Monday, March 01, 1999

C-USA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW


UC the team to beat

BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The weather should be warm; the games may be good; and someone is going to leave Alabama with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

        Whether there will be people in the stands at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center to watch the final chapter of the 1998-99 Conference USA season seems less certain.

BRACKET
        Conference USA's experiment with taking its championship tournament to a city that traditionally is a lukewarm supporter of basketball and that all but rejected the UAB Blazers this season should be interesting. At least the league-champion Cincinnati Bearcats may have to worry less about the crummy things said about them than getting motivated to play in a near empty gym.

        The tournament opens with four first-round games Wednesday. UC, with its first-round bye, joins in the quarterfinals Thursday at noon against the winner between ninth-seeded South Florida and eighth-seeded Memphis.

        A look at the draw:

        • Team to beat: UC. The Bearcats have won six of their past seven conference tournaments and have a record of 17-1 in that period.

        Recent history may mean more, and they've won four in a row by an average of 12.5 points since a three-game losing streak interrupted their pursuit of a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed. UC beat every team in the league at least once this season.

        • Toughest draw: UAB. The Blazers get to play in their hometown, but this is not their homecourt, so whether they get an advantage will depend on whether there is ample support from the city's fans, a dubious prospect.

        To win the title they'll need in order to claim an NCAA Tournament bid, they'll likely have to defeat DePaul — which has likely league player of the year Quentin Richardson — and then Louisville and UC. All three teams may end the year in the NCAAs.

        • Most likely MVP: Pete Mickeal, UC. Coach Bob Huggins proclaimed after Saturday's win at Memphis that Mickeal should be the league's player of the year — a fine time to begin such a campaign. Ballots were due to the C-USA office one day earlier.

        Mickeal had dominated in the past two weeks, averaging 21.5 points and 10.5 rebounds and hitting 32-of-50 from the floor in four consecutive UC wins.

        • Dark horse: Marquette. The 10th-seeded Golden Eagles could be playing with extra emotion as the result of coach Mike Deane's expected firing at the end of the season, and Deane is one of the league's best game coaches.

        There is not a team in the lower half of the bracket they can't beat, and they remain the only team since 1992 other than the Bearcats to win a title in UC's conference.

        • Tidbits: Memphis and South Florida began last week fighting for the second-place spot in the National Division behind UAB. They both lost twice and ended up opposite each other in the 8-9 game.

        • DePaul's ability to advance in the tournament and perhaps claim an NCAA Tournament bid will be largely dependent on the status of Richardson, who injured an ankle in Saturday's loss to UNC Charlotte and played only 13 minutes.

        • If Deane is let go, only four of the coaches who worked in the first C-USA tournament — in 1996 — would still be in place: Huggins, Louisville's Denny Crum, Charlie Spoonhour of Saint Louis and Perry Clark of Tulane.

       



Bearcats Stories
- UC the team to beat
UC women play for C-USA title

Captain and the Kids
REDS NOTEBOOK
Xavier has toughest road to title
XU women earn first A-10 tourney final
Larkin embraces role of mentor
Miami won't have to face hometown team
Sorry, Buckeyes: it's Michigan State again
Loss to Tennessee creates obstacles for Kentucky
TENNESSEE 68, KENTUCKY 61
NCAA INSIDER
NKU women to host regional tournament
TV doesn't offer enough hoops? Try Web sites
CINCINNATI BOYS BASKETBALL ROUNDUP
CINCINNATI BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW
CINCINNATI GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW
N.KY. BOYS REGIONAL DRAW
N.KY. GIRLS REGIONAL DRAW
Morrow's memories still golden
Ohio State, Cooper negotiating $1 million deal