Conference USA Having Bubble Issues: Wednesday's Quick Hitters

    
February 23rd, 2012

In the big game of the night #18 Notre Dame continued their run with a 71-44 beating of West Virginia in South Bend.

1. While Memphis took care of business Southern Miss and UCF didn't, which is bad news for Conference USA.
For some time it's been assumed by many that Conference USA would send two teams to the NCAA tournament, with those teams likely being Memphis and Southern Miss. UCF has tried to fight their way into consideration of late but the Knights may have done irreparable harm to their at-large hopes on Wednesday night. Up 49-37 at the half at Rice, Donnie Jones' team was outscored 45-26 in the second half of what would become an 83-74 loss. How did this happen? UCF turned the ball over 18 times to just nine for the Owls, who converted those UCF mistakes into 21 points, and wound up being outscored in the paint 38-20. When that happens on a night that saw Rice's Arsalan Kazemi make two field goals it's easy to see that there were problems. 

Southern Miss would most likely still make the tournament at this point barring an absolute disaster, but their margin for error is smaller thanks to their 76-68 double overtime loss at UTEP. C.J. Cooper led five Miners in double figures with 16 points and as a team UTEP shot 50% from the field while Southern Miss made just 37.5% of their shots. Shots inside of the arc proved to be the difference as UTEP shot 58.5% to just 34.8% for the Golden Eagles, who were led by Darnell Dodson (16 points). Could C-USA ultimately end up being a one-bid league? While this is an unlikely scenario for the league they've lost some of their margin for error with Wednesday's results. 

2. USF and Wyoming allow great opportunities on the road to slip away.
Stan Heath's Bulls got off to an excellent start at the Carrier Dome as they took on #2 Syracuse. The team many refused to respect due to the lack of marquee wins on their schedule held a 20-7 lead nearly ten minutes into the first half. This would be where the tide turned however as the Orange went on a drawn out 26-0 run to gain control of the game, and even though USF hung tough throughout they didn't have enough offensively to win. Scoop Jardine led Syracuse to the 56-48 win with 15 points and four assists, and Anthony Collins led the Bulls with 12 points and ten assists. USF's pace worked out well as their deliberate style limted the Orange's fast-break opportunities. But when teams turned the ball over twice as many times as their opponent, especially on the road, it becomes near impossible to win.

Wyoming on the other hand took control of their game at #24 San Diego State in the second half, as they led by as many as nine points and had the hobbled Aztecs on the ropes. Larry Shyatt's team couldn't land the knockout blow however, eventually leading to the game going into overtime and the Aztecs winning 67-58. Wyoming scored just three points in the extra session, and to not have Leonard Washington (nine points, five rebounds) on the floor didn't help matters either. SDSU shot and made twice as many two-point shots as Wyoming, and the 14 points scored by Garrett Green proved to be huge with Washington struggling. USF and Wyoming will still have chances to reach the field, but things got a lot tougher for two teams whose resumes aren't the greatest when looking at their strength of schedule numbers.  

3. Northeastern upsets George Mason, dropping the Patriots out of first in the CAA.
Turnovers have been an issue for Paul Hewitt's team for much of the season, but the Patriots may have hit fock bottom in that area. Mason turned the ball over 21 times (Northestern 22) in a game they would go on to drop 85-82 in overtime in Boston. This result leaves Drexel in sole possession of first place going into this weekend's matchups pitting the top four teams in the league against each other. Jonathan Lee scored 27 points and Kashief Edwards 22 to lead the Huskies past George Mason, and the job NU did on Ryan Pearson defensively was nothing short of impressive.

Pearson, widely regarded by many as the clear choice to be named CAA Player of the Year, shot just 3-for-12 from the field and scored 11 points. To win a share of the regular season title George Mason needs to beat VCU while also receiving help in the form of s Drexel loss to Old Dominion. Next weekend's conference tournament in Richmond is too tough to call at this point, and given the play of the upper half of the league against the lower half the most important thing for the contenders to do at this point is set themselves for th highest seed possible.  

Quick Hitters

1. Minnesota's hopes of an at-large berth likely ended with their 66-61 loss to #6 Michigan State at The Barn, and Tubby Smith's team has no one to blame but themselves. The Golden Gophers went more than three minutes without scoring a point until Andre Hollins made a three with less than two seconds remaining. At 5-10 in Big Ten play Minnesota would likely not only have to win their last three league games but also do some damage at the Big Ten tournament to make a solid case for a bid. 

2. Joe Ragland scored 14 points and Garrett Stutz added 12 and 14 rebounds as #19 Wichita State beat Illinois State 68-55 to wrap up the Missouri Valley Conference regular season crown. Gregg Marshall's team has multiple offensive weapons, and the fact that the Shockers are willing to defend (the Redbirds shot 37.7%) makes them a serious threat to reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. 

3. Also clinching their regular season league title was UT-Arlington, who won at McNeese State 93-89 behind 28 points from LaMarcus Reed. Four starters reached double figures for the Mavericks, who got back on the right track after a two-point loss at Weber State ended their 16-game win streak. UT-Arlington shot 10-for-18 from three and 27-for-20 from the foul line, making up for the fact that McNeese State grabbed 14 offensive boards.  

4. #22 Temple found a way to hang onto sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10 as they won 80-79 at La Salle in overtime. Micheal Eric played very well as he finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots and Khalif Wyatt scored 25 to lead the Owls offensively. Earl Pettis scored 33 to lead the Explorers but it wasn't enough as the Owls also clinched a share of the Big 5 crown.  

5. Keep an eye on the play of #5 Kansas guard Elijah Johnson as it will likely play an important role in the Jayhawks' play in the next month. Johnson scored 21 points as Kansas survived a tough night for Thomas Robinson, winning 66-58 at Texas A&M. Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are the offensive leaders for Bill Self's team, but the more he can get from Johnson and Jeff Withey down the stretch the better. 

6. Kevin Jones has some company in the race for Big East Player of the Year, and at this rate #10 Marquette forward Jae Crowder may even pass the Mountaineer senior. Crowder was all over the box score in the Golden Eagles' 82-65 win over Rutgers, accounting for 27 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and three blocked shots. He and Darius Johnson-Odom are two big reasons why Buzz Williams' team has been one of the best in the Big East. 

7. Zeke Marshall led five Akron players in double figures with 16 points as the Zips locked up a share of the MAC regular season title with a 79-68 win over Bowling Green. Marshall also grabbed seven rebounds for the Zips, who have now won 20 or more games in seven straight seasons under head coach Keith Dambrot.