As the Conference USA tournament starts today in Louisville, the talk centers on more than just basketball. For the second consecutive year the league finds itself with one of its marquee schools hosting the tournament, saddled with a losing record and a lame-duck coach.
Surely when league officials announced that Memphis would host the conference tournament at The Pyramid in 2000 and Louisville in 2001 at Freedom Hall they couldnt have imagined the problems both schools would face. Last year it was the Tic Price scandal, a losing U of M team, and a fan base that was turned off from Tiger basketball. The result was a disappointing gate.
This year it is ousted icon Denny Crum and a terrible Louisville team (12-18; 8-8 in C-USA). At least the school came to terms with Crum last week making the tournament a final hurrah for the longtime coach. Last year the tournament was overshadowed by talk of Calipari -- would he come to the University of Memphis? This year it is Rick Pitino, the former Kentucky coach and Calipari friend. Will he end up at Louisville and will the Cards make the announcement during the tournament?
Pitino withdrew from consideration for the UNLV job where former U of M athletic director Charles Cavagnaro had wooed the fiery Italian for several weeks. Speculation is strong that the former head coach of the Boston Celtics will settle again in the Bluegrass State, this time at the arch rival of Kentucky -- Louisville.
Meanwhile, Conference USA has suffered through a dismal season and enters its post-season tournament with no ranked teams and only one considered to be a lock for the NCAA. DePaul, South Florida, and Memphis had less than stellar seasons. Charlotte and Marquette were hot and cold. Maybe the best team in the league, Southern Miss, (21-7; 11-5) is flying well below the radar of the national press.
The most intriguing matchup on the first day of tournament play pits numbe-8 UAB (16-13; 8-8) vs. number-9 Louisville at 7 p.m. EST. The Blazers beat Louisville at Freedom Hall 74-57 just 10 days okay so UAB should not lack confidence. For Louisville, every game it plays could be the last in the storied career of Crum. That and the home court advantage should provide a lift for the U of L.
The winner of that game takes on number-one seed Cincinnati. The Bearcats have dominated the conference since C-USA first formed in 1996. Tiger fans may be pulling for Louisville to play Cincinnati and beat the Bearcats in the quarterfinals Thursday. The teams split two games during the regular season.
If Memphis can win its first game on Thursday against the winner of number-5 Marquette (14-13; 9-7) and Tulane (9-20; 2-14), and Louisville advances, that would set up a semi-final repeat of last Saturdays game between the Tigers and the Cardinals. The Tigers would not lack motivation in that one, as Calipari really poured it on his team in a grueling Sunday practice following the season-ending loss to Louisville. Calipari said he took them down to the level of spit on the ground.
But the action on the floor will not be the only thing happening in Louisville. This can be a contentious group. Often the action off the court is as good as the play on it. We will have a report every day from behind the scenes. Stay tuned.
Green and Logan Take Top Honors
Cincinnati junior guard Steve Logan and Southern Miss head coach James Green, who were both instrumental in leading their teams to the Conference USA regular season co-championship, today earned the league's top two individual honors as Player of the Year and Ray Meyer Coach of the Year, respectively.
Logan, who enters the Conference USA Tournament as one of the hottest players in the nation, led the Bearcats at least a share of their sixth straight C-USA regular season title. The 6-0 junior has been UC's leading scorer in 13 of the last 15 games and was C-USA's leading scorer in league play at 20.9. The Cleveland, Ohio native has scored at least 20 points in 10 games this season, including five of the last nine and has a pair of 30-point performances. At one point this season, Logan was Cincinnati's leading scorer in 11 straight games, the Bearcats' longest such streak since Pat Cummings led the team in scoring in the last 19 games of the 1978-79 campaign. Logan needs seven points to move in among the top 25 scorers in school history and already ranks fifth in career three-pointers (158).
Rick Pitino has agreed to meet with Louisville A.D. Tom Jurich this weekend in Southern Florida according to the Louisville Courier-Journal
. Kentucky is a lovely place to live and a lovely place to raise children. My wife (Joanne) really grew to love the state the last three or four years we lived there. She is very much in favor of it,'' Pitino told the newspaper shooting down one rumor going around -- that his wife objected to returning to the Bluegrass state.
One mans Opinion
By midnight [Thursday], Memphis will be out. Maybe John Calipari sandbagged against the Cardinals here Saturday, but on the off chance that those were the real Tigers committing 24 turnovers and shooting 8 percent from three-point range, the pick is Marquette. Courier-Journal
columnist Pat Forde.
Charlottes White Gets Award
Charlotte 49ers 6-8 freshman forward RODNEY WHITE has been named National Freshman of the Year by ESPN.com, edging Seton Hall's Eddie Griffin.
Beating the Odds
In three of the last four C-USA Tournaments, a team has won the championship by claiming four wins in four days. Saint Louis did it in last years tournament, and Charlotte and Marquette did it in 1999 and 1997. Only six teams in NCAA history have achieved this feat, and three are from Conference USA. The other teams in this exclusive group are Arkansas (2000 SEC), UNLV (1997 WAC) and Auburn (1984 SEC).
Scooter Named to All-Freshman Team
Memphis guard SCOOTER McFADGON has been named to College Basketball Insiders
All-Freshman Team. RODNEY WHITE also made the team. White is the nations leading freshman scorer (19.6 ppg), while McFadgon is averaging 9.6 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 78 percent from the free throw line.
20001 OCG CONFERENCE USA TOURNAMENT PAIRINGS
(All Times Eastern)
Wednesday, March 7th
(6) South Florida 63 (11) DePaul 59
(7) Saint Louis 78 (10) Houston 65
UAB 74 (9) Louisville 64
(5) Marquette 72 (12) Tulane 67
Thursday, March 8th
Game 5, 1 p.m. - South Florida vs. (3) Charlotte (ESPN Plus)
Game 6, 3:30 p.m. - Saint Louis vs. (2) Southern Miss (ESPN Plus)
Game 7, 7 p.m. - UAB vs. (1) Cincinnati (ESPN Plus)
Game 8, 9:30 p.m. , 9:30 p.m. Marquette vs. (4) Memphis
Friday, March 9th
Game 9, 5:30 p.m. - Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner (ESPN Plus)
Game 10, 8 p.m. - Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner (ESPN Plus)
Saturday, March 10th
Game 11, 12 p.m. - Semifinal winners (CBS)