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C-USA Notebook

by - Published March 9, 2005 in Conference Notes



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Well, it wasn’t the five-way tie witnessed last season, but it was a
great regular season in Conference USA. The Louisville Cardinals
finally made it through February without collapsing and earned their
first ever C-USA regular season championship. Along with the Cards,
Cincinnati and Charlotte are locks for the NCAA Tournament, while
DePaul and UAB have work to do. Houston, TCU, Memphis and Marquette
all have hopes of making it to at least the NIT.

Here are the season-ending awards, team postseason outlooks or season recaps and a look ahead to this week’s conference tournament in Memphis.

Conference USA Season Awards

First Team All-C-USA
Eddie Basden, Charlotte
Francisco Garcia, Louisville
Quemont Greer, DePaul
Travis Diener, Marquette
Donell Taylor, UAB

Second Team
Eric Hicks, Cincinnati
Curtis Withers, Charlotte
Andrew Owens, Houston
Darius Washington Jr., Memphis
Terrance Leather, USF

Third Team
Jason Maxiell, Cincinnati
Taquan Dean, Louisville
Corey Santee, TCU
Larry O’Bannon, Louisville
Lanny Smith, Houston

Player of the Year – Francisco Garcia
Defensive Player of the Year – Eddie Basden
Coach of the Year – Tom Penders, Houston
Sixth Man of the Year – Ronell Taylor, UAB
Freshman of the Year – Darius Washington Jr.

Postseason Outlook / Season Recap

Charlotte (21-6 overall, 12-4 C-USA) Last week: 0-2

The 49ers are guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but their seeding took a hit last week with two losses. Both hurt equally, but the loss at South Florida was very unexpected. Right now the Niners are probably looking at a No. 7 seed and could move up if they advance to the conference finals, or down a spot if they fall in the quarterfinals. This could be a likely scenario as Charlotte will probably face Memphis, playing on its home court, to start its conference tournament run Thursday.

Cincinnati (24-6, 12-4) Last week: 2-0

Cincinnati is also cemented into the field of 65. Right now the Bearcats are probably and No. 5 or 6 seed. They come in riding a six-game winning streak. Barring a loss in the quarterfinals to Houston or South Florida, their seeding will not fall any further. But if they make a run and win the conference title, they could rise to as high as a No. 4. This will be difficult; so expect them to settle for a No. 5 seed.

DePaul (18-9, 10-6) Last week: 0-2

A win against Louisville would have guaranteed a spot in the big dance for the Blue Demons. Now, a return trip to the NCAA Tournament is not for certain. They have lost four of six, and even though all four losses were close and to quality opponents, it still does not look good. Two wins, including against UAB in the quarterfinals, would lock in a bid, likely a No. 10 or 11 seed. If they were to run the table, they could possibly eek their way to a No. 8. If they lose to Tulane they’re out; If they lose to the Blazers on Thursday, it’s going to be a nervous bunch on Sunday evening.

East Carolina (9-19, 4-12) Last week: 0-2

This season had to be expected for the Pirates. It should have been looked upon as a stepping stone to next year, to the refurbished C-USA that ECU would be much more equipped to compete with. Unfortunately, the athletic department decided Bill Herrion would not be around to see it and fired him with three weeks remaining in the season. True, he never produced a winning season, but the cards were stacked against him. In his final game, the Pirates lost on the road to Tulane, 77-71, which bumped them out of the No. 12 and final seed at the conference tournament.

Houston (18-12, 9-7) Last week: 0-2

The pleasant surprise of C-USA, the Cougars still need to win the conference tournament to earn a bid to March Madness. Even if they defeated Cincinnati and Charlotte and lost in the finals, those wins coupled with its defeat of Louisville in January cannot overshadow Houston’s weak non-conference schedule and home loss to Tulane. However, the Cougars are a lock for the NIT, which is amazing enough considering they were predicted to finish in the basement of the conference.

Louisville (26-4, 14-2) Last week: 2-0

The Cardinals are playing for seeding now. A No. 1 seed is unlikely, but a No. 2 is well within their grasp if they continue playing well and win the conference tournament. With no bad losses, a season sweep of Cincinnati and road win at Florida, Louisville’s resume in solid. It lacks a top-notch win and that, along with the lower RPI of C-USA, will cost the Cards a No. 1 seed. An early loss in the tournament will likely slide them down to a No. 3.

Marquette (19-10, 7-9) Last week: 1-1

The only way the Golden Eagles can make the field of 65 is to win the C-USA tournament, and even a NIT bid – although likely – is not a certainty. With a losing conference record and the possibility of only three teams making the NCAA field, there may be five teams from C-USA with better resumes than Marquette to make the NIT. A win against TCU will help the Golden Eagles’ case, but only beating Louisville in the quarterfinals will guarantee it.

Memphis (16-14, 9-7) Last week: 0-2

Three weeks ago the Tigers had played themselves into the possibility of earning an at-large bid. A four-game losing streak ended that. Memphis needs to win the tournament to earn a bid and have a shot thanks to home-court advantage. If not, the Tigers are almost assured of a NIT bid, unless they lose in the first round to Saint Louis. Baring that, even a loss to Charlotte in the quarterfinals should not keep them out of at least the lesser postseason tournament.

South Florida (12-15, 5-11) Last week: 1-1

The Bulls need to win the conference tournament to advance to any postseason play. Even if they win three games and lose in the finals, they have no chance at the NIT. Having to go through Houston, Cincinnati, then probably Charlotte or Memphis and Louisville, this seems highly unlikely. An upset win against the Cougars would at least build some momentum going into next year. The Bulls were actually a disappointment after such a strong start, but this season was definitely a step in the right direction. At the moment though, they appear to be the doormat of the new Big East next season.

Southern Miss (11-17, 2-14) Last week: 1-1

Larry Eustachy would just as soon forget his first season as the Golden Eagles coach. Inheriting a team in disarray and then kicking off his best player, Jasper Johnson, Eustachy and his squad stumbled throughout conference play. They at least salvaged one positive moment, ending the season with a thrilling 66-64 win against tough TCU, sending seniors David Haywood and Dante Stiggers out on a high note. Jason Forte made a putback layup with two seconds remaining to clinch the win.

Saint Louis (9-20, 6-10) Last week: 2-0

The bright news for the Billikens is they finished the regular season with solid wins against Memphis and Marquette. Of course, this came at the tail end of the worst season of basketball at SLU in decades. Saint Louis will face Memphis again to start the conference tournament and if it manages to upset the Tigers again, this time on their home floor, SLU’s season will likely end at the hands of Charlotte.

TCU (18-12, 8-8) Last week: 1-1

A win against Southern Miss on Saturday would have likely cemented a bid for the Horned Frogs into the NIT. Now, with only a .500 record in conference play and a No. 8 seed instead of a No. 7, that bid is not 100 percent. A win against Marquette should do it, and an upset of Louisville will guarantee it. Anything short of winning the conference tournament, even an upset of the Cardinals and UAB or DePaul, will keep the Frogs out of the NCAA field.

Tulane (10-17, 4-12) Last week: 1-1

The Green Wave prolonged its season and ended a six-game losing streak by defeating East Carolina on Saturday. With the win Tulane earned the No. 12 seed and final spot in the conference tournament. But the win was truly avoiding the inevitable. Barring a miracle, Tulane will lose its first round game against DePaul. Nothing really else to say here.

UAB (20-9, 10-6) Last week: 2-0

Right now, the Blazers are truly a bubble team. If they lose in the quarterfinals to DePaul, they are likely out. If they win and upset Louisville, they are definitely in. But if they beat the Blue Demons but lose to the Cardinals, than they will not know their fate until between the hours of 6 and 7 p.m. Sunday. If they do make it to the tournament, do not expect anything higher than a No. 12 seed.

Look ahead to the Conference Tournament

Heading into the final C-USA tournament for half of the conference, the hottest teams are the usual suspects of Louisville and Cincinnati. While fans would surely love to see the third rendition of the season for this rivalry, there are several teams that are capable and thwarting this battle of I-71.

Perhaps the dangerous team in the field is the hometown Tigers at the No. 7 seed. Although Memphis has struggled down the stretch, losing four in a row, the Tigers are always capable of beating anyone in this league and will have home-court advantage. However, they would have to defeat Charlotte and likely Cincinnati before making it to the championship game.

The 49ers are obviously as threat as the No. 2 seed, while UAB and DePaul could both test Louisville in the semifinals. But don’t expect any of that to occur. It will be Louisville and Cincinnati in the finals and the Cardinals will complete the three-game sweep of the Bearcats.

     

C-USA Notebook

by - Published February 8, 2005 in Conference Notes



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Rivalries end, ending

Half of C-USA is ecstatic about what changes next season present, because those universities are moving to more talented basketball leagues. But even the likes of Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville and others understand the sad part of the move: the ending of what have become intense rivalries.

Saturday likely saw the last regular season match-up between Cincinnati and Charlotte. In a series that’s produced as many basketball moments; Kenyon Martin’s buzzer beater in ’99, Tim Higgins’ phantom whistle the following season preserving a Charlotte win, with as many non-basketball moments; Diego Guevara’s kiss to his wife and Charlotte fans throwing batteries at Cincinnati players, it produced another memorable finish Saturday. Armein Kirkland missed a 15-footer with a second remaining, preserving a 91-90 victory for the 49ers.

DePaul and Saint Louis will also end their rivalry this season, and played their final game in Saint Louis on Sunday; DePaul eked out a win. The last regular season game between these two will take place Feb. 26. Finally, numerous rivals of Memphis will depart, ending classic Memphis-Louisville, Memphis-Cincinnati and Memphis-Marquette games. It’s unlikely any of these games will continue next year. Memphis defeated Marquette on Jan. 13 in their lone game of the season, and will finish its series with Louisville on Feb. 26 and Cincinnati on March 5.

Badiane sets C-USA block record

Move over Kenyon Martin, there’s a new king in town. With three blocks against Charlotte on Jan. 29, Moussa Badiane become C-USA’s all-time block leader. His current total of 297 beats Martin’s number of 292. Badiane, who was born and raised in France, actually grew up wanting to be a soccer player. That all changed when ECU assistant coach Greg Herenda persuaded Badiane to come to East Carolina to play basketball. Badiane accepted without even seeing the ECU campus.

To top it off, East Carolina pulled off a huge 54-51 upset against the Niners and Badiane made the play of the game. And surprisingly, it was not a blocked shot. With the Pirates leading by one and Eddie Basden driving to the basket with five seconds remaining, Badiane elected not to attempt a block and instead took a charge. He got the call, and the Pirates got the win.

Around C-USA

Charlotte (15-4 overall, 6-2 C-USA) Last week: 1-0

The 49ers, as stated earlier, won their final regular season game against rival Cincinnati, 91-90. Brendan Plavich ignited Charlotte with a season-high 26 points and eight three-pointers, many from 25 feet and beyond. The Niners’ 91 points was easily the most scored against Cincinnati this season (the previous high was 78 by East Carolina). The Bearcats came into the game leading the nation in field goal defense, at 35.8 percent, but Charlotte hit 41.5 percent and went 25-of-28 from the free-throw line. Eddie Basden, having taken over the role as team MVP, nearly finished with a triple double by scoring 20 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing seven assists. Curtis Withers scored 15 and Mitchell Baldwin and E.J. Drayton each added 10. Withers scored the game-winning points with two free throws with a little over a minute remaining. The win almost makes up for last week’s surprising loss at East Carolina, and puts the Niners in third place in C-USA.

Next week – vs. Houston (Wednesday), at Saint Louis (Saturday)

Cincinnati (17-5, 6-3) Last week: 0-2

The Bearcats knew this week would be tough. They put themselves in position to win both road games, at Louisville and Charlotte, but faltered late during both and lost, 77-70 and 91-90, respectively. Against the Cardinals, the Bearcats fell behind early and played catch up the entire game. They had several chances to tie the game during the final few minutes, but Jihad Muhammad missed back-to-back three-point attempts. Freshman Juan Palacios made a crucial 25-foot three-pointer off glass with the shot clock running down, putting Louisville up by seven with less than two minutes to play. Eric Hicks had a monster game, finishing with 21 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Saturday, the Bearcats hit a blistering 48.5 percent from the field and five players finished in double digits, but their usually steady defense was rocked by the 49ers. Hicks again led the team in scoring with 20 points, while James White added 18 and Jason Maxiell finished with 17.

Next week – vs. Xavier (Thursday), at DePaul (Saturday)

DePaul (15-5, 7-2) Last week: 2-0

Quietly, the Blue Demons have collected conference wins the past few weeks. Now that they’re alone in second place, they’re not so quiet anymore. DePaul swept its games last week, winning a close game against TCU, 64-62, before going on the road for yet another close win, 56-53 at Saint Louis. Sammy Meija made the big defensive play of the game, blocking Corey Santee’s 15-footer with 30 seconds remaining and the Blue Demons clinging to a one-point lead. After Quemont Greer made one of two free throws, the Horned Frogs had a chance to win it but Marcus Shropshire’s three-point attempt missed. Sunday, DePaul overcame an early 10-point deficit and made the plays down the stretch to beat the Billikens. Greer missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12 seconds remaining, but Marlon Brumfield tipped the rebound back to Drake Diener, who was fouled and made both free throws. Then DePaul came up with another late-second block, as LeVar Seals blocked Dwayne Polk’s three-point attempt with three seconds left.

Next week – vs. Cincinnati (Saturday)

East Carolina (7-15, 2-8) Last week: 0-2

The Pirates returned to reality last week after their huge upset of Charlotte the previous week, losing at Memphis 72-66, and TCU, 71-59. East Carolina actually controlled the game against Memphis during the first 25 minutes, leading by five points at the half and never trailing until Anthony Rice’s three-pointer with 13:20 remaining in the game. Mike Cook led the team with 17 points, one of four players in double figures. Memphis seemed surprised that the Pirates were playing as well as they were, but eventually turned it on and let their talent take over.

Saturday, East Carolina again looked good during the first half, taking a 28-26 lead into the break. But the Pirates fell apart during the second half, allowing 45 points. Cook led the team again with 12 points, as the Pirates shot 34.5 percent from the field.

Next week – vs. Marquette (Saturday)

Houston (14-9, 5-4) Last week: 2-0

The Cougars notched their second big-time home win this season, defeating Memphis on Saturday, 66-53, after easily beating Saint Louis on Wednesday, 63-43. Andre Owens scored a game-high 26 points while adding seven rebounds and five assists. Houston allowed the Billikens to play their slow pace game, and simply beat them at it. The Cougars only turned the ball over eight times, while forcing 17 Saint Louis turnovers. Along with its rebounding advantage, the Cougars were able to take 19 more shots than Saint Louis. Saturday, Owens and Lanny Smith took a backseat to the Brian Latham and Ramon Dyer show. Latham scored 22 and Dyer a career-high 19 points as Houston outscored Memphis 41-23 during the second half. The Cougars did it with defense, forcing a season-high 26 turnovers by the Tigers.

Next week – at Charlotte (Wednesday), at Southern Miss (Saturday)

Louisville (20-3, 8-1) Last week: 2-0

The Cardinals played their most impressive week of the season, something that never took place during the past two seasons during February. Louisville completed its first season sweep of Louisville since the inception of C-USA with a 77-70 win on Wednesday, before beating UAB on the road Saturday, 77-73. Against Cincinnati, Taquan Dean again led the Cards in scoring with 19, one of four players in double figures. Juan Palacios scored 17 points and hit a crucial three-pointer late, and then Louisville held on by hitting free throws down the stretch. Saturday, Larry O’Bannon led the team with 21 points, while Francisco Garcia scored 19. The Cardinals outscored the Blazers 7-1 during the final 1:44, thanks to four free throws and a big block by Garcia on Demario Eddins that would have tied the game with less than 20 seconds remaining.

Next week – vs. Memphis (Wednesday), vs. South Florida (Saturday)

Marquette (16-6, 4-5) Last week: 1-1

It’s easy to say that the return of Travis Diener on Saturday against Southern Miss was the lone difference between the Marquette’s win against the Golden Eagles and its loss to UAB on Wednesday. OK, it probably did make the majority of the difference. With Diener sitting out for the third-straight game with a minor stress fracture in his left foot, the Blazers easily beat the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee, 86-63. Marquette was spanked inside the paint, being outscored 50-6. Joe Chapman led the team with 21 points, but 20 turnovers did in the Eagles. Saturday, Diener returned off the bench, scoring 17 points and dishing eight assists in 29 minutes. Despite his return, the Eagle struggled against Southern Miss, the team that is in last place of C-USA.

Next week – at TCU (Wednesday), at East Carolina (Saturday)

Memphis (13-10, 6-3) Last week: 1-1

It doesn’t appear that the Tigers are going to make any kind of run this season. After beating East Carolina on Wednesday, 72-66, Memphis lost another game that on paper it should have won, falling to Houston on Saturday 66-53. The Tigers did not even show up for the East Carolina game until halfway through the second half. Memphis trailed by five points at the half and didn’t take its first lead until the 13:20 mark of the second half. Rodney Carney led the team with 19 points, while Jeremy Hunt added 14 off the bench. The Tigers were aided by shooting 28-of-39 from the free-throw line.

Saturday, Memphis simply allowed a weaker team to whip them. Carney only went 2-of-9 from the field and scored five points. The Tigers were outscored by 18 during the second half and collapsed late. The 53 points tied their second lowest output of the season.

Next week – at Louisville (Wednesday), vs. Tulane (Saturday)

South Florida (10-10, 3-6) Last week: 2-0

Well, at least it’s a step in the right direction. After a six-game losing streak, including several close games to some of the best teams in conference, the Bulls won twice last week by beating Southern Miss, 72-61, and Tulane, 86-66. Against the Golden Eagles, Terrance Leather led the team with 22 points and nine rebounds. Brian Swift added 14 points, but only two assists. South Florida shot 52 percent from the field, including 8-of-16 from beyond the three-point line. Leather kept it going against Tulane on Saturday, finishing with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Swift had a more Swift-like performance, dishing out 11 assists in addition to 12 points. Marlyn Bryant also added 19 points. The Bulls out-rebounded Tulane, 31-20, and hit 54 percent from the field.

Next week – vs. Saint Louis (Wednesday), at Louisville (Saturday)

Southern Miss (10-11, 1-8) Last week: 0-2

It’s official: The Golden Eagles are sole owners of the C-USA cellar. Southern Miss lost two more conference games last week, falling to South Florida, 72-61, and at Marquette, 81-72. These were the third and fourth games since Jasper Johnson, the team’s top scorer and rebounder, was asked to leave the team by head coach Larry Eustachy. Wednesday against South Florida, Rashaad Carruth led the team with 19 points, while Jason Forte added 14 and Jarekus Singleton 15 off the bench. Southern Miss played better on the road against Marquette, but could not contain an injured Travis Diener.

Next week – vs. Saint Louis (Wednesday), vs. Tulane (Saturday)

Saint Louis (5-16, 3-6) Last week: 0-2

The Billikens’ modest hot streak is over, now that they have lost four straight. The latter two losses came last week at Houston, 63-43, and against DePaul in a close game, 56-53. Wednesday’s 43 points was their second-lowest output of the season, as they finished with more turnovers (17) than field goals (16). Reggie Bryant was the lone player in double figures, with 12 points. And Saint Louis’ tough defense had no answer for Houston’s Andre Owens, who scored 26 points. Sunday, the Billikens frustrated DePaul and had a shot to win at the end, but a failure to grab a rebound off of a missed Blue Demon free throw attempt allowed them to take a three-point lead with nine seconds remaining. Had Saint Louis recovered the rebound, it would have only trailed by one and any basket would have won the game. Instead, they needed a three-pointer and Dwayne Polk’s attempt was blocked with three seconds remaining.

Next week – at South Florida (Wednesday), vs. Charlotte (Saturday)

TCU (14-9, 4-5) Last week: 1-1

The Horned Frogs lost a tough road game against DePaul earlier in the week, their fourth straight, before rebounding with a 71-59 win against East Carolina. Playing in Chicago, TCU took the game down to the wire before falling 64-62. Trailing by one, Corey Santee had his 15-footer blocked with 20 seconds remaining. After a DePaul free throw, the Horned Frogs had one more chance but Marcus Shropshire missed a three-pointer with one second remaining. Shropshire led the team with 17 points, while Aaron Curtis contributed 13 off the bench. Eight blocked shots, including the last by Sammy Meija, did in the Frogs. After a sloppy first half on Saturday, TCU turned it on to easily dispatch of the Pirates. Shropshire again led the team in scoring with 19, while Nile Murry scored 17 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field and the free-throw line.

Next week – vs. Marquette (Wednesday), vs. UAB (Saturday)

Tulane (8-12, 2-7) Last week: 0-2

The Green Wave returned to their losing ways last week, falling by large deficits to Louisville, 105-69, and South Florida, 86-66. Six players scored in double figures for Louisville, which forced 24 Tulane turnovers. The lone bright spot for the Green Wave was Donnie Stitch, who scored 19 points, thanks to a 14-of-14 performance from the free-throw line. The Cardinals finished with nearly as many three-pointers (14) as Tulane had field goals (16). Against the Bulls, another five players scored in double figures against the Wave, while Quincy Davis was the lone Tulane player to crack the mark, with 13 points. Despite excellent shooting by the Green Wave, 48.7 percent from the field and 89.5 percent from the free-throw line, turnovers and rebounding did them in. South Florida forced 19 turnovers to its five and out-rebounded the Wave, 31-20.

Next week – vs. Southern Miss (Wednesday), at Memphis (Saturday)

UAB (16-6, 6-3) Last week: 1-1

The Blazers were close to their biggest win of the season Saturday, but could not upend Louisville and lost 77-73 in a game nationally televised on ESPN2. The loss came after a surprisingly easy blowout road win against Marquette, 86-63. Against the Cardinals, UAB took a one-point lead with 1:44 remaining, but a three-pointer and four crucial free throws by Louisville prevented the win. Demario Eddins led the team with 18 points, while the Taylor twins of Donell and Ronell contributed 16 and 11, respectively. Earlier in the week against the Golden Eagles, four Blazers scored in double figures, led by Eddins’ 23. After a close first half, UAB blew Marquette out of the gym during the second half, outscoring them 48-24. Twenty Eagle turnovers was the difference.

Next week – at TCU (Saturday)

C-USA Player of the Week

Terrance Leather, South Florida
The senior forward helped the Bulls snap a six-game win streak by averaging 24 points and 10.5 rebounds during their two wins.

Games to watch

Memphis at Louisville (Wednesday at 7 p.m.)
Picking the Cardinals in this match-up looks like the safe bet, but Memphis has the talent to flick on the switch at any moment. Meanwhile, all college basketball analysts are probably wondering if Louisville will fade down the stretch again.

Cincinnati at DePaul (Saturday at 3:30 p.m.)
The Blue Demons repaid a blowout loss at Cincinnati with a win at home last season, and there’s good reason to believe that could happen this season. Quemont Greer struggled against the Bearcats in game one, so look for a big game from him.

UAB at TCU (Saturday at 8 p.m.)
The Blazers continue to struggle on the road. The Horned Frogs have also apparently ended their recent slump. Expect an up-and-down contest, and expect TCU to take home the win.

     

C-USA Notebook

by - Published January 21, 2005 in Conference Notes



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Banks gone

Sean Banks’ season is over. After starting slow this season and being suspended for one game for a poor attitude, Memphis announced on Sunday that Banks is academically ineligible for the remainder of the season. But head coach John Calipari sounded more like this was the end of Banks’ Memphis career.

According to ESPN.com, Calipari said that he expected Banks would declare for the NBA draft in the spring. Calipari said he wouldn’t rule out taking Banks back if he were eligible for next year. Banks showed remorse for this position and hinted that he could come back to the Tigers next year.

“I’m sorry that I let my teammates, coaches, coach Calipari, the university and the city of Memphis down,” Banks said. “The situation I am in is my own fault. I slacked off at the beginning of last semester and thought I could make it up at the end, but I was unable to do it. I want to thank my teammates and coaches for their support. I am going to take classes somewhere and hopefully get eligible again. I have enjoyed playing basketball at Memphis and will not play for any other college. I also want to continue to work out and keep in playing shape.”

Banks’ stock was extremely high after his freshman season, where he was a First Team All-C-USA Selection, C-USA Freshman of the Year and ESPN’s national Freshman of the Year. But his status started to drop this summer when he decided not to show for tryouts of the U.S. National team, even though the tryouts were a mere minutes away from his home in New Jersey. He came into this season with a poor attitude, according to Calipari, and had been reprimanded to the bench. Calipari expresses that he believes Banks has really lowered his draft status, saying, “He was a Top 15 pick at one point but he has really hurt himself.”

Crowded in the middle

Charlotte is undefeated. East Carolina, Tulane and Southern Miss are stinking up the bottom at 0-4. South Florida and Saint Louis are hanging out at 1-2. The rest? Hanging out in the middle of Conference USA, as the remaining eight teams are all 2-1 or 3-1. With so many teams so close to one another, it’s hard to decipher from the legit teams to the pretenders. This week should help a little bit as many of these teams play each other. Expect more disparity, and probably no more undefeated teams either.

Around C-USA

Charlotte (12-2 overall, 3-0 C-USA) Last week: 2-0

The 49ers find themselves alone at the top of C-USA standings after improving to 3-0 in conference play with a 91-85 win against UAB on Wednesday, before struggling at home against Saint Louis but winning 65-59. But it was not all good news for Charlotte, as Mitchell Baldwin left the Billiken win with a dislocated shoulder near the end of the first half. His status for Wednesday’s important road game against Cincinnati is unknown.

The Niners’ win in Birmingham was huge, as they outplayed the Blazers at their own up-tempo style. They played a great overall game, as Eddie Basden scored 18 points, Baldwin had 17 and Brendan Plavich and Chris Nance each added 16. The Niners overcame an off night from Curtis Withers, who shot 2-of-10 from the field and scored eight points. Charlotte also overcame 22 turnovers by shooting 50.8 percent.

Four players again scored in double figures against the Billikens, despite the team shooting only 34.4 percent. The 49ers were saved by forcing 17 turnovers.

Next week – at Cincinnati (Wednesday), at Marquette (Saturday)

Cincinnati (14-2, 3-1) Last week: 1-1

The Bearcats held commanding first half leads during both of their games last week. Twice they tried to give the game away. East Carolina was unwilling to comply, but Louisville certainly was. Cincinnati defeated the Pirates, 84-78, on Wednesday but lost at home to Louisville, 69-66, on Saturday.

Against the No. 19 Cardinals, the Bearcats took a 25-8 lead early and limited Francisco Garcia to 2-of-13 shooting. But Cincinnati could not stop the Cards on the offensive boards, allowing 19. Nick Williams broke out of a season-long shooting slump, hitting 6-of-8 from the three-point line and scoring 18 points. James White also played his best game of his season, finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

Against East Carolina, Jason Maxiell led Cincinnati with 24 points and eight rebounds. The Bearcats were again weak on the boards, allowing 45 Pirate boards to 31 of their own.

Next week – vs. Charlotte (Wednesday), vs. Wake Forest (Saturday)

DePaul (10-4, 2-1) Last week: 1-0

It was a pretty easy week for the Blue Demons, as all they had to do was win on the road against Tulane. Quemont Greer scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, leading DePaul to that easy 81-63 win on Saturday. Sammy Meija returned to the bench and played well for the first time in four games, finishing with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists. Cliff Clinkscales also came off the bench, dishing out five assists. DePaul forced nine more turnovers than the Green Wave (16-7), attempted 12 more shots (69-57) and made 12 more field goals (34-22). Drake Diener also contributed 15 points.

Next week – vs. Marquette (Thursday), vs. East Carolina (Saturday)

East Carolina (5-11, 0-4) Last week: 0-2

The Pirates look no different than the past few seasons, and their record shows. East Carolina fell to 0-4 in conference after losing 84-78 at home to Cincinnati on Wednesday, and to UAB on Saturday, 76-64. Against the Bearcats, the Pirates showed some fight and came back from a 20-point deficit to get within four points during the final few minutes before Cincinnati pulled away. Corey Rouse led East Carolina with 21 points and 13 rebounds, while Mike Cook dropped in 19, two of four Pirate players to score in double figures.

They repeated the feat against the Blazers, but could not stop their outside shooting. UAB hit six more three-pointers (10-4) and free throws (16-10), which was the difference. Rouse backed up his great game against the Bearcats with 17 points and 14 rebounds.

Next week – at Louisville (Wednesday), at DePaul (Saturday)

Houston (11-6, 2-1) Last week: 2-0

The Cougars continued to impress by winning games they would not have last season. Last week, they won two home games, beating Centenary, 93-82, and Southern Miss, 63-53. Andre Owens and Lanny Smith combined for 38 points against Centenary, while the bench added 30. Houston forced 19 turnovers and overcame poor shooting from outside (9-of-33 from the three-point line) by hitting 24-of-34 free throws.

Brian Lantham was the player of the game against Southern Miss, scoring a team-high 19 points off the bench. The swarming Cougar defense forced 21 turnovers against the Golden Eagles and limited them to only 41 shot attempts and 16 made field goals.

Next week – at TCU (Wednesday), at South Florida (Saturday)

Louisville (14-3, 3-1) Last week: 2-0

The Cardinals scored a huge road win last week, defeating No. 18 Cincinnati 69-66. Taquan Dean kept Louisville in the game during the first half and early in the second half, scoring 22 of his 25 points in the first 25 minutes of the game. During the second half, Louisville out-scored the Bearcats on second chance points 13-1 and out-rebounded them by 10. Larry O’Bannon added 18 points and scored the game-clinching lay-up with eight seconds remaining off a great find by Francisco Garcia. That Cards’ star only scored eight points, but Dean and company picked up his slack. Louisville lost two close games in Cincinnati last season and reacted like a monkey had been lifted off their backs once the final buzzer sounded. The Cardinals dominated their earlier game of the week, beating Southern Miss 107-62 as five players scored in double figures.

Next week – vs. East Carolina (Wednesday), vs. Tennessee (Saturday)

Marquette (14-2, 2-1) Last week: 1-1

A loss on the road to Memphis is not much of a surprise. A loss at home to South Florida would have been shocking. The expected loss to the Tigers came and the Eagles just avoided the shocker the Bulls. The Golden Eagles lost Thursday on national television to Memphis, 78-68, before needing a late three-point play from Todd Townsend to hold off South Florida, 66-64 on Saturday. Freshman forward Ryan Amoroso played the best game of his career against the Tigers, finishing with 16 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes. Dameon Mason led the team with 20 points, but Travis Diener went 3-of-12 from the field and finished with 16 points.

Saturday, South Florida led for practically the entire game and by one during the closing moments. Diener penetrated and dished to Townsend underneath, who converted the lay-up and subsequent free throw with five seconds remaining. Diener again struggled from the field, 5-of-15, but hit 11-of-15 free throws and scored 24 points to go with seven assists.

Next week – at DePaul (Thursday), vs. Charlotte (Saturday)

Memphis (9-8, 2-1) Last week: 1-1

How quickly a week can go from positive to negative. Thursday, Memphis defeated a tough Marquette team on national TV by a score of 68-58. Rodney Carney scored 29 points, reminiscent of his play during the first month of the season.

Then came Saturday. The Tigers lost another home game, this time to conference foe TCU, 61-59. Worst yet, they watched the Horned Frogs celebrate wildly on their court; and the game wasn’t even over. Tied at 58, Corey Santee hit a running three-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining. Because of excessive celebration, TCU earned a technical. Sean Banks one of two three throws, but Memphis could not get a shot off with the limited time remaining. Then came Sunday’s news that Banks was academically ineligible for the remainder of the season. Who knows where the Tigers go from here.

Next week – at South Florida (Wednesday), at UAB (Saturday)

South Florida (8-6, 1-2) Last week: 0-1

The Bulls are so close to breaking through they can smell it. But they’re not quite there yet. South Florida went on the road to Marquette and led for nearly the entire game, but a late three-point play allowed the Eagles to squeak by with a 66-64 win. Terrance Leather led the way with 25 points, going 8-of-11 from the field and 9-of-11 from the free-throw line. The Bulls led by 11 at the half and didn’t relinquish the lead until Travis Diener hit a three-pointer with 4:11 remaining in the game. Unfortunately for South Florida, Leather’s two misses from the line came during the final two minutes. Marlyn Bryant added 12 points and Brian Swift missed a double-double with 10 assists and nine rebounds.

Next week – vs. Memphis (Wednesday), vs. Houston (Saturday)

Southern Miss (9-7, 0-4) Last week: 0-2

Any early season optimism was crushed on Tuesday as the Golden Eagles suffered their worst loss in school history, falling to Louisville 107-62. Southern Miss finished with more turnovers, 23, then field goals, 19. The Eagles shot 35.2 percent from the field, while Louisville shot 56.9 percent and hit 31-of-33 from the free-throw line. Rashaad Carruth was the lone bright spot for the Eagles, scoring a career-high 25 points. Next came a 63-53 loss at Houston on Saturday. Again, the Eagles finished with more turnovers than field goals (21-16). The bright side? This week provides two very winnable games.

Next week – vs. Saint Louis (Wednesday), vs. Tulane (Saturday)

Saint Louis (3-12, 1-2) Last week: 0-1

The Billikens at least have the ability to play a good team tough on the road. That doesn’t mean they can win a road game, though. Saint Louis led for most of the second half but only made three field goals during the final eight minutes and lost to Charlotte, 65-59. Reggie Bryant led the Billikens with 22 points, while Ian Vouyoukas added 10. Izik Ohanon, would had been the team’s go-to guy during the past few weeks, only attempted two shots and scored two points in 18 minutes. Saint Louis’ defense held the high-powered Niner offense to only 34.4 percent but fell apart on the offensive side of the ball.

Next week – at Southern Miss (Wednesday), vs. TCU (Saturday)

TCU (12-5, 2-1) Last week: 2-0

The Horned Frogs celebrated in style on Saturday, even if the game was still going. Corey Santee’s game-winning three-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining sent TCU to a 61-59 win at Memphis, after the Frogs defeated Tulane earlier in the week, 73-62. Santee’s shot broke a 58-all tie. A technical free throw because of excessive celebration provided the final score. Santee finished with 13 points, while Nile Murry led the team with 17.

Against the Green Wave, Santee led all scores with 23 points and added four assists. The Frogs overcame a two-point halftime deficit by outscoring Tulane 42-29 during the second half.

Next week – vs. Houston (Wednesday), at Saint Louis (Saturday)

Tulane (6-9, 0-4) Last week: 0-2

The Green Wave is the third winless team remaining in Conference USA after it lost handedly twice last week, at TCU on Wednesday, 73-62, and at home against DePaul, 81-63. Marcus Kinzer continued to be more aggressive with his shot, leading the team with 20 points against the Horned Frogs. He also led the team in rebounding (seven) and assists (five) but received little help from the rest of his fellow starters, who shot a combined 8-of-23 from the field. He repeated his feat Saturday, leading the team in scoring (18), rebounding (10), and assists (six). But Tulane had no answer to the Blue Demon offense, allowing 49.3 percent shooting and only forcing seven turnovers.

Next week – vs. UAB (Wednesday), at Southern Miss (Saturday)

UAB (13-4, 3-1) Last week: 1-1

The Blazers lost at their own game Wednesday, falling at home to Charlotte, 91-85. They recovered later in the week, winning on the road against East Carolina, 76-64. Demario Eddins led UAB against Charlotte with 23 points, but it was not enough. Despite 22 turnovers, the Niners shot 50.8 percent from the field, including 9-of-20 from the three-point line. It was not a matter of the Blazers playing poorly, but simply a matter of the 49ers playing better.

That was not the case Saturday, as the Blazers had little difficulty dismantling the Pirates. Marvett McDonald came off the bench to lead the team with 17 points.

Next week – at Tulane (Wednesday), vs. Memphis (Saturday)

Conference USA Player of the Week

Taquan Dean, Louisville
Returned from his back injury to average 19 points in two wins, including a 25-point performance against Cincinnati. He went 7-of-12 from the three-point line and kept the Cardinals alive during the first half.

Games to watch

Memphis at South Florida (Wednesday at 7 p.m.)
In a sudden change of fortune, the Bulls should be favorites in this one. After two narrow defeats, South Florida will be ready to break out. Memphis, on the other hand, appears destined to tank after losing Sean Banks for the season.

Charlotte at Cincinnati (Wednesday at 8 p.m.)
Last season, the 49ers shocked Cincinnati at Fifth Third Arena, their first win there ever. If Mitchell Baldwin cannot play for Charlotte, expect the Bearcats to turn up the defensive pressure. The Bearcats have never lost two straight games at Fifth Third.

Marquette at DePaul (Thursday at 9 p.m.)
These two teams always seem to go down to the wire. This will be the second-to-last meeting between cousins Travis and Drake Diener. Both teams are looking to move out of that giant middle section of the conference.

     

Wish For an All ACC Channel

by - Published January 13, 2005 in Columns


Zach’s Wish List, Part I

by Zach Van Hart

This is the first of many wishes in college basketball I will share throughout the season. None will happen, but a boy can dream right?

This week’s wish: An All-ACC station (and that I have it)

Beauty: The quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality. Webster never intended for this definition to ever describe sports, but when it comes to the caliber of play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, no word better describes.

It’s hard not to love a conference in which all nine teams (can we ignore Miami (FL) and Virginia Tech?) have a decent shot a making the tournament. Or one where three of the top five teams in the country reside in your conference. Or one where you host the top rivalry in the country, and the teams play twice each season. But it’s not only that the teams are all good; they all play the game the right way. In a word, it’s beautiful.

Watching an ACC basketball game compares to Broadway, the symphony or a Steven Spielberg film. So many elements are woven together harmonically, from passing to defense, motion offense to elegant one-on-one moves. After a game is over, the question is not, “Did you enjoy the game?” but “What facet of the game did you enjoy the most?”

So why not a station devoted to ACC hoops, 24/7? Indulge me for a second and take a look at the games we would enjoy this week with ACC TV:

  • Tuesday – Maryland at Wake Forest. The Deacons are one of those top five teams mentioned earlier. Not like the Terrapins are chopped liver, ranked in the Top 20.
  • Wednesday – Georgia Tech at North Carolina. After beating Maryland at home by 34, is there any question the Tar Heels are scary good? Do the Yellow Jackets really need to prove how talented they are? At least ESPN will televise this one as I await my dream station.
  • Thursday – Duke at NC State. The Blue Devils are sweet. The Wolfpack is sweet. This game will be sweet. It would be sweeter watching it on ACC TV.
  • Saturday – North Carolina at Wake Forest. You heard it here first: a preview of this season’s national championship game. Perfect time for the debut of the perfect station.

What differentiates the ACC from the every other conference is that it’s a level above the rest of the country from top to bottom. There are no cake walks in the ACC. Duke almost routinely loses at Florida State. Clemson and Virginia are always tough places to play. Miami and Virginia Tech are unknowns, but simply playing against these spectacular teams will elevate their play. And of course, Boston College arrives next season, yet another Top 25 program.

Why would anyone want to watch college basketball besides the ACC? The Big Ten is Illinois and a bunch of middle-of-the-road teams. The Big East will be sweet next season, but until then, who cares about Syracuse’s boring zone? Speaking of boring, did I mention Texas and Kansas? Minus Oklahoma State (which may be the source another one of my wishes), the Big 12 is also a snooze fest. Do they still play basketball on the West Coast? I remember when a UCLA game was noteworthy, now; apparently Washington is the cream of the crop out there. Oh, and I hate Kentucky. So much for the SEC.

Please local cable station, I’m begging you. One can only take so much adolescent college action. Don’t even get me started with the NBA. I want Chris Paul. I want the Cameron Crazies. I want Raymond Felton, Julius Hodge, Gary Williams cursing up a storm and Georgia Tech backing down from no one. Hell, I even want Dickey V and his insanity. My Seinfeld DVDs need to carry me through spring; if I watch them now all I have to do once April hits is cut my neighbor’s grass. So for the love of a poor, depraved college basketball fan, give me some ACC hoops. All day, every day.

     

C-USA Notebook

by - Published January 13, 2005 in Conference Notes



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Houston’s upset special

It didn’t take long for head coach Tom Penders to make a difference at Houston. The Cougars beat a ranked team for the first time in eight seasons with a win against No. 16 Louisville, 70-67. Andre Owens scored 27, including the game-winning basket, a three-pointer, with 21 seconds remaining. Francisco Garcia, who gave Louisville a two-point lead with a 15-footer prior to Owens’ trey, was called for charging on the following possession. Lanny Smith would make two free throws with 11 seconds remaining to close out the scoring.

Owens later said he knew he would make a play on the decisive possession. “I told Lanny (Smith) to look for me and I’ll make it for you,” Owens said. “I wanted the ball and I knew I could make it happen. I think we’ve showed that we can beat anybody at home. After two tough road defeats and people questioning our toughness, I was so proud over what happened.”

Penders also expressed his excitement afterwards. “It was a great step for us,” said Penders. “Louisville is a Top 5 program no matter what the rankings, and a win tonight was big for us. We’re a young team learning a new system so this is the next step for us.”

Houston led for most of the second half, until Garcia’s jumper with 34 seconds put Louisville ahead by two. Then Owens’ heroics took precedence. After scoring a season-low against Texas A&M during the team’s previous game, Owens came out on fire, scoring 18 first half points, helping the Cougars take a 34-30 lead.

Importance of the No. 2 man

It’s possible that what team takes the regular season crown will not depend upon its star to lead them to promise land, but its No. 2 man. Right now, the two teams that appear more secure at that position are Cincinnati and Charlotte. The Bearcats are led by Jason Maxiell and the 49ers by Curtis Withers. But waiting in the wings for Cincinnati is Eric Hicks, averaging 13.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. And Armein Kirkland is also a potential No. 2 man, averaging 14.2 points per game. Charlotte has Eddie Basden to fall back upon, with his 14.4 scoring average and tenacious defense. Brendan Plavich is also a potential candidate, with his 12.8 points per game and deadly outside shooting.

Meanwhile, the league’s top two stars are Louisville’s Francisco Garcia and Marquette’s Travis Diener. But the lack of a reliable No. 2 man makes these two teams vulnerable. For the Cardinals, they know who their No. 2 player is; the problem is keeping him healthy. As Taquan Dean’s groin injury worsened last season, so did the Cardinals’ season. Now, Dean is suffering from back spasms, hampering him during the past three games. If Dean cannot return to form, Louisville loses much more than his 14.1 points per game. The Golden Eagles figured by now that Steve Novack would establish himself as Diener’s sidekick, but the title is still comfortable. He must stay consistent for the Golden Eagles to have a shot at the title.

Charlotte (10-2 overall, 1-0 C-USA) Last week: 1-0

The 49ers opened C-USA play with a convincing 72-60 win on the road against East Carolina on Saturday. Charlotte built a 19-point lead during the second half, but allowed the Pirates to claw back within seven with 3:12 remaining. But ECU would never get closer, as the Niners out-scored the Pirates 10-5 the remainder of the game. Eddie Basden led the way with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Curtis Withers contributed 15 and 10. Michael Baldwin rounded out the double-digit scoring with 12. Charlotte took advantage of its size advantage by advancing to the free-throw line 23 times, opposed to East Carolina’s nine attempts. Leemire Goldmire, who had stepped up his play of late, struggled to three points on 1-of-10 shooting.

Next week – at UAB (Wednesday), vs. Saint Louis (Saturday)

Cincinnati (13-1, 2-0) Last week: 2-0

The Bearcats rebounded from their loss to top-ranked Illinois in impressive fashion, blowing out DePaul at home, 83-54, and Saint Louis on the road, 69-53, to start their conference season. Jihad Muhammad scored 11 early points against the Blue Demons, as Cincinnati took an early 22-11 lead and never looked back. They lead by 23 at the half and by nearly 40 late during the game. Four starters scored in double figures, while Eric Hicks limited Quemont Greer, the conference’s leading scorer, to 12 meaningless points.

Against the Billikens, Cincinnati hit a season-high nine three-pointers, led by Armein Kirkland’s game-high 22 points. Saint Louis kept it close for most of the first half, but a late run enabled the Bearcats to take a 34-24 lead going into halftime. Cincinnati then controlled the second half, never allowing the lead to dip below nine. The Bearcat defense again limited its opponent’s top scorer, this time Reggie Bryant, below his usual production. Bryant finished with eight points.

Next week – at East Carolina (Wednesday), vs. Louisville (Saturday)

DePaul (9-4, 1-1) Last week: 1-1

For the second straight season, the Blue Demons were blown out in Cincinnati during their first week of conference play. After losing 83-54 to the Bearcats on Thursday, DePaul rebounded for a 68-57 win against Houston at home on Saturday. It took the Demons nearly 30 minutes to erase the memory of Thursday’s loss. The Cougars, who came into Saturday beaming with confidence after an upset win against Louisville, took a 17-point lead during the first half and led at halftime, 31-24. After DePaul awoke from its poor play, it slowly chipped away at the lead until Drake Diener’s three-pointer with 14:08 remaining gave the Blue Demons their first lead of the game, 38-37. They never trailed again. Quemont Greer responded to his poor game against Cincinnati with a double-double (20 points, 11 rebounds), while Diener scored 14 and LeVar Seals chipped in 13.

Thursday’s game was one to forget for the Demons, as they shot 30.3 percent from the field, were out-rebounded by 10, allowed Cincinnati to shoot 50.8 percent from the field and dished only four assists.

Next week – at Tulane (Saturday)

East Carolina (5-9, 0-2) Last week: 0-2

The Pirates suffered a last-second home loss to South Florida, 72-71, to kick off the conference season on Wednesday, before losing on the road to Charlotte on Saturday, 72-60. East Carolina led by 10 going into halftime and remained ahead until a Bull free throw gave USF its first lead of the second half, 65-64. Mike Cook responded with a jumper at the other end, but two more free throws allowed South Florida to regain the lead, which it would not relinquish. The loss was especially bittersweet since the Pirates were looking to enact some payback, as the Bulls’ only conference win last season came at East Carolina’s expense. Mike Cook led the Pirates in scoring with 18 points. He also scored 22 in the losing cause at Charlotte.

While East Carolina fell behind by as many as 19 against the Niners, it managed to climb back within seven points late in the game, but ran out of steam. While ECU was not expected to win at Charlotte, its loss to USF is one of those games it needs to win.

Next week – vs. Cincinnati (Wednesday), vs. UAB (Saturday)

Houston (9-6, 1-1) Last week: 1-1

As mentioned earlier, Wednesday was a memorable night for the Cougars, upsetting nationally-ranked Louisville, 70-67, their first win against a Top 25 team in eight seasons. Houston nearly pulled off another huge upset on Saturday, taking a 17-point first half lead before falling to DePaul on the road, 68-57. Forward Ramon Dyer tied a season-high with 18 points against the Blue Demons, going 6-of-10 from the three-point line. Andre Owens played his typical game, finishing with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Lanny Smith though struggled, shooting 1-of-9 from the field and finishing with four points. Houston finally lost the lead with 14 minutes remaining the game and never recovered. The Cougars were out-scored 44-26 during the second half. Still, it was a big weekend for the Cougars, as they proved to themselves and the league that they are no longer a pushover.

Next week – vs. Centenary (Tuesday), vs. Southern Miss (Saturday)

Louisville (12-3, 1-1) Last week: 1-1

After the Cardinals’ shocking loss to Houston, the team responded with an emphatic 86-61 win against TCU, avenging their blowout loss to the Horned Frogs last season. Freshman Juan Palacios built on his 20-point performance against the Cougars with 23 points and seven rebounds against TCU, solidifying his position as Louisville’s inside source on offense. Francisco Garcia scored 21 points, as the duo combined for 28 of the Cards’ first 34 points. Taquan Dean did not start because of back spasms, but still played 26 minutes and scored nine points. Brandon Jenkins started in Dean’s place and applied excellent defense against the Horned Frogs’ Corey Santee. Louisville jumped out to a 17-2 lead and never looked back.

Next week – at Southern Miss (Tuesday), at Cincinnati (Saturday)

Marquette (13-1, 1-0) Last week: 1-0

The Golden Eagles won its lone conference game of the week, although it struggled more than anticipated before sending Tulane home with an 82-68 win. The Green Wave led at the half, 38-31, before Marquette turned it on during the final 20 minutes. Travis Diener led the team with 20 points and 12 assists, while little used freshman Ryan Amoroso provided an unexpected spark. Having only scored more than seven points once this season, Amoroso exploded for 18 in only 14 minutes of playing time. After shooting 34.3 percent from the field in the first half, the Eagles exploded to shoot 65.5 percent during the second half. Daemon Mason and Steve Novack contributed 17 and 13 points, respectively. Diener finished three rebounds shy of a triple-double.

In university news, there are unconfirmed reports that Marquette is considering reinstating the athletic department’s former mascot, the Warrior. There is no timetable on a final decision or if it will ever reach the point of decision.

Next week – at Memphis (Thursday), vs. South Florida (Saturday)

Memphis (8-7, 1-0) Last week: 1-1

The Tigers looked more impressive last week, but blew a big chance to gain some respect back in the eyes of AP voters and NCAA selection committee members, losing on the road to Texas, 74-67, on Thursday.

Memphis, though, managed to win its conference opener in convincing fashion against Southern Miss, 60-46 on Sunday.

Memphis and the Longhorns were neck-and-neck until the final seconds. Darius Washington, who scored a career-high 23 points, lost possession of the ball with 42 seconds remaining and the Tigers trailing by two. Texas’ P.J. Tucker picked up the loose ball and raced down the court for an emphatic dunk, sticking in the final dagger. Rodney Carney scored 18 points and Sean Banks added 17 off the bench.

Against the Golden Eagles, Memphis exploded to a 25-point halftime lead and coasted home. While it appeared Banks was getting back on the right track in Texas, he rescinded against Southern Miss, scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds, although he did dish out five assists. If Memphis is to make a turnaround, he must wake up.

Next week – vs. Marquette (Thursday), vs. TCU (Saturday)

South Florida (8-5, 1-1) Last week: 1-1

For the second straight season, the Bulls defeated East Carolina and narrowly lost to UAB. All in all though, a great first week of conference play for South Florida. The Bulls won their first conference road game in two years by defeating the Pirates, 72-71, on Wednesday. It all showed the resiliency of team filled with confidence, as the Bulls came back from a 10-point halftime lead. Terrance Leather notched a double-double with 18 points and 16 rebounds, Brian Swift distributed nine assists and Collin Dennis converted 6-of-6 free throws during the final 1:37 to seal the win.

Dennis again held a presence from the free-throw line against UAB, making one attempt with 10.5 seconds remaining to tie the score at 61. But the Blazers’ Marques Lewis was fouled in the paint with three seconds to go and made his second attempt from the line, sealing the win. The Bulls again rallied from a double-digit halftime deficit, but could not pull of the upset. They were trying for their first back-to-back conference wins since, again, two years ago.

Next week – at Marquette (Saturday)

Southern Miss (9-5, 0-2) Last week: 0-2

Let’s be honest: the Golden Eagles would have been elated to win either of their games last week. But an upset was not in the cards, as Southern Miss lost on the road to UAB on Wednesday, 83-75, before falling at Memphis on Sunday, 60-46. The Golden Eagles looked poised to knock off the Blazers after 20 minutes, leading by nine. They were able to keep pace with UAB’s up-and-down style, but could not stop either their height disadvantage or the Taylor twins. Five players scored in double figures, led by Michael Ford’s 18 off the bench. As well as the Eagles played during the first half in Birmingham, they played equally as awful during the first half in Memphis, trailing 43-18 at halftime. No one scored in double figures and the team shot 31.9 percent from the field for the game. Jasper Johnson’s third experiment of coming off the bench failed, as he finished with eight points.

Next week – vs. Louisville (Tuesday), at Houston (Saturday)

Saint Louis (3-11, 1-1) Last week: 1-1

Well, the Billikens cracked the win column. It doesn’t mean head coach Brad Soderberg feels any better about the team’s situation. Saint Louis split last week at home, defeating Tulane on Wednesday, 57-41, before losing to Cincinnati on Saturday, 69-53. The win against the Green Wave ended a four-game losing streak for the Billikens, their second of the season. Reggie Bryant returned from his two-game absence and scored 12 points. Tulane, which trailed by nine at halftime, cut the lead to four points with 12 minutes remaining. Saint Louis responded with a 12-0 run, putting the game out of reach.

Saturday, Cincinnati was too talented for the Billikens to compete. Bryant struggled form the field, shooting 3-of-14 and finishing with eight points. Izik Ohanon performed well and led the team in scoring in both games, averaging 17 points.

TCU (10-5, 0-1) Last week: 1-1

The Horned Frogs cruised in their final tune-up to conference play with a 64-52 win against Texas State on Monday. They probably should have chosen a more talented warm-up, because Louisville greeted them rudely on Saturday with an 86-61 blowout. It was payback for the drubbing the Horned Frogs delivered last season.

Against Texas State, TCU hit 12 three-pointers and dished out 18 assists for their 24 total field goals. Nile Murry led the team with 16 points and guard Marcus Shropshire led the team with seven rebounds, plus 13 points.

The Louisville game was an ugly affair, thanks to 23 turnovers, 14 of which came during the first 12 minutes of the game. By that time it was 24-7, and the game was all but wrapped up. Murry again led the team in scoring, with 15, while Corey Santee added 13. Shropshire only played 20 minutes and missed his only two shot attempts.

Next week – vs. Tulane (Wednesday), at Memphis (Saturday)

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

Winning either game last week would have been a surprise for the Green Wave. Yet, it would have been a step up that it appeared the team was ready to make. Apparently not. Tulane was never in its season-opener at Saint Louis, losing 57-41. The 41 points was a season-low, and the 19 turnovers the Green Wave committed was a season-high. The Billikens beat the Wave in every facet of the game. Quincy Davis led the team in scoring with 10 points.

On Saturday, Tulane appeared ready to make the jump, leading Marquette at home, 38-31, at halftime. But the wheels feel off, as the Golden Eagles out-scored the Green Wave by 21 during the final 20 minutes and won, 82-68. Marcus Kinzer scored a career-high 20 points, Taylor Rochestie notched 17 and Davis finished with 12. A big factor was on the boards, were the Golden Eagles dominated, 40-29.

Next week – at TCU (Wednesday), vs. DePaul (Saturday)

UAB (12-3, 2-0) Last week: 2-0

The Blazers pulled two escape acts last week, coming back to defeat Southern Miss at home on Wednesday, 83-75, then winning for the second-straight season by one point against South Florida, 62-61 on Saturday. It was the Donell Taylor show against the Golden Eagles, as he scored 27 points, hitting 8-of-11 from the field and 9-of-10 from the line. He also had seven rebounds, six steals and five assists. His brother Ronell added 18 points.

Against the Bulls, Marques Lewis hit one of two free throws with three seconds remaining to prevent the upset. Collin Dennis hit one free throw for South Florida with 10.5 seconds remaining. The Blazers then worked the ball inside to Lewis, who drew the game-deciding foul. Ronell Taylor stayed consistent, leading UAB in scoring with 17, while Donell added 12.

Conference USA Player of the Week

Donell Taylor, UAB

Had a great two games, thanks in most part to his sick performance against Southern Miss, when he led his team in scoring (27), rebounds (seven), steals (six) and assists (six). Averaged 19.5 points for the week, as the Blazers improved their winning streak to six.

Games to watch

Charlotte at UAB (Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.)
This game showcases two of last season’s regular season champs, and two of the hottest teams in the league. Charlotte is known for its ability to win on the road, and the Blazers are a much better team at home. Expect a lot of points.

Marquette at Memphis (Thursday at 9 p.m.)
Memphis looked better last week, nearly upsetting Texas on the road and smashing Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles continue to win, but are so dependent on Travis Diener, it must worry head coach Tom Crean. The Tigers need this victory.

Louisville at Cincinnati (Saturday at noon)
Last season, these two teams played two classic games in Cincinnati. This one will likely not disappoint either. Freshman Juan Palacios will receive a true challenge from Jason Maxiell and Eric Hicks. Taquan Dean’s health is a major issue.

     

C-USA Notebook

by - Published January 5, 2005 in Conference Notes



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

New and old stepping up

We all know the likes of Louisville’s Francisco Garcia and Marquette’s Travis Diener are going to star nearly every game. We knew it before the season started. However, several players we have known for the past few seasons have busted out as stars early this season. Still other players, unknown to even their own teammates at the beginning of the year, are providing key contributions.

The first name that jumps out is DePaul’s Quemont Greer. The senior forward spent the past three seasons in the shadows of now graduated Andre Brown. When Delonte Holland stepped up last season as the team’s go-to player, Greer became at best the No. 3 option and a quiet contributor on the glass. Even his solid defensive play went unnoticed. With Brown and Holland gone, Greer has accelerated his game. He is the leading scorer in C-USA, averaging 22.4 points per game, and is eighth in the conference in rebounding, averaging eight boards per game.

Another big man who’s made a bigger name for himself this season is Cincinnati’s Eric Hicks. Playing in the shadows of Jason Maxiell and a guard-orientated team, Hicks has become a monster of the glass and developed a scoring touch as well. His 9.3 rebounds per game are third in C-USA, while his 14.3 points are second on the team.

An even better story are the players most of the conference has yet to hear about. Anyone know who Nile Murry is? In case that’s a no, he’s a junior college transfer who plays for TCU and dropped in 26 points last week against Grambling. He’s also second on the team in scoring, averaging 12 points per game. Or how about Charlotte freshman Leemire Goldmire, who’s averaging eight points per game and providing crucial minutes at the thin guard position for the Niners. These two are just examples of many no-name players making big contributions to their respected teams.

Showing some spunk

Saint Louis has struggled all season. Tulane has struggled for several seasons. Both took steps to reverse that trend this past week by showing some spunk. The Billikens lost twice, running their record 1-8 during their past nine games. But their second loss came on the road to undefeated and nationally-ranked Iowa, and Saint Louis actually led for most of the game. They could have packed it in after losing badly at home to Southeast Missouri State earlier in the week and traveling without injured star Reggie Bryant, but the Billikens hung tough. In fact, SLU still led by five with less than four minutes remaining before Iowa’s talent took over. Still, it could be the performance that turns the tide for the Billikens.

The Green Wave have not been good since the Clinton administration. A week ago, when Tulane trailed Princeton at the half, 33-18, one have easily written off the season. Yet the Wave fought back, even though they eventually lost, 59-51. Then Tulane put together two solid wins against Alabama State and Virginia Military Institute, improving its record to 6-5. It’s the first time in nearly a year that the Green Wave have been above .500, and the first time in a while that they have shown any promise. As luck would have it, these two teams face each other to start conference play, which leads us to…

Kicking off conference play

This week begins the C-USA season, and it’s shaping up to be a dandy. All of the favorites, besides Memphis, are playing close to their potential but still have room for improvement. Many of the schools picked to finish close to the bottom – Tulane, Southern Miss, Houston, South Florida – appear to be playing better than anyone would have thought two months ago. Right now, the two big disappointments are Memphis and Saint Louis. The Tigers are too talented not to get back on track, and the Billikens are too well disciplined to continue to struggle as bad as they are currently. This week’s games serve as a nice warm-up, with no colossal clashes, but plenty of opportunities for the little guys to go head-to-head with the big boys.

Around C-USA

Charlotte (9-2 overall) Last week: 2-0

The Niners won the Cable Car Classic at Santa Clara, Calif., last week with victories against Yale, 80-74, and Central Connecticut State, 66-52. The Charlotte frontcourt was dominant during the tournament, especially tourney MVP Curtis Withers. Withers averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds during the two games, while receiving help from forward Eddie Basden (12.5 points, 11 rebounds per game). Sophomore center Martin Iti, who’s failed to meet expectations during his first one-plus years, played perhaps his best game of his career Tuesday against Yale, scoring a career-high 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Leemire Goldwire continued to impress, scoring a career-high 22 points against Yale. Ready for conference play: definitely.

Next week – vs. East Carolina (Saturday)

Cincinnati (11-1) Last week: 2-1

No. 1 Illinois stomped on the Bearcats’ perfect record on New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas, winning 67-45 at the Las Vegas Tournament. The loss came after Cincinnati beat Longwood, 95-69, the night earlier in Las Vegas and intrastate rival Miami (OH), 77-53, at a neutral site in Cincinnati on Monday. The Fighting Illini beat the Bearcats at their own game: with defense and rebounding. Illinois held Cincinnati to 28 percent shooting and out-rebounded them, 36-34, and Cincinnati only dished out six assists. This bad loss came off the heels of the Bearcats’ best game of the season, a 24-point romp over the Miami Redhawks. Big men Eric Hicks and Jason Maxiell each produced monster games during each of the team’s wins. Hicks finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds against Miami, while Maxiell scored a career-high 30 against Longwood. Ready for conference play: pretty close.

Next week – vs. DePaul (Thursday), at Saint Louis (Saturday)

DePaul (8-3) Last week: 2-0

It was an interesting week for the Blue Demons and in particularly for sophomore guard Sammy Meija. The 6-foot-6 starter, who averaged 12.9 points during the team’s first nine games, announced before DePaul’s 60-51 win over Rhode Island on Thursday that he was leaving the team indefinitely for personal reasons. The leave lasted one game, as he returned for the Demons’ 73-60 win against Old Dominion on Sunday. Meija came off the bench, played 18 minutes and scored 11 points. Quemont Greer continued to dominate, averaging 25 points and 11 rebounds during the two wins. Without Meija, DePaul struggled early against Rhode Island, needing a 19-4 run midway through the second half to take control.

Meija and Drake Diener need to consistently score to ease the burden on Greer, while head coach Dave Leitao routinely has his team prepared on the defensive end. Ready for conference play: pretty close.

Next week – at Cincinnati (Thursday), vs. Houston (Saturday).

East Carolina (4-7) Last week: 0-1

Well, at least the Pirates did not suffer a heartbreaking loss this time. East Carolina received a thorough beating from Clemson on the road Wednesday, 74-40. The Tigers took a 34-19 halftime lead and then produced runs of 14-3 and 15-2 during the second half to cement the win. The loss proved two points: that East Carolina was not as good as it seemed during their close losses to big-conference schools and how far-and-away the ACC is above every other conference in college basketball. Mike Cook again came off the bench and led the team in scoring, with 18 points. East Carolina allowed Clemson to shoot 55.6 percent from the field, while they only managed 12 field goals and shot 21.1 percent. The Pirates were also out-rebounded 37-32 and finished with only five assists to the Tigers’ 21. Ready for conference play: not even close.

Next week – vs. St. Andrews (Monday), vs. South Florida (Wednesday), at Charlotte (Saturday)

Houston (8-5) Last week: 0-1

The Cougars faced a good test last week, playing on the road against an undefeated Texas A&M squad that was looking for some street cred after a soft early season schedule. Houston was not up to the task, losing 93-80 on Wednesday. Lanny Smith’s 26 points were not enough, as the Aggies’ starting five put on an offensive clinic. A foul-happy Cougar team committed 32 fouls, enabling Texas A&M to shoot 34-of-47 from the free-throw line. Four Aggies scored at least 15 points, led by Acie Law’s 25. Andre Owens played one of the worst games of his career. Playing only 25 minutes because of foul trouble, he shot 1-of-5 from the field and finished with four points before fouling out.

If Owens performs like he usually does, Houston has a great chance at pulling out this win. Still, the Cougars look better than they did at start of conference play last year. Ready for conference play: getting there.

Next week – vs. Louisville (Wednesday), at DePaul (Saturday)

Louisville (11-2) Last week: 3-0

It was a somber week in Louisville with the passing of head coach Rick Pitino’s mother. On the court it was business as usual, as the Cardinals romped to three wins against no-name non-conference teams. The Cards coasted at home, beating Morehead State, 104-40, Eastern Kentucky, 78-63, and Tennessee State, 98-64. Francisco Garcia showed a more aggressive approach with his shot selection, averaging 27 points during the three games. Ellis Myles showed he’s returning to his rebounding form from two seasons ago, averaging 11.3 rebounds during the three games. Currently he leads C-USA with an average of 10 boards per game. But he’s doing more than that, becoming a complete player and needed leader beside Garcia. He averaged 11.3 points and five assists during the three games.

With the return of Otis George imminent, it looks like Louisville is close to hitting top form. Ready for conference play: pretty close.

Next week – at Houston (Wednesday), vs. TCU (Saturday)

Marquette (12-1) Last week: 2-0

Dameon Mason broke out of a three-week slump, and Todd Townsend broke out a season-long slump, as Marquette defeated Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne on Sunday, 91-57. The Golden Eagles also defeated Coppin State on Wednesday, 65-55. Townsend, who’s hesitated with his shot all season, went 6-of-9 from the field, a season-high in shot attempts, and scored a season-high 15 points. Mason, a sophomore guard who’s needed to star for the Eagles to contend for a conference title, finished with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Wednesday’s score was not as close as it appeared. Marquette took control midway through the first half, and led by double digits the entire second half.

As conference play looms, the Golden Eagles are looking pretty formidable, but trouble will lurk any time Travis Diener struggles, as evident during their loss to Arizona. Ready for conference play: pretty close.

Next week – at Tulane (Saturday)

Memphis (7-6) Last week: 1-0

Thursday’s game was about venting frustration for the Tigers. To their credit though, they achieved this against a quality opponent. Memphis romped at home against East Tennessee State, 87-56, during its only game of the week. Following two straight home losses, the Tigers were in need of win just to prevent a complete collapse before conference play even started. Sean Banks finally looked like the Sean Banks of last season, scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Anthony Rice played fantastic, scoring a career-high 20 points, and Darius Washington chipped in 17. The freshman guard scored 14 of his points during the first half, going 5-of-5 from the field. Memphis finally found its shooting touch from deep, going 11-of-21 from the three-point line. Rodney Carney continued to rest his ankle, playing only 18 minutes.

The Tigers are still nowhere near their potential, but Thursday’s win was at least a step in the right direction. Ready for conference play: not really.

Next week – at Texas (Thursday), vs. Southern Miss (Sunday)

South Florida (7-4) Last week: 1-0

The Bulls again won their lone game last week, this time defeating Texas Arlington, 81-51. It was a far cry from a solid team to prep them for conference play, however. The blowout allowed South Florida to extend some playing time to the bench, which allowed freshman Collin Dennis to score a career-high 21 points, thanks to 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc and 8-of-10 overall. Terrance Leather produced a very workman-like 18 points and Brian Swift dished out another five assists.

South Florida appears leaps and bounds ahead of where they were last season. Right now, when their entire starting five is clicking, they are capable of competing with anyone in C-USA, including the likes of Louisville, Cincinnati and Charlotte. Solidifying their bench will be crucial if the Bulls are to keep winning. Ready for conference play: pretty close.

Next week – at East Carolina (Wednesday), vs. UAB (Saturday)

Southern Miss (9-3) Last week: 1-1

The Golden Eagles lost a tough road game to New Orleans, 67-56, on Thursday, after coasting to a 90-46 win against crosstown school William Carey on Tuesday. The Privateers’ star Bo McCalebb tore up the Southern Miss defense for 25 points, as New Orleans shot 52.2 percent from the field and dished out 15 assists. The Golden Eagles were limited to 36.7 percent from the field and made only 1-of-13 three-point attempts. Jasper Johnson led the team with 15 points, while Rashaad Carruth was the only other player in double digits, with 12. Four players scored in double figures against William Carey, as Southern Miss dominated in every facet.

While Johnson continues to star, the rest of the Eagles are playing pretty decent. Head coach Larry Eustachy has done an admirable job so far with his new squad. Ready for conference play: getting there.

Next week – at UAB (Wednesday), at Memphis (Sunday)

Saint Louis (2-10) Last week: 0-2

The Billikens showed a bit of life against Iowa, as mentioned in this week’s feature piece. Unfortunately, Saint Louis failed to crack the win column for the fourth straight game. SLU is now 2-10 for the season, its worst start in 13 seasons. Last week the Billikens lost badly at home to Southeast Missouri State, 65-49, before their spirited loss to undefeated Iowa, 67-58. Scoring leader Reggie Bryant missed both games with a left eye injury, hindering an already stagnant Billiken offense. Against SE Missouri State, Saint Louis fell behind by 16 at halftime and never recovered. Their usual sturdy defense allowed the Indians to shoot 52.2 percent from the field and only forced 11 turnovers, while SLU was also out-rebounded, 31-23. On the offensive side of the ball, Saint Louis shot 38.9 percent from the field, went a pathetic 7-of-18 from the free-throw line, missed all eight of its three-point attempts and turned the ball over 18 times.

While they improved against Iowa, the Billikens are stumbling in to conference play. Ready for conference play: not even close.

TCU (9-4) Last week: 1-0

The Horned Frogs nearly broke triple digits during their only game last week, defeating Grambling, 98-83, on Tuesday night. As mentioned earlier, it was a big night for JC transfer Nile Murry. He wasn’t the only unheralded TCU player that played an exceptional game, though. Junior forward Judson Stubbs scored 15 points, his second-highest total of the year, and pulled down six rebounds. Marcus Shropshire also contributed 18 points. The Horned Frogs actually trailed by one at the half, 48-47, before pouring it on during the second half. TCU dominated on the glass, 42-26, and hit 17 more free throws than Grambling, who stayed alive by hitting 14-of-29 from beyond the three-point line.

It appears the Horned Frogs have achieved becoming a balanced attack even with Chudi Chinweze lost for the season with a knee injury. Ready for conference play: pretty close.

Next week – vs. Texas State (Monday), at Louisville (Saturday)

Tulane (6-5) Last week: 2-1

Just like Saint Louis, the Green Wave showed some spunk last week, coming back strong against Princeton, even though they eventually lost, and then defeating Alabama State and Virginia Military Institute. All in all, it was a solid week for Tulane, a program that has not seen many of those during the past few seasons. Freshman guard Taylor Rochestie stepped up, scoring back-to-back career-highs during the team’s two wins, with 19 and then 22 points. Despite good games from Ben Benfield and Vytas Tatarunas during the loss to Princeton, it’s obvious that Marcus Kinzer and Quincy Davis must play solid games for the Green Wave to win. The two combined for 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists against the Tigers. That will not cut it, but do not except both of Wave’s stars to struggle like that at the same time. Ready for conference play: getting there.

Next week – at Saint Louis (Wednesday), vs. Marquette (Saturday)

UAB (10-3) Last week: 3-0

The Blazers broke triple digits twice last week and show little sign of slowing down from their current pace or their run to the conference title last season. UAB went 3-0 last week, beating Alabama A&M, 100-68, South Alabama on the road, 82-76, and Murray State, 100-80. The Taylor twins continued to serve as a double dose of anxiety for opposing teams, as the two combined for 83 points during the team’s three wins (Ronell topped his brother Donell by one, 42-41). The Blazers attempted 201 shots during the three games, 18 more than their opponents, and forced 65 turnovers.

Head coach Mike Anderson has his team exactly where he wants them and needs them to be. Ready for conference play: definitely.

Next week – vs. Southern Miss (Wednesday), at South Florida (Saturday)

Player of the week

Quemont Greer, DePaul

The senior forward averaged 25 points and 11 rebounds during the Blue Demons’ two wins. Stability was needed when Sammy Meija temporarily left the team early in the week and Greer provided it.

Games to Watch

Tulane vs. Saint Louis (Wednesday at 8 p.m.)

Perhaps the Billikens are not as bad as their record makes them appear, especially after leading for most of their game at Iowa. Perhaps Tulane is genuinely better than the past few seasons. This game should serve as a solid measuring stick for both teams.

Cincinnati vs. DePaul (Thursday at 7 p.m.)

These two teams split their match-ups last season. This game should be a great battle of big men, Quemont Greer against the combination of Jason Maxiell and Eric Hicks. DePaul must deal with the Cincinnati crowd charged for an ESPN game.

UAB vs. South Florida, Saturday at 1 p.m.

This is a great opportunity for the Bulls to find out how far they’ve come. In fact, South Florida almost upset the Blazers last season, losing on a buzzer-beater. If the Bulls can pull the upset this time, it will bode extremely well for their confidence.

     

C-USA Notebook

by - Published December 31, 2004 in Conference Notes



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Top teams missing top guns

Injures have already left an effect on C-USA’s best teams so far this season. Each of the conference’s top four preseason teams have suffered some kind of injury (or the occasional suspension). We’ll start with Louisville, which may have to ask assistant coach and former NBA star Reggie Theus to suit up once again. Forward Ellis Myles, back after a torn ACL kept him out of last season, missed one game last week with a tight hamstring, although he returned the following game. He was replaced by freshman Juan Palacios, who was playing with his own injury, a scratched cornea. Then there’s senior center Otis George, who’s missed the past five games with a stress fracture in his foot and will sit for another 2-4 weeks.

Cincinnati also received the injury bug from two players last week. Eric Hicks missed the team’s Dec. 11 game against Detroit with a strained knee and came off the bench against Jackson State last week. He returned to the starting lineup against LaSalle. Meanwhile, Armein Kirkland missed both games with a sprained ankle. Kirkland, a junior that appeared timid during his first two seasons, had come into his own during the early going this year, leading the team in scoring in four of his previous five games and averaging 14.0 points per game.

Memphis suspended disgruntled star Sean Banks for one game last week, while Rodney Carney, the team’s new star as Banks has struggled, sprained his ankle last week but did not miss a game. And Marquette’s Travis Diener has been playing with a sprained ankle the past two weeks, although the Golden Eagles’ light week appears to have allowed Diener to rest and recover.

Gone on break

As you’ll discover during the team recaps, quite a few C-USA teams scheduled some time off for the holidays. DePaul, Southern Miss, Tulane and Saint Louis all had last week off, and four other schools only played once last week. All four teams that did not play last week, however, will be returning to the court by Thursday this week. And, New Year’s Day is apparently not as big of a holiday, as all 14 C-USA teams will be in action this week.

Around C-USA

Charlotte (7-2 overall), last week: 1-0

The 49ers received their Christmas present early. Three days early to be exact. Trailing 73-71 at Indiana with a mere 0.7 seconds remaining, Brendan Plavich caught an inbound pass, heaved a half-court shot and drained it, giving Charlotte a shocking 74-73 win. A stunned Hoosier crowd waited as referees confirmed on a video monitor that the shot indeed counted, then rained boos upon the decision. The shot trumped a tip-in by Pat Ewing, Jr. that appeared to be the game-winner. Prior to Ewing’s shot, Plavich had knocked down a three-pointer with 30 seconds remaining to tie the score at 71. Plavich led all scorers with 21 points, while Curtis Withers added 11 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, none more important than the final one, the game-winning pass to Plavich. Freshman Leemire Goldwire contributed 14 points and Eddie Basden chipped in 11. The win was the Niners’ fourth straight. Charlotte right now looks to be as good as anyone in C-USA, including undefeated Cincinnati and nationally-ranked Louisville.

Next week – vs. Yale (Dec. 28).

Cincinnati (9-0), last week: 2-0

The Bearcats overcame injuries (mentioned above) and a treacherous winter storm to sweep its games this week. Cincinnati easily dispatched Jackson State on Monday, 95-43, before overcoming a slow first half to beat LaSalle on Wednesday, 84-63. Against JSU, the Bearcats were led by freshman Roy Bright, who recorded career-highs in points (17) and rebounds (11). It was Bright’s second start for the injured Eric Hicks. Four players scored in double figures and the Bearcats dished out a season-high 27 assists, led by Chadd Moore’s nine. A blizzard swept through the Queen City on Wednesday, meaning less than 2,000 fans could attend the game. Steven Smith kept the Crusaders alive with 35 points, including 23 during the first half, but it was not enough.

Like on Monday, Cincinnati rode its versatility to victory against LaSalle, as six players scored in double figures. Bright played another sensational game with 11 points and 14 rebounds and Hicks again led the team in scoring, with 15. Moore again electrified the crowd with 10 assists. Next week – vs. Miami (OH) Dec. 27, vs. Longwood (in Las Vegas) Dec. 30, vs. Illinois (in Las Vegas) Dec. 31.

East Carolina (4-6), last week: 0-1

The Pirates suffered their third close loss in the past few weeks on Monday, falling to South Carolina 57-53. Earlier in the month, East Carolina lost at Western Carolina by five and against Old Dominion by one. This time around, the Pirates led for most of the second half, but the Gamecocks managed to score the final four points for the win. Mike Cook, coming off the bench for the first time all season after a poor performance against Winthrop on Dec. 17, scored a team-high 24 points, also a season-high for Cook. Twenty-two turnovers and nine fewer free throws made doomed the Pirates. East Carolina did control the glass (out-rebounding USC 41-31) and limited the Gamecocks to 1-of-14 shooting from the three-point line. But it was not enough.

Next week – at Clemson (Dec. 29).

Houston (8-4), last week: 1-1

The good news for the Cougars – they defeated a tough LSU team. The bad news – um, how about we forget about the bad news and just talk about the LSU win. Houston defeated LSU on Tuesday, 81-72, before receiving a shellacking from nationally-ranked Washington on Christmas Eve, 110-63.

The dynamic duo of Lanny Smith and Andre Owens combined for 39 points against the Tigers, as the Cougars another win against a quality opponent, an occurrence rarely witnessed last season. As for the loss, well, Washington is one of the best team’s in the nation and Houston found out firsthand. The Huskies went ahead by 22 at the half and then poured on 62 second-half points. Five players hit double figures, as garbage time kicked in with 10 minutes remaining. The lone bright spot for Houston was junior guard Chris Lawson, who scored a season-high 18 points in his most extensive action of the season.

Next week – at Texas A&M (Dec. 29).

Louisville (8-2), last week: 2-0

The Cardinals’ injuries are well documented. So was their heartbreaking loss to Kentucky on Dec. 18. Neither of those mattered last week during the Billy Minardi Classic on its homecourt, as Louisville beat Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis and Austin Peay. Freshman big man Juan Palacios starred against IUPUI on Tuesday, finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds as Louisville won 80-60. Palacios even played through his own injury, a scratched cornea he suffered the previous week. Wearing eye goggles, Palacios looked confident and relaxed. Ellis Myles returned the following night against the Governors and finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds, helping the Cards coast to a 77-49 win. Francisco Garcia had a relatively quiet week, scoring 21 points combined during the week. The Billy Minardi Classic is played in honor of Rick Pitino’s brother who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Next week – vs. Morehead State (Dec. 27), vs. Eastern Kentucky (Dec. 30), vs. Tennessee State (Jan. 2).

Marquette (10-1), last week: 1-0

And the Travis Diener show continues. With relatively no offensive production from three of his fellow starters, Diener dropped in 32 points to lead the Golden Eagles to an 81-62 win against Nebraska on Tuesday in Milwaukee. Marquette returned to the winning side after losing its first game of the season to Arizona three days earlier. Diener struggled against Arizona and atoned for it early, scoring the Eagles’ first 12 points with four three-pointers in the Nebraska game. He scored 20 points during the first half and nailed seven three-pointers for the game. Steve Novack scored 12 points and Joe Chapman came off the bench to add 14. Marquette went on a 25-6 run that spanned 10 minutes and both halves. Diener also led the team with seven assists, while Marcus Jackson led the Eagles with 11 rebounds. Starters Jackson, Chris Grimm and Desmond Mason combined for eight points on 3-of-15 shooting.

Next week – vs. Coppin State (Dec. 29), vs. Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (Jan. 2).

Memphis (6-6), last week: 0-1

It’s not getting any better in Dixie. The Tigers dropped their fourth in five games, and their third at home this season, with an ugly 72-59 loss to Providence on Thursday. John Calipari reinstated Sean Banks prior to Thursday’s game, after suspending him indefinitely (translation: one game) and Banks responded with 17 points and nine rebounds. Banks struggled from the field though, shooting 5-of-18. John Carney, the team’s leading scorer this year, scored 22 points while coming off the bench (above). But no other Tiger helped out on offense and the Friars’ star Ryan Gomes dominated with 24 points and eight rebounds. Memphis continues to play poor defense and when the team struggles from beyond the three-point line (6-of-23 on Thursday), it resides behind the eight-ball. There does not appear to be any quick fix for Calipari unless a team leader emerges.

Next week – vs. East Tennessee State (Dec. 30).

South Florida (6-4), last week: 1-0

The Bulls won their lone game last week, 74-66, against Florida International on Monday, in a battle for two Florida teams that are climbing out from holes left from horrible 2003-04 seasons. South Florida showcased its most balanced attack of the season, as four starters finished in double figures. Terrance Leather, who sits in the top five of scoring and rebounding in C-USA, finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. But it was the backcourt that starred, as Brian Swift and Marius Prekevicius combined for 35 points and 8-of-12 shooting from the three-point line. Prekevicius’ 17 points were a season-high. Swift right now could be the best point guard in C-USA not named Travis Diener. His 16.0 points per game average is tied for ninth in the conference and his 5.5 assists per game average is fourth. His continued stellar play will be crucial for the Bulls as conference play starts.

Next week – vs. Texas Arlington (Dec. 29).

TCU (8-4), last week: 2-0

The Horned Frogs were used to being the cupcake on teams’ schedules in December the past few seasons. Last week was a role reversal, as TCU blew through to lesser opponents, beating Maryland-Eastern Shore, 93-53, on Tuesday and Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Wednesday, 76-55. The Horned Frogs opened Tuesday’s game with a ridiculous 28-2 run during the first 8 minutes and 12 seconds and led by 35 points at the half, 54-19. Against Pine Bluff, TCU led by 20 at the half and then played a sluggish second half. Corey Santee led the team with 16 points and was the lone player in double digits. The Horned Frogs played their third and fourth games without Chudi Chinweze, who suffered a season-ending left knee injury against Kansas on Dec. 9.

Next week – vs. Grambling (Dec. 28).

UAB (7-3), last week: 2-1

The Blazers were a busy bunch last week, playing three games in three days at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu. UAB eventually captured third place, defeating Oral Roberts, 84-77, after losing to Southern California in the semifinals, 81-78, and beating Clemson in the quarterfinals, 78-66. The Blazers were able to dictate tempo during all three games, and only fell to the Trojans when Rory O’Neil nailed a three-pointer with five seconds remaining. Donell Taylor played exceptionally during the tournament, averaging 18.3 points per game while shooting 62 percent from the field. UAB appears to be one step behind last season’s team, which is to be expected after losing three of its best players to graduation. Mike Anderson is receiving a maximum effort from his team, it’s simply not quite as talented as last year.

Next week – vs. Alabama A&M (Dec. 28), at South Alabama (Dec. 31), vs. Murray State (Jan. 2).

Player of the week

Brendan Plavich, Charlotte

Donell Taylor of UAB and Travis Diener could easily win this award, but Plavich takes it for his clutch shooting at Indiana. The senior guard scored 21 points, including six during the final 30 seconds culminating with a half-court prayer at the buzzer that was answered.

Games to Watch

Houston at Texas A&M (Wednesday at 8 p.m.)

These two Texas teams are both big surprises. Tom Penders’ crew received a rude-awakening with its 47-point loss to Washington. The Aggies are undefeated but have yet to face a tough squad. This will be a good test for both teams.

Cincinnati vs. Illinois (Friday at 8 p.m.)

The Bearcats are undefeated but have also failed to face any tough competition. Well, they will get all they can handle from the No. 1 team in the nation. The Fighting Illini blew out Cincinnati in the tournament last season. Expect more of the same this time.

DePaul vs. Old Dominion (Sunday at 4 p.m.)

Jeff Capel’s crew is 11-1 and looks even better than last season. The Blue Demons are playing tougher than expected, thanks to Quemont Greer’s 21.7 points per game and freshman Cliff Clinkscales’ 5.6 assists per game. This one is a toss-up.

     

Conference USA Notebook

by - Published December 29, 2004 in Conference Notes



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Looks can be deceiving

Marquette is 9-0. Cincinnati is 6-0. South Florida has a winning record. While these all may seem like shocking developments, (really, South Florida has a winning record?!?), a closer look will shed light on why. It’s called a weak non-conference schedule, something all three teams have used to prop up their record. The Golden Eagles can argue that they are legit after defeating Wisconsin, which is ranked in the Top 25, at home. No doubt that Marquette must have played a great game to defeat the Badgers. However, the women’s team could have likely defeated their eight opponents. Here’s the list: Western Carolina, Illinois State, Air Force, Sam Houston State, Kent State, Oakland, Delaware State and South Dakota State. Sure, all eight programs will argue they are no pushover and a few would actually be right. Yet six of those eight games were played at the Bradley Center. And no matter the data provided, no one can convince me that playing at Oakland (Michigan, not California by the way) is tough. But the Eagles did beat Wisconsin. And they’ll receive another test against Arizona this week.

Cincinnati did beat Dayton on the road, although the Flyers are not the team that advanced to the NCAA tournament last season. Cincinnati did beat Vanderbilt at home, although the Commodores are not the team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last season either. Anyone else? How about Northern Iowa at home, which the Bearcats needed two overtimes and an eighteen-point comeback to finish off. Sure, Cincinnati even beat Purdue. Hello, the Boilermakers are 2-5, good enough for the basement of the Big Ten. The Bearcats receive their wake-up call on Dec. 31 when they face No. 1 Illinois. As for South Florida, well, can you blame the program for finding some cupcakes to bolster its self esteem after last season’s ugliness? Even for the Bulls, games against Stetson and Prairie View are guaranteed W’s. But hats off to USF in that it has scheduled tough contests. Last week they traveled to Ann Arbor, and hung around with a talented (if not injury-riddled) Michigan team. This week they travel to South Carolina, another solid power-conference team. Trust us though, this first month is probably not a good indication on these three teams.

Early season stumbles

Memphis started the season ranked in the Top 25. Saint Louis is always a tough team to play, no matter who is on the team. Both squads have not looked the part during the early going. The Tigers can blame three of their four losses on tough competition. They’ve played Syracuse and Pittsburgh on neutral courts and at Maryland, all three of which were ranked in the top fifteen at the time. However, Memphis lost each game by at least thirteen and only showed glimpses of team unity. Then the Tigers lost at home to unranked Mississippi. (More on this game later). Right now, Memphis is not a team. It’s a collection of talent: Sean Banks, Rodney Carney, who has blossomed this year, and Darius Washington Jr., who might become C-USA Freshman of the Year, but so far they’re playing as individuals. Head coach John Calipari will have to earn his salary this year.

As for Saint Louis, a loss at Gonzaga is understandable. But a 1-6 record? Not only that, but it’s the way the Billikens have lost. Brad Soderberg-coached teams are known tough-minded ones that know how to win the close games. Three of the Billikens’ six losses were by a combined six points (losses of one, two and three). Reggie Bryant is not getting enough looks, and the usually solid defense is breaking down at key junctures in the game. Saint Louis can not blame a tough schedule on most of these losses (home games against Oral Roberts, Austin Peay and Hawaii, all losses), or expect it to get any better. Most of C-USA is better than those three teams and Soderberg must figure something out before SLU struggles to its worst season in decades.

Strong coaching starts

Tom Penders and Larry Eustachy knew they were not inheriting the second-coming of Duke when agreed to coaching gigs at Houston and Southern Miss, respectively. Yet the two have taken teams that struggled in 2003-04 and started strong this season. The biggest surprise is Houston, who last year went 9-18 and did not even qualify for the conference tournament. This season the Cougars are 5-3, including an improbable 57-55 win against Missouri. Their two road wins (at Sam Houston State and Lamar) already doubles its road win total from a year ago. Andre Owens continues to star for the Cougars, but is receiving contributions from the entire squad. Credit Penders for making this team believe, something that was not existent a year ago.

Eustachy has done much of the same in Hattiesburg. The Golden Eagles are 6-2, even if the competition has been lacking. He’s implemented his fast-paced style and the players are responding. Jasper Johnson, who has thrived in the more deliberate pace from the past two seasons, has not missed a beat, averaging 17.1 points per game. Once again, the Southern Miss players believe they can win, something that was not the case a season ago.

Around C-USA

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

The 49ers bounced back from a 102-101 loss to Alabama with two wins last week. Wednesday, Charlotte went on the road to defeat a tough Davidson team, 87-68, before beating Georgia State at home Saturday, 80-65. While the Niners received their usual production from Curtis Withers and Brendan Plavich, a surprise to many outside the Charlotte camp is the emergence of E.J. Drayton. The junior college transfer from Colby College, the small forward is averaging 10.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. He replaced Eddie Basden in the starting lineup against Georgia State, though Basden played the better game.

Next week – vs. NC Ashville (Dec. 19).

Cincinnati (6-0) Last week: 2-0

The Bearcats remained perfect with two home wins, beating Vanderbilt 88-72 on Thursday and Detroit 61-44 on Saturday. Cincinnati looked awful during the first five minutes against Vandy, falling behind 17-7. The next fifteen minutes of the first half was easily the best basketball the Bearcats have played this season. They would eventually go into halftime leading 46-31. Against Detroit, starting forward Eric Hicks sat out with a sprained left knee and it showed on the boards. Detroit out-rebounded the Bearcats 40-26. Armein Kirkland continued his hot play after a career-high 23 points against Dayton Dec. 4. During last week’s two games the junior forward averaged 18.5 points.

Next week – vs. Northwestern St. (Dec. 18).

DePaul (5-2) Last week: 2-0

The Blue Demons played perhaps the best five minutes of any C-USA team this season Saturday. On the road at Notre Dame, which while unranked is a solid team and probably should be ranked, DePaul led by four points with eight minutes remaining. The Blue Demons produced a 12-0 run, complete with three-point plays, backdoor passes and cuts and solid defense. The Fighting Irish never recovered and DePaul won 84-73, following up an 88-67 home win against Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis on Monday. While Quemont Greer continues to lead the Demons (20 points per game) a few newcomers are starting to show their mettle. JC transfer Jamal Nichols, a slender 6-foot-8 forward, finished with a season-high twelve points against Notre Dame.

Next week – at Northwestern (Dec. 15), vs. Illinois-Chicago (Dec. 18).

East Carolina (4-4) Last week: 0-2

The Pirates suffered two hard-fought losses last week, falling on the road to Western Carolina on Tuesday, 77-72, before losing at home to Old Dominion on Sunday, 51-50. The loss Sunday came in heartbreaking fashion, as ODU’s Alex Loughton nailed a three-pointer from beyond the NBA line with 16.9 seconds remaining in the game. Mike Cook paced the Pirates, with back-to-back sixteen-point performances. ECU performed well against Western Carolina on the offensive end, as four starters reached double figures. The defense failed them though during the second half as Western Carolina scored 43 second-half points and shot 51.8 percent from the field for the game.

Next week – vs. Winthrop (Dec. 17).

Houston (5-3) Last week: 0-0

The Cougars had no game scheduled last week because of finals.

Next week – vs. New Orleans (Dec. 16), vs. Southeast Louisiana (Dec. 18).

Louisville (5-1) Last week: 1-0

The Cardinals put together their best effort of the season Saturday, winning on the road against a tough Florida squad, 74-70. Francisco Garcia did a bit of everything, finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists, five steals and one block, before fouling out during the closing minutes. Even with Garcia out, Louisville withstood a consistent Gator comeback. Taquan Dean led all scorers with 22 points and Larry O’Bannon contributed 13. Otis George sat out his second straight game with a stress fracture in his leg and is not scheduled to return for another month. Without George, Louisville’s bench suddenly is rather short. Only one bench player (Brandon Jenkins) played more than six minutes.

Next week – vs. North Carolina A&T (Dec. 14), vs. Kentucky (Dec. 18).

Marquette (9-0) Last week: 2-0

Similar to Louisville, Marquette put together its best effort of the season Saturday. We know this of course because of the Golden Eagles relative cake schedule mentioned earlier. After an easy eight-game stretch, Marquette knocked off nationally-ranked Wisconsin at the Bradley Center, 63-54. Travis Diener, playing on a sprained left ankle that hindered his playing time earlier in the week, scored 29 points and hit five three-pointers to led Marquette. The Eagles controlled the boards, 44-28, as Marcus Jackson corralled a career-high fifteen. The win paid back the Badgers, who defeated Marquette last season in Madison. Earlier in the week, the Eagles defeated winless South Dakota State, 76-60. Junior forward Steve Novak led all scorers with 21 points, one off his season high.

Next week – vs. Arizona (Dec. 18).

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

No one denies that Memphis’ early schedule has been brutal. That being said, Saturday’s loss at home to Mississippi was not supposed to happen. Rodney Carney and Sean Banks, who have combined for 33.1 points per game this season, finished with six and five points, respectively. That, coupled with sluggish play throughout, contributed to the Tiger’s 65-53 loss; it was the team’s fourth in its last six games. Tuesday, Memphis lost bad to Pittsburgh, 70-51, in New York for the Jimmy V Classic. The Panthers, notorious for their deliberate pace, were able to beat Memphis at its own quick-paced game. The Tigers should be able to regroup with a few lightweights coming their way though, and this hard non-conference schedule will pay dividends when March rolls around. No other C-USA has played a tougher schedule this first month of the season.

Next week – vs. Austin Peay (Dec. 18).

South Florida (5-3) Last week: 0-1

There are two ways to look at the Bulls’ 71-62 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday. One – South Florida hung around with a NCAA tournament-caliber team, on the road, for 40 minutes. Two – USF could not defeat a team that was without four players because of injury. Your view personifies what the loss really meant. To South Florida’s credit, they made two big runs late in the game when Michigan pushed the lead to double digits. Terrance Leather added to his legacy with a career-high 28 points and Solomon Jones led all players with 11 rebounds. The Wolverines won the game at the free-throw line; shooting 23-of-29 (USF was only 8-of-11). Brian Swift, typically a reliable three-point shooter, only went 1-of-8 from deep. If a couple more of those drop, this instead could be about a shocker in Ann Arbor.

Next week – at South Carolina (Dec. 14).

Southern Miss (6-2) Last week: 2-0

Yeah, Southern Miss’ competition was lacking. Regardless, the Golden Eagles chalked up two more wins and continue to look better than last year. USM defeated Spring Hill, 76-60, on Tuesday before squashing Alcorn State on Saturday, 82-61. Tuesday, Larry Eustachy decided not to start his usual trio of Jasper Johnson, Jason Forte and Michael Ford against the lesser opponent Spring Hill. The three responded against Alcorn State, scoring 23, 19 and 11 points, respectively. Johnson shot 9-of-11 from the field and also grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. Eustachy was also able to clear the bench Saturday, as thirteen players saw action.

Next week – vs. LSU (Dec. 18).

Saint Louis (1-6) Last week: 0-2

So much for keeping them close. After losses of one, two and three points during their first five games, the Billikens decided to lose going away last week. SLU fell to Wisconsin-Milwaukee at home Tuesday, 57-47, before getting blown out at Gonzaga on Saturday, 75-45. The losses dropped the Billikens to 1-6, their worst start in years. Saturday was a complete breakdown on both ends of the court. SLU shot 31.5 percent from the field, while allowing the Bulldogs to go 15-of-23 from the field during the second half. Gonzaga attempted 13 more free throws and Saint Louis committed 11 turnovers during the first half. Tuesday, the Billikens made only 17 field goals during the entire game and were out-rebounded by 10. Reggie Bryant led the team in scoring with only 10 points.

Next week – vs. Oakland (Dec. 15), Dayton (Dec. 18).

TCU (6-3) Last Week: 1-1

Kansas was just too much for TCU to handle last week, as the Horned Frogs lost on the road Thursday, 93-74. But TCU recovered to split the week with a 65-51 win at home against intra-state rival SMU. The big news this week was the play of junior Nile Murry. A JC transfer from Temple, the 6-foot-4 guard averaged 18.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. His addition to the backcourt, along with Corey Santee and Marcus Shropshire, make the Frogs even more lethal. He shot 41.7 percent from the field, including 5-of-8 from beyond the three-point line. Bad news of the week: Chudi Chinweze suffered a leg injury during the loss to Kansas. He landed awkwardly on it late during the game, and then did not appear in the SMU game. His status remains unknown but there is no guarantee he will be back on the court anytime soon.

Next week – at Vanderbilt (Dec. 18).

Tulane (2-4) Last Week: 0-1

The Green Wave was out-muscled during its lone game of last week, an 85-72 loss to Northwestern State on Monday. Tulane was out-rebounded 35-24, and their opponents attempted twice as many free throws (34-17). It did not help that Northwestern State was nearly automatic from the line either (only missed five of those 34 attempts). The Green Wave wasted a strong offensive performance, as four players reached double figures, led by Quincy Davis’ 16. Marcus Kinzer also set a school record with 13 assists, but it was for naught. The Demons also hit 10 three-pointers, including a few crucial treys to put the game away.

Next week – vs. Savannah State (Dec. 18).

UAB (4-1) Last week: 0-1

The Blazers were finally tested this past week, and although they failed, it was about the hardest test out there. UAB traveled to Stillwater, Okla., to face nationally-ranked Oklahoma State and lost 86-73. The Cowboys were just too strong as six players scored in double figures, led Joey Graham’s 20 points and John Lucas’ 18. OSU shot 51.9 percent from the field and 85.3 percent from the free-throw line and was just too dominant for the Blazers to handle. Donell Taylor led all UAB scorers with 17. The Blazers though only shot 34.8 percent from the field. They were able to create turnovers like usual, 21, but committed 16 of their own and traded fast-break points with the Cowboys, leading to their downfall.

Next week – vs. Belmont (Dec. 15), at Richmond (Dec. 17).

Player of the Week

Travis Diener, Marquette

He wasn’t even supposed to play against Wisconsin on Saturday. Right, like the kid is going to miss his last opportunity against the Golden Eagles’ intra-state rival. Diener knocked down 29 points on a bum leg, including several crucial three-pointers late.

Games to Watch

Louisville vs. Kentucky

When is this game not a big one? All Louisville did last year was march into Rupp Arena when the Wildcats were No. 1 and leave victorious. Don’t think that, well, at least Chuck Hayes was around last year to remember. Another great test for UK’s youngsters.

Marquette vs. Arizona

The Golden Eagles checked off the first half of their non-conference revenge list with their win against Wisconsin. Marquette was beating Arizona in Tucson last year for 30 minutes before falling apart. The Wildcats look just like last year, unfulfilled promises.

South Florida vs. South Carolina

The Bulls looked tough on the road against Michigan, even if the Wolverines were undermanned. Another chance for South Florida to prepare for conference play with some real competition, as opposed to Stetson Law College.

     

Sun Belt Preview

by - Published December 17, 2004 in Conference Notes



Sun Belt Conference Season Preview

by Zach Van Hart

The entire Sun Belt Conference rejoiced during the 2003-04 season as Western Kentucky, who had dominated during the first few seasons of the millennium, finally returned back to earth. With the fall of the Hilltoppers to a fifth-place finish and quarterfinal loss in the conference tournament (on their home court no less), several teams made a run at claiming the newly departed throne. While many teams stepped up to the challenge, the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana Lafayette proved to be a notch above the rest. The Cajuns claimed both the regular season and conference championships.

This season, the top teams from ’03-’04 will again remain near the top, while the league’s bottom half will also stay put. Louisiana Lafayette and Arkansas-Little Rock, the defending Sun Belt West Division champs, are the league’s top two teams this season and will battle for the title. Arkansas State will make the biggest improvement, as its two stars will finally carry their team on their backs. New Orleans will slip a bit from its surprise finish last season, despite the services of sophomore sensation Bo McCalebb. And the dark horse candidate to win the league is Middle Tennessee State.

Towards the bottom of the league, New Mexico State, Denver, South Alabama and North Texas will go head-to-head twice to determine who qualifies for the conference tournament whose season will end with the close of the regular season. Florida International will once again bring up the rear. And the once feared Hilltoppers? Middle of the pack seems to be their new role.

Preseason Awards

First Team All-Sun Belt
Bo McCalebb, New Orleans
Mike Dean, Middle Tennessee State
Brian Mitchell, Louisiana Lafayette
J.J. Montgomery, Arkansas State
Dewarick Spencer, Arkansas State

MVP – McCalebb, New Orleans

Team-by-team capsules (In order of Hoopville’s predicted finish)

1. Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans

(17-12, 9-5) 1st in Sun Belt East Division

Projected Starting Lineup
Zack Graber, G
Brandon Freeman, G
Josh Jacobs, F
Richard Hardman, F
Darius Eason, C

Key games – Non-conference: vs. Southern Illinois (Dec. 7); Conference: home-and-home with Arkansas State and Western Kentucky, vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (Feb. 26).

The Trojans are not flashy. They do not win games with style and flair. Plenty of other Sun Belt teams receive more attention. But in 2004-05, they will be the best team and that’s all that matters. Returning four of five starters and a solid bench, Arkansas-Little Rock should have enough firepower and experience to upend defending champion Louisiana Lafayette. But it will not be easy.

Brandon Freeman returns as the team’s leader following a solid first season with the Trojans. The senior junior college transfer averaged 13.5 points per game last season, a number he will likely stay close to this season. An excellent outside shooter, Freeman can take games over but will not need to with ALR’s balanced attack. Josh Jacobs plays more like a guard, making the combination of Jacobs, Freeman and Zack Graber a formable backcourt.

The Trojans are small upfront, yet overcame the same problem last season. Despite having no regular players taller than 6-foot-9, ALR out-rebounded its opponents last season (37 to 35.1). Last season the team rebounded by committee, led by Richard Hardman (6.3) and Darius Eason (4.6). The team is solid on both ends of the floor; not spectacular, simply efficient.

Southern Illinois will pose the Trojans a winnable non-conference game against a upper echelon opponent, opposed to their road matches against Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech and Mississippi State. Earning a split against Arkansas State and Western Kentucky should suffice en route for a conference championship. A sweep against either would be bonus, being swept by either will be detrimental. More than likely, its season finale against Louisiana Lafayette in Little Rock will determine this season’s regular season champ.

2. Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns

(20-9, 12-3) 1st in Sun Belt West Division

Projected Starting Lineup
Tiras Wade, G
Orien Greene, G
Dwayne Mitchell, F
Brian Hamilton, F
Chris Cameron, C

Key games – Non-conference: at North Carolina State (Dec. 15), against Southern Illinois (Jan. 5); Conference: against Western Kentucky (Jan. 27), against Middle Tennessee State (Jan. 29), at Arkansas State (Feb. 24), at Arkansas-Little Rock (Feb. 26).

A projection of repeating as West Division champions and a second-place overall finish of the Cajuns is a true testament to their dominance last season. Louisiana Lafayette lost three starters and a key reserve from the team that coasted to the regular season and conference championship and nearly upset North Carolina State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Despite the losses, the Cajuns return plenty of talent to make another run at the conference crown.

Brian Hamilton was arguable the team’s best overall player last year, finishing third in scoring (11.4) and first in rebounding (6.9) on the team. He excelled on the offensive glass with nearly three offensive rebounds per game. Hamilton is an explosive 6-foot-6 forward that combines the skills of a big man and a guard. He rarely shoots from beyond the three-point line and is a tenacious defender who averaged two steals per game last year.

Dwayne Mitchell was the Sun Belt’s Sixth Man of the Year in ’03-’04 and could become the team’s scoring leader this season. The Cajuns also have a new, but experienced and talented backcourt, in senior Orien Greene and Tiras Wade. Greene was the backup last season and made key contributions. Wade is a transfer from East Tennessee State and could be the X factor for Louisiana Lafayette.

The bench is not as deep, or at least not as proven, as last year’s team. This appears to be the Cajuns chink in the armor as last season they beat teams with their depth. Early on they have a shot at revenge against the Wolfpack. Once the conference season starts though, it could smooth sailing up until the final week. The Cajuns can repeat if they build a big enough lead, because winning at either Arkansas State or Arkansas Little Rock will be a tough proposition.

3. Arkansas State Indians

(17-11, 7-7) 4th in East Division

Projected Starting Lineup
J.J. Montgomery, G
Dewarick Spencer, G
Andre King-Holland, G
Isaac Wells, F
Marcus Ardison, F

Key games – against Mississippi (Dec. 1), at Georgia Southern (Dec. 15); Conference: home-and-home with Western Kentucky and Arkansas-Little Rock, at Middle Tennessee State (Feb. 17), against Louisiana Lafayette (Feb. 24).

Disappointing is the word to describe last season for the Indians. No way should a team with two of the most explosive players in the league, J.J. Montgomery and Dewarick Spencer, finishing seventh overall and fourth in its division. This year, despite losing some of the their supporting cast of a year ago, Montgomery and Spencer will spark a turnaround at Arkansas State and carry the team to the cusp of a conference title.

Now do not let this lofty preseason position fool you; if Montgomery and Dewarick do not become leaders and learn to integrate their talents into a team concept, a fourth place in the East Division will occur again. We’re not counting on this being the case. Spencer, the league’s leading scorer last year with a 19.0 average, is the duo’s outside shooter threat. Spencer made 47.8 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from the three-point line last year. Montgomery (17.9 points per game) prefers dribble penetration and getting to the free-throw line. He averaged nearly eight free throws per game last season.

The rest of the squad though remains a bit of a question mark. A key to success for the Indians is the play of Isaac Wells and Marcus Ardison, two transfers into the program who will likely serve as the starting frontcourt. If these two hold their own against the rest of the league and the bench produced an ample amount of playing time, this could a bright season for ASU. Two of their last three games come against Middle Tennessee State and Louisiana Lafayette, games that could determine if ASU are contenders or pretenders.

4. Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

(17-12, 8-6) T-2nd in East Division

Projected Starting Lineup:
Bryan Smithson, G
Mike Dean, G
Marcus Morrison, F
Michael Cuffee, F
Kyle Young, C

Key games – Non-conference: San Jan Shootout, (Dec. 20-22), at Villanova (Dec. 27); Conference: home-and-home against Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas State and Western Kentucky, at Louisiana Lafayette (Jan. 29).

Make no mistake about it; the Blue Raiders are the dark horse candidate to win the Sun Belt. With plenty of experience returning, a star in Mike Dean and a few fresh faces that make an immediate impact, Middle Tennessee State can hang with anyone in the conference. If you cards fall in the right places, they are capable of winning the whole thing.

Departing from last season’s team is Tommy Gunn, their leader and second leading scorer. The Raiders will need to replace both his scoring and on-court presence. They have the talent to do both. Scoring wise, Mike Dean will become the undisputable No. 1 option. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard led the team in scoring in ’03-’04 (16.2 points per game), but it truly was a one-two punch of Dean and Gunn. Dean is team-orientated though and will know how to handle his role of go-to player.

Bryan Smithson started 28 games last season at point guard as a freshman, gaining limitless experience and gelling into the role as floor general. He’s steady improvement and development as a team leader will mark how far the Raiders go this season. Michael Cuffee was MTSU’s top rebounder (5.9 per game) last season, and is joined by the solid Kyle Young at center and Marcus Morrison at small forward.

If the Blue Raiders receive contributions from a few bench players, they could be tough to beat. Their starting five is arguable the best in the conference. In fact, upon reading this preview it’s hard to wonder why MTSU is picked to finish fourth overall. A tough conference schedule, a road game against Louisiana Lafayette and home-and-homes against three of the remaining top four teams, is the major road block to that title. But the title is definitely within reach.

5. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

(15-13, 8-6) T-2nd in East Division

Projected Starting Lineup
Antonio Haynes, G
Anthony Winchester, G
Boris Siakam, F
Courtney Lee, F
Elgrace Wilborn, C

Key games – Non-conference: at Murray State (Dec. 4), at Virginia (Jan. 5), Bracket Buster Saturday (Feb. 19); Conference: home-and-home vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee State, at Louisiana Lafayette (Jan. 27)

Darrin Horn probably spent some soul-searching during the offseason. Not only did his Western Kentucky team underachieve during his first season as head coach, but that was just the start. After the season, three players transferred for personal reasons. Coupled with the transfer last year of Patrick Sparks before Horn even coached one game at WKU and Horn must wonder what he got himself into. The bright side? The Hilltoppers are still good.

After deferring to the departed Nigel Dixon and Mike Wells in ’03-’04, guards Anthony Winchester and Antonio Haynes step into leadership roles this year. Winchester averaged 14.1 points, while Haynes averaged 11.9 points and 4.0 assists per game last season, numbers that will all go up. Both are excellent outside shooters and Haynes is deft at creating shots for teammates and still getting his own shot. This year he will likely have to worry more about involving his teammates since many are inexperienced.

The Hilltoppers have seven new members on the squad, including the rest of the starting lineup. Siakam, Lee and Wilborn will start the season in the starting lineup, but none of their positions are sewed up. The first month will be an audition for the frontcourt. The sooner a rotation is established, the better. WKU faces a tough conference schedule and even plays the Bracket Buster game in late February. With so many new faces, the Hilltoppers could easily slide up or down several positions in the conference standings.

6. New Orleans Privateers

(17-14, 9-6) 2nd in West Division

Projected Starting Lineup
Chad Barnes, G
Bo McCalebb, G
Todd Bostic, G
Shawn Mallory, F
Ben Elias, F

Key games – Non-conference: against Mississippi State (Dec. 13), against Southern Miss (Dec. 30), at Alabama (Jan. 1); Conference: home-and-homes against Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State, against Arkansas State (Feb. 3)

Say hello to the Bo McCalebb show. After an incredible freshman season, the Privateers outstanding guard is ready to take on the Sun Belt; make that the world. He’s already been tapped as the league’s Preseason Player of the Year, by both Sun Belt head coaches and Hoopville.com. However, the departure of his entire supporting cast from last season will make repeating UNO’s unlikely success last season (reaching the conference title game after being picked last in the preseason) a difficult task.

Last year, McCalebb did not start until mid-way through the season but still led the team in scoring by season’s end (13.1 points per game). The 6-foot guard is not a great shooter, just a great scorer. More important, he is a natural leader. This will be important this season thanks to the departure of five seniors and Victor Brown, who left the team for unspecified reasons.

The Privateers ability to remain in the upper echelon of the Sun Belt depends on the development of McCalebb’s supporting cast. The will have to mature by the end of the January. Thanks to quirky scheduling, the Feb. 3 home game will be its second-last conference game of the season, with six of its last seven coming on the road. New Orleans must be a cohesive unit, not the McCalebb show only, by then if it holds any hope of finishing near the top of the Sun Belt.

7. Denver Pioneers

(14-13, 6-9) T-4th in West Division

Projected Starting Lineup
Rodney Billups, G
Erik Benzel, G
Andrew Carpenter, G
Antonio Porch, F
Yemi Nicholson, C

Key games – Non-conference: vs. Stanford (Dec. 13), at Colorado State (Dec. 30); Conference: vs. Arkansas State (Jan. 20), vs. Arkansas-Little Rock (Jan. 22), vs. Middle Tennessee State (Feb. 12).

Last season the Pioneers started hot and struggled down the stretch. This season will shape up similar to last year, with Denver finishing near the middle of the pack. Seemingly just like every team in the Sun Belt this year, the Pioneers return an experienced backcourt that will be the team’s leaders this season. For Denver, those guards are Rodney Billups and Erik Benzel.

Benzel was the team’s leading scorer last year with a 14.4 points per game average. Benzel lived behind the three-point line, where he attempted 75 percent of his field goal attempts. He shot 42.2 percent from deep and averaged more than three treys per game. He is balanced out by Billups, who averaged 10.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last year. Billups is a solid point guard and is no stranger to leading his team.

Again, seemingly like the rest of the league, how Denver’s inexperienced frontcourt will be a determinant on how the team performs. For the Pioneers, this responsibility falls on Antonio Porch and Yemi Nicholson. The two averaged 12.5 and 14.5 minutes per game last season, respectively. If they produce marginally on the offensive side and defend well, Denver could benefit from facing some of the league’s big boys at home and not on the road.

8. South Alabama Jaguars

(12-16, 6-9) T-4th in West Division

Projected Starting Lineup
Shane Spencer, G
Jeffrey Collins, G
Mario Jointer, G
Richard Law, F
Jacque Pate, C

Key games – Non-conference: against Southern Miss (Dec. 20), against UAB (Dec. 31); Conference: home-and-home against North Texas, New Orleans, Denver and New Mexico State.

South Alabama seemed to be in every game last season. They were the gnat that never goes away, always flying around your face. The Jaguars were able to win some of those games, but lost quite a few too. This season USA will feature a few new players, but for the most part expect to play a similar kind of basketball: defensive, hang-around-until-the-end ball with hopes of squeaking out wins in the final seconds.

Surprise, surprise – the Jaguars’ top two returning players are guards. Shane Spencer and Jeffrey Collins both received considerable playing time last season, both coming off the bench and in the starting lineup. Collins averaged 8.8 points per game, third on the team, while Spencer led the team in assists with 2.8 per game. Spencer and Collins will hold the responsibility on offense, not so much to score but to control the tempo, which must be slow for South Alabama to be effective.

That means the defensive pressure rests solely on the frontcourt. They must control the glass, vital for the Jaguars’ success. In ’03-’04, South Alabama was out-rebounded by nearly four boards per game, (35.9 to 32.1), a big reason for the Jags’ struggles. Richard Law and Jacque Pate, both new to the program, will shoulder this responsibility. USA goes against all of the middle-of-the-road teams twice this season. These games will determine where they finish.

9. North Texas Mean Green

(13-15, 8-7) 3rd in the West Division

Projected Starting Lineup
Leonard Hopkins, G
Isaac Hines, G
Calvin Watson, G
Michael Jones, F
Justin Barnett, C

Key games – Non-conference: against TCU (Dec. 4), Dr. Pepper Classic (Dec. 29-30); Conference: home-and-home against New Orleans, Denver, South Alabama, New Mexico State

The Mean Green lost four of its five starts from last season and will take the biggest fall of any team in the Sun Belt this season. The lone returning starter, Leonard Hopkins, takes over the reigns as team leader. Hopkins was the team’s leading scorer last season (14.0 points per game) and is a solid player on both ends. He is a good rebounding guard and passes and guards well.

The rest of the North Texas squad received plenty of playing team last year, even if it was from the bench. Watson, Jones and Barnett each played more than ten minutes per game last year, which bodes well for this season. Watson and Jones each averaged 3.5 boards per game, an area they must improve upon. NTU likes to get up and down the court, which will hinder them against the top teams in the conference but could benefit them against the lesser teams.

Similar to South Alabama, North Texas plays home-and-homes with four the other middle-of-the-road teams in the Sun Belt. If the Mean Green finds a rhythm early this season, expect a higher finish than predicted now.

10. New Mexico State Aggies

(13-14, 6-9) T-4th in West Division

Projected Starting Lineup
Mike Mitchell, G
Byron Davis, G
Robert Frazier, G
Jeff Jones, F
Josh Jenkins, F

Key games – BP Top of the World Classic (Nov. 19-21), against Tulsa (Jan. 10); Conference: home-and-home against North Texas, New Orleans, South Alabama, Denver

The Aggies are a work-in-progress this season, replacing several players from a team that struggled last year. The up side is that new blood could be just what New Mexico State needs. The ’03-’04 season was a disappointing one, as the Aggies finished well below expectations. With home-and-homes against the other four already mentioned squads, NMSU will have plenty of chances to improve its standings and fight for a spot in the conference tournament.

Bryon Davis and Robert Frazier are the top returning players for Aggies. Davis started sixteen games last season, averaging 26.9 minutes and 5.4 points per game. Frazier contributed 12.8 minutes per game. The rest of the starting lineup, Mike Mitchell, Jeff Jones and Josh Jenkins, are new but highly-touted by the coaching staff. Similar to North Texas, the early season will be a big determinant to how New Mexico State performs this season.

11. Florida International Golden Panthers

(5-22, 1-13) 5th in the East Division

Projected Starting Lineup
Antonio Jones, G
Junior Matias, G
Ivan Almonte, F
Ismael N’Diaye, F
Bryon Burnett, C

Key games – Non-conference: at South Florida (Dec. 20), FIU Holiday Classic (Dec. 27-28); Conference: against Denver (Jan. 15), against North Texas (Jan. 17), against New Mexico State (Jan. 24).

After an ugly season, the Golden Panthers are hoping to turn over a new leaf with new head coach Sergio Rouco, who came to Florida International from Texas-El Paso. The bright side for Rouco is most of last season’s team returns, giving him experienced players to work with. The bad news is that this team must prove it can win conference games and have the confidence to compete.

Unlike almost every team in the Sun Belt, FIU relies on its big man for big plays and leadership. Six-foot-8 center Bryon Burnett is the team’s top returning rebounder and one of its top returning scorers. He will need to lead by example for the Panthers. Despite Burnett’s efforts, not much is expected from Florida International in ’04-’05.

What to look for in the Sun Belt

This is a guard-orientated league, providing a plethora of three-pointers and fast-paced action. From the bright star of McCalebb, do-it all Dean, scoring machines Montgomery and Spencer and plenty of others, how these little guys perform will determine how their respective teams fare. But with all of those big names in the league, when it’s all said and done, look for the no-name Trojans of Arkansas-Little Rock to bring home the ’04-’05 title.

     

Cincinnati is Number One

by - Published December 14, 2004 in Columns




Cincinnati can’t displace Tobacco Road

by Zach Van Hart

Recently, The Sporting News announced their annual ranking of the best college basketball cities in the nation, and, in their infinite wisdom, the brain trust at TSN proclaimed Cincinnati the “Best of College Basketball” for 2004.

With the University of Cincinnati and Xavier right downtown, and six of the nation’s top 25 teams in attendance within 150 miles (UC, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio State, Dayton, and Louisville – Xavier didn’t make that cut), college hoops fans in Cincinnati are living high off the Bearcat. But is my fair city really number one?

First, let it be known I’ve spent all 23 years of my life as a Cincinnati resident. I’ve been a diehard Bearcats fan for twelve years, and during basketball season, not much brings me more pleasure than watching UC beat Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout.

But there’s no chance in hell Cincinnati tops the Raleigh-Durham area for college hoops.

Let’s start from the top and investigate each town’s two top teams – Cincinnati and Xavier, and North Carolina and Duke. Above, we see that Xavier advanced to the Elite Eight and Cincinnati won the Conference USA regular season and conference title during the 2003-04 campaign.

And who beat the Musketeers in that Elite Eight game? If you’re taking a Scantron test, color in D – for Duke.

So Cincinnati won the Conference USA regular season crown (along with four other universities) and the tournament title (in its home town). Does this mean because North Carolina accomplished neither in the ACC, that the Bearcats had a better season? Do we really believe either Duke or North Carolina wouldn’t run amuck in C-USA? Or the Atlantic 10 for that matter?

Maybe we should crunch some numbers between the cities’ top two teams. Cincinnati and Xavier: two national championships and six Final Fours. Duke and North Carolina: five national championships and a ridiculous 29 Final Fours. During the past ten seasons, Cincinnati and Xavier each have one Elite Eight appearance; Duke and North Carolina each advanced to four Final Fours.

As for the fans, there’s no contest. Walk into a Cincinnati or Xavier bookstore and right there hanging on the racks are Duke and North Carolina shirts. Walk on either campus and you’ll see Duke T-shirts and UNC hats. If a Xavier sweatshirt appeared on a scavenger hunt list at Chapel Hill, the easiest way to win would be simply – drive north to Cincinnati, find a sweatshirt, and drive back.

The Bearcats and Musketeers always play to full capacity against each other… well of course they do. In a city filled with more than one million people, how hard is it to fill arenas with ten and thirteen thousand capacity? If they didn’t sell out, that would be news. Yet, neither team sells out all of its home games. Duke, however, has been selling out since the Stone Age, while North Carolina not only sells out it’s 21,750-seat Dean Dome, they regularly fill every single seat. We’re talking no seat empty out of nearly 22 thousand. That wouldn’t happen in Cincinnati if the Pope came to town to pass out rosaries.

Students at Cincinnati camp out for one night – inside – to nab tickets to the Shootout. Duke students camp out for two months, outside, for tickets to the Tar Heel game. (No joke). Cincinnati and Xavier don’t like each other. North Carolina and Duke hate each other.

Apparently though, Cincinnati is the better region because Ohio State, Indiana, Kentucky, Dayton or Louisville are within 150 miles driving distance. Somehow, the article fails to mention the close proximity of North Carolina State, or that 75 miles west is Wake Forest.

Cincinnatians do not travel to watch any of the above teams except Kentucky, unless of course Xavier plays Dayton or Cincinnati plays Louisville. Ohio State only exists to Cincinnatians as a football team, while the only press the Hoosiers ever received here came when Indiana advanced to the 2002 national championship game.

As for Kentucky, that’s more proof that Cincinnati fans do not love their beloved Bearcats or Muskies like Tar Heel and Blue Devil fans love their respected teams. Kentucky is located 75 miles south of Cincinnati, yet is treated as if the university is nudged between Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium. There’s no logical reason for so many Wildcat fans to reside in Cincinnati, except they advance to Final Fours (not in the past six seasons however) while the two local universities do not.

It would be like a Wake Forest fan in Durham. That just doesn’t happen.

And yes, while those aforementioned schools in the not-so-nearby area of Cincinnati are solid programs, so are the other two in tobacco country. The Wolfpack owns two national championships (equal to Cincinnati’s total) and has regularly competed in the Big Dance during the past five seasons. Wake Forest is just peaking as a national powerhouse. They advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last season started this season ranked in the top five. The Deacons own a Final Four appearance (one more than Xavier) and captured the 2002-03 ACC regular season championship. And their current head coach, Skip Prosser, bolted which university to lead Wake? That would be Xavier.

Finally, of course during basketball season, college basketball is the top subject on AM radio in Cincinnati. The Bengals’ season is over by November anyway and there’s no NBA team here. What else should we talk about? Tom Sizemore’s performance in “Hustle?”

Cincinnati is a great place for college basketball. The teams perform well, hosts of fans usually pack the arenas and come March, Cincinnati and Xavier always advance to the NCAA Tournament. But when it comes to No. 1, there’s no question. The victory cigar is awarded to a little place called Tobacco Road.

     

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