Back to school and back to the hard court...I promise you will get sick of hearing the hype over the unstoppable Larry Hughes. The freshman from St. Louis returned to the lineup after a brief stint on the injured list, posting monster numbers -including six three-pointers and 30 points overall in a 77-60 win over National Division leader UAB. The victory was the 12th of the year for the Billikens, exceeding last year's total, and we are only halfway through January.
According to Tulane coach Perry Clark, "If a freshman (such as Hughes) comes out and plays well enough to deserve (Conference USA) Player of the Year honors, I don't have a problem voting for him." Hughes leads C-USA in scoring (21.0 points per game) and a few years from now, Larry and Phil Nike, I mean Knight, will be on a first name basis. Until then, keep the VCR rolling on this highlight film in action.
C-USA Player of the Week
The No. 21-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats have figured out how to win, doing so 13 times in 15 games, thanks to the outstanding play of senior forward Bobby Brannen. Brannen averaged 18 points and seven rebounds during Bearcat wins over Southern Miss (77-61) and Louisville (71-57). His eight double-doubles lead the league. Brannen set a new UC record, sinking 14-of-14 free-throw attempts in the Bearcat victory over USM.
His free-throw percentage is tops in the league (.866); he has sunk more free throws than the next two on the list have taken. He is second in C-USA in rebounds (9.5 rpg) and only Hughes of St. Louis and DeMarco Johnson of UNC-Charlotte score more points than Brannen.
The torrid win-pace for the Bearcats is a credit to the team's ability to continually improve after each game. According to Louisville coach Denny Crum, "We haven't played anyone with more ability than Cincinnati and they can get a whole lot better."
Upstart UNC Charlotte (8-6, 4-0) has been "assisting" itself with more assists than any other team in C-USA (66 total, 16.6 per game). Sean Colson has 23 assists in the three C-USA games played and his 7.7 assists per game is a league-leader.
UNC Charlotte's assist/ turnover ratio in C-USA games is the best as well. In the four conference games thus far, the 49ers have had only 56 turnovers.
At the bottom of the assist/turnover ratio list is the University of Houston. The Cougars have only 38 assists in conference play. The 93 turnovers committed thus far put them at the bottom of the pile as well. UH gives the ball to the other team almost two-and-a-half times more often than it assists other Cougars. Until this trend is reversed, the losing streak will continue.
Battle for the Cellar
South Florida and Houston continue their "battle of the bottom-feeders" in C-USA play. Both teams did a nice job of rolling through the non-conference portion of their early schedules but have struggled with multiple road games. The Bulls missed a legitimate shot at the win column when they fell to DePaul in overtime, 85-77.
The Cougars can escape the cellar and try to get back on the winning track with back-to-back games against DePaul on Jan. 24 and South Florida on Jan. 26. It has been a while since the Cougars played at home, and this would be a nice chance to put together some wins. But I am not holding my breath.