Conference Countdown: No. 9 C-USA

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Preseason Awards

Player of the Year: Randy Culpepper, UTEP, Sr.

Culpepper
could very well be the most exciting player in the country to watch.
He’s arguably the best dunker in the country, routinely soaring for
highlight worthy dunks despite barely pushing six feet. Culpepper is
not a point guard, however. He is a scorer, through and through, with
no conscience whatsoever. Its not unusual to see him pull-up from 25
feet, and when he gets hot, watch out. Ask Central Florida, who saw
Culpepper go for 39 last season, or East Carolina, who was the
recipient of one of the most impressive offensive performances last
year as Culpepper went for 45 points (31 in the first half) on 14-18
shooting, 9-12 from deep. With Caracter and Moultrie gone, Culpepper is
going to be expected to carry an even bigger share of the offensive
workload as a senior.

And a close second goes too: Gary Flowers, Southern Miss, Sr.

The
Golden Eagles have a chance to be a very good team this season, and it
is in no small part due to the play of Flowers, a 6’8″ power forward.
Flowers was fantastic in his first season with USM, finishing among the
league leaders in points (15.0), rebounds (8.3), and blocks (1.8) and
providing Larry Eustachy with his only real consistent threat
throughout an up-and-down season. Southern Miss has a deep and talented
back court, and Eustachy has been vocal about his willingness to play
four guards around Flowers. Flowers should once again be a steadying
force for the Golden Eagles, and if he can improve upon the season he
just had, there is no reason that Southern Miss cannot build on what
was a positive finish to the 2009-2010 season.

Breakout Star: Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis, Jr.

Witherspoon
has not had the smoothest two years in Memphis. As a freshman, the 6’8″
small forward was tried out at point guard, but that test didn’t last
long as John Calipari eventually discovered that it was Tyreke Evans’
natural position. Last year, Witherspoon was expected to carry much of
the workload under new head coach Josh Pastner, but it was an
up-and-down year. Witherspoon had some fantastic performances —
including a two games stretch where he scored 55 points against Gonzaga
and UAB — but also disappeared offensively during some games. This kid
has tons of talent. He’s a lanky and athletic 6’8″ wing that, when he
is at his best, is slashing to the basket and getting to the foul line.
He’s also added a consistent three point stroke, knocking down 43% of
his shots from beyond the arc, although he only took 79 on the season.
Memphis is going to be loaded with talent this year, but the majority
of that talent will be freshmen. Witherspoon, who seems destined to be
a first round pick when he finally heads to the NBA, will be the
experienced leader on this team. Eventually, his talent is going to
take over. Could this be the year? If it is, then I may end up
regretting not picking him as the preseason player of the year.

All-Conference First Team:

  • POY – Randy Culpepper, UTEP, Sr.
  • G – Brock Young, East Carolina, So.
  • G – Justin Hurtt, Tulsa, Sr.
  • F – Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis, Jr.
  • F – Arsalan Kazemi, Rice, So.
  • F – Gary Flowers, Southern Miss, Sr.

All-Conference Second Team:

  • G – Aaron Johnson, UAB, Sr.
  • G – Joe Jackson, Memphis, Fr.
  • G – Will Barton, Memphis, Fr.
  • F – Keith Clanton, UCF, So.
  • F – Papa Dia, SMU, Sr.

Freshman of the Year: Will Barton, Memphis

Of
the lauded freshman class that Pastner is bringing in, Barton is
probably the best. A wiry athlete, the 6’6″ Barton has everything you
look for in a wing player. Most importantly, however, is that Barton
can really score. He can take a defensive rebound coast to coast, he
can get to the rim in a one-on-one setting in the half court, he can
finish above the rim, and he is a capable shooter in both the mid-range
and from three. His length also allows him to be a good defender, and
Pastner has said that Barton is the best rebounding guard in this
class. Keep in mind, Barton prepped a year, meaning he is coming in as
a 19 year old freshman. There is still plenty of room for this kid to
grow, but he has the talent, and he will have the opportunity to
showcase it this season.

All-Freshman team:

  • G – Joe Jackson, Memphis
  • G – Preston Purifoy, UAB
  • G – Isaiah Sykes, UCF
  • F – Michael Haynes, UTEP
  • F – Tarik Black, Memphis

What Happened?:

  • Tim Floyd finds a place to land: UTEP did what some believed was unthinkable
    — they hired Tim Floyd, the guy who built the USC program into a
    contender, then left as OJ Mayo’s fallout hit. And it didn’t take Floyd
    long to create a stir. Only months after he was hired, Floyd was off making package deals, bringing in three players — one of whom was Rashanti Harris, who has since been declared ineligible — closely associated with two of his new assistant coaches.

    That wasn’t the end of UTEP’s drama filled off-season. Not only did starting center Arnett Moultrie bolt for greener SEC pastures, but one player Floyd booted off the team, Myron Strong, made quite a fuss on his way out the door.

  • Floyd wasn’t the only one with a drama filled summer:
    Let’s begin with DJ Newbill, a 6’3″ guard that is currently at Southern
    Miss. Newbill, a Philly native, signed a Letter of Intent with
    Marquette only to see his scholarship taken away by Buzz Williams when Jamil Wilson decided he wanted to transfer into Marquette.

    If
    that wasn’t bad enough, take Joseph Young’s case. Young signed his
    Letter of Intent with Providence, but do to his father’s hiring at
    Houston and the illness of one of his aunts, Young decided he would
    rather play for Houston. Keno Davis wouldn’t let him out of his LOI, so Young is sitting out this season while waiting to play for Houston.

    Memphis
    may have had the wildest ride. First, it was Will Barton, the talented
    Tiger recruit that believed that he was initially ruled ineligible
    academically, but once the NCAA received all of the information they
    needed, they reversed their stance and cleared him to participate. Another talented freshman, Jelan Kendrick, has been suspended from the Tigers for allegedly threatening a teammate. We don’t have details, but most believe he will back in Tigers uniform at some point.

  • Floyd also isn’t the only new coach in C-USA:
    Conference USA has seemingly become the preferred landing spot for
    coaches that lost their chance at a Big Six school. Larry Eustachy is
    at Southern Miss, Mike Davis is at UAB, Matt Doherty is at SMU, and Ben
    Braun is at Rice. Now, you can add former Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo,
    the new head man at East Carolina.

    Or how about James Dickey? He was the coach at Texas Tech in the 90’s, but lost his job to Bobby Knight. Dickey replaced Tom Penders at Houston.

    Believe it or not, I’m still not done talking about new coaching hires. Former Citadel head coach Ed Conroy is taking over the Tulane program, while Donnie Jones (more on him in a second) went to a different school within the same conference, leaving Marshall for Central Florida. Tom Herrion was hired to replace Jones at Marshall.

  • UCF is loading up: The future looks bright for Donnie Jones at Central Florida as he is stockpiling talent.
    Not only does he return the entire rotation from last season, he adds a
    talented group of freshmen this year, headlined by Isaiah Sykes. He
    also added three high-major transfers — Jeffery Jordan from Illinois,
    Tristan Spurlock from Virginia, and Josh Crittle from Oregon — that
    will be eligible to play next season. In addition to those transfers,
    UCF also adds two very talented recruits next year in Kamil Wilson and
    Rod Days.

    In case you didn’t notice, Jones now has both of Michael Jordan’s sons — when they aren’t partying in Vegas
    — playing for his program. I wonder is they can get His Airness to
    come play at practice? That would be a hell of a recruiting tool…

    There are a few other notable transfers from the league. Desmond Wade, Houston’s starting point guard, has transferred to Fairfield, while Paul McCoy, who averaged 13.4 ppg as a freshman before struggling last season, has left the SMU program.
    And Beas Hamga, a seven-footer that was a top 30 recruit coming out of
    high school and originally enrolled at UNLV, will be eligible this
    season as a junior for UAB. Yea, he’s tall.

  • Arsalan Kazemi is a player:
    He averaged damn near a double-double as a freshman for a bad Rice
    team, and the future only looks brighter for college basketball’s first Iranian. Why does the future look bright? Well, maybe its the 14 points he had against Team USA in the World Basketball Championships.

What’s Next?:

  • How long will Conference USA be this Conference USA?:
    Its not a secret that Memphis wants to join the Big East, and during
    the conference realignment madness that happened back in June, it was
    rumored that the Tigers, and possibly Central Florida, would be headed
    to the Big East. That didn’t happen, but when BYU made the decision to
    leave the Mountain West, theories started floating around about how the
    country’s second-tier conferences — the WAC, the MWC, C-USA — would
    realign themselves. That process if far from over, and we could end up
    seeing a major change at some point.
  • Can Memphis return to the top?:
    Its not a secret that Josh Pastner brings in arguably the best
    recruiting class in the country. After finishing last season second
    place in the league and missing out on the NCAA Tournament, this crop
    of freshmen should be good enough to get the Tigers back to the top of
    the conference standings. Will it lead to postseason success?
  • More than a one-bid league?:
    Generally speaking, there is pretty good basketball being played in
    Conference USA, but with teams like UAB and Tulsa fading down the
    stretch last season, C-USA was only able to nab a second tournament bid
    when Houston made a run to the league’s tournament title and UTEP was
    given a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. will this conference be able to
    support more than one at-large bid this season? Memphis seems like a
    pretty safe bet to earn themselves a bid, but with a number of solid
    teams behind them — Southern Miss, UTEP, UAB, Tulsa — will anyone
    perform above expectations?

Power Rankings:

  1. Memphis:
    Last season, UTEP took the C-USA title from the Tigers, and while
    Memphis loses four of their top five scorers, don’t expect the Tigers
    to be down for long. Josh Pastner proved himself to be a force on the
    recruiting trail, landing one of the nation’s best classes. It is
    headlined by a few potential stars on the perimeter. Joe Jackson is an
    ultra-quick point guard with athleticism for days that is a nightmare
    to keep out of the paint. Jelan Kendrick is a point forward that could
    stand to improve his handle and jumper, as well as adjusting his
    attitude. It remains to be seen if Kendrick will play this season after
    threatening a teammate.
    Will Barton, a 6’6″ slasher and scorer on the wing, may be the best of
    the bunch. Junior Wesley Witherspoon, a first round pick in the making,
    had a couple of huge games last season, and could develop into a star
    if he can become more consistent. Freshmen Antonio Barton and Chris
    Crawford, as well as Charles Carmouche, a transfer from New Orleans,
    should also get some time in the back court. The Tigers front court
    should also be quite good next season. Will Coleman is a freak athlete,
    a 6’9″, 245 pound dunker and shotblocker reminiscent of Joey Dorsey.
    6’11” Angel Garcia looks like he’ll finally be ready to contribute this
    year, while freshmen Hippolyte Tsafack and Tarik Black, who drew high
    praise for his play on the Tiger’s trip to the Bahamas, will also get
    quite a few minutes. Memphis is a big-time favorite to win the league,
    but how good they are on a national scale will depend on just how good
    some of these freshmen end up being.
  2. Southern Miss:
    USM had a bit of a quirky season in 2009-2010. They started off slow,
    losing to Canisius and North Florida during non-conference play before
    starting 0-4 in the league. But they finished strong — getting to 8-8
    in the conference — and with Larry Eustachy bringing back all five
    starters and a quality class of newcomers, the Golden Eagles look like
    they can make a push towards the top of the league. It starts with Gary
    Flowers, a 6’8″ post player that was USM’s most consistent performer,
    notching averages of 15 ppg, 8.3 rpg, and 1.8 bpg, good enough to earn
    him a spot on the all-conference team. But Flowers is not all that
    Eustachy has on his roster. Juniors Angelo Johnson and Maurice Bolden,
    as well as seniors RL Horton and Sai’Quan Stone, all started for much
    of last season. Johnson and Horton need to mature as decision makers
    and improve their consistency, but they proved to be capable of
    handling the back court duties. At 6’10”, Bolden is a perimeter threat,
    which should help create some space for Flowers, while Stone is a
    tough, physical defender. There will be some depth on this club, as
    well. Torye Pelham was a part-time starter up front last season, while
    Josimar Ayarza also saw minutes in the front court. JuCo transfer
    Aharyo Phillips — who played his freshman season at Nevada before
    being kicked off the team
    — should also compete for time. In the back court, Eustachy will have
    an inexperienced bench, but one that could push the starters for
    playing time. JuCo transfer LaShay Page and freshman DJ Newbill, who
    originally committed to Marquette, were both rated as three-star
    recruits according to Rivals. Four other newcomers — freshmen Kody
    Williams, Trency Jackson, and Cedric Jenkins as well as sophomore
    Kayland Partee — all will have a shot at earning some playing time as
    well. The Golden Eagles aren’t going to win pretty, but with their
    experience, their talent level, and a player like Flowers, Southern
    Miss should be near the top of the C-USA standings come season’s end.
  3. UTEP:
    The Miners will take a big hit to their front court this season, as
    Derrick Caracter headed to the NBA and Arnett Moultrie has transferred
    to Mississippi State. While that loss will no doubt effect this team,
    the good news is that they get, essentially, the rest of their roster
    back, including senior guard Randy Culpepper. Culpepper may be the most
    entertaining player in the country to watch. Barely reaching 6’0″,
    Culpepper is an athletic freak, soaring for highlight reel dunks
    while also being unafraid to jack up any shot he deems fit, even if it
    is 28 feet from the rim. Also returning for the Miners will be senior
    swingmen Christian Polk, Julyan Stone, and Jeremy Williams, who combine
    to form quite a versatile group to complement Culpepper. Another
    senior, 6’11” Claude Britten found himself buried on the bench behind
    Moultrie and Caracter, but he was still able to score a point in every
    two minutes of playing time when he did see the floor. The rest of Tim
    Floyd’s rotation will likely be made up of freshmen. Michael Haynes and
    John Bohannon will see minutes inside, while Michael Perez and DeShun
    Watkins should provide depth in the back court. UTEP will once again be
    in the mix near the top of the league standings.
  4. Tulsa:
    The Golden Hurricane were expected to be a top 25 team last season, but
    struggled down the stretch before being eliminated in the first round
    of the NIT to end a disappointing season. That disappointment was
    compounded by the fact that their two best players — Ben Uzoh and
    Jerome Jordan — both graduated. While Tulsa will have no where near
    the same preseason expectations, there are still enough quality pieces
    on Doug Wojcik’s team that they will once again be at the top of C-USA.
    To start, Justin Hurtt returns for his senior season. Hurtt has been
    the shooter that spread the floor for Tulsa the last few years — and
    successfully, he averaged 14.5 ppg last year — but the Golden
    Hurricane will be counting on him to have a big year this year. Joining
    him in the back court will be UConn transfer Scottie Haralson, two
    players coming off of serious injuries in Donte Medder and Glenn
    Andrews, and two talented freshmen in Tim Peete and Jordan Clarkson.
    Sophomore swingman Bryson Pope should see time on the perimeter as
    well. Up front, Steven Idlet and Joe Richard both return. They split
    time starting last season, and while both have proven to be solid
    rebounders and post defenders, Tulsa is going to need one, or both, to
    become more of a scoring threat. The same can be said for Western
    Kentucky transfer DJ Magley, who started half the time during his two
    seasons with the Hilltoppers. Freshmen Blondy Baruti and Kodi Maduka
    should see minutes as well.
  5. UAB:
    The Blazers lose quite a bit from last season’s 25 win team. Three of
    their top six scorers graduate, while Elijah Millsap, UAB’s leading
    scorer and rebounder, left school to turn pro. This year’s club will be
    based around the perimeter. Aaron Johnson, a 5’8″ point guard, returns
    for his senior season. Johnson, who made the C-USA all-defensive team,
    is a good distributor who will be counted on for more offensive
    production. Starting alongside Johnson will be Jamarr Sanders, a senior
    that averaged 10.4 ppg in his first season under Mike Davis who will be
    the Blazers best perimeter shooter. One player to watch will be
    sophomore Dexter Fields. Fields was a three-star recruit last season,
    and while he saw limited minutes last year, he had a couple of big
    games and was productive when he did get on the court. Freshman Preston
    Purifoy, a 6’5″ small forward, should help fill the void left by
    Millsap at the three, while Robert Williams and Quincy Taylor, redshirt
    and true freshmen, respectively, should also compete for time. The
    front court will be a bigger question mark. Junior Cameron Moore and
    sophomore Ovie Soko both were in the rotation last season, but averaged
    a combined 5 points and 5 boards in just 22 minutes. Freshmen Anthony
    Criswell should also see time, but the x-factor could end up being Beas
    Hamga. An athletic seven-footer, Hamga — who has a 9’6″ wingspan
    — was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. He’s raw, but he
    has a ton of potential. UAB has some question marks, but there is
    enough talent on this team that they could finish in the top four of
    the league.
  6. UCF:
    Things are really looking up for the basketball program at Central
    Florida. As we touched on earlier, Donnie Jones has a serious influx of
    talent coming into the program, and while the addition of that talent
    is still a full season away, there is reason to believe that the Golden
    Knights will be a factor in the C-USA race this season. In 2009-2010,
    UCF played with, essentially, an eight man rotation, and all eight of
    those players return. Six of them were underclassmen last season.
    Sharpshooting junior Isaac Sosa and 6’9″ senior AJ Tyler led a balanced
    scoring attack at 10.3 ppg each. Two sophomores, guard Marcus Jordan —
    who really came on as the season progressed, working his way into the
    starting line up — and big man Keith Clanton, showed that they can be
    impact players at the C-USA level. Senior Taylor Young and junior AJ
    Rompza will handle the point guard duties, while Dave Diakite and PJ
    Gaynor are role playing forwards. What UCF really lacks — and what
    likely won’t be provided by newcomers Jarvis Davis, Dwight McCombs, and
    Isaiah Sykes (although Sykes, a 6’5″ swingman, was a fairly highly
    regarded recruit that attracted a lot of high-major attention) — is a
    go-to scorer. UCF struggled against more athletic and aggressive teams,
    but part of that was an overall lack of experience on the roster. With
    this group now playing together for a second year, the Knights should
    improve.
  7. Marshall:
    The Thundering Herd are going to look a lot different this season as
    both of their talented big men — Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Wilker son
    — and head coach Donnie Jones are all gone. Instead, this is going to
    be a team whose strength in on the perimeter. The leaders will be
    Damier Pitts and Shaquille Johnson, two junior guards that have the
    potential to be very good at this level. Much is also expected of Dago
    Pena, a 6’6″ scorer that had some big games off the bench last season.
    There isn’t a ton of talent behind them — Justin Howe is a freshman,
    DeAndre Kane was a partial qualifier last season, and Johnny Higgins is
    a JuCo transfer — but the Herd shouldn’t need a ton of depth as Pitts,
    Johnson, and Pena will likely play a lot of minutes. The question is
    going to be where Marshall gets their front court scoring from.
    Replacing the 27 points, 16 boards, and 6 blocks the Herd lost with
    Whiteside and Wilkerson won’t be easy. Tirrel Baines may be the best
    scoring option. Baines, a 6’6″ forward, averaged 11.5 ppg as a
    freshman, but saw his minutes cut as the Herd improved their front
    line. Antonio Haymon returns for his senior year, while 6’10” Nigel
    Spikes could also see more time. Joining them will be some new faces.
    Orlando Allen is a 6’10” transfer from Oklahoma. Eladio Espinosa
    started a dozen games at South Florida before transferring. Aundra
    Williams is a big-bodied, 6’10” JuCo addition. Depending on how the
    Herd’s trio of junior guards develops, this team has a shot at getting
    to 20 wins.
  8. East Carolina:
    The good news for the Pirates is that they basically bring back their
    entire roster. The key to that roster is going to be Brock Young, a
    senior point guard that was one of the more productive players in C-USA
    last season (15.5 ppg and 5.5 apg, which led the league). Young is an
    excellent penetrator, but he needs to improve on his perimeter shooting
    and cut down his turnovers, something that will be helped as he gets
    more production around him. And therein lies the problem — while ECU
    returns the same team from last season, its a team that was only able
    to muster 10 wins, four in league play. There are a couple of kids that
    showed potential last season. Junior Darrius Morrow proved to be a
    capable post player at this level, while senior Jamar Abrams, who can
    really shoot the ball, came on strong down the stretch after a sluggish
    start to the season. Jontae Sherrod joins Young to give the Pirates a
    solid back court, and 6’11” Chad Wynn will likely get the nod at
    center. ECU does have some depth, which will get helped by incoming
    front court players Robert Sampson and Darius Morales, but there aren’t
    many impact players on the bench. Young is a player, but unless he gets
    more help this season, Jeff Lebo will likely lead ECU to another losing
    season.
  9. Rice: Ben
    Braun has not had much success in his first two seasons at the helm of
    a struggling Rice program, but there is reason to be optimistic. Braun
    returns essentially the same group of kids from last season. While it
    is difficult to get excited about a team coming back that won just
    eight games, consider this — the four most important players on the
    roster are back, and three of them were underclassmen last year. And
    while the Owls went 8-23 last year, they weren’t getting run out of the
    gym. This is a group that played hard and played with pride, and as
    their talent level increases — and the young talent on the roster
    develops — Braun’s club only has one direction to go. They will be led
    once again by Tamir Jackson, a 6’2″ sophomore guard, and 6’7″ sophomore
    forward Arsalan Kazemi. Jackson had some big games last season and led
    the Owls in scoring, but he was inconsistent, especially with his
    jumpshot (although, to be fair, it was about what you would expect from
    an overwhelmed freshman on a bad team). Kazemi has the potential to be
    a star. The Iranian nearly averaged a double-double last year, was even
    better in league play, and put 14 points on Team USA in the World
    Basketball Championships. Connor Frizzelle, a junior who is probably
    the team’s best shooter, also returns, as does big-bodied center Trey
    Stanton. Beyond that, there are question marks. Will Lucas Kuipers and
    Suleiman Braimoh ever be more than a role player? Can any other
    returner develop into a consistent contributor? Will any of Braun’s
    freshmen — some of whom look promising, including David Chadwick, a
    6’9′ power forward that was a three-star recruit on Rivals, and Omar
    Oraby, a 7’1″ Egyptian that had 15 points and 8 boards against the USA
    in the 2009 U-19 Worlds — be impact players? Rice is still a long way
    from being considered a contender, but I expect more wins from the Owls
    this year.
  10. Houston:
    The Cougars are going to have some big shoes to fill next season as
    their starting back court of Aubrey Coleman, Kelvin Lewis, and Desmond
    Wade are all gone along with head coach Tom Penders. The cupboard isn’t
    going to be completely bare for new head coach James Dickey, however,
    as the Cougar team looks like it is going to be more oriented around
    front court players. 6’9″ senior Maurice McNeil had a solid season
    after transferring in from a JuCo, while 6’7″ sophomore Kendrick
    Washington looked pretty impressive down the stretch last season. Kirk
    Van Slyke should also see time inside. Like I said, the back court is
    going to have quite a bit of turnover. Seniors Adam Brown and Zamal
    Nixon, who both played about 20 mpg off the bench last season, figure
    to feature prominently next season. Beyond that, there are going to be
    a lot of new faces for the Cougars. San Diego transfer Trumaine
    Johnson, a 6’2″ transfer from San Diego that averaged 11.6 ppg in the
    WCC in 2008-2009, should see quite a few minutes alongside Brown and
    Nixon. Alandise Harris and Mikhail McLean are freshmen forwards, while
    JuCo transfers Darian Thibodeaux and Jonathon Simmons should be able to
    provide some experience. Overall, it seems as if it will be a
    rebuilding year for Houston.
  11. SMU:
    The bad news for SMU is that they lose two of their top three scorers
    from a team that, at times, struggled offensively. The Mustangs also
    lost Paul McCoy to a transfer, a talented guard that struggled to
    repeat his impressive freshman season. Simply put, there are a lack of
    quality pieces returning for Matt Doherty. Doherty’s most dangerous
    weapon is probably third team all-conference forward Papa Dia, a 6’9″
    post player that averaged 12.3 ppg and 8.6 rpg. Robert Nyakundi, a
    sharpshooting 6’8″ forward, should start full time this season as well.
    Beyond that, the Mustangs are going to have some interchangeable
    pieces, which works well given the grind-it-out style that they like to
    play (they ranked in the 300’s in tempo last season, and were at their
    best when the pace was slower than that). Justin Haynes is a tough 6’5″
    wing that was a starter last season, while Ryan Harp, Rodney
    Clinkscales, and Mike Walker all saw minutes in the back court last
    year. North Texas transfer Collin Mangrum should also provide some
    depth in the back court. The front court won’t be as deep for the
    Mustangs, and Dia and Nyakundi are really the only returners. Freshmen
    Leslee Smith and Ricmonds Vilde will compete with seniors Tomasz
    Kwiatkowski and Myles Luttman for minutes off the bench. Unless some of
    the Mustang’s returners develop this season, or their incoming freshmen
    end up being instant impact kids (none of them even received a
    three-star ranking from Rivals, it could be a long season for Doherty.
  12. Tulane:
    The Green Wave didn’t have much success, or consistency, last season,
    as they won just seven games while using 13 different starting
    line-ups. The strength of Tulane this season is going to be in the back
    court. To start, they return leading scorer Kris Richard, a 6’5″ swing
    man that is back for his senior season. Joining him in the back court
    will be two sophomores that had promising freshmen seasons. 6’5″
    Kendall Timmons led the team in scoring during conference play, proving
    to be quite a versatile player, while Jordan Callahan may be the
    program’s point guard of the future. He played sparingly to begin the
    season, but when starting point guard Kevin Sims went down with an
    injury midway through the year, Callahan filled in quite nicely,
    proving to be a capable shooter and distributor while posting a couple
    of big scoring games. David Booker is really the only returning
    interior player for the Green Wave, and as a senior, it would be nice
    to see him become more assertive and improve on his averages of 7.3 ppg
    and 4.1 rpg. After that, the front court is a bit of a question mark
    for new head coach Ed Conroy, who will need Geoff Hogan, Keith Cameron,
    or freshman Kevin Thomas to develop into a player he can rely on. When
    the Green Wave is hot from the perimeter, they should be able to be
    competitive, but expect to see them back at the bottom of the league
    standings again this season.

Three Things To Know: Memphis embarrassed; Luka Garza shows out again

AP Photo/Joey Johnson
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The story of the night in hoops was Zion Williamson’s return to the basketball court.

But there was plenty of action in the college ranks that is worthy of talking about.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. No. 20 MEMPHIS LOST BY 40 TO TULSA

That is not a typo.

The 20th-ranked team in the country went into Tulsa, Okla., and lost to the Golden Hurricane, 80-40. Tulsa was up 40-17 at halftime. This was a butt-whooping that was so bad that all Tulsa needed to do was score a single point in the second half and they would have been able to get the win.

Memphis shot 28 percent from the floor. They were 2-for-21 from three. They finished the night with more turnovers (20) and fouls (22) than field goals (16). This was the worst loss that a top 25 team has suffered against a ranked team in 27 years, since UConn beat then-No. 12 Virginia by 41 points.

For Tulsa, this is a massive, massive win. They are currently sitting all alone in first place in the American standings, a half-game up on Houston.

So good for Frank Haith.

But the story here is Memphis, because the Tigers, considered title contenders before the season began, look anything-but right now.

“We let our defense dictate our offense,” head coach Penny Hardaway told reporters after the game. “We didn’t play any defense today. I think today was the first day we’ve done that ll year. I don’t know if guys overlooked Tulsa because of the name. We did our due diligence as a coaching staff to let them know what was going to happen with the matchup zone and how hard they play.

“It’s pretty embarrassing.”

2. LUKA GARZA WENT NUTS AGAIN

If it seems like Garza is putting up monster numbers every games, it’s because he is.

On Wednesday night, the Hawkeyes welcomed newly-ranked Rutgers to campus and sent them home with an entertaining, hard-fought, 85-80 win. And Garza was the star of the show. He finished with 28 points, 13 boards, four blocks and two steals in the win, anchoring the paint as Iowa out-scored Rutgers 47-37 in the second half.

The big fella is now averaging 23 points and 10.5 boards.

Iowa has now won four straight games to move into a tie for third in the Big Ten standings — with Rutgers, among others — and they have won eight straight games in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They are a third of the way through a three-game homestand as well.

3. VIRGINIA TECH TAKES DOWN NORTH CAROLINA

Virginia Tech kept up their push to finish as the fourth-best team in the ACC with a 79-77 double-overtime win over North Carolina.

The Hokies are now 14-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC, but the more interesting story might actually be the Tar Heels.

They are 8-10 on the season and 1-6 in the ACC. They have been a disaster for the last month, but there may be some reinforcements on the way in the shape of Cole Anthony. If he returns and the Tar Heels, who are 2-7 in his absence but have wins over Alabama and Oregon with him, get things back on the right track, they are likely going to find themselves in an incredibly awkward situation on Selection Sunday.

Big 12 hands down Kansas-Kansas State fight suspensions

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The Big 12 handed down suspensions to four Kansas and Kansas State players for their role in the fight that occurred in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.

Silvio De Sousa, who tried to fight three different Kansas State players and picked up a stool during the melee, received a 12 game suspension from the conference. David McCormack, who went into the stands to confront James Love III, received a two game suspension. Love was given eight games for part in the fight, while Antonio Gordon, the freshman that turned a messy situation into a fight, was hit with a three game suspension.

“This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated and these suspensions reflect the severity of last evening’s events,” said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.  “I am appreciative of the cooperation of both institutions in resolving this matter.”

In the final seconds on Tuesday night, after DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from him at halfcourt, De Sousa blocked Gordon’s shot and towered over him. That sparked an incident that turned into a full-fledged brawl, as De Sousa threw punches at three different players on Kansas State before picking up a stool as the fight spilled into the handicapped section of Kansas seating.

Self called the fight “an embarrassment” after the game, adding on Wednesday that “we are disappointed in [De Sousa’s] actions and there is no place in the game for that behavior.”

McCormack will be eligible to return for Kansas on Feb. 1st when they play Texas Tech at home. De Sousa will be available to play in the final game of the regular season at Texas Tech. Gordon can return on Feb. 3rd, when the Wildcats host Baylor, while Love will be out until late February. But he has played just one game and two minutes on the season, so there is no clear indication of when he will actually put on a Kansas State jersey again.

The four most important questions after Kansas-Kansas State fight

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Very other sport can treat brawls like comedy, and I think it’s about time that we did the same for basketball.

So let’s take a look at the four funniest moments from last night’s Kansas-Kansas State fight. Shouts to Jomboy:

1. IS THE KANSAS MASCOT OK?

Throughout the entire fight, the mascot is just in utter disbelief. He cannot believe what he just saw, and he certainly cannot be consoled:

2. CAN JEREMY CASE START AT LINEBACKER FOR KU’S FOOTBALL TEAM?

Case is the video coordinator for Kansas. He’s also a former Kansas point guard. He knows what this rivalry is all about, and he also is not going to be afraid to get in the middle of it.

Case starts out on the wrong side of the melee:

But when he sees De Sousa and Love squaring up and throwing punches, he intervenes by throwing himself into a player six inches taller than him:

3. WHAT HAPPENED TO JAMES LOVE III’S SHOE?

James Love the third has played in exactly one game this season. He has spent more time on the court fighting that he has actually playing, but he still found a way to get into the middle of this fight and, in the process, lost his shoe:

He’s not dressed for the game.

Did he bring an extra pair of shoes? Did he have to head back onto the bus without a shoe on this right foot? So many questions, so few answers.

4. WHO IS THE MAN IN THE ORANGE HAT?

He’s some kind of photographer.

He got his shot, that’s for sure:

Kansas-Kansas State fight: Nuance, context the key in Silvio De Sousa discussion

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So I wanted to elaborate on a point that I made on twitter this morning because 280 characters just is not enough to be able to parse through the nuance of this situation.

If you missed it, the thread is here.

First and foremost, everyone involved in this needs to be punished. Silvio De Sousa needs to be suspended. Antonio Gordon needs to be suspended. James Love III needs to be suspended. David McCormack, and potentially Marcus Garrett, probably need to be suspended, although I’m not sure either of them actually through a punch. Point being, anyone else that threw a punch needs to be suspended.

Full stop.

I am not saying otherwise.

But I think that it is important to add some context to the conversation, and I also think that it is important to say this: This doesn’t make any of the young men involved in this fight bad people. Silvio De Sousa is not inherently a bad person because he picked up a stool, and the faux-trage of people calling for him to get booted out of school, arrested or even deported are, at best, completely over-reacting and, at worst, showing off a bit of their racial bias.

Before I get into this, one more thing: I am not condoning any of it. Fights like this should not happen.

But the reality of hyper-competitive athletics is that in emotionally charged situations, fights are going to happen. And if you’ve ever been in a fight like this, you know that things happen incredibly quickly. You’re not thinking, you’re reacting. You can’t call a 20 second time out to come up with a way to defend yourself when someone is throwing haymakers, you just do what you can in the moment.

So let’s talk about the moment, shall we?

De Sousa is the guy that set this entire thing in motion with the way that he reacted to DaJuan Gordon’s steal and layup attempt. The reason the Kansas State bench rushes over to the scene is because De Sousa is towering over one of their freshman teammates, and the reason the Kansas sideline runs over is because the Kansas State sideline does. What turned this incident into a full-fledged brawl was Antonio Gordon flying in and shoving De Sousa over the back of the basket stanchion. De Sousa reacts by throwing punches at two different Kansas State players when a third player — James Love III, in the black polo — comes flying in and squares up with him. They both throw a few punches at each other, knocking De Sousa back over the stanchion again as Kansas staffer Jeremy Case comes flying in to break them up.

Put yourself in De Sousa’s shoes here. In the span of 10 seconds, he’s fought three different Kansas State players, sees nothing but purple in front of him and just got knocked to the ground. Is he getting jumped? Does he have to fight them 1-on-3? That’s when he grabs the stool, to defend himself, and when he sees that no one is coming after him anymore, he drops it:

Context.

He should be suspended for 8-10 games.

He set this entire thing in motion.

But maybe, just maybe, tone down the rhetoric.

Women’s Wednesday: A new column dedicated to the women of college basketball

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Welcome to CBT’s first ever weekly women’s basketball column. I’m here to help provide you with some insight into the world of women’s college hoops.

Women’s sports are reaching new heights, especially in basketball. The WNBA announced a new collective bargaining agreement starting in the 2020 season that includes a 53 percent raise, maternity benefits, a base salary and performance-based bonuses. This year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament will be broadcasted in its entirety on ESPN, with the semifinals and championship game premiering in primetime.

Female athletes are beginning to garner the attention they deserve. Sabrina Ionescu is drawing national attention for a historic senior season, as she has 22 career triple-doubles and became Oregon’s all-time leading basketball scorer in her career-high 37-point performance against Stanford last week. In the WNBA, women such as Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and more are shattering gender stereotypes and proving that women can play basketball at a high level, just as men can.

While women’s sports have made a push into the public eye, there is still quite a way to go. It’s important to place an emphasis on the women who excel in their sport and give them the spotlight they deserve. Too many times women are only given credit through a masculine lens, whether that’s only getting attention after receiving praise from men, being compared to a male counterpart, or being a footnote in a male athlete’s story. Female athletes deserve to be their own story.

That’s what I’m hoping to do with this column over the rest of the season — give women a place to shine. I’d like to use this space to highlight some of the amazing women that play in the NCAA and hear from them about their experiences, the records they’re setting and their basketball journey. While I won’t even begin to make a dent in the breadth of talent available in women’s college basketball, I hope to use this column each week to take a deeper dive into some incredible women, as well as give you an idea of what’s happening around the country that week.

WEDNESDAY’S NEWS AND NOTES

South Carolina sits atop the world of college hoops, earning 22 first-place votes from the AP panel to nab the No. 1 spot. The Gamecocks have an 18-1 record with wins over ranked opponents such as Maryland, Baylor, Kentucky and most recently Mississippi State.

Baylor — the reigning national champs —- sits in the No. 2 spot in the rankings after dethroning UConn and ending its dominant 98-game winning streak at home. The Lady Bears received six of the first-place votes from the AP committee.

The rest of the top five is filled out by UConn at No. 3, Oregon at No. 4 after beating then-No. 3 Stanford, and Louisville rounds it out at fifth, receiving the last two first-place votes.

In a monster performance against Stanford, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu had a career-high 37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. She has four triple-doubles on the season and has a chance to become the NCAA’s first player to eclipse 2,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 1,000 career assists. As of Jan. 18, she has 2,265 points, 904 rebounds and 928 assists.

DePaul remains unbeaten in the Big East, with Chante Stonewall leading the team with 17.9 ppg while Kelly Campbell has 102 assists on the season, ranking No. 8 in the country.

Baylor’s 40-point victory over then-No. 17 West Virginia is their 45th consecutive Big 12 win.

Mississippi State’s JaMya Mingo-Young and Aliyah Matharu combined for 24 points and four steals off the bench in a close 79-81 loss to South Carolina on Monday.

Star freshman and No. 1 recruit Haley Jones suffered an apparent right knee injury and left Stanford’s Sunday win over Oregon State. She is scheduled to have an MRI but the team has given no further updates.

North Carolina State’s Elissa Cunane has 20+ points in four of her last six games and 10 double-doubles on the season, helping the Wolfpack to a dominant win over Florida State last week.

UCLA became the last undefeated team to fall with a double overtime loss to USC — who hadn’t yet won a Pac-12 matchup —  on Friday.

Northwestern made its debut this season in the Top-25, coming in at No. 22 — its first ranking since the 2015-2016 season.

No. 3 Oregon faces rival No. 7 Oregon State on Friday in a crucial Pac-12 matchup.

Stanford freshman Fran Belini threw down a one-handed dunk in pregame warmup before facing Oregon that you HAVE to see: