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2007 Conference USA Tournament Preview

2007 Conference USA Tournament Preview

2007 Conference USA Tournament Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/06/2007

SPOILER ALERT: Don't read any further if you don't want to know who wins the Conference USA Tournament.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but Memphis is going to win the CUSA Tournament.

I know that statement is about as shocking as the fact that the Bush Administration doesn't care about The Troops as much as they claim (see: Walter Reed). But it's pretty much a done deal that the team that's gone 32-1 in Conference USA over the past two seasons is going to add another banner to the collection in a few days.

And why not? It shouldn't be any other way in the conference that bears the name of this great nation. The United States has always been about total and complete domination. It's about inherent superiority, and victory by any means necessary. The rest of the teams in CUSA might as well be Eastern European satellites. They don't stand a chance against the Mighty Tigers and the only thing left to be determined is how bloody and how ruthless Memphis will be on its way to the throne.

The Tigers get their coronation in front of their home fans. As if they needed any extra advantages, the CUSA Tournament will be held from Wednesday to Saturday at FedEx Forum in Memphis. That means that the team with the most overall talent, a pair of all-conference performers, and the best coach in a conference full of castoffs also gets home-court advantage.

If someone is going to steal this automatic bid - and that would truly be one of the Upsets of the Year - then it will likely be one of the Golden Boys. That would be Central Florida (Golden Knights), Tulsa (Golden Hurricanes) or Southern Mississippi (Golden Eagles). Each team plays outstanding defense, and on any given night they could have one or two players hitting from the outside and take down the champs.

I don't want to crush anyone's hopes or dreams, but it just isn't going to happen.

Here's an overview of the Conference USA Tournament:

THE FAVORITE:

Memphis - Clearly the Cats are the class of the conference. They currently have the nation's longest winning streak (19 games) and possess the second-longest home winning streak (29 games) in the country. They're good. They faced only nine spreads of less than 10 points this year and are 5-4 against those numbers. Beyond that they were dominant, posting a +17.1 margin of victory in conference games. However, they were just 2-3-1 ATS versus Tulsa, SMU and Southern Miss - the three best defensive teams in the league not named "Memphis".

THE CONTENDERS:

Central Florida - The UCF Golden Knights may be the most underrated program in the nation. This is their fourth 20-win season in the past five years. They were also very good on the road in CUSA this season, going 4-4 SU and 6-2 ATS away from home. Also, three of their road defeats came in overtime. They have four double-digit scorers and are the best shooting team in the league - from the field, from the line and from 3-point land.

Houston - Very quietly the Cougars slid into the No. 3 slot in CUSA. You could probably thank that absolutely malicious nonconference schedule for toughening up these kitties. Tom Penders is no stranger to success, and if his boys get hot they could make some noise. The trouble is they are the worst shooting team in the league and the worst defensive team in the league. Other than that they're fine. Oh, and they're just 5-11 SU on the road an in neutral site games.

THE SLEEPER:
Southern Mississippi - Larry Eustachey has put partying with drunken sorority girls on hold just long enough to juvenate the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss has the league's second-best scoring defense, third-best scoring differential and its top rebounding margin. They are just 7-7 SU in their last 14 games, but what is most impressive is the 15-4-1 ATS run they've put together this year. They're better than people think. Four of their last eight losses were by five points or less. This team is young and inexperienced, and prone to the occasional letdown, but they can play some ball.

Tulsa - The No. 1 thing that the Hurricanes have going for them is their remarkable depth. They have 10 guys averaging at least 14 minutes per game and no one averages more than 27. As a team, they are average but consistent. With the exception of stats related to assist-to-turnover ratios, Tulsa is in the top five in every major statistical category. They do have trouble scoring at times, but they play great defense and are 7-4 ATS on the road this season. They are just 1-6 ATS as a favorite lately.

MATCH-UPS:
(Second round games)
Central Florida vs. Rice-UTEP - Rice beat UTEP in the only meeting this season, and they should be the favorites with dynamic scorer Morris Almond (24.1) on their side. But there's little value with Rice, which went 4-10 in road and neutral site games. UCF should dominate in the quarters, but don't lay more than seven points.

Houston vs. Southern Miss.-SMU - Southern Miss and SMU will likely play a low-scoring grinder for the right to face the Cougars in the quarters. SMU center Bamba Hall is an X-factor. The 7-1 center broke his finger in mid-February and is questionable for the tournament. I do think that the USM-SMU winner can upset Houston, given the Cougars inconsistencies on offense.

Memphis vs. Marshall-UAB - Memphis beat these two teams three times by an average of 19.3 points. Gulp.

Tulane vs. Tulsa-East Carolina - Tulane is 8-3 SU lately, losing only at Memphis and Houston and at home by one point to Tulsa. I know I'll be staying away from this quarters match-up since I haven't seen enough of any of these clubs.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Watch Memphis dominate. That's about all I can say. They're going to tear apart their first two opponents, but I don't think there's going to be any value betting on the Tigers because the lines in those games will be around 20 points. I do think that whoever survives the other semifinal can give the Tigers a game in the title game. Just make sure that you take the points if Houston and Central Florida meet in the semis. The two teams played two overtime games this year with the dog covering both times.

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Re: 2007 Conference USA Tournament Preview

Breaking down Conference USA
Tue, Mar 6, 2007
By Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Just listen to SMU coach Matt Doherty - part salesman, part booster.

''Look what we did against Memphis,'' he said Tuesday. ''If we play up to our potential, we could make a run in this event.''

The Conference USA tournament begins Wednesday and Memphis, ranked No. 5 in the nation, looms over the field.

Doherty, like other coaches, is trying to bolster his team, hoping for a tournament title and an automatic spot in the NCAAs. He surely has some reason for encouragement - SMU, the league's 11th seed, challenged Memphis before losing 64-61 in the final regular-season game.

''We're all spin doctors,'' Doherty said. ''You spin everything to motivate your team.''

Memphis (27-3, 16-0) and Winthrop of the Big South Conference were the only two teams in the nation to go undefeated in their conferences. The Tigers have won 19 straight, the longest winning streak in the nation, and are set for the NCAAs.

While Memphis has a No. 8 RPI, no other C-USA team is ranked higher than Houston's No. 96.

''I think it's tough unless someone wins it besides Memphis,'' Doherty said. ''I don't know if any of our teams have done enough outside the league to warrant that. We're not going to kid ourselves. I think that's just the fact.''

The Mustangs play Wednesday against sixth-seed Southern Mississippi. The tournament opener features Rice, the seventh seed, against 10th-seeded UTEP. Marshall plays UAB, and the first day closes with fifth-seeded Tulsa against last-place East Carolina.

The top four seeds - Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and Tulane - received first-round byes and play Thursday in the quarterfinals.

UAB (15-15) reached last year's tournament final before losing 57-47 to Memphis but is in the middle of the pack this season. The Blazers closed with losses against Southern Mississippi and Tulane.

''It's another opportunity,'' UAB coach Mike Davis said. ''You have three opportunities. You have the nonconference schedule, the conference schedule and the conference tournament. That's why they installed the conference tournament, so it will give a team that last chance to see if they want to win some games.''

UTEP coach Tony Barbee, an assistant under Memphis coach John Calipari before taking this job this season, agrees Memphis is the only assured bid.

His Miners (14-16) are trying to build off a late-season game against Memphis. The Tigers escaped El Paso with a 78-67 win, but Barbee thinks league balance gives his team a chance.

''Hopefully, we can create a little magic here,'' Barbee said. ''In this league, obviously, Memphis is head and shoulders above everybody else. But then you take (seeds) 2 through 11, there's a lot of parity.''

''We've proven on any given night, we can be as good as anybody in the country, if we're making shots,'' he added. ''We've also proven the other side. If we're not, we can be as bad as anybody.''

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