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CBSSports.com Senior College Basketball Columnist

Conference reset: Can anyone else in C-USA join Memphis in the Dance?


Will Barton looks like an NBA first-rounder, averaging 19.8 points and 9.2 boards. (US Presswire)  
Will Barton looks like an NBA first-rounder, averaging 19.8 points and 9.2 boards. (US Presswire)  

Memphis is only 8-5 and unranked.

So this might be a good year for somebody else to win the league, right?


Though the Tigers are a disappointment, they're still the best team in Conference USA by a wide margin. But don't take my word for it. Take Ken Pomeroy's. His invaluable site (KenPom.com) still has Memphis ranked 31st and projected to be favored in every game it plays the rest of the way. So that 8-5 record is likely to turn into something like 26-8 on Selection Sunday (barring serious injuries or notable suspensions, the latter of which is always a possibility at Memphis).

So Memphis will win C-USA.

That shouldn't be up for debate.

The real question is whether C-USA can put two teams in the NCAA tournament.

League play starts Wednesday.

Here's a primer to get you ready.

Maximum Teams Capable of Making the NCAAs (And We're Very Serious About This): Memphis, Marshall, Southern Miss, UCF.

The League's Most Memorable Moment So Far: Marcus Jordan got 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to lead UCF back from a 17-point deficit and to a 68-63 win over Connecticut. To date, that's UConn's only loss.

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The Storyline You Were Too Busy to Notice: Darnell Dodson played 15 minutes per game for Kentucky in 2009-10, encountered off-the-court problems, transferred to Southern Mississippi, encountered more off-the-court problems and didn't play again until Dec. 19, 2011. In other words, Dodson went from March 2010 to December 2011 -- basically 21 months -- without playing organized basketball. But he's made a huge impact at Southern Miss. The 6-foot-7 wing is averaging 15 points and 7.2 rebounds.

Coach feeling the heat: From Tim Floyd to Scott Drew to Leonard Hamilton to Bruce Pearl, almost nobody wanted the Memphis job when it opened because following John Calipari was always going to be less than ideal. Josh Pastner understands this clearly now. The third-year coach is being questioned daily by fans because the Tigers were ranked 11th preseason and now find themselves unranked with an 8-5 record.

Still unproven: Southern Miss is 13-2, but what does it really mean? The Golden Eagles have zero wins over teams rated in the top 90 at KenPom.com.

Player of the Year and All-League Team: Will Barton, Memphis (POY); DeAndre Kane, Marshall; Arsalan Kazemi, Rice; Marcus Jordan, UCF; Darnell Dodson, Southern Miss.

What I loved: Tulane's 12-2 start. No, it's not overly impressive in the sense that there are no good wins. And the Green Wave will probably still finish around .500 in the league. But 12-2 is still 12-2. Tulane only won 13 games all last season.

What I hated: Watching Joe Jackson miss Memphis' New Year's Eve game against Charlotte while considering a transfer. He rejoined the team Sunday and will play Wednesday against Tennessee. So it's all good now, I guess. But the drama isn't good for anybody.

1. Memphis

What's Gone Quite Right: Memphis doesn't always look under control offensively, but the Tigers are still pretty good at putting the ball in the basket. They have the nation's 25th most efficient offense. They're averaging 77.8 points.

New Year's Resolution: Find a productive big. Memphis doesn't have a single post player who has played more than five games averaging at least four rebounds. The leading rebounder is a 175-pound wing.

MVP: Will Barton is averaging 19.8 points and 9.2 rebounds. He looks like an All-American and first-round NBA pick.

Step Your Game Up: Tarik Black has 51 rebounds and 45 fouls this season. Lots of Memphis' issues will be solved if Black solves his first.

2. Marshall

What's Gone Quite Right: The Thundering Herd have wins over Cincinnati, Iona and Belmont and are in the top 75 at CollegeRPI.com. They only lost at Syracuse by six points.

New Year's Resolution: Get more consistent. How do you beat Cincinnati on the road and lose at home to Akron by 16 points?

MVP: DeAndre Kane is averaging 16.7 points, 5.5. rebounds and 3.5 assists.

Step Your Game Up: Damier Pitts is Marshall's point guard. He's averaging 3.5 turnovers per game.

3. Southern Miss

What's Gone Quite Right: The Golden Eagles are 13-2 with wins over Ole Miss, New Mexico State and South Florida. The only losses are to Murray State and Denver, two possible NCAA tournament teams.

New Year's Resolution: Get better at shooting inside the arc. Southern Miss is only making 42.5 percent of its 2-pointers. That ranks 300th nationally.

MVP: Former Kentucky standout Darnell Dodson is averaging 15.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in only 21.4 minutes a game.

Step Your Game Up: Angelo Johnson is taking 10.8 field goal attempts per game and making only 37.8 percent of them.

4. UCF

What's Gone Quite Right: The Knights got a nice win on a neutral court over UConn. They're in the top 100 at CollegeRPI.com.

New Year's Resolution: Stay out of the news for non-basketball reasons. That wasn't the case in 2011 when the NCAA charged UCF with rules violations.

MVP: Marcus Jordan is averaging 17.5 points and 3.1 assists.

Step Your Game Up: Though Jordan is averaging 17.5 points per game, his shooting, 3-point and free throw percentages are all down from last year. So he's scoring more but only because he's shooting more, not necessarily because he's better.

5. Tulsa

What's Gone Quite Right: The record isn't great, but all of the Golden Hurricane's losses are either to BCS-affiliated schools or possible NCAA tournament schools. So in some ways, Tulsa's 7-7 record is better than Tulane's 12-2 mark.

New Year's Resolution: Cut down on turnovers. The Golden Hurricane turn the ball over on 23.3 percent of their possessions. That ranks 282nd nationally.

MVP: Jordan Clarkson is averaging 15.6 points and 4.7 rebounds.

Step Your Game Up: Clarkson is a bit disappointing for an MVP. He's shooting only 39 percent from the field and 28 percent from beyond the arc.

6. Tulane

What's Gone Quite Right: The Green Wave have played 14 games and won 12. That's tremendous (regardless of the competition) for a program that won only 13 games last season.

New Year's Resolution: Get a decent win. Truth is, Tulane still doesn't have one. Let's see if the Green Wave can beat UCF on Wednesday.

MVP: Kendall Timmons is averaging 13.7 points and 5.1 rebounds.

Step Your Game Up: Jordan Callahan's field goal percentage continues to go down. He shot 47 percent as a freshman and 41 percent as a sophomore. Now he's shooting 38 percent.


What's Gone Quite Right: The Miners have wins over an SEC school (Auburn) and ACC school (Clemson).

New Year's Resolution: Stop turning the ball over. More than one out out of every five UTEP possessions results in a turnover.

MVP: Michael Perez is averaging 12.0 points. He averaged 17.7 in the Diamond Head Classic.

Step Your Game Up: Julian Washburn is shooting only 48 percent from the free throw line. He'd be terrible in one of those halftime contests.

8. UAB

What's Gone Quite Right: The Blazers started 2-7 but have won three straight heading into Tuesday's game at Florida. New Year's Resolution: Never lose seven of nine in any stretch ever again.

MVP: Cameron Moore is averaging 14.6 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.6 blocks.

Step Your Game Up: Quincy Taylor is averaging 3.8 turnovers in 28.4 minutes per game. He's only getting 2.9 assists.

9. Rice

What's Gone Quite Right: The Owls have a win over Texas A&M, one of the league's better victories.

New Year's Resolution: Get Arsalan Kazemi more shots. He's shooting 61 percent from the field but only taking 18.5 percent of Rice's shots.

MVP: Kazemi is averaging 13.7 points and a nation-leading 12.3 rebounds.

Step Your Game Up: If Tamir Jackson is gonna shoot more than Kazemi, he needs to make more than 43 percent of his field goal attempts and 33 percent of his 3-point attempts.

10. East Carolina

What's Gone Quite Right: The Pirates are entering C-USA play with more than twice as many wins as losses. Three of their four losses are by single digits.

New Year's Resolution: Stop shooting into people's hands. ECU is getting 14.7 percent of its shots blocked. That ranks 336th nationally.

MVP: Darrius Morrow is averaging 13.1 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting a team-best 53 percent from the field.

Step Your Game Up: Erin Straughn has never made more than 34 percent of his 3-point attempts in three seasons. He ought to start making a few more. Or stop taking them.

11. SMU

What's Gone Quite Right: The Mustangs have won six of eight to improve to 8-5 overall.

New Year's Resolution: Never lose to a SWAC team again. SMU lost to Jackson State in December at home.

MVP: Robert Nyakundi is averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the field and 49 percent from beyond the arc.

Step Your Game Up: Jeremiah Samarrippas is shooting 30 percent from the field and 26 percent from 3-point range. It's hard to miss that much.

12. Houston

What's Gone Quite Right: The Cougars have won four straight heading into league play.

New Year's Resolution: Block out somebody. Houston's opponents get an offensive rebound on 35 percent of their missed shots.

MVP: Alandise Harris is averaging 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 57 percent from the field.

Step Your Game Up: Darian Thibodeaux is first on the team in minutes but sixth on the team in scoring and field goal percentage.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and college basketball insider for the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts an award-winning radio show in Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two sons and two dogs.

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