|Tuesday, March 7, 2000||
Volume 65, Issue 110
|Twelve teams, one goal
C-USA hits ‘Graceland' for conference's second season
By Josh Gajewski
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- There was a sense of renewed hope on Monday evening that filled the air in Memphis, where players and coaches began to arrive on the eve of first-day workouts in preparation for the Conference USA Tournament.
Everyone, from 8-21 UH to 28-2 Cincinnati, is ready to begin the "second season" -- the one that really counts, after all. The slates have been wiped clean and it's go time for all, even for the teams who won't be dancing much in late March.
Kenyon Martin (4) and the Cincinnati Bearcats, the No. 1 team in the nation, are the favorites to win this year's Conference USA Tournament.
"All that matters now is getting out of the tournament," UH head coach Clyde Drexler said. "Nothing else is important. It doesn't make a difference what you did in the regular season, you have to win now."
Which is what eight teams will try and do tomorrow when the tournament begins. Saint Louis and Southern Mississippi have the dubious honor of playing for the right to click heels with No. 1 seed Cincinnati, the obvious beast of the field.
The second-ranked Bearcats ran the table in C-USA this year, going a perfect 16-0. Their 20-straight victories over conference foes dating back to last year is the longest current streak of its kind in the nation.
Cincinnati star Kenyon Martin has polished off five C-USA Player of the Week awards this season. Add to that a supporting cast consisting of C-USA First-Team forward Pete Mickeal, athletic swingman DerMarr Johnson, freshman star Kenny Satterfield, three-point threat Steve Logan and explosive senior forward Jermaine Tate, and you have a team that is looking for much more than just the C-USA crown.
"Cincy is physically better than anyone else in this league," Louisville head coach Denny Crum said. "I'm very proud of my team (because) we're exactly where you want to be going into the tournament: opposite Cincinnati."
Kerry Harfield (shown here dodging UH's Chad Hendrick) and the DePaul Blue Demons will enjoy a bye in the first round of the C-USA Tournament as the No. 3 seed. On Thursday, they will play the winner of the Memphis-South Florida game (which is being played on Wednesday).
Indeed, Louisville (19-10) drew the lucky straw with a strong finish to the regular season, winning eight of its last nine -- the only loss coming against the bullish Bearcats.
The Cardinals are led by senior forward Nate Johnson, who is fresh from dropping in a career-high 35 points against UH on Saturday.
His primary support comes from second guard Marques Maybin (14.4 ppg) and forward Tony Williams, who created commotion with three-point accuracy on one end of the floor and rebounding presence (6.3 rpg) on the other.
Three-seeded DePaul (19-10) invades The Pyramid with a sour taste in its mouth after losing a 17-point halftime lead to Cincinnati last Thursday in a 64-62 defeat.
The Blue Demons' strength is on the boards. There, DePaul ranks first in C-USA, thanks in large part to Player of the Year candidate Quentin Richardson and fellow sophomore Bobby Simmons.
Tulane (19-9) has been the most surprising team in C-USA this season, ending up on top of the National Division instead of at the bottom, where most forecasters had predicted them to be. There is nothing fancy about this squad, but head coach Perry Clark makes his team scrap for absolutely everything.
Fifth-seeded Marquette (15-12) brings athleticism to the table along with a new philosophy instilled by first-year head coach Tom Crean. The Golden Eagles now preach defense, where they rank atop the league, but have struggled at the other end at the same time.
Scoring machines B.B. Waldon (17.4 ppg) and Altron Jackson (18.5) have emerged to lead South Florida (17-12), who comes into the tournament at the No. 6 spot.
Both UNC-Charlotte (15-4) and Southern Miss (17-11) have struggled at times this year but managed to sustain winning records. The former has three players who average double-digit scoring in Tremaine Gardiner, Diego Guevara and James Zimmerman. The latter uses a strong frontcourt of junior college transfer David Wall, 6-9 senior Vandarel Jones and 6-11 senior Carlos Booker to win battles inside.
Saint Louis (15-13) and Alabama-Birmingham make up the No. 9 and 10 seeds, respectively. Justin Love leads the Billikens and was named to the C-USA First Team Monday, while UAB seems to roll whenever Eric Holmes is on the floor. Holmes is averaging 16.5 points, coming primarily off the bench.
Eleventh-seeded Memphis (14-15) certainly picked a good time to get hot, as the Tigers have won five-straight. The host team has been especially impressive in its last two games, beating USF and UNC-Charlotte by a combined 47 points.
UH (8-21) has got to find a way to put two good halves of basketball
together if it intends to stay alive. No team welcomed the regular season's
end more than the Cougars, who will try to put an end to their 11-game
losing streak tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.
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