Conference Reset: Conference USA is an absolute mess of a league
Here's our Conference USA Reset ...
Memphis and Marshall were projected in the preseason as Conference USA's top two teams, and they still might be, I guess. But neither has been as good as expected -- proof being that the Tigers have lost the only three games they've played against high-level opponents, and that Marshall is 7-6 thanks to eligibility issues and injuries. Consequently, the top of C-USA isn't very good, the middle is bad and the bottom is awful, which will almost certainly make this a one-bid league regardless of what happens going forward.
Either way, here's our Conference USA Reset:
Teams on track to make the Field of 68: Memphis
Teams with work to do: Everybody else
Teams already out, barring a miracle: Everybody else
Most memorable moment to date: The lack of quality anything about this league is why its most memorable moment is actually a loss by a conference team -- specifically Memphis' 87-78 loss to No. 4 Louisville. Yes, a loss is a loss. But the Tigers at one point led by 16 points, and that's kind of memorable, right?
Storyline you were too busy to notice: Marshall was, in my opinion, the obvious pick in the preseason to finish second behind Memphis. But then Kareem Canty, a freshman point guard, was declared academically ineligible, and then DeAndre Kane, a junior shooting guard, broke his right hand. Kane hasn't played in the Thundering Herd's past three games; he's expected to miss at least two more. So Tom Herrion hasn't had the team he (or I) thought he'd have, and that's why Marshall is 7-6 through 13 games.
Coach feeling the heat: Josh Pastner has done a remarkable job replacing John Calipari at Memphis in terms of recruiting and keeping fans engaged, and it should be noted that he's made the past two NCAA tournaments. So that's all great. But fans have mostly been focused on another fact -- specifically that Pastner is 0-11 all-time against Top 25 opponents, meaning the Tigers haven't topped a ranked team since Calipari beat Gonzaga back on Feb. 7, 2009. That's a statistic that's become a bullet point on Pastner's resume. It'll remain there until he fixes it, and the problem is that C-USA offers no opportunities to fix it.
Player who needs to step up: Memphis' Adonis Thomas returned for his sophomore season and was immediately labeled a lottery pick of the 2013 NBA Draft and the preseason C-USA Player of the Year by at least one person. (Me!) But the 6-foot-7 wing has only been OK to date. He's averaging 10.1 points and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 39.7 percent from the field and 16.1 percent from 3-point range. He hasn't looked like a pro prospect in any shape or form.
Team better than its record: Eight C-USA teams have better records than Marshall, but I still don't think there are eight C-USA teams better than Marshall. We'll see.
Team not as good as its record: Houston is 10-2, which looks OK. But that record is the direct result of a nonleague schedule that's ranked 347th at KenPom.com. That's last nationally. The Cougars' best win is a 77-75 victory over San Jose State.
Three must-see games:
- Memphis at Southern Miss on Feb. 9
- Tulane at Southern Miss on Feb. 13
- Memphis at Central Florida on March 2
Player of the Year favorite: Joe Jackson hasn't been great (and he was especially bad early). But the junior guard is still having the best season of his college career -- averaging a career-best 13.2 points and a career-best 4.4 assists while shooting 53.7 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point range. He's been the best player on C-USA's best team, and that's usually the guy who wins POY honors.
Freshman of the Year favorite: Danuel House is one of Houston's nice recruits who got eligible, and he's had a nice season to date. The 6-foot-7 freshman is averaging 12.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game.
Probable all-league team: Joe Jackson (Memphis), DeAndre Kane (Marshall), Tashawn Thomas (Houston), Keith Clanton (UCF), Josh Davis (Tulane)
Ranking the teams from first to worst:
- Memphis -- The Tigers are 9-3 with nine wins over mediocre/bad teams and three losses to good teams. That's the simplest way to put it. They're talented enough to advance in the NCAA tournament once they get there. But they might get there with zero quality wins, and that's gonna affect their seeding, which could in turn diminish the odds of advancing, which could in turn send Josh Pastner into his fifth season next season still looking for that first NCAA tournament victory.
- Southern Miss -- Somebody has to finish second in C-USA, and that somebody will probably be the Golden Eagles. Three of their four losses are to teams ranked in the top 100 at KenPom.com. They have a win over an SEC school (Georgia).
- Central Florida -- The Knights are banned from the postseason for recruiting violations that led to Donnie Jones having less of a roster than he would've otherwise had. Still, UCF is 9-3 with wins over Belmont and USF. Keith Clanton is averaging 17.0 points and 9.6 rebounds.
- UTEP -- The Miners are only 6-5, but they've played six power-conference schools plus UNLV. In other words, the worst of their schedule is behind them. So don't be surprised if Tim Floyd pushes for second in C-USA after starting the season 1-4.
- Tulane -- Ed Conroy has the Green Wave off to an 11-3 start featuring a win over Alabama. Josh Davis (18.4 points and 10.1 rebounds) and Ricky Tarrant (14.4 points and 3.0 assists) are statistically one of C-USA's best inside-outside duos.
- Marshall -- DeAndre Kane's hand will eventually heal. And though that won't fix all of Marshall's problems -- the Thundering Herd will still be point-guard-less -- it'll be enough to keep Tom Herrion's team in the top half of the league.
- Houston -- The Cougars' schedule is ridiculous but they've still won 10 of the 12 games they've played, and that's worth something. Tashawn Thomas is averaging 18 points and 10.5 rebounds. He's one of three players averaging at least 12.5 points.
- East Carolina -- The Pirates don't really have any good wins, but they played North Carolina close. KenPom.com projects ECU to finish with eight C-USA victories. That would be a good season.
- UAB -- Every team that's beaten the Blazers has at least nine victories, meaning there are no horrendous losses on the resume. Junior college transfer Rod Rucker has been productive in his transition to Division I basketball. He's averaging 13.4 points and 7.5 rebounds.
- SMU -- Larry Brown's Mustangs started OK but have dropped three of their past five games to Rhode Island, Utah and Wagner. Even Hall of Fame coaches need good players to win, you know?
- Tulsa -- Hall of Fame players who played for Hall of Fame coaches also need players to win. Danny Manning is learning that this seaon at Tulsa. His team is 7-6 with a best win over Oral Roberts.
- Rice -- The Owls lost transfers in the preseason and were predicted to finish last in a bad Conference USA. They're now 3-9 with a best win over Chicago State. So Ben Braun's team is living down to expectations.
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