Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Conference-USA Tournament Preview

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Conference-USA was one of the least exciting conferences in the country. Memphis was clearly the best team in the league heading into the year, and they dominated even more than most people thought. The Tigers were one of only two teams (Winthrop was the other) to go undefeated in league play. UCF finished in second at 11-5, while four other teams finished above .500.

Favorite: Memphis might be the biggest favorite in any conference tournament, as they ran away with the league title, winning their conference games by an average of almost 19 points per game. They had only two games decided by single-digits. The Tigers lead the league in scoring offense and scoring defense, and are tops in several categories on both sides of the ball. The Tigers are loaded with wings. Chris Douglas-Roberts is a very good offensive player, while Jeremy Hunt can stroke it from deep. Antonio Anderson can do a variety of things at both ends. At the point, Willie Kemp and Andre Allen are very quick. Up front, Robert Dozier has loads of potential, while Joey Dorsey is a very good athlete who can block shots and rebound the ball.

Contenders: UCF has won seven of their last nine heading into the conference tournament. They are one of the best shooting teams in the conference. Josh Peppers is a very good scorer who can shoot the ball, while Jermaine Taylor and Mike O’ Donnell form one of the best three-point shooting tandems in the conference. Lavell Payne provides inside balance—he is strong in the frontcourt. The Knights are terrific from the free-throw line. Houston was expected to contend with Memphis for a potential league title and NCAA bid, but a 6-8 non-conference campaign and injury to all-conference point guard Lanny Smith ruined most of their preseason hype. They have plenty of firepower offensively, though. Rob McKiver and Oliver Lafayette can really fill it up. Lafayette is also very adept on the defensive end in terms of steals, while McKiver is averaging 25 points per game over his last four games. Dion Dowell is a tough match-up in the frontcourt, and he is also a very good defensive player. Jahmar Thorpe is athletic and came on strong down the stretch.

Sleeper: Tulane is a team that could potentially pull of an upset or two in the conference tournament. They won their last three games and seven of their last nine to end the season. They rebound the ball well, can shoot the three, and share the basketball. The Green Wave are also very deep and balanced. David Gomez is one of the best post players in the conference, and the backcourt duo of Chris Moore and Kevin Sims is very solid.

Prediction: This is too easy. Memphis is clearly the best team in the conference—there is obviously not a team anywhere near the Tigers’ level. Memphis has the most depth and talent, and is capable of blowing out any team they face in the conference tournament. The only way to beat Memphis is to slow the game down and be physical with the Tigers. They don’t shoot free throws well, and are inconsistent from behind the arc. No C-USA team has the personnel to do that, though. Don’t worry, bubble teams, Memphis will get the automatic bid.

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