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Thursday, September 20, 2007

ESPN's Jay Bilas' CUSA Projections

Here's how Jay Bilas expects C-USA to unfold this season:

1. Memphis
The Tigers have dominated this league since it broke apart and will not be challenged in 2008. With Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joey Dorsey and Derrick Rose, John Calipari has more talent than any two teams in C-USA, and he has the most talent in the nation. If Memphis makes free throws, forget it. The chances of Memphis finishing lower than first in C-USA are the same as Blutarsky's GPA: 0.0.

2. UAB
Mike Davis struggled with implementing his system in 2006-07, and UAB held the distinction of being a worse free-throw shooting team than Memphis. But, with quality returnees Paul Delaney and Lawrence Kinnard teaming with transfers Robert Vaden, Walter Sharpe and Channing Toney, the Blazers could finish as high as second.

3. Tulsa
Doug Wojcik has made Tulsa into a fine defensive unit and rebounding team, which led to 20 wins and a 9-7 C-USA finish last season. With 70 percent of the Golden Hurricane's scoring back, Wojcik can improve upon that if his developing players learn to protect the ball and increase efficiency.

4. Houston
One thing is certain about Houston: Tom Penders' team will score. High-scoring Rob McKiver returns, joined by Texas transfer Dion Dowell. If Houston ever gets down and really guards effectively without fouling, the Cougars could do some damage in C-USA.

5. Southern Miss
Larry Eustachy is starting to turn the culture around at Southern Miss, and the Golden Eagles have responded well to his mantra of defense and rebounding. The 2006-07 Southern Miss squad was so young it had its diapers changed at halftime, and this team will be young again but more talented. Jeremy Wise, who garnered second-team All-C-USA honors as a rookie, should lead the way.

6. UCF
Quick, who is the coach at UCF? If you said Kirk Speraw, who has been at the Knights' helm for 15 years, you would be correct -- and perhaps a member of the Speraw family. Speraw, who was the 2006-07 C-USA Coach of the Year, hardly is a household name in the college hoops world. The veteran coach has a solid team returning but not one that likely will put him in the spotlight this season. Jermaine Taylor, who has never started a game at UCF, will be the top scorer for the best shooting team in the league.

Tony Barbee coaxed 14 wins out of his troops last season and should improve upon that number in 2007-08, but not by much. UTEP will be young, with six freshmen to support leading scorer and rebounder Stefon Jackson.

8. SMU
Matt Doherty had one of the bigger challenges in the nation in rebuilding the SMU program, but he has brought in a nationally rated recruiting class. The Ponies will be young but should be better. The future is bright in Dallas under Doherty.

9. Marshall
Former Florida assistant Donnie Jones takes over the Thundering Herd, and he has Markel Humphrey, a third team All C-USA selection, and Mark Dorris, a 6-2 shooting guard, to help him implement his new system. Marshall will run and press more, and should improve upon its 13-19 slate.

10. Tulane
Has any coach in America had it tougher than Dave Dickerson? He not only had to rebuild a struggling Tulane program, but he had to do it in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It is hard not to root for Tulane. And it's easy to recognize that Dickerson is one of the most courageous coaches in the country for the burden he has shouldered.

11. Rice
Willis Wilson lost top scorer, NBA first-rounder and C-USA Player of the Year Morris Almond, and with him went the focal point of the offense. Rice lost its top three scorers and returns only one player who averaged more than five points per game (Cory Pfleifer's 6.3 ppg).

12. East Carolina
Mack McCarthy takes over the Pirate program, and he might want to wear two eye patches when watching his team play. East Carolina has won only 14 games in the past two seasons, but it does return Darrell Jenkins, the Pirates' top scorer and the league's top assist man.

-- Jay Bilas

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