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Conference USA Notebook

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

NCAA history?

Two-way tie for the regular season championship, that happens all the time in Division I basketball. Three-way tie, not very likely yet occasionally could happen. But a five-way tie for the title; that’s not only uncommon, it may be unprecedented. When DePaul, Charlotte, Cincinnati, UAB and Memphis all finished 12-4 in conference play Saturday, it completed the believed first ever five-way tie for first place in Div. I history. Last week in this notebook, the projected breakdown of the top five seeds was incorrect. The correct breakdown now that the tie is official is: No. 1 DePaul, No. 2 Memphis, No. 3 Cincinnati, No. 4 UAB, No. 5 Charlotte. For all those who are interested in how the tie was resolved, go get a pencil, piece of paper and a calculator because it’s time for C-USA Tiebreaker 101.

First, all five teams compare their collective head-to-head records against the other four teams. The results from this: DePaul (3-2), Cincinnati (3-3), UAB (2-2), Memphis (2-2), Charlotte (3-2). Based on these records, DePaul earned the No. 1 seed, while Charlotte earned the No. 5 seed. Next, the tie between Cincinnati, UAB and Memphis had to be broken. The C-USA procedure next is to compare the tied teams’ record against the team occupying the highest ranking in the regular season standings, which would now appear to be DePaul. However, the comparison is to the highest ranked team prior to any other tiebreaker procedure. Since DePaul earned the No. 1 seed through a tiebreaker, they do not qualify. The comparison would be to all five teams tied, which UAB, Cincinnati and Memphis were all tied. Following so far?

So next, they moved down the sixth team and as it turned out, the seventh team. Those two were Louisville and Saint Louis and since both had 9-7 conference records, both are compared against. Cincinnati and Memphis owned 2-1 records against Louisville and SLU, while UAB only went 1-1. So UAB earned the No. 4 seed and now the only remaining tiebreaker is between Cincinnati and Memphis.

Next on the list of highest ranking is Marquette, which finished eighth in conference. Both Cincinnati and Memphis went 1-0 against the Golden Eagles, so the comparison progresses to TCU, which finished ninth. Cincinnati went 1-0, but Memphis went 2-0, earning the No. 2 seed. This left Cincinnati with the No. 3 seed, and the craziest tiebreaker in conference history was complete.

A final kicker to Cincinnati fans who are wondering how it can be possible that their team just beat Memphis and loss a tiebreaker to them: if Southern Miss wins Saturday at home against East Carolina, a team with one conference road win in nearly three years, Cincinnati earns the No. 2 seed. Southern Miss lost, for reasons to be specified later. If the Golden Eagles win, that moves them into a tie for ninth place with TCU, meaning Cincinnati and Memphis would have to compare their records to both teams. Cincinnati went 2-0, while Memphis went 3-1. Since the tiebreaker is based upon winning percentage, Cincinnati would win the tiebreaker.

Green resigns

After eight years at the helm of Southern Miss, James Green had enough. He couldn’t even finish the season out. Green resigned Friday effective immediately, meaning assistant coach Jeff Norwood coached the Golden Eagles during Saturday’s game. The immediate result was an embarrassing 63-50 home loss to East Carolina. The thirteen-point win was the highest margin of victory on the road for the Pirates during their three-year history in C-USA. In fact, prior to Saturday their only preview road C-USA win was by two points at lowly USF.

During his career at Southern Miss, Green compiled a 123-109 and was named C-USA Coach of the Year following the 2000-2001 season. That year the Golden Eagles finished 22-9, were co-conference champion and advanced to one of two NIT appearances in his eight seasons. Since his banner though, the Eagles have suffered through two and now going on three losing seasons. Coupled with being in the final year of a four-year contract and it all added up to the end of the Green era in Hattiesburg.

Bryant leaves to be with ailing father

Saint Louis junior guard Reggie Bryant, the squad’s leading scorer, has left the men’s basketball team for an indefinite period to be with his seriously ill father, who suffered a stroke. “Reggie needs to be by his father’s side at this point in time,” head coach Brad Soderberg said. “His availability is in question, but his family is a far more important issue right now.”

In his absence, the Billikens played a bad game but made an incredible comeback to win in overtime, 72-69, against Houston at home. Saint Louis trailed by twelve at the half after scoring only seventeen first half points, by 20 with twelve minutes remaining and by nine with only 50 seconds left, but a Phillip Hunt tip-in at the buzzer tied the game at 62. The Billikens then scored the first six points of overtime, taking their first lead of the game, and never looked back.

Pitino agrees to extension

Still don’t believe Louisville head coach Rick Pitino when he says he’s not interested in the St. John’s job? Well he may have finally silenced all the skeptics last week when he signed a three-year extension on his contract, keeping him in Louisville though the 2009-10 season. On the court, the Cardinals blasted Saint Louis on the road Wednesday, 75-48, before losing during the final second to Marquette, 81-80. More on Saturday’s loss later, but first the concern for the Cards now is how far will they fall as the NCAA Tournament approaches. They are now 3-7 during their last ten games.

Wade’s replacement has a Wade kind of a day

Desmond Mason was expected by some to pick up where Dwyane Wade left off. Pretty big expectations for anyone; unreal expectations for a freshman. Mason though delighted every Golden Eagle fan Saturday, as he converted a three-point play with 0.8 seconds remaining to give his team an 81-80 victory against Louisville. Marquette trailed by two and was scrambling for an offensive rebound when the Cards knocked the ball out of bounds on the baseline, to the right of the basket, with 2.6 seconds remaining. On the inbounds play, Mason flashed open on the baseline to the left of the basket. He caught the ball cleanly, got off the shot and then was literally tackled by Alhaji Mohammed. The shot touched nothing but net and Mason rattled in the free throw for the win. Mason finished with fourteen points on the day. The win gave the Eagles the No. 8 seed in the tournament and a date with TCU in the first round.

Around the rest of C-USA

TCU (11-16, 7-9) Last week: 0-2

The Horned Frogs finished the regular season with its toughest week, going on the road to face Memphis and UAB. TCU lost by an average of 26 points, losing to the Tigers, 83-56 and to the Blazers, 87-62. With the 7-9 finish in the conference standings, the Frogs earned the No. 9 seed and will face No. 8 Marquette during the first round of the conference tournament. Their game will tip off at approximately 3:30 p.m., Wednesday at U.S. Bank Arena. Earlier this year, TCU won in Milwaukee, 85-79. If they can knock off the Golden Eagles for the second this year, they will play No. 1 seed DePaul at the same approximate time Thursday.

East Carolina (13-13, 5-11) Last week: 1-1

Last month, the Pirates finally scored their first C-USA road win ever, escaping by two points against USF. Saturday, they blew a road win out of the water, winning 63-50 at Southern Miss. This came after nearly capturing another road Wednesday against Marquette, which they eventually lost 77-73. The week split earned ECU the No. 11 seed in the conference tournament. Its reward: a first round matchup with No. 6 seed Louisville. While many around the country probably view this as a blowout, remember the Pirates fought hard at Freedom Hall earlier this season, losing by ten (76-66). East Carolina has been playing its best basketball of late and could turn this into a game. Factor in that the winner faces Cincinnati and you can expect a pro-ECU crowd at U.S. Bank.

Tulane (11-16, 4-12) Last week: 0-2

The Green Wave is staggering into the conference tournament, but at least they will in the tourney. Tulane lost twice last week and are currently on a three-game losing streak. Wednesday it lost to Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, 70-60 and then Saturday it fell at Charlotte, 79-65. The results were the No. 12 and final seed for the tournament. The Wave will get a shot at revenge though, as it will play those same 49ers that beat them Saturday. These two squads in green will kick off the 2004 rendition of the tournament, playing at 1 p.m. Wednesday. If Tulane is able to pull the upset, its reward will be No. 4 UAB at the same time Thursday. For those doubters out there, the Green Wave two years ago, as the No. 12 seed, defeated No. 5 Saint Louis 50-47, also in Cincinnati.

Houston (9-18, 3-13) Last week: 0-2

The Cougars season ended in heartbreaking fashion Saturday. Poised for its fourth conference win of the season, second on the road and most surprising of all, Houston lost a nine-point lead during the final 50 seconds of regulation and eventually the game, as Saint Louis won in overtime 72-69. After two free throws with 50 ticks left, the Cougars went up 60-51. But a few baskets, a steal, missed UH free throws and a tip-in off a halfcourt shot at the buzzer enabled the Billikens to tie the game at 62 when the clock read 0:00. SLU, which never led during regulation, scored the first six points of overtime and never looked back. The loss ended Houston’s season.

USF (7-20, 1-15) Last week: 0-2

One of the worst seasons in Bulls history came to a close last week, in an unceremonious fashion. USF spoiled a chance at its biggest win of the season Wednesday, losing 61-59 to UAB at the buzzer, as Sydney Ball buried a three-pointer from the baseline with 0.8 seconds remaining. The Blazers as we all know went on to clinch a share of the conference title later in the week. The Bulls had a second chance to spoil a frontrunner’s title hopes but again failed, losing to DePaul 78-66. Gerrick Morris, the lone senior on the team, scored twelve points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked six shots during his final game in a Bulls uniform. The loss ended USF’s season.

Awards

MVP

Antonio Burks, Memphis

His fellow teammate Sean Banks may have put on better scoring performances this season, but Burks does so much for the Tigers beyond his scoring. Sure, Burks finished tied for fifth in the conference in scoring, at 16.5 point per game. But he also finished second in assists at 5.3 per game, first in steals at 2.5, and was the bona fide leader of his team. After hitting six three-pointers during his career prior to this season, he knocked down 54 from deep. He was not only efficient shooting the ball, his 43.2 three-point shooting percentage was fourth in C-USA amongst players with two or more treys per game, he was also efficient with the ball in general, ranking fourth in assist-to-turnover ration amongst players with two or more assists per game. He did it all and that’s why his the 2003-04 MVP.

Defensive Player of the Year

Burks

Did we mention Burks led the conference in steals at 2.5 per game? Plus, he adds way more pressure than just when he steals the ball. How many times do you hear announcers say, “So and so has only three blocks, but countless other times he has altered the shot,” about a big man? It’s the same with Burks and his pressure. He may not get a steal every time, but he pressures the ball handler throughout the game and has the ability to get inside player’s heads. Any player that can do that is a great defensive player.

Freshman of the Year

Sean Banks, Memphis

How many freshman finish second in scoring, tenth in rebounding and light up the conference’s perennial favorite for 28 points, on the road no less? Sean Banks, only 17 years of age, is that special. At 6-foot-8, Banks has an amazing stroke from deep but the ability to finish inside and knock down the midrange jumper. But he also proved valuable on the glass, pulling down 6.9 boards per game. While he averaged 18.0 points per game, he only got better down the stretch. His scoring average during the final six games of the season – 25.5 points per contest. If not for his teammate, Banks would be Freshman of the Year and MVP.

Sixth Man of the Year

Tony Bobbitt, Cincinnati

While Banks cemented his no-doubt winning of the Freshman award Saturday, Bobbitt duplicated the effort with the Sixth Man of the Year award. One of the top three non-starter scorers in the country all season, Bobbitt put the finishing touches on his year with a 20-point effort against the Tigers, including the game-winning three-pointer with 30 seconds remaining. He finished second on the team in scoring at 13.3 points per game, and in steals with 1.7 per contest.

Coach of the Year

Dave Leitao, DePaul

On Jan. 11, things were looking dismal for the Blue Demons. They were 7-6, 0-2 in C-USA, fresh off a 25-point beatdown by Cincinnati and still uncertain when their star big man Andre Brown would be healthy enough to play. Oh, and their next two games were against Memphis and UAB. Yet somehow, Leitao was able to inspire his team to overcome the adversity. Fast forward to last week, when DePaul won twice, including a win against those same Bearcats, to finish 12-4 in conference, clinch a share of the regular season crown and earn the No. 1 seed in the tournament. In his second season, Leitao has taken a program in disarray and turned into one likely headed to the NCAA Tournament.

First Team All-C-USA:
Burks
Banks
Travis Diener, Marquette
Curtis Withers, Charlotte
Francisco Garcia, Louisville

Second Team:
Reggie Bryant, Saint Louis
Charles Gaines, Southern Miss
Terrance Leather, USF
Delonte Holland, DePaul
Corey Santee, TCU

Third Team:
Jason Maxiell, Cincinnati
Anwar Ferguson, Houston
Andre Owens, Houston
Tony Bobbitt, Cincinnati
Morris Finley, UAB

First Team All-Freshman:
Banks
Desmond Mason, Marquette
Sammy Meija, DePaul
Martin Iti, Charlotte
Mike Cook, East Carolina

Look ahead to the C-USA Tournament

Never before has there been such a wide-open C-USA Tourney; not even close. Six to eight teams have a legit shot at running the table. Besides, anytime the co-champ does not even earn a first round bye, you know this tourney must be stacked. The possible lineup of quarterfinal Thursday reads like this: DePaul versus Marquette, UAB versus Charlotte, Louisville versus Cincinnati and Saint Louis versus Memphis.

Picking a favorite is nearly impossible. Cincinnati would be the most popular choice considering the tournament is being played in its city, yet the Bearcats may have the toughest road. Memphis right now stands in the best shape, considering it likely will play the easiest quarterfinal game. DePaul must get through Marquette, a team that has owned the Blue Demons in past years, while UAB and Charlotte will likely play each other in the quarters. This could be the best conference tournament in the country.

     

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