Conference USA Tournament 2011: Memphis Gets First Lead With Seconds To Play, Hangs On To Win

After a ho-hum season, it was traditional power Memphis who ended up cutting down the nets as C-USA tournament champion

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Memphis Storms Back To Stun UTEP, Win C-USA Championship Game

Experience, home court, an early lead - they all didn't matter as Memphis stormed back to defeat UTEP, 67-66, to win the Conference USA tournament championship, and earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Right out of the gates, it looked as though UTEP might have had plans on repeating their 74-47 regular season obliteration of Memphis, as the host Miners stormed out to a 9-0 start. But the Tigers fought back with a trio of three-pointers, and one old-fashioned three-point play to pull within one at 13-12.

The game remained competitive for much of the first half, with Memphis never able to take the lead, but tying the game at 23. But a string of Tiger turnovers helped UTEP put on a 13-2 run, capped off by a Christian Polk three-pointer from the parking lot. The Miners took a 36-27 lead into the half.

Polk wasn't done from that range, either. When Memphis cut the lead to six with under eight minutes to go, Polk hit treys on three straight Miner possessions to temporarily repel the Tiger rally. But Memphis kept fighting, used a 9-0 run to get within three points with four minutes to play, and eventually tied it up at 65 on a deep Chris Crawford three with 1:53 remaining.

Some missed free throws for each team gave Memphis the ball, trailing 66-65, with 11.9 seconds left on the clock. Joe Jackson drove on Julyan Stone, and was fouled hard going up for a lay-up. He converted both attempts to give the Tigers their first lead of the game. UTEP opted to hurry down court without calling a timeout, but the ball ended up getting knocked out of bounds by Memphis with 2.5 seconds to go. Only then did Tim Floyd choose to call for time. On the inbounds pass from under the basket, Polk missed a well-contested potential game-winning jumper, punching Memphis' dance card.

If they had received a good game from Randy Culpepper, the Miners might have been able to put the Tigers away early, but following a dominant 26-point performance in the semifinal, the senior spark plug came up with just seven points on 3-for-13 shooting. Polk's lights-out, 11-of-13 shooting performance actually made him the only Miner in double figure points, with 27.

For the second straight game, Jackson led Memphis in scoring off the bench, pouring in 17, to go with 7 assists. Tarik Black added a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards, and Crawford added 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from long range.

UTEP is left wondering what could have been after suffering a stunning defeat in the C-USA championship game for the second straight year. Last year, it was the upstart Houston Cougars pulling off the upset of the then-top 25 ranked Miners, this year it was Memphis' startling comeback. Both UTEP, and regular season champ UAB will be keeping their fingers crossed for an NCAA at-large berth on Selection Sunday, but both look like they will end up on the outside looking in. Anybody who watched Saturday's championship game saw two great, tournament-caliber teams, but the resume just doesn't quite look strong enough for UTEP. There isn't one big win to hang the hat on, and some bad home losses to Pacific and Central Florida.

Short of that, let's start cheering for an NIT championship showdown between the Miners and Blazers, and a big run through the Big Dance for a young, but scary-talented Memphis team.

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Conference USA Tournament 2011: The Big Fish In The Small Pond Meet

If you had to pick two schools that have been the most dominant over the past few years in Conference USA, you'd probably wind up with these two. The Memphis Tigers aren't quite Memphis without John Calipari's recruiting skills, but they're still a very solid team. Meanwhile, the former WAC doormat UTEP Miners saw their fortunes turn around since Billy Gillespie rejuvenated them. They've won 20 games in six of their last eight seasons, and have three tourney appearances to show for it.

These two teams met just once in the regular season, and boy was it ugly. UTEP pasted Memphis at the Don Haskins Center by 27 points. The good news for the Tigers is that it was just one game. The bad news is that this morning, they're still going to be in the Don Haskins Center. Hosting the tournament is a big reason most experts thought UTEP would win the championship, and they've certainly done nothing to disprove that idea so far.

Both of these teams rely on their sterling defense first and foremost, so don't look for the score to get too out of hand. The pace will mask it some, but I'd guess the winning team is in the mid-to-upper 60's when the game ends. UTEP really shines when it comes to experience: Out of their six main rotation players, four are seniors, one is a junior, and only one is a freshman. Memphis has a little deeper rotation, but Will Coleman and Charles Carmouche are the only upper classmen that play very often. Everyone else is a freshman. 

For Memphis to compete in this game, they'll need to do two things: shut down all-Conference USA first teamer Randy Culpepper, and pound away inside. Memphis is one of the leagues worst teams when it comes to three-point shooting percentage: they made just 31.6% of their threes on the year. So they'll need to penetrate early and often, which probably calls for a gameplan focused around freshman forward Tarik Black. 

Ultimately it's really hard to envision UTEP losing this game. They've got experience, they've got the home crowd, they've got a more well-rounded team, and they've got a 27-point blowout as evidence that they can handle Memphis. It's not an impossible task for the Tigers today, but if they're going to win they need to physically dominate and intimidate the smaller Miners. The game starts at 10:30 CT and airs on CBS. So grab yourself some breakfast and tell the kids to watch cartoons in their room.

Wednesday

8 East Carolina Pirates 64 vs. 9 Central Florida Knights 50
5 Southern Miss. Golden Eagles 63 vs. 12 Tulane Green Wave 47
11 Houston Cougars 87 vs. 6 Marshall 97
10 Rice Owls 58 vs. 7 SMU Mustangs 57

Thursday

1 UAB Blazers 70 vs.8 East Carolina Pirates 75
4 Memphis Tigers 66 vs. 5 Southern Miss. Golden Eagles 63
3 UTEP Miners 77 vs. 6 Marshall Thundering Herd 65
2 Tulsa Golden Hurricane 81 vs. 10 Rice Owls 72

Friday

3 UTEP Miners 66 vs. 2 Tulsa Golden Hurricane 54
8 East Carolina Pirates 56 vs. 4 Memphis Tigers 76

Saturday

3 UTEP Miners vs. 4 Memphis Tigers -- 10:30 AM

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Memphis Ends East Carolina's Run, 76-56

There will be no four-wins-in-four-days miracle run through the Conference USA tournament this year. The last remaining potential Cinderella, the East Carolina Pirates, who had already knocked off the top-seeded UAB Blazers, were beaten handily by Memphis in Friday evening's semifinal. The Tigers set up a championship showdown with host UTEP on Saturday morning, after dispatching ECU, 76-56.

It looked as though the Pirates might make a game of it for much of the first half until a 14-4 Memphis run gave the Tigers a 29-16 edge. A Jamar Abrams three-pointer pulled ECU within eight points in the final minute of the first half, but Memphis scored the last five points of the first half, and opened the second half on an 18-2 run to put the game away.

Only two Tigers played over 30 minutes in the game, as the big deficit allowed UM to rest its starters, in preparation for its third game in three days, in tomorrow's conference championship game against the Miners. Still, it will be interesting to see which team comes out with more energy for the 9:30 AM local tip.

One of the two Tigers to break the 30-minute barrier in the win was junior guard Charles Carmouche, who hit all three of his two-point field goals, three-of-four from beyond the arc, and all four free throws for 19 points. Joe Jackson came off the bench to score 24 points in 24 minutes for Memphis.

Pretty much single-handedly keeping things semi-respectable for East Carolina was Darrius Morrow, who posted game highs in points (25) and rebounds (14). Unfortunately for the Pirates, the rest of the team went 11-of-38 from the field.

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Culpepper Leads UTEP To C-USA Tournament Finals

UTEP ran past Marshall in the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals on Thursday, despite a slow shooting day from top scorer Randy Culpepper. Culpepper wasted no time letting Tulsa know they weren't going to get the benefit of a similar performance in Friday's semifinal.

The diminutive senior guard drained a three-pointer on the game's opening possession, and scored his team's first seven points, en route to a 26-point, 9-of-16 shooting performance and a 66-54 UTEP victory that earned the Miners a spot in Saturday's Conference USA championship game in front of the home fans in El Paso.

Despite Culpepper's early heroics, it was actually Tulsa who went into the halftime break with a 28-27 lead, behind 11 first-half points from Justin Hurtt. Hurtt's 11 points came on four straight made jumpers, which turned an 11-7 deficit into an 18-16 advantage for the Golden Hurricane.

But in the second half, UTEP put the clamps on Hurtt, and the offense worked itself into a rhythm. From 14:09 to 5:14 left in regulation, Tulsa did not make a field goal, a critical stretch which saw a neck-and-neck battle turn into a convincing Miner triumph.

A number of players for UTEP played their roles well around Culpepper's star performance. Jeremy Williams made a huge contribution on the defensive end, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking four shots. Christian Polk had an efficient offensive performance, putting in 13 points on just eight field goal attempts. And Julyan Stone flirted with a triple double without actually achieving a single double, ending up with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.

For Tulsa, Hurtt ended up with 17 points, but made just seven of his 18 field goal attempts. Joe Richard added 11 points and 9 rebounds, and Jordan Clarkson contributed 10 points off the bench.

The Miners will learn the identity of their championship game opponent tonight when upstart East Carolina faces off with Memphis in the tournament's other semifinal. Meanwhile, Tulsa will hope that an impressive finish to their season will be enough to partially cancel out a dreadful start, and get them into a lesser post-season tournament.

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Conference USA Tournament 2011: Pirates Join Top Seeds In Semifinals

After yesterday's action in Conference USA, the tournament's top seed has gone missing thanks to the efforts of the East Carolina PIrates. It's unlikely that the UAB Blazers have a good enough resume to get them into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large, so this loss may have sent them straight to the N.I.T.

It also marked the end of the Houston teams in the tournament, though Rice stayed a little longer than some thought they would by knocking off SMU on Wednesday. The Houston Cougars will likely not be invited to any NCAA Tourney, Rice has a shot. Instead we've got the old powerhouse Memphis against up-start East Carolina, and the hometown UTEP Miners against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Here's how the bracket looks now:

Wednesday

8 East Carolina Pirates 64 vs. 9 Central Florida Knights 50
5 Southern Miss. Golden Eagles 63 vs. 12 Tulane Green Wave 47
11 Houston Cougars 87 vs. 6 Marshall 97
10 Rice Owls 58 vs. 7 SMU Mustangs 57

Thursday

1 UAB Blazers 70 vs.8 East Carolina Pirates 75
4 Memphis Tigers 66 vs. 5 Southern Miss. Golden Eagles 63
3 UTEP Miners 77 vs. 6 Marshall Thundering Herd 65
2 Tulsa Golden Hurricane 81 vs. 10 Rice Owls 72

Friday

3 UTEP Miners vs. 2 Tulsa Golden Hurricane -- 3:00 PM
8 East Carolina Pirates vs. 4 Memphis Tigers -- 5:30 PM

Saturday

Championship -- 10:30 AM

Both matchups today should be decent ones, but statistically speaking, someone is bound to get upset today. After all, there was one upset on each of the previous two days. I'll ride the hot hand and say that East Carolina upsets a Memphis team that just barely squeaked by Southern Mississippi yesterday. UTEP takes care of business to reach the final and set themselves up as a heavy favorite tomorrow.

Both games will be televised on CBS College Sports, so check them out on your set, online, or at a bar TV if neither of those options sound appealing to you. 

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Rice Rally Falls Short Against Tulsa

Rice couldn't repeat its first-round upset magic, falling in the Conference USA tournament to 2-seed Tulsa, by a score of 81-72.

The Owls got behind early, and trailed by double digits for much of the second half, but fought back, and actually had possession of the ball, trailing by just five points with under two and a half minutes to play, but head coach Ben Braun made the controversial decision not to call a timeout and get his best player, Arsalan Kazemi, on the floor. Rice failed to convert the offensive possession, Tulsa's Jordan Clarkson converted a three-point play on the other end, and that was that.

The Owls showed tremendous heart to stay in the game as long as they did, despite a number of factors working against them. The normally steady Kazemi missed his first eight free throw attempts, Tamir Jackson clearly wasn't himself while battling injuries, and none of the Owls' shooters could find the stroke from outside, as Rice shot just 4-of-14 from beyond the arc as a team.

Rice finishes the season with a 14-18 record, but a myriad of close losses makes one wonder if the season could have turned out much differently if a few more breaks had gone the Owls' way. Thursday's loss marks the end of the college careers of Bryan Beasley, Suleiman Braimoh, Cory Pflieger and Trey Stanton, but Rice has a talented, young core returning. Jackson and Kazemi are just sophomores, Connor Frizzelle and Lucas Kuipers have another year of eligibility, and even little-used freshman Omar Oraby, a 7'2" center who hadn't scored a point in the Owls' last 12 games, showed some flashes of talent on Thursday. With his size, he could be a threat in Conference USA with a little more seasoning.

The Golden Hurricane were led by Clarkson's 21 points, Justin Hurtt's 15 points, and Steven Idlet's 12-point, 8-rebound performance. Tulsa has a date with the hosts and highest remaining seed UTEP on Friday in the tournament semi-final.

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UTEP Runs Away From Marshall, 77-65

Late on day two of the Conference USA tournament, host UTEP finally got in on the action, and ran away from Marshall early. The Miners used a 20-2 first half run to turn a thee-point lead into a 38-17 lead, and were never truly threatened the rest of the way. Despite an 18-point halftime deficit, Marshall fought back to close within single digits in the last two minutes, but UTEP still easily held on for the 77-65 win.

Gabriel McCulley's 14 points were actually a game high, as he led six Miners in double figures. Julyan Stone chipped in a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds from the guard position, and despite a cold-shooting night (3-for-13), Randy Culpepper still had a productive game, with 12 points and 5 assists.

Johnny Thomas' 13 points led five members of the Thundering Herd in double digit points, while Damier Pitts added 12 points and 9 assists.

With the win, and an upset victory for East Carolina over UAB earlier in the day, the Miners become the odds-on favorites to earn Conference USA's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. They will face the winner of tonight's Rice-Tulsa match-up in the tournament semi-finals on Friday.

Marshall, whose season has included a win over in-state rival West Virginia, will hope to take their 22-11 record to one of the other post-season tournaments.

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Memphis Escapes Southern Miss Rally With 66-63 Win

Memphis withstood a second-half rally from Southern Miss and advanced to the Conference USA tournament semi-finals, where they will face 8-seed East Carolina.

The Golden Eagles' offense was slow out of the gates, and with 5:30 left in the first half, they were getting doubled up, 26-13. But USM managed to flip the switch, cut the lead to eight by halftime, and tie the score at 48 on a pair of R.L. Horton free throws with 7:41 remaining.

It was neck-and-neck the rest of the way, but it appeared that Memphis had the game in hand when Will Barton's free throws gave them a 64-59 lead with 21 seconds to play. However, Ahyaro Phillips tipped in a USM miss at the other end to cut the lead to three, and when Joe Jackson of Memphis lost the ball out of bounds, Phillips came up with another tip-in to draw the Golden Eagles within one. Jackson was fouled and made both ensuing free throws to extend the lead to three.

Gary Flowers then missed a contested three in the waning seconds, and D.J. Newbill grabbed an offensive rebound and banked in what appeared to be a tying three-pointer, but the shot was released clearly after the buzzer sounded.

Jackson's 15 points off the bench paced the Tigers, while Horton poured in a game-high 19.

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ECU Knocks Off Top-Seeded UAB

Conference USA's unpredictable regular season carried over to the post-season on Thursday, as East Carolina bested #1-seed UAB in overtime, 75-70

The Blazers' Jamarr Sanders hit a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 57, and ECU's Robert Sampson missed a three-pointer in the closing seconds to force overtime.

In the extra period, the Pirates got to the line early and often, with 16 of their 18 OT points coming from the charity stripe.

Jontae Sherrod and Darrius Morrow paced the Pirates, who will face the winner of the Memphis-Southern Miss game on Friday, with 22 points apiece.

The Blazers got a career-high 39 points from point guard Aaron Johnson in a losing effort. UAB will be a bubble team for an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, but a first-round conference tourney loss will more than likely keep them out of the big dance. They do automatically qualify for the NIT as the conference's regular-season champion.

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Conference USA Tournament 2011: Big Seeds Come Out To Play

While the field mostly played out by the seeds last night, the Rice Owls were able to eke out a win over the SMU Mustangs to inject some excitement into the field. Now on Thursday, the top seed byes are over and the big guns will be in action. Rice will take on the No. 2 seeded Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the nightcap game, and Arsalan Kazemi and company are the last big conference chance Houston has of sending someone to the tournament from the city.

Here's the complete schedule and bracket so far:

Wednesday

#8 East Carolina Pirates 64 vs. #9 Central Florida Knights 50
#5 Southern Miss. Golden Eagles  63 vs. #12 Tulane Green Wave 47
#11 Houston Cougars 87 vs. #6 Marshall 97
#10 Rice Owls 58 vs. #7 SMU Mustangs 57

Thursday

#1 UAB Blazers vs.#8 East Carolina Pirates -- 12 PM
#4 Memphis Tigers vs. #5 Southern Miss. Golden Eagles -- 2:30 PM
#3 UTEP Miners vs. #6 Marshall Thundering Herd  -- 6:30 PM
#2 Tulsa Golden Hurricane vs. #10 Rice Owls -- 9:00 PM

Friday

Winner of UAB-ECU vs. winner of Memphis-S. Miss-- 3:00 PM
Winner of UTEP-Marshall vs. winner of Tulsa-Rice -- 5:30 PM

Saturday

Championship -- 10:30 AM

All games today will be shown on CBS College Sports, and they do stream online if you're willing to sign up and pick around for a bit. Looks like a pretty solid slate of games today, but I'm most excited about the Memphis-Southern Miss. game. That's a pair of really good teams, and the Golden Eagles could easily pull the upset. And of course, here's hoping Rice gives Tulsa a run for their money as well. 

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Rice Sneaks Past SMU, 58-57

In their Conference USA tournament opening round game, Rice saw an 11-point second-half lead over SMU cut down to one point with 2:12 left, but the Owls held on for the win, by a score of 58-57. Rice turned the ball over with 22 seconds to play, but Robert Nyakundi missed a jumper as time expired, sealing the Rice victory.

The exciting big man match-up between Rice's Arsalan Kazemi and SMU's Papa Dia lived up to expectations, with Kazemi scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 boards, while Dia contributed 22 points and 15 rebounds. The Owls overcame poor shooting performances from the floor (20 of 56) and beyond the arc (4 of 16). Tamir Jackson scored just 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting, but still contributed with seven rebounds and five assists.

The No. 10 seed Owls will advance to face No. 2 seed Tulsa, a team that the Owls lost to twice this year, both times by double-digit deficits.

SMU finishes the season with a 17-14 record.

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Coogs Fall To Marshall Amid Myriad Of Threes And Offensive Rebounds

It was a tale of two halves in El Paso on Wednesday, as the Cougars played a competitive first half, taking a 36-33 lead on Marshall, but after the break could not stop the Thundering Herd from dominating the offensive boards, or from raining three-pointers, en route to a 97-87 Marshall victory.

If those factors weren't enough, Houston also helped dig its own grave by continually missing its free throws - the Cougars finished 21-of-32 from the charity stripe. (Aside from point guard Zamal Nixon's 12-of-12 performance, Houston's shooting percentage was even worse.)

The game marked the final appearance in a Cougar uniform for seniors Adam Brown, Maurice McNeil, Nixon, and Cory Tellis.

The loss was Houston's 12th in the last 13 contests, and was typical of the second half of the season for a team that showed occasional flashes of ability, but could never put together a complete game. Their final record was 12-18, including a 4-12 mark in C-USA play.

Marshall, who was led by Damier Pitts' 28 points, advances to face host UTEP in the second round of the C-USA tournament on Thursday.

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Coogs Lead Marshall 36-33 At The Half

In their first round match-up, 11-seed Houston took a 36-33 lead into halftime.

Although Marshall has a size advantage over Houston, Cougar forwards Alandise Harris (12 points) and Maurice McNeil (11 points) had big first halves. Marshall center Nigel Spikes took three fouls into the half.

While the Cougars outshot Marshall 56% to 38% in the half, they committed more turnovers (7 to 4) and were outrebounded (14 to 12).

The winner of this contest gets a second-round date with three-seed and tournament host UTEP on Thursday.

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Southern Miss Blows Out Tulane

The fifth-seeded Southern Miss Golden Eagles had an easy go of it in the first round of the Conference USA tournament, as they took a big lead early and were never threatened in a 63-47 pasting of Tulane.

Gary Flowers led all scorers with 18 points, and added 11 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. LaShay Page scored 12 points off the bench for Southern Miss, just the seventh time he has cracked double digits this year, but the second straight game he has done so. Kris Richard paced Tulane with 16 points in a losing effort.

USM improves to 22-9 on the season, and has a second-round date with the 4-seed Memphis Tigers. The Golden Eagles lost both of their regular season match-ups with Memphis, but by a combined total of just seven points.

Tulane finishes the season with a 13-17 overall record, and a league-worst 3-13 mark in conference play.

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East Carolina Blows Past Central Florida

An up-and-down 2010-11 season for UCF, who was ranked in the top 25 after a 13-0 start, has ended with a first round exit in the Conference USA tournament. After trailing by 10 points early on, the Knights rallied for a 39-34 halftime lead. However, ECU came out firing to start the second half, and used a 17-5 run to turn a 47-45 lead into a 64-50 blowout. From there, the Pirates cruised to a 75-60 victory. The Knights end their season with a 19-11 overall record, but just a 6-10 mark in conference play.

Darius Morrow contributed a double-double for ECU, totaling 18 points and 12 rebounds. Jamar Abrams added 15, Robert Sampson chipped in 12 points without missing a shot, and Brock Young's complete game included 9 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds. The Knights were led by Keith Clanton's 15 points.

With the victory, 8-seed East Carolina will get a shot at top-seeded UAB tomorrow. The Blazers swept two games from ECU during the regular season, including a 66-48 decision in Birmingham to end the regular season.

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Knights & Pirates Battle For Right To Face Blazers Tomorrow

First-round play in the Conference-USA Tournament will tip off this afternoon when the ninth-seeded UCF Knights clash with the eighth-seeded East Carolina Pirates at the Don Haskins Center.

The winner of this matchup will move on to the quarterfinals where they will have to battle the top-seeded UAB Blazers.

It was definitely a crazy season for Donnie Jones’ squad, as the Knights reeled off 14 straight wins to start the year. However, the hot start quickly flamed out, as the team followed with eight consecutive losses, all of which came in league action. At 1-8 in conference play, the Knights could have let the season completely slip away, but instead the team won five of its last seven games, finishing strong entering this event.

As for the Pirates, they have never won a game in this tournament, losing all seven in postseason play. Consistency was the main culprit this season, as the Pirates finished 8-8 in conference play this year. However, the team was on a roll down the stretch, winning three straight before falling to UAB in the regular-season finale.

The Knights might hold an 11-4 edge over East Carolina in the all-time series, but the Pirates have won the last three meeting, including both matchups this year. East Carolina won 74-62 in Orlando, and followed that with a 68-61 decision in Greenville.

The Knights come into the tournament with a solid one-two punch in Marcus Jordan and Keith Clanton. Jordan, who is a sophomore, was selected to the All- Conference USA Second Team after leading the Knights with 15.9 ppg and a team- best 95 assists. Jordan shot 41.8 percent on the season and was outstanding from the foul line, connecting on 81.0 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe. Taking care of business in the paint for the Knights is Clanton, who posted 13.9 ppg, to go along with a team-best 8.2 rebounds per contest. Outside of Jordan and Clanton though there isn’t much depth on the roster, which is why the team is averaging just 69.4 ppg. Since the Knights are not overwhelming in the offensive department, the team will need to continue to rely on its defensive play, something UCF was good at this year, ranking third in the league, limiting the opposition to just 62.6 ppg.

The Pirates will need to find a way to improve drastically at the offensive end of the floor if they plan on grabbing their first victory in this event. East Carolina finished ninth in the conference in scoring, averaging a lackluster 68.2 ppg. Three players were able to produce at a double-figure level, but no one on the roster is more important than Jontae Sherrod. Sherrod, who was tabbed as an All-Conference USA Third Team member, led the Pirates with 15.6 ppg. He however, did not work alone, as Darrius Morrow and Jamar Abrams also made solid contributions. Morrow led the way on the year with 5.3 rebounds per contest and also posted 12.0 ppg. Abrams shot a solid 46.5 percent on the year, and 40.5 percent from behind the arc, proving he was the most dangerous shooter on the roster. However, the guard clearly did not shoot often because he comes into this event with just 10.3 ppg. Running the show for the Pirates has been Brock Young, who led the team with 123 assists, while chipping in 9.9 ppg.

The outcome of this matchup depends on what UCF squad shows up. Will it be the team that started 14-0, or the squad that began league play 1-8? Considering UCF turned things around down the stretch, it will likely be the former, not a good sign for East Carolina.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UCF 70, East Carolina 65

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Conference USA Tournament 2011: First Round Today

The Conference USA Tournament kicks off today with the lower-seeded teams fighting to reach the quarterfinals, where the top four seeds wait for their first opponents tomorrow. The University of Houston takes on the Marshall Thundering Herd at 6:30 PM CT, and Rice takes on the SMU Mustangs in the nightcap at 9 PM CT.

Here’s the full rundown of today’s schedule (all times CT):

#8 East Carolina Pirates vs. #9 Central Florida Knights — 12 PM
#5 Southern Miss. Golden Eagles vs. #12 Tulane Green Wave — 2:30 PM
#11 Houston Cougars vs. #6 Marshall Thundering Herd — 6:30 PM
#10 Rice Owls vs. #7 SMU Mustangs — 9:00 PM

Unfortunately, none of the first round games will be broadcast on television. You’ll have to follow along on the internet, watch GameTrackers, and act like you’re watching the game. Or, alternately, you could just road trip to El Paso. Plenty of seats available, I’d guess.

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Conference USA Tournament 2011 Bracket: News And Notes

With only about 24 hours to go before the East Carolina Pirates and Central Florida Knights tip off the Conference USA Tournament, here's the latest news:

- Houston guard Adam Brown will be re-instated to the team, according to the Houston Chronicle's Sam Khan Jr. Brown was suspended indefinitely prior to a matchup against No. 1 seed UAB in late February and missed the team's last three games, all losses. Cougars coach James Dickey hasn't decided whether or not he will start in what could be his final college game, but the Cougars clearly need all the help they can get against Marshall.

- Conference USA announced its all-Conference teams yesterday. UTEP's Randy Culpepper, SMU's Papa Dia, Southern Miss' Gary Flowers, Tulsa's Justin Hurtt, and UAB's Aaron Johnson and Jamarr Sanders made up the first team. Only one Owl or Cougar qualified for the teams, as Rice's Arsalan Kazemi was named to the second team as a forward.

- Ken Pomeroy released his Log5 odds for the Conference USA Tournament. UTEP, boosted by home-court advantage, is considered the favorite. Pomeroy remarks that Southern Miss should be considered the "trendy darkhorse pick here." The two Houston teams combine to have a 0.85 percent chance of winning the tournament. So we've got that going for us.

- If you're looking for the bracket and schedule, check it out here.

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Blazers, Miners Favorites In Wide Open C-USA Tournament

Long gone are the days when the Conference USA tournament was sarcastically referred to as the "Memphis Invitational." Last year, it was the Houston Cougars, coming off a 7-9 conference campaign, who stunned the rest of the field and earned C-USA's automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. In the championship game, they defeated the 15-1 UTEP Miners.

This year, there is no clear favorite. UAB has the top seed with a 12-4 record, UTEP is back in the mix with the No. 3 seed and home court advantage, and No. 2 seed Tulsa is the biggest question mark, with wins over the Blazers and Miners, but losses to 6-10 UCF and 4-12 Houston. And of course, despite some bad losses of its own, you never can count out Memphis, the No. 4 seed.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi has UAB as the No. 12 seed in the NCAAs, and the conference's lone representative. Memphis is listed as his eighth-best non-tournament team, meaning that even a strong conference tourney showing that falls short of the championship is unlikely to get them an at-large berth. This figures to make the C-USA tournament competition even tougher, with no team able to coast into the NCAAs without winning conference.

If you're looking for a sleeper outside of the top four seeds, take a flier on the 9-seed UCF Knights. After a 13-0 non-conference campaign got them ranked, they absolutely fell apart in conference play, losing their first eight contests. The talent is still there, however, and they seem to have righted the ship. They scored a win over Tulsa late in the year, and even became the only team in conference to beat UTEP on its home court - a valuable skill with the tournament taking place in El Paso.

No. 7 seed SMU is another to keep an eye on. If they can beat Rice in the first round, they will get a second-round date with Tulsa, the top four seed with the biggest potential for a let-down performance, in my mind. Plus SMU has tons of post talent, so any opposing team on a cold-shooting night will have a very hard time with them.

If your money's on the hometown teams, it doesn't look good. The Cougars have lost 11 of 12, the lone win coming against dead-last Tulane. (They also managed to lose to the Green Wave in that stretch.) The good news is that their first-round draw is against Marshall, a team the Cougars played very competitively during that span, losing by a single point at home. Some Thundering Herd players made inappropriate gestures towards the Hofheinz Pavilion crowd after the game, a fact I'm sure hasn't been forgotten, in case the Coogs needed any further motivation. Should Houston manage to survive the first round, they'll get a date with the host Miners. UTEP and Houston always seem to play competitive basketball, regardless of the circumstances, and especially after the Coogs upset the Miners in last year's tournament, I wouldn't be surprised to see the El Paso faithful pulling for Marshall in the first round.

The Owls have a little bit more upset potential, as you can never count out a team with a strong interior presence (Arsalan Kazemi) and a plethora of outside shooters (Connor Frizzelle, Cory Pfleiger). However, for the Owls to make a run, they will need a huge tournament from slashing wing Tamir Jackson, to give them that other offensive option. The bracket didn't do Rice any favors, however. They get SMU (against whom they went 0-2 during the regular season) in the first round, and if they grab a win there, they will get Tulsa (against whom they went 0-2 during the regular season) in the second round.

Here are Three Gut-Reaction, Don't-Hold-Me-To-These Predictions for the tournament:

-Neither Houston-based team makes it out of the first round.

-At least one of the top four seeds loses on day two.

-UTEP rides the home court to the conference championship and a return trip to the NCAAs.

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Conference USA Tournament 2011 Schedule And Bracket

Although our Houston teams haven't performed well this season, they can always redeem themselves with a strong conference tournament. A run at the NCAA's would certainly require either the Rice Owls or Houston Cougars to win the tournament, but an impressive showing by either school could land them in the National Invitational Tournament or, more likely, the CBI. The Cougars did win this tournament last year despite a lackluster regular season, but lackluster is not quite the same as horrific.

Both Houston and Rice will play on Day one of the tournament. #11 seed Houston has the pleasure of facing #6 seed Marshall Thundering Herd at 5:30 PM on Wednesday. #10 Rice will play against the #7 SMU Mustangs at 8:00 PM, the same day. The Cougars and Owls are in the lower bracket, meaning that if the Cougars advance, they'd face the #3 UTEP Miners, and if the Owls advance, they'd face the #2 Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

Here's how the bracket looks. All times are CST, though the games will be played in El Paso, which is in the Mountain time zone.

Wednesday

#8 East Carolina Pirates vs. #9 Central Florida Knights -- 12 PM
#5 Southern Miss. Golden Eagles vs. #12 Tulane Green Wave -- 2:30 PM
#11 Houston vs. #6 Marshall -- 5:30 PM
#10 Rice vs. #7 SMU -- 8:00 PM

Thursday (all games from here to Friday available on CBS College Sports)

#1 UAB Blazers vs. TBD -- 12 PM
#4 Memphis Tigers vs. TBD -- 2:30 PM
#3 UTEP Miners vs. TBD -- 5:30 PM
#2 Tulsa Golden Hurricane vs. TBD -- 8:00 PM

Friday

Winner of UAB-TBD vs. winner of Memphis-TBD -- 3:00 PM
Winner of UTEP-TBD vs. winner of Tulsa-TBD -- 5:30 PM

Saturday

Championship -- 10:30 AM, CBS

For more coverage, check out our lone CUSA site on SB Nation, UTEP's Miner Rush.

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