Friday, January 05, 2001

Parity puts C-USA title up for grabs

UC no longer dominating force

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The University of Cincinnati is nowhere near the dominating team it was a season ago, but that doesn't mean anything to the rest of Conference USA.

        All the other teams know is this: UC has won the regular-season title five straight seasons, since the conference started, but appears more vulnerable this season.

        “Coach explains to you when he recruits you that when you put this jersey on, teams are going to come gunning for you no matter who they are,” UC sophomore Kenny Satterfield said.

        Conference coaches are saying the league is tougher than ever. Translation: There is more parity. There is no landslide favorite but several good teams with a chance to win on any given night.

        C-USA teams played 20 nonconference games against ranked opponents, but won just four.

        UC is the only league team ranked (at No.25), and DePaul is the only other one that has been in the Top 25. South Florida received a vote in the most recent Associated Press poll.

        Every C-USA team except Houston is among the top 140 in the Ratings Percentage Index; seven are in the top 100.

        “There's not an easy game for you,” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “It's going to be an interesting run.”

        Here's a team-by-team look at the league, based on the preseason coaches poll.


        • Cincinnati (9-3): The Bearcats have won five of their last six games but enter league play coming off a disappointing loss to Toledo. They have been inconsistent and need center Donald Little to stay out of foul trouble.

        • DePaul (8-4, 1-0): The Blue Demons are the hottest team, with four straight victories. They are the second-best offensive unit in C-USA, averaging 80.2 ppg. DePaul made 12 of 23 attempts from 3-point range against Fairfield. Five players average in double figures in scoring, led by Bobby Simmons (18.2). Freshman Imari Sawyer leads the league in assists (6.83).

        • Charlotte (8-4): The 49ers have lost three of their last five games but boast an offense that ranks No.1 in the league (84.2 ppg). They average more 3-pointers a game than any other team in the nation (10.17) and have one of the league's best newcomers in freshman Rodney White (20.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg).

        • Louisville (4-9): The Cardinals are off to their worst start in 30 years under coach Denny Crum. They are getting little production inside. They lost two straight games at home by 23 points (to Oregon and Dayton). Sophomore Erik Brown, a transfer from Morehead State who sat out the first semester, helps. But Louisville could struggle.

        • Marquette (5-5): No opponent has shot better than 46.6 percent against the Golden Eagles, whose defense is improving. They held Dayton to 38 percent shooting but lost 61-60. Marquette leads the league in scoring defense, 3-point percentage defense and rebounding margin.

        • Saint Louis (8-6, 0-1): The Billikens are coming off a nice victory over St.Bonaventure (76-63) Wednesday night. Maurice Jeffers (14.6 ppg) has more than doubled his scoring from a season ago. Marque Perry has been steady at point guard. The strength of the Billikens might be their defense; only one opponent has shot better than 50 percent, and seven have shot 40 percent or less.


        • South Florida (8-4): B.B. Waldon, a 6-foot-8 junior, is one of the top players in the league (19.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg). He and Altron Jackson (19.2 ppg) — both preseason first-team picks and ranked Nos.2 and 4 in scoring in the conference — will help the Bulls contend for the C-USA title. Over the Bulls' last seven games, No.12 Wisconsin was the only opponent to shoot better than 38.6 percent against them. Opponents are turning over the ball an average of 19.3 times a game. If this team plays tough, it will compete for an NCAA berth.

        • Memphis (6-8, 0-1): The Tigers can only hope their tough early-season schedule will help them during league play. They started 2-6 with losses to Temple, Stanford, Utah, Arkansas and Tennessee. Memphis is starting two freshmen but is dangerous because of Kelly Wise, the team's leading scorer (15.3) and the league's top rebounder (10.9).

        • UAB (7-5): The Blazers have been hurt by injuries to Sidney Ball (knee), Myron Ransom (knee) and Morris Finley (back). They are relying on LeAndrew Bass, David Walker and three junior-college transfers who have played well at times. With so much inexperience, it might be an up-and-down season.

        • Southern Miss (10-2, 1-0): The Golden Eagles have the best overall record of C-USA teams. They have beaten Arkansas and Memphis, and their only losses are to Iowa State and Auburn. This is a deep, experienced and better shooting team than Southern Miss has had in recent years. David Wall is the leading scorer (16.4 ppg), but he is getting help from Vandarel Jones (10.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and talented newcomer Elvin Mims (11.5 ppg).

        • Houston (3-9): The Cougars have lost seven of their last eight games and are No.191 in the RPI. They have lost to some good teams (Georgetown, Connecticut, LSU, Texas) but are struggling to score against everyone. Houston's goal is to be competitive and maintain some confidence. Sophomore George Williams is averaging 16.5 points and 8.8 rebounds over his last four games.

        • Tulane (7-5): Depth has been a problem. First-year coach Shawn Finney has just seven scholarship players and two walk-ons. His team averages 20.4 turnovers a game. Brandon Spann averages a team-high 18.2 ppg and a league-best 2.67 steals a game.


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