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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hattiesburg American - C-USA still in search of hoops respect

C-USA still in search of hoops respect
By Patrick Magee • March 21, 2010

CONFERENCE USA didn’t exactly have a grand showing at the NCAA Tournament this season.

Both UTEP and Houston were bumped in the first round by Butler and Maryland, respectively. With the early exit, the league still finds itself in search of respect.

It was definitely a positive for the league that two teams entered the field rather than just one. But C-USA teams will have to pull off some big non-conference wins next year if the league is going to secure multiple bids again.

UAB, Memphis, Southern Miss, UTEP and Marshall have to be considered the league’s top five teams headed into the offseason.

But the fortunes for UTEP and Marshall could change if some of their players decide to jump to the NBA.

Marshall’s Hassan Whiteside, a talented shot-blocker, is predicted by some to be a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft. UTEP could be missing a pair of important pieces to the puzzle if Derrick Caracter and Arnett Moultrie also decide to go pro.

Memphis rebound

Making the biggest leap in talent next season will be Memphis with coach Josh Pastner possibly bringing in the best class of signees in the nation. It doesn’t appear that the Tigers will be relegated to the NIT again anytime soon if Pastner continues to recruit at such a high level.

The team that will take the biggest drop in C-USA is probably Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane weren’t particularly deep this season but still managed to get 23 wins thanks to Jerome Jordan and Ben Uzoh. Both of those players have used up their eligibility.

Justin Hurtt is a talented guard for the Golden Hurricane, but it’s unlikely that he will have the support necessary to allow Tulsa to compete with the top teams in Conference USA.

Flowers power

Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said that Gary Flowers is “definitely” returning for his senior season and that means he will be among the five best players in Conference USA next year.

Flowers, UTEP’s Randy Culpepper, Elliot Williams of Memphis and UAB’s Elijah Millsap will be the players in the running for preseason C-USA Player of the Year. Whiteside and Caracter could also be in that mix if they decide to come back next year.

Despite its poor showing in the postseason, C-USA was definitely a deeper league this season. There was a good deal of parity between the league’s top eight teams, and the same should be expected next year.

It’s now a matter of teams like Rice, Tulane, East Carolina showing improvement.

It’s unlikely the Pirates will be able to show immediate progress with a change at head coach and Tulane coach Dave Dickerson will have to find some help in the post if the Green Wave are to improve on just three league wins.

SMU and Rice appear ready to make the most significant improvement as a part of the league’s bottom five teams while UCF is hoping to hit a home run with a new coaching hire.

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