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Friday, October 12, 2007

Rivals.com - C-USA members working to catch Memphis


C-USA members working to catch Memphis
By Bob McClellan, Rivals.com College Basketball Editor

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy has a formula for Conference USA to secure multiple postseason bids.

"I think obviously we have to have some big wins in the nonconference collectively and John has to cooperate and we have to beat him a few times, and I think it (postseason play) will happen," Eustachy said.

C-USA received only one postseason bid last season, and Eustachy and the rest of the coaches in C-USA who gathered at the FedEx Forum on Thursday for the league's media day know beating "John" is easier said than done. That would be Memphis coach John Calipari, whose Tigers have gone 29-1 in conference play the past two seasons, including 16-0 last season. They are ranked No. 2 in the Rivals.com Preseason Top 25, so it again will be difficult to get past the Tigers.

The thing is, though, that if a team in Conference USA does find itself able to compete on a level with Memphis, it surely will be worthy of inclusion in the postseason.

"We have to catch up to Memphis," SMU coach Matt Doherty said. "That's the carrot. They're up there and we have to chase them down.

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"We don't just want to compete with them, either. We want to beat them. As long as we're getting better – we don't want Memphis to slip to us; we want to get up to them – that's what it's about."

Three C-USA teams besides Memphis – UCF, Tulsa and Southern Miss – won 20 games last season. But none was in the RPI top 100. Houston, which went 18-15, was the only C-USA team other than Memphis (seventh) in the top 100, at No. 82.

To that end, all of the league's coaches spoke at length Thursday about the upgrades they've made in their nonconference schedules. Rice plays Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Vanderbilt. Tulane has Auburn coming for its season-opener, plays Syracuse and LSU, and will compete in the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii.

East Carolina has two ACC teams (Clemson and North Carolina State) coming to Greenville for the first time in school history. UCF has a home-and-home with Nevada, brings in traditional Big East power Connecticut and plays another Big East heavyweight, Villanova, in the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving weekend at Disney World.

"I think we (C-USA) are on the path that we need to be on," Calipari said. "We've upgraded our schedules; now we've got to beat some teams out of our league. I think there's a possibility to have six teams in the postseason. … I look at us as a league and say we're on a path for multiple teams in the NCAA and multiple teams in the NIT.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy has a formula for Conference USA to secure multiple postseason bids.

"I think obviously we have to have some big wins in the nonconference collectively and John has to cooperate and we have to beat him a few times, and I think it (postseason play) will happen," Eustachy said.

C-USA received only one postseason bid last season, and Eustachy and the rest of the coaches in C-USA who gathered at the FedEx Forum on Thursday for the league's media day know beating "John" is easier said than done. That would be Memphis coach John Calipari, whose Tigers have gone 29-1 in conference play the past two seasons, including 16-0 last season. They are ranked No. 2 in the Rivals.com Preseason Top 25, so it again will be difficult to get past the Tigers.

The thing is, though, that if a team in Conference USA does find itself able to compete on a level with Memphis, it surely will be worthy of inclusion in the postseason.

"We have to catch up to Memphis," SMU coach Matt Doherty said. "That's the carrot. They're up there and we have to chase them down.

"We don't just want to compete with them, either. We want to beat them. As long as we're getting better – we don't want Memphis to slip to us; we want to get up to them – that's what it's about."

Three C-USA teams besides Memphis – UCF, Tulsa and Southern Miss – won 20 games last season. But none was in the RPI top 100. Houston, which went 18-15, was the only C-USA team other than Memphis (seventh) in the top 100, at No. 82.

To that end, all of the league's coaches spoke at length Thursday about the upgrades they've made in their nonconference schedules. Rice plays Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Vanderbilt. Tulane has Auburn coming for its season-opener, plays Syracuse and LSU, and will compete in the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii.

East Carolina has two ACC teams (Clemson and North Carolina State) coming to Greenville for the first time in school history. UCF has a home-and-home with Nevada, brings in traditional Big East power Connecticut and plays another Big East heavyweight, Villanova, in the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving weekend at Disney World.

"I think we (C-USA) are on the path that we need to be on," Calipari said. "We've upgraded our schedules; now we've got to beat some teams out of our league. I think there's a possibility to have six teams in the postseason. … I look at us as a league and say we're on a path for multiple teams in the NCAA and multiple teams in the NIT.

"Tulsa was upset about the NIT last year. It used to be … you were invited (to the NIT) because of how you would draw, who you knew. They go by the numbers now; it's an extension of the NCAA. We recognize that."

The best bets to join Memphis in the postseason are UAB, Houston and Southern Miss. The league's coaches split their votes between the Blazers and Cougars for second in the league, and the Golden Eagles were tabbed for fourth.

"Tom (Penders, coach at Houston) has a very good team," Eustachy said. "He's downplaying it, which is unusual for him. UAB is loaded, too."

"I'm excited about the strength of our league," said UTEP coach Tony Barbee, a former Memphis assistant. "I'll be disappointed if we don't have four or five teams in the postseason."

Calipari said he sees similarities to C-USA and his time at Massachusetts. He spent eight seasons (1988-96) leading the Minutemen, taking them from the depths of the Atlantic 10 to the Final Four in 1996.

"I love what's happening here," Calipari said. "They want to beat us so bad. 'If Memphis can do this, if we invest, we're in the same league, we can do it.' That's what I said when I was at UMass: 'If Temple can do it, we can do it.' But it takes commitment. Our school and city are committed. I've done it.

"They're all trying to kill us. We know that."

"Tulsa was upset about the NIT last year. It used to be … you were invited (to the NIT) because of how you would draw, who you knew. They go by the numbers now; it's an extension of the NCAA. We recognize that."

The best bets to join Memphis in the postseason are UAB, Houston and Southern Miss. The league's coaches split their votes between the Blazers and Cougars for second in the league, and the Golden Eagles were tabbed for fourth.

"Tom (Penders, coach at Houston) has a very good team," Eustachy said. "He's downplaying it, which is unusual for him. UAB is loaded, too."

"I'm excited about the strength of our league," said UTEP coach Tony Barbee, a former Memphis assistant. "I'll be disappointed if we don't have four or five teams in the postseason."

Calipari said he sees similarities to C-USA and his time at Massachusetts. He spent eight seasons (1988-96) leading the Minutemen, taking them from the depths of the Atlantic 10 to the Final Four in 1996.

"I love what's happening here," Calipari said. "They want to beat us so bad. 'If Memphis can do this, if we invest, we're in the same league, we can do it.' That's what I said when I was at UMass: 'If Temple can do it, we can do it.' But it takes commitment. Our school and city are committed. I've done it.

"They're all trying to kill us. We know that."

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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