Inside Marshall Sports

C-USA preseason poll note

Just found out last week that the coaches aren’t doing a preseason poll anymore in Conference USA. The media is filling the void and I get to jump in the middle of it. Sooooo … I’d better get reseachin’ … And if you want to throw in your two cents, be my guest.

Why I care about C-USA baseball

Three teams in the NCAA, all advance to the super regionals… East Carolina roars back from 6 down to beat South Carolina; Southern Miss and Rice roll… That’s pretty big.

Charges reduced, and other stuff

Well, it seems that after a “detective’s mistake,” the pot charges against DeQuan Bembry and Darius Marshall will be reduced to a misdemeanor. Good news … I guess.

Personally, I’m looking for coach Mark Snyder to bring the hammer down on Bembry. You can argue that the latest alleged transgression is not that big a deal, college kids do this stuff all the time, or pot should be legalized or whatever, but he violated one precept: When you’re already in trouble with the law, you might want to behave.

Losing Bembry would, it seems, put a bigger dent in the Herd’s depth chart than any loss of Marshall. I thought Bembry was really coming into his own as a cover cornerback, even if you take into account the suspect receiving corps he faced in the spring. The CB corps is probably as deep as it has been since 2003 or thereabouts, but it won’t be nearly as talented without Bembry.

And don’t forget this: Bembry is the most promising punt returner on the team and it’s not close. As long as he catches the ball every time, he is a breakaway threat the Herd hasn’t seen on punts.

That’s a heck of a dilemma for a coach riding the hot seat. I only wish him the proper wisdom during what I truly, truly hope is a looooooong and less eventful summer.

If you saw my somewhat convoluted Monday column (it started out as some moping about Marshall’s lack of NFL draftees and morphed from there), you may notice I acknowledged the Fulmer Cup. Along those lines, here is the expected nod to the Bembry/Marshall case.

A quick note on basketball: Finals week is under way, with that means one Nigel Spikes is entering the final lap of gaining his eligibility. All is expected to go well, but we shall not throw the appropriate confetti until the official word comes out. When that happens, coach Jones and Co. will be down to seeing if Hassan Whiteside can sneak out a late test score.

On the scheduling front, it’s still early, and DJ has a loooot of work to do. Just about all the previous one-for-one deals have expired, save for a return trip to Old Dominion, so new ones must be cultivated. A Louisville/Kentucky-type “buy game” is desirable, as well.

Also … don’t be surprised if the Herd lands in another “exempt” tournament much like the Glenn Wilkes Classic last season. But here’s the kicker: It just might be a whole lot closer to home than Daytona Beach. Stay tuned…

Back to football, East Carolina is getting all sorts of love, including a top-25 designation by one CNNSI.com writer, who thinks the Pirates have the tools to be Conference USA’s first BCS buster.

As much as I like the Pirates, I won’t go that far. Staples says the schedule isn’t easy, and I concur — but for the pure fun factor, this slate ranks pretty high. After you get through WVU and Virginia Tech, notice the final game — Southern Miss at ECU — a GREAT piece of scheduling by the C-USA office. That game is going to decide *something*, don’t you think?

About a week ago, Phil Stukenbourg of the Commercial Appeal in Memphis took a stab at the C-USA order: (East) 1. East Carolina, 2. Southern Miss, 3. Memphis, 4. Marshall, 5. UAB, 6. UCF (West) 1. Houston, 2. Tulsa, 3. UTEP, 4. Tulane, 5. SMU, 6. Rice.

I kind of buy it, with two possible exceptions: After its collapse in 2008, you wonder if UCF will come flying out of nowhere for the third time in five years, and I fear that the June Jones regime will click at SMU, even if nobody in Dallas really cares. As for Marshall, it can impress me a little bit by winning its first two league roadies, at Memphis and Tulane. (The ECU game, MU’s homecoming, comes in the middle.)

And finally, if you didn’t read Norman Chad’s column on the subject in our paper some time back, I offer yet another reason I am not jumping on the Twitter bandwagon.

May the Herd football program hit 925 on the APR. Please.

What’s on deck, plus Calipari

I will be serving up a quick feature on that mystery wide receiver, Tavaris Thompson. The time has come for this guy to take a big step, as coach Mark Snyder has mentioned on several occasions. Will he?

In the meantime, I must admit to more interest in John Calipari leaving Memphis for Kentucky. This development is E-E-E-Enormous on soooooo many levels. The angst from the Commercial Appeal has been downright humorous.

Best read from there? Columnist Geoff Calkins, who doesn’t mask his bitterness over the whole affair, is leading charge for the U of M to lure Bruce Pearl from the other end of the state. Won’t happen — it won’t, right? — but it would shake up everything in that long stretch of land between Virginia and Arkansas.

The thought here? That school needs a home-run hire — somebody better than USC’s Tim Floyd — to avoid falling into the Conference USA pack. That will be verrrrrry interesting.

Angst in Memphis; spring football begins

Go ahead and put the city of Memphis on suicide alert, with John Calipari and Kentucky apparently courting.

Piecing together a spring preview for Tuesday a.m., Coach Snyder tells me a few position changes, etc., including:
— Landis Provancha is sitting out the spring to heal his shoulder. That one hurts, because he was in a good battle for a guard spot.
— Cory Hart will be limited this spring, also with a shoulder injury. Look for him in 7-on-7 and drills like that, but he won’t bang around.
— Devin Arrington begins the spring at strong safety, but the idea is to move him to strong-side linebacker behind Brandon Burns. But first, John Saunders must crank up his game.
— Center John Bruhin tweaked his ankle, and will attempt to return Thursday. He needs a big spring, and the Herd needs him to have a big spring.

More in the a.m., as I said… Practices will be open to the public (no spies, please) on Thursday and Saturday morning.

Ramblings from the state tournament

Here at the state basketball tournament, where I’ll get to see a little of future Herd WR Aaron Dobson, whom I hope turns out more like Denero Marriott and nothing like Hiram Moore:

— A fan asked me how I would grade the Donnie Jones era so far, and I told him a C+. I think I can stand on that, with those two C-USA tournament debacles accounting for as much as a full grade reduction.

— You probably won’t see much on it this week because we have the state basketball tournament, but Marshall is beginning its C-USA baseball season this weekend at Memphis. I was most impressed that the Herd nearly handed UVa its first loss of the season, and I’ve got a good eye on homegrown freshman Thor Meeks, who has always hit like a “Thor.” Hopefully, I’ll get a game or two during the March 27-29 series with East Carolina at “The App.”

— If you’re somehow feeling dismayed by the Herd’s close 6-4 victory over West Virginia State, don’t be. I get to watch the Yellow Jackets several times a year, and there is no such thing as a cheap win over those guys. With the exception of Chad Johnson getting raked for four runs in the seventh, that’s a *great* pitching performance.

— Yeah, I saw the two Charleston papers get all indignant over the Ridpath settlement. Which is fine, but almost none of the “offenders” were still around. Only Layton Cottrill is still working for the University, the case dragged on so long. This I know: As stupid as MU can be at times, I cannot find David Ridpath to be a sympathetic figure. And yes, I got e-mails back in 2002 or 2003 from “Bobby Sue Pruett,” and I challenged him to divulge his true identity. You can figure this one out.

— I think I’m going to stop at two sets of brackets, in an ESPN media challenge. Some common themes: Louisville and Memphis will meet in a national semifinal; Villanova will win the region everybody else is picking Pitt to take; the choking Panthers will lose to Xavier; Western Kentucky will reach the Sweet 16; and the Big Ten will go down in a slimy heap — as it should; and Rick Pitino will hoist the big trophy.

— I, too, an distraught that only four at-large bids went to “non-BCS” conferences. (And have I told you how much I dearly HATE having the BCS dragged into basketball like that?) You can’t sell me on Arizona being in, nor can you run Michigan and Minnesota by me.

— Memphis fans expended way too much energy over wanting that No. 1 seed. But boy, will John Calipari run the “us vs. the world” theme to its utmost effectiveness. That, along with better defense and foul shooting than last year, will get the Tigers to Detroit.

— Spring footy is 13 days away, isn’t it?

Live from Memphis (will be updated)

Hello there, Herd fans… I am live as the only Charleston writer at the Conference USA basketball tournament, watching Marshall take on the Rice Owls. First funny thing: Curtis “Quick Draw” Shaw, who has ejected Rice’s mascot this season, is officiating.

John Calipari was named coach of the year and UCF’s Jermaine Taylor was the player of the year.

The weather took a turn south (or north, actually). It was 78 degrees Tuesday, but won’t hit 50 today … and there is a winter storm watch for a possible ice storm kicking in tonight. Hey, when did this become Cleveland?

Crowd is what you expect for the first game in the first round… pretty empty. The MU pep band is here (they stayed at my hotel), and a handful of the most intelligent Herd fans on Earth. I’ll say it again: Memphis is the best-ever site in which Marshall has played a league tournament, and that surely will not change when the tournament moves to Tulsa next year. (And by the way, Oklahoma casinos are garbage.)

But the Rice folks have really mailed it in. Sammy the Owl isn’t even here, there is no pep band and I’m not sure they have a single fan here. … Oops, I looked back and saw four of them standing up.

Pitts, Markel, Shaq, Williams, Lutz will start… let’s roll!

HERD 6, RICE 6 at 15:31 … The Herd took three solid minutes to score, but got something going when Tirell Baines entered and took it straight to the hole. Markel got rejected but figured out how to get over Stanton on the next try. Then Markel stole the ball out front — sweet play — and dunked hard at the other end. Rice ball after Baines walked in the lane.

HERD 10, RICE 8 AT 10:47 … Good trend: Marshall is playing great defense on perimeter, holding Owls to 0-2 from 3-point range and forcing 7 turnovers. Bad trend: Herd is 1-of-5 from 3, and missed a good chance to seperate. Also, Rice is going 10-5 on the boards and Marshall hasn’t sniffed on offensive rebound. Rice ball after Darryl Merthie was called for a walk (that was BS — he was fouled).

HERD 12, RICE 11 AT 7:54 … The miss that hurts: Merthie stole it, went to the other end and choked on the chippie, them Markel missed on the putback. Both teams are 5-of-15, though Rice finally canned a 3-pointer. Owls ball after Lutz walked making his move from the top of the key.

HERD 14, RICE 14 AT 4:53 … My gosh, everybody’s tight out here… Markel should have 8 or 10 by now and Shaq went 2 feet short on a 3-footer. Herd called timeout on an inbounds play.

HERD 15, RICE 14 at 3:56 … Rick McCann and I have both fielded the ball, as Rice cannot hold onto it. 12 turnovers for those dirty birds… Not that Marshall is playing any more crisply: Herd negated a free throw with a lane violation and Lutz airballed a wide-open 3 on the fast break. Halftime will be a welcome sight.

herd 22, rice 20 at the half… Yeah, I’m lowercasing that thing. A Pitts 3-pointer salvages a turnover filled mess… I’ll sum it up in a bit.

Rice is 8-of-25, 32 percent with 14 turnovers. Marshall is 7-of-24, 29.2 percent, with 11 turnovers. Herd is minus-4 in rebounding and has four players with two fouls. That does include O. Spann and Kore White, but also Tirrell Baines and Chris Lutz. For Rice, big men Aleks Perka and Trey Stanton have two apiece, along with Suleiman Braimoh.

Here’s a fun tidbit: Kore White sank two free throws, his first successes this season. He went 0-for-3 against Rio Grande.

A little note: The football schedule will be out in about an hour. Conference USA gets the Bad Timing Award on this one. With all going on this week, it has ZERO chance of making our section front, and I might not even do the story. I haven’t decided.

And onto the second half …

RICE 27, MARSHALL 26 at 15:33 … Not a good start, as the Owls’ Connor Frizzelle has two free throws off the timeout. Shaq missed a free throw on the three-point play, Lutz walked *again* … Herd 2-of-7 this half, Rice 3-of-5.

RICE 31, MARSHALL 26 at 14:43 … It’s looking BAD now… Baines missed a good shot inside and Merthie palmed the ball. Rodney Foster is starting to take over after a scoreless first half and Frizzelle has 10. Marshall ball off the timeout.

RICE 36, MARSHALL 28 AT 11:27 … And it’s looking worse. Rice gets the ball off Shaq’s walking call, the 967th such violation for the Herd this game. All three Herd baskets have come on putbacks. The halfcourt offense is stuck in quicksand. And even worse, Rice is showing signs of warming up from 3-point range, with Ghoram hitting one.

RICE 43, MARSHALL 30 AT 9:53 … I drove this year, so I am going home tomorrow. Marshall has 16 turnovers, 6 this half. Rice has no turnovers this half.

RICE 43, MARSHALL 34 at 7:54 … The Herd has turned up the defense, forcing two turnovers. The points aren’t coming so fast, though, as the Herd gets two Shaq FTs and a Pitts basket on the fast break. Lutz is 1-of-8, missing a pull-up jumper way short.

SAME SCORE AT 6:42 … Rice takes a timeout to settle down after Lutz and Pitts miss wide-open 3s. Marshall is 2-of-20 from behind the arc, 11-of-41 overall.

RICE 44, HERD 38 AT 4:51 … Merthie has split four free throws, slowing down the rally. Good news: Rice hasn’t scored an FG in a long, long time.

RICE 46, HERD 42 at 3:43 … And now, the officials are slowing the rally, giving Rice possession on a rebound Ghoram CLEARLY knocked out of bounds. The Herd bench went nuts. The Herd went down 8 by blowing a great defensive stop by failing to rebound, but Markel went strong to the hoop and Merthie stole the inbounds pass and converted it.

RICE 51, HERD 44 AT 2:23 … The Owls picked up two quick baskets, including a Foster 3-pointer after the defender inexplicably released from him.

RICE 53, HERD 48 AT 1:06 … Shaq scores and Merthie again scores off a steal, giving 4 quick points… but the Owls are going to stay ahead in a foulfest, I figure.

RICE 58, HERD 54 at 19.4 … omg… Marshall had a 3-point deficit and the ball, and Darryl Merthie committed an unforced turnover going into the lane. That’s going to sting for a long, long time.

Final 60-59… wasn’t that close, really.

Markel picked third team

Just looking over my last C-USA projection, I think I had my wires crossed on UTEP… oops.

Anyway, Markel Humphrey made third team again. As you know, I thought he deserved consideration for second team, but that field was pretty crowded. The rundown:

FIRST TEAM
Aubrey Coleman, Houston, G, 6‐4, 200, Jr., Houston, Texas
Tyreke Evans, Memphis, G, 6‐6, 219, Fr., Chester, Pa.
Stefon Jackson, UTEP, G, 6‐5, 185, Sr., Philadelphia, Pa.
Jerome Jordan, Tulsa, C, 7‐0, 245, Jr. Kingston, Jamaica
Jermaine Taylor, UCF, G, 6‐4, 210, Sr., Tavares, Fla.
SECOND TEAM
Antonio Anderson, Memphis, G, 6‐6, 214, Sr., Lynn, Mass.
Paul Delaney III, UAB, G, 6‐2, 202, Sr., Decatur, Ga.
Robert Dozier, Memphis, F, 6‐9, 220, Sr., Lithonia, Ga.
Ben Uzoh, Tulsa, G, 6‐3, 200, Jr., San Antonio, Texas
Robert Vaden, UAB, G/F, 6‐5, 205, Sr., Indianapolis, Ind.
THIRD TEAM
Randy Culpepper, UTEP, G, So., 6‐0, 165, So., Memphis, Tenn.
Markel Humphrey, Marshall, F, 6‐6, 230, Sr., Atlanta, Ga.
Lawrence Kinnard, UAB, F, 6‐8, 208, Sr., Memphis, Tenn.
Kelvin Lewis, Houston, G, 6‐4, 190, Jr., Fort Worth, Texas
Jeremy Wise, Southern Miss, G, 6‐2, 165, Jr., Jackson, Miss.

I thought Delaney was undervalued on second team and no Southern Miss player deserved a sniff, but otherwise a pretty solid outfit.

Revised C-USA projection

After UTEP turned around and poleaxed UAB in the desert (BTW, that is NOT good news for the Herd), my new projection:

1. Memphis 16-0 (locked up now at 15-0)
2. Tulsa 12-4 (locked up now at 11-4)
3. UAB 11-5
4. Houston 10-6
5. UTEP 9-7
6. UCF 7-9
7. Marshall 7-9
8. Tulane 7-9
9. East Carolina 5-11
10. Rice 4-12
11. Southern Miss 4-12
12. SMU 3-11

Saturday’s picks: Memphis over Tulane, UAB over Marshall, Tulsa over Rice, UCF over ECU (grudgingly), Houston over SMU, UTEP over Southern Miss.

As I have outlined earlier, a UCF/Marshall/Tulane tiebreaker would be treated as a “miniconference,” where UCF would be 2-1, Marshall 2-2 and Tulane 1-2.

The only way I can see Marshall falling to No. 8 is if Tulane beats Memphis at FedEx Forum. I give that absolutely, positively no shot. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So look for Marshall to open at noon CDT next Wednesday, probably against Rice… Maybe Southern Miss.

The only way I see Marshall rising to No. 6 is with a win over UAB and finishing all alone at 8-8. Not likely, but possible … this Herd is playing some pretty tough basketball.

If the Herd gets into a two-team tiebreaker with UCF or Tulane, it loses either. Both of those teams somehow beat Tulsa.

So I’m feeling excited about getting out of the 8-9 game, and getting day games. Sportswriters looooove day games, if you didn’t know.

Postseason C-USA awards

I have until 3 p.m. Friday to vote on Conference USA awards… I’ll probably unload it by Wednesday, as I will be covering the West Virginia Conference tournament later in the week. So if you want to lobby me for votes, do it quickly.

My thoughts at this point:

All-Conference: Markel Humphrey gets at least a second-team vote from me. Considering the way he has carried his team down the stretch — playing center on one or two bad feet — he deserves first-team consideration. After Tyreke Evans of Memphis, Aubrey Coleman of Houston, Stefon Jackson of UTEP and possibly Jermaine Taylor of UCF, I might cast the “homer” vote.

Player of the year: You see my thoughts above … I must reconcile Evans and what he has done for Memphis vs. what kind of supporting cast. I am at a slight disadvantage only seeing Evans on TV. Coleman really impressed me in person, and I saw Jackson last year. This isn’t an easy pick (I hear you … shrug my shoulders and vote for Markel, right?).

I’ll have to strike Taylor from the running, though. You can definitely argue that UCF would be dreadful without him, but hey, he missed that game-tying shot *badly* at Marshall. If you’re player of the year, you hit those.

All-freshman team: With Evans the only absolute shoo-in on the 10-man list, I’ll definitely vote for Shaquille Johnson and probably for Damier Pitts. I’ll strike the pair from UCF and give a good, long look at the others.

Freshman of the year: Duh… if this isn’t unanimous, I surrender.

Newcomer of the year: Duh, Part 2 … Coleman, and it’s not close.

All-defensive team: You can only pick five, and it’s daggone tempting to vote for all four Memphis players nominated (Anderson, Dozier, Evans, Taggart). Shaquille Johnson can make this in the future, but there are too many great candidates on this ballot.

Defensive player of the year: This will be TOUGH. I’ll probably bounce this one off of Donnie Jones before voting.

Sixth player of the year: Wesley Witherspoon of Memphis is the only nominee. Think about it — aren’t all the good sixth-man candidates part-time starters anyway?

As I said, I will accept lobbying for the next 24 hours, maybe 36.