas broke his right arm during practice Wednesday, ending his season and his career. Mikulas finished his career as the school’s 15th all-time leading scorer with 1,086 career points. He also finishes as the Pirates’ career leader in free throws made (381) and ranks among the top four in both career field goal and free throw percentage as well as free throw attempts.

Bad to worse for USF

Two weeks ago, Marlyn Bryant tore the ACL in his left knee, ending his season. Last week, senior guard Jimmy Baxter, third on the team in scoring and assists, left the team for personal reasons. Baxter, who was averaging 9.8 points per game, choose to end his career, unlike Mikulas’ ending. Without Baxter and Bryant, the Bulls lost their lone game of the week, 70-52 to Saint Louis, to drop to 6-7 and 0-3 in C-USA.

Big Bryant

Reggie Bryant had yet another big week for the Billikens, who won both of their conference games to improve to 10-5 overall and 3-1 in C-USA. Saint Louis has now won six of its last seven. Bryant averaged 18.5 points per game last week, hitting 20-plus points for the fifth time this week against Southern Miss. He is now third in the conference in scoring, owner of a 17.8 average.

Player of the week

Sean Banks, Memphis

The freshman forward had his best week of the season, averaging 25.5 points and 9.5 rebounds during the Tigers 1-1 week. Against Charlotte, Banks went 9-of-11 from the field and 6-of-7 from behind the three-point line.

Rest of C-USA

Charlotte (10-4, 2-1)

Having a week off apparently effected Charlotte’s timing, as the 49ers were blown out on the road by Memphis, 91-69, Saturday in their only action of the week. The loss snapped a four-game win streak for Charlotte and was its first conference loss of the season. The Niners struggled in the backcourt, as Brendan Plavich and Demon Brown combined for only twelve. Both were averaging near thirteen points per game individually. This was the fourth game this season that Charlotte allowed more than 90 points. Memphis hit fourteen three-pointers, led by Sean Banks who went 6-of-7 from deep. Up next – against No. 22 Marquette, Jan. 20.

Houston (7-7, 1-3)

The Cougars may not be able to drive 55, but the double-nickel proved to be an important number last week. Houston dropped its third-straight C-USA game against TCU Tuesday, 55-54, before beating East Carolina at home, 55-53. The Cougars lost to their intra-state rival at the buzzer, as Chudi Chinweze tipped in a Horned Frog miss with one second remaining. Against the Pirates Saturday, the Cougars did not make a field goal during the final 2:44 and only scored one point during that time, but their defense was able to shut ECU down. Andre Owens recovered from an off night against TCU to score a game-high 21 against the Pirates. Up next – against Centenary, Jan. 19.

Louisville (13-1, 4-0)

The No. 9 Cardinals did not look as impressive last week as they did the previous week. Nonetheless, Louisville cruised to its twelfth and thirteenth-straight win, staying undefeated in conference and setting up for easily the biggest C-USA game of the season. The Cards won on national television Thursday, beating East Carolina 76-66 before beating Tulane at Freedom Hall Saturday, 79-58. Luke Whitehead had a good week, averaging 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. However, the team looked a bit sluggish against the Green Wave, while Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean struggled with their shots. Also, three players received 33-plus minutes Saturday, something not seen from the Cards this year. They will need to play better Wednesday if they are to defeat Cincinnati. Up next – against No. 7 Cincinnati, Jan. 21.

Memphis (10-4, 1-2)

Last year, the Tigers started the conference season off 1-2 before winning thirteen of their next fourteen games. Memphis is hoping for some déjà vu after dropping two of its first three conference games this season. The Tigers lost on the road to DePaul, 82-73, Tuesday before responding with a big win against Charlotte Saturday, 91-69. Memphis could not stop either Delonte Holland or Drake Diener, as the two combined for 47 points in Chicago. However, the Tigers were able to contain Charlotte’s Brendan Plavich and Demon Brown, as the two combined for only twelve points. Against the Niners, Memphis inserted Jeremy Hunt into the starting lineup for only the fourth time this season, replacing Rodney Carney. Hunt finished with a double-double, scoring fourteen and grabbing ten boards. Up next – at Tulane, Jan. 20.

TCU (6-9, 2-2)

The Horned Frogs won their second-straight conference game Tuesday, beating Houston 55-54, before falling hard to No. 7 Cincinnati Saturday, 85-57. Against the Cougars, Chudi Chinweze tipped in a miss with one second left to clinch the win in Houston. Chinweze led all scorers with eighteen points. Coming into Saturday’s game, the Frogs had played every team they had faced close, except against Vanderbilt. TCU play solid for the first twelve minutes, holding a three-point lead. But the Bearcats pressure proved to be too much, as the Horned Frogs turned the ball over a season high 23 times. Up next – against DePaul, Jan. 20.

Tulane (6-7, 0-3)

The Green Wave hung around for the most part on the road against No. 9 Louisville. However, the outcome was never in doubt as the Cards won 79-58. Senior forward Wayne Tinsley recorded his first double-double of the season, scoring fourteen points and grabbing ten rebounds. Quincy Davis also played one of his best games of the season, netting sixteen points, his highest output since going for seventeen against New Orleans, Dec. 3. Just like TCU Saturday, the Green Wave could not handle its opponent’s pressure. Louisville forced 23 turnovers, eight by Tinsley. Up next – against Memphis, Jan. 20.

UAB (9-5, 2-1)

Like all of the other teams that only played one game this week, the Blazers fell on the road Saturday, 75-64 to DePaul. Aside from Gabe Kennedy, the UAB starting lineup never showed up in Chicago. Morris Finley, Sidney Ball, Carldral Johnson and Ronell Taylor combined for eighteen points on 7-of-26 shooting. Kennedy led the Blazers with seventeen points and twelve rebounds. Trailing most of the game, a 20-5 run midway through the second half got UAB back to within two, 59-57. The Blue Demons countered with an 8-1 run of its own and the game was never in doubt again. For DePaul players scored in double figures, led by Quemont Greer’s eighteen. Up next – against USF, Jan. 20.

Games to watch

No. 22 Marquette at Charlotte, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Suddenly, the Golden Eagles are in desperate need for a win. Going to North Carolina is not going to make their task any easier. Demon Brown and Brendan Plavich were shut down against Memphis; look for them to come up big against Marquette.

No. 7 Cincinnati at No. 9 Cincinnati, Wednesday at 7 p.m.

This is the game to watch. Both teams are very similar: deep bench, press defense, scoring from inside and out. Francisco Garcia lit up the Cincinnati defense in Louisville last year. Garcia will match up against James White, while Luke Whitehead will go against Jason Maxiell. Whoever wins the turnover battle will win.

DePaul at No. 22 Marquette, Saturday at noon.

This is almost a close game between these close rivals. The Diener cousins will square off for the first time this season. Travis owns a 4-0 record on Drake, but it’s the less talked about of the cousins who could be the difference in the game.

     

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