Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Conference-USA Tournament Preview

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Conference-USA was not held in high-esteem this season, as many saw it as Memphis' playground, and most thought that it would bring down the Tigers' RPI and eventual seeding. However, it didn't turn out exactly that way. Memphis did win the title, but only by one game over UAB, while UTEP finished one game back of the Blazers. Houston was also competitive much of the season. The bottom two-thirds of the league was pretty atrocious, though.

Favorite: Memphis is one of the best teams in the country and is in line for a #1 seed should they win the conference tournament. However, they have not played at their peak the past four games, even though they won three of them. Some seem to think that the Tigers need to get used to playing against quality teams again. They are atop the league in an abundance of statistical categories, and also lead the conference in scoring offense. The athletic Tigers love to pressure the ball and get points in transition. Rodney Carney is a freak in terms of athleticism and is one of the best players in the country. Darius Washington is a solid point guard who is a very good playmaker. Shawne Williams is an inside-outside player who is one of the top freshmen in the land. Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts provide scoring and defense on the wings. The only thing this team lacks is a dominant low-post player and experience. However, if Joey Dorsey is consistent on the glass and defensively, the Tigers will be fine.

Contenders: UAB is the only team in Conference-USA to beat Memphis and could give them another run if they face off in the title game. The Blazers pressure the ball from the opening tap, and gain momentum as the turnovers mount up for the opposition. They have won 8 in a row and 18 of their last 20. Marvett McDonald is a very good outside shooter and a solid defender. Teamed up with Cardell “Squeaky” Johnson, the Blazers are strong at the perimeter. Johnson is an excellent point guard who is a very good defender and passer. Wen Mukubu and Paul Delaney are both solid scorers, and UAB is very deep on the wings. Inside, Frank Holmes is a good shot-blocker, but is not much of a rebounder and can get overpowered by opposing big men. Houston gets the nod as the second contender over UTEP. That is because UTEP's best player, John Tofi, is out for the season with an injury he suffered in a game against Memphis. The Cougars had an excellent start to their season, but struggled early in conference play and never could turn it around enough to get an at-large bid. They have an excellent backcourt in Oliver Lafayette, a super scorer, and Lanny Smith, one of the league’s best point guards. Ramon Dyer leads a deep group of athletic forwards that also includes Jahmar Thorpe, a similar player to Dyer that can score and rebound even though they are undersized.

Sleeper: Central Florida ended the season on a high note, pulling off an upset of UTEP to finish .500 in the conference. However, they are extremely inconsistent and can lose to anyone in the league. The Golden Knights have one of the best backcourts in the conference in Justin Rose and Josh Peppers. Peppers is one of the best all-around scorers in the conference and he can also shoot the ball efficiently from deep. Rose is the best all-around player on the team. He is a solid scorer, a very good rebounder for his size, and a good distributor. Mike O’Donnell and Troy Lindbeck also contribute on the perimeter. Anthony Williams is the main man up front, while Marcus Johnson also sees extensive minutes in the frontcourt.

Prediction: This pick depends on which team Memphis brings to the conference tournament. When they attack the basket and utilize their athleticism, the Tigers are nearly impossible to beat. However, when they play selfishly and shoot perimeter shots all day, they are extremely vulnerable. With that said, I still think that Memphis will win the tournament. No one in the conference can match the forward duo of Carney and Williams. If Washington plays like a point guard instead of a scorer, the Tigers won't get beat in the conference tournament. UAB is going to be a nightmare in the title game, though. They will get an at-large bid on Selection Sunday even with a loss to Memphis.

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