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Conference USA Semifinals Preview

March 13, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Semifinals Preview

Preview by Zach Van Hart

No. 1 DePaul versus No. 4 UAB
The two co-champions that no one was talking about at the beginning of the season will meet in semifinal No. 1 at the C-USA Tournament Friday. DePaul advanced with an 89-64 win against TCU, while the Blazers knocked off No. 5 seed Charlotte, 77-66. Both teams are hot, as the Blue Demons are on a five-game winning streak, while UAB’s run is at four games. In their only head-to-head matchup this season, DePaul won at home, 75-64. With both teams’ at-large bid appearing to be secure, they can play with one focus – advancing to the tournament finals. UAB is looking to make it two-straight appearances in the finals, while DePaul has not reached the last round since the 2000 tourney. The storyline for this game will be UAB’s up-tempo style and pressing defense and how the Blue Demons handle it. The Blazers forced eighteen turnovers against Charlotte Thursday and averaged more than 20 turnovers forced per game this season. It will be a challenge for DePaul, which runs a very methodical offense.

Not only do the Blazers pressure the ball and force turnovers, they are very careful with the ball on their end. They led C-USA in turnover margin (6.8) and were second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3). In the backcourt, the Blue Demons will have a considerable height advantage, as Sammy Meija (6-foot-6) and Drake Diener (6-foot-5) each own seven inches on their counterparts, Carldrell Johnson and Morris Finley. Inside, it should be a heated contest between DePaul’s Andre Brown, Delonte Holland and Quemont Greer and UAB’s Demario Eddins, Sidney Ball and Gabe Kennedy. The Blazers like usual have the deeper bench, which came into play against Charlotte. DePaul will try to slow down the game and if it does, will be in good shape. With both teams playing its best basketball, this game is too close to call. Look for an unsung hero on one of the two squads to be the difference.

No. 3 Cincinnati versus No. 7 Saint Louis
Not the semifinal many were expecting, but one that should still provide plenty of drama as Cincinnati and Saint Louis will meet in semifinal No. 2 at the C-USA Tournament in U.S. Bank Arena. These two teams meet only 16 days ago, with the Bearcats blowing out the Billikens, 77-52. But this is different, this is the postseason. Saint Louis is right now playing inspired basketball, led by its leading scorer, Reggie Bryant. The junior’s father, who suffered a stroke last week, continues to be in bad shape. With his father on his mind, Bryant has averaged 15.5 points during the tourney, but has hit the back-breaker hoop in both of SLU’s wins. He is the perfect yin to Billikens yang: A slow, let-the-shot-clock-run-down offense that slowed down Memphis Thursday.

The Bearcats have the look of a team destined to win the conference title in its home city. Playing in front of a raucous crowd, Cincinnati squeaked out a 64-62 win against Louisville during the quarters. They will also sport a look different from what the Billikens saw just two weeks ago, a bigger lineup. James White and Armein Kirkland are starting at the same time now and it is paying off for Bob Huggins. Kirkland had his best game of the season Thursday, scoring twelve points, including the game-winning basket, along with handing out seven assists. Like the first semifinal match, tempo will be crucial. If Saint Louis slows the game down, it has a good shot at pulling off another upset. But if the game is up and down, the Billikens will not be able to compete with the athleticism of Cincinnati. Expect the Bearcats to play off the home crowd and into Saturday’s finals.

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