Eric Bailey's Conference USA Insider
BY ERIC BAILEY World Sports Writer
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
1/26/11 at 6:42 AM
The Tigers, who occupied this spot for much of the past five seasons, have emerged again as the team to beat. Memphis captured two very close road wins - a 76-75 victory at Southern Miss and an impressive 76-73 win at UAB - to establish itself as once again the team to beat. The Tigers have won three straight games without Wesley Witherspoon (two games for suspension, one for sore knees). Second-year coach Josh Pastner has used 12 different lineups this season looking for the right formula.
New coach Tim Floyd knew that he had a veteran team returning this year and he's seeing the product of that in Conference USA play. While high-scoring, quick guard Randy Culpepper may be the league's reigning MVP, point guard Julyan Stone could be the Miners' top player this year. He ranks among the league's top three players in rebounds, assists and steals in conference games. The Miners will host Tulane on Wednesday before making the trip to Tulsa on Saturday.
The Knights fall into this category for the second consecutive week after seeing their losing streak hit four games following losses to Rice and East Carolina. Now the schedule gets tougher for UCF, which opened the season with 14 consecutive victories and a top 25 ranking. UCF must play at Memphis and host UAB (both are tied for first place) this week and travel to UTEP next week. A seven-game losing streak would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago. Now it's a probability.
Tulsa finally snapped its road woes with a 65-61 triumph at Tulane last Saturday. The Golden Hurricane shares a 3-2 conference record with three other schools. Those four teams are one game behind first-place Memphis and UTEP.
This is a big week for TU. The Hurricane will host SMU on Wednesday and then entertain UTEP on Saturday. Two victories would keep Tulsa near the lead pack in C-USA.
Neither game will be easy. SMU is led by Papa Dia, who is playing at a very high level. UTEP has won its last four meetings against Tulsa.
News and notes
One step forward, one back: Marshall began the week by capturing one of C-USA's top wins this season.
The Thundering Herd defeated nationally ranked and rival West Virginia, a bragging rights game that excited the Marshall faithful.
The Herd couldn't build on that victory a few days later, falling at home to East Carolina. It was the Pirates' first victory ever in Huntington, W.Va.
Keep an eye on: East Carolina. The Pirates won two big road victories last week at UCF and at Marshall to catch some recognition around the league.
The schedule gets a little easier in coming weeks. ECU will play four of its next five games at home.
East Carolina is led by first-year coach Jeff Lebo.
No defense: Just one week ago, Southern Miss was drawing votes in the Associated Press Top 25.
That's not the case this week, following back-to-back losses to Memphis and SMU.
The Golden Eagles missed on a prime opportunity to beat Memphis, but Tigers guard Charles Carmouche hit a baseline 3-pointer with less than a second left to give his team a 76-75 win.
Last Saturday, SMU's Papa Dia went 10-for-10 from the field, and the Mustangs shot a sizzling 69.8 percent as a team to beat Southern Miss.
The Eagles are 3-3 in league play and need a big week to keep pace with the league's front runners.
League honors: SMU's Dia and East Carolina's Jontae Sherrod were named C-USA's co-players of the week. Memphis guard Will Barton is the freshman of the week.
Dia repeats as the weekly winner after averaging 19.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks last week. Sherrod averaged 18.7 points and 6 rebounds as the Pirates won two of three games, and Barton averaged 16 points in road wins at Southern Miss and UAB.
1. Memphis: Tigers jump to the top spot following impressive close road wins at Southern Miss, UAB.
2. UTEP: Miners are beginning to mesh under first-year coach Tim Floyd, which isn't good for rest of league.
3. Houston: Admittedly, third is high in these rankings for Houston, which had won three straight before close home loss to Miners.
4. Tulsa: Hurricane has protected home floor in last five games. That may be big factor against visiting SMU, UTEP this week.
5. UAB: Blazers have lost two out of last four (Tulsa, Memphis) and will try to rebound and jump into the upper tier.
6. SMU: Mustangs have won two of last six games, but victories (Memphis, Southern Miss) were eye-openers.
7. East Carolina: Pirates are a team to watch for under new coach Jeff Lebo. Could take big steps with four of next five at home.
8. Marshall: What a week for the Herd. It opens with emotional win against rival West Virginia, followed by home loss to ECU.
9. Southern Miss: Where's the defense? Four of Eagles' past six opponents have shot 50 percent or better.
10. Rice: Owls are not as dependent on Arsalan Kazemi's offense, which may or may not be a good thing.
11. UCF: Who would have thought this? A four-game losing streak with treacherous games against Memphis, UAB and UTEP awaiting.
12. Tulane: League play has not been nice to the Green Wave, which has now lost three consecutive contests.
Original Print Headline: Front-runner: Memphis
Game of the week
UTEP at Tulsa, 7 p.m. Saturday (CBSC-249)
Both teams could benefit from a victory in this CBS College Sports TV contest. The Miners will be looking to pin a fifth straight win over the Golden Hurricane, which includes a 69-59 home victory earlier this month. Tulsa needs a triumph to keep pace with the leaders of C-USA.