The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


The Redd Zone

Where have you gone, C-USA?

It’s the earliest college basketball has been without an undefeated team in recent memory. The Missouri Valley Conference is rated higher and will get more teams in the tournament than either the Big 12 or Pac-10, traditional powers Louisville, Kentucky and Kansas are all in danger of not making the tournament and my long-lost twin brother is the leading candidate for Big East player of the year for a top 10 team. It’s been a wild season, and we are only in the third week of conference play.

Nowhere has the college basketball landscape been more upside-down than in Conference USA. Yes, the Big 12 defections of Marquette, Depaul, Cincinnati, South Florida and Louisville hurt, but the conference has completely fallen on its face.

Last year, South Florida finished the season with the worst RPI in the conference, with a number of 222. For those of you who don’t know, the RPI is a statistical formula used by the NCAA to select and seed teams for the NCAA tournament.

Currently, eight of the conference’s 12 teams are below that 222 number, making C-USA the 17th rated conference in America, behind hoops hotbeds such as the Colonial, Sun Belt and Metro Atlantic conferences.

By far the brightest spot for the conference is legitimate national title contention of the Memphis Tigers. Memphis played the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation, beating tourney-bound squads in Gonzaga, Tennessee, UCLA, UW-Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Winthrop, while falling only to Duke and Texas.

The Tigers are the most athletic team the Redd Zone has seen in person this year, going 10 deep with an array of multi-dimensional swingmen who can each play up to four positions. Coach John Calipari plays seven underclassmen in his rotation, but his key player is senior swingman Rodney Carney.

Carney is a regular on “SportsCenter Top 10” because of the ferocious dunks he seems to come up with nightly. What makes Carney so dangerous is not just his 42-inch vertical. He is a great jump shooter who makes 42 percent of his shots from three. His shooting makes teams play him honest, which allows him to get into the lane for his highlight reel dunks.

Memphis will most likely be joined in the NCAA tournament by the most entertaining team in college basketball: UAB. The Blazers sit at 14-3 and 4-0 in the league and made a trip to the Sweet 16 two years ago.

Coach Mike Anderson employs a full-court pressing style designed to wear opponents down. The Blazers proved their depth when they lost leading scorer DeMarrio Eddins early in the season to a torn achilles. Enter Squeaky Johnson, a dead ringer for Lil’ Wayne and a great conductor averaging seven assists per game.

The Blazers, despite a 10-game winning streak, have an RPI of only 240 that figures to hold steady unless they pull an upset on Memphis. If the Blazers can escape conference play with only three losses, they should sneak into the tournament.

The Zone was in the building last year when the 11th seeded Blazers embarrassed the sixth seeded LSU Tigers by 23. History could repeat itself.

There is not a single other C-USA team that has a chance to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team, but UTEP, Houston and SMU have all shown they can get hot for four days and possibly win the automatic bid at the C-USA tourney in Memphis.

UTEP’s Jason Williams punched teammate Stefon Jackson so hard during a defensive drill he broke Jackson’s jaw. Because Williams is second on the team in points, rebounds and assists, he was suspended for only one game and now channels his intensity into being one of the top offensive rebounders in the nation.

Houston holds big wins over then-ranked Arizona and LSU teams, which, before 7-9 Marshall’s shocking victory over West Virginia Wednesday, were the conference’s biggest victories (Memphis’s slew of big W’s excluded).

Then there are the Ponies, owners of a 10-7 record, an extremely low RPI of 223 and the firepower to play with anyone. Bryan Hopkins is averaging 17 a night and he has help from Derrick Roberts, Dez Willingham and Devon Pearson, all averaging in double figures.

With the continued development of Bamba Fall, Donatas Rackauskas and Brian Morris around the basket, the Mustangs have the beginning of a nice inside-outside combination. With two comeback overtime victories in conference, including coming from seven down in 59 seconds to beat Rice, the Mustangs have shown the requisite moxie to win close games and make a run in Memphis.

It’s sad that a conference that had five teams in the tourney just two years ago is now scrapping for two, but that is state of the current Conference USA.

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