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Monday, October 30, 2006

The Daily Helmsman's View on C-USA

Your tip sheet for '06 C-USA tip-offs

By: Matt Laurie, Sports Editor, The Daily Helmsman, The Univ of Memphis

Only three weeks until Memphis tips off against Jackson St. and starts the defense of their Conference USA title. Last year saw Memphis go 13-1 in conference play with the lone loss coming against UAB in early March.

Let's take an early look at the teams in C-USA.

(24-7 overall, 12-2 in C-USA)
Head coach: Mike Davis
UAB lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Kentucky in a close game 69-64. UAB loses their high-scorer in Marvett McDonald who averaged 14.8 points per game and Cardell "Squeaky" Johnson who totaled 194 assists last year. The Blazers return three starters. Wen Mukubu and Paul Delaney are the Blazers' top returning scorers but have only started 16 games between them.

(21-10, 11-3)
Head coach: Tony Barbee
Former Memphis assistant coach Tony Barbee heads the Miners this year. He inherits a squad that returns only two starters, neither of which averaged more than eight points per game last season. Barbee and the Miners may struggle to make postseason play for the fourth-straight year.

(21-10, 9-5)
Head coach: Tom Penders
Memphis knocked Houston out of the C-USA Tournament last year and with it their hopes of an NCAA berth. Oliver Lafayette returns for the Cougars and brings back 15.7 points per game and his 105 steals. Houston will once again rely on defense to smother opponents and Lafayette is the most dangerous defender in all of C-USA.

(14-15, 7-7)
Head coach: Kirk Speraw
Central Florida missed out on the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years last year and hopes to return to their winning ways. Their top two rebounders, Justin Rose and Anthony Williams, are gone but they added junior college transfer and 6-foot-11 center Stanley Billings who averaged 14 points and nine rebounds per game at the lower level. However UCF wins with defense. Last year they held opponents to 63.4 points per game and should be one of the best defensive squads in C-USA.

(12-16, 6-8)
Head coach: Willis Wilson
The Owls may have the best player in Conference USA leading the charge in Morris Almond. The 6-6 senior guard averaged 22 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season. After 108 attempts in 28 games, Almond hit nearly 45 percent of his three-pointers last season. Almond will have the Owls' top assist man to helping him out in Lorenzo Wiliams, who totaled 170 assists last season.

(12-17, 6-8)
Head coach: Dan Dickerson
Tulane only lost three players from last year's team and only one started more than five games. Tulane could be a dark horse team in 2006 if they play defense like they did last year. Opponents shot a measly 39 percent last year against the Green Wave.

(11-17, 6-8)
Head coach: Doug Wojcik
Tulsa finished in the middle of the pack last season but return four of their five starters in 2006. They lost their leading scorer in Anthony Price (11.4 points per game), but Price only started in six games. It's only Wojcik's second season, but Tulsa has produced some good coaches, including Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith and Bill Self.

(12-16, 5-9)
Head coach: Ron Jirsa
Marshall returns four of its five starters, and those four players account for 53 percent of the scoring and 65 percent of the rebounding the Thundering Herd had last year. Marshall showed flashes of a solid basketball team last year beating ninth-ranked West Virginia 58-52 last season and scoring 81 points against Memphis.

(13-16, 4-10)
Head coach: Matt Doherty
The Mustangs return four of their starters from last year including their top three rebounders and three of their top four scorers. Doherty is a very good coach and could help SMU develop into a team that could disrupt the C-USA standings. Bamba Fall, a 7-foot-1 center who weighs in at 200 lbs, blocked 53 shots last year and averaged 3.36 per game in C-USA play.

Southern Miss
(10-21, 3-11)
Head coach: Larry Eustachy
Southern Miss had a miserable 2005-06 season and 2006-07 may not be much better with one returning starter from last season. Courtney Beasley is Southern Miss' lone returning scorer and he happened to lead the team with 10.7 points per game. Beasley was only a freshman last year so he could turn some heads this year. If he gets help from teammates the Golden Eagles could get out of the C-USA dungeon.

East Carolina
(8-20, 2-12)
Head coach: Ricky Stokes
The Pirates were the worst team in Conference USA last year winning only two games. However, they should improve this year returning three of their top four scorers all of which averaged nine points or more per game. Corey Rouse, the lone star from last year's squad will be sorely missed. Tallying 30 blocks and 300 rebounds last season, the Pirates will struggle to replace him. Eight players are their roster haven't stepped foot on the court with an East Carolina jersey on.

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