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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Tigers Have Two Candidates for C-USA Top Player

Tigers have two candidates for C-USA's top player
By Dan Wolken
February 6, 2007

Joey Dorsey or Chris Douglas-Roberts?
Halfway through the Conference USA season, the race for the league's player of the year appears to be between the two University of Memphis stars. And here's the funny part: While an informal poll of the league's coaches on Monday indicated that Douglas-Roberts is the front-runner, the in-house Memphis opinion is that Dorsey should get the award if the season ended today.

"It's definitely Joey," sophomore guard Antonio Anderson said. "Chris is doing a heck of a job scoring the ball, but Joey is just so important to the team. He's blocking shots, making free throws, doing so much. Joey's role is more important than anybody on the team including the point guard, me, anybody. Without Joey, we'd have problems."

It's an interesting argument because the 6-9 Dorsey and 6-6 Douglas-Roberts fill such different roles. Dorsey, who was named C-USA's co-player of the week on Monday, leads the league in rebounding (11.8 in conference games), is third in field-goal percentage (58.7), second in blocked shots (2.78) and third in steals (2.22).

And though Douglas-Roberts doesn't have overwhelming numbers -- he's fifth in scoring (15.1) and second in field-goal percentage (63.0) -- he's clearly the offensive catalyst for the league's dominant team.

"Dorsey is really coming on, but the guy you really fear is when it's in Douglas-Roberts' hand," Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said. "You take him off their team, and obviously they slip. He's the one factor that they can just clear the side and let him get a basket."

Though preseason player of the year Morris Almond is still in clearly in contention, scoring 23.6 points per game, he's doing it on a disappointing Rice team. Houston coach Tom Penders said he always votes for the players with the biggest impact on winning.

"The hardest thing about Memphis is, who's the key guy?" Penders said. "To me, their best player is Chris Douglas-Roberts, but then you've got guys like Jeremy Hunt off the bench and Dorsey and with Morris Almond, you have to see how (Rice's) season shakes out. My pick at this point would be Chris Douglas-Roberts."

Memphis coach John Calipari has been pumping up Dorsey in recent days as the pick, though he said Monday that it could fluctuate.

"I just saw a tape without Chris, when we played UAB the last time, and there were times we didn't have an answer where to go," Calipari said. "But I also know, without Joey, we're not nearly the same team."

Promotion time

Calipari caused a minor stir last week when he criticized the Orlando Sentinel for failing to put the advance story of the Memphis-Central Florida game on the front page of the sports section.

The Sentinel's public editor, Manning Pynn, wrote a column in Sunday's edition saying he would have pushed the advance to the sports front. UCF coach Kirk Speraw said he agreed with Calipari's comments but acknowledged the importance of not relying on newspapers to promote the program.

The biggest issue is that UCF is still an afterthought on the Orlando sports scene, but that could change quickly now that the Golden Knights have moved up to C-USA from the low-major Atlantic Sun Conference.

"I really appreciated Cal's comments. I think they were right on the money, and it did cause a little bit of a stir I think," Speraw said. "We thought it was a significant enough game to be on the front page of the paper."

Adjusting focus

Houston's focus coming into this season was making the NCAA Tournament, but with an injury to point guard Lanny Smith and a string of disappointing non-conference results, the Cougars' only hope for a bid is to win the C-USA Tournament.

With five straight wins before a setback at UTEP on Saturday, Houston is serving notice that it's the kind of team that might be dangerous at the FedExForum in March.

"We just came off a pretty good run of five straight and now we have to get a streak going again," Penders said. "I try to be positive and talk in those terms."

Game of the week

Tulsa at Southern Miss, Saturday: With seven teams at either 5-3 or 4-4 in the league, the race for a top-four seed and first-round bye in the C-USA Tournament will be hotly contested to the season's final week.

Stat of the week

Only 1,543 fans showed up at Rice on Saturday to watch Morris Almond score 34 points on 10-of-16 shooting. You'd think at least a few Houstonians would be curious to see a potential first-round NBA draft pick.

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