Josh Pastner

Conference Catch-ups: Memphis likely Conference USA’s only NCAA tournament team

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our Big 12 Conference Catchup:

Favorite: Memphis

Despite the fact that so many jumped off the Memphis bandwagon after the Tigers’ performance in Atlantis, Josh Pastner’s team is still going to likely be the lone NCAA tournament representative of the C-USA. Point guard Joe Jackson is beginning to hit his stride offensively after struggling in two key early season losses, averaging over 18 points per game in his last four.

Looking at a year-to-year comparison, it’s worth mentioning what D.J. Stephens has done in increased minutes for Memphis. He leads the team in rebounding with 6.1 per game and is also averaging 6.0 points and 1.4 blocks per game.

Contenders:

Central Florida is banned from the NCAA tournament this season, but that hasn’t stopped Keith Clanton and Isaiah Sykes from leading their team to a 9-4 start. They lack any real impressive wins, but have split the season series with South Florida and got a three-point win over Belmont, a tough mid-major.

Behind the scoring duo of Joseph Young and TaShawn Thomas, Houston has the conference’s best record in non-conference play. They’ve yet to beat any high-majors, but they rank in the nation’s Top 25 in both scoring and rebounding.

Biggest Surprise: Southern Methodist

Larry Brown and his staff had made big strides on the recruiting trail and in the transfer market during his short time at Southern Methodist, but we weren’t sure how that would translate on the court in his first season. The answer, so far, is surprising. The Mustangs began the season 8-1 and, though they’re enduring some struggles now, are 10-5 to start conference play.

Jalen Jones has been the biggest contributor so far, averaging 14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Paired with Nick Russell (14.2 points per game), the Mustangs have a formidable duo.

Biggest Disappointment: Marshall

With DeAndre Kane as the cornerstone of the program, many thought Marshall would be able to challenge Memphis for a conference title. Now, at the start of conference play, the Thundering Herd are 7-7 and coming off a loss to Delaware State. Part of the problem stems from the team’s poor shooting from the field, ranking 233rd in the nation, but much of it has to do with such a reliance on Kane.

Kane is averaging 15.0 points, 8.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game, but efficiency has been the main question. He takes 15 shots per game and shoots just 35.7 percent from the field. Not only that, but if Kane is out of the lineup, the rest of the team does not look like a squad that ever could or would challenge Memphis.

Player of the Year: DeAndre Kane, Marshall

As was mentioned above, Kane is averaging more than 15 shots per game and shooting under 36 percent, which is less than desirable, but is putting up All-Conference numbers. His 15.0 points, 8.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds are keeping Marshall afloat, or at least at the even record they hold today. Without Kane, Marshall would be in much worse shape. So, from that standpoint, he is certainly the league’s most valuable player to his respective team.

Also of note: Josh Davis 18.4 points, 10.1 rebounds per game (Tulane)

Best Freshman: Danuel House, Houston

House came into the season as part of a very strong Houston recruiting class and one that the Cougars hope will be the foundation for the program’s future. He was a Top 25 recruit in the Class of 2012 and has been a solid third scoring option for Houston behind Joseph Young and TaShawn Thomas. At 12.5 points per game, he is one of only two freshmen in the conference’s Top 20 in scoring and adds 5.2 rebounds per game.

Also of note: James Woodard (Tulsa), Shaq Goodwin (Memphis)

Three Predictions

  •  Memphis will be the league’s only NCAA tournament team: One year before a mass exodus to the Big East, the C-USA is pretty weak. It looks like the Tigers will be the lone representative.
  •  Josh Davis will finish the season averaging a double-double: He is on track to do it right now, and his production should keep up. Davis is an All-Conference player.
  •  Rice might have a tough time winning more than a few conference games: With wins over Chicago State, Houston Baptist, and Southeastern University, the C-USA slate will likely not be kind to a struggling Rice squad.

Power Rankings (* = tourney team):

1. Memphis*
2. Central Florida
3. Houston
4. Southern Miss
5. Tulane
6. Southern Methodist
7. UTEP
8. East Carolina
9. UAB
10. Tulsa
11. Marshall
12.Rice

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: