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Conference USA Notebook

February 4, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Another one bites the dust

The question anymore is not, “Who is leaving?” but instead “Who is staying?” Mathematically speaking this is the case as TCU became the eighth current C-USA school to announce its departure for another conference, effective for the 2005-06 academic calendar. The Horned Frogs are leaving to become the ninth member of the Mountain West Conference. The move has been rumored for several months now, as early as the rumors of the five other C-USA schools that have announced their departure for the Big East.

The move by TCU is based on rivalries that currently exist with teams in the Mountain West along with football competitiveness, which is the money maker for the school. With this departure, only six teams that currently play in C-USA will still be in the league for the 2005-06 season: Tulane, Houston, Southern Miss, Memphis, UAB and East Carolina. This departure only makes for eleven schools that will be members in two years. However, C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky has made it clear that the league will find a replacement for TCU. Possible candidates are Louisiana Tech, UTEP, Temple, Miami (OH) and Toledo.

Pitino leaves, then returns

The day after No. 4 Louisville’s win against Tennessee Jan. 25, head coach Rick Pitino shocked the college basketball world when he announced he was taking a leave of absence to deal with a medical problem. Pitino has been suffering from pain for months and described his condition as “urological related,” while doctors have ruled out prostate cancer.

Luckily, his leave of absence only lasted three days. After the Cardinals defeated Houston Wednesday, 64-48, Pitino was back at practice Thursday. While he said there is still some pain, it seemed like his leave was almost for more of piece of mind, to make sure he did not have any serious medical conditions.

His return Saturday was ruined by Marquette though, as Steve Novak and company surprised the Cardinals with a 77-70 win. While the game appeared to be a huge upset, the Cards were playing with their two stars not at 100 percent. Francisco Garcia continues to be hampered with a sore ankle and Taquan Dean is still nursing a groin pull. While Garcia still played a great game, finishing with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists; Dean only played 21 minutes and scored four points. The loss snapped Louisville’s sixteen-game win streak. The Cards are now 16-2 and 6-1 in C-USA. They have a tough schedule this week, playing at Memphis and then UAB at home.

Another big return

Overshadowed by Pitino’s tumultuous week and two big upsets Saturday was the return of DePaul’s Andre Brown, who had missed the previous nine games with a lingering knee injury. He showed no signs of rust either, scoring nineteen points, grabbing eight rebounds with only one turnover during 30 minutes of action. His performance even surprised his head coach, Dave Leitao, who said he exceeded what the coaching staff thought he could do.

The Blue Demons were also aided by Drake Diener’s six three-pointers and game-high 21 points, which helped deal East Carolina its eighth-straight loss, by the score 70-65. The win improved DePaul to 11-7 overall and 4-3 in C-USA. With two home games coming this week, including a nationally-televised showdown with Marquette Saturday, Brown’s return could not have come at a better time for the Blue Demons.

Novak’s night

As mentioned earlier, Louisville dropped its first conference game of the season to Marquette. A better way to say that is the Cards lost to Steve Novak and his peeps. There is a word to describe Novak Saturday – unconscious. It was more than just his eight-three pointers, it was when and how he was making them. At one point he drilled a 25-footer, coming off a screen, fading away with a man in his face. He scored a career-high 30 points while putting on one of the best shooting displays in all of college basketball this season.

The win moved Marquette to 13-5 overall and 4-3 in C-USA. With the win, the Golden Eagles climbed back into the national spotlight and provided the team with its first win against a ranked opponent in four attempts this season. They host TCU Wednesday before going on the road to face a tough DePaul team Saturday.

More big nights

Novak was not the only C-USA player who had a big day or week during last week’s action. Several ballers, less known throughout the nation, put their skills on display for the conference to witness. The first was TCU’s Marcus Shropshire. The junior guard scored 29 points against Southern Miss, shooting 8-of-19 from the field and a perfect 10-of-10 from the free-throw line.

While Charlotte’s Curtis Withers had gotten all of the attention on the inside this season, and rightfully so, his frontcourt mate Eddie Basden had himself a great week. He averaged 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds and yet his numbers do not tell the whole story. His most important play came early during the second half against No. 8 Cincinnati. Withers went out with his fourth personal with eighteen minutes remaining. Basden held the fort down and when Withers returned, the Niners took back control and eventually pulled the upset.

Last, in a season full of black eyes, USF’s Terrance Leather has been the lone bright spot for the Bulls. Against Houston Saturday, Leather went crazy at the free-throw line and on the glass. He went 13-of-19 from the charity stripe and grabbed eighteen rebounds, while finishing with 22 points. For the week he averaged 18.5 points and 14.0 rebounds.

Player of the week

Corey Santee, TCU

The junior point guard led his team to a big win against Southern Miss and almost an even bigger win against Memphis last week. Santee averaged 20.0 points, including a season-high 21 against the Tigers, while dropping 6.5 dimes per contest. He shot 16-of-28 from the field and only committed two turnovers.

Around C-USA

Charlotte (13-5, 5-2) Last week: 2-0

Back on Nov. 26, the Niners marched into the Carrier Dome and shocked then No. 6 Syracuse, 96-92. Saturday, Charlotte pulled off its second huge road upset of the season, beating No. 8 Cincinnati, 86-83. The Niners led for almost the entire first half, then withstood twelve lead changes and ten ties during the second half to steal its first win ever at Cincinnati. All five starters scored in double digits, led by Brendan Plavich’s seventeen.

Wednesday, the 49ers defeated the hot Saint Louis Billikens, 68-62. While Plavich and Demon Brown struggled from the outside, Curtis Withers and Eddie Basden picked up the slack. Basden scored eighteen points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Withers finished with fourteen points and fourteen boards. Mitchell Baldwin contributed eleven off the bench. Up next – at East Carolina, Feb. 7.

Cincinnati (15-2, 6-2) Last week: 1-1

The No. 11 Bearcats lost its second game in as many weeks, losing at home to Charlotte, 86-83. Cincinnati led 79-77 with three minutes remaining, but the Niners responded with an 8-2 run and then hit enough free throws to clinch the win. Kareem Johnson led the Bearcats with a career-high fifteen points and eight rebounds. Rebounding was the downfall of Cincinnati, as it was out-rebounded by five and allowed several second and third chances.

Earlier in the week, the Bearcats whipped East Carolina, 80-57. Cincinnati played a lackluster game but was too much for the undermatched Pirates. James White led the Bearcats with fifteen points. The stat of the game: Cincinnati had 21 assists, East Carolina had six. Up next – at Xavier, Feb. 3.

East Carolina (8-9, 0-7) Last week: 0-2

Another week, another two losses for the Pirates. This time though, they had a good shot at a win but let it slip away. After losing to No. 8 Cincinnati on the road, 80-57, ECU came home to face DePaul. Despite the return of Andre Brown mentioned above, the Pirates led at the half, 36-32, and were destined for its first conference win of the season. However, they shot 35 percent from the field during the second half and could not hold on. Mike Cook led the Pirates with seventeen points.

Wednesday, East Carolina knew they were out-manned playing the Bearcats but fought hard regardless. Derrick Wiley tallied his third double-double of the season, finishing with eighteen points and a season-high thirteen rebounds. The Pirates are one of three teams that remain without a conference win, but at least one of those three will crack the ‘W’ column this week when East Carolina travels to South Florida, Feb. 3.

Houston (8-10, 2-5) Last week: 1-1

The Cougars went on the road twice last week, first at No. 4 Louisville and then against USF. They won the one they were suppose to and lost the other. Wednesday, they put up a good fight against a hurting Cardinal team that was without the services of stars Francisco Garcia, Taquan Dean and of course Pitino. Houston would fall 64-48 and again simply struggled to produce any offense. They connected on only eighteen field goals and were held to 55 or less points for the sixth time in seven games.

Houston reversed all of those trends though against the league’s basement dwellers, USF, Saturday. With the game at a slow tempo, the Cougars made 47.1 percent of their shots, limited the Bulls to fourteen field goals and received enough scoring for a 65-53 win, their first road win of the season. Senior center Anwar Ferguson scored fifteen points, his best effort since going for sixteen against Lamar, Dec. 6. Up next – against Southern Miss, Feb. 3.

Memphis (14-4, 5-2) Last week: 2-0

Everything is going as planned for the Tigers. While Cincinnati and Louisville continue to get all the press and Charlotte and Marquette score big upsets, Memphis is quietly going on a five-game winning streak and setting itself up for a big push at the C-USA crown. It was not pretty though, as the Tigers played on cruise control at home against USF, winning 66-53.

Then on the road against TCU, the Tigers needed all 40 minutes to beat the tough Horned Frogs. Trailing 67-62 late in the game, Memphis finished the contest on a 13-2 run and won, 75-69. Sean Banks had perhaps his best game yet of his young college career, scoring 26 points, grabbing thirteen rebounds and swatting five shots. This week, Memphis moves on to the conference’s big boys. Up next – against No. 4 Louisville, Feb. 4.

USF (6-10, 0-5) Last week: 0-2

Another week, another player left the USF program. Last week it was redshirt freshman Sam Barbar, who was dismissed from the team for conduct detrimental to the team. Barbar’s departure leaves the Bulls with nine players, seven on-scholarship and two walk-ons. The results did not change much either, as the Bulls lost by nearly identical scores; 66-53 to Memphis and 65-53 to Houston.

Terrance Leather did his best to led USF to its first conference win of the season, but to no avail. He scored 22 points and corralled eighteen rebounds during the loss to Houston and averaged 18.5 points and 14.0 rebounds during the week. No. 2 of the three no-conference-wins group, the Bulls will host East Carolina Wednesday in what is their best remaining chance at a win this season.

Southern Miss (10-8, 3-4) Last week: 1-1

It took eight games, including their Wednesday loss at TCU, for the Golden Eagles to figure out how to win on the road. The results were yet another week split, as Southern Miss lost at TCU, 79-67, before winning at Tulane (zero-conference-win team No. 3), 64-58. Against the Horned Frogs, it was a battle of the Eagles’ frontcourt and their opposition’s backcourt. The little guys won, as Marcus Shropshire and Corey Santee combined for 48 points and ten assists, beating the trio of Charles Gaines and Greg and Jasper Johnson.

But all is well in Mudville as USM found a diamond in the rough to win its elusive road game. That diamond would be sophomore guard Jarekus Singleton, who made his first start of his career and responded with a career-high nineteen points. Singleton went 5-of-11 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. Up next – at Houston, Feb. 3.

Saint Louis (11-7, 4-3) Last week: 0-2

The Billikens came back to Earth last week, dropping the first two of three road games to Charlotte and UAB. Against the 49ers, Saint Louis started out hot, taking a 22-9 lead early. Their struggles started late during the first half, when they did not make a basket for the final 3:46 minutes, and continued on during the final 20 minutes. Curtis Withers and Eddie Basden dominated inside, as SLU eventually fell, 68-62.

Saturday the Billikens played one of their worst games of the season, losing by 20 to UAB. They had almost half as many turnovers (25) as they did points (52). Their scoring output was the lowest of the season. Trailing 29-20 at the half, Saint Louis turned the ball over on its first five possessions of the second half and never got closer than ten points the rest of the way. Up next – at Memphis, Feb. 7.

TCU (7-11, 3-4) Last week: 1-1

The Horned Frogs scored one big win last week, but had another big win slip away during the closing minutes. After beating Southern Miss, 79-67, Wednesday, TCU folded during the final four minutes against Memphis, losing 75-69. Against the Golden Eagles, Marcus Shropshire blew up as mentioned earlier. Combined with Player of the Week Corey Santee, the backcourt combined for 48 points and ten assists, while committing only two turnovers.

Against the Tigers, TCU led 67-62 with 3:38 minutes remaining, but was outscored 13-2 to close out the game. The game featured eighteen lead changes and nine ties, but in the end Memphis and Sean Banks found a way to win. Banks dominated inside, finishing with 26 points, thirteen rebounds and five blocked shots. Up next – at Marquette, Feb. 3.

Tulane (7-10, 0-6) Last week: 0-2

The third team in C-USA without a conference win, the Green Wave lost bad on the road to UAB early in the week and then fell at home to Southern Miss. Against the Blazers, Tulane went into the half trailing by seven and gave up one too many runs during the second half. UAB started the final 20 minutes with a 9-1 run, which the Wave countered with an 11-2 run and got the lead to three points, 60-57, with less than eight minutes remaining. But that would be as close as they would get, while getting out-scored 20-2 to close the game.

Against the Golden Eagles, Tulane again got close late, only to allow another big run to decide the game. After going back and forth for much of the game, the Wave closed an eight-point deficit to one with nine minutes remaining. But Southern Miss went on a 9-4 run and Tulane never threatened again. Marcus Kizner tied his career-high for the Green Wave, finishing with seventeen points. Up next – at DePaul, Feb. 3.

UAB (13-5, 6-1) Last week: 2-0

The Blazers are the hottest team in C-USA, having won seven their last eight games. They scored two more wins last week, against Tulane and Saint Louis, and in the process jumped into a tie for first place thanks to Louisville’s loss. Against the Green Wave Wednesday, UAB did not play its best basketball but pulled away late, scoring 20 of the game’s final 22 points to win 80-59. Sidney Ball finished with thirteen points and eleven rebounds, his second double-double of the season.

Against the Billikens Saturday, Morris Finley played his best game since injuring his shoulder during December, leading the Blazers to a 72-52 home win. Finley totaled 23 points, sixteen coming during the second half. He went 9-of-17 from the field, tied a season-high with five three-points and also recorded a season-high four steals. This week there is only one game on UAB’s slate, but it’s the biggest test of the season to date, at No. 4 Louisville, Saturday.

Games to watch

Louisville at Memphis, Wednesday at 10 p.m.
Big game. Weird time. The Cardinals are more concerned with the health of their two stars and coach more so than Saturday’s loss to Marquette. Memphis has won five-straight, but against a week schedule. Sean Banks will face a tough frontcourt in Luke Whitehead, Kendall Dartez and Otis George.

Marquette at DePaul, Saturday at 3 p.m.
With the Golden Eagle’s win against Louisville and Andre Brown’s return, this game just got a whole lot more interesting. Saturday’s win boosted Marquette’s tournament chances; this is the type of win DePaul needs to make its own cause for a tourney bid. Round two of this year’s Diener Bowl.

UAB at Louisville, Saturday at 6 p.m.
First place will be on the line as both team’s own 6-1 records. The Blazers have yet to play the big four of Memphis, Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette. This will be the test they need. Morris Finley against Taquan Dean if he is healthy is one of the best match-ups in conference this year.


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