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Conference Catchup: Memphis looks super in final C-USA season

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Who would have picked Brown and Manning as C-USA coaching foes? (Getty Images/US Presswire)  
Who would have picked Brown and Manning as C-USA coaching foes? (Getty Images/US Presswire)    
Memphis has been the pick to win Conference USA every season since 2006 -- except for the year after John Calipari left for Kentucky and took the best parts of the Tigers' recruiting class with him. So it should surprise no one that they're the obvious pick again -- especially considering they're returning four of the top five scorers from a team that won 26 games last season, including a projected future lottery in Adonis Thomas.

UCF should be interesting.

Marshall, too.

But anything short of a sixth C-USA title in eight years for Memphis would be a surprise.

Offseason headlines

1. Here comes Larry Brown (and Danny Manning, too!): Who could've imagined 24 years ago when Larry Brown coached Danny Manning to a national championship at Kansas that both men would spend the 2012-13 season coaching in a league that, at the time, didn't exist? Or that Brown would even still be coaching? Answers: Nobody. But now Brown is at SMU and Manning is at Tulsa, and that's a nice storyline even if they'll spend only one season together in this league.

2. Adonis Thomas delays pro career: The Memphis staff knew this time last year that Will Barton's sophomore season would almost certainly be his final season of college basketball, but Josh Pastner never was sure he would get a second year from Adonis Thomas. So it was good news for the Tigers when 6-foot-6 wing announced in late March that he is indeed returning for his sophomore season. The homegrown talent is among the reasons Memphis will be in the Top 25 of every relevant preseason poll.

3. Houston assistant makes intra-conference move : Nobody except college basketball junkies and Texas high school/summer coaches knows Ulric Maligi, but he's worth knowing because he's important to the league. He's the young assistant who last November helped James Dickey sign a nice recruiting class at Houston. But now he's working at SMU, which means he'll soon be helping Brown sign nice recruiting classes to take into the Big East.

4. C-USA tournament might not be in Memphis: The 2013 C-USA tournament was (and still is, technically) scheduled to be played at FedExForum just off Beale Street. But the Tigers' move to the Big East has the league rethinking its plan because some of the schools that are loyal to C-USA -- otherwise known as the schools that didn't get Big East invitations -- don't think it's right to reward a program on the way out by allowing it to play a postseason event on its home court. So what's it gonna be? Will C-USA hold its title game at FedExForum live on CBS in front of 18,000 fans provided Memphis is involved, which would be the safest bet possible? Or will C-USA cut off its nose to spite its face, move the event to Tulsa, and risk a nationally televised title game with 2,000 fans in the building? Stay tuned.

Big question that remains

Will Joe Jackson be consistently great or inconsistent and frustrating?

Jackson enrolled at Memphis with a lot of hype and big expectations, but the transition has been tough (for a variety of reasons). He has been relegated to the bench in both his freshman and sophomore years. But he rallied each time, finished strong and helped Memphis advance to the NCAA tournament in 2011 and 2012. When Jackson is good, the Tigers are good. When he's not, they're not. So this'll be a story worth watching as the former McDonald's All-American's junior season unfolds.

NBA Draft report

Could've gone and did: Will Barton (Memphis)

Could've gone but stayed: Arsalan Kazemi (Rice), Adonis Thomas (Memphis)

Transfers

Coming: Chip Armelin (Minnesota to Southern Miss), Kauri Black (Northeastern to Tulsa), Terence Jones (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to UAB), Josiah Turner (Arizona to SMU)

Going: Drew Barham (Memphis), D'Von Campbell (UTEP), David Chadwick (Rice to Valparaiso), Jordan Clarkson (Tulsa to Missouri), Justin Coleman (Marshall), Grant Florentinos (Tulane to SIU-Edwardsville), Alandis Harris (Houston to Arkansas), Herb Harrison (UAB), Wayne Martin (UCF), Eric McClellan (Tulsa), Darius Morales (East Carolina), Eric Norman (SMU), Mike Perez (UTEP), Jarelle Reischel (Rice to Rhode Island), Kirk Van Slyke (Houston), Richmonds Vilde (SMU), Jeremiah Samarrippas (SMU), Ovie Soko (UAB), Malte Ziegenhagen (Tulane)

Team commentary in 140 characters or less

Arsalan Kazemi needs some help at Rice this season. (US Presswire)  
Arsalan Kazemi needs some help at Rice this season. (US Presswire)  
East Carolina: ECU won three of its final four games last season despite being bad. Miguel Paul is back. But it'll be hard to crack the top half of C-USA.

Houston: The loss of Ulric Maligi can't be overstated. It could prove to be the difference between Houston emerging and Houston staying irrelevant.

Marshall: A core of DeAndre Kane, Dennis Tinnon and junior college transfer Elijah Pittman is strong. Tom Herrion has a roster than can make the field of 68.

Memphis: Josh Pastner finally has talented veterans as opposed to merely talented young guys. This should be the season he advances the Tigers in March.

Rice: Arsalan Kazemi has been at Rice three years, and he's really good. But the Owls have managed only a 14-34 C-USA record with him on campus.

SMU: Larry Brown is a shaky hire at his age, but the staff assembled could make this work. Would be nice to have Josiah Turner this season, though.

Southern Miss: Larry Eustachy built Southern Miss then bolted for Colorado State. But he left enough behind for Donnie Tyndall to keep things moving.

Tulane: The Green Wave lost their final eight games last season and finished 3-13 in Conference USA. So it can only get better this season, right?

Tulsa: The good news is that Danny Manning is at Tulsa and that's exciting. The bad news is that he's probably the best player on campus.

UAB: Mike Davis is out and North Carolina assistant Jerod Haase is in. It's too bad he couldn't bring James Michael McAdoo with him to Birmingham.

UCF: The Knights' top four scorers are back, including Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan. This might just be the season UCF breaks through.

UTEP: John Bohannon and Julian Washburn will lead UTEP to the NCAA tournament before they leave El Paso. But it probably won't be this season.

Early guess at the top five in the league

1. Memphis
2. UCF
3. Marshall
4. UTEP
5. Southern Miss

Early guess at the all-conference team

1. G: Joe Jackson (Memphis)
2. G: Chris Crawford (Memphis)
3. G: DeAndre Kane (Marshall)
4. F: Adonis Thomas (Memphis)
5. F: Keith Clanton (UCF)

Final thought

The departure of Memphis to the Big East after this season isn't good for Conference USA in general, but it's mostly great news for the coaches left behind, because no program in the current version of the league should ever be able to consistently challenge Memphis given all the advantages the Tigers possess. Memphis' facilities, budget and recruiting base are so far superior to everything else in C-USA that it's almost unfair. So while the spotlight this program has placed on this league will dim when Memphis leaves, the exit will also open things up for UAB, UTEP and Marshall. And that's not a bad thing for UAB, UTEP and Marshall.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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