Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Conference-USA Tournament Preview

The final year of Conference USA as we know it was one that saw nine teams go above .500 overall, and eight teams at .500 or better within the conference. The regular season title came down to the final week, and Louisville ended up winning it by two games at 14-2. Two teams followed at 12-4, and two more finished at 10-6.
Louisville is the favorite to win the conference tournament. They have won 15 of their last 16, and are starting to play well again. Francisco Garcia, Taquan Dean, and Larry O'Bannon form one of the top 5 perimeters in America, and they are starting to hit their stride lately. Ellis Myles is a force in the paint, while Juan Palacios is a freshman that can do it all on the court. Charlotte lost their final two games of the season to cost them a shot at the regular season title. Curtis Withers and Eddie Basden are a great forward combo, and Brandon Plavich can shoot it with unlimited range. Cincinnati is a team that is looking better and better each game. They have won six in a row. Eric Hicks and Jason Maxiell are monsters on the low block; both can dominate a game. The Bearcats also have a plethora of wing talent in James White, Armein Kirkland, and Nick Williams. DePaul has fell off a little bit down the stretch, but they have a chance to run the table. Quemont Greer is one of the top offensive players in the conference, and Drake Diener is a terrific three-point shooter. Sammy Mejia provides a very good wing option. UAB has won four in a row to look like an attractive choice to make some noise. The Blazers are balanced and deep, and, with their pressure defense, create problems for opposing clubs. Donell Taylor and Demario Eddins can put up points in bunches. Houston also struggled down the stretch, but have a great duo in Andre Owens and Lanny Smith. They combine for almost 33 points per game. Memphis is the host team for the tournament, and that gives them a favorable advantage. The Tigers lost their last four games to drop to 9-7. However, Darius Washington and Rodney Carney lead an athletic group that can win some games if they hit outside shots. TCU are a very deep team that likes to force turnovers and get out and run. Corey Santee is the main scorer for the Horned Frogs, who have several scoring options. Marquette does not really have a chance to win the tournament without Travis Diener, who is gone for the season. Steve Novak and Dameon Mason are a solid wing tandem.
Prediction: Although there seems to be a deep group of teams that can win the tournament, the winner is going to come down to Cincinnati or Louisville. I think that Cincinnati is too versatile and has too many weapons on offense for Charlotte to beat them in the semi-finals, and Louisville is too talented for DePaul or UAB. In the end, however, the Cardinals are just too loaded on offense and defense for anyone in the conference to handle. If their shooters are hot, Louisville can make a Final Four run in the NCAA Tournament.

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