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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Houston Chronicle's C-USA Rankings

January 08, 2007
Ronnie Turner, Houston Chronicle

My first set of C-USA Men's Basketball Rankings

I've been toying with the idea of ranking the men's basketball teams in Conference USA on a weekly basis for a while, but I could never get around to it. Now that I've got some spare time, I can get the ball rolling (no pun intended).

The league recently completed its eighth week on Sunday, so we'll start our rankings from that point. Of course, if you're a Rice, Central Florida or Tulsa fan, you may not like where your team land in the ranking.

I have to admit that, so far, C-USA has failed to impress me. The league's defending champion, Memphis, looks impressive enough to win the conference title, but not impressive enough to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament if it were to start today. It would surprise me if this team were to make it past the second or third round of this year's tournament.

But that's another story for another day. Today, we'll focus our attention on the Week 8 C-USA rankings.

1. Memphis (11-3 overall, 1-0 C-USA)

If the NCAA Tournament were to start today, Memphis would probably be the only C-USA team to receive an at-large bid, and rightly so because the Tigers have played a quality schedule (Tennessee, Arizona, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech, among others). The Tigers lost a lot of talent to last year's NBA Draft, but their returning talent isn't half bad. Be sure to keep an eye on this team because it's going to make some serious headlines this season.

(Sidenote: I'm going to go out on a limb (not really) and pick Memphis to repeat as C-USA champion in 2006-07. If my prediction turns out to be wrong, you have the right to throw it back in my face.)

2. UAB (8-7, 0-1)

I'll probably catch some flak for placing the Blazers this high because of their lackluster record, but I believe the Blazers are the second best team in the league right now, though that's not saying much. And if you look closely at their losses (Washington State, Wyoming, Western Kentucky, VCU, Old Dominion, Florida, UTEP), you'll see they were all against good teams. The team is faltering, but I'm certain the Blazers will perform better the rest of the season.

3. UTEP (9-6, 1-0)

Look what we have here: another unimpressive C-USA team. Lord, will it ever get any better? Something tells me that life may be get better for the Miners. The team is composed largely of newcomers, but it appears they've started to mesh. The Miners has won four of their last five games and is on a three-game winning streak headed into Wednesday's match-up against Marshall.

4. Southern Methodist (11-3, 0-0)

The Mustangs only claim to prominence this season may be that their head coach Matt Doherty was the coach at North Carolina from 2000-03 and played on UNC's 1982 national championship team led by legendary coach Dean Smith. Other than that, the Mustangs are simply a scrappy bunch of players who have beaten other scrappy teams. Still, the team is 11-3, so Doherty and crew must be doing something right.

5. Houston (5-7, 0-1)

If this were any other league, the Cougars would probably not be slated this high with that record. However, this is C-USA, where many mediocre teams reside, so Houston fits right in. The Cougars have fallen on hard times lately, have lost four straight games in a row, but when you're playing as inconsistently as they have with the schedule they have, it's no surprise. Consider this: the Cougars have played VCU, Arizona, Creighton, Nebraska, UNLV, and Kentucky, and lost to them all. That's a tough slate for most teams.

(Sidenote: I know many of you are probably saying, "This blogger must be some homer." You would be incorrect in that assessment, because I'm anything but. I'm not making excuses for Houston's play; I know the the Cougars have played badly. But let's be real: if Houston played the same sort of weak non-conference opponents most C-USA teams played, they'd probably be undefeated right now).

6. Southern Miss (10-3, 0-0)

The Golden Eagles haven't fared too badly to start the season, winning eight of their first nine games, although most came against schools largely unknown to the casual college basketball fan (Bellhaven, Spring Hill, Reinhardt, etc.). Southern Miss will open C-USA play at Southern Methodist on Wednesday, which could prove to be troublesome, considering the Golden Eagles are 0-2 on the road to start the season.

7. Tulane (7-5, 0-0)

What can I say about the Green Wave? Let me see. The team is 7-5. With five more victories, Tulane will equal its win total from the 2005-06 season. That's about all I can come up with.

8. Rice (6-7, 0-0)

More was expected from the Owls in 2006-07 with the return of dynamic scorer and All-American candidate Morris Almond (29.7 points per game). What have Rice fans received so far? A lackluster start, lackluster efforts from the players surrounding Almond, and several lackluster performances, such as Saturday's 51-28 loss to Princeton. Rice fans are not amused.

9. UCF (11-3, 0-0)

I would love to see the day when these C-USA schools start to play some serious competition instead of beating up on all these weaklings. At least a few games against some decent schools would suffice. But not when it comes to UCF. Check out some of their non-conference opponents thus far: Rollins College, Stetson, Bethune-Cookman, Florida International, Jacksonville, Florida Atlantic, Utah, Tennessee Tech, N.J.I.T., Texas-Pan American, South Dakota State, among others. Simly put: This slate is not impressive.

10. Tulsa (10-3, 0-0)

This squad doesn't impress me at all, 10-3 record and all. They probably won't fare well in C-USA this season.

11. Marshall (5-9, 0-1)

The Thundering Herd have won two of their last three games, so things appear to be looking up somewhat. Marshall will face a tough test on the road against UTEP this Wednesday.

12. East Carolina (5-8, 0-0)

The Pirates have lost seven of their last eight games. Definitely not a good start to the season for this squad.

• • •
Whew, I'm glad that's over! It wasn't easy ranking most of these teams. Most were mediocre teamsn with mediocre records, and others were mediocre teams with deceptively good records. Either way, the best team out of the bunch was Memphis, so I know I got that ranking correct.

I don't know what to make of C-USA this year. I figured Houston, UAB and Rice would be as good or better this season, but they've started out the gate somewhat poorly. Whether they can rebound remains to be see.

Ranking these teams has given me a headache, so I'll now bring this entry to a close. Next week, I'll post my next set of rankings, but that set won't include as much commentary.

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