Conference Countdown: No. 9 C-USA


Preseason Awards

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

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.

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.

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

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.

    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.

    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
  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
  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.

No. 20 Maryland upsets No. 7 Notre Dame at the buzzer, 74-72

maryland basketball
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Diamond Miller scored 31 points, including the game-winner at the buzzer, to lead No. 20 Maryland to a 74-72 victory over seventh-ranked Notre Dame on Thursday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Irish guard Sonia Cintron’s layup had tied the game with 15 seconds left off before Maryland held for the last shot. Miller hit a contested mid-range jumper just before time expired to give the Terrapins a victory over a top-10 opponent. It was the 15th lead change of the game.

Miller also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with five assists. Shyanne Sellers added 17 points.

Maryland (7-2) picked up its first win over Notre Dame (6-1) since 2007.

Cintron’s double-double led the Irish with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Notre Dame’s leading scorer Olivia Miles got off to a slow start on Thursday due to foul trouble. She scored 12 of her 14 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to go along with seven assists and two steals.


Maryland: The Terrapins picked up their second top-20 win of the season ahead of the upcoming Big Ten opener.

Notre Dame: The Irish have had issues with foul trouble this season, a problem that persisted on Thursday. Miles played just 25 minutes, including the majority of the fourth quarter, due to picking up her fourth foul late in the third quarter.


Maryland: Returns to College Park for the program’s Big Ten opener Sunday against Nebraska.

Notre Dame: Stays home to host No. 3 UConn Sunday.

Virginia’s depth helping its rapid climb in the AP Top 25

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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The starting five is the same, but that is where comparisons between the Virginia team that has climbed to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and last year’s NIT quarterfinalists ends.

Yes, one more year together and a trip to Italy has made the first five significantly better, but part of the credit for that surely goes to another group: the reinforcements. They’ve helped the Cavaliers (6-0) already knock off No. 6 Baylor, No. 16 Illinois and Michigan.

Virginia has scored 70 points or more in its first six game for the first time since the 2003-04 season, and coach Tony Bennett said it was the offense – and not UVA’s signature relentless defense – that saved them in a 70-68 victory this week at Michigan in the ACC/Bg Ten Challenge.

“Our offense kind of kept us in it in the first half,” Bennett said, before the team put it all together, erasing an 11-point halftime deficit to disappoint a raucous Wolverines crowd.

Reece Beekman was the offensive catalyst, scoring 15 of his 18 points before halftime, but four others joined him in double figures, including Jayden Gardner. His foul-line jumper with 39.9 seconds left provided the last of his 11 points, and the winning margin.

Gardner, who led Virginia in scoring last season (15.3 ppg), is averaging 11.5 this year.

“We’ve got a lot of capable scorers and we’re just gonna keep playing together. And we’re playing very unselfish basketball right now,” Gardner said after scoring 24 against Maryland Eastern Shore. He went into the game with 31 points through four games.

“He’s not the most jumping type of guy, but he’s got so much power,” Hawks coach Jason Crafton said of Gardner, an East Carolina transfer with 2,068 career points. “That low center of gravity and the flexibility that he has to be able to get under people and hold his position is elite. When he wants the ball at a certain spot, he can get it there.”

The leader remains guard Kihei Clark, who already has a place in Virginia history, having retrieved a loose ball and fed Mamadi Diakite for a jumper that sent the Cavs’ Elite Eight game against Purdue into overtime on the way to winning the 2019 national championship.

Newcomers Ben Vander Plas, a transfer from Ohio, and freshman Isaac McKneely have given Bennett more options, and more scoring power than a year ago.

As a junior, Vander Plas had 17 points for No. 13 seed Ohio when the Bobcats upset Virginia 62-58 in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

He scored seven straight in the second half against the Wolverines, twice scoring inside and then swishing a 3-pointer while trying to slow down bruising big man Hunter Dickinson.

“Ben, yeah. Just his poise and composure in the post, took advantage of some mismatches and he really gave us a great lift,” Bennett said. Vander Plas is the son of a teammate of Bennett’s at Green Bay, and his first name is a tribute to Bennett’s father, Dick.

McKneely scored 15 and made 4 of 6 3-point tries in an 89-42 victory against Monmouth

“He was standing in front of our bench. I’m like, `Listen, we’re not helping off him,”‘ Monmouth coach King Rice said he told his team, pointing at McKneely, a two-time player of the year in West Virginia. “And he kind of looked at me and I said, `Yeah, you, because you make all of them,’ and he started laughing.”

Ryan Dunn also made quite the impression on Rice in his first collegiate appearance, scoring 13 points with six rebounds and three blocks in almost 27 minutes.

“I was in the building when De’Andre Hunter came off the bench and had a breakout game,” Rice said of Hunter, now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “Dunn reminds me a lot of Hunter, and you can tell he’s young. But when he grows into that body with that skill set, he’ll be giving people problems for a long, long time.”

The Cavaliers open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Florida State, then host top-ranked Houston, which beat them 67-47 last season, a week later.

“A good schedule for sure and it tests you, it kind of shows you, win or lose, you see where you’ve got some holes,” Bennett said.

So far, the Cavaliers have been able to fill them all.

No. 4 Arizona turning heads early in the season

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David Cruz/USA TODAY Sports
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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd knew there was talent on his roster. He wasn’t exactly sure how good the team would be.

The former longtime Gonzaga assistant had a similar view of last year’s team and that one turned out to be pretty good, running all the way to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

This year’s team could end up being even better.

Buoyed by transfers and improved returning players, Arizona has rolled through the early part of its schedule, climbing to No. 4 in this week’s AP Top 25 after winning the Maui Invitational.

“I learned that we’re good,” Lloyd said. “We’re tough. We’re gritty. I think there’s going to be some great things for us to really double down on and some things to show our guys where we went the wrong way.”

Lloyd had a superb first season in the desert, earning coach of the year honors last season with a team that lost three players to the NBA.

The Wildcats (6-0) had to replace three NBA players again this season. Again, they made a seamless transition.

Improvement on the part of the returning players has been a big part of it.

Oumar Ballo, considered a project as a freshman at Gonzaga, has transformed into one of the nation’s best big men. The 7-foot, 260-pound center from Mali has vastly improved his footwork and developed patience in the post, setting himself up for good shots instead of trying to bull his way to the basket.

Ballo is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 76.7% from the field, fourth-best nationally. He was named Maui Invitational MVP after finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds against No. 7 Creighton in the title game.

Not bad for a player who averaged 2.5 points and 6.3 minutes per game two years ago at Gonzaga.

“When he struggled, I still believed in him,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t need for him to be instantly successful for me to reaffirm my belief in him. When he struggled, we continued to love him and work with him and then he continued to hang in there and I think it is a great story.”

Fellow big man Azuolas Tubelis has made a few strides of his own, adding strength and toughness to his athletic, fluid game. The 6-10 forward leads Arizona with 19.3 points per game while grabbing 8.0 rebounds.

Fiery point guard Kerr Kriisa has rounded into a reliable floor leader, averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 51% from the 3-point arc.

“I don’t pay attention to the antics because they don’t mean anything to me,” Lloyd said. “I know maybe that draws attention to him from other people but when it comes to just pure basketball, I mean he is doing a good job and I think he is really showing something.”

So is Courtney Ramey.

The Texas transfer has given the Wildcats a huge boost in his first season in Tucson, providing hounding defense, leadership and another scoring option. He’s averaging 16 points per game and has hit 10 of 16 from 3-point range so far this season.

Campbell transfer Cedric Henderson Jr. has provided an athletic lift off the bench and 7-foot Estonian Henri Veesaar has given Arizona solid minutes.

The mix of new and old has helped Arizona lead the nation with 97.5 points a game and rank second with 21.8 assists per game. The Wildcats climbed 10 spots in this week’s poll after wins over Cincinnati, No. 24 San Diego State and Creighton.

Arizona opens Pac-12 play Thursday at Utah.

“It was good to get the recognition, but we’re not satisfied,” Ramey said. “Our ultimate goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season and be the final two teams playing, so I think the regular season matters but it’s not the ultimate goal for us.”

The Wildcats are certainly off to a good start.

Gardner, No. 3 Virginia rally for 70-68 win at Michigan

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Tony Bennett’s team passed all its tests in the opening month of the season.

Jayden Gardner made a go-ahead jumper with 39.9 seconds left and blocked Jett Howard’s 3-point shot just before the buzzer, allowing No. 3 Virginia to stay undefeated with a 70-68 win over Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (6-0) won their first true road game against a team that was ranked in the first two polls this season, a little more than a week after beating then-No. 5 Baylor and then-No. 19 Illinois in Las Vegas.

“It got pretty intense in here,” Bennett said.

Virginia trailed by 11 points at halftime, rallied to go ahead with 7:25 left and built a five-point lead that didn’t last.

The Wolverines (5-2) went ahead 66-65 at the 1:42 mark when Hunter Dickinson made one of two free throws.

Michigan missed chances to stay or go ahead when Dickinson missed a hook shot with 1:01 to go and Princeton transfer Jaelin Llewellyn turned the ball over with 16 seconds left.

“Hunter has made that running hook before,” coach Juwan Howard said. “The turnover, yes, down the stretch, it hurt, but overall that’s not the reason we lost the ballgame.

“We could’ve easily put our heads down when they came out in the second half and made a run.”

Reece Beekman, who finished with 18 points, stepped in front of Llewellyn’s pass in the final minute and made one of two free throws.

Virginia’s Armaan Franklin missed two free throws with 5.7 seconds left, giving Michigan a chance to extend or win the game. Howard took a contested shot beyond the 3-point arc on the right wing – near his father, Michigan’s coach – and Gardner came up with the block against the freshman guard while Wolverines coaches and players screamed for a foul call.

It appeared that Gardner got all ball on the block.

Kihei Clark scored 16 points, Gardner had 12, Kadin Shedrick fouled out with 12 points and Ben Vander Plas added 10 for the balanced Cavaliers.

“You need different guys, and that’s what it takes, to make plays offensively and defensively,” Bennett said.

Dickinson scored 23 points, Jett Howard had 11 of his 15 in the first half and Kobe Bufkin added 11 points for Michigan.

“Jett is a gamer, he’s going to compete no matter what,” Juwan Howard said. “He’s loved basketball since he was a little baby boy.

“He’s going to help us win a lot of games this year.”

The Wolverines started slowly, trailing 9-2 in the opening minutes, before Howard scored eight points to lead a 13-2 run. Michigan led 45-34 at halftime when Bufkin made a layup after a steal.

“We can’t be sloppy like that on the defensive end, but we did battle hard in the second half,” Bennett said.

Vander Plas scored nine points during an 11-2 run that put Virginia ahead 65-60. The Cavaliers then went 4 1/2 minutes without a basket before Gardner’s big shot.


Virginia: The Cavaliers have their highest ranking since the 2018-19 season – which ended with a national title – and are off to their best start since being 7-0 three years ago. The team continues to honor the memory of three football players who were fatally shot on campus earlier this month, wearing warmup jerseys with their names.

Michigan: Juwan Howard’s team matched up well in its first game against a ranked opponent this season.

“When we come out with the effort like we did today for 40 minutes, I love our chances against any college team in the country,” he said.


Virginia: Hosts Florida State (1-7) on Saturday.

Michigan: Plays No. 19 Kentucky (5-2) on Sunday in London.

Marquette’s defense overwhelms No. 6 Baylor in 96-70 win

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE – Marquette has developed a habit under Shaka Smart of saving its top performances for the best opponents on its schedule.

Olivier-Maxence Prosper scored 24 points and Marquette capitalized on a dominant start from its defense to roll past No. 6 Baylor 96-70 on Tuesday night in the Big 12-Big East Battle. This was the highest-ranked team Marquette (6-2) has beaten under Smart and the Golden Eagles improved to to 7-6 against AP Top 25 squads in his tenure.

“Most of the time against these great teams, they don’t have us winning that game,” said David Joplin, who scored 19 points. “We just come out, we want to go out and prove everybody wrong. And that feeling, that chip makes us play so much better.”

Marquette nearly produced its most lopsided victory against a Top 25 team. The Golden Eagles trounced No. 16 Providence 88-56 on Jan. 4 in Smart’s debut season.

“When you go into a game and the game is bigger in the minds of your players than anything else, to me that’s the best recipe for winning,” Smart said. “It should be that way all the time, but human nature sometimes messes with that.”

Marquette’s defense embarrassed a highly regarded Baylor backcourt.

The Golden Eagles raced to a 51-25 halftime lead thanks to a 24-0 edge in points off turnovers. Baylor (5-2) already had a season-high 16 turnovers by halftime.

Baylor entered Tuesday ranked third among Division I teams in assist-turnover margin. The Bears had 20 turnovers and 12 assists against Marquette.

“I didn’t see that coming,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Credit the crowd. Credit them for building momentum. Credit Shaka for having them prepared and how hard they played. At the end of the day, we fed to the fire by turning it over and making some uncharacteristic mistakes.”

Prosper scored 10 points and sank two 3-pointers during a 23-2 run that turned an early 7-2 deficit into a 25-9 advantage. Chase Ross capped the spurt by getting a steal and throwing down a left-handed dunk.

Baylor never cut Marquette’s lead below 22 points in the second half.

Kam Jones had 20 points as Marquette shot 58.3% overall to win its third straight. The Golden Eagles shot 12 of 25 from 3-point range, with Jones going 4 of 7 and Prosper and Joplin each going 3 of 4.

Baylor’s LJ Cryer had 17 of his 19 points, in the second half. Adam Flagler had 16 and Keyonte George added 12 for the Bears.


Baylor: The Bears shot 48.2% (27 of 56) but had no answers for Marquette’s defense and dug too deep a hole. Baylor rallied from a 25-deficit to force overtime in an NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina last season, but the Bears never mounted any kind of comeback Tuesday.

Marquette: After losing to Purdue and Mississippi State earlier this season, the Golden Eagles delivered the kind of performance that showed they’re capable of beating anyone. Marquette will try to prove that again when it hosts Wisconsin on Saturday.


The Big 12-Big East Battle started Tuesday and runs through Sunday. Last season’s Big 12-Big East Battle ended in a 5-5 tie.


Marquette came out of its locker room wearing shirts with No. 24 to honor George Thompson, who died in June of complications from diabetes. Thompson played for Marquette from 1967-69, and he was the school’s career scoring leader for 40 years.

Tuesday would have been Thompson’s 75th birthday. A No. 24 banner with Thompson’s name hangs from the Fiserv Forum rafters.

“I really felt like we needed to win tonight to honor George,” Smart said. “If you make it George Thompson Night, you couldn’t lose.”


Baylor: Faces No. 14 Gonzaga on Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Marquette: Hosts Wisconsin on Saturday.