Last season, Memphis owned the Conference USA, finishing the season 16-0 in the league. This year however, look for Memphis to have a target on their back throughout conference play this year. There will be 6-7 teams contending to finish at the top of the league this season. Do not expect Memphis to go undefeated in the conference this year, there is simply too much competition. Last season Memphis was ranked 15th nationally in scoring offense (3196 points in 40 games); their individual players did not lead the conference in many scoring categories. Per the final conference statistics, Memphis was consistently at the top of the team stats but not the individual stats.
As for individuals that stood out last season and are returning, national rankings, placed Stefon Jackson (Sr., G, UTEP) at 7th in individual scoring, playing in 33 games, with 778 points, he averaged 23.6 ppg. Robert Vaden (Sr., G/F, UAB) ranked 3rd nationally from beyond the arc, in 33 games, he made 142 out of 355 three-pointers, (4.3 3pg). C-USA players to watch this season are Robert Vaden (Sr., G/F, UAB), Stefon Jackson (Sr., G, UTEP), Jeremy Taylor (Sr., G, UCF), Jerome Jordan (Sr., C, TLS) and Jeremy Wise (Jr., ,USM).
2008-09 C-USA Preseason All-Conference Team
Robert Dozier - Sr., F, Memphis
Stefon Jackson - Sr., G, UTEP
Jerome Jordan - Jr., C, Tulsa
Jermaine Taylor - Sr., G, UCF
Robert Vaden - Sr., G/F, UAB
The Memphis Tigers finished the season 38-2, they were undefeated on the road, and lost only one game at home, their other loss came to Kansas in the National Championship at a neutral site. After a disappointing finish and performance in the title game to KU, look for Memphis to be on the prowl this season. The players have watched and re-watched the tapes from that game and are looking to rebound from their performance in that game. Memphis has a 42 game winning streak in the conference. The Tigers lost key player Joey Dorsey to graduation, but are returning senior’s Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson. Dozier is the team’s top returning scorer (9.2 ppg) and rebounder (6.8 rpg). While Anderson, is a huge defensive presence. Look for Anderson and Dozier to break 1,000 points this season. Also keep an eye out for sophomore point G, Derrick Rose.
The UAB Blazers are a pre-season pick for second in the conference this year. The Blazers were 12-4 in conference play last year and finished the season 23-11. They are returning six seniors, led by C-USA Preseason Player of the Year, senior G/F, Robert Vaden (21 ppg). Vaden has dropped some weight and is looking for post season honors. Other key players for the Blazers this season, senior F, Lawrence Kinnerd, senior G, Paul Delaney, senior G, Channing Toney and post player, senior F Howard Crawford. Expect a lot of leadership and experience from these players on and off the court.
The Tulsa Golden Hurricanes was a pre-season pick for third in the C-USA this season. Tulsa finished at .500 in the league last year and rounded the season out at 25-14. In post season last year, The Golden Hurricane won the inaugural College Basketball Invitational (best-of-three-series). Tulsa will be led this year by the junior duo, G, Ben Uzoh (15.6 ppg and 5.4 rpg) and C Jerome Jordan (10.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 3.7 bpg). Uzoh lead the team in scoring last season, averaging 15.6 points, he scored in double figures 34 times. Jordan finished the season ranked 6th in the nation for blocked shots per game.
The UTEP Miners coming an 8-8 finish in the league, their final record was 19-14 is picked to finish fourth in the C-USA. The Miners are returning three starters, notably, senior G Stefon Jackson (23.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.7 apg and 1.25 spg) and sophomore G Randy Culpepper (12.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.1 apg and1.6 spg). Leading the way for the newcomers on the team this year, transfer from Memphis, 7’0” Kareem Cooper. Jackson, is fourth in school history with 1,548 points, and should be a big offensive leader. Also this season, in memory of the legendary Coach Don Haskins, the team will don a patch with his initials.
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles were picked to finish 5th in the league after going 9-7 in C-USA play and rounding off the season at 19-14. Look for junior G Jeremy Wise (18.7 ppg and 4..2 apg) to be the key for the Golden Eagles. Last year, Wise tallied 41 three-pointers and led the team in scoring 20 out of 33 games.
The Marshall Thundering Herd finished conference play at .500 and the season at 16-14. Senior G/F Markel Humphrey injured himself in a pick-up game a few weeks ago, the injury resulting in a stress fracture in his left foot. He is expected to be out for six weeks, but is hoping to suit up for the season opener. The Herd will be led by sophomore F Tirell Banks (11.5 ppg and 5.8 rpg), junior F Tyler Wilkerson (9.2 ppg and 5.9 rpg) and senior G/F Markel Humphrey (13.1 ppg and 5.6 rpg). Humphrey crossed the 1,000 points mark last season, look for him to produce for the Herd. With Marshall having three very good transfers this year, look for them to finish higher then what most may think.
The Houston Cougars wrapped conference play up at 11-5, and the season up at 24-10. The Cougars might just be a sleeper in the C-USA. No one is looking at Houston right now in pre-season, since they lost 4 out of 5 starters last year and are returning only 2 seniors. This season look for coach Tom Penders to start a new and fresh line-up that will be highly talented. Houston lost Robert McKivee, who led the conference with total points in a game, 52. Also notable roster losses, Dion Dowell (6.8 rpg) and Tafari Toney (6.3 rpg), who were the team's top two rebounders.
The UCF Knights finished the season 9-7 in the conference and 19-14 overall. Watch out for, senior G Jermaine Taylor (20.8 ppg and 4.7 rpg). Taylor led the team in scoring in 23 games. He also scored twenty points in 20 games.
The Tulane Green Wave was 6-10 in the conference and finished the season 17-15 overall. After starting last season off to a good start (15-6 and 5-2 in conference play), the Green Wave hit an 8 game losing streak. Coming off the 8 losses, late into the season, Tulane seemed unable to recover from the late season injuries and did not mesh will in team play. Look for Tulane to provide some decent competition within the league.
The East Carolina Pirates were 5-11 in the conference and overall 11-19. Last season they hit 232 three-pointers, a school record, but Coach Mark McCarthy thinks they need to go beyond the arc even more. Look for ECU to work the ball to the outside and shoot more threes.
The SMU Mustangs went 4-12 in conference play and were a dismal 10-20 under Coach Matt Doherty. The Mustangs lost top scorer Jon Killen to graduation, look for senior C Bamba Fall (11.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 2.1 bpg) to pick up the pace for SMU in scoring.
The Rice Owls bottomed out the conference last season 0-16 in the cellar and finished the season at a bleak 3-27. The Owls have a new coach, Ben Braun, who is one of 17 in Division I coaches with at least 500 wins (552). Look for this to be a rebuilding year under Coach Braun, as Rice returns to their newly refurbished Tudor Fieldhouse.