Inside Marshall Sports

C-USA hoops to El Paso, the fallout

For the record, I am not crazy about the Conference USA basketball tournament moving to El Paso for 2011. For one thing, the chances of the Charleston papers staffing the event dwindled on the spot. (Though right now, air fare for that week in March is reasonable.)

But do bear in mind one thing: The league will be welcomed there like no other city. And that includes Memphis, which is the best site geographically and in regard to tourist-related activities. Memphis people have been hospitable enough, in the Beale Street/Tunica/Graceland sense, but have given the league the Bronx cheer otherwise.

And now, the whining commences in the Memphis paper. Props to Geoff Calkins for today’s entertainment.

Humor aside, I specifically remember the league kowtowing to Memphis, granting John Calipari’s request for a 14-game schedule in 2005-06, then only bumping it to a 16-game schedule the next year. Calipari even got to pick his “mirror” opponents, with an eye to jacking up the Tigers’ RPI.

What did the league get for that? It got smacked hard in the local media, led by the Commercial Appeal’s hatchet job on the opening day for the 2007 tournament. I figured the ADs wouldn’t forget that, and we saw that this week.

With all that, Memphis turns around and shows the same *exact* sense of entitlement Charleston showed when Wheeling seized the Super Six football championships about 16 years ago.

As I said before, the Tigers’ basketball program belongs in the SEC. The football program belongs in the Sun Belt. If they leave, we might miss them. A little bit.

That said … stay tuned for my two cents Monday on a few of the other actions by the athletic directors. When you put 12 of them in the same room, strange things can happen.

Reports from Destin

The Orlando Sentinel is covering the C-USA spring meeting at Destin, as well as the Memphis paper. Orlando is 425 miles and a time zome away from Destin, believe it or not.

Additionally, the league basketball schedule is changing … Look for Marshall to play its “East Division” rivals twice, though the standings will not assume divisions.

C-USA basketball tourney update

A little update here… good to see Memphis taking timeout from griping about Conference USA to make a solid pitch to get the hoops tournament back. Your update here, courtesy of the CA.

Just to recap my views on it, Memphis is the better site despite the bashing the conference receives from the home folks. Having been to Tulsa, the only advantage there is a way-cool arena that makes FedExForum look bland … from the outside, anyway. Of course, the FedEx has much, much, much more around it and Memphis is a much livelier place. … Still the best city in which Marshall has played a postseason tournament.

El Paso will appreciate the tournament more and is submitting the larger bid. Geography still kills it … and I know one vote it won’t get.

Houston? Ummmm… I’d rather see the thing in Hattiesburg. Really, I would.

Bowls, realignment and other stuff

First, I did notice the agreement between the former Motor City Bowl and the Big Ten. Hmmm… the folks in Detroit liked having Big Ten No. 7 so much, it settled for Big Ten No. 8! With a back-up agreement with the Sun Belt, we can take a deep breath and cross that off our possible itineraries.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a good arrangement for the Herd, giving the program a boost when it needed it. And Ford Field is a pretty good venue.

But I still don’t care for Detroit, didn’t care for the bowl officials and really, really didn’t care for $30 wi-fi, even if it didn’t come out of my pocket. And I made bloody sure those didn’t care for me — you could say I didn’t bring my West Virginia hospitality with me.

Oh, well… on to other topics, like conference expansion… though I like this about as much as a conference search.

The Orlando Sentinel has put a full-court press on the topic, including an Andrea Adelson column urging Central Florida to gun for the ACC. Seems ludicrous now, but after the Big Ten makes the first move, who knows? But really, the ACC could get through the next round intact, which I think that league wants.

I figure the Big East will survive, but may have to reinvent itself on the football side. And South Florida may have to drop its obvious opposition to UCF entering the league. With its serious upgrade in facilities and all those students that school may be the top school in a position to gravitate to a BCS league — yes, ahead of Memphis, whose football facilities were exposed during the week of the Marshall game.

As for Marshall’s chances, I have to put it behind UCF, Memphis and East Carolina. Losing Donnie Jones and giving Tom Herrion $400K per year didn’t help, I figure.

Speaking of Herrion, we’re going to see what he bring on short notice. Really, if he lands one starter or two legitimate contributors, that will be a bonus. He knows what’s out there, yes, but it gets slim by now … and you figure he won’t waste a scholarship on any warm body.

You may see this again, but here is a recap of late recruits after a coaching change:
— Ron Jirsa: Nobody, if memory and a check of the all-time rosters doesn’t betray me. As you may recall, Jirsa came along after the spring signing period.

— Donnie Jones: Pierre-Marie Altidor Cespedes and Tirrell Baines, plus transfers Chris Lutz, Octavius Spann and Brandon Powell. DJ admirably filled some immediate needs, but really went 1-for-3 on the transfers. Spann did have the offseason injuries from a car wreck, but I’m not sure that pans out otherwise.

Another great day for spring practice: Sunny, high 77.

Fulmer Cup standings

This is before the arrest of Marshall’s starting cornerbacks. Note who is leading the pack.

Scoreboard here.

C-USA projection, 2/28

Well… go to my post on Feb. 25, because nothing has changed. As you’ll see, I even picked correctly SMU’s win over Houston, coming off the heels of Houston’s win over Memphis.

Let’s start tackling Roger’s tiebreaker question, because if Marshall is going to climb out of the 4th seed, it likely will do so on a tiebreaker. The Herd could rise to No. 2 and that would certainly be on a tiebreaker. (UAB plays Memphis on Wednesday.) UTEP has clinched No. 1, no questions.

Head-to-head with Memphis is no good, period. That’s easy.

Others are tougher, in part because there are other big games, such as UAB-UTEP next Saturday. Tulsa plays SMU and Memphis. Memphis plays UAB and Tulsa. Marshall plays UTEP and SMU (oops).

Later tonight or maybe Monday, I’ll play a few things out.

C-USA projection, 2/25

OK, folks, the Herd gutted out a win at a truly lousy place to play and steamrolled Rice. That part of the script worked nicely … and can you believe the Herd has a chance to go 6-2 in Conference USA road games? Do that every year and you *will* have sustained success.

I’ll take a gold star for projecting Houston to beat Memphis. But for fun, I will pick the Cougs to turn around and boot one at SMU. It would be just like them, don’t you think?

Again, I’ll give two sets of projections, both picking the Herd to go 2-1 the rest of the way. The losses would be to UTEP or SMU … and I am reminded that the Herd has lost its regular season finale the last *two* years, in rather yucky fashion.

I am going to project UTEP to lose once, whether at Marshall or at home to UAB. But only once — the Miners are pretty potent, and have won the tough ones. Also I will take UAB to win at home against Memphis, and then Memphis turns around and beats Tulsa.

(If Marshall loses to UTEP)
1. UTEP 14-2
2. UAB 13-3
3. Memphis 12-4
4. Marshall 11-5
5. Tulsa 10-6
6. Southern Miss 8-8
7. Houston 8-8
8. SMU 7-9
9. UCF 7-9 (order doesn’t matter here)
10. East Carolina 3-13
11. Tulane 2-14
12. Rice 1-15

(If Marshall beats UTEP and loses to SMU, and UTEP then beats UAB)
1. UTEP 14-2
2. UAB 12-4
3. Memphis 12-4
4. Marshall 11-5
5. Tulsa 10-6
6. Southern Miss 8-8
7. Houston 8-8
8. SMU 7-9
9. UCF 7-9
10. East Carolina 3-13
11. Tulane 2-14
12. Rice 1-15

If Marshall can win out and finish 12-4, I think it can rise from the No. 4 seed in tiebreakers, unless it is in a simple head-to-head with Memphis. A word on tiebreakers: They have become a little messier after getting redefined last year. I have to read them over a few times to properly apply them.

Projected C-USA standings, Feb. 18

It goes without saying how big it was to beat UAB and Tulsa back-to-back. I’m more and more sold on this team’s toughness, it’s ability to win in any style of play. Stat of the day: Chris Lutz played *35* minutes, and it wasn’t for offensive reasons.

I’m going to go ahead and project the Herd for an 11-5 league record, which would be 4-1 the rest of the way. I like it to get through Tulane (who does have one or two best scorers back), Rice and UCF. But does the Herd lose to UTEP, because the Miners will probably win the league and are pretty good, or at SMU because the Mustangs are better and it’s a really lousy spot on the schedule?

With that, the projection:

1. UTEP 14-2 (Schedule is pretty tough. If Miners don’t lose to Marshall, it will be Tulsa or Southern Miss or UAB)
2. Memphis 12-4
3. UAB 12-4
4. Marshall 11-5
5. Tulsa 10-6
6-8. Southern Miss, Houston, UCF 8-8
9. SMU 7-9; 8-8 if it beats Marshall
10-12. Tulane, Rice and East Carolina 2-14 in the tie from hell. (Maybe Tulane gets one down the stretch)

Right now, I can pretty safely call this shot: Marshall vs. Tulsa in the Conference USA quarterfinals, March 11 at the BOK Center. Tulsa, as the host city, will get the “prime-time” slot, so that game will go off at 6:30 Central (slight change from previous years).

Just to thicken the plot: It seemed to me that Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik thinks his team got jobbed Wednesday night. I may write on that tonight.

UCF dumps Houston

… Thus helping ensure Marshall should/will finish in the top five spots, at the very least. One of these days, I’ll stop believing the Cougs are worth a hoot. …

ORLANDO (AP) — Marcus Jordan scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds and Central Florida’s late stout defense lifted the Knights to a 68-65 win over Houston on Tuesday night.

UCF (13-12, 5-6 Conference USA) held Houston without a field goal over the final 3:29 of the game.

Adam Brown missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Cougars that would have tied the game. But his miss was able to let the Knights beat Houston (13-12, 5-6) for the second time this season.

With Houston trailing 68-65, Aubrey Coleman missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 8.7 seconds remaining. UCF rebounded and the Cougars were forced to foul.

UCF’s Keith Clanton missed a 1-and-1 and Houston rebounded. The Knights fouled Kelvin Lewis, who missed two consecutive free throws, but the ball went out of bounds off a UCF player with nine-tenths of a second remaining, giving Houston a final chance to tie.

First projection, C-USA standings

With an educated guess here and an illogical hunch there … and I hope these all add up, but here is my first stab at projected Conference USA standings:

UTEP 14-2
UAB 13-3
Memphis 12-4
Tulsa 11-5
(large separation between bye teams and other eight)
Houston 9-7
Marshall 9-7
SMU 8-8
UCF 7-9
Southern Miss 7-9
Tulane, ECU and Rice 2-14 (in a nearly unbreakable 3-way tie)

I am trying to be optimistic about the Herd, and I think it will split the UAB-Tulsa stretch. The obvious guess is a loss at UAB and a win against Tulsa at home, because of venue and because … I am thinking the Blazers are pretty daggone good and the Golden Hurricane is not as strong as predicted.

Here’s the big “but” here: I guess I’m going to have to take SMU seriously. Marshall has never lost to the Mustangs since joining C-USA, but finishing the regular season with a trip to Dallas is not very appetizing.

So I’m guessing the Herd will get a 6 seed heading into the tournament, but I may be giving Houston a little too much credit (like I usually do). I’m banking on a 5-2 finish for the Cougs; if that doesn’t happen, Marshall would be a 5 seed.

That wouldn’t be so bad. The 5 seed has beaten the 4 seed in the second round the last two years. And while Tulsa has the home-city advantage, the Golden Hurricane will not be playing on its home floor.

I saw UTEP pull away from Tulsa, and I cautiously like the Miners to win the thing. If UAB finishes 13-3 and gets to the finals or maybe just semis, the Blazers should get an NCAA berth.

If you don’t like this projection, don’t worry. It will get wrecked, soon enough.